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Title: Louisiana Lou - A Western Story
Author: Winter, William West, 1881-1940
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 "Louisiana Lou - A Western Story" ***

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                            LOUISIANA LOU

                      *     *     *     *     *



     [Illustration: He saw the trail across the cañon alive with
                        moving men and beasts.
                     (_Frontispiece--Page 261_)]


                      *     *     *     *     *



                            Louisiana Lou

                          _A Western Story_

                                  BY

                         WILLIAM WEST WINTER

                              AUTHOR OF

                          "The Count of Ten"


                  [Illustration: Chelsea House logo]

                            CHELSEA HOUSE

                79 Seventh Avenue        New York City


                      *     *     *     *     *



                           Copyright, 1922
                           By CHELSEA HOUSE

                            Louisiana Lou

              (Printed in the United States of America)

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


                      *     *     *     *     *



CONTENTS

 CHAPTER                                                          PAGE
         PROLOGUE                                                   11
      I. A GENERAL DEMOTED                                          32
     II. MORGAN LA FEE                                              42
    III. A SPORTING PROPOSITION                                     54
     IV. HEADS! I WIN!                                              66
      V. A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE                                  78
     VI. WHERE THE DESERT HAD BEEN                                  94
    VII. MAID MARIAN GROWN UP                                      103
   VIII. GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS                                  112
     IX. BEHIND PRISON BARS                                        123
      X. THE GET-AWAY                                              140
     XI. JIM BANKER HITS THE TRAIL                                 153
    XII. A REMINDER OF OLD TIMES                                   162
   XIII. AT WALLACE'S RANCH                                        174
    XIV. READY FOR ACTION                                          182
     XV. THE SHERIFF FINDS A CLEW                                  189
    XVI. IN THE SOLITUDES OF THE CANYON                            203
   XVII. THE SECRET OF THE LOST MINE                               217
  XVIII. TELLTALE BULLETS                                          236
    XIX. THE FINDING OF SUCATASH                                   247
     XX. LOUISIANA!                                                259
    XXI. GOLD SEEKERS                                              271
   XXII. VENGEANCE!                                                283
  XXIII. TO THE VALE OF AVALON                                     298


                      *     *     *     *     *



LOUISIANA LOU



PROLOGUE


The sun was westering over Ike Brandon's ranch at Twin Forks. It was
the first year of a new century when the old order was giving place to
the new. Yet there was little to show the change that had already
begun to take place in the old West. The desert still stretched away
drearily to the south where it ended against the faint, dim line of
the Esmeralda Mountains. To the north it stretched again, unpopulated
and unmarked until it merged into prairie grass and again into
mountains. To west and east it stretched, brown and dusty. To the
south was the State of Nevada and to the north the State of Idaho. But
it was all alike; bare, brown rolling plain, with naught of greenness
except at the ranch where the creek watered the fields and, stretching
back to the north, the thread of bushy willows and cottonwoods that
lined it from its source in the mountains.

Ike Brandon was, himself, a sign of change and of new conditions,
though he did not know it. A sheepman, grazing large herds of woolly
pests in a country which, until recently, had been the habitat of
cattlemen exclusively, he was a symbol of conquest. He remembered the
petty warfare that had marked the coming of his kind, a warfare that
he had survived and which had ended in a sort of sullen tolerance of
his presence. A few years ago he had gone armed with rifle and pistol,
and his herders had been weaponed against attack. Now he strode his
acres unafraid and unthreatened, and his employees carried rifle or
six-shooter only for protection against prowling coyotes or "loafer"
wolves. Although the cow hands of his erstwhile enemies still belted
themselves with death, they no longer made war. The sheep had come to
stay.

The worst that he and his had to expect was a certain coldness toward
himself on the part of the cattle aristocracy, and a measure of
contempt and dislike toward his "Basco" herders on the part of the
rough-riding and gentle-speaking cow hands.

These things troubled him little. He had no near neighbors. To the
north, across the Idaho border, there was none nearer than Sulphur
Falls, where the Serpentine, rushing tumultuously from the mountains,
twisted in its cañon bed and squirmed away to westward and northward
after making a gigantic loop that took it almost to the Line. To the
south, a ranch at Willow Spring, where a stubborn cattleman hung on in
spite of growing barrenness due to the hated sheep, was forty miles
away. To east and west was no one within calling distance.

At Sulphur Falls were two or three "nesters," irrigating land from the
river, a store or two and a road house run by an unsavory holdover of
the old days named "Snake" Murphy. For a hundred and twenty-five miles
to southward was unbroken land. The cattle were mostly gone--though in
days to come they were to return again in some measure. Even the
Esmeralda Mountains were no longer roamed by populous herds. They were
bare and forbidding, except where the timber was heavy, for the sheep
of Brandon and others, rushing in behind the melting snow in the
spring, had cropped the tender young grass before it had a chance to
grow strong.

Brandon's ranch was an idyllic spot, however. His dead wife and, after
her, her daughter, also dead, had given it the touch of feminine
hands. Vines and creepers half hid the dingy house behind a festoon of
green and blossoms. Around it the lush fields of clover were brilliant
and cool in the expanse of brown sultriness. And here, Ike, now
growing old, lived in content with his idolized granddaughter, Marian,
who was about six years old.

Brandon, at peace with the world, awaited the return from the summer
range of "French Pete," his herder, who was to bring in one of the
largest flocks for an experiment in winter feeding at and in the
vicinity of the ranch. The other flocks and herders would, as usual,
feed down from the mountains out into the desert, where they would
winter.

Little Marian hung on the swinging gate which opened onto the apology
for a wagon road. She liked quaint French Pete and looked forward to
his return with eagerness. Like her grandfather, he always spoiled
her, slavishly submitting to her every whim because she reminded him
of his own _p'tit bébé_, in his far-away, Pyrenean home. Marian was
used to being spoiled. She was as beautiful as a flower and, already,
a veritable tyrant over men.

But now she saw no sign of French Pete and, being too young for
concentration, she let her glance rove to other points of the compass.
So she was first to become aware that a rider came from the north, the
direction of Sulphur Falls, and she called her grandfather to come and
see.

The horseman loped easily into sight through the brown dust that rose
about him. His horse was slim and clean limbed and ran steadily, but
Brandon noted that it was showing signs of a long journey made too
fast. It was a good horse, but it would not go much farther at the
pace it was keeping.

And then he frowned as he recognized the rider. It was a young man, or
rather, boy, about nineteen or twenty years old, rather dandified
after the cow-puncher fashion, sporting goatskin chaps and
silver-mounted bridle and spurs, silk neckerchief, and flat-brimmed
hat of the style now made common by the Boy Scouts. His shirt was
flannel, and his heavy roping saddle studded with silver conchas. He
was belted with heavy cartridges, and a holster strapped down to his
leg showed the butt of a six-shooter polished by constant handling.

"It's that damned Louisiana!" said Brandon, with disgust.

The rider trotted through the gate which he swung open and dropped to
the ground before the little veranda. Marian had run back behind the
vines whence she peered at him half curiously and half afraid. The
young fellow, teetering on his high heels, reached for her and,
smiling from pleasant eyes, swung her into the air and lifted her
high, bringing her down to his face and kissing her.

"Howdy, little Lily Bud!" he said, in a voice which was a soft blend
of accents, the slurred Southern, the drawled Southwestern, and
something subtly foreign.

He was a handsome, slender, dashing figure, and Marian's gleeful echo
to his laughter claimed him as her own. Even Ike Brandon relaxed and
grinned. If the little lady of his heart adopted the stranger, Ike
would put aside his prejudice. True, the man was that vanishing
rarity, a reputed gunman, uncannily skilled with six-shooter and
frowned on by a Western sentiment, new grown, for law and order, which
had determined to have peace if it had to wage war to accomplish it.

After all, reflected Ike, the boy, though noted for skill and a
certain arrogance which accompanied it, was not yet a killer. The
younger element among the cowmen, reckless enough though it was,
boasted no such skill as had been common with its fathers. They
carried weapons, but they recognized their limitations and there were
few of them who would care to test the skill that this young man was
supposed to possess. He might, and probably would, go through life
peaceably enough, though he was, potentially, as dangerous as a
rattlesnake.

"I reckon you could eat," he remarked, and Louisiana agreed.

"I reckon I can," he said. "And my old hoss can wrastle a bag of oats,
too. He's got a ride in front of him and he'd appreciate a chance to
rest and limber up."

"You'll stay the night?"

"No, thanks, seh! An hour or two's all I can spare. Got business
somewhere else."

Brandon did not urge nor show curiosity. That was not etiquette. But
little Marian, taken with the new acquaintance, broke into a wail.

"I want you should stay while I show you my dolly that Pete made me!"
she cried, imperiously. Louisiana laughed and ruffled her curls.

"You show me while I eat," he said. Then he followed Ike into the
cabin, debonair and apparently unconcerned. The little girl came too,
and, as the Mexican servant set the table, the stranger talked and
laughed with her, telling her stories which he made up as he went
along, tying his neckerchief into strange shapes of dolls and animals
for her, fascinating her with a ready charm that won, not only her,
but Ike himself.

He had seen that his horse was fed, and, after he had eaten, he sat
unconcerned on the veranda and played with the little girl who, by
now, was fairly doting on him. But at last he rose to go and she
voiced her sorrow by wails and commands to stay, which he sorrowfully
defied.

"I've got to ramble, little Lily Bud," he told her as he led his
resaddled and refreshed horse from the stable. "But don't you fret.
I'll come roamin' back hereaways some o' these days when you've done
married you a prince."

"Don't want to marry a prince!" screamed Marian. "Don't want to marry
no one but you-ou! You got to stay!"

"When I come back I sure will stay a whole lot, sweetheart. See here,
now, you-all don't cry no more and when I come back I'll sure come
a-ridin' like this Lochinvar sport and marry you-all a whole lot.
That's whatever! How'd you like that!"

"When will you come?" demanded Marian.

"Oh, right soon, honey! And you'll sure have a tame and dotin'
husband, I can tell you. But now, good-by!"

"You'll come back?"

"You're shoutin', I will! With a preacher and a license and all the
trimmin's. We'll certainly have one all-whoopin' weddin' when I come
rackin' in, Petty! Kiss me good-by, like a nice sweetheart and just
dream once in a while of Louisiana, won't you?"

"I'll say your name in my prayers," she assured him, watching him
doubtfully and hopefully as he wheeled his horse, striving to keep
back the tears.

And then he was gone, riding at a mile-eating pace toward the south
and the Esmeralda Mountains.

Two hours later a tired group of men and horses loped in and wanted to
know where he had gone. They were on his trail for, it seemed, he had
shot "Snake" Murphy in his own road house in a quarrel over some drab
of the place who was known as Lizzie Lewis.

Ike was cautious. It was not a regularly deputized posse and the
members were rather tough friends of Murphy. Between the two, he
preferred Louisiana. He remembered how unconcernedly that young man
had waited until he and his horse were fed and rested, though he must
have known that Death was on his trail. And how he had laughed and
petted Marian. There was good in the boy, he decided, though, now he
had started on his career as a killer, his end would probably be
tragic. Ike had no desire at any rate to hasten it.

Nor, as a matter of fact, had the posse. Their courage had cooled
during the long ride from Sulphur Falls as the whisky had evaporated
from their systems. They were by no means exceedingly anxious to
catch up with and encounter what was reputed to be the fastest gun in
southern Idaho.

"Whatever starts this hostile play?" asked Ike of the leader of the
posse.

"This here Louisiana, I gather, gets in a mix-up with Snake," the
officer explained rather languidly. "I ain't there and I don't know
the rights of it myself. As near as I can figure it Lizzie takes a
shine to him which he don't reciprocate none. There is some words
between them and Liz sets up a holler to Snake about this hombre
insultin' of her."

"Insultin' Lizzie Lewis?" said Ike, mildly surprised. "I'd sure admire
to hear how he done it."

"Well, Liz is a female, nohow, and in any case Snake allows it's his
play to horn in. Which he does with a derringer. He's just givin' it a
preliminary wave or two and preparin' his war song according to Hoyle
when Louisiana smokes him up a plenty."

"I reckon Snake starts it, then," remarked Ike.

"You might say so. But rightfully speakin' he don't never actually
_get_ started, Snake don't. He is just informin' the assembly what his
war plans are when Louisiana cracks down on him and busts his shootin'
arm. But this Louisiana has done frightened a lady a whole lot and
that's as good an excuse to get him as any."

"Well," said Ike, dryly, "the gent went by here maybe two hours gone
headin' south. He was goin' steady but he don't seem worried none as
I noticed. If you want him right bad I reckon you can run him down. As
for me I'm plumb neutral in this combat. I ain't lost no Louisiana."

Members of the posse looked at each other, glanced to the south where
the gray expanse of sage presented an uninviting vista, fidgeted a
little and, one by one, swung down from their saddles. The officer
observed his deputies and finally followed them in dismounting.

"I reckon you're about right," he said. "This here buckaroo has got a
good start and we ain't none too fresh. You got a bunk house here
where we can hole up for the night?"

Ike nodded his assent, noting that the posse seemed relieved at the
prospect of abandoning the chase. In the morning they headed back the
way they had come.

French Pete had not appeared on the following day, although he was
due, and Brandon decided that he would ride south and meet him.
Leaving Marian in charge of the Mexican woman, he took a pack horse
and rode away, making the Wallace Ranch at Willow Spring that evening.
Although Wallace was a cattleman with an enmity toward Brandon's
fraternity, it did not extend to Ike himself, and he was made welcome
by the rancher and his wife. Wallace's freckle-faced son, a lad of
five years, who was known among his vaqueros as "Sucatash," was the
other member of the family. Ike, who was fond of children, entertained
this youngster and made a rather strong impression on him.

On the following morning the sheepman saddled up and packed and got
away at a fairly early hour. He headed toward the Esmeraldas, pointing
at the break in the mountain wall where Shoestring Cañon flared out on
the plains, affording an entry to the range. This was the logical path
that the sheep-herders followed in crossing the range and, indeed, the
only feasible one for many miles in either direction, though there was
a fair wagon road that ran eastward and flanked that end of the range,
leading to Maryville on the other side of the mountains, where the
county seat was located.

But Ike rode until noon without seeing a sign of his missing herder
and his sheep. French Pete should have entered the plains long before
this, but, as yet, Ike was not alarmed. Many things might occur to
delay the flock, and it was impossible to herd sheep on hard and fast
schedules.

As he rode Ike looked at the trail for signs of passing horsemen, but
he noted no tracks that resembled those of Louisiana, which he had
observed for some distance after he had left the ranch at Twin Forks.
Just where they had left the trail and disappeared he had not noted,
having but an idle interest in them after all. He had not seen them
for many miles before reaching Willow Spring, he remembered. This
fact gave no clew to the direction the man had taken, of course,
since, being pursued, he would naturally leave the trail at some point
and endeavor to cover his sign. He might have continued south as he
had started or he might have doubled back.

At about one o'clock in the afternoon, as he was approaching the gap
that opened into Shoestring, Ike saw, far ahead, a group on the trail.
There seemed to be a wagon around which several men were standing. The
wagon resembled one of his own camp equipages, and he spurred up his
horse and hastened forward with some idea that the cow-punchers might
be attacking it.

As he came nearer, however, one of the men swung into his saddle and
headed back toward him at a gallop. Ike drew the rifle from its
scabbard under his knee and went more cautiously. The man came on at a
hard run, but made no hostile move, and when he was near enough Ike
saw that he was not armed. He shoved the rifle back beneath his knee,
as the rider set his horse on its haunches beside him.

"Ike Brandon?" the man asked, excitedly, as he reined in. "Say, Ike,
that Basco ewe-whacker o' yours is back there a ways and plumb
perforated. Some one shore up and busted him a plenty with a soft-nose
thirty. We're ridin' for Wallace, and we found him driftin' along in
the wagon a while back. I'm ridin' for a medicine man, but I reckon
we don't get one in time."

"Who done it?" asked Ike, grimly. The cow-puncher shook his head.

"None of us," he said, soberly. "We ain't any too lovin' with
sheep-herders, but we ain't aimin' to butcher 'em with soft-nose slugs
from behind a rock, neither. We picks him up a mile or two out of
Shoestring and his hoss is just driftin' along no'th with him while
he's slumped up on the seat. There ain't no sheep with him."

Ike nodded thoughtfully. "None o' you-all seen anythin' of Louisiana
driftin' up this a way?" he asked.

"Gosh, no!" said the rider. "You pickin' Louisiana? He's a bad hombre,
but this here don't look like his work."

"Pete's rifle with him?" asked Ike.

The man nodded. "It ain't been fouled. Looks like he was bushwacked
and didn't have no chance to shoot."

Ike picked up his reins, and the man spurred his horse off on his
errand. The sheepman rode on and soon met the wagon being escorted by
two more cowboys while a third rode at the side of the horses, leading
them. They stopped as Ike rode up, eying him uncomfortably. But he
merely nodded, with grim, set face, swung out of his saddle as they
pulled up, and strode to the covered vehicle, drawing the canvas door
open at the back.

On the side bunk of the wagon where the cowboys had stretched him,
wrapped in one of his blankets, lay the wounded man, his face, under
the black beard, pale and writhen, the eyes staring glassily and the
lips moving in the mutterings of what seemed to be delirium. Ike
climbed into the wagon and bent over his employee, whose mutterings,
as his glazing eyes fell on his master's face, became more rapid. But
he talked in a language that neither Ike nor any of the men could
understand.

With a soothing word or two, Ike drew the blanket down from Pete's
chest and looked at the great stain about the rude bandage which had
been applied by the men who had found him. One glance was enough to
show that Pete was in a bad way.

"Lie still!" said Ike, kindly. "Keep your shirt on, Pete, and we'll
git you outa this pretty soon."

But Pete was excited about something and insisted on trying to talk,
though the froth of blood on his lips indicated the folly of it. In
vain Ike soothed him and implored him to rest. His black eyes snapped
and his right hand made feeble motions toward the floor of the wagon
where, on a pile of supplies and camp equipment, lay a burlap sack
containing something lumpy and rough.

"Zose sheep--and zose r-rock!" he whispered, shifting to English mixed
with accented French. "_Pour vous--et le bébé! Le p'tit bébé_ an'
she's _mère_--France--_or_----"

"Never mind the sheep," said Ike. "You rough-lock your jaw, Pete, an'
we'll take care o' the sheep. Lie still, now!"

But Pete moaned and turned his head from side to side with his last
strength.

"_Mais--mais oui!_ ze sheep!" He again stuttered words meaningless to
his hearers who, of course, had no Basque at command. But here and
there were words of English and French, and even some Spanish, which
most of them understood a little.

"Ze r-rock--_pierre--or!_ Eet eez to you _et le bébé_ one half. Ze
res' you send--you send heem--France--_pour ma femme--mi esposa_ an'
ze leet-leetla one? _Mi padron_--you do heem?"

"What's he drivin' at?" muttered one of the cowboys. But Ike motioned
them to proceed and drive as fast as possible toward Willow Spring. He
bent toward the agitated herder again.

"I'll take care of it, Pete," he assured him. "Don't worry none."

But Pete had more on his mind. He groped feebly about and whined a
request which Ike finally understood to be for paper and a pencil. He
looked about but found nothing except a paper bag in which were some
candles. These he dumped out and, to pacify the man, handed the paper
to him with his own pencil. It was evident that Pete would not rest
until he had had his way, and if he was crossed further his
excitement was bound to kill him almost at once. In obedience to
Pete's wishes Ike lifted him slightly and held him up while he wrote a
few scrawling, ragged characters on the sack. Almost illegible, they
were written in some language which Ike knew nothing about but, at the
bottom of the bag Pete laboriously wrote a name and address which Ike
guessed was that of his wife, in the far-off Basse Pyrenean province
of France.

"I'll see it gits to her," said Ike, reassuringly. But Pete was not
satisfied.

"Zose or," he repeated, chokingly. "I find heem--on ze Lunch R-rock,
where I step. Eet ees half to you an' lettl' Marian--half to _ma
femme_ an' ze _bébé_. You weel find heem?"

"Ore?" repeated Ike, doubtingly. "You talking French or English?"

"_Or! Oui!_ Een Englees eet ees gol', you say! I find heem--back zere
by ze Lunch R-rock. Zen some one shoot--I no see heem! I not know w'y.
One 'bang!' I hear an' zat ees all. Ze wagon run away, ze sheep are
los', an' I lose ze head!"

"Ore!" repeated Ike, blankly. "You found gold, is that what you're
telling me? Where?"

"Back--back zere--by ze Lunch Rock where I eat! Much _or_--gold! I
find heem an' half is yours!"

"That's all right," soothed Ike, thinking the man was crazy. "You
found a lot of gold and half is mine and Marian's, while the rest goes
to your folks? That's it, ain't it?"

Pete nodded as well as he could and even tried to grin his
satisfaction at being understood, waving a feeble hand again in the
direction of the burlap sack. But his strength was gone and he could
not articulate any more. Pretty soon, as the wagon jolted onward, he
relapsed into a coma, broken only by mutterings in his native and
incomprehensible tongue. By his side Ike sat, vainly wondering who had
shot the man and why. But Pete, if he knew, was past telling. To the
story of gold, Ike paid hardly any heed, not even taking the trouble
to look into the sack.

After a while the mutterings ceased, while his breathing grew more
labored and uneven. Then, while Willow Spring was still miles away, he
suddenly gasped, choked, and writhed beneath the blanket. The blood
welled up to his lips, and he fell back and lay still.

Ike, with face twisted into lines of sorrow, drew the blanket over the
man's head and sat beside his body with bowed face.

As they rode he pondered, endeavoring to search out a clew to the
perpetrator of the murder, certainly a cold-blooded one, without any
provocation. Pete's rifle, the cowboys had said, was clean and
therefore had not been fired. Furthermore, the wound was in the back.
It had been made by a mushrooming bullet, and the wonder was that the
man had lived at all after receiving it.

He questioned the cowboys. They knew nothing except that Pete had been
found about two miles down on the plain from Shoestring and that his
sheep were, presumably, somewhere up the cañon. When Ike sought to
know who was in the Esmeraldas, they told him that they had been
riding the range for a week and had encountered no one but Pete
himself, who, about five days back, had driven into the cañon on his
way through the mountains. They had seen nothing of Louisiana, nor had
they cut his trail at any time.

The wound showed that it had been recently made; within twelve hours,
certainly. But the horses had traveled far in the time given them. One
of Wallace's riders had ridden back up the cañon to search for
possible clews and would, perhaps, have something to say when he
returned.

They finally arrived at Wallace's ranch, and found there a doctor who
had come from a little hamlet situated to the east. His services were
no longer of avail, but Ike asked him to extract the bullet, which he
did, finding it to be an ordinary mushroomed ball, to all appearance
such as was shot from half the rifles used in that country. There was
no clew there, and yet Ike kept it, with a grim idea in the back of
his mind suggested by tales which Pete had often told of smuggling
and vendettas among the Basques of the border between Spain and
France.

It was when the sack was opened, however, that the real sensation
appeared to dwarf the excitement over the murder of the sheep-herder.
It was found to contain a number of samples of rock in which appeared
speckles and nuggets of free gold, or what certainly looked like it.
On that point the doubt was settled by sending the samples to an
assayer, and his report left nothing to be desired. He estimated the
gold content of the ore to be worth from fifty to eighty thousand
dollars a ton.

The coroner's inquest, at Maryville, was attended by swarms, who hoped
to get from the testimony some clew to the whereabouts of the mine.
But many did not wait for that. Before the assayer's report had been
received there were prospectors hurrying into the Esmeraldas and
raking Shoestring Cañon and the environs. It was generally thought
that the Bonanza lay on the southern side of the range, however, and
on that side there were many places to search. Pete might have taken
almost any route to the top of the divide, and there were very few
clews as to just where he had entered the mountains and how he had
reached the cañon.

Nor did the inquest develop anything further except the fact that
Wallace's cow-puncher, who had ridden back up the cañon after finding
Pete, had found the spot where he had been shot, about five miles
from the exit on the plain, but had failed to discover anything
indicating who had done it. Other searchers also reported failure.
There had been burro tracks of some prospector seen at a point about
six miles from the cañon, but nothing to show that the owner of them
had been in that direction.

The verdict was characteristic. Louisiana's exploit had been noised
about; it was known that he was heading for the Esmeraldas when last
seen, and the fact that he was a gunman, or reputed to be one,
furnished the last bit of evidence to the jurors. No one else had done
it, and therefore Louisiana, who had quit the country, must have been
the culprit. In any event, he was a bad man and, even if innocent of
this, was probably guilty of things just as bad. Therefore a verdict
was returned against Louisiana, as the only available suspect.

Ike Brandon, after all, was the only person who cared much about the
fate of a sheep-herder, who was also a foreigner. Every one else was
chiefly interested in the gold mine. Ike offered a reward of five
hundred dollars, and the obliging sheriff of the county had handbills
printed in which, with characteristic directness, Louisiana was named
as the suspect.

The mountains swarmed for a time with searchers who sought the gold
Pete had found. It remained hidden, however, and, as time passed,
interest died out and the "Lunch Rock" was added to the long list of
"lost mines," taking its place by the side of the Peg Leg and others.

Ike wrote to Pete's wife in France and sent her his last message. With
it went a sample of the ore and the bullet that had killed Pete. Ike
reasoned that some of his relatives might wish to take up the hunt and
would be fortified by the smashed and distorted bullet.



CHAPTER I

A GENERAL DEMOTED


The general of division, De Launay, late of the French army operating
in the Balkans and, before that, of considerable distinction on the
western front, leaned forward in his chair as he sat in the
Franco-American banking house of Doolittle, Rambaud & Cie. in Paris.
His booted and spurred heels were hooked over the rung of the chair,
and his elbows, propped on his knees, supported his drooping back. His
clean-cut, youthful features were morose and heavy with depression and
listlessness, and his eyes were somewhat red and glassy. Under his
ruddy tan his skin was no longer fresh, but dull and sallow.

Opposite him, the precise and dapper Mr. Doolittle, expatriated
American, waved a carefully manicured hand in acquired Gallic gestures
as he expatiated on the circumstances which had summoned the soldier
to his office. As he discoursed of these extraordinary matters his
sharp eyes took in his client and noted the signs upon him, while he
speculated on their occasion.

The steel-blue uniform, which should have been immaculate and dashing,
as became a famous cavalry leader, showed signs of wear without the
ameliorating attention of a valet. The leather accouterments were
scratched and dull. The boots had not been polished for more than a
day or two and Paris mud had left stains upon them. The gold-banded
képi was tarnished, and it sat on the warrior's hair at an angle more
becoming to a recruit of the class of '19 than to the man who had
burst his way through the Bulgarian army in that wild ride to Nish
which marked the beginning of the end of Armageddon.

The banker, though he knew something of the man's history, found
himself wondering at his youthfulness. Most generals, even after
nearly five years of warfare, were elderly men, but this fellow looked
as much like a petulant boy as anything. It was only when one noted
that the hair just above the ears was graying and that there were
lines about the eyes that one recalled that he must be close to forty
years of age. His features failed to betray it and his small mustache
was brown and soft.

Yet the man had served nearly twenty years and had risen from that
unbelievable depth, a private in the Foreign Legion, to the rank of
general of division. That meant that he had served five years in hell,
and, in spite of that, had survived to be _sous-lieutenant_,
_lieutenant_, _capitaine_, and _commandant_ during the grueling
experience of nine more years of study and fighting in Africa,
Madagascar, and Cochin China.

A man who has won his commission from the ranks of the Foreign Legion
is a rarity almost unheard of, yet this one had done it. And he had
been no garrison soldier in the years that had followed. To keep the
spurs he had won, to force recognition of his right to command, even
in the democratic army of France, the erstwhile outcast had had to
show extraordinary metal and to waste no time in idleness. He was, in
a peculiar sense, the professional soldier par excellence, the man who
lived in and for warfare.

He had had his fill of that in the last four years, yet he did not
seem satisfied. Of course, Mr. Doolittle had heard rumors, as had many
others, but they seemed hardly enough to account for De Launay's
depression and general seediness. The man had been reduced in rank,
following the armistice, but so had many others; and he reverted no
lower than lieutenant colonel, whereas he might well have gone back
another stage to his rank when the war broke out. To be sure, his
record for courage and ability was almost as extraordinary as his
career, culminating in the wild and decisive cavalry dash that had
destroyed the Bulgarian army and, in any war less anonymous than this,
would have caused his name to ring in every ear on the boulevards.
Still, there were too many generals in the army to find place in a
peace establishment, and many a distinguished soldier had been demoted
when the emergency was over.

Moreover, not one that Mr. Doolittle had ever heard of had been
presented with such compensation as had this adventurer. High rank, in
the French army, means a struggle to keep up appearances, unless one
is wealthy, for the pay is low. A lower rank, when one has been
unexpectedly raised to unlimited riches, would be far from
insupportable, what with the social advantages attendant upon it.

This was what Doolittle, with a kindly impulse of sympathy, was
endeavoring tactfully to convey to the military gentleman. But he
found him unresponsive.

"There's one thing you overlook, Doolittle," De Launay retorted to his
well-meant suggestions. The banker, more used to French than English,
felt vaguely startled to find him talking in accents as unmistakably
American as had been his own many years ago, though there was
something unfamiliar about it, too--a drawl that was Southern and yet
different. "Money's no use to me, none whatever! I might have enjoyed
it--or enjoyed the getting of it--if I could have made it
myself--taken it away from some one else. But to have it left to me
like this after getting along without it for twenty years and more; to
get it through a streak of tinhorn luck; to turn over night from a
land-poor Louisiana nester to a reeking oil millionaire--well, it
leaves me plumb cold. Anyway, I don't need it. What'll I do with it? I
can't hope to spend it all on liquor--that's about all that's left for
me to spend it on."

"But, my dear general!" Doolittle found his native tongue rusty in his
mouth, although the twenty-year expatriate, who had originally been of
French descent, had used it with the ease of one who had never dropped
it. "My dear general! Even as a lieutenant colonel, the social
advantages open to a man of such wealth are boundless--absolutely
boundless, sir! And if you are ambitious, think where a man as young
as you, endowed with these millions, can rise in the army! You have
ability; you have shown that in abundance, and, with ability coupled
to wealth, a marshal's baton is none too much to hope for."

De Launay chuckled mirthlessly. "Tell it to the ministry of war!" he
sneered. "I'll say that much for them: in France, to-day, money
doesn't buy commands. Besides, I wouldn't give a lead two-bit piece
for all the rank I could come by that way. I fought for my gold
braid--and if they've taken it away from me, I'll not buy it back."

"There will be other opportunities for distinction," said Mr.
Doolittle, rather feebly.

"For diplomats and such cattle. Not for soldiers. There was a time
when I had ambition--there are those who say I had too much--but I've
seen the light. War, to-day, isn't what it used to be. It's too big
for any Napoleon. It's too big for any individual. It's too big for
any ambition. It's too damn big to be worth while--for a man like
me."

Mr. Doolittle was puzzled and said so.

"Well, I'll try to make it clear to you. When I started soldiering, it
was with the idea that I'd make it a life work. I had my dreams, even
when I was a degraded outcast in the Legion. I pursued 'em. They were
high dreams, too. They are right in suspecting me of that.

"For a good many years it looked as though they might be dreams that I
could realize. I'm a good soldier, if I do say it myself. I was coming
along nicely, in spite of the handicap of having come from the dregs
of Sidi-bel-Abbes up among the gold stripes. And I came along faster
when the war gave me an opportunity to show what I could do. But,
unfortunately for me, it also presented to me certain things neither I
nor any other man could do.

"You can't wield armies like a personal weapon when the armies are
nations and counted in millions. You can't build empires out of the
levy en masse. You can't, above all, seize the imagination of armies
and nations by victories, sway the opinions of a race, rise to
Napoleonic heights, unless you can get advertising--and nowadays a kid
aviator who downs his fifth enemy plane gets columns of it while
nobody knows who commands an army corps outside the general
staff--and nobody cares!

"Where do you get off under those circumstances? I'll tell you. You
get a decoration or two, temporary rank, mention in the _Gazette_--and
regretful demotion to your previous rank when the war is over.

"War, Mr. Doolittle, isn't half the hell that peace is--to a fellow
like me. Peace means the chance to eat my heart out in idleness; to
grow fat and gray and stupid; to--oh! what's the use! It means I'm
_through_--through at forty, when I ought to be rounding into the dash
for the final heights of success.

"That's what's the trouble with me. I'm through, Mr. Doolittle; and I
know it. That's why I look like this. That's why money means nothing
to me. I don't need it. Once I was a cow-puncher, and then I became a
soldier and finally a general. Those are the things I know, and the
things I am fit for, and money is not necessary to any of them.

"So I'm through as a soldier, and I have nothing to turn back
to--except punching cows. It's a comedown, Mr. Doolittle, that
you'd find it hard to realize. But _I_ realize it, you bet--and that's
why I prefer to feel sort of low-down, and reckless and
don't-give-a-damnish--like any other cow hand that's approaching
middle age with no future in front of him. That's why I'm taking to
drink after twenty years of French temperance. The Yankees say a man
may be down but he's never out. They're wrong. I'm down--and I'm out!
Out of humor, out of employment, out of ambition, out of everything."

"That, if you will pardon me, general, is ridiculous in your case,"
remonstrated the banker. "What if you have decided to leave the
army--which is your intention, I take it? There is much that a man of
wealth may accomplish; much that you may interest yourself in."

De Launay shook a weary head.

"You don't get me," he asserted. "I'm burned out. I've given the best
of me to this business--and I've realized that I gave it for nothing.
I've spent myself--put my very soul into it--lived for it--and now I
find that I couldn't ever have accomplished my ambition, even if I'd
been generalissimo itself, because such ambitions aren't realized
to-day. I was born fifty years too late."

Mr. Doolittle clung to his theme. "Still, you owe something to
society," he said. "You might marry."

De Launay laughed loudly. "Owe!" he cried. "Such men as I am don't owe
anything to any one. We're buccaneers; plunderers. We _levy_ on
society; we don't _owe_ it anything.

"As for marrying!" he laughed again. "I'd look pretty tying myself to
a petticoat! Any woman would have a fit if she could look into my
nature. And I hate women, anyway. I've not looked sideways at one for
twenty years. Too much water has run under the bridge for that,
old-timer. If I was a youngster, back again under the Esmeraldas----"

He smiled reminiscently, and his rather hard features softened.

"There was one then that I threatened to marry," he chuckled. "If they
made 'em like her----"

"Why don't you go back and find her?"

De Launay stared at him. "After twenty years? Lord, man! D'you think
she'd wait and remember me that long? Especially as she was about six
years old when I left there! She's grown up and married now, I reckon,
and she'd sick the dogs on me if I came back with any such
intentions."

He chuckled again, but his mirth was curiously soft and gentle.
Doolittle had little trouble in guessing that this memory was a tender
one.

But De Launay rose, picked up a bundle of notes that lay on the table
in front of him, stuffed them carelessly into the side pocket of his
tunic and pushed the képi still more recklessly back and sideways.

"No, old son!" he grinned. "I'm not the housebroke kind. The only
reason I'd ever marry would be to win a bet or something like that.
Make it a sporting proposition and I might consider it. Meantime, I'll
stick to drink and gambling for the remaining days of my existence."

Doolittle shook his head as he rose. "At any rate," he said,
regretfully, "you may draw to whatever extent you wish and whenever
you wish. And, if America should call you again, our house in New
York, Doolittle, Morton & Co., will be happy to afford you every
banking facility, general."

De Launay waved his hand. "I'll make a will and leave it in trust for
charity," he said, "with your firm as trustee. And forget the titles.
I'm nobody, now, but ex-cow hand, ex-gunman, once known as Louisiana,
and soon to be known no more except as a drunken souse. So long!"

He strode out of the door, swaggering a little. His képi was cocked
defiantly. His legs, in the cavalry boots, showed a faint bend. He
unconsciously fell into a sort of indefinable, flat, stumping gait,
barely noticeable to one who had never seen it before, but
recognizable, instantly, to any one who had ridden the Western range
in high-heeled boots.

In some indefinable manner, with the putting off of his soldierly
character, the man had instantly reverted twenty years to his youth in
a roping saddle.



CHAPTER II

MORGAN LA FEE


In the hands of Doolittle, Rambaud & Cie., was a rather small deposit,
as deposits went with that distinguished international banking house.
It had originally amounted to about twenty thousand francs when placed
with them about the beginning of the war and was in the name of
Mademoiselle Solange d'Albret, whose place of nativity, as her
_dossier_ showed, was at a small hamlet not far from Biarritz, in the
Basse Pyrenees, and her age some twenty-two years at the present time.
Her occupation was given as gentlewoman and nurse, and her present
residence an obscure street near one of the big war hospitals. The
personality of Mademoiselle d'Albret was quite unknown to her bankers,
as she had appeared to them very seldom and then only to add small
sums to her deposit, which now amounted to about twenty-five thousand
francs in all. She never drew against it.

Such a sum, in the hands of an ordinary Frenchwoman would never have
remained on deposit for that length of time untouched, but, if not
needed, would have been promptly invested in _rentes_. The unusualness
of this fact, however, had not disturbed the bankers and had, in fact,
been of so little importance that they had failed to notice it at
all. When, therefore, a young woman dressed in a nurse's uniform
appeared at the bank and rather timidly asked to see Mr. Doolittle,
giving the name of Mademoiselle d'Albret, there was some hesitancy in
granting her request until a hasty glance at the state of her account
confirmed the statement that she was a considerable depositor.

Mr. Doolittle, informed of her request, sighed a little, under the
impression that he was about to be called upon for detailed advice and
fatherly counsel in the investment of twenty-five thousand francs. He
pictured to himself some thrifty, suspicious Frenchwoman with a small
fortune who would give him far more trouble than any millionaire who
used his bank, and whose business could and would actually be handled
by one of his clerks, whom she might as well see in the first place
without bothering him. As well, however, he knew that she would never
consent to see anybody but himself. Somewhat wearily, but with all
courtliness of manner, he had her shown into his consultation room.

Mademoiselle d'Albret entered, her nurse's cloak draped gracefully
from her shoulders, the little, nunlike cap and wimple hiding her
hair, while a veil concealed her face to some extent. Through its
meshes one could make out a face that seemed young and pretty, and a
pair of great, dark eyes. Her figure also left nothing to be desired,
and she carried herself with grace and easy dignity. Mr. Doolittle,
who had an eye for female pulchritude, ceased to regret the necessity
of catering to a customer's whim and settled himself to a pleasant
interview after rising to bow and offer her a chair.

"Mademoiselle has called, I presume, about an investment," he began,
ingratiatingly. "Anything that the bank can do in the way of
advice----"

"Of advice, yes, monsieur," broke in mademoiselle, speaking in a
clear, bell-like voice. "But it is not of an investment that I have
need. On the contrary, the money which you have so faithfully guarded
for me during the years of the war is reserved for a purpose which I
fear you would fail to approve. I have come to arrange with you to
transfer the account to America and to seek your assistance in getting
there myself."

The account had been profitable to the bank in the years it had lain
idle there, the lady was good to look upon and, even if the account
was to be lost, he felt benevolent toward her. Besides, her voice and
manner were those of a lady, and natural courtesy bade him extend to
her all the aid he could. Therefore he smiled acquiescence.

"The transfer of the money is a simple matter," he stated. "A draft on
our house in New York, or a letter of credit--it is all one. They will
gladly serve you there as we have served you here. But if you wish to
follow your money--that, I fear, is a different matter."

"It is because it is different--and difficult--that I have ventured to
intrude upon you, monsieur, and not for an idle formality. It is
necessary that I get to America, to a place called Eo-dah-o--is it
not? I do not know how to say it?"

"Spell it," suggested the tactful Doolittle.

Mademoiselle spelled it, and Doolittle gave her the correct
pronunciation with a charming smile which she answered.

"Ah, yes! Idaho! It is, I believe, at some distance from New York,
perhaps a night and a day even on the railroad."

"Or even more," said Doolittle. "Mademoiselle speaks of America, and
that is a large country. From New York to Idaho is as far as from
Paris to Constantinople--or even farther. But I interrupt.
Mademoiselle would go to Idaho, and for what purpose?"

"It is there, I fear, that the difficulty lies," said mademoiselle
with frankness. "It is necessary, I presume, that one have a purpose
and make it known?"

"It is not, so far as permission to go is concerned, although the
matter of a passport may be difficult to arrange. But there is the
further question of passage."

"And it is precisely there that I seek monsieur's advice. How am I to
secure passage to America?"

Doolittle was on the point of insinuating that a proper use of her
charms might accomplish much in certain quarters, but there was
something so calmly virginal and pure about the girl as she sat there
in her half-sacred costume that instinct conquered cynicism and he
refrained. Unattached and unchaperoned as she was, or appeared to be,
the girl commanded respect even in Paris. Instead of answering at once
he reflected.

"Do you know any one in America?" he asked.

"No one," she replied. "I am going to find some one, but I do not even
know who it is that I seek. Furthermore, I am going to bring that some
one to his death if I can do so."

She was quite calm and matter-of-fact about this statement, and
therefore Mr. Doolittle was not quite so astounded as he might
otherwise have been. He essayed a laugh that betrayed little real
mirth.

"Mademoiselle jests, of course?"

"Mademoiselle is quite serious, I assure you, and not at all mad. I
will be brief. Twenty years ago, nearly, my father was murdered in
America after discovering something that would have made him wealthy.
His murderer was never brought to justice, and the thing he found was
lost again. We are Basques, we d'Albrets, and Basques do not forget an
injury, as you may know. I am the last of his family, and it is my
duty, therefore, to take measures to avenge him. After twenty years it
may be difficult, and yet I shall try. I should have gone before, but
the war interrupted me."

"And your fortune, which is on deposit here?" asked the curious Mr.
Doolittle.

"Has been saved and devoted to that purpose. My mother left it to me
after providing for my education--which included the learning of
English that I might be prepared for the adventure. The war is
over--and I am ready to go."

"Hum!" said Doolittle, a little dazed. "It is an extraordinary affair,
indeed. After twenty years--to find a murderer and to kill him. It is
not done in America."

"Then I will be the first to do it," said the young woman, coolly.

"But there is no possibility--there is no possible way in which you
could secure passage with such a story, mademoiselle. Accommodations
are scarce, and one must have the most urgent reasons before one can
secure them. Every liner is a troopship, filled with returning
soldiers, and the staterooms are crowded with officers and diplomats.
Private errands must yield to public necessities and, above all, such
exceedingly private and personal errands as you have described.
Instead of allowing you to sail, if you told this story, they would
put you under surveillance."

"Exactly," said mademoiselle. "Therefore I shall not tell it. It
remains, therefore, that I shall get advice from you to solve my
dilemma."

"From me!" gasped the helpless Doolittle; "how can I help solve it?"

Yet, even as he said this, he recalled his client of the previous day
and _his_ strange story and personality. Here, indeed, were a pair of
lunatics, male and female, who would undoubtedly be well mated. And
why not? The soldier needed something to jolt him out of his
despondency, to occupy his energy--and he was American. A reckless
adventurer, no matter how distinguished, was just the sort of mate for
this wild woman who was bent on crossing half the earth to conduct a
private assassination. Mr. Doolittle, in a long residence in France,
had acquired a Gallic sense of humor, a deep appreciation of the
extravagant. It pleased him to speculate on the probable consequences
of such a partnership, the ex-légionnaire shepherding the Pyrenean
wild cat who was yet an aristocrat, as his eyes plainly told him. He
had an idea that the American West was as wild and lawless as it had
ever been, and it pleased him to speculate on what might happen to
these two in such a region. And, come to think about it, De Launay had
referred to himself as having been a cowboy at one time, before
becoming a soldier. That made it even more deliciously suitable. He
also recalled having made a suggestion to the general which had been
met with scorn. And yet, the man had said that he would gamble on
anything. If it were made what he called a "sporting proposition" he
might consider it.

"How can I help solve it?" And even as he said it again, he knew that
here was a possible solution.

"I see no way except that you should marry a returning American
soldier," he said, at last, while she stared at him through her veil,
her deep eyes making him vaguely uncomfortable.

"Marry a soldier--an American! Me, Morgan _la fée_, espouse one of
these roistering, cursing foreigners? Monsieur, you speak with
foolishness!"

"Morgan _la fée_!" Doolittle gasped. "Mademoiselle is----"

"Morgan _la fée_ in the hospitals," answered Solange d'Albret icily.
"Monsieur has heard the name?"

"I have heard it," said Doolittle feebly. He had, in common with a
great many other people. He had heard that the poilus had given her
the name in some fanatic belief that she was a sort of fairy
ministering to them and bringing them good luck. They gave her a
devout worship and affection that had guarded her like a halo through
all the years of the war. But she had not needed their protection. It
was said that a convalescent soldier had once offered her an insult, a
man she herself had nursed. She had knifed him as neatly as an apache
could have done and other soldiers had finished the job before they
could be interfered with. French law had, for once, overlooked the
matter, rather than have a mutiny in the army. Doolittle began to
doubt the complete humor in his idea, but its dramatic possibilities
were enhanced by this revelation. Of course this spitfire would never
marry a common soldier, either American or of any other race. He did
not doubt that she claimed descent from the Navarrese royal family and
the Bourbons, to judge from her name. But then De Launay was certainly
not an ordinary soldier. His very extraordinariness was what qualified
him in Doolittle's mind. The affair, indeed, began to interest him as
a beautiful problem in humanity. De Launay was rich, of course, but he
did not believe that mademoiselle was mercenary. If she had been she
would not have saved her inheritance for the purpose of squandering it
on a wild-goose chase worthy of the "Arabian Nights." Anyway De Launay
had no use for money, and mademoiselle probably had. However, he had
no intention of telling her of De Launay's situation. He had a notion
that Morgan _la fée_ would be driven off by that knowledge.

"But, mademoiselle, it is not necessary that you marry a rough and
common soldier. Surely there are officers, gentlemen, distinguished,
whom one of your charms might win?"

"We will not bring my charms into the discussion, monsieur," said
Solange. "I reject the idea that I should marry in order to get to
America. I have serious business before me, and not such business as I
could bring into a husband's family--unless, indeed, he were a Basque.
But, then, there are no Basques whom I could marry."

"I wouldn't suggest a Basque," said Doolittle. "But I believe there is
one whom you could wed without compromising your intentions. Indeed, I
believe the only chance you would have to marry him would be by
telling him all about them. He is, or was, an American, it is true,
but he has been French for many years and he is not a common soldier.
I refer to General de Launay."

"General de Launay!" repeated Solange wonderingly. "Why, he is a
distinguished man, monsieur!"

"It would be more correct to say that he _was_ a distinguished man,"
said Doolittle, smiling at the recollection of the general as he had
last seen him. "He has been demoted, as many others have been, or will
be, but he has not taken it in good part. He is a reckless adventurer,
who has risen from the ranks of the Legion, and yet--I believe that he
is a gentleman. He has, I regret to say, taken to--er--drink, to some
extent, out of disappointment, but no doubt the prospect of excitement
would restore him to sobriety. And he has told me that he might
marry--if it were made a sporting proposition."

"A sporting proposition! _Mon Dieu!_ And is such a thing their idea
of sport? These Americans are mad!"

"They might say the same of you, it seems to me," said the banker
dryly. "At any rate there it stands. The general might agree as a
sporting proposition. Married to the general there should be no
difficulty in securing passage to America. After you get to America
the matter is in your hands."

"But I should be married to the general," exclaimed Solange in
protest. Doolittle waved this aside.

"The general would, I believe, regard the marriage merely as an
adventure. He does not like women. As for the rest, marriage, in
America, is not a serious matter. A decree of divorce can be obtained
very easily. If this be regarded as a veritable _mariage de
convenance_, it should suit you admirably and the general as well."

"He would expect to be paid?"

"Well, I can't say as to that," said Doolittle, smiling as he thought
of De Launay's oil wells. "He might accept pay. But he is as likely to
take it on for the chance of adventure. In any event, I imagine that
you are prepared to employ assistance from time to time."

"That is what the money is for," said Solange candidly. "I have even
considered at times employing an assassin. It is a regrettable fact
that I hesitate to kill any one in cold blood. It causes me to
shudder, the thought of it. When I am angry, that is a different
matter, but when I am cold, ah, no! I am a great coward! This General
de Launay, would he consider such employment, do you think?"

"Judging from his reputation," said Doolittle, "I don't believe he
would stop at anything."

Solange knew something of De Launay and Doolittle now told her more.
Before he had finished she was satisfied. She rose with thanks to him
and then requested the general's address.

"I think you'll find him," he referred to a memorandum on his desk,
"at the café of the Pink Kitten, which is in Montmartre. It is there
that he seems to make his headquarters since he resigned from the
army."

"Monsieur," said Solange, gratefully, "I am indeed indebted to you."

"Not at all," said Doolittle as he bowed her out. "The pleasure has
been all mine."



CHAPTER III

A SPORTING PROPOSITION


Louis de Launay, once known as "Louisiana" and later, as a general of
cavalry, but now a broken man suffering from soul and mind sickness,
was too far gone to give a thought to his condition. Thwarted ambition
and gnawing disappointment had merely been the last straw which had
broken him. His real trouble was that strange neurosis of mind and
body which has attacked so many that served in the war. Jangled
nerves, fibers drawn for years to too high a tension, had sagged and
grown flabby under the sudden relaxation for which they were not
prepared.

His case was worse than others as his career was unique. Where others
had met the war's shocks for four years, he had striven titanically
for nearly a score, his efforts, beginning with the terrible five-year
service in the _Légion des Etrangers_, culminating in ever-mounting
strain to his last achievement and then--sudden, stark failure! He
was, as he had said, burned out, although he was barely thirty-nine
years old. He was a man still young in body but with mind and nerves
like overstrained rubber from which all resilience has gone.

His uniform was gone. Careless of dress or ornamentation, he had sunk
into roughly fitting civilian garb of which he took no care. Of all
his decorations he clung only to the little red rosette of the Legion
of Honor. Half drunk, he lolled at a table in a second-class café. He
was in possession of his faculties; indeed, he seldom lost them, but
he was dully indifferent to most of what went on around him. Before
him was stacked a respectable pile of the saucers that marked his
indebtedness for liquor.

When the cheerful murmur of his neighbors suddenly died away, he
looked around, half resentfully, to note the entrance of a woman.

"What is it?" he asked, irritably, of a French soldier near him.

The Frenchman was smiling and answered without taking his eyes from
the woman, who was now moving down the room toward them.

"Morgan _la fée_," he answered, briefly.

"Morgan--what the deuce are you talking about?"

"It is Morgan _la fée_," reiterated the soldier, simply, as though no
other explanation were necessary.

De Launay stared at him and then shifted his uncertain gaze to the
figure approaching him. He was able to focus her more clearly as she
stopped to reply to the proprietor of the place, who had hastened to
meet her with every mark of respect. Men at the tables she passed
smiled at her and murmured respectful greetings, to which she replied
with little nods of the head. Evidently she was a figure of some note
in the life of the place, although it also seemed that as much
surprise at her coming was felt as gratification.

She presented rather an extraordinary appearance. Her costume was the
familiar one of a French Red Cross nurse, with the jaunty,
close-fitting cap and wimple in white hiding her hair except for a few
strands. Her figure was slender, lithe and graceful, and such of her
features as were visible were delicate and shapely; her mouth,
especially, being ripe and inviting.

But over her eyes and the upper part of her face stretched a strip of
veiling that effectually concealed them. The mask gave her an air of
mystery which challenged curiosity.

De Launay vaguely recalled occasional mention of a young woman
favorably known in the hospitals as Morgan _la fée_. He also was
familiar with the old French legend of Morgan and the Vale of Avalon,
where Ogier, the Paladin of Charlemagne, lived in perpetual felicity
with the Queen of the Fairies, forgetful of earth and its problems
except at such times as France in peril might need his services, when
he returned to succor her. He surmised that this was the nurse of whom
he had heard, setting her down as probably some attractive,
sympathetic girl whom the soldiers, sentimental and wounded, endowed
with imaginary virtues. He was not sentimental and, beholding her in
this café, although evidently held in respect, he was inclined to be
skeptical regarding her virtue.

The young woman seemed to have an object and it was surprising to him.
She exchanged a brief word with the maître, declined a proffered seat
at a table, and turned to come directly to that at which De Launay was
seated. He had hardly time to overcome his stupid surprise and rise
before she was standing before him. Awkwardly enough, he bowed and
waited.

Her glance took in the table, sweeping over the stacked saucers, but,
behind the veil, her expression remained an enigma.

She spoke in a voice that was sweet, with a clear, bell-like note.

"Le Général de Launay, is it not? I have been seeking monsieur."

"Colonel, if mademoiselle pleases," he answered. Then suspicion crept
into his dulled brain. "Mademoiselle seeks me? Pardon, but I am hardly
a likely object----"

She interrupted him with an impatient wave of a well-kept hand.
"Monsieur need not be afraid. It is true that I have been seeking him,
but my motive is harmless. If Monsieur Doolittle, the banker, has told
me the truth----"

De Launay's suspicions grew rapidly. "If Doolittle has been talking,
I can tell you right now, mademoiselle, that it is useless. What you
desire I am not disposed to grant."

Mademoiselle caught the meaning of the intonation rather than any in
the words. Her inviting mouth curled scornfully. Her answer was still
bell-like but it was also metallic and commanding.

"Sit down!" she said, curtly.

De Launay, who, for many years had been more used to giving orders
than receiving them, at least in that manner, sat down. He could not
have explained why he did. He did not try to. She sat down opposite
him and he looked helplessly for a waiter, feeling the need of
stimulation.

"You have doubtless had enough to drink," said the girl, and De Launay
meekly turned back to her. "You wonder, perhaps, why I am here," she
went on. "I have said that Monsieur Doolittle has told me that you are
an American, that you contemplate returning to your own country----"

"Mademoiselle forgets or does not know," interrupted De Launay, "that
I am not American for nearly twenty years."

"I know all that," was the impatient reply. She hurried on. "I know
_monsieur le général's_ history since he was a légionnaire. But it is
of your present plans I wish to speak, not of your past. Is it not
true that you intend to return to America?"

"I'd thought of it," he admitted, "but, since they have adopted
prohibition----" He shrugged his shoulders and looked with raised
eyebrows at the stack of saucers bearing damning witness to his
habits.

She stopped him with an equally expressive gesture, implying distaste
for him and his habits or any discussion of them.

"But Monsieur Doolittle has also told me that monsieur is reckless,
that he has the temperament of the gamester, that he is bored; in a
word, that he would, as the Americans say, 'take a chance.' Is he
wrong in that, also?"

"No," said De Launay, "but there is a choice among the chances which
might be presented to me. I have no interest in the hazards incidental
to----"

Then, for the life of him, he could not finish the sentence. He
halfway believed the woman to be merely a _demimondaine_ who had heard
that he might be a profitable customer for venal love, but, facing
that blank mask above the red lips and firm chin, sensing the frozen
anger that lay behind it, he felt his convictions melting in something
like panic and shame.

"Monsieur was about to say?" The voice was soft, dangerously soft.

"Whatever it was, I shall not say it," he muttered. "I beg
mademoiselle's pardon." He was relieved to see the lips curve in
laughter and he recovered his own self-possession at once, though he
had definitely dismissed his suspicion.

"I am, then a gambler," he prompted her. "I will take risks and I am
bored. Well, what is the answer?"

Mademoiselle's hands were on the table and she now was twisting the
slender fingers together in apparent embarrassment.

"It is a strange thing I have to propose, perhaps. But it is a hazard
game that monsieur may be interested in playing, an adventure that he
may find relaxing. And, as monsieur is poor, the chance that it may be
profitable will, no doubt, be worthy of consideration."

De Launay had to revise his ideas again. "You say that Doolittle gave
you your information?" She agreed with a nod of the head.

"Just what did he tell you?"

Mademoiselle briefly related how Doolittle, coming from his interview
with De Launay to hear her own plea for help, had laughed at her crazy
idea, had said that it was impossible to aid her, and had finally, in
exasperation at both of them, told her that the only way she could
accomplish her designs was by the help of another fool like herself,
and that De Launay was the only one he knew who could qualify for that
description. He--De Launay--was reckless enough, gambler enough, ass
enough, to do the thing necessary to aid her, but no one else was.

"And what," said De Launay, "is this thing that one must do to help
you?" It seemed evident that Doolittle, while he had told something,
had not told all.

She hesitated and finally blurted it out at once while De Launay saw
the flush creep down under the mask to the cheeks and chin below it.
"It is to marry me," she said.

Then, observing his stupefaction and the return of doubt to his mind,
she hurried on. "Not to marry me in seriousness," she said. "Merely a
marriage of a temporary nature--one that the American courts will end
as soon as the need is over. I must get to America, monsieur, and I
cannot go alone. Nor can I get a passport and passage unaided. If one
tries, one is told that the boats are jammed with returning troops and
diplomats, and that it is out of the question to secure passage for
months even though one would pay liberally for it.

"But monsieur still has prestige--influence--in spite of that." Her
nod indicated the stack of saucers. "He is still the general of
France, and he is also an American. It is undoubtedly true that he
will have no difficulty in securing passage, nor will it be denied him
to take his wife with him. Therefore it is that I suggest the marriage
to monsieur. It was Monsieur Doolittle that gave me the idea."

De Launay was swept with a desire to laugh. "What on earth did he tell
you?" he asked.

"That the only way I could go was to go as the wife of an American
soldier," said mademoiselle. "He added that he knew of none I could
marry--unless, he said, I tried Monsieur de Launay. You, he informed
me, had just told him that the only marriage you would consider would
be one entered into in the spirit of the gambler. Now, that is the
kind of marriage I have to offer."

De Launay laughed, recalling his unfortunate words with the banker to
the effect that the only reason he'd ever marry would be as a result
of a bet. Mademoiselle's ascendency was vanishing rapidly. Her naïve
assumption swept away the last vestiges of his awe.

"Why do you wear that veil?" he asked abruptly.

She raised her hand to it doubtfully. "Why?" she echoed.

"If I am to marry you, is it to be sight unseen?"

"It is merely because--it is because there is something that causes
comment and makes it embarrassing to me. It is nothing--nothing
repulsive, monsieur," she was pleading, now. "At least, I think not.
But it makes the soldiers call me----"

"Morgan _la fée_?"

"Yes. Then you must know?" There was relief in her words.

"No. I have merely wondered why they called you that."

"It is on account of my eyes. They are--queer, perhaps. And my hair,
which I also hide under the cap. The poor soldiers ascribe all sorts
of--of virtues to them. Magic qualities, which, of course, is silly.
And others--are not so kind."

In De Launay's mind was running a verse from William Morris' "Earthly
Paradise." He quoted it, in English:

           "The fairest of all creatures did she seem;
           So fresh and delicate you well might deem
           That scarce for eighteen summers had she blessed
           The happy, longing earth; yet, for the rest
           Within her glorious eyes such wisdom dwelt
           A child before her had the wise man felt."

"Is that it?" he murmured to himself. To his surprise, for he had not
thought that she spoke English, she answered him.

"It is not. It is my eyes; yes, but they are not to be described so
flatteringly." Yet she was smiling and the blush had spread again to
cheeks and chin, flushing them delightfully. "It is a superstition of
these ignorant poilus. And of others, also. In fact, there are some
who are afraid."

"Well," said De Launay, "I have never had the reputation of being
either ignorant or afraid. Also--there is Ogier?"

"What?"

"Who plays the rôle of the Danish Paladin?"

Mademoiselle blushed again. "He is not in the story this time," she
said.

"I hardly qualify, you would say. Perhaps not. But there is more.
Where is Avalon and what other names have you? You remember

             "Know thou, that thou art come to Avalon,
             That is both thine and mine; and as for me,
             Morgan le Fay men call me commonly
             Within the world, but fairer names than this
             I have----

"What are they?"

"I am Solange d'Albret, monsieur. I am from the Basses Pyrenees. A
Basque, if you please. If my name is distinguished, I am not. On the
contrary, I am very poor, having but enough to finance this trip to
America and the search that is to follow."

"And Avalon--where is that? Where is the place that you go to in
America?"

She opened a small hand bag and took from it a notebook which she
consulted.

"America is a big place. It is not likely that you would know it, or
the man that I must look for. Here it is. The place is called 'Twin
Forks,' and it is near the town of Sulphur Falls, in the State of
Idaho. The man is Monsieur Isaac Brandon."

In the silence, she looked up, alarmed to see De Launay, who was
clutching the edge of the table and staring at her as though she had
struck him.

"Why, what is the matter?" she cried.

De Launay laughed out loud. "Twin Forks! Ike Brandon! Mademoiselle,
what do you seek in Twin Forks and from old Ike Brandon?"

Mademoiselle, puzzled and alarmed, answered slowly.

"I seek a mine that my father found--a gold mine that will make us
rich. And I seek also the name of the man that shot my father down
like a dog. I wish to kill that man!"



CHAPTER IV

HEADS! I WIN!


De Launay turned and called the waiter, ordering cognac for himself
and light wine for mademoiselle.

"You have rendered it necessary, mademoiselle," he explained.
Mademoiselle's astounding revelation and the metallic earnestness of
murder in her voice alike took him aback. He saw that her sweet mouth
was set in a cruel line and her cameo chin was firm as a rock. But her
homicidal intentions had not affected him as sharply as the rest of
it.

Mademoiselle took her wine and sipped it, but her mouth again relaxed
to scornful contempt as she saw him toss off the fiery liquor. She was
somewhat astonished at the effect her words had had on the man, but
she gathered that he was now considering her bizarre proposal with
real interest.

The alcohol temporarily enlivened De Launay.

"So," he said, "Avalon is at Twin Forks and I am to marry you in order
that you may seek out an enemy and kill him. There was also word of a
gold mine. And your father--d'Albret! I do not recall the name."

"My father," explained Solange, "went to America when I was a babe in
arms. He was very poor--few of the Basques are rich--and he was in
danger because of the smuggling. He worked for this Monsieur Brandon
as a herder of sheep. He found a mine of gold--and he was killed when
he was coming to tell about it."

"His Christian name?"

"Pedro--Pierre."

"H'm-m! That must have been French Pete. I remember him. He was more
than a cut above the ordinary Basco." He spoke in English, again
forgetting that mademoiselle spoke the language. She reminded him of
it.

"You knew my father? But that is incredible!"

"The whole affair is incredible. No wonder you have the name of being
a fairy! But I knew your father--slightly. I knew Ike Brandon. I know
Twin Forks. If I had made up my mind to return to America, it is to
that place that I would go."

It was mademoiselle's turn to be astonished.

"To Twin Forks?"

"To Ike Brandon's ranch, where your father worked. It must have been
after my time that he was killed. I left there in nineteen hundred,
and came to France shortly afterward. I was a cow hand--a cowboy--and
we did not hold friendship with sheepmen. But I knew Ike Brandon and
his granddaughter. Now, tell me about this mine and your father's
death."

Mademoiselle d'Albret again had recourse to her hand bag, drawing from
it a small fragment of rock, a crumpled and smashed piece of metal
about the size of one's thumb nail and two pieces of paper. The latter
seemed to be quite old, barely holding together along the lines where
they had been creased. These she spread on the table. De Launay first
picked up the rock and the bit of metal.

He was something of a geologist. France's soldiers are trained in many
sciences. Turning over the tiny bit of mineral between his fingers, he
readily recognized the bits of gold speckling its crumbling crystals.
If there was much ore of that quality where French Pete had found his
mine, that mine would rank with the richest bonanzas of history.

The bit of metal also interested him. It had been washed but there
were still oxydized spots which might have been made by blood. It was
a soft-nosed bullet, probably of thirty caliber, which had mushroomed
after striking something. His mouth was grim as he saw the jagged
edges of metal. It had made a terrible wound in whatever flesh had
stopped it.

He laid the two objects down and took the paper that mademoiselle
handed to him. It seemed to be a piece torn from a paper sack, and on
it was scrawled in painful characters a few words in some language
utterly unknown to him.

"It is Basque," said mademoiselle, and translated: "'My love, I am
assassinated! Farewell, and avenge me! There is much gold. The good
Monsieur Brandon will----'"

It trailed off into a meaningless, trembling line.

The other was a letter written on ruled paper. The cramped,
schoolboyish characters were those of a man unused to much composition
and the words were the vernacular of the ranges.

"Dear madam," it began, "I take my pen in hand to write you something
that I sure regrets a whole lot. Which I hope you all bears up under
the blow like a game woman, which your late respected husband sure was
game that a way. There ain't much I can say to break the news, ma'am,
and I can't do nothing, being so far away, to show my sympathy. Your
husband has done passed over. He was killed by some ornery hound who
bushwhacked him somewheres in the hills, and who must have been a
bloody killer because Pete, your husband, sure didn't have no enemies,
and there wasn't no one that had any reason to kill him. He was coming
home from the Esmeraldas with his sheep which we was allowing to
winter close to the ranch instead of in the desert to see if feeding
them would pay and some murdering gunman done up and shot him with a
thirty-thirty soft nose, which makes it worse. I'm sending the slug
that done it.

"Pete was sure a true-hearted gent, ma'am, and we was all fond of him
spite of his being a Basco. If we could have found the murderer we
would sure have stretched him a plenty but there wasn't no clew.

"Pete had found a gold mine, ma'am, and the specimens he had in his
war bags was plenty rich as per the sample I am sending you herewith.
He tried to tell me where it was but he was too weak when we found
him. He said he wanted us to give you half of it if we found it and we
sure would do that though it don't look like we got much chance
because he couldn't tell where it was. The boys have been looking but
they haven't found it yet. If they do you can gamble your last chip
they will split it with you or else there will be some more funerals
around hereaways. But it ain't likely they will find it, I got to tell
you that so's you won't put your hopes on it and be disappointed.

"I am all broke up about Pete, and if there is anything I can do to
help don't you hesitate to let me know. I was fond of Pete, ma'am, and
so was my granddaughter, which he made things for her and she sure
doted on him. He was a good hombre."

The letter was signed "I. Brandon."

De Launay mused a moment. "Is that all?" he asked finally.

"It is all," said mademoiselle. "But there is a mine, and, especially,
there is the man who killed him."

De Launay looked at the date on the letter. It was October, 1900.

"After nineteen years," he reminded her, "the chances of finding
either the mine or the man are very remote. Perhaps the mine has been
found long ago."

"Monsieur," replied the girl, and her voice was again metallic and
hard, "my mother received that letter. She put it away and treasured
it. She hoped that I would grow up and marry a Basque, who would
avenge her husband. She sent me to a convent so that I might be a good
mate for a man. When she died she left me money for a _dot_. She had
saved and she had inherited, and all was put aside for the man who
should avenge her husband.

"But the war came before I was married, and afterward there was little
chance that any Basque would take the quarrel on himself. It is too
easy for the men to marry now that they are so scarce, and it is very
difficult for one like me to find a husband. Besides, I have lived in
the world, monsieur, and, like many others, I do not like to marry as
though that were all that a woman might do. I do not see why I cannot
go to America, find this mine and kill this man. The money that was to
be my portion will serve to take me there and pay those who will
assist me."

"You desire to find the mine--or to kill the man?"

"Both. I do not like to be poor. It is an evil thing, these days, to
be a poor woman in France. Therefore I wish to find the mine and be
rich, for, if I cannot marry, wealth will at least make life pleasant
for me. But I wish to find that man, more than the mine."

"And if I marry you, I will be deputized to do the butchery?"

"Monsieur mistakes me," Solange spoke scornfully. "I can do my own
avenging. Monsieur need not alarm himself."

De Launay smiled. "I don't think I'm alarmed. In fact, I am not sure I
wouldn't be willing to do it. Still, this vendetta seems to be rather
old for any great amount of feeling on your part. How old were you
when your father was killed?"

"Two years."

De Launay laughed again, but choked it off when he noted the angry
stiffening of mademoiselle's figure. Somehow, her veiled countenance
was impressive of lingering, bitter emotions. She was a Basque, and
that was a primitive race. She was probably bold enough and hardy
enough to fulfill her mission. She had plenty of courage and
self-reliance, as he knew.

"The adventure appeals," he told her, soberly enough, though the fumes
of cognac were mounting again in his brain. "I am impelled to consider
it, though the element of chance seems remote. It is rather a
certainty that you will fail. But what is my exact part in the
adventure?"

"That rests with you. For my part, all I require is that you secure
for me the right to go to America. I can take care of myself after
that."

"And leave me still married?"

"The marriage can be annulled as soon as you please after we arrive."

"I am afraid it will hardly be as easy as that. To be sure, in the
State of Nevada, where you are going, it should be easy enough, but
even there it cannot be accomplished all at once. In New York it will
be difficult. And how would I know that you had freed me if you left
me behind?"

"If it pleases you you may go with me." He caught the note of scorn
again. In fact, the girl was evidently feeling a strain at having to
negotiate with him at all. She was proud, as he guessed, and the only
reason she had even considered such an unusual bargain was her
contempt for him. He was one who, when he might have remained
respected and useful, had deliberately thrown away his chances to
become a sot and vagabond.

"But you will understand that this marriage is--not a real marriage.
It gives you no right over me. If you so much as dare once to
presume----" She was flaming with earnest threat, and he could well
imagine that, if he ventured a familiarity, she would knife him as
quickly as look at him.

"I understand that. You need have no fear. I was a gentleman once and
still retain some of the instincts. Then I am employed to go with you
on this search? And the remuneration?"

"I will pay the expenses. I can do no more than that. And if the mine
is found, you shall have a full share in it. That would be a third."

"If I am to have a full share it would seem only fair that I
contribute at least my own expenses. I should prefer to do so. While
my pay has not been large, it has been more than an unmarried soldier
needs to spend and I have saved some of it."

"Then," said mademoiselle in a tired voice, "you have decided that you
will go?"

De Launay ordered and tossed off another drink and Solange shuddered.
His voice was thickening and his eyes showed the effects of the
liquor, although he retained full possession of his faculties.

"A sporting proposition!" he said with a chuckle. "It's all of that
and more. But still, I'm curious about one thing. This Morgan _la fée_
business. If I am to wed a fairy I'll at least know why they call her
one. I'll take on no witches sight unseen."

Solange shrank a little. "I do not understand," she said, faltering.
Her expectations had been somewhat dashed.

De Launay spun a coin into the air and leaned forward as it clashed on
the marble top of the table.

"Heads I go, tails I don't!" he said, and clapped his hand over it as
he looked at mademoiselle. "And if I go, I'll see why they call you
Morgan _la fée_!"

"Because of my coloring," said mademoiselle, wearily. "I have told
you."

"But I have not seen. Shall I lift my hand, mademoiselle, with that
understanding?"

Solange stared at him through the veil and he looked back at her
mockingly. Angry and depressed at the same time, she nodded slowly,
but her stake was large and she could not refrain from bending forward
with a little intake of the breath as he slowly lifted his hand from
the coin. Then she sighed deeply. It was heads.

"Mademoiselle," he said with a bow, "I win! You will lift your veil?"

Solange nodded. To her it seemed that _she_ had won. Then, with no
sign of anxiety or embarrassment she bent her head slightly, slipped
the coif back from her hair with one hand and lifted the veil with the
other, sweeping them both away from her head with that characteristic
toss that women employ on such occasions. Then she raised her face and
looked full at him.

He stared critically, and remained staring, but not critically. He had
seen a good many women in his time, and many of them had been
handsome. Some had been very beautiful. None of them had ever had much
of an effect upon him. Even now he did not stop to determine in his
mind whether this woman was beautiful as others had been. Her beauty,
in fact, was not what affected him, although she was more than pretty,
and her features were as perfect as an artist's dream.

As she had said, it was her coloring that was extraordinary. He had
seen sharp contrasts in his time, women with black hair and light-blue
or gray eyes, women with blond hair and brown eyes, but he had never
seen one with that mass of almost colorless, almost transparent hair,
scintillant where the light fell upon it, black in shadow where the
rolls of it cut off the light, nor had he seen such hair in such sharp
contrast with eyes that were large and black as night and as deep as
pools. The thing would have been uncanny and disturbing if it had not
been that her skin was as fair as her hair, white and delicate. As it
was, the whole impression was startlingly vivid and yet, after the
first shock, singularly fascinating. The strange mixture of extreme
blondness and deep coloration seemed to fit a nature that was both
fiery and deep.

De Launay reflected that one might well call her a fairy. In many
primitive places that combination would have won her the name of
having the evil eye. In a kinder land it gave her gentler graces.

"Are you satisfied, monsieur?" asked Solange, with a sneer. As he
nodded, soberly, she dropped the veil and restored her cap. The people
in the café had looked on with respectful and yet eager curiosity, a
murmur of affectionate comment running about the tables.

"I'm quite satisfied," he repeated again, as he tossed a note on the
table to satisfy his account. Solange's mouth curled scornfully as she
noted again the stack of saucers indicating his habits. "I'm going to
marry Morgan _la fée_, the Queen of Avalon, and I'm going to enlist in
her service to do her bidding, even to unlicensed butchery where
necessary. Mademoiselle, lead on!"

Solange led on, but her head was high and her face expressed an
extreme disdain for the mercenary who had signed on with her.



CHAPTER V

A MARRIAGE OF CONVENIENCE


De Launay expressed himself as quite willing to look after most of the
details of the affair, and Solange, although capable, being more or
less ignorant, was willing to leave them to him, although with some
misgiving. The sight of that stack of saucers in the café of the Pink
Kitten remained to haunt her with distaste for the whole adventure.
She distrusted De Launay, recalling some of the more lurid tales she
had heard of his exploits. In spite of everything, he had been a
légionnaire, and légionnaires could hardly be purified even in the
fires of war. Before he arrived at her apartment to go with her to the
_mairie_ of that _arrondissement_, she was to suffer further
misgiving. Ahead of him arrived a gorgeous bouquet of lilies of the
valley and orange blossoms, and they were not artificial flowers,
either. When he arrived, looking much more respectable than she had
expected, his mustache even twisted jauntily and his clothes pressed
to neatness, she met him with accusation.

"Is it monsieur that I have to thank for--these?" she indicated the
flowers with expressive and disdainful hands. De Launay stared at
them vacantly as he stood in the door.

"I suppose it must have been," he said, meekly. "I am forgetful,
mademoiselle. You must make allowances for a broken soldier if
my--vagaries--occasionally offend you."

"It is in bad taste, to say the least, to bedeck the bride in such a
ceremony," she said cuttingly. "If I must hire a husband, he need not,
at least, forget decency and make me conspicuous. Remember that."

"The flowers," said De Launay, "are as if they had never been. I
dismiss them from the earth. With another drink or two I will cease to
recall that such things as flowers exist. Mademoiselle will command
me!"

Solange tossed the offending blossoms on the floor and walked out
ahead of him. He followed at her side but a step behind, and she
stalked with face turned forward out to the street and toward the
_mairie_. Yet, in spite of all precautions some wind of her intentions
must have got about, for more than one old woman or wounded soldier
spoke to her and uttered a blessing and good wishes as she walked
along. To all of them she returned greetings in kind, thanking them
soberly, but with a lip that trembled. De Launay, rolling behind, was
the recipient of curious and doubtful glances, as the man who was
taking their Morgan _la fée_ from them. Yet here and there a soldier
recognized him and came to a stiff salute, and when this was the case
a murmur informing others ran about, and all doubt seemed to die, the
greetings growing more cheerful and the blessings being addressed to
both of them. This annoyed Solange more than the flowers had done.

"Is it that I am honored by having this mercenary drunkard for a
husband?" she said to herself. "_Mon Dieu!_ One would think so!"

Yet she could find nothing really offensive in his attitude to the
affair, unless that he was almost too respectful. She suspected that
he had been drinking and that his air was due to the exaggeration
induced by liquor--or else, and that was worse--he was deliberately,
with drunken humor, making a burlesque of his very deference.

The signing of the contract and the ceremony before the _maire_ were
successfully completed and De Launay turned to her with a deep bow.
The _maire_, puzzled at the utterly emotionless quality of this
wedding, congratulated them formally, and Solange acknowledged it with
stiff thanks and a smile as stiff and mirthless. But it was to De
Launay that the official showed the deepest respect, and that angered
her again.

Her pride was restored somewhat after they had left the _mairie_ and
were on their way back to her rooms. A squat, swarthy individual, in
the dingy uniform of the French marines, doffed his cap and stepped
up to them, speaking to Solange in French, tinged with a broad Breton
accent.

"And is it true, Morgan _la fée_," he asked, ducking his head, "that
this man has been married to you?"

"Why, yes, it is true, Brebon," she answered, kindly. The man looked
searchingly into her face, observing the coldness of it.

"If it is by your will, mademoiselle," he answered, "it is well. But,"
and he swung his lowering head on its bull neck toward De Launay, "if
this man who has taken you should ever make you regret, you shall let
me know, Morgan _la fée_! If he causes you a single tear, I shall make
sausage meat out of him with a knife!"

Solange shook her head in protest, but just behind her she heard a low
laugh from De Launay.

"But, _mon brave_," said he, "you would find this one a tough swine to
carve!"

The Breton stared at him like a sullen and dangerous bull and moved
away, saying no more. But Solange felt cheered. There were some who
regarded her ahead of this soldier of fortune whom she had hired to
masquerade as her husband.

She had little to cheer her in the next few days before she took the
train for Le Havre. In the neighborhood where her marriage had become
known, the fact that De Launay had left her at her door and came to
see her only occasionally and then stayed but a moment was a fruitful
subject of comment. What sort of a marriage was this! Suspicion began,
gradually, to take the place of confidence in her. The women that had
been her worshiping friends now spoke behind her back, hinting at some
scandal. Nasty tales began to circulate as feminine jealousy got the
upper hand. In the presence of soldiers these tongues were silent, but
there were other males in the quarter who were not soldiers. Big,
beefy Achille Marot, who kept the butcher shop on the corner had never
been one, except in the reserve, where he had done some police duty
behind the front. And Marot was a bully, foul of mind and foul of
mouth. The whispers of the women were meat and drink to him. Solange
had seen fit to resent in a practical manner some of his freedoms. Her
poilu friends had nearly wrecked his shop for him on that occasion.
But now she was married--this was said with a suggestive raise of the
shoulders and eyebrows--and the poilus were not so much in evidence.

"Ah! what have I always said to you about this one!" Marot remarked as
Solange passed his shop on her way to her rooms one day. He was
looking out at her and smirking at Madame Ricot, the neighborhood
gossip and scold. "Is this what one calls a marriage? Rather is it
that such a marriage indicates that a marriage was necessary--and
arranged conveniently, is it not? For observe that this broken
adventurer who, as I know, was kicked out of the army in disgrace, is
not a real husband at all, as every one may see. It is reasonable to
suppose, therefore, that the affair has been arranged to hide
something, is it not?"

A hand that was like steel closed on the beefy neck of the butcher and
a calm voice behind him spoke in his ear.

"Now here is a word for you, my friend, from De Launay, the
légionnaire, and you will do well to remember it! A tongue that is
evil will win you an evil end and words that are not true will result
in your throat being cut before you know it. Realize that, Marot, my
friend, and say again that De Launay was kicked out of the army!"

"Death of a dog!" sputtered the butcher, twisting in the iron grasp on
his neck. "I will slit thy belly----"

"Thou wilt do nothing but root in the mud as is thy nature," said De
Launay and kicked him vigorously into the gutter where he did, indeed,
plow the filth with his nose. Madame Ricot uttered a shrill shriek for
the police, and Solange, who had been unconscious of it all, turned
about to see De Launay standing on the sidewalk brushing his hands
while the butcher rolled in the mud. At this moment a gendarme came
running up.

"Take that carrion and lock him up!" said De Launay, calmly. "I accuse
him of public indecency, spreading scandal and criminal slander. He
has said that I, the General de Launay, was kicked out of the army
for unmentioned crimes. I will prefer charges against him in the
morning."

"_Monsieur le général_, it shall be done," said the gendarme, with a
smart salute. He grabbed the groveling butcher and hoisted him from
his wallow. "Come along with me, Marot! I have long had my eye on
thee! And is there a charge against the woman, my general?"

Madame Ricot was gaping wide-mouthed and silent at the unexpected
result of her appeal to the forces of the law. And now she shrank
fearfully back toward the gathering crowd.

"There is no charge--as yet," said De Launay. "But she is suspected of
being a procuress and a vile scold. If it is she who has been injuring
respected reputations, I shall soon know it, and then----"

"I shall be at your service, my general," the gendarme assured him,
and, with another salute, departed, jerking the roaring Marot with
him. De Launay sauntered on, with his rolling walk, toward Solange,
who turned and walked away from him so that he did not overtake her
until they had come to her apartment.

"There is entirely too much gossip in this quarter," said De Launay,
casually, as she wheeled about at the entrance to her rooms. "It is
just as well that you are getting out of it."

"It is just as well," agreed Solange, angrily. "For if I remain here
much longer the gossip that you arouse will ruin me."

"Again," said De Launay, rather dryly, "I apologize."

Solange was left to feel at fault. She knew that she had been unjust,
but De Launay's casual ways and his very indifferent deference angered
her. Yet it could not last much longer since they were to take a train
for Le Havre that evening and sail upon the following day. De Launay
had called regarding the final arrangements.

Her passports had been secured and her passage on the _Astarte_, of
the Blue Star line, was arranged for. How this had been done she did
not inquire, remaining in ignorance of efforts spent by De Launay in
securing the intercession of the French and American military
authorities in order that she might have suitable accommodations on
the crowded liner, which was being used as a troopship. A high
dignitary of an allied nation had had to postpone his sailing in order
that Madame de Launay might travel in a first-class stateroom.

Even so, the girl, concerned chiefly with her own adventure, and
strange to the conditions existing, suspected nothing. The little
stateroom was none too luxurious, for the _Astarte_ was not one of the
best boats, and four or five years of war service had not improved
her. And she had no notion that De Launay, even for such comfort as
this, had paid an exorbitant price out of his own pocket. He had given
her the rate of the second-cabin berth, a dingy little inside
cubby-hole, which he himself occupied.

The voyage was long and slow and dull. The swarming troops and
military men crowded the ship to embarrassing fullness and Solange
kept mostly to her cabin. She saw little of De Launay, who had not the
run of the upper decks as she had, though his rank was recognized and
he was made free of the lounge where the military men congregated. She
heard somewhat of him, however, and what she heard angered her still
more. It was chiefly in the line of gossip and conjecture as to why
Madame de Launay, who seemed to be distinguished because she _was_
Madame de Launay, should be traveling alone, first class, while the
famous soldier shared a stuffy hole in the wall with a Chicago
merchant. The few women aboard, nurses, Y. M. C. A. workers, welfare
workers on war missions, picked up the talk among the officers and
passed their curiosity on to Solange through stewardesses and maids.
Every one seemed to think it strange, and Solange acknowledged that it
was strange--stranger than they thought. But the thing that rankled
was the fact that the assiduous care of the stewardess, her very
obsequiousness, seemed to emanate from De Launay. It was because she
was De Launay's wife that she was a figure of importance--although
she pictured him as a discredited mercenary who was even now,
probably, indulging his bestial appetite for liquor in the officers'
lounge and boasting of his exploits to a congenial audience.

Her one consoling thought was that it could not last much longer.
True, New York would not mean the last of him since he was to
accompany her to her destination, but that should not take long. Once
at Sulphur Falls, which she understood to be her final railroad
station, he could be relegated to his proper place.

Something like this did happen, though not in the measure she
anticipated. They landed in New York on a chill, rainy day, and De
Launay appeared at the gangway with his usual rolling gait, as though
half intoxicated, eyes half closed and indifferent. His bow was almost
mocking, she thought, with the flash of irritation that he always
aroused in her. Other passengers looked at him curiously and at
herself with some wonder, whispers running among them. Behind her veil
she flushed, realizing that her own personality was not so much the
subject of interest as his. She was uncomfortably aware that he was a
striking figure, tall and handsome in spite of his careless demeanor
and slouching walk. It was all the more reprehensible that such a man
should make so little of himself.

But De Launay led her through the customs with a word that worked
like magic and soon had her in a taxicab. He took her to a small and
good hotel, not at all conspicuous, and saw that she was properly
taken care of and supplied with American currency. Then, as she turned
to follow the bell boy to her rooms, he bowed again. But she hesitated
a moment.

"May I ask," she said, with some contrition roused by his care of her,
"where you are going?"

"To my usual haunts, mademoiselle," he answered, carelessly. "But I
shall be within reach. To-morrow afternoon the train leaves for the
West. I will see that everything goes well."

"See that it goes well with you," she answered, a little tartly, "if
not for your own sake, then for mine."

"Things go--as they go, with me," he answered, with a shrug. Solange
turned away, but she felt somewhat more kindly toward him.

In part this was due to the fact that she was no longer overshadowed
by him. The hotel clerks knew nothing of him. As soon as he passed
without the zone of military activities, he became nothing and no one.
They only knew that they had been liberally tipped to afford Madame de
Launay every service and comfort, and, as her appearance was striking
and distinguished, they rendered the service with an impressive
enthusiasm. From this point on De Launay took his rightful place as a
mere appanage.

When they left New York Solange was apparently in full control and De
Launay a mere courier. Used to short European trips, it did not occur
to her that the price for which she secured drawing-room
accommodations on the Twentieth Century Limited was ridiculously low,
and as De Launay had proved capable of handling such matters, and she
was a stranger, she gladly and unquestioningly left such things in his
hands. He, himself, had a berth in some obscure part of the train and
remained there. The maid and the porter of her car hovered around her
with solicitude, and she became very favorably impressed with the
kindliness and generosity of America, extended, apparently, without
thought of reward.

At Chicago De Launay again showed himself in what she supposed was his
true light. He had seen her to a hotel for the two or three hours they
had to wait there and had escorted her back to her train again. While
she was settling herself in her compartment she chanced to look out of
the window before the train left the station and perceived her escort
conversing with an individual who was not prepossessing. It was a
short, broad man, dressed roughly, wearing boots covered by his
trousers and with a handkerchief knotted about his neck. He wore a
wide-brimmed, high-crowned felt hat, old and battered, its brim
curled disreputably at all angles. She perceived that, after a few
words together, this fellow and De Launay appeared to be on the best
of terms, shaking hands cordially, conversing with much laughter and
an occasional slap on the back. Finally the man, in the shelter of a
truck loaded with baggage, produced a bottle from his hip pocket and
offered it to De Launay who, with a preliminary salute, lifted it to
his mouth. After which he wiped the neck of it with his hand and
passed it back, the man duplicating his action.

The train was about to start and, with a few hilarious farewells, they
parted and De Launay rolled in her direction while the other tramp
strolled away at a gait very much like the general's. Two of a kind,
she thought, bitterly; two ruffians who were hail-fellow-well-met--and
she was married to one of them! A soldier of France, a distinguished
general, to descend to this level! It was almost inconceivable.

But the train started and the long journey began.

Hour after hour the landscape flashed past the windows. Day faded to
night, and Solange slept as best she could on the reeling train. In
the morning she awoke to pass another weary time of gazing from the
windows at the endless checkerboard of prairie farms rolling past,
divided into monotonous squares by straight, dusty roads, each with
its house and big red barn forming an exact replica of every other.
She ate and dozed, tried to read a magazine but found the English more
than usually difficult to understand, though ordinarily she read it
with facility. Now her thoughts were in French and they persisted in
coming back to her mission and to the man who accompanied her.

Another long, almost endless day of blatant sun and baked, brown
prairie, passing by almost imperceptible degrees into wide plains,
flat and dry, cut by wire fences here and there, but no longer
checkerboarded in a maddening monotony of pattern. No longer did the
houses and red barns succeed one another at exact intervals. In fact
they seemed to have almost disappeared and had changed their
character, such of them as she saw. They were rough, unpainted board
affairs, for the most part, with here and there a more pretentious
edifice. But in any case they were scarce and far apart. Low,
grass-roofed dugouts also were to be seen at times, but, generally
speaking, the view presented almost nothing but an endless vista of
rolling, baked plain, covered with scattering grass and dusty gray
sage.

And then, far ahead, a dim blue line against the horizon, the
mountains appeared. When she awoke in the morning they were rolling
majestically through wild gorges under towering peaks clad in snow.
Pines and firs shaded the slopes, and the biting, rare air of the
peaks burned her lungs. She forgot De Launay, forgot the depression
that had grown upon her with the realization of the immensity into
which she was plunging, and felt her spirit soaring in exhilaration
and hopes of success. Mountain born and bred, she reacted buoyantly to
the inspiration of the environment. The preposterous nature of her
quest, a realization of which had been growing upon her, as the
endless miles unrolled before her, was forgotten. She felt at home and
at ease in the rugged hills, capable of doing anything she set out to
do, no longer fettered with the binding restrictions of civilization
and no longer bound by the cold laws of probability.

She wanted to summon De Launay, to point out to him the glories of the
landscape and to let its purity and strength sink into him for the
salvation of his manhood. But he remained aloof, lost, she surmised,
in the buffet, drinking illicit liquor with disreputable boon
companions.

Then, in time, they passed the mountain rampart, though they never
again got entirely out of sight of it, and descended into other
desolate plains, broken here and there by patches of green and fertile
land where villages and farms stood. Beside a leaden, surging inland
sea, across a vast plain of alkali, plunging through enormous gorges
cut out of the solid, towering rock, they entered mountains again, and
again shot out onto barren plains, now, however, rusty brown and rough
with broken and jagged lava. Another night was descending when, with
defiant shrieks of the whistle, the train shot out upon a vast bench
and, with flickering electric lights flashing past the windows, and
glass reflecting back its blazing stack, it rolled with tolling bell
into a station. The porter appeared.

"Sulphuh Falls, ma'am! Hoyeah's whah you gits off!"

Then De Launay lurched into view behind the porter and she felt a
sudden revulsion against the thrill of interest and anticipation that
had seized her.



CHAPTER VI

WHERE THE DESERT HAD BEEN


Solange awoke in the bustling, prosperous environment of Sulphur
Falls, nestled in the flats below the cañon of the Serpentine, with a
feeling of ease and comfort. She had expected to find some wild,
frontier village, populated by Indians and cowboys, a desperate and
lawless community, and, instead, encountered a small but luxurious
hotel, paved streets, shops, people dressed much as they had been in
New York. She knew nothing of the changes that had taken place with
the building of the great irrigation dam and the coming of the war
factories which belched smoke back at the foot of the cañon. She did
not realize that, twenty years ago, there had been no town, nothing
but limitless plains on which cattle and sheep grazed, a crude ferry
and a road house. It was beyond her present comprehension that in a
dozen years a city could have sprung up harboring twenty thousand
souls and booming with prosperity. Nor did she reflect upon the
possible consequences these unknown facts might have upon her search.

Everything was strange to her, and yet everything was what she was
accustomed to. Comfort and even luxury surrounded her, and the law
stalked the streets openly in the person of a uniformed policeman.
That fact, indeed, spelled a misgiving to her, for, where the law held
sway, a private vengeance became a different thing from what she had
imagined it to be. Only De Launay's careless gibe as he had left her
at the hotel held promise of performance. "To-morrow we'll start our
private butchery," he had said, and grinned. But even that gibe hinted
at a recklessness that matched her own and gave her comfort now.

De Launay, coming into the glittering new town utterly unprepared for
the change that had taken place, had felt the environment strike him
like a blow. He saw people like those on Broadway, walking paved
sidewalks in front of plate glass under brilliant electric lights. He
had come back to seek rest for his diseased nerves in the limitless
ranges of his youth and this was what he found.

He had turned and looked back at the frowning cañon through which the
train had come from the northeast. There were the mountains, forest
clad and cloud capped, as of old. There was the great, black lava
gulch of the Serpentine. It looked the same, but he knew that it was
changed.

Smoke hung above the cañon where tall chimneys of nitrate plant and
smelters belched their foulness against the blue sky. In the forests
the loggers were tearing and slashing into all but the remnant of the
timber. Down the gloomy gulch cut out of the lava ran a broad, white
ribbon of concrete road. Lastly, and primary cause of all this change,
where had once been the roaring falls now sprang a gigantic bow of
masonry, two hundred feet in height, and back of it the cañon held a
vast lake of water where once had run the foaming Serpentine. From the
dam enormous dynamos took their impulses, and from it also huge
ditches and canals led the water out and around the valley down
below.

Where the lonely road house had stood at the ford across the
Serpentine, and the reckless range riders had stopped to drink and
gamble, now stood the town, paved with asphalt and brick, jammed with
cottages and office buildings, theaters, factories, warehouses, and
mills. Plate glass gleamed in the sun or, at night, blazed in the
effulgence of limitless electricity.

Around the town, grown in a few years to twenty thousand souls,
stretched countless acres of fenced and cultivated land, yielding
bountifully under the irrigating waters. From east and west long
trains of nickel-plated Pullmans pulled into a granite station.

The people spoke the slang of Broadway and danced the fox trot in
evening clothes.

Southward, where the limitless desert had been, brown or white with
alkali, one beheld, as far as eye could reach, orderly green patches
of farmland, fenced and dotted with the dainty houses of the
settlers.

But no! There was something more, beyond the farms and beyond the
desert. It was a blue and misty haze on the horizon, running an uneven
and barely discernible line about the edges of the bright blue sky. It
was faint and undefined, but De Launay knew it for the Esmeralda
range, standing out there aloof and alone and, perhaps, still untamed
and uncivilized.

He felt resentful and at the same time helpless. To him it seemed that
his last chance to win ease of mind and rest from the driving
restlessness had been taken away from him. Only the mountains remained
to offer him a haven, and those might be changed as this spot was.

The natural thing to do was to drown his disappointment in drink, and
that is what he set out to do. He left Solange safely ensconced in the
shiny, new hotel, whose elevators and colored waiters filled him with
disgust and sought the darker haunts of the town.

With sure instinct for the old things, if they still existed, he
hunted up a "livery and feed barn." He found one on a side street,
near a lumber yard and not far from the loading chutes which spoke of
a considerable traffic in beef cattle. He noted with bitterness a
cheap automobile standing in front of the place.

But there were horses in the stalls, horses that lolled on a dropped
hip, with heads down and eyes closed. There were heavy roping saddles
hanging on the pegs, and bridles with ear loops and no throat latches.
If the proprietor, one MacGregor, wore a necktie and a cloth cap, he
forgave him for the sake of the open waistcoat and the lack of an
outer coat.

MacGregor was an incident of little importance. One of more
consequence was a good horse that roamed the open feed yard at the
side of the barn. De Launay, seedy and disreputable, still had a look
about him that spoke of certain long dead days, and MacGregor, when he
was asked about the horse, made no mistake in concluding that he had
to deal with one who knew what he was about.

The horse was MacGregor's, taken to satisfy a debt, and he would sell
it. The upshot of the affair was that De Launay bought it at a fair
price. This took time, and when he finally came out again to the front
of the barn it was late afternoon.

Squatted against the wall, their high heels planted under them on the
sloping boards of the runway, sat two men. Wide, flapping hats shaded
their faces. They wore no coats, although the November evenings were
cool and their waistcoats hung open. Overalls of blue denim, turned up
at the bottoms in wide cuffs, hid all but feet and wrinkled ankles of
their boots which were grooved with shiny semicircles around the
heels, where spurs had dented them.

One of them was as tall as De Launay, gaunt and hatchet faced. His
hair was yellowish, mottled with patches of grayish green.

The other was sturdy, shorter, with curly, brown hair.

The tall one was humming a tune. De Launay recognized it with a shock
of recollection. "Roll on, my little doggy!"

Without a word he sat down also, in a duplicate of their pose. No one
spoke for several minutes.

Then, the shorter man said, casually, addressing his remarks to nobody
in particular.

"They's sure a lotta fresh pilgrims done hit this here town."

The tall one echoed an equally casual chorus.

"They don't teach no sort of manners to them down-East hobos,
neither."

De Launay stared impassively at the road in front of them.

"You'd think some of them'd sense it that a gent has got a right to be
private when he wants to be."

"It's a ---- of a town, nohow."

"People even run around smellin' of liquor--which is plumb illegal,
Sucatash."

"Which there are some that are that debased they even thrives on wood
alcohol, Dave."

Silence settled down on them once more. It was broken this time by De
Launay, who spoke as impersonally as they.

"They had real cow hands hereaways, once."

A late and sluggish fly buzzed in the silence.

"I reckon the sheep eat 'em outa range and they done moved down to
Arizona."

The gaunt Sucatash murmured sadly:

"Them pilgrims is sure smart on g'ography an' history."

"An' sheep--especially," said the one called Dave.

"_Ca ne fait rien!_" said De Launay, pronouncing it almost like
"sinferien" as he had heard the linguists of the A. E. F. do. The two
men slowly turned their heads and looked at him apparently aware of
his existence for the first time.

Like MacGregor, they evidently saw something beneath his habiliments,
though the small mustache puzzled them.

"You-all been to France?" asked Dave. De Launay did not answer
direct.

"There was some reputed bronk peelers nursin' mules overseas," he
mused. "Their daddies would sure have been mortified to see 'em."

"We didn't dry nurse no mules, pilgrim," said Sucatash. "When did you
lick Hindenburg?"

De Launay condescended to notice them. "In the battle of _vin rouge_,"
he said. "I reckon you-all musta won a round or two with the _vin_
sisters, yourselves."

"You're sure a-sayin' something, old-timer," said Dave, with emotion.
For the first time he saw the rosette in De Launay's buttonhole. "You
done a little more'n café fightin' though, to get that?"

De Launay shrugged his shoulders. "They give those for entertainin' a
politician," he answered. "Any cow hands out of a job around here?"

Both of the men chuckled. "You aimin' to hire any riders?"

"I could use a couple to wrangle pilgrims in the Esmeraldas. More
exactly, there's a lady, aimin' to head into the mountains and she'll
need a couple of packers."

"This lady don't seem to have no respect for snow and blizzards, none
whatever," was the comment.

"Which she hasn't, bein' troubled with notions about gold mines and
such things. She needs taking care of."

"Ridin' the Esmeraldas this time o' year and doin' chores for Pop all
winter strikes me as bein' about a toss-up," said the man called
Sucatash. "I reckon it's a certainty that Pop requires considerable
labor, though, and maybe this demented lady won't. If the wages is
liberal----"

"We ought to see the lady, first," said Dave. "There's some lady
pilgrims that couldn't hire me with di'monds."

"The pay's all right and the lady's all right. She's French."

"A mad'mo'selle?" they echoed.

"It's a long story," said De Launay, smiling. "You'd better see her
and talk it over. Meantime, this prohibition is some burdensome."

"Which it ain't the happiest incumbrance of the world," agreed
Sucatash. "They do say that the right kind of a hint will work at the
Empire Pool Rooms."

"If they have it, we'll get it," asserted De Launay, confidently.
"You-all point the way."

The three of them rose by the simple process of straightening their
legs at the knees, and walked away.



CHAPTER VII

MAID MARIAN GROWN UP


The Empire Pool Room was an innocent enough place to the uninitiate.
To those who had the confidence of the proprietor it was something
else. There were rooms upstairs where games were played that were
somewhat different from pool and billiards. There was also a bar up
there and the drinks that were served over it were not of the soft
variety. It seemed that Sucatash and Dave MacKay were known here and
had the entrée to the inner circles.

De Launay followed them trustfully. The only thing he took the trouble
to note was at a rack in front of the place where--strange anachronism
in a town that swarmed with shiny automobiles--were tethered two
slumberous, moth-eaten burros laden with heavy packs, miners' pan,
pick and bedding.

"Prospector?" he asked, indicating the dilapidated songsters of the
desert.

The two cow hands looked at the beasts, identifying them with the
facility of their breed.

"Old Jim Banker, I reckon. In for a wrastlin' match with the demon
rum. Anything you want to know about the Esmeraldas he can tell you,
if you can make him talk."

"Old Jim Banker? Old-timer, is he?"

"Been a-soakin' liquor and a-dryin' out in the desert hereaways ever
since fourteen ninety-two, I reckon. B'en here so long he resembles a
horned toad more'n anything else." This from Sucatash.

De Launay paused inside the door. "I wonder. Are there any more
old-timers left hereaways?"

"Oh, sure. There's some that dates back past the Spanish War. I reckon
'Snake' Murphy--he tends bar for Johnny the Greek, who runs this
honkatonk--he's one of 'em. Banker's another. You remember when them
Wall Street guys hired 'Panamint Charlie' Wantage to splurge East in a
private car scatterin' double eagles all the way and hoorayin' about
the big mine he had in Death Valley?"

"No," said De Launay. "When was that?"

"Back in nineteen eight."

"I was in Algeria then. I'd never heard. But I remember Panamint. He
and Jim Banker were partners, weren't they?"

"They was." Sucatash looked curiously at De Launay, wondering how a
man who was in Algeria came to know so much about these old survivals.
"Leastways, I've heard tell they was both of them prospectin' the
Esmeraldas a whole lot in them days and hangin' together. But Panamint
struck this soft graft and wouldn't let Jim in on it, so they broke up
the household. You know--or maybe you don't--that Panamint was finally
found dead in a cave in Death Valley and there was talk that Banker
followed him there and beefed him, thinkin' he really had a mine.
Nothin' come of it except to make folks a little dubious about Jim. He
never was remarkable for popularity, nohow, so it don't amount to
much."

"And Snake Murphy: he used to keep the road house at the ford over the
river, didn't he?"

Once more Sucatash, fairly well informed on ancient history himself,
eyed De Launay askance.

"Which he might have. That's before my time, I reckon. I was just
bein' weaned when Louisiana was run out of the country. My old man
could tell you all about it. He's Carter Wallace, of the Lazy Y at
Willow Spring."

"I knew him," said De Launay.

"You knowed my old man?"

"But maybe he'd not remember me."

Sucatash sensed the fact that De Launay intended to be reticent. "Dad
sure knows all the old-timers and their histories," he declared. "Him
and old Ike Brandon was the last ranchers left this side the
Esmeraldas, and since Ike checked in a year ago he's the last
survivor. There's a few has moved into town, but mostly the place is
all pilgrims and nesters."

They had climbed the stairs and come into the hidden sanctum of Johnny
the Greek, and De Launay looked about curiously, noting the tables and
the scattering of customers about the place, rough men, close
cropped, hard faced and sullen of countenance, most of them, typical
of the sort of itinerant labor that was filling the town with recruits
and initiates of the I. W. W. There were one or two who were of
cleaner strain, like the two young cowmen. Behind the bar was a
red-faced, shifty-eyed man, wearing a mustache so black as to appear
startling in contrast to his sandy hair. De Launay eyed him curiously,
noting with a secret smile that his right arm appeared to be stiff at
the wrist. He made no comment, however, but followed the two men to
the bar where the business of the day began. It consisted of imbibing
vile whisky served by the stiff-armed Snake Murphy.

But De Launay still had something on his mind. "You say Ike Brandon's
dead?" he asked. "What became of his granddaughter?"

"Went to work," said Sucatash. "Dave, where's Marian Pettis?"

"Beatin' a typewriter fer 'Cap' Wilding, last I heard," said Dave.

"She was a little girl when I knew her," said De Launay, his voice
softening a little with a queer change of accent into a Southern slur.
Snake Murphy, who was polishing the rough bar in front of him, glanced
quickly up, as though hearing something vaguely familiar. But he saw
nothing but De Launay's thoughtful eyes and sober face with its small,
pointed mustache.

"'Scuse me, gents," he murmured. "What'll it be?"

"A very little girl," said De Launay, absently looking into and
through Murphy. "A sort of little fairy."

The lanky Sucatash looked at him askance, catching the note of
sentiment. "Yeah?" he said, a bit dryly. "Well, folks change, you
know. They grow up."

"Yes," said De Launay.

"And this Marian Pettis, she done growed up. I ain't sayin' nothin'
against a lady, you understand, but she ain't exactly in the fairy
class nowadays, I reckon."

De Launay, somewhat to his surprise, although he sensed the note of
warning and dry enlightenment in Sucatash's words, felt no shock. He
had had a sentimental desire to see if the girl of six had fulfilled
the promise of her youth after nineteen years, had even dreamed, in
his soberer moments, of coming back to her to play the rôle of a
prince, but nevertheless, he found himself philosophically accepting
the possibility hinted at by Sucatash and even feeling a vague sort of
relief.

"Who's Wilding?" he asked. They told him that he was a young lawyer of
the town, an officer of their regiment during the war. They seemed to
think highly of him.

De Launay had postponed his intended debauch. In spite of
mademoiselle's conviction, his lapses from sobriety had been only
occasional as long as he had work to do, and this occasion, after the
information he had gathered, was one calling for the exercise of his
faculties.

"If you-all will hang around and herd this here desert rat, Banker,
with you when you can find him, and then call at the hotel for
Mademoiselle d'Albret, I'll look up this lawyer and his stenographer.
I have to interview her."

He left them then and went out, a bit unsteady, seedy,
unprepossessing, but carrying under his dilapidated exterior some
remains of the man he had been.

He reached Wilding's office and found the man, a young fellow who
appeared capable and alert. He also found, with a distinct shock, the
girl who had occupied a niche in his memory for nineteen years. He
found her with banged and docked hair, rouged and bepowdered, clad in
georgette and glimmering artificial silk, tapping at a typewriter in
Wilding's office. He had seen Broadway swarming with replicas of her.

His business with Wilding took a little time. He explained that
mademoiselle might have need of his legal services and certainly would
wish to see Miss Pettis. The lawyer called the girl in and to her De
Launay explained that mademoiselle was the daughter of her
grandfather's former employee and that she would wish to discuss with
her certain matters connected with the death of French Pete. The girl
swept De Launay with hard, disdainful eyes, and he knew that she was
forming a concept of mademoiselle by comparison with his own general
disreputableness.

"Oh, sure; I jus' as soon drop in on this dame," she said. "One o'
these Frog refygees, I s'pose. Well, believe me, she's come a long way
to get disappointed if she thinks I'm givin' any hand-outs to
granddad's pensioners. I got troubles of my own."

"We'll be at the hotel, Miss Pettis and I," said Wilding. "That will
do, Miss Pettis."

The girl teetered out on her spiky heels, with a sway of hips.

De Launay turned back to the lawyer. "I've a little personal business
you might attend to," he said. Wilding set himself to listen,
resignedly, imagining that this bum would yield him nothing of
profit.

In ten minutes he was staring at De Launay with amazement that was
almost stupefaction, fingering documents as though he must awake from
sleep and find he had been dreaming. De Launay talked on, his voice
slightly thick, his eyes heavy, but his mind clear and capable.

Wilding went with him to a bank and, after their business there was
finished, shook hands in parting with a mixture of astonishment,
disapproval and awe.

De Launay, having finished the more pressing parts of his business,
made straight for Johnny the Greek's. The two burros still stood
there, eyes closed and heads hanging. He walked around them before
going in. A worn, dirty leather scabbard, bursting at the seams,
slanted up past the withers of one brute, and out of its mouth
projected the butt of a rifle. The plate was bright with wear, and the
walnut of the stock was battered and dull with age.

De Launay scratched the chin of the burro, was rewarded by the lazy
flopping of an ear and then went in to his delayed orgy.

He had received a shock, as he realized he would, and for the moment
all thought of Solange and his responsibility to her had vanished. He
had come back home after twenty years, seeking solace in the scenes he
had known as a boy, seeking, with half-sentimental memory, a little
girl with bright hair and sweet face. He had come to find a roaring,
artificial city on the site of the range, the friends of his youth
gone, the men he had known dying out, his very trade a vanishing art.
Instead of a fairy maiden, sweet and demure, a grown-up child as he
had vaguely pictured her, he had found a brazen, painted, slangy,
gum-chewing flapper, a modern of moderns such as would have broken old
Ike Brandon's heart--as it doubtless had. The last of the old-timers
were a bootlegging bartender and a half-crazy and wholly vicious
prospector.

Writhing under the sting of futility and disappointment, even the
rotten poison served by Johnny the Greek appealed to him. His old
neurosis, almost forgotten in the half-tolerant, half-amused interest
in Mademoiselle d'Albret's adventure which had occupied his activities
during the past weeks, revived with redoubled force. Sick, shaken, and
disgusted, he strode through the pool room and, with deliberation
masking his avid desire for forgetfulness, climbed the stairs to the
hidden oasis presided over by his old enemy, Snake Murphy.



CHAPTER VIII

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS


Mademoiselle was having a series of enlivening shocks. First came
Wilding, with Miss Pettis. He was received by Solange in the mezzanine
gallery of the hotel and she learned, for the first time, that De
Launay was sending her a lawyer to transact her business for her. This
made her angry, his assuming that she needed a lawyer, or, even if she
did, that he could provide her with one. However, as she needed a
divorce from her incubus, and Wilding practiced also in the Nevada
courts, she thought better of her first impulse to haughtily dismiss
him. As for Wilding, he began to conclude that he had gone crazy or
else had encountered a set of escaped lunatics when he beheld Solange,
slender and straightly tailored, but with hair hidden under a
close-fitting little turban and face masked by a fold of netting.

Marian Pettis was another shock. The extraordinary De Launay, whom she
had supposed lost in some gutter, and without whose aid she had been
puzzled how to proceed on her quest, was evidently very much on the
job. Here was a starting point, at least.

Although, behind her mask, her face registered disapproval of the
girl, she welcomed her as cordially as possible. In her sweet, bell
voice, she murmured an expression of concern for her grandfather and,
when Marian bluntly said, "He's dead," she endeavored to convey her
sorrow. To which Miss Pettis, staring at her with hard, bold eyes, as
at some puzzling freak, made no reply, being engaged in uneasily
wondering what "graft" the Frenchwoman was "on." Marian disliked being
reminded of her grandfather's demise, having been largely responsible
for it when she had run away with a plausible stranger who had assured
her that she had only to present herself at Hollywood to become
instantly famous as a moving-picture star, a promise that had sadly
miscarried.

"But it was not so much of your grandfather as of my father that I
wished to see you," mademoiselle explained, ignoring Marian's lack of
response. "As for Monsieur Wilding, it is later I will require his
services, though it may be that he can aid me not only in procuring a
divorce from this husband, but in another matter also, Miss Pettis,
and perhaps, Monsieur Wilding, you know how my father was murdered?"

Wilding shook his head but Marian nodded at once.

"Gee, yes!" she said. "I was a kid when he was croaked, but I remember
it all right. There was a guy they called Louisiana, and he was one
of those old-time gunmen, but at that he was some kid believe me! He
took a shot at a fellow here in Sulphur Falls--that was before there
was any town here at all--and they was givin' him the gate outa the
neighborhood. Going to lynch him if they caught him, I guess. I don't
remember much of it except how this guy looks, but I've heard the old
man tell about it.

"He come ridin' out to our place all dressed up like a movie
cow-puncher and you'd never have dreamed there was a mob about three
jumps behind him. He sets in with us and takes a great shine to me. I
was quite a doll in those days they tell me." She tossed her head as
much as to say that she was still able to qualify for the
description.

"Believe me, he was a regular swell, and you'd never in the world a
thought he was what he turned out to be. Delaney, his name was, or
something like that. Well, he plays with me and when he goes away I
cried and wanted him to stay. I remember it just as vivid! He had on
these chaps--leather pants, you know--and a Stetson slanting on his
head, and a fancy silk neckerchief which he made into comical dolls
and things. Oh! he sure made a hit with Marian!

"He swore he was comin' back, like young Lochinvar, and marry me some
day, and I was all tickled to think he would do it.

"Then, would you believe it, the murdering villain rides away about
half an hour before the mob comes and goes south toward the mountains.
Next day or so, we pick up your father, shot something terrible, and
this awful 'Louisiana' Delaney had done it, in cold blood and just to
be killing something."

"Ah!" Mademoiselle stiffened and quivered. Her voice was like brass.
"In cold blood, you say? Then he had no provocation? He was not an
enemy of my father?"

"Naw. Your father didn't have no enemies. So far as I know, this
Louisiana didn't even know him. He was a cattleman and they hated the
sheepmen, you know, and used to fight them. Then, he was one of these
gunmen, always shooting some one, and they used to be terrible. They'd
kill some one just for the fun of it--to sort of keep in practice."

Mademoiselle shuddered, envisioning some bloodthirsty, evil thing,
unspeakably depraved. But it was momentary. She spoke again in her
metallic voice.

"That is well to know. I will look for this Louisiana."

"You ain't likely to find him. He never was seen or heard of around
here no more. I've heard granddad call him 'the last of the gunmen,'
because the country was settling up and getting civilized then. One
thing sure, he never made good on that Lochinvar sketch, I can promise
you."

"It is no matter. He will come back--or I will follow him. It is of
another matter I would talk. There was something of a mine that my
father had found."

"I've heard of that," said Wilding. "It's quite a legend around here.
The Lunch Rock mine, they call it, and Jim Banker, the prospector,
looks for it every year."

"But he ain't found it----"

A bell boy passed, singing out: "Call for Mad'mo'selle Dalbray! Call
fer Mad'mo'selle Dalbray!" Mademoiselle rose and beckoned to him.

"Three men in the lobby wish to see yuh, miss!" the boy told her.
"Said Mr. Delonny sent 'em."

"Monsieur de Launay! What next? Well, show them up here."

A few moments later Sucatash and Dave Mackay stalked on their high
heels up the stairs and into the alcove of the mezzanine balcony,
holding their broad hats in their hands. Sucatash gulped as
mademoiselle's slender figure confronted him, and Dave's mouth fell
open.

Behind them lurched another man, slinking in the background.

"What is it, messieurs?" asked Solange, her voice once more clear and
sweet. The cow-punchers blushed in unison.

"This here Mr. Delonny done sent us here to see you, ma'am. He allows
you-all wants a couple of hands for this trip you're takin' into the
Esmeraldas. He likewise instigates us to corral this here horned toad,
Banker, who's a prospector, because he says you'll want to see him
about some mine or other, and, Banker, he don't know nothing about
nothing but lookin' for mines: which he ain't never found a whole lot,
I reckon, none whatever."

Solange smiled and her smile, even with veiled face, was something to
put these bashful range riders at their ease. Both of them felt warmed
to their hearts.

"I am very glad to see you," she said. "It is true that I require
help, and I shall be glad of yours. It is kind of you to enter my
employ."

Dave uttered a protest. "Don't you mention it, mad'moiselle. Sucatash
and me was both in France and, while we can't give that there country
any rank ahead of the U. S. A., we hands it to her frank, that any
time we can do anything fer a mad'moiselle, we does it pronto! We're
yours, ma'am, hide, hair an' hoofs!"

"Which we sure are," agreed Sucatash, not to be outdone. "That's
whatever!"

"And here is this minin' sharp," said Dave, turning about and reaching
for the shrinking Banker. "Come here, Jim, and say howdy, if you ain't
herded with burros so long you've forgotten human amenities that a
way. Mad'mo'selle wants to talk to you."

Banker emerged from behind them. He, too, held his hat in hand, an
incredibly stained and battered felt atrocity. His seamed face was nut
brown under constant exposure to the sun. His garments were faded
nondescripts, and on his feet were thick-soled, high-lacing boots. He
gave an impression of dry dinginess, like rawhide, and his eyes were
mean and shifty. He might have been fifty or he might have been older;
one could not tell.

Mademoiselle was uncertain. She hardly knew enough to question this
queer specimen, and so she turned to Marian Pettis.

"Miss Pettis, can you explain to him? I can hardly tell him what we
wish to know. And, if the mine is found, half of it will be yours, you
know."

"Mine! Lord sakes, I ain't counting on it. You gotta fat chance to
find it. This bird, here, has been searchin' for it ever since the
year one and he ain't found it. Say, Banker, this is Mad'mo'selle
Dalbray. She's the daughter of that French Pete that was killed----"

"Hey?" said Banker, sharply.

"Ah, you know the yarn. You been huntin' his mine since Lord knows
when. This lady is lookin' for it and she wants some dope on how to go
about findin' it."

"An she expects me to tell her?" cried Banker, in a falsetto whine.
"Yuh reckon if I knowed where it was I wouldn't have staked it long
ago? I don't know nothin' about it."

"Well, you know the Esmeraldas, old Stingin' Lizard," growled
Sucatash. "You can tell her what to do about gettin' there."

"I can't tell her nothin' no more than you can," said Banker. "She's
got Ike Brandon's letters, ain't she? He told her where it was, didn't
he? What's she comin' to me fer? I don't know nothin'."

"Were you here when my father was killed?" Solange asked, kindly. She
felt sorry for the old fellow.

"Hey! What's that? Was I here? No'm, I wasn't here! I was--I reckon I
was over south of the range, out on the desert. I don't know nothin'
about the killin'."

He was looking furtively at her veil, his eyes shifting away and back
to it, awed by the mystery of the hidden eyes. He was like a wild, shy
animal, uneasy in this place and among these people so foreign to his
natural environment.

Solange sighed. "I am sorry, monsieur," she said. "I had hoped you
could tell me more."

He broke in again with his whining voice. "It was this here Louisiana,
every one says."

"Louisiana! Yes----" Solange's tones became fierce and she leaned
closer to the dry desert rat, who shrank from her. "And when I find
him--when I find this man who shot my father like a dog----"

Her voice was tense and almost shrill, cutting like steel.

"I shall kill him!"

The dim, veiled face was close to Banker's. He raised his corded, lean
hand to the corded, lean throat as though he was choking. He stared at
her fixedly, his shifty eyes for once held steady. There was horror
and fear in the back of them. He put one foot back, shifted his weight
to it, put the other back, then the first again, slowly retreating
backward, with his stricken eyes still on her. Then he suddenly
whirled about and scuttled down the stairs as though the devil were
after him.

Solange remained standing, puzzled.

"That is queer," she said. "Why is he frightened? I did not mean to
startle him. I suppose he is shy."

"No. Just locoed, like all them prospectors," said Sucatash.
"Furthermore, he's ornery, ma'am. Probably don't like this talk of
killin'. They say he beefed Panamint Charlie, his partner, some years
ago and I reckon he's a mite sensitive that a way."

"He doesn't seem to know where the mine is," said Solange. "Nor do
you, mademoiselle?"

"Me?" said Marian, airily. "If I knew where that mine was, believe me,
you'd be late looking for it. I'd have been settled on it long ago."

"I wish," said Solange, "that I knew what to do. Perhaps, if this
unspeakable De Launay were here----"

"I can telephone the Greek's and see if he's there," suggested
MacKay. Solange assented and he hurried to a telephone.

"It ain't likely he knows much that will help, mad'mo'selle," said
Sucatash, also eager to aid, "but my old man was around here when
these hostilities was pulled off, and it's possible he might help you.
He could tell you as much as any one, I reckon."

"Your father?"

"Yes, ma'am. I recommend that you get your outfit together, except fer
hosses, hire a car to take it out and start from our ranch at Willow
Spring. It's right near the mountains and not far from Shoestring
Cañon, which it's likely you'll have to go that way to get into the
hills. And you'll be able to get all the hosses you want right
there."

"That sounds as though it might be the wise thing to do," said
Wilding.

Solange turned to him. "That is true. I thank Monsieur Sucatash. And,
Monsieur Wilding, there is one thing you can do for me, besides the
arrangements for that divorce. Can you not search the records to find
out what is known of my father's death and who killed him?"

"But it appears that the killer was Louisiana."

"Yes--but who is Louisiana? Where did he go? That is what I must find
out. Oh! If this depraved De Launay were of any benefit, instead of
being a sorrow and disgust to me----"

At this moment Dave MacKay reappeared. Solange turned to him eagerly.
"Did you find him, monsieur?"

"I sure did," said Dave, with disgust. "Leastways, I located him. That
animated vat of inebriation has done went and landed in jail."



CHAPTER IX

BEHIND PRISON BARS


A somewhat intoxicated cow-puncher, in from the mountain ranges north
of the town, intrigued De Launay when he returned to Johnny the
Greek's. To be exact, it was not the cow-puncher, who was merely a
gawky, loud-mouthed and uncouth importation from a Middle Western
farm, broken to ride after a fashion, to rope and brand when necessary
and to wield pliers in mending barbed wire, the sort of product, in
fact, that had disillusioned De Launay. It was his clothes that the
ex-légionnaire admired.

They were clothes about like those worn by Sucatash and Dave Mackay.
De Launay could have purchased such clothes at any one of a dozen
shops, but they would have been new and conspicuous. The fellow wore a
wide-brimmed hat, the wear of which had resulted in certain
picturesque sags that De Launay considered extremely artistic. His
boots were small and fairly new, and not over adorned with
ornamentation. There was also a buckskin waistcoat which was aged and
ripened. The other accessories were unimportant. Such things as
spurs, bridle, and saddle De Launay had bought when he acquired a
horse.

De Launay had imbibed enough of the terrible liquor served by Snake
Murphy to completely submerge his everyday personality. He retained
merely a fixed idea that he wished to return as far as possible in
spirit to the days of nineteen years ago. To his befuddled mind, the
first step was to dress the part. He was groping after his lost youth,
unable to realize that it was, indeed, lost beyond recovery; that he
was, in hardly a particular, the wild lad who had once ridden the
desert ranges.

The more he drank, the firmer became the notion that, to him, instead
of to this imitation of the real thing, rightfully belonged these
insignia of a vanishing fraternity. He considered ways and means,
rejecting one after another. He vaguely laid plans to wait until the
fellow went to his quarters for the night, and then break in and steal
his clothes. A better plan suggested itself; to ply him with drink
until unconscious and then drag him somewhere and strip him. This also
did not seem practical. Then he thought of inducing him to gamble and
winning all his possessions, but a remnant of sense deterred him. De
Launay, though he gambled recklessly, never, by any chance, won. In
fact, his losings were so monotonous that the diversion had ceased to
be exciting and he had abandoned it.

Finally, having reached a stage where the effort to think was too
much for him, he did the obvious thing and offered to buy the fellow's
clothes. The cow-puncher was almost as drunk as De Launay and showed
it much more. He was also belligerent, which De Launay never was.
Furthermore, he had reached the stage where he was suspicious of
anything out of the ordinary. He thought De Launay was ridiculing
him.

"Sell you my clo'es! Say, feller, what you givin' me?"

A bullet-headed, crop-haired, and lowering laborer, who was leaning
against the bar, uttered a snorting laugh.

"Lamp de guys wit' de French heels an' de one wit' de sissy eyebrow on
'is lip, would youse? Dey's a coupla heroes wat's been to France; dey
gets dem habits dere."

The sensitive cow hand glared about him, but the leering toughs who
echoed their spokesman's laughter were not safe to challenge. There
were too many of them. De Launay stood alone and, to him as to the
others, that little pointed mustache was a mark of affectation and
effeminacy.

"You better pull yer freight before I take a wallop at yuh," he
remarked, loudly.

"Tell 'im to go git a shave, bo," suggested the bullet-headed man.

"I'll singe the eyebrow offa him myself if he don't git outa here,"
growled the cow hand, turning back to his liquor.

De Launay went back to his table and sat down. He brooded on his
failure, and to him it seemed that he must have that hat, that
waistcoat and those boots at any cost. The others in the room
snickered and jeered as they eyed his sagging figure and closed eyes.

He finally got up and lurched out of the room. The door opened on a
narrow stairway leading down to a sort of pantry behind the main
billiard parlor on the ground floor. The stairway was steep and dark,
and the landing was small and only dimly lighted by a dusty, cobwebbed
square of window high up in the outer wall.

De Launay sat on the top step and resumed his brooding, his head sunk
on his arms, which were folded on his knees. He felt a deep sense of
injury, and his sorrow for himself was acute. He was only half
conscious of his sufferings, but they were dully insistent, above the
deadening influence of the liquor. There were some things he wanted
and they continually ran through his mind in jumbled sequence. There
was a pair of high heels, then there was a sort of vision of
limitless, abandoned plain covered with yellowing grass and black sage
clumps, and surmounted with a brilliant blue sky. Following this was a
confused picture of a blackened, greasy waistcoat from which a dark,
fathomless pair of eyes looked out. He wondered how a waistcoat could
have a pair of eyes, and why the eyes should hold in them lights like
those that flashed from a diamond.

Men came up the stairs and crowded roughly past him. He paid them no
heed. Occasionally other men left the hidden barroom and went down.
These were rougher. One of them even kicked him in passing. He merely
looked up, dully took in the figure and sank his head again on his
arms. Inside, newcomers advised Snake Murphy to go out and throw the
bum into the street. As this might have led to inquiries, Snake
decided to leave well enough alone until dark.

Finally the cow-puncher, well loaded with more liquor than he could
comfortably carry, decided to take an uncertain departure. He waved a
debonair and inclusive farewell to all those about him, teetered a bit
on his high heels, straddled an imaginary horse, and, with legs well
apart and body balanced precariously, tacked, by and full, for the
door.

Reaching it, he leaned against it, felt for the knob, turned it,
carefully backed away from the door and opened it. Holding the edge,
he eased himself around it and, balancing on the outer side, closed it
again with elaborate care. Then he took a tentative step and lifted
his hand from its support.

The next moment he tripped over De Launay and fell over his head,
turning a complete flip.

De Launay came out of his trance with a start to find a hundred and
seventy pounds of cow-puncher sprawling in his lap and clinging about
his neck. His dull eyes, gummy with sleep, showed him a hat of sorts,
a greasy waistcoat----

Calmly he took the cowboy by the neck and raised him. The fellow
uttered a cry that was choked. De Launay pulled off his hat and
substituted his own on the rumpled locks of the young man. He then
swung him about as though he were a child, laid him over his knees and
stripped from him his waistcoat.

His own coat was tossed aside while he wriggled into the ancient
garment. He held the cowboy during this process by throwing one leg
over him, around his neck, and clamping his legs together. The cowboy
uttered muffled yells of protest.

He hauled the fellow's boots off without much trouble, but when it
came to removing his own shoes there was a difficulty which he finally
adjusted by rising, grasping the man by the neck again--incidentally
shutting off his cries--and depositing him on the top step, after
which he sat upon him.

It took only a second to rip the laces from his shoes and kick them
off. Then he started to pull on the boots. But the noise had finally
aroused those inside and they came charging out.

Fortunately for De Launay, Snake Murphy and his cohorts were so
surprised to see the pose of the late guests that they gave him a
moment of respite. He had time to get off of the cowboy and stamp the
second boot on his foot. Then, with satisfaction, he turned to face
them.

They answered the cowboy's protesting shout with a charge. De Launay
was peaceful, but he did not intend to lose his prize without a fight.
He smote the first man with a straight jab that shook all his teeth.
The next one he ducked under, throwing him over his shoulder and down
the stairs. Another he swept against the wall with a crash.

They were over him and around him, slugging, kicking, and pushing. He
fought mechanically, and with incredible efficiency, striking with a
snaky speed and accuracy that would have amazed any one capable of
noting it. But they were too many for him. He was shoved from the
step, crowded back, stumbling downward, losing his balance, struggling
gamely but hopelessly, until, like Samson, he fell backward, dragging
with him a confused heap of his assailants, who went bumping down the
stairs in a squirming, kicking mass.

They brought up at the bottom, striking in all directions, with De
Launay beneath, missing most of the destruction. The stair well was
dark and obscure, but at the bottom was a narrow space where the
battle waged wildly. De Launay managed to get to his hands and knees,
but over him surged and swept a murmurous, sweating, reeking crowd who
struck and battered each other in the gloom.

The door into the billiard parlor burst open and Johnny the Greek and
reënforcements rushed on the scene. But Johnny, not knowing what the
fight was about and not being able to find out--the outraged cowboy
had thrust himself before a hostile fist in the start of the encounter
and now lay unconscious at the top of the stairs--proceeded to deal
with what he imagined was impartiality. He simply added his weight to
the combat. This naturally increased the confusion.

Such pandemonium was bound to attract attention. Still unable to
comprehend the reason of the whole affair, De Launay was crawling
between legs and making a more or less undamaged progress to the door,
while his enemies battered one another. He had almost reached it, and
was rising to his feet, when a new element was injected into the riot.
A couple of uniformed policemen threw themselves into the mêlée.

De Launay saw only the uniforms. His wrath surged up. What were
policemen doing in this country of range and sheriffs? What had they
to do with the West? They stood for all that had come to the country,
all the change and innovation that he hated.

He expressed his feelings by letting the first policeman have it on
the point of the jaw. The second he proceeded to walk over, to beat
back and to drive through the door, out into the big room and clear
to the sidewalk. The man resisted, swinging his mace, but he found De
Launay a cold, inhumanly accurate and swift antagonist, whom it was
difficult to hit and impossible to dodge. Twice he was knocked down,
and twice he leaped up, swinging his mace at a head that was never
there when the club reached its objective.

The policeman whom De Launay had first knocked down had arisen quickly
and, seeing his Nemesis now pursuing his comrade, ran to the rescue.
De Launay could avoid a club in the hands of the man in front of him
but that wielded by the man behind was another matter. It fell on his
head just as he was driving the other policeman through the door into
the street. It was a shrewd blow and he went to the ground under it.

While they waited for the patrol wagon, the two policemen tried to
gather information about the cause of the fight, but they found Johnny
the Greek somewhat reticent. The cowboy still was upstairs, held there
by Snake Murphy. The others were more or less confused in their ideas.
Johnny was chiefly anxious that the police should remove the prisoner
and refrain from any close inquiry into the premises, so he merely
stated that the fellow had come in drunk and had made an attack on
some of the men playing pool. His henchman was seeing to it that the
robbed and wronged cowboy had no opportunity to tell a story that
would send the police upstairs.

Half conscious and wholly drunk, De Launay was carted to Sulphur
Falls' imposing stone jail, where he was duly slated before a police
sergeant for drunkenness, assault and battery, mayhem, inciting a
riot, and resisting an officer in the performance of his duty. Then he
was led away and deposited in a cell. Here he went soundly to sleep.

In the course of time he began to dream. He dreamed that he was on a
raft which floated on a limitless sea of bunch grass, alkali and
sagebrush, where the waves ran high and regularly, rocking the raft
back and forth monotonously and as monotonously throwing him from side
to side and against a mast to which he clung. Right in front of the
raft, floating in the air above the waves, drifted a slender, veiled
figure, and through the veil sparkled a pair of eyes which were
bottomless and yet held the colors of the rainbow in their depths.
Above this figure, which beckoned him on, and after which the raft
drifted faster and faster, was a halo of sparkling hair, which caught
and broke up the light into prismatic colors.

The raft sailed faster and faster, rotating in a circle until it was
spinning about the ghostly figure, which grew more and more distinct
as the raft gyrated more crazily. Raft, desert, waves and sky became
confused, hazy, fading out, but the figure stood there as he opened
his eyes and the stanchion thumped him in the ribs.

His sleep and his liquor-drugged mind came back to him and he found
himself lying on his bunk in a cell, while Solange stood before him
and a turnkey poked him in the ribs and rocked him to wake him up.

Sick, bruised and battered, he raised himself, swung his feet to the
floor and sat up on the edge of the bed. He tried to stand, but his
head swam and he became so dizzy that he feared to fall.

"Don't get up," said Solange, icily.

The turnkey went to the door. "I reckon he's all right now, ma'am. You
got half an hour. If he gets rough just holler and we'll settle him."

"Is the charge serious?" asked Solange.

"It ought to be. He's a sure-enough hard case. But a fine and six
months on the rocks is about all he'll get."

De Launay looked up sullenly. The turnkey made a derisive, threatening
motion and, grinning, slammed the door behind him, locking it.

De Launay licked his dry lips. There was a pitcher of water on a stand
and he seized it, almost draining it as he gulped the lukewarm stuff
down his sizzling throat.

It strengthened and revived him. He got up from the bed and stood
aside. Solange stood like a statue, but her eyes scorched him through
her veil.

"So this is what a general of France has come to," she said. Words and
tone burned him like fire. He said nothing, but motioned to the bed
as the only seat in the cell.

He picked up the hat, the battered thing that had brought on this
disaster, from the floor and, stooping, felt the sharp throb of his
half-fractured skull. His weakened nerves reacted sharply, and he
uttered a half-suppressed cry, raising his hand to the lump on his
cranium.

Solange started. "They have hurt you?" she said, sharply.

De Launay took hold of himself again.

"Nothing to speak of," he answered, gruffly. "Will you sit down?"

She sat down, then. Through her veil he could not tell what her
expression was, but he was uneasily conscious of the black pools that
lurked there, searching his scarred soul to its depths, and finding it
evil. He was in no condition to meet her, half drugged with stale
alcohol, shaken to his inmost being by reaction against the poisoning
of weeks, jumpy, imaginative, broken of mind and body.

His eyes did not meet hers squarely. They shifted, sidelong and
bloodshot. But she might have read in them something of despair,
something of sullenness, something of shame, but mostly she could have
seen a plea for mercy, and perhaps she did.

If so, she did not yield to the plea--at first. In a cold, steely
voice she told him what he was. In incisive French she rebaptized him
a coward, a beast, a low and disgusting thing. Her voice, curiously
beautiful even in rage, cut and dissected him and laid him bare.

She painted for him what a gentleman and a soldier should be and
contrasted with it what he was. She sketched for him all the glory and
the fame of the men who had led the soldiers of France, neither
sparing nor exalting, but showing them to be, at least, men who had
courage and command of themselves or had striven for it. She
contrasted them with his own weakness and supineness and degradation.
Then, her voice softening subtly, she shifted the picture to what he
had been, to his days of unutterable lowness in the Legion, the five
years of brutal struggle, fiercely won promotion. His gaining of a
commission, the _cachet_ of respectability, his years of titanic
struggle and study and work through the hardly won grades of the
army.

She made him see himself as something glorious, rising from obscurity
to respect and influence; made him see himself as he knew he was not;
made him see his own courage, which he had; his ability, which he also
had; and, what it had not, great pride, noble impulses, legitimate
ambition. When she painted the truth, he did not respond, but when she
pictured credits he did not deserve he winced and longed to earn
them.

"And, after all this," she said wearily, at last, "you descend--to
this? It would seem that one might even gauge the depths from which
you rose by the length and swiftness of the fall. Is it that you have
exhausted yourself in the effort that went before?"

De Launay stared at the floor with dull eyes.

"What would you expect of a légionnaire?" he muttered.

"Nothing!" she cried, angrily. "Nothing from the légionnaire! But, in
the name of God, cannot one expect more than this from the man who
wears the medaille militaire, the grand cross of the legion, who won a
colonelcy in Champagne, a brigade at Verdun, a division at the Chemin
des Dames, and who, as all know, should have had an army corps after
the Balkan campaign? From such a man as that, from him, monsieur, one
expects everything!"

De Launay twisted the unfortunate hat in his hands and made no reply
for some minutes. Solange sat on the bed, one knee crossed over the
other and her chin resting in her hand, supported on her elbow. Her
head was also bent toward the floor.

"Mademoiselle," said De Launay, at last, "I think you have guessed the
trouble with me." His manner had reverted to that of his rank and
class, and she looked up in instant reaction to it. "I am all that you
say except what is good. There is no doubt of that. I have been a
soldier for nineteen years; have made it the work of my life, in fact.
I know nothing else--except, perhaps, a little of a passing, obsolete
trade of this fading West you see around you. I had hoped to win--had
won, I thought, place and distinction in that profession. You know
what happened. Perhaps I did not deserve more. Perhaps it was
necessary to reduce us all. Perhaps I was wrong in despairing. But I
had won my way by effort, mademoiselle, that exhausted me. I was too
tired to take up again the task of battering my way up through the
remaining ranks.

"There was nothing left to me. There is nothing for me to do. There is
no one who can use me unless it be some petty state which needs
mercenaries. I have served my purpose in the world. Why should I not
waste the rest of my time?"

Solange nodded. "Then what you need is an object?" she said,
reflectively. "Work?" she asked.

He shook his head. "I have no need of money. And why should I work,
otherwise? I know nothing of trade, and there are others who need the
rewards of labor more than I."

"Philanthropy--service?"

At this he grinned. "I am not a sentimentalist, but a soldier. As for
service--I served France until she had no further use for me."

"Marriage; a family?"

He laughed, now. "I am married. As for the love that is said to
mitigate that relation, am I the sort of man a woman would care for?"

Solange straightened up, and then rose from the bunk. She came and
stood before him.

"If neither love, ambition nor money will stir you," she said. "Still,
you may find an incentive to serve. There is chivalry."

"I'm no troubadour."

"Will you serve me?" she asked abruptly. He looked at her in
surprise.

"Am I not serving you?"

"You are--after your own fashion--which I do not like. I wish your
service--need it. But not this way."

He nodded slowly. "I will serve you--in any way you wish," he said.

Solange smiled under the veil, her mouth curving into beautiful
lines.

"That is better. I shall need you, monsieur. You cannot, it is clear,
serve me effectively by being thrown into jail for months. I must find
the mine and the man who killed my father before that."

De Launay shook his head. "You expect to find the mine and the man,
after nineteen years?"

"I expect to make the attempt," she replied, calmly. "It is in the
hands of God, my success. Somehow, I feel that I shall succeed, at
least in some measure, but the same premonition points to you as one
who shall make that success possible. I do not know why that is."

"Premonition!" said De Launay, doubtfully. "Still--from Morgan _la
fée_, even a premonition----"

The shrouding mask was turned upon him with an effect of question as
he paused.

"Is entitled to respectful consideration," he ended. He sat
thoughtfully a minute, his throbbing head making mental action
difficult. "I see no hope of tracing the man--but one. Have you that
bullet, mademoiselle?"

She took it out of the hand bag, shivering a little as she handed it
to him.

"It is common--a thirty caliber, such as most hunters use. Yet it is
all the clew you possess. As for the mine, there seems to be only one
hope, which is, to retrace as closely as possible, the route taken by
your father before he was shot. May I keep this?"

She nodded her assent, and he put it in his pocket. Solange was
relieved to be rid of it.

"And now," he added, "I must get out of here."



CHAPTER X

THE GET-AWAY


"If you need money--to pay the fine," began Solange, doubtfully. He
shook his head.

"I have a fancy to do this in my own way; the old-time way," he said.
"As for money, you will have need of all you possess. The cowboy,
Sucatash, is a type I know. You may take a message to him for me, and
I think he will not refuse to help."

He gave her rapidly whispered instructions, her quick mind taking them
in at once.

"And you," he finished, "when you are ready to start, will gather your
outfit at Wallace's ranch near Willow Spring. From there is only one
way that you can go to follow your father's trail. He must have come
out of the Esmeraldas through Shoestring Cañon, therefore you must go
into them that way. I will be there when you come."

Solange turned to the door and he bowed to her. She shook the grating
and called for the turnkey. As she heard him coming she swung round
and, with a smile, held out her hand to the soldier. His sallow face
flushed as he took it. Her hand clung to his a moment and then the
door swung open and she was gone.

De Launay took the bullet from his pocket and held it in his hand. He
sat on his bunk and weighed the thing reflectively, balancing it on
his palm. It was just such a bullet as might have been shot from any
one of a hundred rifles, a bullet of which nothing of the original
shape remained except about a quarter of an inch of the butt.

He wondered if, after nineteen years, there remained any one who had
even been present when French Pete was found dying.

As for the mine, that was even more hopeless. No one had seriously
attempted any prolonged search for the murderer, he assumed, knowing
the region as it had been. Homicides were not regarded as seriously as
in later days and a Basco sheep-herder's murder would arouse little
interest. The mine, however, was a different thing, as he knew by the
fact that even recent arrivals had heard of it. It was certain that,
throughout all these years there had been many to search for it and
the treasure it was supposed to hold. Yet none had found it.

Solange's premonition made him smile tolerantly. Still, he was pledged
to the search, and he would go through with it. They would not find
it, of course, but there might be some way in which he could make up
the disappointment to her. He thought he could understand the urge
that had led her on the ridiculous quest. A young, pretty, but
portionless girl, with just enough money to support life in France
for a few years, hopeless of marriage in a country where the women
outnumbered the men by at least a million, would have a bleak future
before her. He could guess that her high, proud spirit would rebel, on
the one hand, at the prospect of pinching poverty and ignoble work
and, on the other, from the alternative existence of the
_demimondaine_.

Here, in America, she might have a chance. He could see to it that she
did have a chance. With those eyes and that hair and her voice, the
stage would open its arms to her, and acting was a recognized and
respectable profession. There might be other opportunities, also.

But the vendetta she would have to drop. In the Basses Pyrénées one
might devote a life to hunting vengeance, but it wouldn't do in the
United States. If she found the man, by some freak of chance, what
would she do with him? To expect to convict him after all these years
was ridiculous, and it was not likely that he would confess. Though
she might be certain, the only thing left to her would be the taking
of the law into her own hands; and that would not do. He did not doubt
her ability or her willingness to kill the man. He knew that she would
do it, and he knew that she must not be allowed to do it. He shuddered
to think of her imprisoned in some penitentiary, her bright hair
cropped and those fathomless eyes looking out on the sun through
stone walls and barred windows; her delicate body clothed in rough,
shapeless prison garments. If there was to be any killing, she must
not do it.

She would insist on vengeance! Very well, he had promised to serve
her; he had no particular object in life; he was abundantly able to
kill; he would do her killing for her.

Having settled this to his satisfaction and feeling a certain
complacent pleasure in the thought that, if the impossible happened,
he could redeem himself in her eyes by an act that would condemn him
in the eyes of every one else, he lay down on his bunk and went to
sleep again.

In the morning he was aroused by the turnkey and brought out of his
cell. A couple of officers took charge of him and led him from the
jail to the street, across it and down a little way to the criminal
court building. Here he was taken into a large room just off the
courtroom, to await his preliminary hearing.

The rest was almost ridiculously simple. He had had no plan, beyond a
vague one of breaking from his guardians when he was led back to the
jail. But he formed a new one almost as soon as he had seated himself
in the room where the prisoners were gathered.

He was placed on a long bench, the end of which was near a door
leading to the corridor of the building. A door opposite led into the
dock. A number of prisoners were seated there and two men in uniform
formed a guard. One of them spent practically all his time glancing
through the door, which he held on a crack, into the courtroom.

The other was neither alert nor interested. The officer who had
brought De Launay, and who, presumably, was to make the charge against
him, remained, while his companion departed.

Among those gathered in the room were several relatives or friends of
prisoners, lawyers, and bondsmen, who went from one to another,
whispering their plans and proposals. One, a bulbous-nosed, greasy
individual, sidled up to him and suggested that he could furnish bail,
for a consideration.

De Launay's immediate guard, at this moment, said something to the
uniformed policeman who sat near the center of the room. The other
glanced perfunctorily in De Launay's direction and nodded, and the man
stepped out into the hall.

De Launay whispered an intimation that he was interested in the bail
suggestion. He arose and led the bondsman off to one side, near the
outer door, and talked with him a few moments. He suggested that the
man wait until they discovered what the bail would be, and said he
would be glad to accept his services. He had money which had not been
taken from him when he was searched.

The bondsman nodded his satisfaction at netting another victim and
strolled away to seek further prey. De Launay calmly turned around,
opened the outer door and walked into the corridor.

He walked rapidly to the street entrance, out to the sidewalk, and
down the street. At the first corner he turned. Then he hurried along
until he saw what he was looking for. This was Sucatash, lounging
easily against a lamp-post while De Launay's horse, saddled and
equipped, stood with head hanging and reins dangling just before him
at the curb.

A close observer would have noticed that a pair of spurs hung at the
saddle horn and that the saddle pockets bulged. But there were no
close observers around.

De Launay came up to the horse while, as yet, there had been not the
slightest indication of any hue and cry after him. This he knew could
obtain for only a short time, but it would be sufficient.

Sucatash, against the lamp-post, lolled negligently and rolled a
cigarette. He did not even look at De Launay, but spoke out of a
corner of his mouth.

"How'd you make it, old-timer?"

"Walked out," said the other, dryly.

"Huh? Well, them blue bellies are right bright, now. You'll find pack
hosses and an outfit at the spring west of the Lazy Y. Know where it
is?"

De Launay nodded as he felt the cinch of the horse's saddle.

"But how the deuce will you get them there? It's nearly ninety
miles."

"We got a telephone at pa's ranch," said Sucatash, complacently.
"Better hit the high spots. There's a row back there, now."

De Launay swung into the saddle. "See you at Shoestring, this side the
Crater," he said, briefly. "Adios!"

"So long," said Sucatash, indifferently. De Launay spurred the horse
and took the middle of the road on a run. Sucatash looked after him
reflectively.

"That hombre can ride a whole lot," he remarked. "He's a sure-enough,
stingin' lizard, I'll say. Walked out! Huh!"

A few moments after De Launay had rounded a corner and disappeared
with his ill-gotten habiliments, excited policemen and citizens came
rushing to where Sucatash, with nothing on his mind but his hat,
strolled along the sidewalk.

"Seen an escaped prisoner? Came this way. Wasn't there a horse here a
minute ago?" The questions were fired at him in rapid succession.
Sucatash was exasperatingly leisurely in answering them.

"They was a hoss here, yes," he drawled.

"Was it yours?"

"Not that I know of," answered Sucatash. "Gent came along and forked
it. I allowed it was hisn and so I didn't snub him down none. Was he
the gent you was lookin' for?"

"Which way did he go?"

"He was headin' south-southeast by no'th or thereabouts when I last
seen him," said Sucatash. "And he was fannin' a hole plumb through the
atmosphere."

They left the unsatisfactory witness and rushed to the corner around
which De Launay had vanished. Here they found a man or two who had
seen the galloping horse and its rider. But, as following on foot was
manifestly impossible, one of them rushed to a telephone while others
ran back to get a police automobile and give chase.

De Launay, meanwhile, was riding at a hard pace through the outlying
streets of the town, heading toward the south. The paved streets gave
way to gravel roads, and the smoke of the factories hung in the air
behind him. Past comfortable bungalows and well-kept lawns he rushed,
until the private hedges gave place to barbed-wire fences, and the
cropped grass to fields of standing stubble.

The road ran along above and parallel to the river, following a ridge.
To one side of it the farms lay, brown and gold in their autumn
vesture. At regular intervals appeared a house, generally of the
stereotyped bungalow form.

De Launay had passed several of these when he noticed, from one ahead
of him, several men running toward the road. He watched them, saw that
they gesticulated toward the cloud of dust out of which he rode, and
turned in his saddle to open the pockets back of the cantle. From one
he drew belt and holster, sagging heavily with the pistol that filled
it. From the other he pulled clips loaded with cartridges. Leaving the
horse to run steadily on the road he strapped himself with the gun.

The men had reached the road and were lined up across it. One of them
had a shotgun and others were armed with forks and rakes. They waved
their weapons and shouted for him to stop. He calmly drew the pistol
and pulled his horse down in the midst of them.

"Well?" he asked as they surged around him. The man with the shotgun
suddenly saw the pistol and started to throw the gun to his shoulder.

"We got him!" he yelled, excitedly.

"Got who?" asked De Launay. "You pointing that gun at me? Better head
it another way."

His automatic was swinging carelessly at the belligerent farmer. The
man was not long in that country, but he was long enough to know the
difference between a shotgun and an automatic forty-five. He lost his
nerve.

"We're lookin' for an escaped convict," he muttered. "Be you the
feller?"

"Keep on looking," said De Launay, pleasantly. "But drop that gun and
those pitchforks. What do you mean by holding up a peaceable man on
the highroads?"

The rattled farmer and his cohorts were bluffed and puzzled. The
automatic spoke in terms too imperative to be disregarded. Capturing
escaped prisoners was all very well, but when it involved risks such
as this they preferred more peaceful pursuits. The men backed away,
the farmer let the shotgun drop to the ground.

"Pull your freight!" said De Launay, shortly. They obeyed.

He whirled his horse and resumed his headlong flight. He had gained
fifty yards when the farmer, who had run back to his gun, fired it
after him. The shot scattered too much to cause him any uneasiness. He
laughed back at them and fled away.

Other places had been warned also, but De Launay rushed past them
without mishap. The automatic was a passport which these citizens were
eager to honor, and which the police had not taken into account. To
stop an unarmed fugitive was one thing, but to interfere with one who
bristled with murder was quite another.

A new peril was on his trail, however. He soon heard the distant throb
of a motor running with the muffler open. Looking back along the road,
he could see the car as it rounded curves on top of the ridge. All too
soon it was throbbing behind him and not half a mile away.

But he did not worry. Right ahead was a stone marker which he knew
marked the boundary of Nevada. Long before the car could reach him he
had passed it. He kept on for two or three hundred yards at the same
pace while the car, forging up on him, was noisy with shouts and
commands to stop. He slowed down to a trot and grinned at the men who
stood in the car and pointed their revolvers at him. His pistol was
dangling in his hand.

"You gents want me?" he asked, pleasantly. His former captor sputtered
an oath.

"You're shoutin' we want you," he cried. "Get off that horse and climb
in here, you----"

De Launay's voice grew hard and incisive.

"You got a warrant for my arrest?"

"Warrant be hanged! You're an escaped prisoner! Climb down before we
let you have it!"

"That's interesting. Where's your extradition papers?"

The officer shrieked his commands and imprecations, waving his pistol.
De Launay grinned.

"If you want to test the law, go ahead," he said. "I'm in Nevada as
you know very well. If you want to shoot, you may get me--but I can
promise that _I'll_ get you, too. The first man of you that tightens a
trigger will get his. Go to it!"

An officer who is on the right side of the law is thereby fortified
and may proceed with confidence. If he is killed, his killer commits
murder. But an officer who is on the wrong side of the law has no
such psychological reënforcement. He is decidedly at a disadvantage.
The policemen were courageous--but they faced a dilemma. If they shot
De Launay, they would have to explain. If he shot them, it would be in
self-defense and lawful resistance to an illegal arrest. Furthermore,
there was something about the way he acted that convinced them of his
intention and ability. There were only three of them, and he seemed
quite confident that he could get them all before they could kill
him.

The officer who had been his guardian thought of a way out.

"There's a justice of the peace a mile ahead," he said. "We'll just
linger with you until we reach him and get a warrant."

"Suit yourselves," said De Launay, indifferently. "But don't crowd me
too closely. Those things make my horse nervous."

They started the car, but he galloped easily on ahead, turning in his
saddle to watch them. They proceeded slowly, allowing him to gain
about forty yards. The officer thought of shooting at him when he was
not looking, but desisted when he discovered that De Launay seemed to
be always looking.

They had proceeded only a short distance when De Launay, without
warning, spurred his horse into a run, swinging him at the same time
from side to side of the road. Turned in his saddle, he raised his
hand and the staccato rattle of his automatic sounded like the roll
of a drum. The startled officers fired and missed his elusive form.
They had their aim disarranged by the sudden jolt and stoppage of the
car. De Launay had shot the two front tires and a rear one to pieces.

The discomfited policemen saw him disappearing down the road in a
cloud of dust from which echoed his mocking laugh and a chanted,
jubilant verse that had not been heard in that region for nineteen
years:

                    "My Louisiana! Louisiana Lou!"



CHAPTER XI

JIM BANKER HITS THE TRAIL


When Jim Banker, the prospector, hurried from the hotel, he was
singularly agitated for a man merely suffering from the shyness of the
desert wanderer in the presence of a pretty woman. His furtive looks
and the uneasy glances he cast behind him, no less than the panicky
character of his flight, might have aroused further question on the
part of those he left, had they been in a position to observe the
man.

He made no pause until he had gained the comparative seclusion of
Johnny the Greek's place, which he found almost deserted after the
riot of which De Launay had been the center. Johnny had succeeded in
getting rid of the officers without the discovery of his illicit
operations, and Snake Murphy was once more in his place ready to
dispense hospitality. Few remained to accept it, however, the imminent
memory of the police having frightened all others away. A liberal
dispensation of money and the discovery that De Launay's coat and
shoes were of excellent make and more valuable than those he had lost,
had secured the silence of the man whom De Launay had robbed, and he
had departed some time since.

Banker sidled into the upstairs room and made his way to the end of
the bar, where he called huskily for whisky. Having gulped a couple of
fiery drinks, he shivered and straightened up, his evil eyes losing
their look of fright.

"Say, Murph," he whispered, hoarsely. "They's the devil to pay!"

"How come?" asked Murphy, yawning.

"You remember French Pete, who was killed back in nineteen hundred?"

"The Basco? Sure I do. I got a reminder, hain't I? Louisiana done shot
me up before he went out an' beefed Pete--if he did beef him."

"_If_ he did? Whatever makes you say that? If he _didn't_--who did?"
Jim blurted out the question in a gasp, as though fairly forcing
utterance of the words. Murphy flicked a sidelong look at him and then
bent his absent gaze across the room.

"Oh--I dunno. Never knew Louisiana to use a rifle, though. The
dare-devil! I can hear him now, ridin' off a-laughin' and a-chortlin'

            "Back to Whisky Chitto; to Beau Regarde bayou;
            To my Louisiana--Louisiana Lou.

"Remember the feller's singin', Jim?"

The few men in the place had turned startled eyes as Murphy whined the
doggerel ballad nasally. It was strange to them, but Banker shivered
and shrank from the grinning bartender.

"Stop it, yuh darn fool! yuh gi' me the creeps! W'at's the matter with
everything to-day? Everywhere I go some one starts gabblin' about
mines and French Pete an' this all-fired--Louisiana! It's a damn good
thing there ain't any more like him around here."

"W'at's that about mines--an' French Pete? Yuh was the one that
mentioned _him_."

Banker leaned confidentially nearer. "Snake, d'yuh think old Ike
Brandon didn't know where the mine was?"

Snake regarded him contemptuously. "Yuh reckon Ike would have lived
and died pore as a heifer after a hard winter if he'd a knowed? You're
loco, Jim: plumb, starin', ravin' loco!"

But Jim only leaned closer and dropped his voice until it was almost
inaudible.

"Maybe so. But did you or any one else ever know what language them
Bascos talks?"

"French, I reckon," said Snake, indifferently.

"French, no, sir! Charlie Grandjean, that used to ride fer Perkins &
Company was French and he told me once that they didn't talk no French
nor nothin' like it. They talks their own lingo and there ain't nobody
but a Basco that knows this Basco talk."

"Well," said Snake, easily. "What's the answer? I'll bite."

"French Pete's gal has lit in here all spraddled out an' lookin' fer
French Pete's mine," croaked Banker, impressively. Snake was owlishly
dense.

"His gal? Never knew he had a gal."

"He had one, a plenty: sort of a gashly critter like a witch, with
teeth all same like a lobo. Kind 'at'd stick a knife in yuh quick as
look at yuh."

"I reckon I won't go sparkin' her none, then. Well, how's this here
Basco lady with the enchantin' ways allow she's goin' to find Pete's
mine?"

"That's what I'm askin' yuh? How's she goin' to find it? Yuh reckon
she comes pirootin' out here all the way from Basco regions just on
the hunch that she can shut her eyes an' walk to it?"

"Maybe--if she's full o' witchcraft. I reckon she stands as good a
chance that a way as any one does. Drink up and ferget it, Jim."

"I been a-thinkin', Snake. Brandon didn't know where it was. But maybe
Pete leaves a writin', say, which he tells Ike to send to his folks.
It's in Basco, see, and Ike can't read it nor nobody else, so they
sends it to this Basco place and the gal gits it. If that ain't right
why ever does this Basco lady come a-runnin' out here?"

"If it is right, why does she delay all these years?" asked Snake,
pertinently.

"Which yuh ain't seen her, Snake. I makes a guess this gal ain't
more'n risin' two or three years when she gets that Basco note. She
has to grow up, and when she gets big enough the war done come along
and keeps her holed up until now. Yuh can gamble she knows where that
mine was."

Snake pondered this theory thoughtfully. "Yuh may be right at that,"
he admitted, an expression of wonder passing over his features. "But
yuh been to see her? What she say about it?"

"Huh! She was askin' _me_ if I knowed where it was. But that was just
a blind to put me off'n the track--an' she probably wanted to make
sure no one else had found it. She was quizzin' that Pettis girl, too,
makin' sure Ike hadn't told _her_ nothin'."

"Yuh may be right," admitted Snake again. "God-dlemighty! Yuh reckon
she'll find it?"

Jim leered evilly at him. "No, I don't reckon she will. But she might
help _me_ find it."

"Howzzat?" Snake was startled.

"I gotta have a grubstake, Snake. How about it?"

"Jest outline this here project, Jim. Let me git the slant on it."

The two heads, one slick and black, though with streaks of gray, the
other shaggy, colorless, and unkempt, came together and a growl of
hoarse and carefully guarded whispers murmured at that end of the bar.
After ten minutes' talk, Snake went to the safe and returned with a
roll of bills and a piece of paper, pen, and ink. He laboriously made
out a document, which Banker as laboriously signed. Then Snake
surrendered the money and the two rascals shook hands.

Banker at once became all furtive activity. For a few hours he slunk
from store to store, buying necessaries for his trip. By nighttime he
was ready, and before the moon had risen in the cold November sky he
was hazing his burros southward toward the Nevada line.

Although he was mounted on a fairly good horse, his progress was
necessarily slow, as he had to accommodate his pace to that of the
sedate burros. He was in no hurry, however. With true, desert-born
patience, he plodded along, making camp that night about ten miles
from Sulphur Falls. The following day he resumed his snaillike pace,
crawling out of the fertile valley to the grasslands beyond, and so on
and on until the night found him in the salt pan and the alkali. He
passed the Brandon ranch at Three Creek, long since sold and now
occupied by a couple of Basques who had built up from sheep-herding
for wages until they now owned and ran a fair flock of sheep. Here he
did not stop, hazing his burros past as though he had suddenly
acquired a reason for haste. When Twin Forks was a couple of miles to
the rear he reverted to his former sluggish pace.

The next day was a repetition. He plodded on stolidly, making without
hesitation for some spot which was ahead of him. Finally, that
evening, he made camp about three miles north of Wallace's Lazy Y
Ranch, near Willow Spring, and not very far from the gap in the wall
of the Esmeraldas which marked the entrance to Shoestring Creek and
Cañon.

The next morning he did not break camp, but lolled around all day
until about three o'clock in the afternoon. At that time his acute
ears caught the murmur of a motor long before the car came in sight in
the rolling ground.

When it passed he was sitting stolidly by his camp fire, apparently
oblivious to his surroundings. He did not seem to look up or notice
the car, but, in reality, not a detail of it escaped him. He saw the
occupants turn and look at him and heard their comments, though the
words escaped him.

He muttered an imprecation, strangely full of hate and, in the manner
of lonely desert rats, grumbled in conversation with himself.

"I gotta do it. She never come all this way without he told her
somethin'. Fer all I know he might ha' seen more'n I thought. An'
she'd do what she said, quicker'n look at yuh. She ain't right, nohow.
Why don't she show her face? An' Charlie Grandjean says them Basques
is uncanny, that a way. She _knows_! There ain't no gettin' around it.
Even if he never told her, she _knows_!"

The car had passed and he now openly looked after it, mouthing and
muttering. He had observed the driver, a hired chauffeur from the
town, and he deduced that the car was going back. Indeed, there was
no road by which it could have gone into the mountains at this point.
He saw that young Wallace, nicknamed Sucatash from the color of his
hair, and Dave MacKay, another of the Lazy Y riders, were in the car
with their saddles, and that the veiled Basque girl was seated with
them, while her luggage was piled high between the seats.

"Goin' to git hosses and outfit at Wallace's and go in from there.
Course, they'll have to go into Shoestring. It's the only way. They'll
stop at Wallace's and it'll take a day to git the cavvy up and ready.
They'll be movin' day after to-morrow 'nless they want to git caught
in the snow. Proves she knows right where to go or she wouldn't head
in there this time o' year."

He gloomed some more.

"That girl ain't right. She's one o' these here hypnotis', er a
medium, er some kind o' witch. But she ain't goin' to git away with
it. She ain't goin' to git the best of old Jim Banker after nineteen
years. She ain't goin' to git her knife into Jim. No more'n old
Panamint did. I fixed _him_--an' I'll fix her, too. Old Betsy's still
good fer a couple a' hunderd yards, I reckon. I'll let her lead me to
it--er maybe I'll git a chance to ketch her alone."

This thought gave him pleasure for a while and he mumbled over it for
an hour or two. Then he ate his evening meal and went to sleep. In his
sleep he moaned a good deal and tossed about, dreaming of mysterious,
ghostlike, veiled figures which threatened him and mocked him.

The next day he remained where he was. About noon he was puzzled at
the sight of another motor car northward bound. He recognized in the
driver the lawyer who had been present when he had been interviewed by
the French girl, but he did not know what brought him there.
Manifestly, he was on the way back to Sulphur Falls, and Banker
finally concluded that he had been to Maryville, the county seat south
of the Esmeraldas, on some legal business. In this he was right,
though he could not guess what the business was nor how it favored his
own designs.

On the following day he resumed his march. Now he followed the trail
of the motor car which had brought Solange until he came opposite
Wallace's ranch. From here he took up another trail, that of a
considerable train of pack horses and three saddle animals. It led
straight to the steep gully in the rim of the Esmeraldas, where
Shoestring Creek cut its way to the plain.

He noted, but hardly considered, an older trail that underlay this
one. It was of a rider and two pack animals who had passed a day or
two before.



CHAPTER XII

A REMINDER OF OLD TIMES


Much cheered and encouraged by his late adventures with the forces of
law and order, De Launay fared onward to the south where the dim line
of the Esmeraldas lay like a cloud on the horizon. He was half
conscious of relief, as though something that had been hanging over
his head in threat had been proved nonexistent. He did not know what
it was and was content for the time being to bask in a sort of animal
comfort and exhilaration arising out of his escape into the
far-stretching range lands. Here were no fences, no farms, no
gingerbread houses sheltering aliens more acquainted with automobiles
than with horses. He had passed the last of them, without interruption
even from the justice of the peace who lived along the road. As a
matter of fact, De Launay had left the road as soon as the fences
permitted and had taken to the trackless sage.

Even after nineteen years or more his knowledge and instinct held
good. Unerringly he seized upon landmarks and pushed his way over
unmarked trails that he recalled from his youth. Before the sun set
that evening he had ridden up to the long-remembered ranch at Twin
Forks and swung from his saddle, heedless of two or three fierce
mongrel sheep dogs that leaped and howled about him.

The door that opened on the little porch, once hung with vines, but
now bare and gray, opened and a stolid, dark foreigner appeared. He
answered De Launay's hail in broken English, but the légionnaire's
quick ear recognized the accent and he dropped into French. The man at
once beamed a welcome, although the French he answered in was almost
as bad as his English.

He and his brother, he told De Launay, while assisting him to put up
his horse, were two Basques who had come out here fifteen years ago
and had worked as herders until they had been able to save enough to
go into business for themselves. They had gradually built up until,
when Ike Brandon had died, they were in a position to buy his ranch.
All of this was interesting to the soldier.

The first flush of his plunge into old scenes had faded out, and he
was feeling a little lonely and depressed, missing, queerly enough,
his occasional contact with mademoiselle. It came over him, suddenly,
as he chattered with the Basque, in the kindly French tongue that was
more familiar to him than his native English, that the vague dread
that had been lifted had had to do with what he might expect at
Brandon's ranch. That dread had vanished when he had encountered Miss
Pettis. That was queer, too, for his recent debauch had been the
product of sharp disappointment at finding her, as well as the
country, so changed from what he had expected. Then why should he now
feel as though a load were lifted from his mind since he had seen her
and found her utterly wanting in any trait that he regarded as
admirable? He did not know, and for the time being he did not pause to
inquire. With the directness born of long training in arms, he had a
mission to pursue and he gave his thought to that.

The obvious thing was to question the Basque as to long-ago events.
But here he drew blank. Neither this man nor his brother knew anything
but vague hearsay, half forgotten. They had, it is true, known the
story of Pierre d'Albret and his murder, and had looked for his mine
as others had, but they had never found it and were inclined to doubt
that it had ever existed.

"Monsieur," said the hospitable Basque, as he set an incomprehensible
stew of vegetables and mutton on the table before the hungry De
Launay, "these stories have many endings after so many years. It was
long after D'Albret was killed that we came into this country. It was
spoken of at the time as a great mystery by some, and by others it was
regarded as a settled affair. One side would have it that a man who
was a desperado and a murderer had done it, while others said that it
would never be known who had shot him. There is only this that I
know. A man named Banker, who spends all his time searching for gold,
has spent year after year in searching the Esmeraldas for D'Albret's
mine and, although he has never found it, he still wanders in the
hills as though he believed that it would be found at last. Now, why
should this Banker be so persistent when others have abandoned the
search long ago?"

"I suppose because it is his business, as much as he has any, to
search for gold wherever there is prospect of finding it," said De
Launay, carelessly.

"That may be so," said the Basque, doubtfully, "As for me, I do not
believe that the mine was in the Esmeraldas at all. I have looked, as
others have, and have never seen any place where D'Albret might have
dug. I have been through Shoestring Cañon many times and have seen
every foot of its surface. If D'Albret came through the cañon, as he
must have done, he must have left some sign of his digging. Yet who
has ever found such indications?"

"Perhaps he covered it up?"

"Perhaps! I do not know. The man, Banker, searches, not only in the
cañon but also throughout the range. And as he searches, he mutters to
himself. He is a very strange man."

"Most prospectors, especially the old ones, are strange. The
loneliness goes to their heads."

"That is true, monsieur, and it is the case with herders, as we have
known. But Banker is more than queer. Once, when we were with our
flocks in the Esmeraldas, we observed, one evening, a fire at some
distance. My brother went over to see who it was and to invite him to
share our camp if he were friendly. He came upon the man, Banker,
crouched over his fire and talking to himself. He seemed to be
listening to something, and he muttered strange words which my brother
could not understand. Yet my brother understood one phrase which the
man repeated many times. It was, as he told me, something like 'I will
find it. I will find it. I will find the gold.' But he also spoke of
everybody dying, and my brother was uneasy, seeing his rifle lying
close at hand. He endeavored to move away, but made some noise and the
man heard him. He sprang to his feet with a cry of fear and shot with
his rifle in the direction of my brother. Fortunately he did not hit
him and my brother fled away. In the morning we found that Banker had
departed in great haste during the night as though he feared some
attack."

"H'm," said De Launay, "that's rather strange. But these old desert
rats get strange attacks of nerves. They become very distrustful of
all human beings. He was frightened."

"He may have been--indeed--he was. Nevertheless, the man Banker is a
violent man and very evil. When he is about, we go carefully, my
brother and I. If Pierre d'Albret was shot for no reason, what is to
prevent us, who are also Basques, from being treated in the same
way?"

"By Banker? Nonsense!"

"Nonsense it may be, monsieur. Yet I do not know why it may not have
been some one like Banker who shot D'Albret. But I talk too much to
you because you are French."

He became reticent after that, and De Launay, who, whatever he may
have thought of the man's opinions, did not intend to make a confidant
of him, allowed the subject to drop. He slept there that night,
feeling reasonably safe from pursuit, and in the morning went on his
way.

But again, as he rode steadily across the alkali and sage, the
lightness of heart that had long been unfamiliar, came back to him. He
found himself looking back at his vague sentiment for the little girl
of the years gone by and the strange notion that he must come back to
her as he had so lightly promised. He had had that notion in the full
belief that she must have developed as she had bade fair to do. It had
been a shock to find her as she was, but, after the shock, here was
that incomprehensible feeling of relief. He had not wanted to find
her, after all!

But why had he not? At this point he found his mind shifting to
mademoiselle's vivid and contrasting beauty and uttered a curse. He
was getting as incorrigibly sentimental as a girl in her teens! This
recurring interest in women was a symptom of the disease he had not
yet shaken off. The cure lay in the fresh air and the long trail.

He pushed on steadily and rapidly, shutting his mind to everything but
the exigencies of the trail. In the course of time he rode into Willow
Spring, and, cautiously pushing his way into the cottonwoods and
willows that marked the place, found everything there as he had
arranged with Sucatash Wallace. There were few tracks of visitors
among the signs left by cattle and an antelope, except the prints of
one mounted man who had led two horses. The two horses he found
hobbled beside the spring, and with them were a tarpaulin-covered pile
of provisions, bedding, and utensils, together with packsaddles. A
paper impaled on a willow twig near by he pulled down, to find a
message written on it.

"Two pack outfits according to inventory. Compliments of J. B.
Wallace. Return or send the price to Lazy Y Ranch when convenient.
Asking no questions but wishing you luck."

He chuckled over this, with its pungent reminder of ancient days when
unhesitating trust had been a factor in the life of the range. Old man
Wallace, at the behest of his son, turning over to an unknown stranger
property of value, seeking not to know why, and calmly confident of
either getting it back or receiving payment for it, was a refreshing
draft from his youth. De Launay inspected his new property, found it
all that he could wish and then set about his preparations for the
night.

On the next day he saddled up early, after a meal at daybreak, but he
did not start at once. Instead, while smoking more than one thoughtful
cigarette, he turned over and over in his mind the problem that
confronted him. He had pledged himself to help Solange in her search,
but, rack his brains as he would, he could come to no conclusion about
it except that it was simply a hopeless task. There was no point from
which to start. People who remembered the affair were few and far
between. Even those who did could have no very trustworthy
recollections. There would have been an inquest, probably, and that
would have been conducted in Maryville, east and south of the
mountains. But would there be any record of it in that town? Recalling
the exceedingly casual and informal habits of minor-elected officials
of those days, he greatly doubted it. Still, Maryville offered him his
only chance, as he saw it.

It took him all of that day and a part of the next to head around the
Esmeraldas, across the high plateau into which it ran on the east and
down to the valley in which Maryville lay. Here he found things
changed almost as much as they had at Sulphur Falls, although the town
had not grown in any such degree. The atmosphere, however, was strange
and staidly conventional. Most of the stores were brick instead of
wood with false fronts. The sidewalks were cement instead of boards.
The main street was even paved. A sort of New England respectability
and quietness hung over it. There was not a single saloon, and the
drone of the little marble in the roulette wheel was gone from the
land. Even the horses, hitched by drooping heads to racks, were
scarce, and their place was taken by numerous tin automobiles of
popular make and rusty appearance.

An inquiry at the coroner's office developed the fact that there were
no records reaching back beyond nineteen hundred and eight and the
official could not even tell who had had the office in nineteen
hundred.

De Launay, who had expected little success, made a few more inquiries
but developed nothing. There were few in the town who had lived there
that long, and while nearly all had heard something or other of the
murdered Basque and his lost mine, they set it down to legend and
shrugged their shoulders skeptically. The affairs of those who lived
north of the Esmeraldas were not of great concern to the inhabitants
of Maryville at any time and especially since the Falls had grown and
outshadowed the place. All business of the country now went that way
and none came over the barrier to this sleepy little place. In actual
population it had fallen off.

Seeking for signs of the old general store that he recalled he found
on its site a new and neat hardware establishment, well stocked with
agricultural implements, automobile parts, weapons, and household
goods. He wandered in, but his inquiry met the response that the
original proprietor had long retired and was now living on a ranch
south of the railroad. De Launay looked over the stock of weapons and
asked to see an automatic pistol. The clerk laid an army model
forty-five on the counter and beside it another of somewhat similar
appearance but some distinct differences.

"A Mauser," he explained. "Lot of them come in since the war and it's
a good gun."

"Eight millimeter!" said De Launay, idly picking up the familiar
pistol. "It's a good gun but the ball's too light to stop a man right.
And the shells are an odd size. Might have some difficulty getting
ammunition for it out here."

"None around here," said the clerk. "Plenty of those guns in the
country. Most every store stocks all sizes nowadays. It ain't like it
used to be when every one shot a thirty, a thirty-eight, a
forty-five-seventy, or a forty-five-ninety. Nowadays they use 'em all,
Ross & Saugge, Remingtons, Springfields, Colts; and the shells run all
the way from seven millimeter up through twenty-fives, eight
millimeter, thirty, .303, thirty-two, thirty-five, thirty-eight and so
on. You can get shells to fit that gun anywhere you go."

"Times have changed then," said De Launay, idly. "I can remember when
you couldn't introduce a new gun with an odd caliber because a man
couldn't afford to take a chance on being unable to get the shells to
fit it. Still, I'll stick to the Colt. Let me have this and a couple
of boxes of shells. And a left-hand holster," he added.

There was nothing to keep him longer in the town since he saw no
further prospect of getting any news, and his agreement to meet
Solange necessitated his heading into the mountains if he were to be
there on time. So, at the earliest moment, he got his packs on and
started out of town, intending to cross the range from the south and
come down into the cañon. The weather was showing signs of breaking,
and if the snow should set in there might be difficulty in finding the
girl.

That evening he camped in the southern foothills of the range just off
the trail that mounted to the divide and plunged again down into
Shoestring Cañon. Next day he resumed his ride and climbed steadily
into the gloomy forests that covered the slopes, sensing the snow that
hovered behind the mists on the peaks and wondering if Solange would
plunge into it or turn back. He rather judged of her that a little
thing like snow would not keep her from her objective.

But while the snow held off on this side of the mountains he knew that
it might well have been falling for a day or two on the other side.
When he came higher he found that he had plunged into it, lying thick
on the ground, swirling in gusts and falling steadily. He did not stop
for this but urged his horses steadily on until he had come to the
windswept and comparatively clear divide and headed downward toward
the cañon.



CHAPTER XIII

AT WALLACE'S RANCH


The efficient Sucatash reported back to Solange the details of De
Launay's escape, making them characteristically brief and colorful.
Then, with the effective aid of MacKay, he set out to prepare for the
expedition in search of the mine.

Neither Sucatash nor Dave actually had any real conviction that
Solange would venture into the Esmeraldas at this time of year to look
for a mine whose very existence they doubted as being legendary. Yet
neither tried to dissuade her from the rash adventure--as yet. In this
attitude they were each governed by like feelings. Both of them were
curious and sentimental. Each secretly wondered what the slender,
rather silent young woman looked like, and each was beginning to
imagine that the veil hid some extreme loveliness. Each felt himself
handicapped in the unwonted atmosphere of the town and each imagined
that, once he got on his own preserves, he would show to much better
advantage in her eyes.

Sucatash was quite confident that, once they got Solange at his
father's ranch, they would be able to persuade her to stay there for
the winter. Dave also had about the same idea. Each reasoned that, in
an indeterminate stay at the ranch, she would certainly, in time, show
her countenance. Neither of them figured De Launay as anything but
some assistant, more or less familiar with the West, whom she had
engaged and who had been automatically eliminated by virtue of his
latest escapade.

Solange, however, developed a disposition to arrange her own fate. She
smiled politely when the young men gave awkward advice as to her
costuming and equipment, but paid little heed to it. She allowed them
to select the small portion of her camping outfit that they thought
necessary at this stage, and to arrange for a car to take it and them
to Wallace's ranch. They took their saddles in the car and sent their
horses out by such chance riders as happened to be going that way.

The journey to Wallace's ranch was uneventful except for a stop at the
former Brandon ranch at Twin Forks, where Solange met the Basco
proprietors, and gave her cow-puncher henchmen further cause for
wonder by conversing fluently with them in a language which bore no
resemblance to any they had ever heard before. They noted an unusual
deference which the shy mountaineers extended toward her.

There was a pause of some time while Solange visited the almost
obliterated mound marking the grave of her father. But she did not
pray over it or manifest any great emotion. She simply stood there
for some time, lost in thought, or else mentally renewing her vow of
vengeance on his murderer. Then, after discovering that the sheepmen
knew nothing of consequence concerning these long-past events, she
came quietly back to the car and they resumed the journey.

Finally they passed a camp fire set back from the road at some
distance and the cow-punchers pointed out the figure of Banker
crouched above it, apparently oblivious of them.

"What you all reckon that old horned toad is a-doin' here?" queried
Dave, from the front seat. "Dry camp, and him only three mile from the
house and not more'n five from the Spring."

"Dunno," replied Sucatash. "Him bein' a prospector, that a way, most
likely he ain't got the necessary sense to camp where a white man
naturally would bog down."

"But any one would know enough to camp near water," said Solange,
surprised.

"Yes'm," agreed Sucatash, solemnly. "Any one would! But them
prospectors ain't human, that a way. They lives in the deserts so much
they gets kind of wild and flighty, ma'am. Water is so scarce that
they gets to regardin' it as somethin' onnatural and dangerous. More'n
enough of it to give 'em a drink or two and water the Jennies acts on
'em all same like it does on a hydrophoby skunk. They foams at the
mouth and goes mad."

"With hydrophobia?" exclaimed the unsophisticated Solange.

"Yes'm," said Sucatash. "Especially if it's deep enough to cover their
feet. Yuh see, ma'am, they gets in mortal terror that, if they nears
enough water to wet 'em all over, some one will rack in and just
forcibly afflict 'em with a bath--which 'ud sure drive one of 'em
plumb loco."

"I knows one o' them desert rats," said Dave, reminiscently, "what
boasts a plenty about the health he enjoys. Which he sure allows he's
lived to a ripe old age--and he _was_ ripe, all right. This here
venerableness, he declares a whole lot, is solely and absolutely due
to the ondisputable fact that he ain't never bathed in forty-two
years. And we proves him right, at that."

"What!" cried the horrified Solange. "That his health was due to his
uncleanliness? But that is absurd!"

"Which it would seem so, ma'am, but there ain't no gettin' round the
proof. We all doubts it, just like you do. So we ups and hog ties the
old natural, picks him up with a pair of tongs and dips him in the
crick. Which he simply lets out one bloodcurdlin' yell of despair and
passes out immediate."

"_Mon Dieu!_" said Solange, fervently. "_Quels farceurs!_"

"Yes'm," they agreed, politely.

Then Solange laughed and they broke into sympathetic grins, even the
solemn Sucatash showing his teeth in enjoyment as he heard her
tinkling mirth with its bell-like note.

Then they forgot the squatting figure by its camp fire and drove on to
the ranch.

This turned out to be a straggling adobe house, shaded by cottonwoods
and built around three sides of a square. It was roomy, cool, and
comfortable, with a picturesqueness all its own. To Solange, it was
inviting and homelike, much more so than the rather cold luxury of
hotels and Pullman staterooms. And this feeling of homeliness was
enhanced when she was smilingly and cordially welcomed by a big,
gray-bearded, bronzed man and a white-haired, motherly woman, the
parents of young Sucatash.

The self-contained, self-reliant young woman almost broke down when
Mrs. Wallace took her in charge and hurried her to her room. They
seemed to know all about her and to take her arrival as an ordinary
occurrence and a very welcome one. Sucatash, of course, was
responsible for their knowledge, having telephoned them before they
had started.

Before Solange reappeared ready for supper, Sucatash and Dave had
explained all that they knew of the affair to Wallace. He was much
interested but very dubious about it all.

"Of course, she'll not be going into the mountains at this time o'
year," he declared. "It ain't more than a week before the snow's bound
to fly, and the Esmeraldas ain't no place for girls in the winter
time. I reckon that feller you-all helped get out o' jail and that I
planted hosses for won't more than make it across the range before the
road's closed. I hope it wasn't nothin' serious he was in for, son."

"Nothin' but too much hooch an' rumplin' up a couple of cops," said
his son, casually. "Not that I wouldn't have helped so long as he was
in fer anything less than murder. The mad'mo'selle wanted him out, yuh
see."

"S'pose she naturally felt responsible fer him, that a way," agreed
Wallace. "Reckon she's well rid o' him, though. Don't sound like the
sort o' man yuh'd want a young girl travelin round with. What was he
like?"

"Tall, good-lookin', foreign-appearin' hombre. Talked pretty good
range language though, and he sure could fork a hoss. Seemed to have a
gnawin' ambition to coil around all the bootleg liquor there is,
though. Outside o' that, he was all right."

"De Launay? French name, I reckon."

"Yeah, I reckon he'd been a soldier in the French army. Got the idea,
somehow."

"Well, he's gone--and I reckon it's as well. He won't be botherin' the
little lady no more. What does she wear a veil for? Been marked any?"

Sucatash was troubled. "Don't know, pop. Never seen her face. Ought
to be a sure-enough chiquita, if it's up to the rest of her. D'jever
hear a purtier voice?"

The old man caught the note of enthusiasm. "Yuh better go slow, son,"
he said, dryly. "I reckon she's all right--but yuh don't really know
nothin'."

"Shucks!" retorted his son, calmly. "I don't have to know nothin'. She
can run an iron on me any time she wants to. I'm lassoed, thrown an'
tied, a'ready."

"Which yuh finds me hornin' in before she makes any selection, yuh
mottled-topped son of a gun!" Dave warmly put in. "I let's that lady
from France conceal her face, her past and any crimes she may have
committed, is committin' or be goin' to commit, and I hereby declares
myself for her forty ways from the Jack, fer anything from matrimony
to murder."

"Shucks," said the old man, "you-all are mighty young."

"Pop," declared the Wallace heir, solemnly, "this here French lady is
clean strain and grades high. Me and Dave may be young, but we ain't
making no mistake about her. She has hired herself a couple of hands,
I'm telling you."

Solange appeared at this moment, coming in with Mrs. Wallace, who was
smiling in an evident agreement with her son. Mr. Wallace, while
inclined to reserve judgment, had all the chivalry of his kind and
stepped forward to greet her. But he paused a little uncertainly as
he noticed that she had removed her veil. For a moment he looked at
her in some astonishment, her unusual coloring affecting him as it did
all those who observed it for the first time. The first glance
resulted in startlement and the feeling that there was something
uncanny about her, but as the deep eyes met his own and the pretty
mouth smiled at him from beneath the glinting pale halo of her hair,
he drew his breath in a long sigh of appreciation and admiration. His
wife, looking at him with some deprecation, as though fearing an
adverse judgment, smiled as his evident conquest became apparent.
Standing near him the two boys stared and stared, something like awe
in their ingenuous faces.

"Ma'am," said Wallace, in his courtly manner, "we're sure proud to
welcome you. Which there ain't many flowers out hereaways, and if
there was there wouldn't be none to touch you. It sure beats me why
you ever wear a veil at all."

Solange laughed and blushed. "_Merci, monsieur!_ But that is
exquisite! Still, it is not all that flatter me in that way. There are
many who stare and point and even some who make the sign of the evil
eye when they see this impossible ensemble. And the women! _Mon Dieu!_
They ask me continually what chemist I patronize for the purpose of
bleaching my hair."

"Cats!" said Mrs. Wallace, with a sniff.



CHAPTER XIV

READY FOR ACTION


The fact that Solange ate heartily and naturally perhaps went far to
overcome the feeling of diffidence that had settled on the Wallace
rancheria. Perhaps it was merely that she showed herself quite human
and feminine and charmingly demure. At any rate, before the meal was
over, the Wallaces and Dave had recovered much of their poise and the
two young men were even making awkward attempts at flirtation, much to
the amusement of the girl.

Mr. Wallace, himself, although retaining a slight feeling that there
was something uncanny about her, felt it overshadowed by a conviction
that it would never do to permit her to go into the hills as she
intended to do. He finally expressed himself to that effect.

"This here mine you're hunting for, mad'mo'selle," he said. "I ain't
goin' to hold out no hopes to you, but I'll set Dave and my son to
lookin' for it and you just stay right here with ma and me and make
yourself at home."

Solange smiled and shook her head. She habitually kept her eyes
lowered, and perhaps this was the reason that, when she raised them
now and then, they caught the observer unawares, with the effect of
holding him startled and fascinated.

"It is kind of you, monsieur," she said. "But I cannot stay. I am
pledged to make the hunt--not only for the mine but for the man who
killed my father. That is not an errand that I can delegate."

"I'm afraid there ain't no chance to find the man that did that," said
Wallace, kindly. "There ain't no one knows. It might have been
Louisiana, but if it was, he's been gone these nineteen years and
you'll never find him."

Solange smiled a little sadly and grimly. "We Basques are queer
people," she said. "We are very old. Perhaps that is why we feel
things that others do not feel. It is not like the second sight I have
heard that some possess. Yet it is in me here." She laid her hand on
her breast. "I feel that I will find that man--and the mine, but not
so strongly. It is what you call a--a hunch, is it not?"

Wallace shook his head dubiously, but Solange had raised her eyes and
as long as he could see them he felt unable to question anything she
said.

"And it is said that a murderer always returns, sooner or later, to
the scene of his crime, monsieur. I will be there when he comes
back."

"But," said Mrs. Wallace, gently, "it is not necessary for you to go
yourself. Indeed, you can't do it, my dear!"

"Why not, madame?"

"Why--why---- But, mad'mo'selle, you must realize that a young girl
like you can't wander these mountains alone--or with a set of young
scamps like these boys. They're good boys, and they wouldn't hurt you,
but people would talk."

Solange only shrugged her shoulders. "Talk! Madame, I am not afraid of
talk."

"But, my dear, you are too lovely--too---- You must understand that
you can't do it."

"It'd sure be dangerous," said Wallace, emphatically. "We couldn't
allow it, nohow. Even my son here--I wouldn't let you go with him, and
he's a good boy as they go. And there's others you might meet in the
hills."

Solange nodded. "I understand, monsieur. But I am not afraid. Besides,
am I not to meet my husband on this Shoestring Cañon where we must
first go?"

Simultaneously they turned on her. "Your _husband_!" It was a cry of
astonishment from the older people and one of mingled surprise and
shock from the boys. Solange smiled and nodded.

"Yes," she said. "Monsieur de Launay, whom you rescued from the jail.
He is my husband and it is all quite proper."

"It ain't proper nohow," muttered Sucatash. "That bum is her husband,
Dave!"

"I don't get this, quite," said Wallace.

Then Solange explained, telling them of the strange bargain she had
made with De Launay and something of his history. The effect of the
story was to leave them more doubtful than ever, but when Wallace
tried to point out that she would be taking a very long chance to
trust herself to a man of De Launay's character and reputation, she
only spread her hands and laughed, declaring that she had no fear of
him. He had been a soldier and a gentleman, whatever he was now.

Wallace gave it up, but he had a remedy for the situation, at least in
part.

"Son," he said, abruptly, "you and Dave are hired. You-all are goin'
to trail along with this lady and see that she comes out all right. If
she's with her husband, there ain't no cause for scandal. But if this
De Launay feller gets anyways gay, you-all just puts his light out.
You hear me!"

"You're shoutin', pop. Which we already signs on with mad'mo'selle. We
hunts mines, murderers, or horned toads for her if she says so."

Solange laughed, and there was affection in her mirth.

"That is splendid, messieurs. I cannot thank you."

"You don't need to," growled Dave. "All we asks is a chance to slay
this here husband of yours. Which we-all admires to see you a widow."

After that Solange set herself to question Wallace regarding her
father's death. But he could tell her little she did not know.

"We never knows who killed him," he said, after telling how Pierre
d'Albret had been found, dying in his wagon, with a sack of
marvelously rich ore behind him. "There was some says it was
Louisiana, and a coroner's jury over to Maryville brings in a verdict
that a way. But I don't know. Louisiana was wild and reckless and he
could sure fan a gun, but he never struck me as bein' a killer.
Likewise, I never knows him to carry a rifle, and Brandon says he
didn't have one when he went out past his ranch. Course, he might have
got hold of Pete's gun and used that, but if he did how come that Pete
don't know who kills him?

"The main evidence against Louisiana lays with old Jim Banker, the
prospector. He comes rackin' in about a week later and says he sees
Louisiana headin' into Shoestring Cañon about the time Pete was shot.
But the trailers didn't find his hoss tracks. There was tracks left by
Pete's team and some burro sign, but there wasn't no recent hoss
tracks outside o' that."

"You say Jim Banker says he saw him?" demanded Sucatash.

"Yes."

"Huh! That's funny. Jim allows, down in Sulphur Falls, that he don't
know nothin' about it. Says he was south of the range, out on the
desert at the time."

"Reckon he's forgot," said Wallace. "Anyway, if it was Louisiana, he's
gone and I reckon he won't come back."

"I think it could not have been any one else," said Solange,
thoughtfully. "What kind of man was this--this Louisiana?"

"Tall, good-lookin' young chap, slim and quick as a rattler. He'd fool
you on looks. Came from Louisiana, and gets his name from that and
from a sort of coon song he was always singin'. Something about 'My
Louisiana--Louisiana Lou!' Don't remember his right name except that
it was something like Delaney. Lew Delaney, I think."

"He was a dangerous man, you say?"

"Well--he was sure dangerous. I've seen some could shake the loads out
of a six-gun pretty fast and straight, but I never saw the beat of
this feller. Them things gets exaggerated after a time, but if half of
what they tell of this fellow was true, he was about the boss of the
herd with a small gun.

"Still, he never shoots any one until he mixes with Snake Murphy and
that was Snake's fault. He was on the run with some of Snake's friends
after him when this happens. That's how come he was down here."

In the morning Solange appeared, dressed for the range. The two young
men, who had been smitten by her previously, when she had been clad
in the sort of garments they had seen on the dainty town girls, were
doubly so when they saw her now. Slim and delicate, she wore breeches
and coat of fair, soft leather and a Stetson, set over a vivid silk
handkerchief arranged around her hair like a bandeau. The costume was
eminently practical, as they saw at once, but it was also
picturesquely feminine and dainty. It had the effect of raising her
even higher above ordinary mortals. If it had been any other who wore
it they would have contemptuously set her down as a moving-picture
heroine and laughed behind her back. But Solange set off the costume
and it set her off. Besides, it was not new, and had evidently been
subjected to severe service.



CHAPTER XV

THE SHERIFF FINDS A CLEW


"Miss Pettis," Captain Wilding remarked to his office attendant, a day
or two after he had been summoned to meet Solange and had heard her
rather remarkable story, "I'll have to be going to Maryville for a day
or two on this D'Albret case. I don't believe there will be anything
to discover regarding the mine and the man who killed her father, but,
in case we do run into anything, I'd like to be fortified with
whatever recollection you may have of the affair."

"I don't know a thing except what I told the dame," said Marian,
rather sullenly. "This guy Louisiana bumps the old man off after he
leaves our place. Pete was comin' in and was goin' to take granddad in
with him on the mine, but he can't even tell where it was except that
it was somewhere along the way he had come. You got to remember that I
was just a kid and I don't rightly remember anything about it except
that this Louisiana was some little baby doll, himself. His looks were
sure deceiving."

"Well, how old was he at this time?"

"Oh, pretty young, I guess. Not much more than a kid. Say that French
dame has a crust, hasn't she, comin' in here after all these years,
swellin' round with her face covered as if she's afraid her complexion
wouldn't stand the sun, and expectin' to run onto that mine, which, if
she did find it would be as much mine as it is hers. And who's this
Delonny guy she's bringin' with her? Looks to me like a bolshevik
anarchist or a panhandler."

"Humph!" said Wilding, musingly. "He's nothing like that. Fact is,
she's got a gold mine right there, and she wants to divorce it. Now,
you're sure Louisiana did this and that he left the country? Ever hear
what became of him?"

"Nary a word," said the girl, indifferently. "I reckon everybody has
forgotten him around here except Snake Murphy, who works for Johnny
the Greek. Snake used to know this guy, and it was for shootin' him
that Louisiana was run out of the country. Fact is, I've heard most of
what I know from Snake."

"I'd better interview him, I suppose," said Wilding.

"If you can get any info out of him as to where that mine is you ought
to tell me as quick as that French dame," said Marian. "Believe me,
I'm needing gold mines a lot more than she does. She ain't so hard up
that she can't go chasing around the country and livin' at swell
hotels and hiring lawyers and things while I got to work for what I
get. Anyway, half of that mine belongs to me."

"The mine belongs to whoever finds it," said Wilding. "It was never
filed on, and any claim D'Albret might have had was lost at his death.
In any event, I imagine that it has been so long ago that the chance
of locating it now is practically nonexistent."

"Me, too," said Marian. "Unless----" and she paused.

"Unless what?"

"Whatever brings this dame clear over from France to look for a mine
after twenty years? D'you reckon that any one in their sober senses
would squander money on a thing like that if they didn't have some
inside info as to where to look? Seems to me this Frog lady must have
got some tip that we haven't had."

"Perhaps she has," said Wilding. "In fact, she would hardly come here,
as you say, with nothing definite to go on. But I'm not interested in
the mine. What I want to know is where this Louisiana went after he
left here."

"Maybe Snake Murphy knows," said Marian.

Wilding was inclined to agree with her. At least no other source of
information appeared to offer any better prospects, so with some
distaste he sought out Murphy at the pool room. He began by tactfully
remarking about the changes from the old times, to which Murphy
agreed.

"You've lived here since before the Falls was built, haven't you,
Murphy?" asked Wilding, after Snake had expressed some contempt for
new times and new ways.

"Me!" said Snake, boastfully. "Why, when I come here there wasn't
anything here but sunshine and jack rabbits. I _was_ the town of
Sulphur Falls. I run a ferry and a road house down here when there
wasn't another place within five miles in any direction."

"You knew the old-timers, then?"

"Nobody knew them any better. They all had to stop at my place
whenever they were crossin' the river. There wasn't no ford."

Wilding leaned over and grew confidential.

"Snake," he said, in a low tone, "I've heard that you know something
about this old-time gunman, Louisiana, and the killing of French Pete
back about the first of the century. Is there anything in that?"

Snake eyed him coolly and appraisingly before he answered.

"There seems to be a lot of interest cropping up in this Louisiana and
French Pete all of a sudden," he remarked. "What's the big idea?"

"I'm looking for Louisiana," said Wilding.

"And not fer French Pete's mine?"

"No interest at all in the mine," Wilding assured him. "I've got an
idea that Louisiana could be convicted of that murder if we could lay
hands on him."

"Well, you're welcome to go to it if you want," said Snake, dryly. He
held up his stiffened right wrist and eyed it cynically. "But,
personally, if it was me and I knowed that Louisiana was still
kickin', I'd indulge in considerable reflection before I went
squanderin' around lookin' to lay anything on him. This here
Louisiana, I'm free to state, wasn't no hombre to aggravate
carelessly. _I_ found that out."

"How?" Wilding asked.

"Oh, it was my own fault, I'll admit at this day. There was a lady
used to frequent my place who wasn't any better than she should be.
She took a grudge against Louisiana and, bein' right fond of her at
the time, I was foolish enough to horn in on the ruction. I'll say
this for Louisiana: he could just as well have beefed me complete
instead of just shootin' the derringer out of my fist the way he done.
Takin' it all together, I'd say he was plumb considerate."

"He was a bad man, then?"

"Why, no, I wouldn't say he was. He was a rattlesnake with a
six-shooter, but, takin' it altogether, he never run wild with it. Not
until he beefs French Pete--that is, if he did down him. As for me, I
never knew anything about that except what I was told because I was
nursin' a busted wrist about that time. All I know was that the boys
that hung around here was after him for gettin' me and that he headed
out south, stoppin' at Twin Forks and then goin' on south toward the
mountains. Nobody ever saw him again, and from that day to this he
ain't never been heard of."

"Looks like he had some reason better than shooting you up to keep
going and never come back, don't it?"

"It looks like it. But I don't know anything about it. Might have been
that he was just tired of us all and decided to quit us. Anyhow, if
there's anything rightly known about it I reckon it'll be over at
Maryville. There's where they held the inquest at the time."

Snake evidently knew nothing more than he had told and Wilding again
decided that his only chance of gaining any real information would be
at Maryville. Accordingly, he got an automobile and started for that
somnolent village on the next day.

After arriving at the little town, he spent two or three days in
preliminary work looking toward filing the petition for mademoiselle's
divorce and arranging to secure her nominal residence in Nevada. Not
until this had been accomplished did he set out to get information
regarding the long-forgotten Louisiana.

His first place of call was the coroner's office. A local undertaker
held the position at this time and he had been in the country no more
than ten years. He knew nothing of his predecessors and had few of
their records, none going back as far as this event.

"There seems to be a lot of curiosity cropping up about this old
murder," he volunteered, when Wilding broached the subject. "Another
man was in here yesterday asking about the same thing. Tall,
good-looking fellow, dressed like a cowman and wearing a gun. Know
him?"

Wilding asked a few further details and recognized the description as
that of De Launay. This satisfied him, as he had no doubt that
mademoiselle's nominal husband was employed on the same errand as
himself. So he merely stated that it was probably the man in whose
interests he was working.

"Well, I didn't know anything about him and didn't discuss the matter
with him. Fact is, I never heard of the murder so I couldn't tell him
much about it."

"Still, I'm sure there was an inquest at the time," said Wilding.

"There probably was, but that wouldn't mean any too much. In the old
days the coroner's juries had a way of returning any old verdict that
struck their fancies. I've heard of men being shot tackling some noted
gun fighter and the jury bringing in a verdict of suicide because he
ought to have known better than to take such a chance. Then it's by no
means uncommon to find them laying a murder whose perpetrator was
unknown or out of reach against a Chinaman or Indian or some extremely
unpopular individual on the theory that, if he hadn't done this one,
he might eventually commit one and, anyway, they ought to hang him on
general principles and get rid of him. This was in 1900, you say?"

"About then."

"That doesn't sound early enough for one of the freak verdicts. Still,
this country was still primitive at that time, and they might have
done almost anything. Anyway there are no coroner's records going back
to that date, so I'm afraid that I can't help you or your client."

Wilding was discouraged, but he thought there might still be a chance
in another direction, although the prospects appeared slim. Leaving
the coroner he sought out the sheriff's office and encountered a burly
individual who welcomed him as some one to relieve the monotony of his
days. This man was also a newcomer, or comparatively so. He had
fifteen years of residence behind him. But he, too, knew nothing of
French Pete's murder.

"To be sure," he said, after reflecting, "I've heard something about
it and I have a slight recollection that I've run onto it at some
time. There used to be considerable talk about the mine this here
Basco had found and many a man has hunted all over the map after it.
But it ain't never been found. I've heard that he was shot from ambush
by a gunman, and his name might have been Louisiana. Seems to me that
whoever shot him must have done it because he had found the mine, and
since the mine ain't ever been discovered it looks like the murderer
must have wanted its secret to remain hidden. That looks reasonable,
don't it?"

"There might be something in it," admitted Wilding.

"Well, if that's the case, it's just as reasonable to figure that, if
it was a white man that shot him, he'd come back in time to locate the
mine. But he ain't ever done it. Then I'd say that proves one of two
things: either it wasn't no white man that shot him or if it was the
man was himself killed before he could return. Ain't that right?"

"But if not a white man who would have done it?"

"Indians," said the sheriff, solemnly. "Them Indians don't want white
men ringing in here and digging up the country where they hunt. Back
in those days I reckon there was heaps of Indians round here and most
likely one of them shot him. But, come to think of it, the files may
have a record of it in 'em. We'll go and look."

Wilding followed him, still further convinced that he was on a
hopeless search. The sheriff went into the office and led the way up
to an unlighted second-story room, hardly more than an attic where, in
the dust and gloom, slightly dissipated by the rays of a flashlight,
he disclosed several boxes and transfer cases over which he stooped.

"Nineteen hundred. It wouldn't be in one of these transfer cases
because I know they didn't have no such traps in those days. One of
these old boxes might have something. Lend a hand while I haul them
out."

The two of them hauled out and opened two or three boxes before they
found one the papers in which seemed to be dated in the years before
and after nineteen hundred. This they carried downstairs and soon were
busy in pawing over the dusty, faded documents. The search produced
only one thing. The sheriff came upon it and held it up just as they
were giving up hope. Then, with Wilding eagerly leaning over his
shoulder, he read it slowly.

    REWARD!

    The sheriff of Esmeralda County, State of Nevada,
    hereby offers a reward of FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS for
    the capture, dead or alive, and evidence leading to
    the conviction of Lewis Delaney, alias Louisiana
    Lou, alias Louisiana, who is wanted for the murder,
    on October 18, 1900, of Peter Dalbray, commonly
    known as French Pete, at a point near the entrance
    of Shoestring Cañon in Township 42 N., Range 5
    East. This reward is guaranteed and authorized by
    Isaac Brandon, of Twin Forks, Nevada.

    DESCRIPTION!

    Just short of six feet, slim, quick, regular
    features, age about nineteen or twenty years,
    smooth face, brown hair, gray eyes. Dressed when
    last seen in open flap chaps, silver conchas, blue
    shirt. Boss of the Range Stetson, wearing wide
    belt with conchas and holster stamped with
    sunflowers. Carried a black rubber-handled Colt
    .41-caliber gun with which he is very expert. Has
    probably picked up a 30-30 rifle, Winchester or
    Marlin, since last seen, with which he committed
    the crime. Speaks with slight Southern accent.
    Police of all cities notified.

"That," said the sheriff, reluctantly, "seems to dispose of my Indian
theory. They wouldn't have offered any such reward if they hadn't been
pretty sure they had the right man. But it's equally sure that they
never caught him or we'd have some record of it. On my second theory
then, he's either dead, or else he'd have come back to locate that
mine, or else he's been taken up for some other crime and has been
serving time somewhere."

Wilding took the faded, yellow handbill with its crude printing. "It
looks that way," he said. "Evidently they couldn't get a photograph of
him, and the description seems to be vague except as to his weapons
and accouterments."

"That's the way with them old-timers. They didn't pay so much
attention to a man's looks as to his saddle and horse and gun. But if
it'll do you any good take it along. It's outlawed as far as the
reward's concerned, so I don't reckon I'll go hunting this fellow. The
county wouldn't pay me, and old Brandon's been dead a year or more."

The lawyer had to be satisfied with this, and, indeed, it seemed to
settle the matter fairly conclusively. His business having been
completed, he got out his automobile and once more headed back for
Sulphur Falls.

That evening he drew up at Wallace's ranch and there found Solange
about to start into the mountains. He stayed the night, and delivered
to her the handbill after telling her what he had done regarding the
divorce and the search for the murderer. Solange listened to the first
part of it with slight interest. Her desire to be free of De Launay
had lost its force lately and she found herself somewhat indifferent.
As Wilding formally laid down the procedure she would have to go
through she even found herself vaguely regretting that she had moved
so promptly in that matter. Somehow, in this land of strangers, kind
and sympathetic as they had been, she felt that her search was
hopeless without some more intimate help. The tall soldier, broken and
desperate as he seemed to be, was closer to her than any one else and
she felt that, if she should lose him, her plight would be forlorn. As
she had last seen him standing in his cell, making his quiet promise
of service to her, he appeared to be a rock on which she could lean.
To her mind came back the stories she had heard of him, the wild and
stormy tale of his rise from an outcast of the Légion des Etrangers to
a high and honored place in the French army. He had done wonderful
things and had overcome tremendous obstacles. Such a man could still
do marvels, and it was marvels that one must do to help her in her
search.

Some inborn superstition of her native mountains worked upon her. In
his absence the things which had prejudiced her against him faded
while the smooth efficiency and ease of her journey to this distant
land was recalled, with the realization that that comfort and speed
must have been due entirely to him whom she had thought spending his
time in drunken carouses. He had brought her so far, to the very
threshold of what she sought, and, if he should now abandon her, that
threshold must remain uncrossed. De Launay had taken on some of the
attributes of a guardian angel, a jinni who alone could guide her to
the goal she sought. And she was about to divorce him, to cut the
slight tie that bound him to her.

This was her feeling when Wilding showed her the handbill, and the
ancient, faded poster carried instant conviction to her that she was
at last on the trail of the murderer. When the lawyer repeated the
sheriff's deductions as to Louisiana's death or detention, she merely
shook her head. Although the description carried little meaning to her
she seemed to envision a figure, sinister and evil, something to seek
and something to find. Or something that De Launay would surely
find!

She went out to where the two young men were working with the pack
outfit and horses which had been brought in for their journey.

"My friends," she said soberly, "we must hurry and be gone to-morrow.
I have a feeling that we shall find this man. But it will be with
Monsieur de Launay's help. I do not know why but I feel that he will
bring us to the man. We must rejoin him as soon as possible."

"All right," said Sucatash, shortly. Dave muttered, "Damn De Launay!"
But they both turned back to their work and hastened their
preparations.



CHAPTER XVI

IN THE SOLITUDES OF THE CANYON


The great wall of the Esmeraldas is split at one point by a ragged
chasm opening out into the foothills and the grass plains to the
north. This was the outlet of Shoestring Creek, a small stream of
water which flowed out into the plain and was finally lost in the
sands. It ran back into the range almost to the top of the main
divide, forming a sort of natural pathway through the rugged
mountains, a pathway much followed by the sheep-herders in driving
their flocks from winter to summer range.

There was no road, properly speaking. In fact, when one had penetrated
a few miles into the cañon passage was rendered arduous and difficult
by a series of rocky terraces down which the stream tumbled. At many
points the sheep trails winding along the slopes of the cañon walls
formed the only practical thoroughfare.

Farther up, the cañon became more level, but no one had ever built a
road through it. A good trail ran along it, generally at the level of
the stream. Once past the terraced and rough part, there were no
difficulties worthy of mention, at least in other seasons than
winter.

It was into this entrance to the Esmeraldas that Solange and her
cavaliers rode, pushing on steadily so as to be able to make camp
above the obstructions. Sucatash and Dave, finding that the girl was a
capable horsewoman and apparently able to bear any reasonable amount
of fatigue, had pushed their first day's travel relentlessly, covering
the twenty miles between the ranch and the mountains, and aiming to
penetrate another ten miles into the hills on the first day.

There had been little conversation. The two boys had the habit of
their kind and kept silence for the most part while on the trail. As
for Solange, though interested in the strange and wild country, she
was engrossed in her own thoughts, aloof from all about her, wondering
ceaselessly what her search would eventually develop.

There had been many times, even after starting on her pilgrimage, when
the whole adventure had appealed to her as one that was no better than
a weird, senseless obsession, one that she would do well to turn back
from and forget. Probably, at first, she had only been kept to the
task by a certain spirit of adventure, a youthful and long-repressed
urge for romance, fortified by inherited traditions of the sacredness
of vengeance. It is even probable that, had it not been for the
fortuitous advent of De Launay and the wild impulse which had led her
to enlist him in the affair, she would have remained at home and
settled down to--what?

It was that memory of what her fate must be at home that had always
furnished the final prick to her faltering resolution. Better to
wander, lonely and helpless, fighting and struggling to achieve some
measure of independence, than remain to what her existence must be in
France, whether it was the drab life of a seamstress or shopgirl, the
gray existence of a convent, the sluggish grind of a sordid
marriage--provided she could find a man to marry--or the feverish
degradation of the _demi-monde_.

But now, as she rode under the frowning, yellow-brown, black-patched
rocks of the Esmeraldas, or looked backward over the drab plain behind
her, she felt an ever-increasing exaltation and tingling sense of
expectation. She could not guess what was going to happen. She had no
idea of what awaited her among those mountains, but she had a strong
and distinct impression that fate was leading her on to a final
accounting.

Why De Launay should be inextricably entangled in that settlement she
could not imagine but he was always there. Her recollections of him
were those of disgust and contempt. To her he was merely a fallen,
weak, dissipated man, criminally neglectful of opportunities,
criminally indifferent to his obligations. She recalled him as he had
stood in the cell of the jail, unkempt, shattered of nerve, and she
shivered to think that he had been a man who was once considered
great. The fact that she was bound to him, even though the affair was
one purely of form, should have affected her as something degrading.

Peculiarly, however, it did not. Most of the time she never considered
the marriage at all. When she did it was with a feeling of mingled
security and comfort. It was convenient and, somehow, she felt that,
in De Launay, she had the one husband who would not have been a
nuisance or have endeavored to take advantage of the circumstances.
The marriage being a matter of form, a divorce was inevitable and
simple, yet, when she considered that matter of divorce, she felt a
queer sort of reluctance and distaste, as though it were best to shove
consideration of that point into the future as far as possible.

The gaunt, bare cañon thrilled her. She felt as though she were
breaking into some mysterious, Bluebeard region where danger,
adventure and intrigue awaited her. The mine, indeed, remained a mere
vague possibility, hoped for but hardly expected. But her father's
slayer and the vengeance that she had nursed so long became realities.
The rocks that blocked the way might hide him and, somewhere in those
hills, rode De Launay, who would lead her to that evil beast who had
blighted her life.

Again, why De Launay? She did not know, except that she felt that the
drunken soldier held the key to the search. Probably he was to be the
instrument of vengeance; the slayer of the criminal; the settler of
the blood feud. He was hers by marriage, and in marrying her had
wedded the vendetta. Besides, he was the type. A légionnaire, probably
a criminal, and certainly one who had killed without compunction in
his time. The instrument of Providence, in fact!

Ahead of her rode Sucatash, ahead of him the long string of laden pack
horses and ahead of them the silent Dave. The two cow-punchers had
jogged throughout the day with silent indifference to their
surroundings, but after they had entered the foothills and were
creeping into the shadow of the cañon they evinced more animation.
Every now and then Solange observed that one or the other cast a
glance up into the air and ahead of them, toward the interior of the
range. She was riding closer to Sucatash who motioned toward the
distant crest of the range which showed through the gap of the cañon.

She nodded. She was mountain born and bred and recognized the signs.

"There will be a storm, monsieur."

Sucatash rewarded her with an admiring glance. "Afraid we're headed
into it," he said. "Better turn back?"

"It will take more than storms to turn me back," she answered.

Sucatash nodded and turned again to look at the sky turning gray and
gradually blackening above the dim line of the ridge. Even as they
watched it, the sky seemed to descend upon the crest and to melt it.
The outlines became vague, broken up, changed.

"Snowing up there," he said. "By'n by, it'll be snowin' down here.
Snow ain't so bad--but----"

"But what?"

"She drifts into this here cañon pretty bad. There ain't no road and
down hereaways where these rocks make the goin' hard at the best of
times, the drifts sure stack up bad."

"What is it that you mean, Monsieur Sucatash?"

"I mean that we ain't goin' to have no trouble gettin' in,
mad'mo'selle, but we may have a fierce time gettin' out. In two days
the drifts will be pilin' up on the divide and the trail on the other
side, and in a coupla days more they'll be blockin' the cañon down
this a way."

Solange shrugged her shoulders. "We have food," she answered. "At any
rate, I am going on. I have promised that I would meet Monsieur de
Launay in this cañon. I cannot keep him waiting."

Sucatash accepted her ultimatum without protest. But, after a
momentary silence, he turned once more in his saddle.

"Say, mad'mo'selle," he said, "this here De Launay, now; he's sure
enough your husband?"

"Of course."

"But he ain't noways a regular, honest-to-God husband, is he?"

"We are married," said Solange. "Is that not enough?"

"I reckon so. Still, there's Dave and me--we would sure admire to know
how this feller stands with you."

Solange looked at him, and he found difficulty, as usual, in
concentrating on what she said or on anything but the fathomless eyes.
Yet he comprehended that she was speaking, that she was smiling
kindly, and yet that speech and smile were both destructive of his
immature romance.

"He stands--not at all, monsieur, except as an instrument. But--that
way--he and I are bound together forever."

It was in her eyes that Sucatash read meaning. Somewhere in their
depths he found a knowledge denied even to her, perhaps. He heaved a
profound sigh and turned to yell at Dave.

"Get a wiggle on, old-timer! You an' me are just hired hands on this
pasear. _Madame de Launay_ will be gettin' hungry before we make
camp."

Dave swung quickly around, catching the slight emphasis on the strange
name. Over the backs of the pack horses his and his companion's eyes
met. Then he turned back and jogged up the pace a trifle.

By five o'clock in the evening they had passed the worst stages of the
journey and were well up into the cañon. But the storm was worse than
they had thought. Already occasional snowflakes were drifting down,
and the chill was beginning to bite even through the warm fleece that
lined mademoiselle's coat. The men decided to make camp.

They pitched Solange's tent in a sheltered spot not far above the
stream. They themselves slept in the open under heavy tarps. Sucatash
sighed again when, during that evening, Solange showed that she was no
helpless creature of civilization but could fully perform her part of
any tasks that were to be done. She cooked over a camp fire as though
she had been born to it, and the food was better in consequence.

But Sucatash was uneasy. In the morning he consulted Dave and that
young man shared his fears.

"It ain't goin' to be bad for several days," he said. "But when she
drifts in earnest we all are liable to be stuck in here until spring.
I ain't aimin' to get anxious, Dave, but we ain't fixed to buck
snow."

"She ain't goin' to turn back, so what can we do?" asked the other.

"This here De Launay will probably be up near the crater. Once we get
her up there we ain't responsible. But there ain't no telling how soon
the snow'll drift. I'm thinkin' one of us ought to mosey back to the
ranch and bring in webs and dogs."

"He'd better get a-going, then," said Dave.

"You'd better stay with the lady and take her on. I hate to leave her
alone with a feller like you, but I reckon she'll meet up with her
husband by night and he can settle you if necessary. I'll pull my
freight out o' here and git the snowshoes and a dog sled and team.
We'll maybe need a heap more grub than we've got if we hole up here
too long."

"You're shoutin'," agreed Dave.

Mademoiselle, when the plan was broached to her, made no objection.
She was constitutionally fearless where men were concerned, and the
departure of Sucatash did not in the least alarm her. She also
recognized the wisdom of taking precautions against their being snowed
in.

Thus the party broke up in the morning. Sucatash, before departing,
took his rifle and a full belt of ammunition and fastened it to the
girl's saddle.

"If Dave gets gay," he said, with a grin, "just bust him where he
looks biggest with this here 30-30."

After assisting in packing the horses, he mounted and rode down the
cañon while Solange and Dave resumed their journey in the opposite
direction.

Sucatash, as soon as he had passed out of sight, quartered up the side
of the cañon where sheep trails promised somewhat easier going than
the irregular floor of the gulch. Thus he was enabled to get an
occasional glimpse of them by looking backward whenever favorable
ground exposed the valley. But he was soon past all hope of further
vision, and when the distraction was removed settled down to make the
best speed on his journey.

He gave no heed to anything but the route ahead of him and that was
soon a task that engrossed him. It had been snowing some all night,
and it was now slithering down in great flakes which made the air a
gray mystery and the ground a vague and shadowy puzzle. Sucatash did
not care to linger. Without the girl to care for he was one who would
take chances, and he rushed his horse rapidly, slogging steadily along
the trails, without attention to anything but the ribbon of beaten
path immediately ahead of him.

There was every reason to believe that the hills were empty of all
humankind except for their own party and De Launay, who was ahead and
not behind them. Sucatash was entirely ignorant of the fact that,
among the rocky terraces of the cañon, Jim Banker camped, after having
followed their trail as long as the light would allow him to do so.

The prospector was up and on the move as soon as Sucatash. He and his
burros were trudging along among the rocks, the old man muttering and
talking to himself and shaking his head from side to side as one whose
brain has been affected by years of solitude and unending search for
gold. His eyes were never still, but swept the trail ahead of him or
the slopes on either hand, back and forth, back and forth, restlessly
and uneasily as though there were something here that he looked for
and yet feared to see.

Far ahead of him and high on the slope he finally beheld Sucatash,
riding alone and at a rapid trot along a sheep trail, his long, lean
figure leaning forward, raised in his stirrups, and his hands on
saddle horn. He was evidently riding in haste, for that gait and
attitude on the part of a cow hand means that he is in a hurry and has
a long way to go.

The prospector hurriedly unslung a field glass and focused it on
Sucatash. When he was sure of the man and of his route he grinned
evilly.

"One of 'em right into my hands," he chuckled.

He then dismounted and ran to one of the burros. From the pack he
dragged a roll of wire which he carried there for some purpose or
other, probably for the construction of a short length of fence
whenever he stopped long enough to make it desirable. He glanced up at
the gray sky, noting the swirl of snowflakes which settled down like a
cloud. A few moments ago they had almost ceased, enabling him to
glimpse the rider at a distance and now they were providentially
falling again. Luck was surely with him.

Above him, about fifty yards up the slope of the cañon wall, was a
long bench, rather narrow and beaten flat by the passage of countless
sheep. Under it the hill sloped sharply, almost precipitously. It was
as though made to order for his purpose.

He mounted his horse and spurred it around and quartering up the hill
even as Sucatash wound in and out among the swales and depressions of
the cañon wall, now coming into dim view and now vanishing behind a
bend. Banker had plenty of time.

He reached the bench and hurriedly dismounted, to run to a scrubby
cedar growing almost on the edge of the ledge. Round this, at no more
than six inches above the ground, he twisted an end of the wire. Then
he ran with the other end across the bench and snubbed it around a
scrub oak growing on the slope. The branches of the little tree were
thick, and the tough, prickly leaves still hung to it in some
quantity.

He dropped the wire and went out and led his horse back among the
scrub oaks. He then stood up close to the tree, almost invisible
against the tangled branches and dead leaves. In one hand he held the
coil of wire snubbed about the roots of the scrub oak while the other
was clutching the nose of his horse.

Finally out of the smother of snow Sucatash came driving, head bent
and hat brim pulled down to avoid the snow. The road was easy enough
and he thought of nothing but getting along with all the speed
possible. He did not notice that his horse, when emerging onto the
bench, broke its stride and threw up its head as though seeking
something. Instead he sank his spurs and urged the beast on.

The horse broke into a lope on the level stretch in answer to the
spur. They came sweeping down until opposite where the prospector
crouched.

Banker released his hold on his horse's nose and tightened the pull on
the wire at the same time. His horse neighed.

Shrilly and loud, Sucatash's mount answered. Head thrown high and
turned to the side he half checked his stride at the call of his kind.
Startled, Sucatash also threw up his head and turned.

Then the wire clutched the forelegs of the horse and, with a crash, he
went down. Sucatash went with him, and, catlike, strove to throw
himself from the saddle. Unfortunately, he leaped on the outer side
where the ledge fell away steeply.

He freed himself from the plunging horse, but his head struck hard
against the gnarled trunk of a juniper and, half stunned, his body
slid over the edge and dropped.

Chuckling and mouthing, rubbing his hands together, Banker slunk from
his ambush. He retrieved his wire and then looked at the horse kicking
on the ground.

"No use lettin' him go back to the ranch," he said, slyly. Then he
drew his six-shooter and shot the animal.

Leading his own horse he climbed carefully down the slope and worked
his way to where the body must have fallen. But it took him some time
to find it, as Sucatash had rolled far after striking the slope.

He came upon it at last wedged against a clump of greasewood. There
was blood on the head and the sightless eyes stared up to the gray
sky. Snowflakes fell steadily and melted against the white cheeks. The
body lay awkwardly twisted.

"Dead!" chuckled Banker. "All of 'em die! Old Jim don't die, though!
Old Jim'll find it! He'll find the gold. French Pete hid it; Panamint
hid it; this here Frog lady is hidin' it. But old Jim'll find it. Old
Jim'll find it after all of 'em's dead. Dead! Dead! Dead!"

He burst out into shrill laughter, and his horse snorted and tried to
pull away. He instantly broke off laughing to curse foully, mouthing
obscenities and oaths as he jerked cruelly at the spade bit. The
trembling horse squatted back and then stood with wildly rolling
eyes.

Muttering, Jim stamped heavily down the hill, dragging the horse with
him and leaving the still form to the mercies of the snow. The falling
flakes were already filling up the trail that he left. In an hour or
two there would be no sign of his presence.



CHAPTER XVII

THE SECRET OF THE LOST MINE


Through most of the day Dave and Solange pushed on up the cañon and
the snow fell steadily, deepening under foot. As yet there were no
drifts, for the wind was not blowing and progress was easy enough.
After a few hours the snow grew deep enough to ball up under the feet
of the horses and to cause some inconvenience from slipping. More than
once Solange was in danger of being thrown by the plunge of her horse
as his feet slid from under him. This served to retard their progress
considerably but was not of much consequence aside from that and the
slight element of added danger.

They had no more than fifteen miles to go before reaching the
rendezvous, and this they made shortly after noon. Dave, who had
become more silent than ever when he found himself alone with the
girl, pitched the tent and then went to gather a supply of wood.
Unused to strenuous riding, Solange went into her tent and lay down to
rest.

They had expected to find De Launay, but there was no sign of him.
Dave said that he might be within a short distance and they not know
it, and asserted his intention of scouting around to find him after
he had got the wood.

Solange was asleep when he came back with a load snaked in with his
lariat, and he did not disturb her. Leaving the wood he rode on up the
cañon looking for signs of De Launay. But, although he spent the
better part of the afternoon in the search, riding in and out of every
branch gully, and quartering up the slopes to where the black stands
of timber began, he found no trace of the man.

Finally, fearing that Solange would begin to be frightened at his
absence, he turned and started back to the camp. He had marked it by a
large outcrop that stuck out of the cañon wall, forming a flat oblong
bench of rock. This had hung on the slope about a hundred feet above
the floor of the valley, and so he made his way along at about that
height. It was beginning to get dark, the snow was falling heavily and
he found it difficult to see far in front of him.

"High time old Sucatash was fannin' in fer dogs," he said to himself.
"The winter's done set in for sure."

Fearing that he would miss the camp by keeping so high he headed his
horse downward and finally reached the bottom of the cañon. Here the
snow was deeper but the going was better. He turned downward with some
relief, and was just about to spur his horse to greater speed when,
through the gray mist of snow, a shadowy figure loomed up before
him.

"Hey, De Launay?" he called. The figure did not answer but moved
toward him.

He reined in his horse and leaned outward to look more intently.
Behind the man, who was mounted, he saw the blurred outlines of pack
animals. "De Launay?" he called again.

The figure seemed to grow suddenly nearer and more distinct,
descending close upon him.

"It ain't no Delonny," chuckled a shrill voice. "It's me."

"Huh!" said Dave, with disgust. "Jim Banker, the damned old desert
rat!"

"Reckon you ain't so glad to see me," wheezed Jim, still chuckling.
"Old Jim's always around, though; always around when there's gold
huntin' to do. Always around, old Jim is!"

"Well, mosey on and pull your freight," snarled Dave. "We don't want
you too close around. It's a free country, but keep to windward and
out o' sight."

"You don't like old Jim! Hee, hee! Don't none of 'em like old Jim! But
Jim's here, a-huntin'--and most of them's dead that don't like him.
Old Jim don't die! The other fellers dies!"

"So I hears," said Dave, with meaning. He said no more, for Banker,
without the slightest warning, shot him through the head.

The horses plunged as the body dropped to the ground and Jim wheezed
and cackled as he held his own beast down.

"Hee, hee! They all of 'em dies, but old Jim don't die!"

With a snort Dave's horse wheeled and galloped away up the cañon. The
sound of his going frightened the prospector. He ceased to laugh, and
cowered in his saddle, looking fearfully about him into the dim swirl
of the snow.

"Who's that?" he called.

The deadly silence was unbroken. The old man shook his fist in the air
and again broke into his frightful cursing.

"I ain't afraid!" he yelled. "Damn you. I ain't afraid! You're all
dead. You're dead, there; French Pete's dead, Sucatash Wallace's dead,
Panamint's dead. But old Jim's alive! Old Jim'll find it. You bet you
he will!"

He bent his head and appeared to listen again. Then:

"What's that? Who's singin'?"

He fell to muttering again, quoting doggerel, whined out in an
approach to a tune: "Louisiana--Louisiana Lou!"

"Louisiana's dead!" he chuckled. "If he aint he better not come back.
The gal's a-waitin' fer him. Louisiana what killed her pappy! Ha, ha!
Louisiana killed French Pete!"

He turned his horse and slowly, still muttering, began to haze his
burros back down the cañon.

"Old Jim's smart," he declaimed. "All same like an Injun, old Jim is!
Come a-sneakin' up past the camp there and the gal never knew I was
nigh. Went a-sneakin' past and seen his tracks goin' up the cañon.
Just creeps along and rides up on him and now he's dead! All dead but
the gal and old Jim! Old Jim don't die. The gal'll die, but not old
Jim! She'll tell old Jim what she knows and then old Jim will find the
gold."

Through the muffling snow he pushed on until the faint glow of a fire
came to him through the mist of snowflakes. A shadow flitted in front
of it, and he stopped to chuckle evilly and mutter. Then he dismounted
and walked up to the camp, where Solange busied herself in preparing
supper.

"That you, Monsieur David?" she called cheerily, as Jim's boots
crunched the snow.

Jim chuckled. "It's just me--old Jim, ma'am," he said, his voice oily
and ingratiating. "Old Jim, come to see the gal of his old friend,
Pete."

Solange whirled. But Jim had sidled between her and the tent, where,
just inside the flap, rested the rifle that Sucatash had left her.

"What do you wish?" she asked, angrily. Her head was reared, and in
the dim light her eyes glowed as they caught reflections from the
fire. She showed no fear.

"Just wants to talk to you about old times," whined Banker. "Old Jim
wants to talk to Pete's gal, ma'am."

"I heard a shot a while ago," said Solange sharply. "Where is Monsieur
Dave?"

"I don't know nothin' about Dave, ma'am. Reckon he'll be back. Boys
like him don't leave purty gals alone long--less'n he's got keerless
and gone an' hurt hisself. Boys is keerless that a way and they don't
know the mount'ins like old Jim does. They goes and dies in 'em,
ma'am--but old Jim don't die. He knows the mount'ins, he does! He,
he!"

Solange took a step toward him. "What do you wish?" she repeated,
sternly. Still, she did not fear him.

"Just to talk, ma'am. Just to talk about French Pete. Just to talk
about gold. Old Jim's been a-huntin' gold a many years, ma'am. And
Pete, he found gold and I reckon he told his gal where the gold was.
He writ a paper before he died, they say, and I reckon he writ on that
paper where the gold was, didn't he?"

"No, he did not," said the girl, shortly and contemptuously.

"So you'd say; so you'd say, of course." He chuckled again. "There
wasn't no one could read that Basco writin'. But he done writ it. Now,
you tell old Jim what that writin' says, and then you and old Jim will
find that gold."

Solange suddenly laughed, bitterly. "Tell you? Why yes, I'll tell you.
It said----"

"Yes, ma'am! It said----"

He was slaveringly eager as he stepped toward her.

"It said--to my mother--that she should seek out the man who killed
him and take vengeance on him!"

Jim reeled back, cringing and mouthing. "Said--said what? You're
lyin'. It didn't say it!"

"I have told you what it said. Now, stand aside and let me get into my
tent!"

With supreme contempt, she walked up to him as though she would push
him aside. It was a fatal mistake, though she nearly succeeded. The
gibbering, cracked old fiend shrank, peering fearfully, away from her
blazing eyes and the black halo, rimmed with flashing color, of her
hair. For a moment it seemed that he would yield in terror and give
her passage.

But terror gave place suddenly to crazy rage. With an outburst of
bloodcurdling curses, he flung himself upon her. She thought to avoid
him, but he was as quick as a cat and as wiry and strong as a terrier.
Before she could leap aside, his claw-like hands were tangled in her
coat and he was dragging her to him. She fought.

She struck him, kicked and twisted with all her splendid, lithe
strength, but it was in vain. He clung like a leech, dragging her
closer in spite of all she could do. She beat at his snarling face
and the mouth out of which were whining things she fortunately did not
understand. His yellow fangs were bare and saliva dripped from them.

Disgust and horror was overwhelming her. His iron arms were bending
her backward. She tried again to tear free, stepped back, stumbled,
went down with a crash. He sprang upon her, grunting and whistling,
seized her hair and lifted her head, to send it crashing against the
ground.

The world went black as she lost consciousness.

The prospector got to his feet, grumbling and cursing. He did not seem
to feel the bruises left on his face by her competent hands. He
stooped over her, felt her breast and found her heart beating.

"She ain't goin' to die. She ain't goin' to die yet. She'll tell old
Jim what's writ on that paper. She'll tell him where the gold is."

He left her lying there while he went to get his outfit. The packs
were dragged off and flung to the ground, where saddle and rifle
followed them. Then he went into the tent.

He pitched the rifle left by Sucatash out into the snow, kicked the
girl's saddle aside, dumped her bedding and her clothes on the floor,
tore and fumbled among things that his foul hands should never have
touched nor his evil eyes have seen. He made a fearful wreck of the
place and, finally, came upon her hand bag, which, womanlike, she had
clung to persistently, carrying it in her saddle pockets when she
rode.

The small samples of ore he gloated over lovingly, mouthing and
gibbering. But finally he abandoned them, reluctantly, and dug out the
two notes.

Brandon's letter he read hastily, chuckling over it as though it
contained many a joke. But he was more interested in the other scrawl,
whose strange words completely baffled him. He tried in vain to make
out its meaning, turning it about, peering at it from all angles, like
an evil old buzzard. Then he gave way to a fit of rage, whining curses
and making to tear the thing into bits. But his sanity held
sufficiently to prevent that.

Finally he folded the paper up and tucked it into a pocket. Then he
gathered up the bedding, took it outside and roughly bundled the girl
in it. She lay unconscious and dreadfully white, with the snow sifting
steadily over her. Her condition had no effect on the old ruffian who
callously let her lie, covering her only to prevent her freezing to
death before he could extract the information he desired.

He finished her culinary tasks and glutted himself on the food,
grunting and tearing at it like a wild animal. Then he dragged out his
filthy bedding and rolled himself up in it, scorning the shelter of
the tent, which stood wanly in the white, misty night.

It was morning when Solange recovered her senses. She awoke to a gray,
chill world in which she alternately shivered and burned as fever
clutched her. For many minutes she lay, swathed in blankets, dull to
sensation, staring up at a leaden sky. The snow had ceased to fall.

Still unable to comprehend where she was or what had happened, she
made a tentative attempt to move, only to wince as the pains, borne of
her struggle and of lying on the bare ground, seized her. Stiff and
sore, weakened, with head throbbing and stabbing, the whole horrible
adventure came back to her. She tried to rise, but she was totally
helpless and her least movement gave her excruciating pain. Her head
covering had been laid aside before she had begun preparation of
supper the night before, and her colorless and strangely brilliant
hair, all tumbled and loose, lay around her head and over her
shoulders in great waves and billows, tinged with blue and red lights
against the snow. Her face, delicately flushed with fever, was wildly
beautiful, and her eyes were burning with somber, terrible light deep
in their depths.

It was this face that Jim Banker looked down upon as he came back from
the creek, unkempt, dirty. It was these eyes he met as he stooped over
her with his lunatic chuckle.

He winced backward as though she had struck him, and his face
contorted with sudden panic. He cowered away from her and covered his
own eyes.

"Don't you look at me like that! I never done nothing!" he whined.

"Canaille!" said Solange. Her voice was a mere whisper but it fairly
singed with scorn. Fearless, she stared at him and he could not meet
her gaze.

His gusty mood changed and he began to curse her. She heard more
foulness from him in the next five minutes than all the delirium of
wounded soldiers during five years of war had produced for her. She
saw a soul laid bare before her in all its unutterable vileness. Yet
she did not flinch, nor did a single symptom of panic or fear cross
her face.

Once, for a second, he ceased his mouthing, abruptly. His head went up
and he bent an ear to the wind as though listening to something
infinitely far away.

"Singin'!" he muttered, as though in awe. "Hear that! 'Louisiana!
Louisiana Lou!'"

Then he cackled. "Louisiana singin'. I hear him. Louisiana--who killed
French Pete. He, he!"

After a while he tired, subsiding into mutterings. He got breakfast,
bringing to her some of the mess he cooked. She ate it, though it
nauseated her, determining that she would endeavor to keep her
strength for future struggles.

While she choked down the food the prospector sat near her, but not
looking at her, and talked.

"You an' me'll talk pretty, honey. Old Jim ain't goin' to hurt you if
you're reasonable. Just tell old Jim what the writin' says and old
Jim'll be right nice to you. We'll go an' find the gold, you and me.
You'll tell old Jim, won't you?"

His horrible pleading fell on stony ears, and he changed his tune.

"You ain't a-goin' tell old Jim? Well, that's too bad. Old Jim hates
to do it, pretty, but old Jim's got to know. If you won't tell him,
he'll have to find out anyhow. Know how he'll do it?"

She remained silent.

"It's a trick the Injuns done taught old Jim. They uses it to make
people holler when they don't want to. They takes a little sliver of
pine, jest a little tiny sliver, ma'am, and they sticks it in under
the toe nails where it hurts. Then they lights it. They sticks more of
'em under the finger nails and through the skin here an' there. Then
they lights 'em.

"Most generally it makes the fellers holler--and I reckon it'll make
you tell, ma'am. Old Jim has to know. You better tell old Jim."

She remained stubbornly and scornfully silent.

The prospector shook his head as though sorrowful over her
pertinacity. Then he got up and got a piece of wood, a stick of pitch
pine, which he began to whittle carefully into fine slivers. These he
collected carefully into a bundle while the helpless girl watched
him.

Finally he came to her and pulled the blankets from her. He stooped
and unlaced her boots, pulling them off. One woolen stocking was
jerked roughly from a foot as delicate as a babe's. She tried to kick,
feebly and ineffectively. Her feet, half frozen from sleeping in the
boots, were like lead.

The prospector laughed and seized her foot. But, as he held it and
picked up a sliver, a thought occurred to him. He got up and went to
the fire, where he stooped to get a flaming brand.

At this moment, clear and joyous, although distant and faint, came a
rollicking measure of song:

                    "My Louisiana! Louisiana Lou!"

The girl's brain failed to react to it. She gathered nothing from the
sound except that there was some one coming. But Banker reared as
though shot and whirled about to stare down the cañon. She could not
see him and she was unable to turn.

Shaking as though stricken with an ague, the prospector stood. His
face had gone chalk white under its dirty stubble of beard. He looked
sick and even more unwholesome than usual. From his slack jaws poured
a constant whining of words, unintelligible.

Down the cañon, slouching carelessly with the motion of his horse,
appeared a man, riding toward them at a jog trot. Behind him jingled
two pack horses, the first of which was half buried under the high
bundle on his back, the second more lightly laden.

Banker stood, incapable of motion for a moment. Then, as though
galvanized into action, he began to gabble his inevitable oaths, while
he leaped hurriedly for his rifle. He grabbed it from under the
tarpaulin, jerked the lever, flung it to his shoulder and fired.

With the shot, Solange, by a terrific effort, rolled over and raised
her head. She caught a glimpse of a familiar figure and shrieked out
with new-found strength.

"_Mon ami! A moi, mon ami!_"

Then she stifled a groan, for, with the shot, the figure sagged
suddenly and dropped to the side of his horse, evidently hit. She
heard the insane yell of triumph from the prospector and knew that he
was dancing up and down and shouting:

"They all dies but old Jim! Old Jim don't die!"

She buried her face in her hands, wondering, even then, why she felt
such a terrible pang, not of hope destroyed, but because the man had
died.

It passed like a flash for, on the instant, she heard another yell
from Banker, and a yell, this time, of terror. At the same moment she
was aware of thundering hoofs bearing down upon them and of a voice
that shouted; a voice which was the sweetest music she had ever
heard.

Dimly she was aware that Banker had dropped his rifle and scuttled
like a scared rabbit into some place of shelter. Her whole attention
was concentrated on those rattling, drumming hoofs. She looked up,
tried to rise, but fell back with the pain of the effort stabbing her
unheeded.

A horse was sliding to a stop, forefeet planted, snow and dirt flying
from his hoofs. De Launay was leaping to the ground and the pack
horses were galloping clumsily up. Then his arms were around her and
she was lifted from the ground.

"What's the matter, Solange? What's happened? Where's the boys? And
Banker, what's he doing shooting at me?"

His questions were pouring out upon her, but she could not answer
them. She clung to him and sobbed.

"I thought he had killed you!"

His laugh was music.

"That old natural? He couldn't kill me. Saw him aim and ducked. Shot
right over me. But what's happened to you?"

He ran a hand over her face and found it hot with fever.

"Why, you're sick! And your foot's bare. Here, tell me what has
happened?"

She could only sob brokenly, her strength almost gone.

"That terrible old man! He did it. He's hiding--to shoot you."

De Launay's hand had run over her thick mane of hair and he felt her
wince. He recognized the great bump on the skull.

"Death of a dog!" he swore in French. "_Mon amie_, is it this old
devil who has injured you?"

She nodded and he began to look about him for Banker. But the
prospector was not in sight, although his discarded rifle was on the
ground. The lever was down where the prospector had jerked it
preparatory to a second shot which he had been afraid to fire. The
empty ejected shell lay on the snow near by.

De Launay turned back to Solange. He bent over her and carefully
restored her stocking and shoe. Then he fetched water and bathed her
head, gently gathering her hair together and binding it up under the
bandeau which he found among her scattered belongings. She told him
something of what had happened, ascribing the prospector's actions to
insanity. But when De Launay asked about Sucatash and Dave she could
do no more than tell him that the first had gone to the ranch to get
snowshoes and dogs, and the latter had gone out yesterday and had not
come back, though she had heard a single shot late in the afternoon.

De Launay listened with a frown. He was in a cold rage at Banker, but
there were other things to do than try to find him. He set to work to
gather up the wreckage of the tent and outfit. Then he rounded up the
horses, leaving the burros and Banker's horse to stay where they
were. Hastily he threw on the packs, making no pretense at neat
packing.

"I'll have to get you out of this," he said. "With that lunatic
bushwacking round there'll never be a moment of safety for you. You're
sick and will have to have care. Can you ride?"

Solange tried to rise to her feet but was unable to stand.

"I'll have to carry you. I'll saddle your horse and lead him. The
others will follow my animals. I'll get you to safety and then come
back and look for Dave."

With infinite care he lifted her to his saddle, holding her while he
mounted and gathered her limp form into his left arm. His horse
fortunately was gentle, and stood. He was about to reach for the reins
of her horse when something made her turn and look up the slope of the
hill toward the overhanging, ledgelike rock above the camp.

"_Mon ami!_" she screamed. "_Gardez-vous!_"

What happened she was not able to exactly understand. Only she somehow
realized that never had she understood the possibility of rapid motion
before. Her own eyes had caught only a momentary glimpse of a head
above the edge of the rock and the black muzzle of a six-shooter
creeping into line with them.

Yet De Launay's movement was sure and accurate. His eyes seemed to
sense direction, his hand made one sweep from holster to an arc across
her body and the roar of the heavy weapon shattered her ears before
she had fairly realized that she had cried out. She saw a spurt of
dust where the head had appeared.

Then De Launay's spurs went home and the horse leaped into a run. The
pack horses, jumping at the sound of the shot, flung up their heels,
lurched to one side, circled and fell into a gallop in the rear.
Clattering and creaking, the whole cavalcade went thundering up the
valley.

De Launay swore. "Missed, by all the devils! But I sure put dust in
his eyes!"

He turned around and there, sure enough, was Banker, standing on the
rock, pawing at his eyes. The shot had struck the edge of the rock
just below his face and spattered fragments all over him.

De Launay laughed grimly as the groping figure shook a futile fist at
him. Then Banker sat down and dug at his face industriously.

They had ridden another hundred yards when a yell echoed in the cañon.
He turned again and saw Banker leaping and shrieking on the rock,
waving hands to the heavens and carrying on like a maniac.

"Gone plumb loco," said De Launay, contemptuously.

But, unknown to De Launay or mademoiselle, the high gods must have
laughed in irony as old Jim Banker raved and flung his hands toward
their Olympian fastness.

De Launay's shot, which had crushed the edge of the rock to powder,
had exposed to the prospector the glittering gold of French Pete's
lost Bonanza!



CHAPTER XVIII

TELLTALE BULLETS


De Launay headed up into the hills, making for the spot he and others
familiar with the region knew as The Crater. Back about half a mile
from the rim of Shoestring Cañon, which, itself, had originally been
cut out of lava from extinct volcanoes of the range, rose a vast
basalt peak, smooth and precipitous on the side toward the cañon. Its
lower slopes had once been terraced down to the flat bench land which
rimmed the cañon, but, unnumbered ages ago, the subterranean forces
had burst their way through and formed a crater whose sides fell
steeply away to the flats on three sides. The fourth was backed by the
basalt cliff.

Although long extinct, the volcano had left reminders in the shape of
warm springs which had an appreciable effect on the temperature within
the basin of the ancient crater. The atmosphere in the place was, even
in winter, quite moderate compared with that of the rest of the range.
There was, in the center of the crater, a small pond or lake, of which
the somewhat lukewarm water was quite potable.

This spot, once a common enough rendezvous for the riders on rodeo,
was his objective and toward it he climbed, with mademoiselle's warm
body in his arms. Behind him straggled the pack horses.

Solange lay quiet, but under his arm he felt her shiver from time to
time. His downward glance at her fell only on her hat and a casual
wisp of glistening hair which escaped from it. He felt for and found
one of her hands. It clutched his with a hot, dry clasp.

Somewhat alarmed, he raised his hand to her face. That she had fever
was no longer to be doubted.

She was talking low to herself, but she spoke in Basque which he did
not understand. He spoke to her in French.

"I knew you would come; that I should find you," she answered at once.
"That terrible man! He could not frighten me. It is certain that
through you I shall find this Louisiana!"

"Yes," he answered. "You'll find Louisiana."

He wondered what she knew of Louisiana and why she wished to find him,
concluding, casually, that she had heard of him as one who might know
something of her father's death. Well, if she sought Louisiana, she
had not far to look: merely to raise her head.

"I thought I heard him singing," said Solange.

"I reckon you did," he answered. "Are you riding easy?"

"Yes--but I am cold, and then hot again. The man hurt me."

De Launay swore under his breath and awkwardly began to twist from his
Mackinaw, which, when it was free, he wrapped around her. Then,
holding her closer, he urged his horse to greater speed.

But, once upon the bench and free to look about him toward the steep
slope of the crater's outer walls, he was dismayed at the unexpected
change in the landscape.

On the rocky slopes there had once stood a dense thicket of lodgepole
pine, slender and close, through which a trail had been cut. But,
years ago, a fire had swept the forest, leaving the gaunt stems and
bare spikes to stand like a plantation of cane or bamboo on the
crumbling lava. Then a windstorm had rushed across the mountains,
leveling the dead trees to the ground, throwing them in wild, heaping
chaos of jagged spikes and tangled branches. The tough cones, opened
by the fire, had germinated and seedlings had sprung up amidst the
riot of logs, growing as thick as grass. They were now about the
height of a tall man's head, forming, with the tangled abatis of spiky
trunks, a seemingly impenetrable jungle.

There might be a practicable way through, but to search for it would
take more time than the man had to spare. He must get the girl to rest
and shelter before her illness gained much further headway, and he
knew that a search for a passage might well take days instead of the
hours he had at his command. He wished that he had remained in the
cañon where he might have pitched camp in spite of the danger from the
prospector. But a return meant a further waste of time and he decided
to risk an attempt to force his way through the tangle.

Carefully he headed into it. The going was not very hard at first as
the trees lay scattered on the edge of the windfall. But, as he wormed
into the labyrinth, the heaped up logs gave more and more resistance
to progress, and it soon became apparent that he could never win
through to the higher slopes which were free of the tangle.

If he had been afoot and unencumbered, the task would have been hard
enough but not insuperable. Mounted, with pack horses carrying loads
projecting far on the sides, to catch and entangle with spiky
branches, the task became impossible. Yet he persisted, with a feeling
that his best chance lay in pressing onward.

The lurching horse, scrambling over the timber, jolted and shook his
burden and Solange began again to talk in Basque. Behind them the pack
horses straggled, leaping and crashing clumsily in the jungle of
impeding tree trunks. De Launay came to a stop and looked despairingly
about him.

About thirty yards away, among the green saplings and gray down
timber, stood a bluish shape, antlered, with long ears standing
erect. The black-tailed deer watched him curiously, and without any
apparent fear. De Launay knew at once that the animal was unaccustomed
to man and had not been hunted. He stared at it, wondering that it did
not run.

Now it moved, but not in the stiff leaps of its kind when in flight.
He had expected this, but not what happened. There was no particular
mystery in the presence of the agile animal among the down logs. But
when it started off at a leisurely and smooth trot, winding in and out
and upward, he leaped joyously to the only conclusion possible. The
deer was following a passable trail through the jungle and a trail
which led upward.

He marked the spot where he had seen it and urged his horse toward it.
It was difficult going, but he made it and found there, as he had
hoped, a beaten game trail, narrow, but fairly clear.

It took time and effort to gather the horses, caught and snared
everywhere among the logs, but it was finally done. Then he pushed on.
It was not easy going. The trail was narrow for packs, and snags
continually caught in ropes and tarpaulins, but De Launay took an ax
from his pack and cut away the worst of the obstacles. Finally they
won through to the higher slopes where the trees no longer lay on the
ground.

But it was growing late and the gray sky threatened more snow. He
pressed on up to the rim of the crater and lost no time in the descent
on the other side. The willing horses slid down behind him and, before
darkness caught them, he had reached the floor of the little valley,
almost free from snow, grass-grown and mildly pleasant in contrast to
the biting wind of the outer world.

Jingling and jogging, the train of horses broke into a trot across the
meadow and toward the grove of trees that marked the bank of the pond.
Here there was an old cabin, formerly used by the riders, but long
since abandoned. Deer trotted out of their way and stood at a distance
to look curiously. A sleepy bear waddled out of the trees, eyed them
superciliously and then trotted clumsily away. The place seemed to be
swarming with game. Their utter unconcern showed that this haven had
not been entered for years.

Snow lay on the surrounding walls in patches, but there was hardly a
trace of it on the valley floor. Steaming springs here and there
explained the reason for the unseasonable warmth of the place. The
grass grew lush and rich on the rotten lava soil.

"The Vale of Avalon, Morgan _la fée_," said De Launay with a smile.
Solange murmured and twisted restlessly in his arms.

He dismounted before the cabin, which seemed to be in fair condition.
It was cumbered somewhat with débris, left by mountain rats which
haunted the place, but there were two good rooms, a fairly tight
roof, and a bunk built in the wall of the larger chamber. There was a
rusty iron stove and the bunk room boasted a rough stone fireplace.

De Launay's first act was to carry the girl in. His second was to
throw off several packs and drag them to the room. He then took the ax
and made all haste to gather an armful of dry pitch pine, with which
he soon had a roaring fire going in the ancient fireplace. Then, with
a pine branch, he swept out the place, cleaned the bunk thoroughly and
cleared the litter from the floors. Solange reclined against a pile of
bedding and canvas and fairly drank in the heat from the fire.

He found a clump of spruce and hacked branches from it, with which he
filled the bunk, making a thick, springy mattress. On this he spread a
tarpaulin, and then heaped it with blankets. Solange, flushed and half
comatose, he carried to the bed.

The damp leather of her outer garments oppressed him. He knew they
must come off. Hard soldier as he was, the girl, lying there with
half-closed eyes and flushed face, awed him. Although he had never
supposed himself oppressed with scruples, it seemed a sacrilege to
touch her. Although she could not realize what he was doing, his hands
trembled and his face was flushed as he forced himself to the task of
disrobing her. But, at last, he had the cumbering, slimy outer
garments free and her body warmly wrapped in the coverings.

Food came next. She wanted broth and he had no fresh meat. Her rifle
rendered that problem simple, however. He had hardly to step from the
grove before game presented itself. He shot a young buck, feeling like
a criminal in violating the animal's calm confidence. Working
feverishly he cleaned the carcass, cut off the saddle and a hind
quarter, hung the rest and set to work to make broth in the Dutch
oven.

The light had long since failed, but the fire gave a ruddy light.
Solange supped the broth out of a tin cup, raised on his arm, and
immediately after fell back and went to sleep. Feeling her cheek, he
found that it was damp with moisture and cool.

He bound up her head with a dampened bandage and left her to sleep.
Then he began the postponed toil of arranging the camp.

After her things had been brought in and placed in her room, he at
last came to his own packs. He ate his supper and then spread his
bedding on the ground just outside the door of the cabin. As he
unrolled the tarpaulin, he noted a jagged rent in it which he at first
thought had been caused by a snag in passing through the down timber.

But when the bed had been spread out he found that the blankets were
also pierced. Searching, he found a hard object, which on being
examined, turned out to be a bullet, smashed and mushroomed.

De Launay smiled grimly as he turned this over in his hand. He readily
surmised that it was the ball that Banker had fired at him and which,
missing him as he ducked, had struck the pack on the horse behind him.
Something about it, however, roused a queer impression in him. It was,
apparently, an ordinary thirty-caliber bullet, yet he sensed some
subtle difference in size and weight, some vague resemblance to
another bullet he had felt and weighed in his hand.

Taking his camp lantern he went into the cabin and sat down before a
rude table of slabs in the room where the stove was. He took from his
pocket the darkened, jagged bullet that Solange had given him and
compared it with the ball he had taken from his pack. The first was
split and mushroomed much more than the other, but the butts of both
were intact. They seemed to be of the same size when held together.

Yet they were both of ordinary caliber. Probably nine out of ten men
who carried rifles used those of thirty-thirty caliber. Bullets
differed only in jacketing and the shape of the nose. A Winchester was
round, with little of the softer metal projecting from the jacket,
while a U. M. C. was flatter and more of the lead showed. But the
bases were the same.

Still, De Launay was vaguely dissatisfied. It seemed to him that
there was something in these two misshapen bullets that should be
investigated. He took one of Solange's cartridges from his pocket and
looked at it. Then, with strong teeth, he jerked the ball from the
shell and compared the bullet with those he held in his hand. To all
seeming they were much the same.

Still, the feeling of dissatisfaction persisted. In some subtle way
the two mushroomed bullets were the same and yet were different to the
unused one. De Launay tried to force Solange's bullet back into the
shell, finding that it went in after some force was applied. Then,
withdrawing it, he took the other two and tried to do the same with
them.

The difference became apparent at once. The two used bullets were
larger than the 30-30; almost imperceptibly so, but enough greater in
diameter to make it clear that they did not fit the shell.

De Launay weighed the bullets in his hand and his face was grim. After
a while he put the two in his pocket, threw the one he had pulled from
the shell into the stove and rose to look at Solange. He held the
lantern above her and stood for a moment, the light on her hair
glinting back with flashes of red and blue and orange. He stooped and
raised a lock of it on his hand, marveling at its fine texture and its
spun-glass appearance. His hand touched her face, finding it damp and
cool.

The iron lines of his face relaxed and softened. He stooped and
brushed her forehead with his lips. Solange murmured in her sleep and
he caught his own nickname, "Louisiana."

He saw that the fire was banked and then went out and turned in to his
blankets, regardless of the drizzle of snow that was falling and
melting in the warm atmosphere.



CHAPTER XIX

THE FINDING OF SUCATASH


De Launay came into the cabin the next morning with an armload of wood
to find Solange sitting up in bed with the blankets clutched about
her, staring at the unfamiliar surroundings. He smiled at her, and was
delighted to be met with an answering, though somewhat puzzled smile.

"You are better?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "And you--brought me here?"

He nodded and knelt to rebuild the fire. When it was crackling again
he straightened up.

"I was afraid you were going to be ill. You had a bad shock."

Solange shuddered. "It is true. That evil old man! He hurt my head.
But I am all right again."

"You had better lie quiet for a day or two, just the same. You have
had a bad blow. If you feel well enough, though, there is something I
must do. Will you be all right if I leave you for a few hours?"

Her face darkened a little but she nodded. "If you must. You have been
very kind, monsieur. You brought me here?"

Her eyes fell on her leather coat flung over the end of the bunk and
she flushed, looking sideways at the man. He seemed impassive,
unconscious, and her puzzled gaze wandered over his face and form. She
noted striking differences in the tanned, lean face and the lithe
body. The skin was clear and the eyes no longer red and swollen. He
stood upright and moved with a swift, deft certainty far from his
former slouch.

"You are changed," she commented.

"Some," he answered. "Fresh air and exercise have benefited me."

"That is true. Yet there seems to be another difference. You look
purposeful, if I may say it."

"I?" he seemed to protest. "What purpose is there for me?"

"You must tell me that."

He went out into the other room and returned with broth for her. But
she was hungry and the broth did not satisfy her. He brought in meat
and bread, and she made a fairly hearty breakfast. It pleased De
Launay to see her enjoying the food frankly, bringing her nearer to
the earth which he, himself, inhabited.

"The only purpose I have," he said, while she ate, "is that of finding
what has become of your escort. There's another matter, too, on which
I am curious. Do you think you can get along all right if I leave food
for you here and go down to the camp? I will be back before evening."

"You will be careful of that crazy old man?"

He laughed. "If I am not mistaken he thinks I am a ghost and is
frightened out of seven years' growth," he said, easily. His voice
changed subtly, became swiftly grim. "He may well be," he added, half
to himself.

Breakfast over and the camp cleared up, De Launay took from his packs
a second automatic, hanging the holster, a left-hand one, to the bunk.
He showed Solange how to operate the mechanism and found that she
readily grasped the principle of it, though the squat, flat weapon was
incongruous in her small hand. The rifle also he left within her
reach.

Shortly he was mounted on his way out of the crater. He made good time
through the down timber and, in about an hour and a half, was headed
into the cañon. He searched carefully for traces of Dave but found
none. The snow was over a foot deep and had drifted much deeper in
many spots. Especially on the talus slopes at the bottom of the cañon
had it gathered to a depth of several feet.

Finally he came to the site of the camp where he had rescued Solange
from the mad prospector. Here he was surprised to find no trace of the
man although the burros were scraping forlornly in the snow on the
slopes trying to uncover forage. Camp equipment was scattered around,
and a piece of tarpaulin covered a bundle of stuff. This was tucked
away by a rock, but De Launay ran on it after some search.

He devoted his efforts to finding the shell from Banker's rifle which
he had seen on the snow when he left the place. It was finally
uncovered and he put it in his pocket. Then he left the place and
headed down the cañon, searching for signs of the cow-puncher.

He found none, since Dave had not been in this direction. But De
Launay pushed on until almost noon. He rode high on the slopes where
the snow was shallower and where he could get an unrestricted view of
the cañon.

He was about to give it up, however, and turn back when his horse
stopped and pricked his ears forward, raising its head. De Launay
followed this indication and saw what he took to be a clump of
sagebrush on the snow about half a mile away. He watched it and
thought it moved.

Intent observation confirmed this impression and it was made a
certainty when he saw the black patch waver upward, stagger forward
and then fall again.

With an exclamation, De Launay spurred his horse recklessly down the
slope toward the figure on the snow. He galloped up to it and flung
himself to the ground beside it. The figure raised itself on arms from
which the sleeves hung in tatters and turned a pale and ghastly face
toward him.

It was Sucatash.

Battered and bruised, with an arm almost helpless and a leg as bad,
the cow-puncher was dragging himself indomitably along while his
failing strength held out. But he was almost at the end of his
resources. Hunger and weakness, wounds and bruises, had done their
work and he could have gone little farther.

De Launay raised his head and chafed his blue and frozen hands. The
cow-puncher tried to grin.

"Glad to see you, old-timer," he croaked. "You're just about in
time."

"What happened to you, man?"

"Don't know. Heard a horse nicker and then mine stumbled and pinned
me. Got a bad fall and when I come to I was lying down the hill
against some greasewood. Leg a'most busted and an arm as bad. Horse
nowhere around. Got anything to drink? Snow ain't much for thirst."

De Launay had food and water and gave it to him. After eating
ravenously for a moment he was stronger.

"Funny thing, that horse nickerin'. It was snowin' and I didn't see
him. But, after I come to I tried to climb up where I was throwed. It
was some job but I made it. There was my horse, half covered with
snow. Some one had shot him."

"Shot him? And then left you to lie there?"

"Just about that. There wasn't no tracks. Snow had filled 'em. But I
reckon that horse wasn't just shot by accident."

"It was not. And Dave's gone."

"Dave? What's that?"

"He's gone. Left the camp day before yesterday and never came back. I
wasn't there."

"And madame? She all right?"

"She is--now. I found her yesterday morning with Banker, the
prospector. He was trying to torture her into telling him where that
mine is located. Hurt her pretty bad."

Sucatash lay silent for a moment. Then:

"Jumpin' snakes!" he said. "That fellow has got a lot comin' to him,
ain't he?"

"He has," said De Launay, shortly. "More than you know."

Again the cow-puncher was silent for a space.

"Reckon he beefed Dave?" he said at last.

"Shouldn't be surprised," said De Launay. "I searched for him but
couldn't find him. He wouldn't get lost or hurt. But Jim Banker's done
enough, in any case."

"He sure has," said Sucatash.

De Launay helped the cow-puncher up in front of him and turned back to
the crater. He rode past Banker's camp without stopping, but keeping
along the slope to avoid the deeper snow he came upon a stake set in a
pile of small rocks. This was evidently newly placed. He showed it to
Sucatash.

"The fellow's staked ground here. What could he have found?"

"Maybe the old lunatic thinks he's run onto French Pete's strike,"
grinned Sucatash. "This don't look very likely to me."

"Gone to Maryville to register it, I suppose. That accounts for his
leaving the burros and part of his stuff. He'd travel light."

"He better come back heavy though. If he aims to winter in here he'll
need bookoo rations. It'd take some mine to make me do it."

Sucatash was in bad shape, and De Launay was not particularly
interested in old Jim's vagaries at the present time, so he made all
speed back to the crater. Sucatash, who knew of the windfall, would
not believe that the soldier had found an entrance into the place
until he had actually treaded the game trail.

He looked backward from the heights above the tangle after they had
come through it.

"Some stronghold," he commented. "It'd take an army to dig you outa
here."

They found Solange as De Launay had left her. She was overjoyed to see
Sucatash and at the same time distressed to observe his condition. She
heard with indignation his account of his mishap and, like De Launay,
suspected Banker of being responsible for it. Indeed, unless they
assumed that some mysterious presence was abroad at this unseasonable
time in the mountains, there was no one else to suspect.

She would have risen and assumed the duties of nursing the
cow-puncher, but De Launay forbade it. She was still very weak and her
head was painful. The soldier therefore took upon himself the task of
caring for both of them.

He made a bed for Sucatash in the kitchen of the cabin and went about
the work of getting them both on their feet with quiet efficiency.
This bade fair to be a task of some days' duration though both were
strong and healthy and yielded readily to rest and treatment.

It was night again before he had them comfortably settled and
sleeping. Once more, with camp lantern lit, he sat before the slab
table and examined his bullets and the shell he had picked up at
Banker's camp.

He found that both bullets fitted it tightly. Then he turned the rim
to the light and looked at it.

Stamped in the brass were the cabalistic figures:

U. M. C. SAV. .303.

For some time he sat there, his mouth set in straight, hard lines, his
memory playing backward over nineteen years. He recalled the men he
had known on the range, a scattered company, every one of whom could
be numbered, every one of whom had possessions, weapons, accouterment,
known to nearly all the others. In that primitive community of few
individuals the tools of their trades were as a part of them. Men were
marked by their saddles, their chaparajos, their weapons. A pair of
silver-mounted spurs owned by one was remarked by all the others.

Louisiana had known the weapons of the range riders even as they knew
his. The six-shooter with which he had often performed his feats would
have been as readily recognized as he, himself. When a new rifle
appeared in the West its advent was a matter of note.

In Maryville, then a small cow town and outfitting place for the men
of the range, there had been one store in which weapons could be
bought. In that store, the proprietor had stocked just one rifle of
the new make. The Savage, shooting an odd caliber cartridge, had been
distrusted because of that fact, the men of the country fearing that
they would have difficulty in procuring shells of such an unusual
caliber. Unable to sell it, he had finally parted with it for a mere
fraction of its value to one who would chance its inconvenience. The
man who possessed it had been known far and wide and, at that time, he
was the sole owner of such a rifle in all that region.

Yet, with this infallible clew to the identity of French Pete's
murderer at hand, it had been assumed that the bullet was 30-30.

De Launay envisioned that worn and battered rifle butt projecting from
the scabbard slung to the burro in Sulphur Falls. Nineteen years, and
the man still carried and used the weapon which was to prove his
guilt.

Once more he got up and went in to look at the sleeping girl. Should
he tell her that the murderer of her father was discovered? What good
would it do? He doubted that, if confronted with the knowledge, she
could find the fortitude to exact the vengeance which she had vowed.
And if, faced with the facts, she drew back, what reproach would she
always visit upon herself for her weakness? Torn between a barbaric
code and her own gentle instincts, she would be unhappy whatever
eventuated.

But he was free from gentleness--at least toward every one but her. He
had killed. He was callous. Five years in the _Légion des Etrangers_
and fourteen more of war and preparation for war had rendered him
proof against squeamishness. The man was a loathly thing who had slain
in cold blood, cowardly, evil, and unclean. Possibly he had murdered
within the past few days, and, at any rate he had attempted murder and
torture.

Why tell her about it? He had no ties; no aims; nothing to regret
leaving. He had nothing but wealth which was useless to him, but which
would lift her above all unhappiness after he was gone. And he could
kill the desert rat as he would snuff out a candle.

Yet--the thought of it gave him a qualm. The man was so contemptible;
so unutterably low and vile and cowardly. To kill him would be like
crushing vermin. He would not fight; he would cower and cringe and
shriek. There might be a battle when they took De Launay for the
"murder," of course, but even his passing, desperate as he might make
it, would not entirely wipe out the disgrace of such a butchery. He
was a soldier; a commander with a glorious record, and it went against
the grain to go out of life in an obscure brawl brought on by the
slaughter of this rat.

Still, he had dedicated himself to the service of this girl, half in
jest, perhaps, but it was the only service left to him to perform. He
had lived his life; had his little day of glory. It was time to go.
She was his wife and to her he would make his last gesture and depart,
serving her.

Then, as he looked at her, her eyes opened and flashed upon him. In
their depths something gleamed, a new light more baffling than any he
had seen there before. There was fire and softness, warmth and
sweetness in it. He dropped on his knees beside the bunk.

"What is it, _mon ami_?" Solange was smiling at him, a smile that drew
him like a magnet.

"Nothing," he said, and rose to his feet. Her hand had strayed lightly
over his hair in that instant of forgetfulness. "I looked to see that
you were comfortable."

"You are changed," she said, uncertainly. "It is better so."

He smiled at her. "Yes. I am changed again. I am the légionnaire.
Nameless, hopeless, careless! You must sleep, _mon enfant_! Good
night!"

He brushed the hand she held out to him with his lips and turned to
the door. As he went out she heard him singing softly:

                    "_Soldats de la Légion,
                    De la Légion Etrangère,
                    N'ayant pas de Nation,
                    La France est votre Mère._"

He did not see that the light in her marvelous eyes had grown very
tender. Nor did she dream that he had made a mat of his glory for her
to walk upon.



CHAPTER XX

LOUISIANA!


On the following morning, De Launay, finding his patients doing well,
once more left the camp after seeing that everything was in order and
food for the invalids prepared and set to their hands. Among Solange's
effects he had found a pair of prism binoculars, which he slung over
his shoulder. Then he made his way on foot to the lower end of the
valley, up the encircling cliffs and out on the ridge which surrounded
the crater.

Here he hunted until he came upon a narrow, out-jutting ledge which
overlooked the country below and the main backbone of the range to the
southward and eastward. From here he could see over the bench at the
base of the cliff, with its maze of tangled, down timber, and on to
the edge of Shoestring Cañon, though he could not see down into that
gulch. Above Shoestring, however, he could see the rough trail which
wound out of the cañon on the opposite side and up toward the crest of
the range, where it was lost among the timber-clad gorges and peaks of
the divide. Over this trail came such folk as crossed the range from
the direction of Maryville. All who came from the Idaho side would
head in by way of Shoestring and come up the cañon.

That day, although he swept the hills assiduously with his glasses, he
saw nothing. The dark smears and timber, startlingly black against the
snow, remained silent, brooding and inviolate, as though the presence
of man had never stirred their depths.

He did not remain long. Fearing that he would be needed at the cabin,
he returned before noon. Solange was progressing bravely, though she
was still weak. Sucatash, however, was in worse shape and evidently
would not be fit to move for several days.

The next day he did not go to his post, but on the third morning,
finding Sucatash improving, he again took up his vigil. On that day
banked clouds hovered over the high peaks and nearly hid them from
view. A chill and biting wind almost drove him from his post.

Seeing nothing, he was about to return, but, just as a heavy flurry of
snow descended upon him, he turned to give one last look toward the
divide and found it lost in mist which hung down into the timber.
Under this fleecy blanket, the cañon and the lower part of the trail
stood forth clearly.

Just as De Launay was about to lower his glasses, a man rode out of
the timber, driving before him a half dozen pack horses. The soldier
watched him as he dropped below the rim of the cañon and, although
distant, thought he detected signs of haste in his going.

This man had been gone hardly more than ten minutes when a second
horseman rode down the trail. There might have been doubt in the case
of the first rider, but it was certain that the second was in a hurry.
He urged his horse recklessly, apparently in pursuit of the first man,
whom he followed below the cañon's rim.

De Launay was earlier than usual at his post the next day. Yet he was
not too early to meet the evidence of activity which was even more
alert than his. But before he could settle himself he saw the trail
across the cañon alive with moving men and beasts. In ones, twos, and
threes they came. Some rode singly and without outfit, while others
urged on pack animals. But one and all were in a hurry.

He counted more than twoscore travelers who dropped into Shoestring
within an hour and a half. Then there was a pause in the rush. For an
hour no more came.

After that flowed in another caravan. His glasses showed these were
better equipped than the first comers though he was too far away to
get any accurate idea of what they carried. Still a dim suspicion was
filling his mind, and as each of the newcomers rushed down the trail
and over the cañon rim his suspicion took more vivid form until it
became conviction and knowledge.

"By heavens! It's a mining rush!"

His mind worked swiftly. He jumped at the evidence he had seen where
Banker had staked a claim. The prospector had ridden to Maryville to
record the claims. He had been followed, and in an incredibly short
time here were veritable hordes rushing into Shoestring Cañon. If this
was the vanguard what would be the main body? It must have been a
strike of fabulous proportions that had caused this excitement. And
that strike must be----

"French Pete's Bonanza!" he almost yelled.

The thing was astounding and it was true. In naming a rendezvous he,
himself, had directed these men to the very spot--because there was no
other spot. The obvious, as usual, had been passed by for years while
the seekers had sought in the out-of-the-way places. But where would
Pete find a mine when he was returning to the ranch with his flock?
Surely not in the out-of-the-way places, for he would not be leading
his sheep by such ways. He would be coming through the range by the
shortest and most direct route, the very route that was the most
frequented--and that was the trail over the range and down Shoestring
Cañon.

De Launay wanted to shout with laughter as he thought of the search of
years ending in this fashion: the discovery of the Bonanza, under the
very nose of the dead man's daughter, by the very man who had murdered
him!

But his impulse was stifled as his keen mind cast back over the past
days. He recalled the rescue of Solange and the ambush from the top of
the great, flat outcrop. Vague descriptions of Pete's location, heard
in casual talks with Solange, came to him. The old sheep-herder had
been able to describe his find as having been made where he had eaten
his noonday meal "on a rock." That rock--the Lunch Rock, as it had
been called, had even given the mine a name in future legend, as the
Peg Leg had been named.

But there had been no rock that could answer the description near the
camp. At least there had been only one, and that one had been the flat
outcrop on which Banker had lain at length and from which he had
attempted to shoot De Launay.

Then swiftly he recalled Solange's cry of warning and his own swift
reaction. He had fired at the eyes and forehead appearing above the
edge of the rock and he had hit the edge of the rock itself. He had
laughed to see the mad prospector clawing at his eyes, filled with the
powdered rock, and had laughed again to see his later antics as he
stood upright, while De Launay rode away, waving his arms in the air
and yelling.

He saw now what had caused those frantic gestures and shouts. It had
been he, De Launay, who had uncovered to the prospector's gaze the
gold which should have been mademoiselle's.

No wonder he had no desire to laugh as he turned back into the valley.
He was weighted down with the task that was his. He had to tell
Solange that the quest on which she had come was futile. That her mine
was found--but by another, and through his own act. He visualized
those wonderful eyes which had, of late, looked upon him with such
soft fire, dulling under the chilling shock of disappointment, mutely
reproaching him for her misfortune and failure.

The wild Vale of Avalon, which had seemed such a lovely haven for
Morgan _la fée_, had lost its charm. He plodded downward and across
the rank grass, going slowly and reluctantly to the cabin. Entering
it, he went first to Sucatash, asking him how he felt.

The cow-puncher raised himself with rapidly returning strength, noting
the serious expression on De Launay's face.

"I'm getting right hearty," he answered. "I'll drag myself out and sit
up to-night, I reckon. But you don't look any too salubrious yourself,
old-timer. Aimin' to answer sick call?"

"No," said De Launay. "Thinking about mademoiselle. You remember those
stakes we saw?"

"Banker's claim? Sure."

"Well, he's struck something. There is a small army pouring into
Shoestring from Maryville. It's a regular, old-time gold rush."

"Damn!" said Sucatash, decisively.

He pondered the news a moment.

"In these days," he finally said, "with gold mines bein' shut down
because it don't pay to work 'em, there wouldn't be no rush unless
he'd sure struck something remarkable."

"You've guessed it!" said De Launay.

"It's French Pete's mine?"

"I don't see any other explanation."

Again Sucatash was silent for a time. Then:

"That little girl is sure out o' luck!" he said. There was a deep note
of sympathy in the casual comment. And the cow-puncher looked at De
Launay in a manner which the soldier readily interpreted.

"No mine, no means of support, no friends within five thousand miles;
nothing--but a husband she doesn't want! Is that what you're
thinking?"

"Not meaning any offense, it was something like that," said Sucatash,
candidly.

"She'll get rid of the incumbrance, without trouble," said De Launay,
shortly.

"Well, she ain't quite shy of friends, neither. I ain't got no gold
mines--never took no stock in them. But I've got a bunch of cows and
the old man's got a right nice ranch. If it wasn't for one thing, I'd
just rack in and try my luck with her."

"What's the one thing?"

"You," said Sucatash, briefly.

"I've already told you that I don't count. Her marriage was merely a
formality and she'll be free within a short time."

Sucatash grinned. "I hate to contradict you, old-timer. In fact, I
sure wish you was right. But, even if she don't know it herself, I
know. It sure beats the deuce how much those eyes of hers can say even
when they don't know they're sayin' it."

De Launay nodded. He was thinking of the lights in them when she had
turned them on him of late.

"They told _me_ something, not very long ago--and I'm gamblin' there
won't be any divorce, pardner."

"There probably won't," De Launay replied, shortly. "It won't be
necessary."

He got up and went into the other room where Solange reclined on the
bunk. He found her sitting up, dressed once more in leather breeches
and flannel shirtwaist, and looking almost restored to full strength.
Her cheeks were flushed again, but this time with the color of health.
The firelight played on her hair, glowing in it prismatically. Her
eyes, as she turned them on him, caught the lights and drew them into
their depths. They were once more fathomless and hypnotic.

But De Launay did not face them. He sat down on a rude stool beside
the fire and looked into the flame. His face was set and indifferent.

"Monsieur," said Solange, "you are changed again, it seems. It is not
pleasant to have you imitate the chameleon, in this manner. What has
happened?"

"Your mine has been found," said De Launay, shortly.

Solange started, half comprehending. Then, as his meaning caught hold,
she cried out, hesitating, puzzled, not knowing whether his manner
meant good news or bad.

"But--if it has been found, that is good news? Why do you look so
grim, monsieur? Is it that you are grieved because it has been
found?"

De Launay had half expected an outburst of joyous questions which
would have made his task harder. In turn, he was puzzled. The girl did
not seem either greatly excited or overjoyed. In fact, she appeared to
be doubtful. Probably she could not realize the truth all at once.

"It has been found," he went on, harshly, "by Banker, the prospector
from whom I rescued you."

Solange remained still, staring at him. He sat with elbows on his
knees, his face outlined in profile by the fire. Clean and fine lined
it was, strong with a thoroughbred strength, a face that a woman would
trust and a man respect. As she looked at it, noting the somber
suppression of emotion, she read the man's reluctance and
disappointment for her. She guessed that he buried his feelings under
that mask and she wondered wistfully how deep those feelings were.

"Then," she said, at last, "it is not likely that this Monsieur
Banker would acknowledge my claim to the mine?"

"The mine is his under the law. I am afraid that you have no claim to
it. Your father never located it nor worked it. As for Banker----"

He paused until she spoke.

"Well? And what of this Banker?"

"He will not hold it long. But he has heirs, no doubt, who would not
acknowledge your claim. Still, I will do my best. Sucatash will back
us up when we jump the claim."

"Jump the claim? What is that?"

He explained briefly the etiquette of this form of sport.

"But," objected Solange, "this man will resist, most certainly. That
would mean violence."

A faint smile curled the man's mouth under the mustache. "I am
supposed to be a violent man," he reminded her. "I'll do the killing,
and you and Sucatash will merely have to hold the claim. The sympathy
of the miners will be with you, and there should be little difficulty
unless it turns out that some one has a grubstake interest."

He had to explain again the intricacies of this phase of mining.
Solange listened intently, sitting now on the edge of the bunk. When
he was done, she slid to her feet and took position beside him, laying
her hand on his shoulder. Behind her, by the side of the bunk, was a
short log, set on end as a little table, on which rested the
holstered automatic which De Launay had left with her.

"It appears then," she said, when he had finished, "that, in any event
I have no right to this mine. In order to seize it, you would have to
fight and perhaps kill some one. But, monsieur, I am not one who would
wish you to be a common bravo--a desperado--for me. This mine, it is
nothing. We shall think no more of it."

Again De Launay was mildly surprised. He had supposed that the loss of
the mine would affect her poignantly and yet she was dismissing it
more lightly than he could have done had she not been concerned. And
in her expression of consideration for him there was a sweetness that
stirred him greatly. He lifted his hand to hers where it rested on his
shoulder, and she did not withdraw from his touch.

"And yet," he said, "there is no reason that you should concern
yourself lest I act like a desperado. There are those who would say
that I merely lived up to my character. The General de Launay you have
heard of, I think?"

"I have heard of him as a brave and able man," answered Solange.

"And as a driver of flesh and blood beyond endurance, a butcher of
men. It was so of the colonel, the _commandant_, the _capitaine_. And,
of the _légionnaire_, you have heard what has always been heard. We of
the _Légion_ are not lap dogs, mademoiselle."

"I do not care," said Solange.

"And before the _Légion_, what? There was the cow-puncher, the range
bully, the gunman; the swashbuckling flourisher of six-shooters; the
notorious Louisiana."

He heard her breath drawn inward in a sharp hiss. Then, with startling
suddenness, her hand was jerked from under his but not before he had
sensed an instant chilling of the warm flesh. Wondering, he turned to
see her stepping backward in slow, measured steps while her eyes,
fixed immovably upon him, blazed with a fell light, mingled of grief,
horror and rage. Her features were frozen and pale, like a death mask.
The light of the fire struck her hair and seemed to turn it into a
wheel of angry flame.

There was much of the roused fury in her and as much of a lost and
despairing soul.

"Louisiana!" she gasped. "You! You are Louisiana?"



CHAPTER XXI

GOLD SEEKERS


Puzzled, but watchful and alert, De Launay saw her retreating, sensing
the terrible change that had come over her.

"Yes, I am Louisiana," he said. "What is the matter?"

In answer she laughed, while one hand went to the breast of her
shirtwaist and the other reached behind her, groping for something as
she paced backward. Like a cameo in chalk her features were set and
the writhing flames in her hair called up an image of Medusa. There
was no change in expression, but through her parted lips broke a low
laugh, terrible in its utter lack of feeling.

"And I have for my husband--Louisiana! _Quelle farce!_"

The hand at her breast was withdrawn and in it fluttered the yellow
paper that Wilding had brought from Maryville to Wallace's ranch. She
flung it toward him, and as he stooped to pick it up, her groping hand
fell on the pistol resting on the upturned log at the side of the
bunk. She drew it around in front of her, dropped the holster at her
side and snapped the safety down. Her thumb rested on the hammer and
she stood still, tensely waiting.

De Launay read the notice of reward swiftly and looked up. His face
was stern, but otherwise expressionless.

"Well?" he demanded, his eyes barely resting on the pistol before they
swept to meet her own blazing gaze. There was no depth to her eyes
now. Instead they seemed to be fire surrounded by black rims.

"You have read--murderer!"

"I have read it." De Launay's voice was like his face, and in both
appeared a trace of contempt.

"What have you to say before I kill you?"

"That you would have shot before now had you been able to do it,"
answered De Launay, and now the note of contempt was deeper. He turned
his back to her and leaned forward over the fire, one outstretched
hand upon the stone slab that formed the rude mantel.

The girl stood there immobile. The hand that held the pistol was not
raised nor lowered. The thumb did not draw back the hammer. But over
her face came, gradually, a change; a desperate sorrow, an abandonment
of hope. Even the light in her hair that had made it a flaming wheel
seemed in some mysterious way to die down. The terrible fire in her
eyes went out as though drowned in rising tears.

A sob burst from her lips and her breast heaved. De Launay gazed down
upon the fire, and his face was bitter as though he tasted death.

Solange slowly reached behind her again and dropped the heavy weapon
upon the log. Then, in a choked voice she struggled to call out:

"Monsieur Wallace! Will you come?"

In the next room there was a stirring of hasty movements. Sucatash
raised a cheery and incongruous voice.

"Just a minute, mad'mo'selle! I'm comin' a-runnin'."

He stamped into his boots and flung the door open, disheveled, shirt
open at the neck. Astonished, he took in the strange attitudes of the
others.

"What's the answer?" he asked. "What was it you wanted, ma'am?"

Solange turned to him, her grief-ridden face stony in its
hopelessness.

"Monsieur, you are my friend?"

"For mayhem, manslaughter or murder," he answered at once. "What's
wanted?"

"Then--will you take this pistol, and kill that man for me?"

Sucatash's eyes narrowed and his mottled hair seemed to bristle. He
turned on De Launay.

"What's he done?" he asked, with cold fury.

De Launay did not move. Solange answered dully.

"He is the man who--married me--when he was the man who had murdered
my father!"

But Sucatash made no move toward the pistol. He merely gaped at her
and at De Launay. His expression had changed from anger to stupidity
and dazed incomprehension.

"What's that? He murdered your father?"

"He is Louisiana!"

"He? Louisiana! I allowed he was an old-timer. Well, all I can say
is--heaven's delights!"

Solange put out her hand to the edge of the bunk as though she could
not support herself longer unaided. Her eyes were half closed now.

"Will you kill him, monsieur? If you do, you may have--of
me--anything--that you ask!"

The words were faltered out in utter weariness. For one instant De
Launay's eyes flickered toward her, but Sucatash had already sprung to
her side and was easing her to a seat on the edge of the bunk. Her
head drooped forward.

"Ma'am," said Sucatash, earnestly, "you got me wrong. I can't kill
him--not for that."

"Not for that?" she repeated, wonderingly.

"Never in the world! I thought he'd insulted you, and if he had I'd a
taken a fall out of him if he was twenty Louisianas. But this here
notion you got that he beefed your father--that's all wrong! You can't
go to downin' a man on no such notions as that!"

"Why not?" asked Solange, in a stifled voice.

"Because he never done it--that's whatever. You'd never get over it,
mad'mo'selle, if you done that and then found you was wrong! And you
are wrong."

Slowly, Solange dragged herself upright. She was listless, the
lightness had gone out of her step. Without a word, she reached out
and lifted her leather coat from the nail on which it hung. Then she
dragged her leaden feet to the door. Sucatash silently followed her.

In the other room she spoke once.

"Will you saddle my horse for me, monsieur?"

"There ain't no place for you to go, ma'am."

"Nevertheless, I shall go. If you please----"

"Then I'll go with you."

She followed him to the door, putting on her coat. Outside, she sat
down on a log and remained stonily oblivious as Sucatash hastily
caught up several horses and dragged saddles and _alforjas_ into
position. The westering sun was getting low along the rim of the
crater and he worked fast with the knowledge that night would soon be
upon them. Inside the cabin he heard De Launay moving about. A moment
later as he entered to gather Solange's equipment, he saw the soldier
seated at the rough table busy with paper and fountain pen.

As Sucatash went past him, carrying an armload of blankets and a
tarpaulin, De Launay held out a yellow paper.

"She will want this," he said, and then bent over his writing.

Again, when Sucatash came in for more stuff, De Launay stopped him. He
held out the pen, indicating the sheet of paper spread upon the
table.

"This needs two witnesses, I think, but one will have to serve. She is
my wife, after all--but it will make it more certain. Will you sign
it?"

Sucatash glanced hastily at the document, reading the opening words:
"I, Louis Bienville de Launay, colonel and late general of division of
the army of France, being of sound and disposing mind, do make,
declare, and publish this my Last Will and Testament----"

His eye caught only one other phrase: "I give, bequeath, and devise to
my dearly beloved wife, Solange----"

With an oath, Sucatash savagely dashed his signature where De Launay
indicated, and then rushed out of the room. The soldier took another
piece of paper and resumed his writing. When he had finished he folded
the two sheets into an envelope and sealed it. Outside, Sucatash was
heaving the lashings taut on the last packs.

De Launay came to the door and stood watching the final preparations.
Solange still sat desolately on the log.

Finally Sucatash came to her and assisted her to rise. He led her to
her horse and held the stirrup for her as she swung to the saddle. He
was about to mount himself when De Launay caught his eye. Instead, he
stepped to the soldier's side.

"Take this," said De Launay, holding out the envelope. "Give it to her
to-morrow. And--she needn't worry about the mine--or Banker."

"She's not even thinkin' about them!" growled Sucatash.

He turned and strode to his horse. In another moment they were riding
rapidly toward the rim of the crater.

De Launay watched them for some time and then went into the cabin. He
came out a moment later carrying saddle and bridle. On his thighs were
now hanging holsters on both sides, and both were strapped down at the
bottoms.

He caught and saddled his horse, taking his time to the operation.
Then, searching the darkening surface of the crater wall, he found no
trace of the two who had ridden away. But he busied himself in getting
food and eating it. It was fully an hour after they had gone before he
mounted and rode after them.

By this time Solange and Sucatash had reached the rim and were well on
their way through the down timber. More by luck than any knowledge of
the way, they managed to strike the game trail, and wound through the
impeding snags, the cow-puncher taking the lead and the girl following
listlessly in his wake. Before dark had come upon them they had
gained the level bench and were riding toward the gulch which led into
the cañon.

After a while Sucatash spoke. "Where you aimin' to camp, ma'am?"

"I am going down to these miners," she said flatly.

"But, mad'mo'selle, that camp ain't no place for you. There ain't no
women there, most likely, and the men are sure to be a tough bunch. I
wouldn't like to let you go there."

"I am going," she answered. To his further remonstrances she
interposed a stony silence.

He gave it up after a while. As though that were a signal, she became
more loquacious.

"In a mining camp, one would suppose that the men, as you have said,
are violent and fierce?"

"They're sure likely to be some wolfish, ma'am," he agreed. In hope
that she would be deterred by exaggeration, he dwelt on the subject.
"The gunmen and hoss thieves and tinhorn gamblers all come in on the
rush. There's a lot of them hobos and wobblies--reds and anarchists
and such--floatin' round the country, and they're sure to be in on it,
too. I reckon any of them would cut a throat or down a man for two
bits in lead money. Then there's the kind of women that follows a
rush--the kind you wouldn't want to be seen with even--and the men
might allow you was the same kind if you come rackin' in among 'em."

Solange listened thoughtfully and even smiled bleakly.

"These men would kill, you say, for money?"

"For money, marbles or chalk," said Sucatash. He was about to
embellish this when she nodded with satisfaction.

"That is good," she said. "And, if not for money, for a woman--one of
that kind of woman--they would shoot a man?"

Sucatash blanched. "What are you drivin' at, ma'am?"

"They will kill for me, for money--or if that is not enough--for a
woman; such a woman as I am. Will they not, Monsieur Sucatash?"

"Kill who?"

He knew the answer, though, before she spoke: "Louisiana!"

Shocked, he ventured a feeble remonstrance.

"He's your husband, ma'am!"

But this drove her to a wild outburst in startling contrast to her
former quiescence.

"My husband! Yes, my husband who has defiled me as no other on earth
could have soiled and degraded me! My husband! Oh, he shall be killed
if I must sell myself body and soul to the man who shoots him down!"

Then she whirled on him.

"Monsieur Sucatash! You have said to me that you liked me. Maybe
indeed, you have loved me a little! Well, if you will kill that man
for me--you may have me!"

Sucatash groaned, staring at her as though fascinated. She threw back
her head, turning to him, her face upraised. The sweetly curved lips
were half parted, showing little white teeth. On the satin cheeks a
spot of pink showed. The lids were drooping over the deep eyes,
veiling them, hiding all but a hint of the mystery and beauty behind
them.

"Am I not worth a man's life?" she murmured.

"You're worth a dozen murders and any number of other crimes," said
Sucatash gruffly. He turned his head away. "But you got me wrong. If
he was what you think, I'd smoke him up in a minute and you'd not owe
me a thing. But, ma'am, I know better'n you do how you really feel.
You think you want him killed--but you don't."

Solange abruptly straightened round and rode ahead without another
word. Morosely, Sucatash followed.

They came into the cañon at last and turned downward toward the spot
where camp had been pitched that day, which seemed so long ago, and
yet was not yet a week in the past. Snow was falling, clouding the air
with a baffling mist, but they could see, dotted everywhere along the
sides of the cañon, the flickering fires where the miners had camped
on their claims. Around them came the muffled voices of men, free with
profanity. Here and there the shadow of a tent loomed up, or a more
solid bulk spoke of roughly built shacks of logs and canvas. Faint
laughter and, once or twice, the sound of loud quarreling was heard.
It all seemed weirdly unreal and remote as though they rode through an
alien, fourth dimensional world with which they had no connection. The
snow crunched softly under the feet of the horses.

But as they progressed, the houses or shacks grew thicker until it
appeared that they were traversing the rough semblance of a street.
Mud sloshed under the hoofs of the horses instead of snow, and a black
ribbon of it stretched ahead of them. Mistily on the sides loomed
dimly lighted canvas walls or dark hulks of logs. The sound of voices
was more frequent and insistent down here, though most of it seemed to
come from some place ahead.

In the hope that she would push on through the camp Sucatash followed
the girl. They came at last to a long, dim bulk, glowing with light
from a height of about six feet and black below that level. From this
place surged a raucous din of voices, cursing, singing and quarreling.
A squeaky fiddle and a mandolin uttered dimly heard notes which were
tossed about in the greater turmoil. Stamping feet made a continuous
sound, curiously muffled.

"What is this?" said Solange, drawing rein before the place.

"Ma'am, you better come along," replied Sucatash. "I reckon the
bootleggers and gamblers have run in a load of poison and started a
honkatonk. If that's it, this here dive is sure no place for peaceable
folks like us at this time o' night."

"But it is here that these desperate men who will kill may be found,
is it not?" Solange asked.

"You can sure find 'em as bad as you want 'em, in there. But you can't
go in there, ma'am! My God! That place is _hell_!"

"Then it is the place for me," said Solange. She swung down from her
horse and walked calmly to the dimly outlined canvas door, swung it
back and stepped inside.



CHAPTER XXII

VENGEANCE!


The place, seen from within, was a smoky inferno, lighted precariously
by oil lanterns hung from the poles that supported a canvas roof and
sides. Rows of grommets and snap hasps indicated that pack tarpaulins
had been largely used in the construction. To a height of about five
feet the walls were of hastily hewn slabs, logs in the rough, pieces
of packing cases, joined or laid haphazard, with chinks and gaps
through which the wind blew, making rivulets of chill in a stifling
atmosphere of smoke, reeking alcohol, sweat and oil fumes. The
building was a rough rectangle about twenty feet by fifty. At one end
boards laid across barrels formed a semblance of a counter, behind
which two burly men in red undershirts dispensed liquor.

Pieces of packing cases nailed to lengths of logs made crazy tables
scattered here and there. Shorter logs upended formed the chairs.
There was no floor. Sand had been thrown on the ground after the snow
had been shoveled off, but the scuffling feet had beaten and trampled
it into the sodden surface and had hashed it into mud.

Ankle-deep in the reeking slush stood thirty or forty men, clad
mostly in laced boots, corduroys or overalls, canvas or Mackinaw
jackets; woolen-shirted, slouch-hatted. Rough of face and figure, they
stood before the bar or lounged at the few tables, talking in groups,
or shouting and carousing joyously. There was a faro layout on one of
the tables where a man in a black felt hat, smoking a cigar, dealt
from the box, while a wrinkle-faced man with a mouth like a slit cut
in parchment sat beside him on a high log, as lookout. Half a dozen
men played silently.

Perhaps half of those present milled promiscuously among the groups,
hail-fellow-well-met, drunk, blasphemous, and loud. These shouted,
sang and cursed with vivid impartiality. The other half, keener-eyed,
stern of face, capable, drew together in small groups of two or three
or four, talking more quietly and ignoring all others except as they
kept a general alert watch on what was going on. These were the
old-timers, experienced men, who trusted no strangers and had no mind
to allow indiscreet familiarities from the more reckless and
ignorant.

When the door opened to admit Solange, straight and slim in her plain
leather tunic and breeches, stained dark with melted snow, the drunken
musicians perched on upended logs were the first to see her. They
stopped their playing and stared, and slowly a grin came upon one of
them.

"Oh, mamma! Look who's here!" he shouted.

Half a hundred pairs of eyes swung toward the door and silence fell
upon the place. Stepping heedlessly into the ankle-deep muck, Solange
walked forward. Her flat-brimmed hat was pulled low over her face and
the silk bandanna hid her hair. Behind her Sucatash walked
uncertainly, glaring from side to side at the gaping men.

The groups that kept to themselves cast appraising eyes on the
cow-puncher and then turned them away. They pointedly returned to
their own affairs as though to say that, however strange, the advent
of this girl accompanied by the lean rider, was none of their
business. Again spoke experience and the wariness born of it.

But the tenderfeet, the drunken roisterers, were of different clay. A
chorus of shouts addressed to "Sister" bade her step up and have a
drink. A wit, in a falsetto scream, asked if he might have the next
dance. Jokes, or what passed in that crew for them, flew thickly,
growing more ribald and suggestive as the girl stood, indifferent, and
looked about her.

Then Sucatash strode between her and the group near the bar from which
most of the noise emanated. He hitched his belt a bit and faced them
truculently.

"You-all had better shut up," he announced in a flat voice. His words
brought here and there a derisive echo, but for the most part the
mirth died away. The loudest jibers turned ostentatiously back to the
bar and called for more liquor. The few hardy ones who would have
carried on their ridicule felt that sympathy had fled from them, and
muttered into silence. Yet half of the crew carried weapons hung in
plain sight, and others no doubt were armed, although the tools were
not visible, while Sucatash apparently had no weapon.

Behind the fervid comradeship and affection, the men were strangers
each to the other. None knew whom he could trust; none dared to strike
lest the others turn upon him.

At one of the rude tables not far from the entrance, sat three men.
They had a bottle of pale and poisonous liquor before them from which
they took frequent and deep drinks. They talked loudly, advertising
their presence above the quieter groups. One or two men stood at the
table, examining a heap of dirty particles of crushed rock spread upon
the boards. They would look at it, finger it and then pass on,
generally without other comment than a muttered word or two. But the
three seated men, one of whom was the gray, weasel-faced Jim Banker,
boasted loudly, and profanely calling attention to the "color" and the
exceeding richness of the ore. Important, swaggering, and braggart,
they assumed the airs of an aristocracy, as of men set apart and
elevated by success.

Outside, in the lull occasioned by Solange's dramatic entrance,
noises of the camp could be heard through the flimsy walls. Far down
the cañon faint shouts could be heard. Some one was calling to animals
of some sort, apparently. A faint voice, muffled by snow, raised a
yell.

"H'yar comes the fust dog sled in from the No'th," he cried. "That's
the sour doughs for yuh! He's comin' _right_!"

They could hear the faint snarls and barks of dogs yelping far down
the cañon.

Then the noise swelled up again and drowned the alien sounds.

Dimly through the murk Solange saw the evil face of the desert rat,
now flushed with drink and greed, and, with a sudden resolution, she
turned and walked toward him. He saw her coming and stared, his face
growing sallow and his yellow teeth showing. He gave the impression of
a cornered rat at the moment.

Then his eyes fell on Sucatash, who followed her, and he half rose
from his seat, fumbling for a gun. Sucatash paid no heed to him, not
noticing his wild stare nor the slight slaver of saliva that sprang to
his lips. His companions were busy showing the ore to curious
spectators and were too drunk to heed him.

Slowly Banker subsided into his seat as he saw that neither Solange
nor Sucatash apparently had hostile intentions. He tried to twist his
seamed features into an ingratiating grin, but the effort was a
failure, producing only a grimace.

"W'y, here's ole French Pete's gal!" he exclaimed, cordially, though
there was a quaver in his voice. "Da'tter of my old friend what
diskivered this here mine an' then lost it. Killed, he was, by a
gunman, twenty years gone. Gents, say howdy to the lady!"

His two companions gaped and stared upward at the strange figure. The
standing men, awkwardly and with a muttered word or two, backed away
from the table, alert and watchful. Women meant danger in such a
community. Under the deep shadow of her hat brim, Solange's eyes
smoldered, dim and mysterious.

"You are Monsieur Banker!" she asserted, tonelessly. "You need not be
frightened. I have not come to ask you for an accounting--yet. It is
for another purpose that I am here."

"Shore! Anything I kin do fer old Pete's gal--all yuh got to do is ask
me, honey! Old Jim Banker; that's me! White an' tender an' faithful to
a friend, is Jim Banker, ma'am. Set down, now, and have a nip!"

He rose and waved awkwardly to his log. One of the others, with a grin
that was almost a leer, also rose and reached for another log at a
neighboring table from which a man had risen. All about that end of
the shack, the seated or standing men, mostly of the silent and aloof
groups, drifted casually aside, leaving the table free.

Solange sat down and Sucatash put out a hand to restrain her.

"Mad'mo'selle!" he remonstrated. "This ain't no place fer yuh! Yuh
don't want to hang around here with this old natural! He's plum
poisonous, I'm tellin' yuh!"

Solange made an impatient gesture. "Some one quiet him!" she
exclaimed. "Am I not my own mistress, then!"

"Yuh better be keerful what yuh call me, young feller," said Banker,
belligerently. "Yuh can't rack into this here camp and get insultin'
that a way."

"Aw, shut up!" retorted Sucatash, flaming. "Think yuh can bluff me
when I'm a-facin' yuh? Yuh damn', cowardly horned toad!"

He half drew back his fist to strike as Banker rose, fumbling at his
gun. But one of the other men suddenly struck out, with a fist like a
ham, landing beneath the cow-puncher's ear. He went down without a
groan, completely knocked out.

The man got up, seized him by the legs, dragged him to the door and
threw him into the road outside. Then he came back, laughing loudly,
and swaggering as though his feat had been one to be proud of. Solange
had shuddered and shrunk for a moment, but almost at once she shook
herself as though casting off her repulsion and after that was
stonily composed.

On his way to the table the man who had struck Sucatash down, called
loudly for another bottle of liquor, and one of the red-shirted men
behind the bar left his place to bring it to them.

The burly bruiser sat down beside Solange with every appearance of
self-satisfaction. He leered at her as though expecting her to flame
at his prowess. But she gave no heed to him.

"Yuh might lift up that hat and let us git a look at yuh," he said,
reaching out as though to tilt the brim. She jerked sharply away from
him.

"In good time, monsieur," she said. "Have patience."

Then she turned to Banker, who had been eying her with furtive,
speculative eyes, cautious and suspicious.

"Monsieur Banker," she said, "it is true that you have known this man
who killed my father--this Louisiana?"

"Me! Shore, I knowed him. A murderin' gunman he was, ma'am. A bad
hombre!"

"And did you recognize him that time he came--when you played that
little--joke--upon me?"

Banker turned sallow once more, as though the recollection frightened
him.

"I shore did," he assented fervently. "He plumb give me a start.
Thought he was a ghost, that a way, you----"

He leaned forward, grinning, his latent lunacy showing for a moment in
his red eyes. Confidentially, he unburdened himself to his
companions.

"This lady--you'll see--she's a kind o' witch like. This here feller
racks in, me thinkin' him dead these many years, an' I misses him
clean when I tries to down him. I shore thinks he's a ha'nt, called up
by the lady. Haw, haw!"

His laughter was evil, chuckling and cunning. It was followed by
cackling boasts:

"But they all dies--all but old Jim. Louisiana, he dies too, even if I
misses him that a way with old Betsy that ain't missed nary a one fer
nigh twenty year."

Under her hat brim Solange's eyes gleamed with a fierce light as the
bloodthirsty old lunatic sputtered and mouthed. But the other two
grinned derisively at each other and leered at the girl.

"Talks like that all the time, miss," said one. "Them old-timers likes
to git off the Deadwood Dick stuff. Me, I'm nothin' but a p'fessional
pug and all the gun fightin' I ever seen was in little old Chi. But I
ain't a damn' bit afraid to say I could lick a half dozen of these
here hicks that used to have a reputation in these parts. Fairy tales;
that's wot they are!"

He swigged his drink and sucked in his breath with vast
self-satisfaction. The other man, of a leaner, quieter, but just as
villainous a type, grinned at him.

"Oh, I don't know," he said. "I ain't never seen no one could juggle a
six-gun like they say these birds could do, but I reckon there's some
truth in it. Leastways, there are some that can shoot pretty good."

He, too, leaned back, with an air of self-satisfaction. Banker
chuckled again.

"You're both good ones," he said. "This gent can shoot some, ma'am. He
comes from Arkansas. But I ain't a-worryin' none about that. Old Jim's
luck's still holdin' good. I found this here mine, now, although you
wouldn't tell me where it was. Didn't I?"

"I suppose so," said Solange indifferently. "I do not care about the
mine, monsieur. It is yours. But there is something that I wish and--I
have money----"

The instant light of greed that answered this announcement convinced
her that she had struck the right note. If the mine had been as rich
as Golconda these men would have coveted additional money.

"You got money, ma'am?" Banker spoke whiningly.

"Money to pay for your service. You are brave men; men who would help
a woman, I feel sure. You, Monsieur Banker, knew my father and would
help his daughter--if she paid you."

The irony escaped him.

"I sure would," he answered, eagerly. "What's it you want, ma'am, and
what you goin' to pay fer it?"

She spoke quite calmly, almost casually.

"I want you to kill a man," she answered.

The three of them stared at her and then the big bruiser laughed.

"Who d'you want scragged?" he said, derisively.

Solange looked steadily at Banker. "Louisiana!" she answered, clearly.
But old Jim turned pale and showed his rat's teeth.

The others merely chuckled and nudged each other.

Solange sensed that two considered her request merely a wild joke
while the other was afraid. She slowly drew from her bag the yellow
poster that De Launay had sent back to her by Sucatash.

"You would be within the law," she pleaded, spreading it out before
them. As they bent over it, reading it slowly: "See. He is a fugitive
with a price on his head. Any one may slay him and collect a reward.
It is a good deed to shoot him down."

"Five hundred dollars looks good," said the lean man from Arkansas,
"but it ain't hardly enough to set me gunnin' for a feller I don't
know. Is this a pretty bad actor?"

"Bad?" screamed Banker, suddenly. "Bad! I've seen him keep a chip in
the air fer two or three seconds shootin' under it with a six-shooter!
I've seen him roll a bottle along the ground as if you was a-kickin'
it, shootin' between it and the ground and never chippin' the glass.
Bad! You ask Snake Murphy if he's bad. Snake was drunk an' starts a
fuss with him an' his hand was still on his gun butt an' the gun in
the holster when Louisiana shoots him in the wrist an' never looks at
him while he's a-doin' it! Bad! I'll say he's bad!"

He was shivering and almost sick in his sudden fright at the idea of
facing Louisiana. The others, however, were skeptical and
contemptuous.

"Same old Buffalo Bill and Alkali Ike stuff!" said the pugilist
sneeringly. "I ain't afraid of this guy!"

"Well--neither am I," said the man from Arkansas, complacently. "He
ain't the only one that can shoot, I reckon."

Banker fairly fawned upon them. "Yes," he cried. "You-all are good
fellers and you ain't afraid. You'll down Louisiana if he comes. But
he won't come, I reckon."

"He _is_ coming," said Solange. "Not many hours ago I heard him say
that he was going to 'jump your claim,' which he said did not belong
to you. And he intimated that there would be a fight and that he would
welcome it."

The three men were startled, looking at one another keenly. Banker
licked his lips and was unmistakably frightened more than ever. But
in his red eyes the flame of lunacy was slowly mounting.

"If I had old Betsy here----" he muttered.

"He ain't goin' to jump this mine," said the man from Arkansas,
grimly. "Me and Slugger, here, has an interest in that mine. We works
it on shares with Jim. If this shootin' sport comes round, we'll know
what to do with him."

"Slugger," however, was more practical. "We'll take care of him," he
agreed, slapping his side where a pistol hung. "But if there's money
in gettin' him, I want to know how much. What'll you pay, ma'am?"

"A--a thousand dollars is all I have," said Solange. "You shall have
that, messieurs."

But, somehow, her voice had faltered as though she, now, were
frightened at what she had done and regretted it. Some insistent
doubt, hitherto buried under her despair and rage, was struggling to
the surface. As she watched these sinister scoundrels muttering
together and concerting the downfall of the man who was her
husband--and perhaps something more, to her--she felt a panic growing
in her, an impulse to spring up and rush out, back on the trail to
warn De Launay. But she suppressed it, cruelly scourging herself to
remembrance of her dead father and her vow of vengeance. She tried to
whip the flagging sense of outrage at the trick that the brutal
Louisiana had played upon her in allowing her to marry him.

"If he lights around here," she heard Banker cackling, "we'll down
him, we will! I'll add a thousand more to what the lady gives. We'll
keep a lookout, boys, an' when he shows up, he dies!"

Then his shrill, evil cry arose again and men turned from their
pursuits to look at him. The foam stood on his lips, writhen into a
snarl over yellow fangs and his red eyes flamed with insanity.

"He'll die! They all dies! Only old Jim don't die. French Pete dies;
Panamint dies; that there young Dave dies! But old Jim don't die!"

Solange turned pale as he half rose, leaning on the table with one
hand while the other rested on the butt of his six-shooter. A great
terror surged over her as she saw what she had let loose on her
lover.

Her lover! For the first time she realized that he was her lover and
that, despite crime and insult and deadly injury, he could be nothing
else. She staggered to her feet, shoving back the brim of her hat, her
wonderful eyes showing for the first time as she turned them on these
grim wolves who faced her.

"My God!" said the bruiser, in a sudden burst of awe as he was caught
by the fathomless depths. The man from Arkansas could not see them so
clearly, but he sensed something disturbing and unusual. Banker faced
her and tried to tear his own eyes from her.

Then, as they stood and sat in tableau, the flimsy door to the shack
flew open and Louisiana stood on the threshold, holsters sagging on
each hip and tied down around his thighs.



CHAPTER XXIII

TO THE VALE OF AVALON


Slowly the sense of something terrible and menacing was borne in on
those who grouped themselves at the table. First there came a
diminishing of the sounds that filled the place. They died away like a
fading wind. Then the chill sweep of air from the door surged across
the room, like a great fear congealing the blood. In the sloppy mess
underfoot could be heard the sucking, splashing sound of feet moving,
as men all about drew back instinctively and rapidly to be out of the
way.

Solange felt what had happened rather than saw it. The fearful
convulsion of fright, followed by maniac rage that leaped to Banker's
face told her as though he had shouted the news. His companions and
allies were merely stupefied and startled.

With an impulse to cry out a warning or to rush to him and throw her
body between De Launay and these enemies, she suddenly whirled about
to face him. She saw him standing in the doorway, the night black
behind him except where the light fell on untrodden snow. Dim and
shadowy in the open air of the roadway were groups of figures. The
yelping and snarling of dogs floated into the place and she could see
their wolfish figures between the legs of men and horses.

De Launay stood upright, hands outstretched at the level of his
shoulders and resting against the sides of the doorway. He was open to
and scornful of attack. His clean features were set sternly and his
eyes looked levelly into the reeking interior, straight at Solange and
the three men grouped behind her.

"Monsieur de Launay!" she cried. His eyes flickered over her and
focused again on the men.

"Louisiana--at your service," he answered, quietly.

In some wild desire to urge him back she choked out words.

"Why--why did you come?"

He did not answer her direct but raised his voice a little, though
still without emotion.

"Jim Banker," he said, "I came for you. There are others out here who
have also come for you--but I am holding them back. I want you
myself."

Out of Banker's foaming lips came a snarling cry.

"Wh-what fer?"

Again the answer was not direct, and this time it was Solange he spoke
to, though he did not alter the direction of his gaze.

"Mademoiselle, you are directly in line with these--men. You had
better move aside."

But Solange felt the pressure of a gun muzzle at her back and the
snarl was in her ear.

"You don't move none! Stand where you be, or I'll take you fust and
git him next!"

Nevertheless she would have moved, had not De Launay caught the
knowledge of her peril. He spoke again, still calm but with a new,
steely note in his voice.

"Stand fast, mademoiselle, then, if they must have you for a shield.
But don't move. Shut your eyes!"

Hardly knowing why, she obeyed, oblivious of the peril to herself but
in an agony lest her presence and position increase his danger. De
Launay dominated her, and she stood as rigid as a statue, awaiting the
cataclysm.

But he was speaking again.

"The wolves dug up the body of Dave MacKay, Banker, and the men
outside found it. What you did to Wallace the other day he has
recovered sufficiently to tell us. What you tried to do to this young
woman I have also told them. Shall I tell her, and the others, who
killed French Pete nineteen years ago?"

Again came the whining, shrill snarl from behind Solange.

"You did, you----"

"So you have said before, Jim. But I have the bullet that killed Pete
d'Albret. I also have the bullet you shot at me when I came up to save
mademoiselle from you a week ago. Those two are of the same caliber,
Banker. It's a caliber that's common enough nowadays but wasn't very
common in nineteen hundred. Who shot a Savage .303, nineteen years
ago, and who shoots that same rifle to-day?"

There was a slow mutter of astonishment rising from the men crowded
about the walls and in front of the crude bar. It was a murmur that
contained the elements of a threat.

"I give you first shot, Jim," came the half-mocking voice of De Launay
beating, half heard, on Solange's ears, where the astounding reversal
of her notions was causing her brain almost to reel. Then she heard
the whistling scream of Banker, quite lunatic by now, as he lost all
sense of fear in his rising madness.

"By heaven, but you don't git me, Louisiana! Nobody gits old Jim. They
all die--all but old Jim!"

The shattering concussion of a shot fired within an inch or two of her
ear almost stunned her. She felt the powder burning her cheek. Almost
against her will her eyes flew open to see the figure in the door jerk
and sag a little. Triumphant and horrible came Banker's scream.

"They all die--all but old Jim!"

She was conscious of hasty movements beside her. The two other men,
awaking from their stupor and sensing their opportunity as De Launay
was hit, were drawing their guns.

"Stand still!" thundered De Launay and she stiffened automatically.
His hands had dropped from the doorway and now they seemed to snap
upward with incredible speed and in them were two squat and heavy
automatics, their grizzly muzzles sweeping like the snap of a whip to
a line directly at herself, as it seemed.

Two shots again rocked her with their concussion. They seemed merely
echoes of the flaming roars from the big automatics as each of them
spoke. A man standing against the wall some feet away from De Launay
ducked sharply, with a cry. The shot fired by the Slugger had gone
wide, narrowly missing him. A chip flew from the door lintel near De
Launay's head. The man from Arkansas was shooting closer.

Solange was conscious that some one beside her had grunted heavily and
that some one else was choking distressingly. She could not look
around but she heard a heavy slump to her left. To her right something
fell more suddenly and sharply, splashing soggily in the muck. Then,
once more the powder burned her cheek and the eardrum was numbed under
an explosion.

"I got you, Louisiana!" came Banker's yell. She saw De Launay stagger
again and felt that she was about to faint.

"Stand still!" he shouted again. She knew she was sheltering his
murderer and that, from behind her, the finishing shot was already
being aimed over her shoulder. Yet, although she felt that she must
risk her life in order to get out of line and give him a chance, his
voice still dominated her and she stiffened.

One of the big pistols swept into line and belched fire and noise at
her. She heard the brittle snapping of bone at her ear and something
struck her sharply on the collar bone, a snapping blow, as though some
hard and heavy object had struck and glanced upward and away. Then the
second pistol crashed at her.

Again she heard the sound of something smashing behind her. There was
no other sound except the noise of something slipping. That something
then slid, splashing, to the floor.

De Launay's pistols were lowered and he was taking a step into the
room. Solange noted that he staggered again, that the deerskin
waistcoat was stained, and she tried to find strength to run to him.

She saw, as she moved, the huddled figures at her side where the dead
men lay, and she knew that there was another behind her. She heard the
slopping of feet in the mud as men closed in from all about her. She
heard awe-struck voices commenting on what had happened.

"Plumb center--and only a chunk of his haid showin' above the gal! If
you ask me, that's shore some shootin'!"

"An each o' the other two with a shot--jest a left an' a right!"

"Gets the gun with one barrel an' the man with the other. Did you-all
see it?"

Her feet were refusing to carry her, leaden and weighty as they
seemed. Her knees were trembling and her head swimming. Yet she
retained consciousness, for, in front of her, De Launay was crumpling
forward, and sinking to the muddy shambles in which he stood.

Friendly hands were holding her up and she swept the cobwebs from her
brain with her hands, determined that she would conquer her weakness.
Somehow she staggered to De Launay's side and, heedless of the mud,
sank to her knees.

"_Mon ami! Mon ami!_" she moaned over him, her hands folding over his
lean cheeks, still brown in spite of the pallor that was sweeping
them.

A man dropped to his knees beside De Launay and opposite her. She did
not heed his swift gesture in ripping back the buckskin vest. Nor did
she feel the hand on her shoulder where Sucatash stood behind her. The
crowding bystanders were nonexistent to her consciousness as she
raised De Launay's head.

Then his eyes fluttered open and met hers; were held by them as though
they were drawn down to the depths of her and lost in them. Over his
mouth, under the small, military mustache crept a smile.

"Morgan _la fée_!" he whispered.

Solange choked back a sob. She leaned nearer and opened her eyes
wider. De Launay's gaze remained lost in the depths of hers. But he
saw at last to the bottom of them; saw there unutterable sorrow and
love.

"Don't worry, fair lady!" he gasped. "It's been something--to live
for--once more! And the mine--you'll not need that--after all!"

His eyes slowly closed but he was not unconscious, for he spoke
again.

"It's nothing much. That rat couldn't kill--Louisiana!"

The man who was examining De Launay made an impatient gesture and
Sucatash drew her gently away. She rose slowly, bending dumbly over
the physician, as he seemed to be.

"Reckon he's right," said this man, grimly, as he bared De Launay's
chest. "Huh! These holes aren't a circumstance to what this hombre's
had in him before this. Reckon he's had a habit of mixing with cougars
or something like that! Here's a knife wound--old."

"A bayonet did that," said Solange.

"Soldier, eh! Well, he's used to bullet holes and it's a good thing.
Hand me something to bandage him with, some one. He's lost a heap of
blood but there ain't anything he won't get over--that is, if you can
get him out of this hole."

The man seemed competent enough, although, abandoning his practice to
join the gold rush, he had brought few of the tools of his trade with
him. He gathered handkerchiefs and Solange ripped open her flannel
shirtwaist and tore the lingerie beneath it to furnish him additional
cloth. She had collected herself and, although still shaky, was cool
and efficient, her nurse's experience rendering the doctor invaluable
aid. Together they soon stanched the bleeding and directed De Launay's
removal to a near-by tent where he was laid upon ample bedding.

Then the doctor turned to Solange and Sucatash, who hovered around her
like a satellite.

"I've done what I can," he said. "But he'll not stand much chance if
he's left up here. You'd better risk it and get him down to the Falls
if it can be done."

"But how can we take him?" cried Solange. "Surely it would kill him to
ride a horse."

"No, he can't," agreed the doctor. "But there is the dog team that
came in to-night. You ought to get him to Wallace's with that and he
can probably stand it."

Solange turned at once and ran out to seek the driver of the dog team.
The dogs lay about in the road but the man was not visible. She
hastily burst into the saloon again in the hope of finding him there.

The signs of conflict had been removed and men were once more lined up
before the rude bar, discussing the fight in low voices.

They fell silent when Solange entered and most of them took off their
hats, although they had all been puzzled to explain her connection
with the event and her actions before it had come off.

She paid no attention to them but swept the crowd looking for the
newcomer. He saved her the trouble of identifying him by coming
forward.

"Ma'am," he said, with great embarrassment, "I'm Snake Murphy and I
was grubstakin' that ornery coyote that Louisiana just beefed. I come
in to-night with that dog team and I reckon that, accordin' to law,
this here claim of Jim's belongs to me now that he's dead. But I wants
to say that I ain't robbin' no women after they come all the way
across the ocean to find this here mine and--well--if half of it'll
satisfy you, it's yours!"

Solange seized him by the arm.

"You are the man with the dogs?" she cried.

"Yes ma'am."

"Then--you keep the mine--all of it, I do not want it. But you will
let us have the dogs that we may take Monsieur de Launay to the
hospital? We must have the dogs. The mine--that is yours if you
agree!"

Snake Murphy broke into a grin. "Why, ma'am, shore you're welcome to
the dogs. This here Louisiana shot me up once--but damned if I stands
fer no one shootin' him from behind a woman that a way. Come on, and
we'll fix the sled!"

A few minutes later Solange had resumed her watch beside De Launay
while, outside, Sucatash and Murphy were busy unloading the sled and
getting it ready for the wounded man.

De Launay slept, apparently. Solange sat patiently as the long hours
passed. At intervals he muttered in his sleep and she listened.
Fragments of his life formed the subject of the words, incoherent and
disconnected. She caught references to the terrible years of existence
as a légionnaire and later snatches of as terrible scenes of warfare.

Once he spoke more clearly and his words referred to her.

"Morgan _la fée_!--promised to be something interesting--more than
that--worth living, perhaps, after all."

She dropped her hand over his and he clutched it, holding fast. After
that he was quiet, sleeping as easily as could be expected.

In the morning the doctor examined him again and said that the trip
might be taken. De Launay awoke, somewhat dazed and uncertain but
contented, evidently, at finding Solange at his side. He had fever but
was doing very well.

Solange gave him broth, and as he sipped it he looked now and then at
her. Something seemed to be on his mind. Finally he unburdened
himself.

"I was planning to save you the divorce," he said. "But I probably
will get well. It is too bad!"

"Why too bad?" asked Solange, with eyes on broth and spoon.

"After this even a Nevada divorce will mean notoriety for you. And
you've lost the mine."

"I have not lost it," said Solange. "Monsieur Murphy gave me half of
it--but I traded it away."

"Traded it?"

"For a team of dogs to take you out. As for a divorce, Monsieur de
Launay, there is a difficulty in the way."

"A difficulty! What's that? All you have to do is establish a
residence. I'm still an American citizen--at least I never took steps
to be naturalized in France. Perhaps that's why they demoted me.
Anyhow, such a marriage of form wouldn't hold a minute if you want to
have it annulled."

Solange blushed a little.

"But you forget. I cannot blame you for I hardly recalled it myself
until recently. I am a Catholic--and divorce is not allowed."

"But--even a Catholic could get an annulment--under the circumstances,
if she wished it."

"But----" said Solange, and stopped.

"But what?"

"Be quiet, please! If you twist that way you will spill the broth. If
I wished--yes, perhaps."

"Solange!"

"But I--do not wish!"

De Launay lay still a moment, then:

"Solange!"

"Monsieur?"

"_Why_ don't you wish it?"

She stole a glance at him and then turned away. His face was damp and
the fever was glittering in his eyes but behind the fever was a great
hunger.

"Husbands," said Solange, "are not plentiful, monsieur."

He sank back on the bed, sighing a little as though exhausted.
Instantly Solange bent over him, frightened.

"Is that all?" she heard him mutter.

Slowly she stooped until her glimmering hair swept around his face and
her lips met his.

"_Méchant!_" she breathed, softly. "That is not all. There is
also--this!"

Her lips clung to his.

Finally she straightened up and arranged her hair, smiling down at
him, her cheeks flushed delicately and her eyes wonderfully soft.

"Morgan _la fée_!" said De Launay. "My witch--my fairy lady!"

Solange kissed him lightly on the forehead and rose.

"We must be getting ready to go," she said. "It will be a hard trip, I
am afraid. But we shall get you down to the town and there is enough
money left to keep you in the hospital until you are well again. And
I shall find work until everything is all right again."

De Launay stared at her. "Hasn't Sucatash given you that note?"

"But what note?"

He laughed out loud.

"Call him in."

When the cow-puncher came in he held the note in his hand and held it
out to Solange.

"I done forgot this till this minute, ma'am. The boss told me to give
it to you to-day--but I reckon it ain't needed yet."

"Open it," said De Launay.

Solange complied and took out the two inclosures. The first she read
was the will and her eyes filled at this proof of De Launay's care for
her, although she had no idea that his estate was of value. Then she
unfolded the second paper. This she read with growing amazement.

"But," she cried, and stopped. She looked at him, troubled. "I did not
know!" she said, uncertainly.

His hand groped for hers and as she took it, timidly, he drew her
closer.

"Why," he said, "it makes no difference, does it, dear?"

She nodded. "It makes a difference," she replied. "I am not one
that----"

"You are one that traded a mine worth millions that I might have dogs
to take me out," he interrupted. "Now I will buy those dogs from you
and for them I will pay the value of a dozen gold mines. If you will
kiss me again I will endow you with every oil well on my father's
ancestral acres!"

Solange broke into a laugh and her eyes grew deep and mysterious again
as she stooped to him while the embarrassed Sucatash sidled out under
the tent flap.

"You will make yourself poor," she said.

"I couldn't," he answered, "so long as Morgan _la fée_ is with me in
Avalon."

Sucatash called from outside, plaintively:

"I got the dogs fed and ready, mad'mo'selle--I mean, madame! Reckon we
better carry the gen'ral out, now!"

Solange threw back the flap to let him enter again.

"We are ready--for Avalon," she said.

"Wallace's ranch, you mean, don't you?" asked Sucatash.

"Yes--and Avalon also."

Then, as the stalwart Sucatash gathered the wounded man and lifted
him, she took De Launay's hand and walked out beside him.



THE END


Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious spelling and punctuation errors repaired and noted.

Chapter I
  page  36 - "when I had ambition"
             Corrected typo: "ambiton"

  page  48 - "the ex-légionnaire shepherding"
             Corrected typo: "ex-legionnaire"

           - "Pyrenean wild cat"
             Corrected typo: "Pyreneen"

Chapter II
  page  52 - "_mariage de convenance_"
             Corrected (French) typo: "marriage"

Chapter V
  page  86 - "seemed to emanate from"
             Corrected typo: "eminate"

Chapter VI
  page 102 - ""A mad'mo'selle?" they echoed."
             Original "mad'moselle" is inconsistent
             with rest of text.

Chapter VII
  page 104 - "since fourteen ninety-two, I reckon."
             Original had a full-stop after "ninety-two"

Chapter VIII
  page 115 - "in her metallic voice"
             Corrected typo: "metalic"

Chapter IX
  page 123 - "disillusioned De Launay"
             Corrected typo: "dissillusioned"

  page 126 - "were dully insistent"
             Corrected typo: "insistant"

  page 132 - "the raft gyrated"
             Corrected typo: "girated"

  page 134 - "meet hers squarely"
             Corrected typo: "her's" (N.B. apostrophe)

Chapter X
  page 141 - Added double-quote to start of chapter.

  page 149 - "Other places had been warned"
             Corrected typo: "beeen"

Chapter XI
  page 154 - ""Remember the feller's singin', Jim?""
             Added double-quote before 'Remember'

Chapter XII
  page 161 - "another motor car northward bound"
             Corrected typo: "nothward"

  page 166 - "direction of my brother."
             Corrected typo: "directon"

Chapter XVI
  page 212 - "one whose brain"
             Corrected typo: "who's"

Chapter XVII
  page 236 - "subterranean forces"
             Corrected typo: "subterrannean"

Chapter XXII
  page 283 - "Rows of grommets"
             Corrected typo: "grommetts"

  page 283   "indiscreet familiarities"
             Corrected typo: "familiarites"

Chapter XXIII
  page 309 - "get an annulment"
             Corrected typo: "annullment"





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