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Title: Benton of the Royal Mounted
Author: Kendall, Ralph Selwood, 1878-
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.

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                                 BENTON
                                 OF THE
                             ROYAL MOUNTED

                          A TALE OF THE ROYAL
                        NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE

                                   BY
                            RALPH S. KENDALL

                    “Let us now praise famous men”—
                          Men of little showing—
                       For their work continueth,
                       And their work continueth,
                       Broad and deep continueth,
                       Greater than their knowing!

                               _—Kipling_

                            GROSSET & DUNLAP
                          PUBLISHERS—NEW YORK

                  Copyright 1918 by John Lane Company



FOREWORD

The scenes of this story belong to bygone days. As the passer-by views
the ugly half-constructed railway terminus which now sprawls itself over
the original site of that historic group of Police buildings, known as
the “Post,” little does he appreciate the pangs of real regret which
stir the hearts of old members of the Force, as they recall associations
of earlier years.

Scattered now beyond the writer’s ken are those good fellows with whom
he served in years gone by. They were men of a type fast disappearing,
with whom any one would have been proud to associate and call
“comrades.” No longer do those once orderly grounds resound with the
clear notes of the trumpet-call, the neighing of troop-horses, or the
harsh-barked word of command. Gone is the old Guardroom at the gates of
the main entrance. The spot where the O.C.’s house lay half hidden
amidst its clustering shrubbery and trim, well-kept lawn and kitchen
garden, is now but a drab area of railway tracks. Missing is the
towering flag staff, from whose top-gaff, visible for miles around,
there flew from “Reveille” to “Retreat” the brave emblem of our Empire.

But today, while these lines are being penned, many members and
ex-members of the old Force are still sternly serving that flag; gaining
well-deserved military honors, shedding their blood, and laying down
their lives in the great and terrible struggle for supremacy between
Human Liberty, and Iron Oppression that overshadows the world.

Aye! ... small wonder that the sight of the old spot awakens strange
memories in those of us who were stationed there in our youth. Members
of a force of comparatively small numbers, it is true, but with a
reputation for efficiency, discipline, and stern adherence to duty which
has rarely been equaled, and is too widely known to need any further
eulogy in this story.

—R. S. K.



                                 PART I



CHAPTER I


    “We’ve some of us prospered, and some of us failed.
      But we all of us heave a sigh
    When we think of the times that we used to have
      In those happy days gone by.
    When we used to whistle, and work, and sing,
    Make love, drink, gamble, and have our fling;
    Caring little for what the morrow might bring—
      In those good old days gone by.”

    —_Memories_

With the outlines of its shadowy white walls and dark roof silhouetted
in sharp relief against a glorious full moon, the big main building of
the old Mounted Police Post of L Division stood forth—like a lone
monument to the majesty of British Law. A turfed “square,” framed within
a border of whitewashed stones, lay at its front like a black carpet.
Clustered about the central structure were the long, low-lying
guardroom, stables, quartermaster’s store, and several smaller adjacent
buildings comprising “the Barracks.” Stray patches of silvery light
illuminated the dark recesses between them. It was a perfect night
following an unparalleled June day in sunny South Alberta.

The “Post,” with its shadowy outlines, presented a striking contrast to
its activity by day. In the daytime gangs of prisoners in their
checkered jail garb were to be seen tramping sedately here and there,
engaged on various jobs about the carefully kept grounds. An armed
“escort” followed grimly behind each gang. Police teams, hitched to
buck-boards and heavy, high-seated transport wagons, arrived and
departed with a clatter. Mounted men, on big upstanding horses, came and
went continually, each rider intent upon his own particular mission. At
the guardroom, the quartermaster’s store, and the orderly-room the same
ordered action and busy preoccupation were noticeable.

The only sounds that disturbed the peaceful serenity of the moonlit
scene proceeded from a lighted open window in the center of the main
building, where the men’s quarters and the regimental canteen were
located. An uproarious hilarity resounded through the stillness; the
shrill yaps of a pup and the tinkling of a piano rising above the tumult
of song and laughter.

These jovial evidences of good fellowship floated across the square, not
unwelcomely, to the ears of a solitary rider, whose weary horse was
bearing him slowly along the hard graveled driveway which led from the
main gateway to the stables. Dismounting somewhat stiffly, the man stood
for a moment, listening to the sounds of revelry. He gazed silently
toward the beacon of good cheer which seemed to beckon him. Then
suddenly turning on his heel, he trudged wearily on to his destination,
leading his mount.

After spending half an hour or more in off-saddling, rubbing down, and
attending scrupulously, if mechanically, to his animal’s wants, the
horseman emerged from the stable, locked the door, and walked slowly
across the square to the Canteen.

Duly arriving at his cheerful haven, the newcomer opened the canteen
door and for a moment or two silently contemplated the all-familiar
scene of a large, well-lighted room with a bar at one end, behind which,
on rows of shelves, were stacked various kinds of dry provisions,
tobacco in all its forms, and miscellaneous odds and ends of a mounted
policeman’s requirements supplementary to his regular “kit.”

Seated around small tables, playing cards, or else perched upon high
stools against the bar, he beheld a score or so of bronzed,
soldierly-looking men of all ages, ranging from twenty to forty. They
were dressed variously—some in the regulation uniform of the Force—i.e.,
scarlet serge tunic, dark-blue cord riding-breeches with the broad
yellow stripe down the side, and high brown “Strathcona” boots with
straight-shanked, “cavalry jack” spurs attached. Some again—with an eye
to comfort alone—just in loose, easy, brown duck “fatigue slacks.” Many
of the older members might have been remarked wearing the active-service
ribbons of former campaigns in which they had served.

Their day’s duty over, careless and jovial they sat, amidst the
tobacco-smoke-hazy atmosphere, smoking and drinking their beer and
exchanging good-natured repartee which occasionally was of a nature that
has caused a certain great writer to affirm, with well-grounded
conviction, that “single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster
saints.” Poor enough stuff it was for the most part, I fancy, but there!
... we were easily satisfied—we were not inclined to be over-fastidious
in the Canteen, and anyhow ... it passed the time away.

At the piano was an ex-Dublin Fusileer, with a comical face and an
accent suggestive of “Silver Street,” who acted as general accompanyist.
His own vocal talent was being contributed just now, and a chorus of
shouts, banging of beer tankards and stamping of feet greeted the final
verse of his song, the burden of which was—

    “An’ whin we gits to Donnybrook Fair, comes Thady, with his
            fiddle,
    An’ all th’ bhoys an’ colleens there a-dancin’ down th’ middle;
    Shpuds, shillaleghs, pigs an’ potheen—all as ye thrapsed along—
    Hurroo! for a chune on th’ nob av ’um who’d intherrrupt me
            song!”.

A little fox terrier pup, clinging with ludicrous gravity to a somewhat
precarious position behind a man who was perched all doubled up on one
of the high stools aforesaid, growled and snapped with puppy viciousness
at all teasing attempts to dislodge him, adding to the general uproar.
His master, Constable Markham, who, from certain indisputably “simian”
peculiarities of feature and habits, was not inaptly designated “the
Monk,” had, as the result of his frequent libations, succeeded in
cultivating—what, in canteen parlance was termed—“a singing jag.” Now,
elbows on bar, he began to bellow out a lone doggerel ditty for his own
exclusive benefit. Something where each bucolic verse wound up with—

    “O be I I, or bain’t I I—
    I tell ee I bain’t zuch a vule as I luke!”

The Orderly-room Sergeant, Dudley, a tall, good-looking fair man about
thirty, who, leaning on the bar alongside was endeavoring amidst the din
to carry on a conversation with a corporal named Harrison, turned
somewhat wearily to the maudlin vocalist.

“Oh, now, for the love of Mike! ... try an’ forget it, Monk, do!” he
drawled. “Charity begins at home! ... as if there wasn’t _enough_ racket
in here without you adding _your_ little pipe! ... sitting there all
humped up an’ hawkin’ away like a—old crow on his native muck-heap! ...
Be I I, or bain’t I I?” he exploded, with a snort of derision at the
other’s uncouth Somersetshire dialect, and after a long pause: “By gum!
there’s no mistake about you ... you’re well named! You’d be quite at
home in the jungle!”

He faced round again to the grinning corporal. “Say, Harrison,” he
resumed, “don’t know if Benton’s come in yet, do you?” He lowered his
voice confidentially. “‘Father’s’ called him in about something and I
want to see him directly he lands in—first crack out of the box.”

His eyes, wandering vaguely over the noisy crowd as he spoke, suddenly
dilated with surprised recognition as they lighted upon the newcomer,
whose unobtrusive entrance amidst the general revelry had somehow
escaped his notice.

“Talk of the devil!” he ejaculated with easy incivility; “why here the
—— is! Why, hello, Ben! How’s things goin’ in Elbow Vale?”

The object of this familiarity, walking silently forward to the bar with
a whimsical smile on his bronzed, dusty countenance, merely opened his
mouth to which he pointed in dumb show.

“Dear me!” remarked the Orderly-room Sergeant sympathetically, “as bad
as all that? Here, Bob! set ’em up! ... give Sergeant Benton a ‘long
’un’!”

The “long ’un” tendered by the canteen orderly arrived and disappeared,
another following speedily on top of it; their recipient then, his
thirst temporarily appeased, turned to the two non-coms.

There remains engraven indelibly upon the memory of the writer, as he
recalls the striking personal appearance and quietly forceful character
of Ellis Benton, a slightly saturnine, _still_ face, with high, bold,
regular features, suggestive rather of the ancient Roman type; coldly
handsome in its clean-cut patrician mold but marred somewhat by a
peculiar thin old scar, like a whip-lash, which extended from an angle
of the grim-lipped yet tender mouth up to the left cheek bone. This
facial disfigurement contrived to give him an expression of faint
perpetual cynicism, as it were, which was accentuated by a pair of
tired-looking pale gray eyes, deeply set under thick, dark, level
brows—eyes which seemed to glow at times with a somber light like
smoldering fire in their depths—eyes that were vaguely disturbing,
bidding you beware of the man’s ruthless anger when aroused.

Altogether it was a remarkable face with its indefinable stamp of
iron-willed, quietly reckless courage, indicative of a strenuous past
and open with the possibilities for good or evil alike, as caprice
should happen to sway its possessor’s varying moods.

And yet, strange to say, in spite of his hard-bitten, cynical exterior
and characteristics that verged sometimes on actual brutality, deep,
deep down in his complex soul Ellis Benton hid an almost womanish
tenderness, coupled with a sensitive artistic temperament that few were
aware of or would have credited. In figure he was splendidly
proportioned. Not overly tall, but with the lean, wiry flanks, broad,
square shoulders, and slim waist of the trained athlete that denoted
great activity, and the possession of immense concentrated strength
whenever he chose to use it. The “Stetson” hat, tipped back, exposed
slightly graying, closely cropped brown hair. But the young-looking face
dispelled at once the first impression of age, for Ellis was only
thirty-eight.

His well-fitting uniform, consisting of a “stable jacket” of the
regulation brown duck, on which were noticeable the “Distinguished
Conduct,” and the “King’s” and “Queen’s” South African campaign ribbons,
riding-breeches, boots and spurs, was thickly covered with dust, for he
had ridden into the Post from his detachment which lay many weary miles
to the south.

“Well,” he remarked to the Orderly-room Sergeant and, with significant
emphasis, “what’s doin’ now?”

For the most part he spoke lazily in the slipshod, drawling vernacular
acquired from long residence in the West, though when occasion arose he
could revert naturally and easily to the educated speech of his early
upbringing.

Dudley did not reply at first but shot a warning, almost imperceptible,
sidelong glance towards the crowd, enjoining silence. Obeying the
other’s gesture, the detachment sergeant held his peace awhile, and
presently the two men, moving away from the bar, seated themselves at
one of the small tables and began to talk together earnestly in low
tones.

The clamor around them increased. Out broke the old barrack-room chorus
“Johnny Green,” which, to the tune of the “Sailor’s Hornpipe” goes, as
all Service men are aware:

    “Oh, say, Johnny Green! did you ever see the Queen?
    Did you ever catch a Blue-jacket lovin’ a Marine?
    May the Rock of Gibraltar take a runnin’ jump at Malta
    If I ever see a nigger with a white—rum-tum.”

“So _that_,” concluded the Orderly-room Sergeant, “is what the old man’s
got you in for. Did you make a _good_ job of it?”

Benton’s pale, deeply set eyes began to glow with their peculiar baleful
light.

“Did I?” he echoed mirthlessly. “Well, I should smile!... An’ I’ll make
a better one still when I go back. I’ll bash that —— till he spits
blood!”

He uttered the threat in an even, passionless, unraised voice, as if it
were just the merest commonplace remark. A canteen-chant held its own
with steady insistence:

    Three—men—in-a-boat, inaboat,
    Three—men—all-very-dry,
    Three—men—ridin’-a-Nannygoat,
    Go it you—! you’ve only one eye.

Dudley summarized briefly, in a tense undertone, the thing that Benton
need not be, regarding him closely meanwhile with slightly anxious eyes.
The bronzed, reckless face—naturally somber when in repose—wore a
terribly ruthless expression just then.

“Oh, now, forget it, Ben,” was his half joking admonition. “What the
d—l’s the use of you runnin’ amuck again an’ makin’ bad worse?... That
won’t help matters one little bit ... an’ you know it.”

Ever and anon—above the roar of the Canteen, not unlike the booming note
of a bittern amid the croaking and chirping of all the other lesser
denizens of some swamp—would rise the mighty brogue of the genial
Constable O’Hara, in a general exhortation to:

“Come on! Fwet yure whustles an’ sing-g, ye scutts, with ‘gr-reat
gusto.’ For ut was:

    Down, down, in swate Counthy Down,
    An’ th’ pore ol’ night-watchman was jus’ passin’ roun;
    Puts his hand to his nob to feel where he was hit—
    Sez he “Holy Shmoke! but Oi’m—”

The stentorian voice broke off short as the vocalist glanced
suspiciously at the empty glass at his elbow which a minute before had
been full.

“Here,” quoth he with some heat; “who was ut dhrunk my beer?... Was ut
you, Tabuteau?... Eyah, now! but thot’s a Galway man’s thrick ivry
toime!... Fill ut up agin, an’ kape ut filled contihnuous, tu, ye Fenian
rapparees, d’ye hear?... else, begob! ye can get some other shtiff tu
blow the ‘Pipes av Pan’ for ye!... Come on, now!... fwet yure whustles
an’ opin yure thraps an’ sing-g, ye half-baked omadhauns! ... Now, thin!
all together! For ut was:

    Not las’ night, but th’ night behfure,
    Tu tohm-cahts come a-knockin’ at th’ dhure”

Ellis remained very still for some time, staring at his companion with
an absent, brooding face.

“Just think what it’d mean,” pursued Dudley. “As this matter stands just
now you _have_ got a reasonable show of getting away with it; but, I
tell you flat, old man ... a _second_ edition of it wouldn’t go.... You
know what ‘Father’s’ like in Orderly-room. You never know which way he’s
going to jump.... You’d be ‘broke’ for a certainty, anyway.... I don’t
want to see your name in ‘G.O.’s’ _that_ way.... Come, now! will you be
a wise guy an’ listen to your Uncle Dud?”

Thus he pleaded with the man who was to him a comrade and a sincere
friend.

“Oh, well,” responded Benton at last, wearily, with an oath. “I guess
I’ll let up on that stiff this time. I handed him enough to last for a
bit, anyway, so that’s some satisfaction.”

He bit off the end of a cigar which the other handed to him, continuing:
“Oh, I’ll get away with it all hunkadory ... been up against it before
... lots of times.... Guess I can make the grade—that is, if ‘Father’
_does_ come to Orderly-room in anything like a good temper tomorrow.”

Dudley, his point gained, got up and fetched two fresh tankards of beer.

“Were you ever at such a howling ‘gaff’ before in all your life?” he
remarked irritably. “I’ll bet ‘Father’ can hear ’em right across the
square there.” And, as a penetrating Cockney voice then uplifted itself,
“how’s that for ‘Whitechapel’? ... listen to ‘Tork abaht Tompkins.’”

    Too ’ard! too ’ard! An’ th’ ol’ duck said,
    as she waddled dahn th’ yard
    “Oh, I can ’atch a turkey or ’atch a chick
    But I’m—if I can ’atch ’arf a brick!
    It’s a—bit bit,—bit, bit—bit bit too ’ard!”

His audience, tickled beyond measure at the inimitable “coster” accent
which, for many years has been so famously exploited by Mr. Albert
Chevalier, egged this performer on to further efforts. Nothing loath, he
complied, and presently the Canteen was shaking with:

    Oh, nah I’m goin’ to be a reg’lar torff,
    A-drivin’ in me kerridge an’ me pair,
    Wiv a top-’at on me ’ead, an’ fevvers in me bed
    An’ call meself th’ “Dook of Barney-fair.”
    “As-stir-th’-can” rahnd th’ collar o’ me coat,
    An’ a “Piccadilly winder” in me eye;
    Goblimey! ’ear th’ costers a-shoutin’ in yer lug:
    “Oh! leave us in yer will afore yer die!”

On went the singing, shouting pandemonium. Benton’s face began to clear
a little. He had not been in the Post for a long time and the homely
racket and the beer combined, gradually had the effect of making him
forget his troubles for the time being.

    An—d ... the elephant walked round,
    And the band began to play,
    So all you beggars that cannot sing!
    You’d better get out of the way!

A dozen or so of unprintable “limericks” followed this announcement,
contributed in rotation by various members of the community, the
“elephant” chorus “walking around” solemnly at the conclusion of each
one. A particularly ingenious composition just then drew a perfect storm
of laughter from the genial crowd, Ellis (sad to relate) guffawing
loudly with the rest.

“Sacred Billy!” he ejaculated, grinning at Dudley, “but you’re sure a
tough bunch in this old Post.... Did you hear that one?... Well!... this
is no place for a parson’s son!”

The Orderly-room Sergeant did not answer for a moment, then an
expression, which was a mixture of amusement and disgust, slowly
overspread his rather refined face, and a snorting, reluctant chuckle
escaped him.

“Is that so?... ‘Many’s the true word spoken in jest’!” he retorted.
“Porteous—the young devil who came across with _that_ one, _is_ a
‘parson’s son,’ as it happens, my boy.... His old man’s the Dean of some
fat living or another in the South of England.... By George, though!...
I’m getting just about fed up with that stuff, night after night.... Tip
us a stave, Ben!... start in now and sing us something decent for a
change.”

He got up suddenly from the table and, lifting his tankard high as if
for a toast, bawled “Order!” A slight lull followed, taking advantage of
which, he called out:

“Say, you fellows!... I propose we call on Sergeant Benton, here, for a
song!”

A vociferous assent greeted his suggestion immediately, and all eyes
were turned on Ellis, with encouraging shouts of: “You bet!... That’s
the talk! Come, on, Sergeant! please!... Order, there!... Shut your
traps for a bit!” For, they all knew that when in the mood he _could_
sing.

Benton did not move for a minute, then: “Doggone you!” he remarked, with
a resigned sigh to Dudley, “_you’ve_ let me in for this!... An’ I just
wanted to sit here quiet!”

He quaffed a long draught of beer and got up though presently and,
sauntering over to the piano which O’Hara promptly vacated for him,
seated himself. A comparative quiet ensued. Even “the Monk’s” maudlin
ribaldry ceased, and that worthy becoming interested, he slewed around
on his perch so as to hear the better, unceremoniously shoving off his
faithful pup—“Kid”—in the movement, which sent that canine with a hasty
“flop” to the floor.

With the hard lines of his face momentarily softened with an expression
of genial bonhomie, the Sergeant toyed absently with the keys for a
space, thinking of something appropriate for that hilarious company;
then suddenly, a clear baritone voice of remarkable depth and richness,
rang out in the old familiar song of “Mandalay”:

    “Come you back to Mandalay,
    Where the old Flotilla lay:
    Can’t you ’ear their paddles chunkin’ from
      Rangoon to Mandalay?
    On the road to Mandalay,
    Where the flyin’-fishes play,
    An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer
      China ’crost the Bay!”

The last verse but one begins, as you know, with the sort of irritable
abandon typical of a soldier’s “grouse”:

    “Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the
            worst,
    Where there aren’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a
            thirst;
    For the temple-bells are callin’, an’ it’s there that I would
            be—
    By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea;”

He finished the rollicking old ballad amid thundering applause and loud
shouts of “’Core! ’Core!” “Give us ‘In Cellar Cool’!” “Give us ‘Father
O’Flynn’!” etc. But just then the clear, long-drawn-out, sweet notes of
a trumpet-call sounded outside on the square. The Orderly-room Sergeant
looked at his watch.

“Hello!... Didn’t know it was so late!” he ejaculated. “Come on, there!
Turn out!... ‘First Post’s’ just gone!”

And the Canteen gradually emptied as the men departed noisily to their
respective barrack-rooms.



CHAPTER II


    A man severe he was, and stern to view;
    I knew him well, and every truant knew:
    Well had the boding tremblers learn’d to trace
    The day’s disasters in his morning face;
    Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee,
    At all his jokes, and many a joke had he;
    Full well the busy whisper circling round,
    Convey’d the dismal tidings when he frown’d.

    —_Goldsmith_

Captain Richard Bargrave, Superintendent of L Division—better known by
the fond appellation of “Father”—sauntered slowly along the narrow
sidewalk leading from his quarters to the orderly-room; the aged
black-and-white setter “Bob,” his constant companion, keeping step
behind.

How well many of us can recall that tall, spare, soldierly figure, and
the walk with its faint suggestion of old-fashioned cavalry swagger,
while the whispers of “Look out! here’s Father coming now!” sent us all
scuttling about our duties. How we used to fume and curse (behind his
back) at his numerous erratic bursts of temper and little
eccentricities. How his polished sarcasm and fluent adjectives used to
curl us up and, incidentally—excite our envy. And yet—how we learned to
trust and respect that irascible but kindly old aristocratic face, with
its sweeping fair mustache. Aye!—

    He passed as a Man in our critical eyes,
    Stern, yet kindly—simple, yet wise.
    Who’d upheld his rank since his service began
    As “An Officer, and ... a Gentleman.”

“Father’s a rum old beggar but, begad, he’s a gentleman and always gives
you a square deal,” was our invariable retort to divers disparaging
criticisms from members of other divisions, less fortunate, perhaps, in
the stamp of their own particular “Officer Commanding.”

Benton, who, attired in a red serge tunic—borrowed from Dudley for the
occasion—was looking through the billiard-room window, watched his
approach with interest. When nearing the orderly-room the old dog,
seeing “the Monk’s” pup in supreme possession of the step, jumped
forward with a threatening growl to eject the usurper of his own
customary lounge. In the scuffle that ensued they got between “Father’s”
legs and nearly upset him.

“Damn the dogs! Damn the dogs!” he chuckled softly.

And, stepping over them carefully, with a fond, benevolent smile, he
passed on through the open door, half humming, half whistling a hymn
tune, which was not, however, prompted by especial piety. It was a habit
of his. But to the observant sergeant it was an omen.

“He _is_ in a good temper,” he muttered with relief, and quietly he
awaited the summons that he knew must come.

It came presently. “Sergeant Major!... Oh, Sergeant Major!” came the
thin, high, cultured voice. “Has Sergeant Benton reported in yet from
Elbow Vale?”

The gruff official holding that rank and who was familiar to most
members of the Division as “Mickey,” saluted and replied in the
affirmative.

“Send him in!” came the order, and shortly Ellis found himself standing
at “attention,” facing his seated superior.

“That will do, Sergeant Major!... Kindly close the door,” and they were
alone.

There was silence for a moment or two, during which the O.C. rummaged
amongst some letters on his desk. He found the one he wanted and
scrutinized it carefully. “Sergeant Benton,” he began, with a sudden
snap in his tones and a quick upward glance that strung that individual
up to tense expectancy, “I have here a letter—an _anonymous_
letter—accusing you-of-grossly and maliciously-assaulting a well known
and respected citizen of Elbow Vale on the night of the twelfth
instance.... Motive unknown—all names—with the exception of your
own—omitted. Said assault of such severe character that its recipient is
still confined to bed.

“Now, sir!... although I generally make a rule of treating anonymous
correspondence with the contempt it deserves—there seems something
vaguely familiar in this handwriting that inclines me on this occasion
to revoke my usual practise, and make a few inquiries into this puzzle.
I look to you for the key. You have the reputation of being a truthful
man in this Division.... Is the statement in this letter correct?”

Benton hesitated. “As far as the assault goes, yes, sir,” he said
finally.

“What led to this assault?”

The Sergeant hesitated again. “A dirty slander, sir, connecting me with
a married woman in the town,” he said.

The Captain tapped with his pen and eyed Ellis keenly. “_Was_ it a
slander?” he queried quizzically—and then repented, for there was a look
on that reckless but gentlemanly face that dispelled all doubt—even
before the man’s answer came.

“Ah, well, then,” said the O.C., “that accounts for this letter being
anonymous. Now give me all names and particulars of this affair.”

The Sergeant did so and the Captain’s face darkened as he listened. “So
that’s who it is, eh?” he muttered thoughtfully. “Thought I knew that
writing again.... I remember the man—well—but I don’t think I’ve ever
met the lady.” And the fair mustache was twirled gallantly.

The recital finished by the Sergeant remarking: “I couldn’t very
well—under the circumstances, sir—lay a charge, or act otherwise than I
did—without dragging the lady’s name into this miserable affair.”

“You’ve no business going about assaulting people, anyway,” retorted the
old gentleman irascibly, with one of his characteristic changes of
front. “And though it is not my intention to take any further notice of
this unsigned epistle, as I am fully convinced you have told me the
absolute truth—I do not think it would be good policy to send a man with
your pugilistic tendencies back to this locality again. Let’s see,” he
mused aloud, “you’re a good range man. I think I’ll transfer you to
Cherry Creek, where you will be, I hope, beyond all temptation of
getting involved again in any more of these—ah—social misunderstandings
(Ellis groaned inwardly). Arrange for your kit to be sent in from Elbow
Vale and proceed to Cherry Creek. I will give you a written order for
Corporal Williamson to hand over the detachment to you and to come in to
the Post. He seems to have been getting slack, for there are a lot of
stock-rustling complaints coming in from his district lately. See if you
cannot effect a change in present conditions there.

“Well!” he grunted impatiently, as the Sergeant halted irresolutely at
the door, “what is it?”

“I beg your pardon, sir,” said Benton, “but can I keep the same horse?”

“Oh, I suppose—I suppose,” said the O.C. testily. “Damme, sir!... You’ve
had that cursed horse transferred from every detachment you’ve been
stationed at!” He fussed with some papers. “You’d better tell Williamson
then, to ride in, and the next man who goes to Elbow Vale can take _his_
horse. That is all, Sergeant.... Report to the Sergeant-Major of your
transfer.”

In the passage Ellis encountered the Sergeant-Major and Dudley.
“Banishment—physically, socially, and morally—right back to the
‘bald-headed’ again!” he plainted dismally to their inquiring grins.
“Father intimating in his own happy fashion that I wasn’t quite
civilized enough to hold down a Line detachment.... Cherry Creek!... O
Lord!”

Inside the orderly-room the Captain, meanwhile, was slowly pacing
backwards and forwards, hands clasped behind back. Through his teeth he
softly hissed one of his eternal hymn tunes, which he suddenly broke off
short to ejaculate with a low-toned, jerky abruptness to himself—“D—n
the man!—d—n the man! Don’t blame him! Couldn’t tell him so, though!
Thought I knew that writing! D—d cad, that fellow Cooper!... Knew him
years ago! D—d rascal! Glad Benton thrashed him! Done the same
myself!—younger days!”

He resumed his interrupted hymn.



CHAPTER III


    Therefore, Christian men be sure,
      Wealth or rank possessing,
    Ye who now will bless the poor,
      Shall yourselves find blessing.

    —_Good King Wenceslas_. (_Old Carol_)

Three weeks elapsed and Benton again showed up in the Post with the
first fruits of his new scene of operations—two prisoners committed for
trial on a charge of cattle stealing.

His had been a weary watch for many nights, but he had caught his men at
last, slaughtering stolen beef cattle in an old deserted corral at three
o’clock in the morning. He looked worn out and had a black eye, received
in the rough-and-tumble arrest that had followed.

The Captain was secretly pleased, but to Ellis he evinced little sign of
his satisfaction. “Praise men up—spoil ’em! Let ’em think it’s their
ordinary course of duty,” was his customary maxim.

“Good man, that Benton,” he muttered to himself during one of his office
pacings. “He’ll straighten that Cherry Creek district out before long.”

He gave the Sergeant three days’ rest, though, and spoke about
transferring him a man if required, which offer Ellis declined, however.
With his taciturn and secretive nature he preferred to follow alone, and
in various disguises, the tortuous windings of stock cases, calmly
relying on his own great strength, cunning, and ability with gun and
fist, to effect any arrest.

The four-fifteen West-bound carried him as a passenger back to Sabbano,
his nearest railway depot, the detachment being on the prairies forty
miles away from the line. It was raining, and Ellis felt miserable as he
gazed through the window and contemplated the wet, cheerless ride he
would have in the morning.

He vaguely thought of “Johnny” waiting for him in Sergeant Churchill’s
stable at Sabbano. Was he being properly looked after? Churchill was a
“booze artist,” d—n him, and like as not he’d neglect him, like he did
his own horse.

He was aroused from his gloomy abstraction by something tugging at his
riding-crop and, turning his eyes he beheld a little curly-headed tot
leaning over the back of the seat ahead of him. She was perhaps about
three years old, and her blue eyes were sparkling with determination as
she pulled at the leather thong with all her baby strength, in a
desperate effort to possess herself of the desired treasure.

Benton’s moody face immediately softened with a friendly grin. He loved
children and they instinctively came to him without fear.

“Hello, Sis,” he said. “You want it?” and he surrendered the coveted
plaything, which she immediately started to flourish with great glee.
The mother, a thin, shabbily dressed, careworn-looking young woman about
thirty, looked on with a loving smile that glorified her poor, pinched
face.

“Oh, Nellie, Nellie,” she said reprovingly; “you mustn’t—you’ll hit
somebody” and she turned to Benton, saying, “I hope my little girl isn’t
worrying you?”

“Not a bit—not a bit,” he returned cheerily. “Kids are welcome to tease
me any old time.”

Scrambling down from her perch, the little one gazed at his uniform with
lively interest and tentatively tapped his boots and the rowels of his
spurs with the crop. “Toldier,” she lisped, and without more ado she
climbed up beside him on the seat and, putting her little arms around
his neck, gave him a genuine loving hug and kiss which fairly took him
by storm and caused broad laughs of amusement to come from those sitting
near.

The touch of those baby lips awoke a strange longing in the heart of the
lonely man, and a dreamy, far-away look momentarily softened his hard
face. To have a comfortable home to come back to every night, and not to
be chased around here, there, and everywhere at the whims of the powers
that be. To be happily married to a loving girl-wife, and have kiddies
that would climb all over you, and run after you, and where you could
lie on the sands, in the sun, by the sea, somewhere, and watch ’em
playing—

A sudden exclamation from the mother awoke him sharply from his reverie.

“What’s the matter?” he asked. She seemed terribly agitated. “Oh!” she
said; “I’ve lost my hand-bag, and my ticket was in it and some money!”

“Were you sitting here all the time since you got on the train?” he
inquired.

“No,” she answered; “I was on that seat at the far end when I first came
in this coach.”

He got up and, walking down the aisle, made a thorough search of the
place that she indicated, but his efforts were fruitless. It was a
little brown Morocco-leather bag, she informed him, with her name,
“Elizabeth Wilson,” on it, under a celluloid panel.

“Who was sitting by you?” he asked. “D’you think you could recognize the
person again?”

She shook her head despondently. “Oh, I don’t remember,” she wailed. “My
girlie was crying, and in trying to quiet her I guess I didn’t notice
anybody in particular.”

“How much money was in your bag?” he asked.

“Twenty-five dollars,” she said brokenly. “I am going to Vancouver to
look for a position, and it’s all I have in the world. Oh, what shall we
do, my baby and I?”

Ellis eyed the forlorn face a moment or two in silent commiseration;
then, seeking out the conductor, whom he knew well, explained the
situation.

“Yes, I mind ’em getting on at Calgary,” said that official; “and she
had a ticket through to Vancouver, all right.”

“Say, Bob,” the Sergeant persuaded, “that bag’s been pinched off her
without a doubt; but as she’s no suspicion of anybody I can’t very well
search every one on the bloomin’ train, and I’m getting off in a minute
at Sabbano—be a good fellow and pass her on to Vancouver.... She’s dead
up against it.”

The kind-hearted conductor agreed, and with an easier mind Ellis went
back to the woman and told her.

The train began to slow down—“Sabbano—Sabbano!” called out the brakeman,
passing through the coaches. The Sergeant reached into his pocket and,
drawing out a roll of bills, pressed them into her hand.

“There,” he said gently. “That’ll keep you going in Vancouver for a
time, and I hope you’ll soon strike something.”

Speechless with gratitude at the man’s impulsive generosity, she gazed
at him dumbly, with dim eyes. Her mouth worked but somehow the words
would not come. She choked, and hiding her face in her hands, sank down
on the seat, the poor, thin shoulders under the cheap blouse shaking
with her convulsive sobbing.

The child, still clutching the crop, which Ellis had not the heart to
retrieve, set up a shrill wail in sympathy and clung to his leg. More
moved than he cared to show, but utterly indifferent to the slightly
ludicrous side of the situation, the policeman strove to quiet her.

“Oh, come now, Sis,” he pleaded coaxingly. “Mustn’t cry.... Let go of me
for a minute.... I’m coming back!... Here,” and producing a pen-knife,
he sliced off one of the lower buttons of his pea-jacket.... “There,
give me a kiss.”

The whimpers slowly ceased, and her little face brightened as she
clutched the shining treasure and, drawing his face down to hers, she
pressed her little rosebud of a mouth to his.

Disengaging the tiny arms gently, with a whispered “Good-by,” he ran to
the end of the coach and dropped off as the train moved out.

It was only characteristic of the man’s strange, impulsive, complex
nature that he should have done this thing, but how much money was there
in that roll of bills? Ellis himself, offhand, could hardly have told
you.

As in the rain he wended his way along the wet platform, the station
agent came up to him, “Here’s the key of the detachment, Sergeant,” he
said; “Churchill’s gone West on that train to Parson’s Lake. He’s coming
back on Number Two in the morning and he asked me to give it to
you—didn’t you see him?”

“No,” said Ellis shortly. “I wasn’t able to get off till it was on the
move.... Guess Churchill got on another coach.”

Not particularly sorry at the other’s absence, he walked on to the end
of the little town where the detachment was situated. The place smelled
musty and stale as he entered. Papers, old letters, and torn novels lay
littered about the local sergeant’s desk. The bed was not made up and
various items of kit were strewn around. Everything seemed covered with
a thick accumulation of dust.

“Nasty, lazy, slovenly devil,” he growled. “Lord, what a pig-pen!
Inspector Purvis’ll happen along down here, unexpected, one of these
days. _Then_ there’ll be something doing.”

He passed on through the back door to the stable, where a joyous whinny
from “Johnny” greeted him. He led the horse out along with the
Sergeant’s and watered them, their greedy thirst drawing a savage curse
from him. “Takes d—d good care never to go dry himself,” he muttered.

After grooming Johnny down he went into the kitchen and rummaged around
until he found two or three pieces of lump sugar, at the sight of which
the horse began to nicker softly and raised its nigh forefoot, bending
the limb back for a piece to be inserted into the fetlock-joint, where
it was promptly licked out.

He was a superb, powerfully-built black, with white hind fetlocks,
standing fully sixteen hands, well ribbed up, with the short back,
strong, flat-boned legs, and good, sloping shoulders of the ideal
saddle-horse. Benton had had him for over three years and was
passionately attached to the animal.

He petted Johnny awhile then, fixing both horses up for the night, he
went down to the only restaurant the little town boasted—a Chinese
establishment—and got some supper. This despatched, he retraced his
steps and mooned around the dirty detachment, where he tried to read;
but his thoughts, ever and anon, kept reverting to the little cherubic
face of the child on the train, with her hollow-cheeked mother, and he
found himself vaguely wondering how far away they were by now.

He looked at his watch. It was about twenty minutes to ten and, feeling
inclined for a drink, he strolled down town again and, entering the bar
of the Golden West Hotel, ordered a glass of beer.

There were about half a dozen men in the bar who, after gazing awhile at
his uniformed figure and seeing he was not the convivial Churchill, eyed
him with sullen distrust. His gaze flickered over them casually, but
knowing nobody there but the bartender, he kept aloof.

Suddenly, amid the babel of talk, a drunken, nasal voice made itself
heard:

“Oh, you Harry! Say, wha’s dat dere wit de yaller laigs?”

Glancing sharply towards the end of the bar, he became aware of two
flashily dressed, undesirable-looking individuals of the type that
usually makes an easy living preying upon the unfortunate denizens of
the underworld, sizing him up.

The one accosted as “Harry,” a big, heavily-built man about thirty, with
a sneer on his evilly handsome, sinister face, answered slowly:

“Oh, _him_. I guess he must be one of them Mounted Police ginks you hear
tell of over our side of the Line. Kind of ‘prairie cop,’” he added
contemptuously, and spat.

The epithet of “cop” was one held in peculiar detestation by members of
the Force and, coupled with the fellow’s offensive manner, became a
gratuitous insult that was almost more than the Sergeant could stand,
for a slight titter followed, and all the faces—with the exception of
the bartender’s-wore a sardonic grin at the policeman’s discomfiture.

Choking with silent fury, he glowered warily with swift calculation
around him.

“No, it wouldn’t do,” he reflected. There would be too many witnesses,
like in that last business at Elbow Vale; and fearful of his own
ungovernable temper, lest any ensuing altercation should precipitate the
inevitable right then and there, he held his peace.

Lowering his voice, his elbows on the bar, he spoke quietly to the
bartender:

“Who’s them two fellers at the end there, Pete—strangers?”

“Yes. I dunno who they are,” said that worthy in the same low tone, busy
polishing glasses the while. “They blew in off’n the West-bound. Jest
stiffs, I guess, Sergeant. They was laughin’ fit to split ’bout
somethin’ when they first come in.”

Benton finished his beer and, turning, pushed through the swing door, a
vindictive purpose seething in his mind. Crossing over to the dark side
of the street, he patiently waited.

“I’ll ‘vag’ the two of them,” he muttered savagely.

The rain had ceased and a few stars began to appear. It was nearly
closing time and his watch was of short duration.

At the appointed time, with much bad language and noisy argument, the
bar slowly emptied, the last to leave being “Harry” and his companion;
the latter quarrelsomely drunk, and expostulating with the bartender,
who was escorting him to the door.

“Gimme another drink!” he demanded.

“No chance,” came the answer. “You’ve got enough below. Beat it!”

The speech was accompanied with a sudden shove, and the door banged to.

Still the Sergeant waited.

“Aw, come on, yer crazy mutt!” he heard the soberer voice of Harry say,
and saw him walk slowly on down the street, his bibulous comrade
unsteadily following.

Keeping in the shade, Ellis noiselessly paralleled their direction,
until they were well beyond the last false-fronted store and amongst
some vacant lots, not far from the isolated detachment. He stopped for a
moment and listened intently. Except for the tipsy arguing of Harry’s
companion, who was still in the rear, all was quiet.

“Well, you gimme half, anyway,” he heard him keep chanting.

Now was his chance. With two of them, he knew he must act quickly, and
“acting quickly” was only a mild expression for _some_ of the Sergeant’s
little methods in his business which, though invariably attended with
excellent results, did not, sad to relate, always strictly conform to
the rules laid down in that worthy little Manual issued to all members
of the Force for their regimental and legal guidance.

With fell intention, he crossed over swiftly to the drunk. It was no
time for niceties in the manner of arrest, for the man might arouse the
neighborhood, and the Sergeant had reasons for not being particularly
desirous of an audience just then.

With the deadly calculation of an ex-pugilist, he carefully judged his
distance in the dim light and swung a single terrific right uppercut to
the point of the chin. The head snapped back and, with a choking gasp,
the man fell heavily to the ground in an inert heap.

At the smack and the thud of the falling body, Harry halted in the dark
ahead.

“What’s up?” he growled. “Are yer all in?”

Ellis shouldered roughly into him and, with an oath, the man reeled
back.

“Why, what’s this?” he blustered and, as the shadowy outline of Benton’s
Stetson hat in the uncertain light penetrated his vision, “why, it’s the
‘_cop_’!”

“Yes,” said the Sergeant through his set teeth and, with suppressed
fury, “I’ve got you now where I want you! I’ll give you call me ‘_cop_,’
you G—d—d, dirty pimp!” and he smashed in a vicious left drive, flush on
Harry’s nose.

It was a staggering blow, and the blood squirted, but somehow the man
kept his feet and threw himself into a fighting posture, like one
accustomed to using his hands.

He was by far the heavier of the two, but his movements were slow and
muscle-bound and the tigerishly vicious attack of the Sergeant, with all
its concentrated hate and science behind it, paralyzed him. He tried to
cover up, but those terrible punches with the giver’s vindictive
“Oof—oof,” accompanying each blow, seemed to reach his body and face at
will.

It was all over inside of three minutes. Presently, ducking a savage
swing from his weightier opponent, Ellis feinted for the jaw then, like
lightning, drove two heavy, telling punches to that region termed in
pugilistic parlance the “solar plexus.” The man, with a gasp, doubled up
and sank down.

Breathing heavily after the exertion, Benton kneeled on him and,
reaching to his hip pocket, dragged forth his handcuffs and snapped them
on Harry’s wrists; then, slowly rising to his feet, he waited.

It was still quiet all round, and he felt a fierce exultation at
accomplishing his purpose without undue disturbance. Stepping over to
his first victim, he made a quick examination, and satisfied himself
that the man was only knocked out. He would come to after a time, he
decided, and was probably more drunk than hurt. _Harry_ was the one who
had incurred his animosity the most.

Presently that individual, with a groaning curse, sat up and was
violently sick. Then for the first time he became conscious of his
manacled wrists and began to raise his voice in filthy expressions at
Ellis.

“Quit that talk,” said the Sergeant, in a tense, fierce undertone. “I
don’t want any bother and have you waking everybody up at this time o’
night, I’m arresting both you fellers for vagrancy. Now, are you coming
quiet or not?”

A torrent of blasphemy greeted the suggestion.

“Not you nor any other —— cop kin take me,” he foamed from the ground;
then, suddenly kicking out, he caught Benton a nasty jar on the
shin-bone.

The pain acted as the last straw to the exasperated Sergeant. With an
oath, he drew from his pocket a small steel article known in police
circles as a “come-along” and, clipping it on one of his prisoner’s
wrists, he twisted viciously. The exquisite torture drew a shriek from
the wretched man.

“Shut up,” whispered Ellis savagely. “If you start hollerin’ again and
still refuse to walk I’ll”—and he gave another slight twist to the
wrist—“I’ll break your arm! Now will you come, eh?”

“Oh, o-o-h. No, no; oh, don’t. Yes, yes, I’ll come,” came the agonized
response.

“So,” said the Sergeant quietly, as he jerked the man to his feet. “I
thought you would. Now don’t you start monkeyin’ no more. Step out!” And
with his hand on the other’s collar, he guided him towards the
detachment, which was only a short distance away.

On arriving there he unlocked the door and, ushering his captive into
the office, at the back of which were two cells, he leisurely removed
the handcuffs and proceeded to search him. What with blood, bruises, and
dirt, the man’s face was a sight, and Benton, his anger now somewhat
assuaged, felt slightly uneasy as he reflected on the prisoner’s
appearance at the morrow’s court.

“Put your arms up!” he ordered, and mechanically dived into the coat
pockets. His right hand encountered something square and soft, and he
drew it out.

At the sight of the object his eyes dilated strangely. Well, well; it
was only a woman’s little hand-bag with a name printed on it under a
celluloid panel—

He read it at a quick glance and, ceasing his investigations, he grew
curiously still. The prisoner, raising his head, met the Sergeant’s
gaze. He shrank back, appalled, and a cry of fear burst from his mashed
lips, for it seemed to him as if the devil himself were looking out of
Benton’s ruthless eyes. With an indescribable bitterness of tone, the
policeman suddenly spoke:

“You skunk,” he said; “you dirty, sneaking coyote. It was _you_, then,
that robbed that poor thing with the little kiddie on the West-bound?”

He stopped and choked with his rage. Presently he burst out again:
“Lord, Lord! but I’m glad I bashed you up like I did, and but for a
probable charge of manslaughter I’d manhandle you properly. So _that’s_
what you and your pal were laughin’ about when you went in to that bar?
When you come to die—which event, may it please God to grant quickly—I
hope that’ll be the very, very last thing in your memory—that you once
robbed a helpless woman and her kid.”

He remained silent after this for a space, for a sudden disquieting
thought had occurred to him.

“See here; look,” he began again. “If I put this charge of theft against
you, it’ll mean having to locate and drag that woman back here all those
weary miles, to identify her property and prove up the case against
you.”

At his words a gleam of hope lit up the prisoner’s disfigured face.

“For God’s sake, policeman,” he mumbled out of his twisted mouth, “give
us a chanct—just this once.”

The Sergeant pondered awhile. It was the easiest way out for himself,
_and_ for the woman, he reflected. Churchill was away and nobody would
know anything about this business. He tipped the contents of the bag
out. A bunch of keys, a woman’s handkerchief, some smelling-salts, a
ticket to Vancouver, and various small odds and ends.

“Where’s that money?” he snapped out. “Here—let’s go through you!”

His search revealed a dollar’s worth of silver.

“Dig up the rest of that twenty-five dollars!” he demanded.

Slowly the other took off one of his boots, and from it produced two
ten-dollar bills.

“We had some dough of our own when we come on the train,” he volunteered
to Ellis’s silent look of interrogation, “but we got inter a poker game
with some fellers and lost out, so we broke into the five-spot fer some
supper and booze.”

Benton considered a bit longer, then suddenly made up his mind and
opened the door.

“_Voertsek, du verdomde schelm!_”¹ he said sharply, jerking his head
towards the aperture.

    ¹ A glossary of South African, and other words will be found at the
      end.

The man stared at him stupidly for a moment. “I don’t savvy you,” he
muttered.

“Beat it, you d—d crook! D’you savvy _that_?” came the policeman’s harsh
response. “Out of town by the first train that comes in—East or West—and
take your pal with you.”

“We ain’t got the price,” was the somewhat aggrieved answer.

“Then take a ’tie pass,’ d—n you,” said the Sergeant grimly. “And
mind—if I catch either of you fellers around this burg tomorrow morning,
I’ll shove you both in the calaboose _and_ put the boots to you as
_well_ as this charge. Now beat it, and go and pick up your pal!”

Harry waited for no further invitation, but vanished into the night.

Wearily Ellis gathered up the contents of the bag and, putting in the
money along, closed it. He felt very tired and, lighting a cigarette, he
sat down and tried to think.

“Guess I can get it through to her,” he muttered. “I’ll send a wire now
that’ll catch her on the train somewhere, and she can send me her
address.”

And going to the telephone he rang up the night-operator at the depot.



CHAPTER IV


    And if you’re wishful, O maiden kind,
    To know concerning me;
    A far-flung sentinel am I
    Of the R. N. W. M. P.
    Renouncing women, as though wearing a cowl—
    I live for a monthly wage
    ’Way out on the bald, green-brown prairie,
    That stretches as far as the eye can see;
    Where the lone gray wolf and the coyote howl,
    And the badger digs in the sage.

    —_The Prairie Detachment_

The day broke fine and clear. The hot sun quickly drying up the little
puddles and sticky mud resulting from the recent downpour. Benton,
rising early, watered and fed the horses. These duties despatched, and
his own breakfast at the hotel accounted for, he leisurely proceeded to
ascertain if the two participants in his previous night’s adventure had
left town.

A few guarded inquiries and a brief, but thorough, search satisfied him
on this point; so saddling up Johnny, and tying on his slicker, he rode
slowly down to the depot to await the in-coming East-bound train prior
to his departure for his lonely detachment.

The train arrived, and on it, Churchill. The local sergeant was a man
about Ellis’s own age, well set up and passable enough in appearance,
but with the florid, blotchy complexion, weak mouth, and uncertain gaze
of the habitual drinker. A few lucky arrests in which chance—more than
pluck or ability had figured, coupled with a certain cleverness in
avoiding trouble—had somehow enabled him to retain his stripes and the
sleepy little Line detachment. That there was no love lost between them
was very evident; Benton, on his side, making little effort to disguise
the contempt he felt for the other.

It was a long-standing hostility, dating back many years when, as
recruits together in the Post, a trivial quarrel originating first in
the Canteen, had terminated finally in the corral at the back of the
regimental stables—with disastrous results to Churchill—who, ever since
this event, had not been man enough to forget, forgive, or attempt to
get even.

A few cold civilities were exchanged, and Ellis remarking, “Here’s the
key of your dive,” chucked him over that article; then with a careless
“So long,” turned his horse and edged up nearer to the platform to speak
to the station agent.

On account of a small wash-out that had happened to the track some few
miles east, the train was held up for a short time, and the platform was
crowded with passengers who were strolling up and down, glad of the
opportunity to stretch their legs after their long confinement.

Benton, less impatient than Johnny, who was pawing, eager to be off, was
watching them absently, when he suddenly became aware of his being,
apparently, an object of interest to somebody standing near and, turning
his head slightly, he beheld a tall, magnificently-built, dark girl,
eyeing him and Johnny with eager curiosity and admiration.

And in very truth, handsome, saturnine-faced Ellis Benton, and the big,
black, pawing horse that he bestrode with the long-stirruped,
loose-seated, easy, careless grace of an habitué of the range, were both
fitting representatives of the great Force which they served.

Wistful and sweet, the girl stood there and gazed awhile at man and
horse and presently she slowly came forward and, with a kind, impulsive
friendliness that immediately thawed the Sergeant’s habitual reserve,
said:

“I’m sure you must be thinking me awfully rude—staring at you so long;
but I was looking at your beautiful horse and wondering whether you were
a policeman or a soldier or what.”

And, smiling whimsically down into the girl’s eager upturned face, the
Sergeant made answer:

“Young lady,” with a droll little vainglorious gesture which amused her
intensely, “behold in me one of those important officials who hold the
High Justice, the Middle and the Low in these parts ... a sergeant of
the Mounted Police!” Then suddenly bitter remembrance set his pale,
steady eyes agleam with their peculiar ruthless light and his strong
white teeth gritted, as he added, “Otherwise, just a ‘prairie cop.’”

She stroked and patted Johnny who, scenting a new friend, nickered
softly, tucked up his nigh fetlock in a beseeching manner, and nibbled
at her for sugar.

“Isn’t he just a beauty!” she murmured. “My, but I’d be a proud girl if
I had a horse like him to ride. Do you ever?— What is it, Auntie?” she
said, breaking off short as a stout, elderly lady with a petulant frown
on her forbidding face, came bustling up.

“Gracious, Mary!” snapped the aunt, very much out of breath, “I’ve been
looking everywhere for you,” and angrily drawing the unwilling girl
aside, Ellis heard her say, “You shouldn’t go talking to strange men in
that way, child ... really, Mary, I’m surprised at you!”

“But, Auntie,” came that young lady’s slightly indignant answer, “I was
only asking him about his horse, and he speaks quite like a gentleman.”

The elder woman’s response was partially inaudible to the Sergeant, but
a fragment of it—“Only a policeman!” smote his ears unpleasantly with
its pitiful snobbishness.

As they moved away, though, he was repaid for that lady’s uncharitable
remark, as the girl, taking advantage of “Auntie’s” ample back being
turned, faced round and bowed to him with a kindly smile, an unspoken
“Good-by” manifested in the gesture which he at once returned with a
courtly grace, saluting gravely.

Mechanically, his eyes followed the two ladies until they became lost in
the crowd, and then, with a muttered oath, he wheeled Johnny around and
rode slowly out of the town.

“What a fine-looking girl that was,” he reflected. “Some rich American’s
daughter, no doubt, en route from Banff or elsewhere in the mountain
summer resorts West, after having a good time.” _Why_ shouldn’t she talk
to him? And mixed with his brooding thoughts came the consciousness of
his _own_ joyless, danger-fraught life, with the bitter, hopeless,
lonely feeling that the single man past thirty knows so well, whose
occupation, and more especially—means—place him without the pale of
matrimony.

With the exception of those holding responsible staff appointments,
marriage was not particularly encouraged amongst the rank and file of
the Force, for many reasons. Lack of suitable quarters was partially the
cause of this policy; also (and not the least) the indisputable fact
that in the majority of cases where men are engaged in hazardous
pursuits the average single man is freer, and—as is only natural—willing
to run far greater personal risk in the execution of his duty than a
married man.

True, many of the non-coms, and even “straight-duty bucks,” _were_
Benedicts, for various reasons best known to themselves. But Ellis,
forever mindful of the old fable of “The fox who lost his tail in a
trap,” only laughed aside cynically all their feeble, joking admonitions
to him to join their ranks and, taking “Punch’s” advice instead,
“didn’t.”

Why had that cursed old frump come butting in? “Only a policeman!” ...
And with an angry Ellis unconsciously rammed the spurs into poor,
unoffending Johnny, who immediately broke in his gait with a sidelong
jump which, in its suddenness, nearly unseated him.

The spasmodic jerk of the horse brought Benton to himself again, and
with a “There, there, Johnny—you old fool—I didn’t mean to rake you,” he
patted and eased that startled animal down to his customary pace.

“She made a lot of you, didn’t she, Johnny? And you know you liked it!”

He rambled on, for latterly—in the utter loneliness of his long
patrols—the Sergeant had contracted the strange habit of talking aloud
to his horse, and Johnny’s sensitive ears would prick backwards and
forwards as if he thoroughly comprehended what was being said to him.

Traveling easily, and in no particular hurry, Benton made “Marshall’s”
for dinner, and towards evening drew in sight of Cherry Creek district,
with its few scattered ranches and mixed farms.

When about half a mile from his detachment, some objects strewn on the
trail ahead attracted his attention which, on drawing near, took the
form of pieces of paper, some spilt chicken-feed and flour, bits of
board, and the tail-board of a wagon; also, had he but noticed it, a lot
of scattered nails.

With a grim chuckle he passed on. “Looks like somebody’s had a
smash-up,” he muttered. Suddenly he pulled Johnny up sharply, for the
latter had begun to limp perceptibly on the off-forefoot and, on
examination, Ellis found a nail deeply embedded at the side of the frog.
He tried to pry it out with his fingers and a knife, but it was in up to
the head and his attempts were useless.

“No help for it, Johnny,” he said. “You’ll have to stick it till we get
home,” and with a disgusted malediction at the ill-luck, he wended his
way slowly ahead on foot, Johnny following on three legs like a lame
dog.

On arrival at their destination the nail was eventually extracted with
the aid of pincers, and after bathing and syringing the bleeding prod
with hot water and peroxide of hydrogen, the horse moved easier; but
Ellis was well aware that several days, perhaps a week, would elapse
before it would be safe to use him. And with the knowledge of this fact
oppressing him came also the realization that, should anything turn up
in the meantime, he would be under the necessity of borrowing a horse
from some one.

Stationed in a new district, he was naturally chary of placing himself
under obligation to anybody; so, cogitating over his predicament, he
watered, fed, and groomed Johnny and, after fixing up the wounded foot
in a hot poultice for the night, he retired into his own domain to cook
some supper.

The detachment, originally a ranch dwelling, was a square,
solid-looking, log-built structure, with a commodious stable in the
rear, and a corral and a fenced-in pasture. A huge, bleached buffalo
skull, with its stubby black horns—a relic of bygone years—frowned down
from over the main entrance, and a faded, weather-flapped Union Jack
hung from a short flag-staff at one pinnacle of the roof. With
whitewashed stones, the letters R.N.W.M.P. were formed in the earth
banking on the front side of the dwelling. The interior bespoke its
occupant’s tidiness and orderly habits.

One entered directly into a moderate-sized room that was severe in its
sparsely furnished simplicity. A long, bench-like table, covered with a
tartan police rug, on which were some neatly piled blank legal forms,
and books, a Bible, and writing materials. A plain oak arm-chair for the
said table, and several smaller ones, with a couple of form-seats, were
ranged around the walls, and immediately facing the magisterial bench a
strongly-built cell with a barred door and aperture was partitioned off.
A few enlarged framed photographs of old-time police and legal
celebrities and a green baize-covered board decorated with an assortment
of brightly burnished leg-irons and handcuffs completed the adornment of
the chamber. Nevertheless, in spite of the room’s simple aspect, one
instinctively guessed that here, as occasion occurred, the solemnity of
the Law was upheld with no less a dignity than in the highest court of
justice.

A door at one side of the cell opened into a larger apartment, evidently
used as a combined living and bedroom which, with its strange collection
of interesting objects, was typically significant of its owner’s tastes
and personality. A comfortable, bachelor-like abode this, yet slightly
regimental withal too; for the blankets at the head of the cot were
strapped into the regulation neat roll with the sheets in the center,
whilst above, on a small shelf, were the folded spare uniform and
Stetson hat, on either side of which stood a pair of high, brown
Strathcona riding-boots with jack spurs attached. On pegs underneath
hung the “Sam Browne” belt and holster containing the heavy “Colt’s .45”
Service revolver, together with a bridle, a head-rope, and a slicker.
Two or three easy chairs were scattered around and some tanned calf-skin
mats covered the floor. A table stood in the center littered with
periodicals and other reading matter, and a plain slung bookshelf held a
well-worn selection of classical and modern works of fiction. The walls
were relieved with varrious photographs, clever pen-and-ink sketches,
and unframed copies of famous pictures, among which were several
examples of Charles Russell’s and Frederick Remington’s works of art. A
tent-pegging lance, standing in a corner, supported a gaudy, feathered
Indian headdress on its point, while behind the door hung a set of
boxing gloves.

Five years of Benton’s wandering life having been spent on the veldt—two
of them passed in the Chartered Company’s service—accounted for the
curious South African trophies that were noticeable here and there. A
stuffed _meerkat_ crouched half raised, like a gigantic gopher, and that
ugly bald-headed vulture, known in the _Taal_ as an _aasvogel_, looked
down with unpitying eyes. Two magnificent leopard skin karosses were
flung over the armchairs, and a Zulu oxhide war shield was suspended in
an angle of the walls, flanked crosswise with its companion weapons—a
heavy knob-kerrie and a short, broad-bladed, stabbing assegai, whilst
above hung those one-time sinister symbols of authority north of the
Vaal—a rhinoceros-hide _sjambok_, a Mauser rifle, and a captured
“_Vierkleur_” flag. Adjoining this room were the kitchen and a small
compartment used as a storehouse.

His supper finished, and the daily diary, mileage report, and “monthly
returns” made out, the Sergeant lit a pipe and lay back in one of the
armchairs, lazily scanning the various criminal photographs in the last
copy of _The Detective_ he had brought with him from the Post, until
drowsiness overcoming him, the paper fluttered to the floor and his head
sank back against the leopard skin. The rays of the lamp shone full on
the strong, moody face, with the pipe still held clenched between the
teeth, and the athletic frame which, even in repose, contrived somehow
to convey in its posture an impression of instinctive, feline readiness
for sudden action.

Indeed, the man’s whole appearance seemed to fittingly bear out the many
strange stories that were current of his strenuous and eventful past.



CHAPTER V


      The elder was quelled,
      But the younger rebelled;
    So he spread out his wings and fled over the sea.
      Said the jackdaws and crows,
      “He’ll be hanged I suppose,
    But what in the deuce does that matter to we?”

    —_Henry Kingsley_

The second son of an English cavalry officer holding a high rank, young
Benton’s life up to the age of fifteen—with the exception of a few
escapades at Shrewsbury—which were due more to an ingrained hardihood
than viciousness, had passed very much the same as that of any other
well-bred public school boy.

The death of his mother, however, and the later advent of a step-parent,
wrought a disastrous change in the boy’s hitherto happy enough life. His
stepmother’s intolerance with his high spirits led to many family
quarrels and finally had the effect of provoking a naturally wayward
temper to open rebellion and a definite course of action.

Her studied, unremitting hostility towards the boy succeeded in arousing
in him a bitter, lasting hatred for her which, in its intensity and
fixity of purpose, was positively awesome and well-nigh incredible in
one of his years.

Scorning to follow his elder brother’s example in meekly submitting to
the new regime he turned, in his misery and distress, to an old friend
of his dead mother’s, one—Major Carlton—his ofttime confidant and
mediator in many boyish troubles.

Borrowing fifty pounds from the latter, and taking little else save his
mother’s photograph and a few clothes, with a farewell to none except
his debtor, he turned his back on that beautiful old Devonshire home
forever.

A youthful imagination inspired, perhaps, by prolific and intelligent
reading, inexplicably directed his course to the United States; so,
booking his passage at Liverpool, he found himself later, depleted in
money—but not in pluck or resolution—a waif in that vast assemblage of
mixed peoples. One letter—the last that he was ever to write home—he
despatched to his father.

Sir John Benton’s fierce, lined face softened for an instant as he
perused his son’s missive, but it grew darker and drearier than ever
before he had read it through. The letter said no word of return, and he
guessed rightly it was meant for an absolutely final farewell.

A strict disciplinarian in his own household, its contents he never
divulged to the rest of the family; and if he felt the loss of the
manly, headstrong boy, he never showed it hereafter by word or deed. The
stern old soldier recognized in those lines—penned with a certain boyish
courtesy—only too well the inflexible characteristics that matched, to
the full, his own.

Various vicissitudes eventually landed young Benton in a great
cattle-raising district of Montana, where he obtained a job as a chore
boy on a big ranch, known as the “Circle H.” A fearless upbringing
amongst horses stood him now in good stead, and this, combined with a
willing capacity for work, ultimately won for him the approval of “Big
Jim Parsons,” the silent, laconic ranch foreman, who befriended the
lonely, and now taciturn, youngster.

It is not to be supposed that he gained this patronage any too easily.
Although babbling little concerning his history, his English speech and
apparent breeding were sufficient at the start to make him the butt of
many doubtful pleasantries from the devil-may-care cow-punchers whose
bunkhouse victim he was. No sulker, he could assimilate the most of it
in good part; but there were limitations to such “joshing,” as many of
his tormentors found out when the savage, uncontrollable Benton temper
blazed forth with such appalling venom of fist and tongue that, immature
youth though he was, caused the bleeding and cursing authors of the
disturbance to retreat aghast at the devil they had raised. The old
Mosaic law—“An eye for an eye”—with its grim suggestion of unforgiving
finality, always found in Ellis an ardent and exacting adherent.

At such scenes Big Jim would generally appear on the field of
hostilities, a threatening, nasal sneer twisting his morose face.

“Quit monkey’n with that kid, now,” he would snarl; and with rising
wrath: “I tell yu’, fer guts, that same dude maverick has yu’ all
skinned! What was it he called yu’, Windy?... Will yore mother stand fer
that?... What’s happened to yore face, Ike?... Fell down an’ trod on
it?”

The foreman’s rough championing, and his own ability to take care of
himself, in course of time discouraged this systematic baiting, and ere
long he received the degree of comradeship. Possessing an inborn love
for music, which from childhood up his mother had always sedulously
encouraged, Ellis was a pianist of no mean ability. This, coupled with a
sweet, boyish voice—which in later years was to develop into a
magnificent baritone—caused him to be in constant request as a performer
on the battered old piano which the ranch-owner’s dwelling boasted.
Nothing loath, he played and sang to them the simple old melodies and
songs that they knew; and soon from being the ranch butt he became one
of its especial favorites.

With characteristic honor, although the loan had been but a mere trifle
to the wealthy giver, his first laudable ambition had been to pay back
to Major Carlton the sum he had borrowed from that kind-hearted bachelor
on emigrating; and this, with much self-denial, he found himself able to
do during the next two years, thereafter keeping up a desultory
correspondence with his old friend which lasted until the latter’s
death.

Time went on, and Ellis, after drifting here and there through Montana
and Wyoming punching for various cattle outfits, finally returned to the
“Circle H,” where at the early age of twenty-five he became its
competent young foreman—vice “Big Jim Parsons,” deceased.

By this time, his character, like his frame, was set; to the vehement
ambition and ardor of youth had succeeded the cool, matured resolution
of manhood—powerful to will, prompt to execute, and patient to endure;
he was proof against idle hopes, no less than against groundless fears,
and the common chagrins of life took no more hold of his soul than toil
or privation of his body. Yet under all this case-hardness, like a
virgin pearl lying dormant within its flinty habitation, there still
remained deep in him a certain softness of heart that he inherited from
the gentle lady whose picture and loving memory he had cherished
throughout his wanderings.

It is not to be supposed that during all this time the rough
associations and surroundings compatible with the calling he followed
had not left their mark upon him. But hot-blooded, violent and impulsive
though he was by nature, a certain quaint cynicism and command of will
and feature enabled him to suppress outwardly these visible signs of his
temperament. His life was probably not much more immune from vice than
the majority of his fellows who bore themselves more jovially and
noisily; but oh the sin of violated love, or cruel desertion—too often
associated with the sowing of youth’s wild oats—he could not accuse
himself. The dark eyes of more than one ranch beauty had looked
approvingly—perhaps lovingly—on the somber, handsome face and
slimly-powerful frame of the reckless young bronco-buster, wondering,
half-pityingly, what should make so youthful a countenance so stern. And
more than once the inviting loneliness of many whom ties bound had been
made only too apparent for his benefit. But the remnants of a nearly
forgotten family pride, rather than shyness or coldness, kept Ellis’s
feet clear of the snares. He was not specially cold, or continent, or
tender of conscience, but he chose to take his pleasure in places where
he troubled no man’s peace, and where there could be no ignominious
aftermath to torture him with its useless, heart-aching remorse.

Every wayfarer through this world must needs encounter certain points in
his journey where the main trail divides. For awhile the two tracks may
run so near to each other that they may seem still almost one, but they
will diverge more and more till, ere they end, their issues lie as
widely apart as those of good and evil, light and darkness, life and
death. So it was now with Ellis Benton, for a chance episode occurred in
that young man’s life which was fated to bring about a material change
in his fortunes and surroundings.

A born fighter, and possessing unusual cleverness with his hands, he was
one night unavoidably forced into an encounter with a professional
prize-fighter on a public street, in Butte. A young girl, whom the
latter was persecuting with his unwelcome attentions, appealed to the
young cow-puncher for protection, and not in vain. Despite the terrible
punishment he received, the deadly fury and ability with which he
finally put his formidable antagonist away made a visible impression on
a well known fight promoter who happened to witness the affray. That
worthy, an ex-pugilist himself of considerable renown, with his glib
tongue, apparent sincerity, and cleverly framed appeals to the younger
man’s vanity, succeeded at last in inducing him to enter the ring in
earnest. Ellis, in that unsettled period that comes in most strong men’s
lives, was perhaps, too, subconsciously getting a little weary of the
range life that up to now had entirely satisfied his full-blooded
energies, but there is little doubt that had he remained with the
soberer calling that he had followed so long, it would have been more
advantageous to both his profit and honor. But the reckless hardihood,
ingrained in his nature, stifled the suggestions of prudence and
ambition; when he cut himself adrift from family and friends he severed
himself, in intent, no less decisively from the class in which he was
born and bred than if, as an heir to a throne, he had relinquished his
birthright, and become but a humble subject. With a characteristic
indifference to possible consequences, he was not the least ashamed, as
yet, of the doubtful profession that he had adopted. His subsequent
spectacular fighting speedily demonstrated his ability to become a
future middleweight champion, and for a while the bouts in which he
participated drew eager crowds, curious to see the coming young pugilist
who gave them such a good run for their money, invariably drawing with,
or putting away his opponent each time, with a sensational class of
fighting that was highly gratifying to their taste. Becoming gradually
disgusted with the crooked practises and propositions which, somehow,
seemed to be inseparable from the game, and more or less incumbent on
those who were dependent on the ring for a living, he made up his mind
to forsake the profession which demanded of him the sacrifice of his
common honesty. His commendable decision, however, certainly did not
carry with it the solace of much pecuniary acquisition; for although
fighting with great frequency, and winning, or splitting many big purses
during his brilliant, if brief, career, the fast life and heavy expenses
compatible with such a profession soon dissipated them along with a
considerable portion of his previously accumulated savings, limiting the
sum total of his worldly wealth to less than a thousand dollars.

Becoming, by now, thoroughly restless and inclined to wander afresh, his
fancy next took him to South Africa, where he obtained a position in the
Chartered Company’s service, at which occupation he remained until the
outbreak of the South African War two years later. Enlisting then as a
private in a well known, and afterwards famous, Irregular Horse, in the
later engagements at Elandslaagte, Waggon Hill, and Wepener, he showed
to the full the soldierly instincts only natural in one come of his
fighting race and breeding, at the latter action, particularly, when in
the storming of a strong Boer position, he exhibited a characteristic
courage of such an utterly reckless, desperate nature, that subsequently
gained for him the Distinguished Conduct Medal and a Sergeant-Major’s
promotion.

During the terrible Mauser fire, however, which well nigh decimated his
squadron, he received a bullet through the body, the same passing the
base of the right lung, luckily without permanently injuring that vital
organ. On recovery, he served throughout the succeeding guerilla warfare
until peace was proclaimed at Veereneging, on May 31, 1902. Wearying,
then, of South Africa and its war-ravaged desolation, he returned to the
country and scenes of his former life, resuming his avocation, riding
for a newly-formed cattle company, whose headquarters were near the
Canadian border.

Here, during the next few months, he became acquainted with various
members of the scattered posts of the Royal North West Mounted Police.
Craving companionship, and with the recollections of his late military
experiences still fresh within him, he joined that Force, and after
passing through the inevitable curriculum of their headquarters at
Regina, he was eventually transferred to L Division.

Several notable stock-stealing cases, in which his fearless ability and
previous range experience enabled him to obtain long term convictions on
the offenders, soon brought him under the favorable notice of his
superiors, who recognized his worth in this particular line, and in a
little less than four years he was promoted to the rank in which we find
him in the beginning of this story.



CHAPTER VI


    “Whoo-oh!—Steady!... Let’s git me cigarette lit!
    Oh, a cow-puncher’s curse on that frizzling sun!
    There!... Whoop!... Go to her, goldarn it!
    Yu’ dirty, mean, locoed old son of a gun!”

    —_Bronco-Buster’s Chorus_

Morning came, and with it a visit from one Gallagher, a middle-aged
bachelor, his nearest neighbor, whose ranch lay about a mile distant.
The Sergeant, seated outside the door, in the sun, smoking an
after-breakfast pipe, greeted the newcomer civilly as he lowered himself
stiffly out of the saddle, and waited for the other to divulge his
business.

Nature had not been kind to Mr. Gallagher in regard to his physiognomy,
and Ellis, whenever he contemplated that homely visage, from certain
canine peculiarities therein, always mentally labeled him “Old
Dog-face.” It _was_ an ugly, repellant countenance in a way, but the
eyes were those of an honest man, and the thick lips expressed a species
of genial humor.

Meeting each other casually at the usual weekly mail gatherings, Benton
was always conscious of a kind of surly friendliness on Gallagher’s
part, that showed up in marked contrast to the silent, mistrustful
antipathy, with which many of those present generally regarded him;
which attitude, be it remarked, worried the Sergeant but little. The
rancher broached the subject of his visit with little preamble.

“Old man Tucker, from Fish Creek, was over wantin’ to see yu’ yesterday,
Sargint. Didn’t find yu’ in, so he come around to my place before he
went back.”

“Oh,” said Ellis absently, and with a slight trace of weary irritation
in his tones; “what’s bitin’ that old fool now—was he full?”

It was curiously noticeable that, when back amidst the habitues and
surroundings of his former life and calling, how naturally he reverted
to the terse, ungrammatical speech of the range.

Gallagher, with a grin, lit his pipe, and leaning back in the chair that
the Sergeant had dragged out for him, blew out a cloud of smoke
reflectively.

“Well, he weren’t what you’d call exactly sober,” he drawled. “It was
the same old business.... Says there’s some of them a layin’ to run off
that bunch o’ hawsses o’ his. Reckons he’s got it straight this time.”

“He always has,” responded the policeman, spitting with contemptuous
remembrance. “I’m just about fed up with his picayune happenings. He
makes me tired. Time and again he’s got me a chasin’ over to his place,
and there’s never nothin’ doin’.... Just some gag they’ve bin a throwin’
into him.”

The other was silent for a space. “Mebbe,” he acquiesced musingly. “But
I don’t know, Sargint ... he seemed more worked up this time’n I ever
see him.”

Ellis pondered over this dilemma. A complaint was a complaint, and
anyhow, no one could ever accuse him of neglecting his duty.

“See here; look,” he said presently. “I’d go on over and see what’s
worryin’ that old _soor_, but fact is, I’m stuck for a hawss. That black
o’ mine went lame on me comin’ home last night. Picked up a nail. He
won’t be fit to ride for three or four days. Got anythin’ in yore bunch
yu’ could fix me up with till he gets sound again, Gallagher?”

The rancher considered a moment or two with a grave, inscrutable face.
“Let’s see,” he said thoughtfully, the corners of his mouth twitching
ever so little. “I guess,” he broke out finally. “Will yu’ come on over,
Sargint?”

An hour later Benton, perched on the top rail of Gallagher’s horse
corral, lazily watched that worthy driving in his band of horses from
their range in a neighboring coulee and, slipping down on their near
approach, he opened the gate and then effaced himself out of their sight
carefully, to prevent a possible scare.

Well strung out, with heads up and manes and tails flying, they followed
their leader, a powerfully-built, buckskin gelding. It was an old,
well-known trail to them and, presently, with customary obedience, they
surged through the opening into the big main corral, where they stood
around, a playfully biting, kicking mass of horseflesh, while their
owner, bringing up the rear, dismounted from his quiet old cow-pony and
hung up the gate behind them. Ellis, emerging from his hiding-place,
climbed up beside him on the fence, and together the two men gazed
silently awhile at the animated scene below them.

There were perhaps about thirty head all told, of different grades,
ages, and colors, from the heavy Percheron-bred draught-horse to the
slender, cat-like cayuse.

Benton, with the eye of a connoisseur of horseflesh, quickly ran them
over. “Pretty mixed bunch,” he mumbled, ungraciously.

“Well, yu’ ain’t buyin’ ’em, Sargint,” answered Gallagher, somewhat
nettled at the other’s remark, and a silence ensued which was finally
broken by Ellis “shooing” at a big Clyde-built mare, heavy in foal, that
was hiding another horse from his view. The startled animal slowly
waddled away, disclosing the aforementioned buckskin, which bad somehow
escaped the Sergeant’s notice.

He quickly appraised its points. “Eyah,” he muttered; “now _that’s_ some
horse!”

And indeed his approval was justified for it was about as likely a
looking specimen of the saddle-remount as one could wish to see, with
the short, strong back, long, springy fetlocks, and powerful quarters
that denoted speed and endurance no less than an easy gait.

“That sorrel ain’t a bad looker, either,” he pursued. “Are they
saddle-broke, them two?”

“Yep,” said Gallagher shortly. “Yu’ kin take yore pick, Sargint, of
anythin’ that’s in here.”

Benton, shading his eyes from the sun, scrutinized the two horses a
little longer and then, leisurely dropping to the ground, slid into the
saddle of Gallagher’s waiting horse.

“Guess I’ll have to borrow yore saddle and bridle a space, old-timer, if
yu’ don’t mind,” he remarked. “Lord, but yu’ must be split to the chin.
I’ll have to take these stirrups up a hole or two.”

Quickly unlacing the rawhide thongs, he adjusted them to his liking and,
tying the horse’s halter-shank to the corral, unshipped the heavy
stock-saddle and bridle, depositing them on the ground beside the fence.

The rancher’s high-heeled Kansas boots, with their huge-rowelled Mexican
spurs, next attracted his attention and he stood for a moment silently
eyeing them and his own broad-welted, flat-heeled footwear.

“What size boots d’yu’ wear, Gallagher?” he inquired, with a mild grin.
“Nines, eh? ... same as me. D’yu’ mind changin’? I’m sure on the
borrowin’ stunt all right this trip, but them stirrups of yores ain’t
none too wide an’ I don’t much fancy gettin’ ‘hung up.’”

The other acquiesced willingly enough and the exchange was soon
effected. Unstrapping the lariat from off the saddle, Benton climbed up
and dropped inside the corral, the horses beginning immediately to
circle around uneasily at his approach, raising clouds of dust.

“Which ’un yu’ goin’ to take, Sargint?” inquired their owner.

“Guess I’ll try out that buckskin first!” Ellis answered laconically. “I
wanta hold him and that sorrel. We’ll let the others drift.”

Standing in the center of the corral, with an ease that bespoke long
practise, he slowly shook out a workable loop and began to adroitly
maneuver the buckskin to the rear of the bunch. But the latter, scenting
danger, and being apparently an old hand at the game, was very elusive,
diving head-down into the ruck always at the psychological moment.
Patiently watching his chance as, for about the twentieth time the
buckskin’s head reappeared amidst the flying manes, the Sergeant
carelessly, with a curious overhand flip, swung and threw, the noose
dropping fairly over the ears and nose.

Tailing onto the rope, with heels digging into the soft ground, he slid
for a few yards, then suddenly detaching the animal from the retreating
bunch with a powerful hip-heave he brought it up facing him.

Gallagher watched the performance with a lazy curiosity. “Knows his
business with a rope all right,” was his silent comment.

Once caught, as Benton coiled in the slack, hand over hand, the buckskin
walked meekly up to his captor like one who knows the game is up, and
allowed himself to be patted. Leaving Gallagher to hold the animal,
Ellis proceeded to cut the sorrel into a small inner corral. This done,
he opened the gate once more, and with a wild whirl and surge that
scattered clouds of dust the late occupants eagerly streamed out on the
run back to their range again.

Carrying the blanket, saddle, and bridle, the Sergeant entered the
corral and cautiously approaching the held horse, deftly slipped the bit
between its teeth and buckled the throat-lash firmly, then, drawing off
the lariat, picked up the blanket and flopped it over the withers with a
smack. The saddle next followed suit; the double cinches, although
slapping the animal’s belly with the same deliberate roughness, failed
to produce any startling effect.

“Seems gentle,” Benton muttered aloud.

“Yep,” assented Gallagher, in a toneless voice. “Better take th’ sorrel,
Sargint.”

Ellis glanced up sharply, but the rancher’s face was set like an ugly,
expressionless mask, and he gleaned nothing there.

“Why?” he inquired.

“Pitches some,” said the other drily and, with calculating inference,
“the sorrel, he’s gentle. _I_ kin ride _him_.”

Ellis hesitated a moment. He was hardly to be classed in the same
category as a greenhorn, whom ignorance, taunt, or bravado will often
provoke into climbing onto a bad horse, with equally bad results, but
his reputation as a rider was at stake, for he knew Gallagher’s tongue
was prone to wag at times. The latter’s last words—“The sorrel, _he’s_
gentle!”—rankled a little, and his decision was made with an unconscious
snort of contempt, as he dragged at the latigo straps and drew the
cinches taut.

“Pitches, does he?” he mumbled to himself. All right, then! He would
show Mr. “Dog-face” Gallagher something. And bending down he buckled on
the big, straight-shanked, Mexican spurs. “Gimme yore quirt, Gallagher!”

Crossing the split reins carefully in the palm of his left hand and
catching the cheek-strap of the bridle, he reached out his right and
guided his foot cautiously into the stirrup, eyeing the buckskin closely
the while. The animal stood ominously quiet. Grasping the horn he swung
lightly and warily into the saddle and settled his feet home. Still no
movement from the motionless horse. Vaguely uneasy, he clucked and gave
it a light touch with the spurs. The effect was magical. The ears
suddenly flattened. A ripple ran along the black-striped back and as,
with a hoarse, grunting scream the buckskin dropped its head and bucked
into the air, in a flash Benton realized that he was on one of the worst
horses it had ever been his lot to tackle.

“Oh—o-ooh—he-e—s-ss—a-ah!” in bitter bodily anguish, he groaned, as
again and again the horse rocketed and propped, stiff and hard with
terrible impact, and with a jarring side-shake that seemed to shiver his
very soul. The blood burst from his nose and mouth under the constant
violent concussions and he felt deathly sick. Still the snapping,
whalebone-like back rose and descended, “sun-fishing” in midair with a
curious upward flirt of the rump that was well-nigh irresistible,
causing the Sergeant’s hand to swing up towards the horn more than once,
and but for the fact of Gallagher watching, he would have “pulled
leather” without shame. “Not grain fed.... Can’t keep this up much
longer!” he gasped to himself. And shifting slightly in the saddle he
threw all his dead weight on to the nigh fore-leg. It was an old trick
that Ellis had often used in his younger and more elastic days, and by
degrees he became conscious between the twisting, jerking leaps of the
bucking fury under him, that the animal was weakening.

Its resistance provoked a wild, unreasoning wave of anger to surge
through him, driving the remnants of his sick faintness before it, and
raising his hand he quirted and raked the still pitching buckskin with a
ferocity that finally drove it to a sweating standstill.

“Go to it, d—n yu’!” he yelled, but the horse had had enough and only
broke into an easy trot around the corral. Swinging out of the saddle,
he stood for a moment swaying, dazed from the terrific ordeal he had
undergone.

To him came Gallagher. “Holy doodle!” exclaimed that worthy, with a sort
of miserable heartiness, “he sure went after yu’ some!”

The policeman did not answer, but breathing in deep, heavy gasps, and
streaming with perspiration, slowly raised his head. At the unmistakable
silent animosity depicted on that drawn, bitter face, the rancher
changed countenance and retreated slightly with a deprecating gesture.

“Now don’t yu’ go for to blame me, Sargint!” he began. “—’Member I
warned yu’!”

Ellis looked at him loweringly, with evil irresolution. The man was
right, he reflected, but nothing makes us so unforgiving as the
consciousness of being in the wrong.

“Warned me?” he echoed, with a mirthless laugh, and at the same time
blowing a stream of blood from his nose. “Oh, aye, yu’ _warned_ me all
right—like Paddy warned his landlord!...”

Regaining his breath somewhat, he resumed with savage ill-humor. “Yu’ve
an ugly mug, Gallagher.... If I thought for a minute yu’d handed me this
here stick of dynamite for a josh, I’d push what’s meant to be yore face
right in, an’ don’t yu’ forget it!”

The other’s dog-like visage contracted with a grin and he emitted a
short, barking laugh.

“Easy! easy there, Sargint!... Now don’t yu’ start for to get mad ’bout
it,” he chuckled. “Never yu’ mind my mug. I ain’t a beauty, I know....
But handsome is that handsome does.... ’Member, I’m lendin’ yu’ a
horse.”

At the remembrance of the man’s generosity, and his good-natured
response, Benton’s short-lived fit of bad temper quickly evaporated, and
he felt guilty and ashamed at his own illogical outburst.

“Gallagher,” he said hoarsely, spitting out a mouthful of blood and
dust, “I guess I’m in wrong.... I take it all back.”

With an earnestness that there was no mistaking, the rancher reached out
his hand.

“Sargint,” he said solemnly, “shake. Yu’re a rider.” And in the warmth
of that grip Ellis became vaguely conscious that his nerve had won for
him a friend.

Good fellowship established once more, Gallagher’s taciturnity vanished
and he became voluble and communicative.

“Now, see here, look; I’ll tell yu’, Sargint,” he rambled on. “I raised
that hawss, an’ I know him like a book. There’s only two men ever stayed
with him. They’re no-goods, both of ’em, but they kin _ride_. Yu’ know
’em, too—Short an’ Dirty’s one, an’ that there Jules Le Frambois yu’ve
just took down for rustlin’ Billy Jacques’ stock, t’other. Jules—he got
piled higher’n a kite, first crack outer th’ box, but he stayed with him
th’ second trip. Wanst he finds a feller kin ride him he quits pitchin’
right away _with_ that feller—for good. Yu’ git on him now an’ see ’f I
ain’t right.”

Ellis did so and, with a rough slap of the quirt and a thrust of the
spurs, thumbing the horse’s withers and fanning its ears with his hat;
but all his efforts to make the buckskin hump again were fruitless, and
the Sergeant, as he felt the surge of the easy-gaited, powerful animal
under him, knew that here was a remount that could be depended on in any
emergency.

“What’d I tell yu’?” said Gallagher, as Benton dismounted and
off-saddled. “Nary a jump—an’ Short an’ Dirty, he rode him for three
months—an’ he says he’s good on th’ rope an’ll stand wherever his lines
is dropped. Now yu’ take him and ride him as long as yu’ want,
Sargint.... I guess there ain’t nobody else around here as is anxious,”
he added, grinning. “What’s his name? Why, I calls him ‘Shakem.’ He’s
sure shook a few of ’em, too. I didn’t aim to get yu’ hurt none, but
some of th’ boys had it that yu’ used to bust for th’ ‘Turkey-Track,’
an’, well, I kinder own I was a bit minded to see if yu’ shaped like
it,” he ended whimsically.

The ghost of a smile for a moment illuminated Benton’s blood-stained,
tired face as, lighting a cigarette, he retrieved his own boots and
prepared to lead his borrowed mount away.

“An’ are yu’ satisfied?” he queried wearily.

“Aye,” answered the rancher, with fervent conviction. “I sure am that.
Yes, I’ll ride on over an’ fix up that black o’ yores if yu’re away th’
night. So long, Sargint.”



CHAPTER VII


    “Oh, sheriff an’ ranger both wished me luck,
    Yu’ bet! when I jumped th’ Line last Fall—
    Yep!... Kind that a hog gets when he’s stuck,
    For I’d cert’nly made them cattle-men bawl.
    Them fellers has cause to love me as much
    As they do a wolf, or a sneakin’ Piute;
    But wouldn’t this jar yu’—’gettin’ in Dutch’
    With th’ Mounted Police, thru’ a mangy coyote?”

    —_The Rustler’s Lament_

After giving the buckskin a light feed of grain and attending to
Johnny’s hoof carefully, Ellis despatched an early lunch, saddled up
Shakem, and struck out for Tucker’s ranch, which was about eight miles
distant. It was a glorious day and, feeling fully recovered from the
effects of his morning’s shake-up, he rode slowly on through the golden
haze with that ease and contentment that comes to a man who feels that
he has earned it, and has sound health and a good horse under him.

Three miles or so beyond Gallagher’s the trail veered slightly west,
then south, skirting the dense brush and timbered slopes of the
foot-hills. Emerging from a patch of poplar that fringed the base of a
small butte around which his trail led, a moving object suddenly
appeared above him, sharply defined against the sky-line. Glancing up
quickly he instantly recognized the tawny-gray, dog-like form of a
coyote. Benton, in common with most range men, loathed the slinking,
carrion-fed brutes and always shot them down remorselessly whenever
opportunity offered. Averting his gaze and still keeping steadily on his
way to deceive the wary animal, he cautiously lifted the flap of his
holster with the intention of making a quick whirl and snap-shot. With
shortened lines, he was just about to execute this maneuver when
something strange and unfamiliar in the actions of his intended victim
suddenly caused him to halt, paralyzed with open-mouthed curiosity and
astonishment.

Apparently, for the moment, completely heedless of the close proximity
of its mortal enemy, Man, it was pawing violently at its snout, and to
the Sergeant’s ears came the unmistakable sounds of choking and
vomiting. Gripping the Colt’s .45, Ellis’s hand flashed up, but the
shell was never discharged. For just then came the sharp crack of a
rifle shot from somewhere on the other side of the butte, and the
coyote, with a bullet through its head, tumbled and slid, jerking in its
death-struggle almost to the horse’s feet.

With a startled exclamation at the unexpected occurrence and, wrenching
his steed around as it shyed instinctively away, Benton swung out of the
saddle and turned wonderingly to examine that still twitching body. A
peculiar _something_—evidently the cause of its previous choking
motions—was protruding from its mouth and, prying open the clenched,
blood-dripping paws, Ellis tugged it out from away back in the throat,
down which it had apparently resisted being swallowed. Wiping the slimy
object on the grass, he spread it open. His eyes dilated strangely with
instant recognition, and a savage oath burst from him. It was the brand
cut out of the hide of a freshly killed steer.

With lightning-like intuition and a quick, apprehensive, upward glance,
the Sergeant crumpled up the clammy, half-chewed flap of skin, jammed it
up under his stable-jacket and, jumping for the buckskin, wheeled and
dashed into the shelter of the bush. Breathing rapidly with excitement,
he dismounted and, lying on his stomach, dragged himself cautiously
forward until he could discern the dead coyote.

His rapid movements had been only just in time. For, as he peered from
his hiding place, another object silhouetted itself against the
sky-line. A man, this time, wearing white-goatskin chaps, and in the
short, powerful body, red hair, and prognathous jaw, the policeman
discerned the all-familiar figure and lineaments of one—William
Butlin—generally known in the district by the soubriquet of “Short and
Dirty,” or “Shorty.”

He was coatless, and his bare, brawny arms were blood-stained up to the
elbows as, clutching a rifle in one hand and a knife in the other, he
slowly descended the incline and inspected the result of his
marksmanship. Being summer, it was a poor skin and mangy so, with a
muttered oath and a contemptuous kick, he turned and retraced his steps
up the butte, with bent head scrutinizing the ground carefully around
for something as he did so.

With a grim chuckle, the Sergeant watched him disappear from view and,
after waiting a moment or two, quietly raised himself and slid out of
his place of concealment. Climbing noiselessly until he reached the brow
of the incline, he dropped prone and, removing his hat, looked warily
down. He found himself looking down a narrow draw, dotted here and there
with patches of alder, willow-scrub, and cottonwood clumps—a huge
specimen of the latter rising from amongst its fellows at the lower end
of the draw. There, at the bottom, not fifty yards distant, Benton
beheld Mr. Short and Dirty busily engaged in stripping the hide from the
bloody carcass of a newly butchered steer.

He had chosen an ideal spot for his nefarious work, the slopes on either
side of the draw rendering him completely immune from ordinary
observation, and the hot rays of the overhead sun beat down on the
sprawled, glistening, pink and yellow monstrosity that his knife was
rapidly laying bare. His rifle lay on the ground, well out of his reach,
near his horse, a chunky, well-put-up white animal and, with back turned
to the fierce scrutiny of the representative of the Law that followed
his every movement, he bent over his work with nervous haste, skinning
with long sweeps of his knife and glancing furtively around him from
time to time.

With a stealthy movement Ellis arose, stood upright, and walked
noiselessly down to the impromptu barbecue.

“Oh, Shorty!” he called.

At the policeman’s voice the man started violently and, wheeling like a
flash, knife in hand, faced him with open-mouthed amazement, fear,
guilt, cunning, and desperation flitting in turn over his rugged, evil
face. With carelessly-held revolver the Sergeant watched him intently
with glittering eyes, his attitude suggestive of a snake about to
strike.

“Pitch up!” he rapped out harshly.

The other made no move but a terrible spasm of murderous indecision
momentarily convulsed his face, which angered the policeman beyond
expression.

“_Pronto!_” he roared explosively, with a shocking blasphemy and a
forward jump of his gun that sent Shorty’s arms aloft with a galvanic
jerk, the knife dropping to the ground.

Silently Benton surveyed him awhile, a deadly, menacing light like green
fire flaming in his deep-set eyes, and the muscles under the livid scar
on his cheek twitching.

“Yu’ look at me like that agin,” he drawled slowly and distinctly, “an’
I’ll blow a hole thru’ yore guts. Three paces forward,
march!—halt!—’bout turn!”

The movements were executed with a precise obedience that drew forth a
sneer from the observant sergeant.

“Huh! an old bird, eh?” he gibed. “Always thought yu’ were, from th’ cut
of yore mug. I guess th’ ‘Pen’ shore went into mourning th’ day yu’
worked yore ticket. There’s a lump on yore hip I don’t like,” he
continued sharply. “Here! Let’s go thru’ yu’!”

He deftly extracted a revolver, glanced at it quickly, and then
transferred it to his own pocket.

“Packin’ a Colt’s automatic around, eh?” he snarled. “That’s another
charge I’ll soak into yu’—carryin’ concealed weapons.”

His swiftly working brain had, meantime, evolved a definite scheme of
action that he felt the circumstances required. Never for a moment
underrating the notoriously desperate character of his captive, he was
taking no chances, and purposely kept that individual under the tense
influence of his powerful will, giving him no opportunity to collect his
crafty wits.

“Quick, now, my lad!” he broke out in a fierce undertone, seizing the
other’s shirt collar and pushing the muzzle of the revolver into his
back; “step out to that big cottonwood down there—keep yore wings up.
Make one break an’ this’ll go off!”

Bursting with helpless, impotent rage, the cowed and bewildered man was
roughly thrust forward to the indicated spot. Arriving there, Ellis
jerked out his handcuffs, opening these carefully so that he would be
able to manipulate them with one hand.

“Shove out yore mitts on each side of this stick!” came his sharp
command.

Shorty blinked at him with feigned stupidity out of veiled, bloodshot
eyes.

“Quick!” snapped the Sergeant, with a fresh burst of fury at the other’s
irresolution. “Quick, yu’ sorrel-topped skunk, or I’ll kill yu’!”

Sullenly the gory arms were clasped around the tree and the handcuffs
clicked home. His man secure, the policeman turned swiftly.

“_Adios_, Shorty,” he said, with grim levity. “I’m just takin’ a little
_paseur_ now. I’ll be back before the coyotes get yu’.”

The rustler gazed after his retreating form with evil wonder. So far he
had uttered no sound, but now his lips framed themselves for speech.
Something causing him to change his mind, however, he only spat
viciously and resolutely held his peace.

An hour passed. A slow one, too, for the shackled man. Shifting wearily
from one foot to the other, he eventually sat down, shoving out a leg on
either side of the cottonwood, his arms, of necessity, hugging the butt.
The sound of voices presently smote his ear, not unpleasantly either,
for by this time he was beyond caring for _what_ happened to him so long
as he was released from his cramped, ludicrous position. Soon two riders
hove into view at the entrance to the draw, and in them he recognized
his captor, and—Gallagher.

The sight of the latter vaguely disturbed his warped conscience.
Gallagher had always been decent to him, he reflected. Had once even
lent him money. How could the policeman know it was Gallagher’s steer?
He _couldn’t_, he argued to himself. They were just trying to put some
bluff over him. And the conviction that he still held a trump card
hardened his heart.

Pulling up at the dead steer, they dismounted and, leaving Gallagher
examining the carcass, Ellis walked on down the draw and released his
prisoner, snapping the handcuff back on the wrist again.

“Get yu’ over to th’ beef an’ set down,” he ground out curtly.

The rancher looked up at their approach. “Howdy, Shorty,” he said
quietly, with a grim nod, which salute the other returned sullenly, with
a brazen stare, sitting down resignedly, with his manacled hands
clasping his knees. Benton, rolling a cigarette, looked interrogatively
at Gallagher.

“Well,” he queried.

“Shore _looks_ like one o’ mine,” answered that worthy; “but—”

His speech was suddenly interrupted by the rustler. Throughout his
capture he had remained as mute as a trapped wolf. Now he broke in with:

“Yes, but yu’ cain’t _swear_ it’s yores.” And the sneering taunt
conveyed a meaning that was not lost on his listeners.

For a moment or two the Sergeant scanned the faces of the two men, a
lazy, tolerant smile playing over his hard features as he fumbled inside
the breast of his stable-jacket.

“Oh, he cain’t, cain’t he?” he drawled mockingly. “No, but _I_ can, my
strawberry blonde. Here’s a letter for yu’, Gallagher,” he continued,
grinning. “Reckon I’ll let Shorty read it first, though.” And, unfolding
the flap of hide, he carelessly held it up for that gentleman’s
inspection.

With starting eyes and a ghastly imprecation the prisoner gazed at the
missing link, fear, anger, and astonishment flitting in turn over his
evil visage.

“Why, why—” he stuttered.

“Yes, _why_—” Ellis finished for him sarcastically. “_Why_ do yu’ aim to
start in chokin’ poor coyotes to death with other people’s brands?”

He handed the sticky piece of evidence over to Gallagher. “Double H.F.,”
he said. “That’s yore brand all right, ain’t it, old-timer?”

The rancher nodded wonderingly.

“Yu’ll find it fits into th’ cut-out all hunkadory,” the Sergeant added.

“Satisfied?” he queried presently. “All right, then.” And, in the set
formula that the Law prescribes, he proceeded to formally charge and
warn his prisoner. This duty ended, he sank down with a lazy yawn and,
rolling a fresh cigarette, tossed it good-naturedly over to the captive,
with a match along.

“Have a smoke, Shorty,” he observed, with an indolent, meaning smile. “I
guess yu’ shore needs one.”

The three men smoked meditatively awhile, amid a silence that was
eventually broken by Gallagher.

“Playin’ it up kinder mean on me, ain’t yu’ Shorty?” he remarked
bitterly. “I reckon I’ve always treated _yu’_ white.”

The shackled man, with sullen, averted eyes, gave a hopeless shrug.

“Didn’t aim to put it over on _yu’_ in particular, Barney,” he mumbled
in a low voice. “I was just a ridin’ past here, casual like, lookin’ for
some horses, when I see this steer a tryin’ to catch up to th’ bunch
with a broken leg. I kin pay yu’ for it,” he added defiantly. “An’ if
yu’—”

“_Payin’_ don’t go on a job like this,” interjected the Sergeant
sharply. “Even if Barney _was_ willin’.... Case is out of his hands.
Besides, if yu’ can afford to pay for beef yu’ ain’t obliged to rustle
it.

“Broken leg,” he continued, with an incredulous grin. “Yes, an’ I guess
it ain’t hard to figure _what_ broke it. I’ve seen th’ way yu’ rope an’
throw—lots of times. _Casual!_ What? Oh, mighty bloody _casual_! A
skinnin’ knife. A block an’ tackle an’ a butcher’s cleaver in a
gunny-sack an’ that big cottonwood to sling th’ beef up to out o’ reach
of th’ coyotes till yu’ could come around with a wagon an’ team for it
after dark. What? _Casual_, eh? ... well, I should smile.”

A lull followed this sally. Presently Shorty raised his head.

“My shootin’ at that there coyote, it was, I guess, as fetched yu’?” he
inquired gloomily. “I was down at th’ creek, gettin’ a drink, an’ when I
was comin’ back I see him with somethin’ in his mouth.”

Ellis nodded and blew out a smoke ring with dreamy reflection.

“Aye, that an’ other things,” he drawled, slowly. “’Member makin’ that
crack about a certain red-coated, yaller-laigged stiff whose goat yu’
was a goin’ to get, like th’ feller’s before him? ... A little bit—not
much—I _don’t_ think. Yu’ ain’t got no Corporal Williamson here. I’ve
been a-layin’ for yu’ ever since, an’ now I reckon it’s yu’ for th’
goat.”

Gallagher, listening amusedly, uttered his low, barking laugh.

“Goat!” he chuckled softly. “Goat!” The expression seemed to tickle his
imagination greatly. “Don’t often get it put over yu’, Sargint, I’ll
gamble.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Benton lazily. “Do sometimes.” He wriggled into
a more comfortable position. “Talkin’ o’ goats,” he continued, with a
dreamy smile of reflection, “just for th’ sake of a yarn I’ll give
myself away.

“It was two winters back—when I was stationed at Goddard,” he began. “I
caught a feller there fixin’ up another man’s calf—all same Shorty,
here. I got th’ owner to identify th’ hide an’ locked th’ feller up.
Inspector Purvis happened to be down that day inspectin’ detachments, so
I rustled up another J.P. and got them to commit this gink. I mind his
wife came to see him that night, an’ kinder out of respect for her
feelin’s I kept out o’ hearin’ while they chewed th’ rag. Next evenin’—I
had a case on durin’ th’ day—I drives to th’ station with him to catch
th’ eight-thirty East-bound, usin’ a wagon an’ team I’d borrowed. We had
to pass _his_ place on th’ way, an’ he says to me, kinder simple like:
‘Corporal,’—I was a corporal then—‘I’ll most-like be awaitin’ trial some
time an’ I’ll be wantin’ some clothes. I fixed it up with th’ woman last
night to have ’em ready when we come past. D’yu’ mind stoppin’?’ ‘All
right,’ I says, never suspicionin’ nothin’, for he seemed a sorter
homely, foolish kind o’ ‘mossback.’ Sure enough, when we comes opposite
his place, out comes his wife with a big, fat gunny-sack. Puts it in th’
wagon. Cries, an’ kisses him, an’ says ‘good-by.’ It was a bitter cold
night, I mind, an’ I had my fur coat collar turned up high ’round my
face, an’ my cap pulled down. Presently, when we was about half ways
there, he starts in to groan an’ shiver up against me. ‘What’s up?’ I
says. ‘Cramps,’ says he, still groanin’. ‘Gosh, but I’ve got ’em bad.’
There was some straw in th’ bottom of th’ wagon, an’ thinkin’ it might
ease him some if he lay down a bit, I helped him over th’ seat into th’
box, an’ he lay down amongst th’ straw, with his gunny-sack for a
pillow—_mine_, with th’ calfskin exhibit in it, alongside me on th’
off-side of th’ seat. Havin’ cuffs an’ leg-shackles on him I knew he
wouldn’t be fool enough to make any kind of a breakaway, especially as
he really seemed sick, so I didn’t watch him particularly close, an’ we
jogged along through th’ dark. He still seemed pretty bad when we made
th’ station, so I got him a slug of whiskey an’ we boarded th’ train. I
handed him over at the guardroom, when we got into th’ Post—locked up my
gunnysack, an’ beat it back on th’ West-bound that was late that night.
I didn’t want to be around th’ Post next day for fear Mickey, th’ S.M.,
might keep me in for duty. Well, the case came up about three months
later at th’ Supreme Court.

“Mr. Man hires him a lawyer an’ pleads ‘not guilty,’ as bold as brass.
As I figured I had th’ case all hunkadory I only had one witness—th’
owner of th’ calf. I goes into the box an’ gives my evidence an’ pulls
out th’ hide exhibit to identify. A red an’ white one I’d put in an’ a
red an’ white one I pulls out, but I well-nigh had a fit when I saw th’
brand on it. It was th’ prisoner’s _own_. I looked like a proper fool, I
guess, with th’ mossback an’ his ‘mouthpiece’ both givin’ me th’ ‘ha,
ha.’ Luckily for me, Inspector Purvis happened to be in court an’ of
course his statement that everything had been in order at th’
preliminary trial when he committed th’ man was accepted by the judge,
an’ after a hard fight with th’ defending counsel—who, of course, wanted
to proceed right then an’ there—we got th’ case set over, an’ started in
to investigate. ’Twasn’t much use, though. They—th’ prisoner, his wife,
an’ th’ lawyer—put it all over us—easy. Yes, _sir_, they had th’ bulge
on us, all right, an’ they knew it. Case was dismissed at its second
hearing through lack of evidence—th’ judge intimating, however, that he
was satisfied that there’d been some funny work somewhere, though, under
th’ circumstances he had no alternative but to give th’ prisoner th’
benefit of th’ doubt. Th’ O.C., Purvis, an’ th’ lawyer, well-nigh
crucified me with their remarks. Been mighty careful ever since, yu’
bet!

“A constable named Mason nailed him later, though, for stealing a horse.
He had him dead to rights an’ made a better job of things than me. My
‘rube’ got three years. I had charge of th’ escort when we took him,
along with some others, up to th’ ‘Pen.’ It was then that he told me the
whole business. He’d fixed it up with his wife th’ night she come to see
him in th’ cells. When she came out with that gunny-sack, she’d put one
of their own calf-hides in on top of his clothes. That’s what made th’
sack look so big. How in h—l he ever managed to snake _my_ sack from
alongside me on th’ seat—without me feelin’ him—swop them two hides, an’
then put it back again, was a corker, but he managed it, somehow, an’
dropped th’ real ’un on th’ trail, where his wife, followin’ us up in
th’ dark on a saddle-horse, snaffled it an’ took it home in quick shape
an’ burnt it.”

This story, delivered with the Sergeant’s characteristic humorous,
arrogant abruptness, caused his listeners—in spite of the gravity of the
circumstances attending its telling—considerable amusement. It was a
curious anecdote for a man to relate of himself, especially in the midst
of the somewhat grim situation under which they were met, but it was
quite in keeping with Benton’s strange, complex character.

The three men lay silent awhile after this, each busy with his own
reflections. Presently Gallagher, who was gazing absently at the scar on
the policeman’s cheek, said quietly:

“It was yu’ killed ‘Slim’ Cashell, over to Pitman, wasn’t it, Sargint?”

At the question the lazy good humor died out of Benton’s face strangely.
Bleak and inscrutable became his expression on the instant—lowering and
sinister. His far-away, ruthless eyes began to glow with their peculiar
baleful light. It was the sun suddenly enveloped by a storm-cloud.

“Aye,” he said darkly, and a long pause ensued. “It was me or him,” he
went on, in a cold, even, passionless voice. “An’ my way o’ thinkin’
_an’_ actin’ at such show-downs is th’ same, I reckon, as old Israel
Hands’—a certain gentleman o’ fortune in a book I guess yu’ve never
read, Barney.... ‘Him as strikes first is my fancy; dead men don’t bite;
them’s my views—amen, so be it.’ ... He had his chance, anyway, an’ he
left me his card, which I’ll pack to my grave,” he ended significantly,
touching the scar.

The flies began to buzz around the carcass and the steady “munch, munch”
of the feeding horses sounded in their ears, whilst the sun, blazing
hotly down upon them without the mercy of a cooling breeze, sent up
little shimmering heat-waves from the sagebrush-dotted parched ground.
Shorty presently found his voice again.

“Sargint,” he began, with a certain surly respect that it was noticeable
had hitherto been omitted, “d’yu’ mind me askin’ yu’ a question?”

Ellis glanced at him indifferently, his deep-set gray eyes wide with
their peculiar, aggressive blank stare.

“Go ahead—what is it?” he said.

Shorty licked his dry lips. “Was it Jules le Frambois as told yu’
’bout—?”

“No,” interrupted Ellis irritably. “Jules told me nothin’, an’ I asked
him nothin’; an’ what’s more, I’d see yu’ an’ him ten fathoms deep in
h—l before I’d suck up any of yu’ Ghost River crooks’ cursed lies.”

“Were it George Fisk, then—or Scotty Robbins?” the other pursued.

A puzzling, suspicious thought suddenly flashed into the policeman’s
alert brain at the man’s persistence, and instantly his face became an
inscrutable mask.

“Now yu’re talkin’,” he answered meaningly.

His words produced a horrible change in the weather-beaten, sinister
countenance of his prisoner.

“By ——, I was a-thinkin’ so.... Right from th’ fust crack,” he said
spitefully, with an oath. “An’ now I’ll tell _yu’_ somethin’ that ain’t
no lie. Them two same fellers has it fixed to annex old Bob Tucker’s
bunch o’ hawsses—tomorrer night. I was a-goin’ to give ’em a hand, too,”
he continued defiantly, with reckless abandon. “They figures on takin’
’em up to a place they knows of in th’ bush—up Ghost River way—for a
spell, till things quietens down a bit, I guess; then they’ll drive ’em
South, to Paralee Junction, an’ try an’ ship ’em East from there. George
Fisk an’ me had a sorter diff’runce ’bout whackin’ up. He says to me:
‘Take it, or leave it!’—them were his words—‘Me an’ Scotty ain’t exactly
pertic’lar whether yu’ stays in th’ family or not,’ he says.”

He paused for breath. Ellis shot a warning glance that spoke volumes to
Gallagher who, with open-mouthed curiosity, was listening eagerly to
this amazing recital.

“Well, yu’ see they’ve double-crossed yu’, _amigo_,” he said, with a
calm, convincing composure that left no further doubt in his prisoner’s
mind.

“Just a frame-up,” he continued. “Why, them fellers has good steady jobs
punchin’ for th’ Wharnock Cattle Company, which they ain’t got no
intention o’ leavin’ for to run off anybody’s hawsses. They ain’t
exactly stuck on yu’ so, naturally, they figured this was th’ easiest
way to get rid of yu’.”

Shorty spat vindictively, and his pale, lynx-like, merciless eyes glowed
as, with horrible blasphemies and threats, he broke out, reviling the
two alleged informers.

“Frame-up!” he snarled. “Yes! ... on me _an’_ yu’. Why, this very beef
here was for ’em, while they was up cached in the bush. Feller was
a-goin’ to foller ’em up with it in a wagon. _I_ won’t be th’ only one
to get double-crossed, as yu’ll find. Yu’ll be gettin’ one o’ th’ worst
falls _yu’_ ever got in yore natural if yu’ turn this whisper o’ mine
down now. Well, I’ve told yu’, anyways.” And, spent with his rage, he
lay back like a man weary of life.

The practical Gallagher glanced up at the slowly descending sun and
leapt to his feet.

“Time’s gettin’ on,” he said. “I don’t figure on losin’ that beef,
anyways.... It’s a-stiffenin’ up a’ready.”

And, picking up Shorty’s knife, with practised dexterity, he proceeded
to complete what the rustler had begun. Ellis, outwardly nonchalant, but
seething inwardly with excitement at the news, the truth of which was
confirmed unhesitatingly by a certain native intuition he possessed,
lent him a hand at intervals and, presently, with the aid of the
block-and-tackle and a lariat on one of the saddle-horses, the two sides
of roughly dressed beef were slung up to a branch of the big cottonwood
tree, well out of reach of the coyotes.

Catching up the rustler’s patient horse, the Sergeant picked up the
rifle and, after pumping out the shells, thrust it into its scabbard
slung under the legadeiro of the saddle; then, knotting the lines around
the horn, he proceeded to swiftly fashion a hackamore with his lariat.

“Reckon yu’ll have to ride as yu’ are, Shorty,” he said. “I’m a-goin’ to
trail yu’ alongside. What’s up?” he added, as the other, with manacled
hands on the saddle-horn, in the act of mounting, was staring at the
buckskin with interest.

“Some hawss, that, yu’re ridin’, Sargint,” he remarked, with a meaning,
bitter smile.

“Some,” assented Ellis dryly. “Well, yu’ oughta know—bein’ as ’twas yu’
topped him off. _Umbagi!_—let’s _trek_. Don’t forget that hide, Barney!”
he shouted. “Hang onto that brand, too—mind Shorty don’t swop it on
yu’,” he added with grim pleasantry.

The rancher, busily rolling up the bloody mass, with the rustler’s knife
and cleaver inside, responded with one of his customary barking laughs
and, lashing it on behind his saddle, mounted; and with him bringing up
the rear, the little cavalcade turned homewards.

In due time they arrived at the detachment, and the Sergeant, after
carefully searching and locking up his prisoner, withdrew outside the
building to discuss matters with Gallagher.

“Guess there ain’t no Bull-Durham about th’ tip old Bob Tucker’s got
this trip,” he said with conviction. “Wonder who ’twas put that old
stiff wise?”

He was more excited than was his wont, and his brow was contracted with
impatient thought.

“Reckon he’s tellin’ th’ straight tale?” Gallagher ventured dubiously,
with a back-flung jerk of his head to the building.

“Shore,” answered the policeman. “’Twas just a bit o’ lucky gammon I
threw into him—I’d no idea he’d fall for it like he did. Yu’re a witness
of his admissions of being an accomplice o’ these fellers. As a matter
o’ fact,” he continued, with a sly grin, “I haven’t seen either o’
_them_ for well-nigh a month now. ’Twas Little Benny Parker wised me up
’bout what Shorty figured he was goin’ to do for me.... He was down at
th’ post-office one mail day—quite a while ago, this is—an’ these
fellers was all outside together a-talkin’—Jules le Frambois along.
Benny’s only a little nipper, an’ bein’ on th’ other side o’ his horse,
cinchin’ up, I guess they didn’t notice him. Some cute kid, Benny!”

He remained silent for a space, in deep thought.

“Barney,” he said presently, “I’d like yore help in this business.
Scotty Robbins ain’t o’ much account. He’s a poor cur, he is. But Big
George’s some bad man. I’ve got his record from over th’ Line. He’s done
two fives an’ a three-year term for horse-stealin’, an’ I know for a
fact, too, that he’s a gun artist. He killed two men in a dirty mix-up
at Los Barancedes, over in New Mexico, quite a while back. Th’ Rurales
well-nigh put th’ kibosh on him, but somehow he beat ’em out. So, yu’
see,” he concluded with a whimsical smile, “it ain’t exactly a one-man
job—at night, too. That is, if yu’re willin’?”

His request was met more than half-way.

“Eyah! that I will, Sargint,” the other answered bluntly and briefly. “I
guess I know me duty as a law-abidin’ man should.” He had, in his brief
acquaintance, formed a profound respect for the fearless man who sought
his assistance.

“I know it’s not exactly a civilian’s end o’ th’ deal to get shoved into
takin’ unnecessary risks,” Ellis went on. “If I had time I’d ride out to
Buffalo Wallow an’ get Nicholson—he’s about due there, on patrol. But I
haven’t ... an’ this lay’s supposed to come off tomorrow night. Besides,
I wanta go an’ see Tucker. Pity old Boswell, th’ J.P.’s, gone East. I’d
a got yu’ sworn in as a ‘special.’ So yu’ see how it is,” he ended
simply.

“Eyah!” said Gallagher, with a grim heartiness; “don’t yu’ worry over
nothin’ son. My name’s Barney Gallagher. I kin ‘trail me coat’ as good
as me father or me grandfather ever did. Yu’ll find I’m right there with
th’ goods.”

Ellis regarded the speaker’s hard-featured face with its twinkling
Irish-blue eyes, and his angular, powerful frame.

“Yu’ just bet yu’ are, Barney,” he murmured thoughtfully. “Yu’ just bet
yu’ are. See here; look! I’ll mosey on over to Tucker’s first thing in
th’ mornin’; an’ I’ll find out, if I can—without tellin’ him
nothin’—what he knows. Shorty’ll be safe enough locked up here while
we’re away, an’ if we nail these other two we can take th’ whole bunch
into Sabbano for their preliminary trial. I’ll be back mid-day, an’
towards evenin’ we’ll slide out.”

Their arrangements thus settled, Gallagher departed to his ranch, and
Ellis proceeded to cook supper for himself and his prisoner. Later he
fixed up the horses for the night and, on second thought, after
examining Johnny’s hoof with a satisfied scrutiny, and leading him
around a little, he wrenched off the remaining shoes and turned him
loose in the pasture, where there was good feed and running water.

“Go to it, old boy,” he chuckled, amused at that animal’s antics as,
delighted with his unwonted freedom, the horse, after a roll or two,
sailed off with a joyous kick and squeal, his previous limp now hardly
perceptible.

Ellis watched him lovingly a minute or two then, lighting his pipe, he
reentered the detachment.



CHAPTER VIII


    He was a dirty, aged man, who to his bottle clung,
    And ever and anon did curie in some queer foreign tongue,
    The tale he told was passing strange, yet pitiful, withal—
    Of the lonely, care-fraught, troublous life
    He lived from Fall to Fall.

    —_The Old Nester_

An uneventful hour and a half’s ride next morning brought Benton within
sight of Tucker’s homestead at Fish Creek. Leaving the main trail, he
struck into an old cow-track, which short cut wound its way through the
thick brush on the west side of the latter’s pasture, emerging from
which, into a clear open space, he found the gate that he sought.

What little feed there had been inside the few fenced-in acres was
cropped as close as if sheep had been herded there, and a bunch of
horses and a few gaunt cows wandered disconsolately hither and thither,
roaming the fence round and groping through the wire strands at the
nourishment that lay just beyond their reach. It was a pitiful sight and
Ellis, with his love for animals, felt a spasm of anger pass through him
as he noticed bad festering barbed-wire scratches on more than one of
the poor hungry brutes.

“Th’ cursed, scared old fool,” he muttered savagely. “I reckon he’s got
reason to be, though, if that whisper o’ Shorty’s is straight goods.”

He rode slowly across the parched, dusty ground and, fording the creek,
passed through the gate at the opposite end. Circling around the stables
and corrals, he dismounted outside the weather-beaten shack in which the
old man passed his lonely life. Dropping the buckskin’s lines, the
Sergeant climbed up the broken steps and shoved his way in through the
half-opened door.

With an oath he reeled back and his hand streaked like lightning to his
hip. For a second or two he remained perfectly motionless then, a grim
smile slowly relaxing his features, he dropped his hand and gazed
silently at the strange scene that met his eyes.

He beheld an under-sized, grizzled-bearded old man about sixty who, with
the vacuous smile of the partially intoxicated, was leveling a rifle at
him with shaking hands. He was seated in an arm-chair, at a rough table,
that was littered with dirty crockery and cooking utensils. An empty
glass was in front of him.

“_Saku bona, N’kos_,” greeted Ellis mockingly.

“_Saku bona, Umlungu,_” came the guttural response, while the wavering
rifle barrel slowly descended and the shriveled, stringy old throat
worked convulsively. “_Allemachtig_—but I thort you wos that _verdomde
schelm_—Short an’ Dirty—come a-nosin’ arahnd agin.”

Born and bred in the East End of London, thirty years on the South
African veldt and ten in Canada, had not depreciated Tucker’s accent
much, and his speech was a curious jargon of Afrikander, Cockney, and
Western vernacular.

“H—l!” said the policeman irritably. “Is this th’ way yu’ greet yore
friends these days? Been gettin’ yore Dutch up, eh?—an’ early, at that.
What’s th’ matter with Shorty? _He’s_ all right! Wen wos ’e arahnd?”

“Yestiddy mornin’,” piped Tucker. “I tell yer I cawn’t abide that
feller. I dahn’t like th’ looks of ’im an’ I ain’t a-goin’ to ’ave ’im
come a-messin’ abaht ’ere ... ’e ain’t up ter no good. _Whau!_—I’ll
_skiet die verdomde schepsel_,” he finished with a screech, and raising
the rifle again.

“Here! Yu’ come across with that gun!” snapped the Sergeant. “Yu’ make
me nervous. Come on now, Bob—let’s have it. D’yu’ hear?”

Alternately threatening and cajoling, he at length obtained the weapon
and, jerking open the lever, pumped the magazine empty of shells. These
he gathered up and put in his pocket.

“Got any more?” he inquired, ledging the rifle on some pegs.

The old man glowered at him silently, and pointed with a shaking finger
to a cupboard, where a minute search produced two more packets of
cartridges, which speedily joined the others.

“A man that’s _dronk_ ain’t got no business monkey’n’ around with a
gun,” remarked the policeman judicially.

“You’re a _leugenaar_” hiccuped Tucker indignantly. “I ain’t _dronk_.”

“No—yu’ ain’t,” retorted the Sergeant ironically. “Yu’ve got th’ makin’s
of a first-class jag, though. Th’ smell of yore breath’s mighty
refreshin’. Yu’ wanta do what’s right when a man wearin’ th’ King’s
uniform comes arahnd yore _laager_.”

The implied appeal to his hospitality was not lost upon the other who,
arising with difficulty, walked unsteadily over to a dirty sofa and,
groping underneath, dragged forth a half-full Imperial quart bottle of
“Burke’s Irish.”

“_Whau!_ Got it cached, eh? I _korner_,” chuckled Ellis, reaching for a
glass and pouring himself out a generous libation. “_Allemachtig_, but
I’m dry this mornin’. Wish this was good, cold tickey beer instead o’
whiskey. _N’dipe manzi?_”

His elderly host, relaxing back into his arm-chair again, indicated a
bucket and dipper. Benton mixed his drink and raised his glass.

“_Salue_,” he muttered, and drank.

“_Drink hael_,” the other responded gruffly.

Putting down his empty glass, the Sergeant seated himself and proceeded
to roll a cigarette.

“See here; look,” he began, licking the paper across. “Yu’ll be gettin’
_dronk_ an’ doin’ some poor sucker a mischief with that gun if yu’ ain’t
careful; an’ then yu’ll most likely land in _die tronk_ on a murder
charge, _Myjnheer_ Bob Tucker.

“Say,” he continued suspiciously, as a sudden thought struck him. “Yu’
was over to th’ detachment to see me th’ day before yesterday, wasn’t
yu’?”

“_Ja_,” answered the old man sulkily. “An’ yer ain’t never abaht w’en a
feller wants yer.”

Ignoring the testy reply, the policeman resumed: “When yu’ left Barney
Gallagher’s which trail d’yu’ come home by?—th’ long ’un, or th’ short
’un through my pasture?”

“Th’ short ’un,” said Tucker wonderingly. “W’y?”

“Anythin’ happen to yu’ on th’ trail?” inquired his interlocutor.

The old man hesitated a moment. “_Ja!_ Did ’ave a bit of a shindig,” he
admitted shamefacedly.

“_Ja_,” said the Sergeant. “I thought so; an’ now I’ll tell yu’ what
happened. Yu’ was _dronk_ an’ let yore lines catch under th’ end o’ th’
_disselboom_, an’ yore team up an’ run away on yu’. Managed to pull ’em
up, somehow, I suppose. Providence always seems to hand out a special
dispensation to fellers that’s full, else more’n likely it’s th’
hospital _yu’d_ be in instead o’ that chair.”

“Well, I pulled _die schelms_, anyway,” said the other. “An’ I ’ad to go
back abaht ’arf a mile fer a bag o’ chicken feed as fell aht.”

“_Ja!_ ... an’ a bag o’ blasted nails yu’ had aboard fell aht wiv’ it,”
mimicked Ellis, irritably. “An’ my hawss picked one of ’em up in his
nigh-fore an’ he’s been out o’ business ever since.”

The old man, fumbling with trembling fingers about his waistcoat,
produced a short day pipe and, filling it, proceeded to smoke.

“If yu’ don’t let up on th’ _dop_ for a space,” resumed the policeman
severely, “yu’ll be havin’ fancies again—bad ’uns, too.”

The abandoned Tucker cocked a boiled eye at his would-be mentor.

“Tchkk!” he clucked testily. “Rats ... an’ sech like. I’ve ’ad ’em....
Yer cawn’t skeer me wiv yer _fancies_,” he shrilled suddenly, with
senile defiance. “’Ow abaht _you_? ’Tis an Aberdeen man’s ‘Say w’en!’
yer poured aht fer yourself, I noticed—an’ then yer turns rahnd an’
torks ter me like a bloomin’ _unfundusi_. _Whau!_ I _korner fancies_!”
he wound up bitterly.

The Sergeant swallowed the home-thrust with a tolerant grin.

“Ain’t figurin’ on practisin’ what I preach just yet,” he rejoined.

“I’m a pore old feller,” whimpered Tucker, dropping his pipe and
beginning to weep with maudlin self-pity. “Yer all tries to ‘come it’
over me.”

The gray beard jerked up and down convulsively with his sobs.

“Aw, h—l! come, now,” said Benton, not unkindly. “Yu’ bring a lot o’
yore troubles on yoreself. Why, don’t yu’ sell out here, Dad, an’ go
back East to yore son there, where yu’d be looked after properly? Yu’re
too old to be livin’ here on yore lonesome like this.”

The old man gazed drearily through the open door.

“I _wuz_ dahn theer two years agone,” he said huskily, and with a
querulous, childish simplicity that moved his hearer more than that
individual cared to show. “My ’Arry’s a good lad, but that theer _vrouw_
o’ ’is kills my pig properly. Nah!—there ain’t no peace theer. An’ th’
_kinders_ cries, an’ w’enever ’e tries ter stan’ hup fer hisself she
hups an’ knocks ’im off th’ perch reg’lar. She started on me, too,” he
went on, spitting vindictively. “But I pulled aht of it an’ come back
’ere. I ’member one night I went ’ome wiv a bottle ter ’ave a smile wiv
me b’y. Th’ kitchen door were shut, an’ I c’ud ’ear ’em a-goin’ to it
fer fair. All of a sudden there come such a smack, that I guess she were
a-tryin’ ter prove whether ’is block or ’er mop-stick were th’ ’ardest.
I weren’t a-goin’ buttin’ in where dry pokes an’ ’ard words wuz a-goin’,
so I _trekked_ ant of it quick—dahn ter th’ pub on th’ corner o’
Iroquois Street, an’ got _dronk_ peaceful on me own. Nah,” he concluded,
spitting again contemptuously, “folks is best single.”

The Sergeant looked hard at the careworn, dissipated old face,
doubting—and not for the first time, either—whether, under that simple
exterior, there lay not a better philosophy than he himself could boast
of.

“Aye,” he agreed slowly. “Like as not yu’re right, Dad—like as not. Now,
what was it yu’ come to see me about?”

The old man fidgeted in his chair uneasily.

“You mind me a-tellin’ yer once abaht that theer old nitchie
‘Roll-in-th’-Mud,’ as I fahnd larst year in th’ bush, wiv ’is leg broke,
an’ took back ter th’ Agency ag’in?”

The policeman nodded. He had heard the oft-repeated tale more times than
he could remember.

“Well,” continued his host. “Th’ old feller comes arahnd ter see me now
an’ ag’in—just ter say ‘Howdy’ an’ cadge a bit o’ baccer. Well, th’
mornin’ I come over ter see you I wuz ahtside th’ stable _inspannin’_ me
team, meanin’ fer ter _trek_ over ter Barney Gallagher’s fer some
chicken feed an’ stuff, w’en ’e comes a-jiggin’ by, a-_sjambokin’_ ’is
old cayuse like them nitchies ullus does. ’E pulls hup w’en ’e sees me,
an’ grins. ‘Howdy,’ says I. ‘Howdy,’ says ’e. I dahn’t savvy ’is
_indaba_, so we ullus mykes sign tork. ’E seemed kind o’ excited like
an’ ’e catches me by th’ coat an’ leads me rahnd th’ back o’ th’ stable,
where we cud see th’ ’orses in th’ field. ’E starts in ter wive ’is arms
like as if ’e wuz a-tryin’ ter imityte a bloke a-drivin’ ’em aw’y to’rds
th’ West, then ’e touches ’is chest an’ grunts ‘_Naymoyer, naymoyer_,’
two or three times, an’ shykes ’is ’ead. I catches on ter wot ’e meant,
quick ... cudn’t ’elp it. ’E wuz a-meanin’ that some bloke wuz a-goin’
ter try an’ run ’em off from me, an’ wanted ’im ter ’elp ’im an’ ’e
wudn’t. That’s wot ’e meant,” wound up Tucker breathlessly, turning an
imploring, frightened face to the Sergeant. “An’ I figger that theer
bloke wuz that same _schelm_, Short an’ Dirty.”

For reasons of his own, the policeman tried to allay the old man’s
shrewd suspicions.

“Now, don’t yu’ go for to get a-blamin’ poor Shorty for everythin’. He
ain’t figurin’ to do yu’ no harm. P’r’aps th’ nitchie was only meanin’
yore stock wanted turnin’ out of that god-forsaken pasture o’ yores,
onto th’ range again, where they can rustle a bite. It’s a blasted
shame, yore coopin’ ’em up like that. That’s what old ‘Roll-in-th’-Mud’
meant.”

Thus he chided, but Tucker only shook his gray head obstinately, and
clung firmly to his pet conviction.

“Had any more visitors th’ last two or three days besides Shorty?”
queried Benton.

The old man struggled with his liquor-fumed wits awhile, torturing his
memory.

“Let’s see,” he said slowly. “W’y, yes!... That theer young
feller—Scotty Robbins, I think’s ’is nyme—wot works fer th’ Wharnock
outfit ... ’e come arahnd abaht fower d’ys ago. ’E’s come ’ere ter see
me lots o’ times. ’E said once as ’ow ’e wished ’e ’ad th’ money ter buy
me plice. ’E seems a nice, kind-’earted young feller—that. Sometimes ’e
brings another feller wot works wiv ’im along too. ’E’s a big chap—’is
nyme’s Fisk.”

“Yes,” said Ellis meditatively. “I know ’em. They’re both nice,
kind-’earted fellers, as yu’ say.”

He looked at his watch and jumped to his feet. “Well, I reckon I’ll be
pullin’ back,” he said. “I’ll go on over to th’ Reserve sometime soon,
and see old Roll-in-th’-Mud, an’ have a palaver with him through an
interpreter.”

The old man arose shakily and, with a string of Dutch and Zulu
maledictions on his supposed enemies, put a trembling, withered hand on
the policeman’s sleeve.

“Yer won’t let any o’ th’ _schelms_ put anyfink over on me, will yer,
son?” he said wistfully.

Benton turned and looked at him kindly, and a wave of compassionate pity
for the helpless old reprobate who besought his protection, not unmixed
with anger at the men who aimed to despoil him, stirred his deep,
sympathetic nature strangely.

“Now, don’t yu’ worrit none. I’ll look after yu’, Dad,” he said gently.
“Only yu’ wanta take a tumble an’ turn that stock o’ yores out tomorrow
... they’re starvin’. An’ don’t yu’ go a-gettin’ full an’ monkey’n’
around with that gun no more, else I won’t,” he added warningly. “I’m
a-goin’ to keep them shells for a time, to insure yore good behavior.”

Tucker, overwhelming him with abject promises of immediate and lasting
reform, tottered out into the open after him.

“W’en I see that theer buckskin ’orse o’ Barney Gallagher’s thru’ th’
winder, I made shore as it wuz Short an’ Dirty comin’ arahnd ag’in,” he
piped. “W’y, _’e_ used ter ride ’im.”

“_Ja_,” answered Ellis enigmatically, as he swung into the saddle.
“_Used._ Well, so long, Dad. Mind what I told yu’, now. I’ll be around
to see yu’ again soon.”



CHAPTER IX


    “Saint Pether ... who hold’st th’ Keys av Hivin—
    Oi’m poor ... an’ Oi’m old ... comin’ sixty-sivin—
    Thru’ booze ... ? Eyah!—partly ... but honust, Oi’ve bin—
    Saint Pether ... Och!—won’t ye—plaze—let me—come in?”

    —_The Derelict_

With a feeling of exultation he loped swiftly away. His morning had not
been wasted, he reflected. “All over but th’ shoutin’,” he muttered.

“Wish I’d got time to go an’ see that nitchie, though. Can’t make th’
Agency today, now. Well, let’s see how this comes off. I can get that
old beggar any old time.”

Then, suddenly, an uneasy thought crossed his mind. What if they didn’t
show up. If they were hanging around somewhere close at hand, and had
seen him coming and going from Tucker’s. His alert eyes flickered around
the rolling stretch of prairie unceasingly, but nothing more disturbing
than a few scattered bunches of horses and cattle appeared to his
vision. Presently, topping the summit of a small rise on the familiar
trail, he came within sight of the detachment again.

Suddenly he pulled up sharply.

“Why, hello!” he ejaculated. “What th’ devil’s up now?”

For, in the distance, he saw a team and wagon outside the dwelling, with
two figures scuffling at the horses’ heads, and the wind brought to his
ears the sounds of a violent altercation. Jabbing the spurs into the
buckskin, he raced towards them, and his speed soon brought him up to
the combatants, who were just picking themselves up from a clinch on the
ground. In one of them he immediately recognized a rancher in the
district named Pryce—commonly known as “Ginger” Pryce, from the somewhat
sanguine color of his hair and corresponding temperament. The other, a
tall, stooping, shrunken-faced old man, was a stranger to him. The
latter’s face was bleeding, and he was gasping for breath from his
encounter with his younger antagonist with long, wheezy, asthmatical
sobs that shook his emaciated body terribly.

“Here, now! What in h—l’s this racket about?” shouted the Sergeant,
dismounting.

Spitting, and breathing heavily, Pryce burst out: “Them hawsses an’
wagon is mine!” He choked with his rage, and paused to regain his wind.
“Yu’ ’member I come around to yu’ when they was stole ’bout three weeks
ago?” he ran on excitedly. “I was comin’ along th’ trail ’bout a mile
nor’west o’ here when I meets this old stiff comin’ sailin’ along with
_my_ team an’ wagon, as bold as yu’ like. He says he bought ’em, an’
he’s showed me a bill o’ sale that he says he got off’n th’ feller he
bought ’em from ... but I’ll gamble it’s only a faked-up one, an’ _he’s_
th’ feller what stole ’em. I made him drive on here to yore place. Yu’
wasn’t in, so we gets arguin’, an’ he calls me a ‘red-headed rooster.’ I
won’t take that off’n any man—old or young.”

“Why didn’t yu’ put th’ boots to him while yu’ was at it?” said Ellis,
with sneering sarcasm. “He’s only an old man an’ I guess yu’ could easy
do it.

“Well, old gentleman,” he continued. “What about this outfit? Where’d
yu’ get ’em?”

Pale and exhausted, the aged man strove to recover from his distress.
His agitation was pitiable, and the Sergeant gave him time and waited
quietly.

Speech suddenly broke from him, in a torrent of expostulation.

“I didn’t steal ’em!” he shrilled, in a thin, high, cracked falsetto. “I
didn’t!—I bought ’em honest ... an’ I’ve got th’ bill o’ sale to prove
it. I’m an honest man ... always have bin ... an’—an’ this feller here’s
abused me an’ beat me up ... an’ he’s twenty years younger’n me, if he’s
a day. O-oh, o-oh, oh, my God!...” And the tears ran down his lined old
face into his gray beard.

“Yu’ did steal ’em, you old liar—yu’ know yu’ did!” Pryce commenced to
yell back at him.

“Aw, quit yore squallin’, Pryce,” snarled the policeman angrily, “or
I’ll damned soon give yu’ somethin’ to squall about. This ain’t a dog
fight. _I’m_ runnin’ this inquiry, an’ I’ll have it conducted in a
proper manner. Just yu’ keep yore traps closed—both of yu’—an’ only open
’em to answer my questions. D’yu’ hear?”

This roughly administered tonic had its effect, and the agitators grew
perceptibly quieter. The Sergeant watched them narrowly.

“Now, let’s start in again,” he said. “Yu’, Pryce! Yore team, wagon an’
harness disappeared on th’—th’—wait a bit, I’ve got it in my
notebook—‘on th’ sixth o’ June. Team o’ dark bays, branded E four on th’
right shoulder. One with white star on forehead an’ two white
hind-fetlocks, an’ t’other, white strip on forehead, an’ a small
kidney-sore on left side o’ back. Heavy, double-stitched harness, with
brass-mounted hames. Wagon—Studebaker—almost new.’”

He leisurely examined the brands on the team and nodded as if satisfied.

“That’s yore team all right,” he said. “Now, let’s have a look at th’
wagon. ‘Studebakers’ is common enough. Is there any marks, or somethin’
yu’ can positively swear to, about it—harness, th’ same?”

The other, nodding sulkily, indicated various features of
identification.

With a final scrutiny, Ellis turned to the old man who, by this time,
had recovered sufficiently to give fairly coherent answers.

“Let’s have a look at yore bill o’ sale, Dad,” he said.

The other, fumbling with shaking old hands about his pockets, at length
produced a dirty folded paper. Benton opened it and proceeded to scan it
closely, with a running commentary.

“‘Sold to Hiram Bryan. One bay team. Branded E four on right shoulder.’
H’m, h’m. ‘Thirteenth of June.’ Unlucky day for yu’, Dad. ‘One horse,
two white’—h’m, h’m, descriptions correspond O. K. ‘Two hundred an’
fifty.’ Got th’ outfit cheap enough ... but I don’t know ... nigh horse
is all right, but th’ off’n ain’t worth a d—n with them bog-spavins.
Seems to be made out in order, all right. Hello! Whose signature’s this?
‘Gordon Brown’!” He looked up suddenly. “Now, perhaps you’ll tell me
who, an’ what like of a feller this ‘Mister Gordon Brown’ is?”

The old man gazed at his interlocutor out of watering, rheumy eyes.

“Why, he’s a big feller, with a black beard,” he piped unhesitatingly.
And slowly and haltingly, with heavy, asthmatical breathing, he began
his labored explanation.

“I’d just come over th’ Line, from Nebrasky. Things was bad down ther’,
an’ I figgered on filin’ on a bit of a homestead somewheres around this
part o’ th’ country. I was in th’ hotel at Sabbano when I first met this
feller—him an’ his partner, a younger chap—an’ we got a-talkin’
together. He said as how they’d had a homestead down this ways, but had
got burnt out ... so they was—or he was—goin’ ter take up ’nother place,
somewheres up in th’ bush, west o’ here ... later. I told him as I had a
bit o’ money an’ was a-figgerin’ on buyin’ a wagon an’ team ... an’ he
says: ‘Why, we’ll sell yu’ our’n ... we ain’t got no use fer ’em jest
now, an’ afterwards I kin offer yu’ a job—freightin’ some stuff o’ ours
up to our new place.’ He said as how him an’ his partner were a-workin’
fer an outfit called th’ Wharnock Cattle Company.” (Ellis started
involuntarily.) “They was a freightin’ some supplies back ter th’ outfit
with a four-horse team, an’ he says ter me: ‘Yu’ kin come back with us,
ef yu’ like, an’ see th’ team an’ wagon ... an’ ef yu’ buy ’em, I guess
I kin get yu’ a job teamin’ fer th’ company till we’re ready ter pull
out ter our own place.’ They’d got a big load on, so it was a two-days’
trip, an’ th’ night we gets ther’, he says: ‘We’ve got ’em bein’ kept
over at a friend o’ our’n. Me partner here’ll go get ’em in th’
mornin’.’ Well, th’ young feller brings ’em in th’ next afternoon an’,
as they looked as th’ kind I wanted, an’ th’ price bein’ all right why,
I buys ’em, an’ he gives me this bill o’ sale.”

“D’yu’ pay him cash?” inquired Ellis.

The old man nodded wearily. “Two hunnerd an’ fifty dollars,” he
murmured. “I on’y had a hundred left, but they got me inter a poker game
at th’ outfit, an’ they skinned me o’ that. Th’ big feller, he fixed it
up with th’ foreman fer me ter work ther’ with me team fer a week or
two. Th’ day before yestiddy he comes ter me an’ he says: ‘Termorrer
mornin’ yu’ get yore team an’ pull out fer Cherry Creek. We’re ready ter
quit now, an’ there’s some stuff down ther’ as we wants yu’ ter freight
up ter our place in th’ bush.’ He tells me th’ way, an’ he says: ‘Yu’
hit th’ trail that goes south, past a feller called Barney Gallagher’s.
Don’t yu’ _stop_ ther’, though. Ther’ll be a feller with red hair, on a
white hawss, meet yu’ somewheres around ther’, and’ he’ll show yu’ wher’
ther’ stuff is, an’ help yu’ ter get it loaded.’ Well, I pulls out, an’
comes over here, an’ fust thing I know is, I meets up with this feller”
(here he indicated Pryce), “an’ he holds me up, an’ says as how th’ team
an’ wagon’s his’n,” he wound up, with a hopeless inflection in his
tones.

There followed a long silence. The policeman remained in deep thought
awhile.

“See here; look,” he said. “Yu’ tell me as near as yu’ can, what this
big feller’s like.”

The old man looked at him absently a moment.

“Eh?” he said. “Why, he’s a big feller with a black beard. They calls
him ‘George’ around th’ outfit. Th’ young feller ... they calls _him_
‘Scotty.’ I dunno what his other name is. All my dealin’s has bin mostly
with th’ big feller—‘George.’ He does all th’ talkin’ ... an’ th’ young
chap ... seems ter do as he tells him.”

The Sergeant nodded gravely. “That settles it,” he said sharply.

Pryce, who, all this time, had been an eager listener, now sputtered
excitedly: “Why, why—that’s George Fisk an’ Scotty Robbins he’s
a-meanin’. Must be. H—l! _They’re_ all right. I know ’em both well. It
ain’t likely as _they’d_ come a-sneakin’ ’round a feller’s place while
he was away an’ steal his outfit. I’m a-goin’ ter ride over ter th’
Wharnock outfit right now an’ see’f this old gink’s a-tellin’ th’
truth,” he ended, with a spiteful glance at the old man.

Ellis turned and regarded him with his peculiar, blank, aggressive
stare.

“Well, I guess yu’ _ain’t_,” he drawled coldly. “That’s _my_ end o’ this
business. I know more about them same two fellers’n what yu’ do. I know
this much, too. From information I’ve received, yu’ wouldn’t find ’em
_at_ th’ outfit just now, anyways.”

The other stared at him sullenly.

“That ther’ team an’ wagon’s mine, no matter whether them fellers is at
home or abroad,” he began blusteringly. “An’ I guess I’ll take ’em back
with me.”

“Reckon yu’ve got another guess comin’, then,” rejoined the policeman
dryly. “Th’ outfit may be your’n, all right, but yu’ don’t get ’em till
this business is all cleared up, an’ th’ Court orders ’em to be returned
to yu’. When I’m ready, I’ll notify yu’ to come into Sabbano—with yore
witnesses, yu’ understand—to prove yore ownership. D’yu’ get me now?” he
rapped out harshly, with a rising inflection in his tones.

The red-headed rancher regarded him with a sulky, brooding stare, the
premeditated retort dying on his lips. For there was _that_ in the
Sergeant’s face and voice, just then, that forbade any talking back; so,
with a last, lingering, dissatisfied look at his newly found property,
he slowly mounted his waiting horse and rode away.

Benton noted the course he took with grim satisfaction. No fear of his
meeting _them_ now. He was going home, all right—his place _lay_
nor’east, he reflected. _They_ would come in from the sou’west. He
turned to the old man, whom the bill of sale had named as Bryan.

“Unhitch that team an’ put ’em in th’ stable, Bryan,” he said. “An’ take
th’ harness off ’em. I’m a-goin’ to hold yu’ on a charge of vagrancy
till this mix-up’s all squared out.”

Slowly the other complied with the Sergeant’s order and, leading the
horses into the stable, endeavored to unharness them; but the weight of
the heavy, brass-mounted hames seemed too much for his strength to raise
and hang on the stable-pegs. He staggered and almost fell, the Sergeant
coming to his assistance, and giving him a hand.

“An’ _yu’_ figured on takin’ up a homestead, Dad?” he said
incredulously. “Why, with yore age, an th’ shape yu’re in, it’d kill
yu’. Yu’ ain’t fit for nothin’ like _that_. Whatever d’yu’ come over
here for? Ain’t yu’ no friends—relations, or family, back where yu’ come
from—to look after yu’?”

The old man shook his gray head despondently and, with a weary sigh and
long-drawn whistling breaths, sank down on an oat bin.

“I did hev one time,” he wheezed, in the cracked, querulous tones of the
aged. “Plenty o’ money, too! Oh, I hed lots o’ friends—then. I raised
four of a family—three boys an’ a girl. They’re all married, an’ livin’
in different parts o’ th’ States. They don’t bother none over th’ ol’
man—now. Th’ wife—she was th’ last one as I hed in th’ world ter call
friend. She died last Christmas, so I come over here. Son,” he said,
with an impressive solemnity, pausing a moment, “whin yu’ see a man o’
my years down an’ out, what d’yu’ gen’rally figger’s wrong?”

Ellis, with an inscrutable face, was thoughtfully studying the
venerable, weary countenance of his elderly vis-a-vis.

“Booze?” he queried slowly.

“I reckon yu’ hev it,” was the hopeless reply. “Me own worst friend!
But—I hev always bin honest.”

The policeman considered the other’s face a moment or two longer, then
suddenly made up his mind.

“I’ll take a chance on it,” he muttered; then, raising his voice. “See
here; look, Bryan,” he said. “Sizin’ things up as they’ve panned out up
to date, I believe yu’ve been tellin’ me th’ straight tale, all right.
Now, I’ve got another feller in here—locked up. There’s only one cell.
But I’m not a-goin’ to shut yu’ in with a dirty criminal like him, if
yu’ll give me yore word as th’ honest man yu’ call yoreself, yu’ won’t
try to skip out on me. I’ll be away tonight—or th’ best part o’ th’
night—on duty. So yu’ an’ this feller’ll be alone in here. Yu’re not to
talk to him, mind. Yu’ can give him a cup o’ water thru’ th’ bars if he
wants it, but no matches or anythin’ to smoke. I’m takin’ no chances on
a fire while I’m away. Yu’ can just lay around an’ sleep on my cot, an’
let that feller think as yu’re a-watchin’ him. ’Member,” he added
warningly, “if yu’ _did_ try to skip, I could easy catch yu’ ag’in ...
an’ it’d be a sure sign yu’ was a guilty accomplice o’ these fellers. I
need yu’ as an all-important witness, an’ this is th’ only chance yu’ve
got of gettin’ clear. D’yu’ get me now?”

The old man, seeming grateful at the trust thus reposed in him, eagerly
gave the required promise.

“Son,” he said solemnly. “I give yu’ my word. Yu’re treatin’ me like a
white man.”



CHAPTER X


    Now, gallant Saxon, hold thine own!
    No maiden’s hand is round thee thrown!
    That desperate grasp thy frame might feel,
    Through bars of brass and triple steel!—
    They tug, they strain! down, down they go,
    The Gael above, Fitz-James below.

    —_Scott_

Seven o’clock came, and the Sergeant, with a few parting instructions to
old Hiram Bryan, saddled up and departed for Gallagher’s.

The latter who, pipe in mouth, was seated on the steps of his shack
busily splicing a hondu in a rawhide lariat, or riata, looked up at the
other’s approach, and glanced curiously at the Sergeant’s unfamiliar
dress and mount.

“Hello,” he said waggishly. “Fancy-dress ball, eh? What’s th’ idea?”

For Benton was riding the prisoner’s white horse and also wearing that
gentleman’s chaps, coat, hat, and white handkerchief.

Ellis grinned. “They’re expaictin’ Shorty,” he said. “Mustn’t disappoint
’em.”

Half an hour later the two men rode slowly along the trail leading to
Fish Creek. The evening shadows began to close in, but they dawdled,
keeping a wary look-out and talking in low, guarded tones, for voices
carry far over the range on still nights.

“Sergeant,” said Gallagher casually, during their progress. “’Member, it
ain’t that I’m grudgin’ givin’ yu’ this bit o’ help but, d’yu’ know,
I’ve often thort it kinder queer-like as yu’ don’t get ’em to give yu’
another man to help yu’ out here?”

Ellis did not reply immediately. “I could,” he said presently. “But
what’d be th’ use? They’d most likely send me along some gentlemanly
young ‘Percy,’ just fresh up from Regina, who didn’t know his mouth from
a hole in th’ ground. It ain’t no child’s play—handlin’ th’ crooked
stock cases in a district like this. A man’s got to be onto his job
right from th’ drop o’ th’ hat. Look how they put it over
Williamson—what! He should never have come here. He should have stayed
with that staff job in th’ Q.M.’s store ... never did nothin’ else since
he’s bin in th’ Force. They saddled me with a peach once, I mind—when I
was stationed at Goddard. He was a nice, well-meanin’ kid, all right,
but all th’ same he queered two o’ th’ best cases I’ve ever had,” he
ended bitterly.

They rode side by side in silence awhile.

“Yu’ heeled?” inquired the Sergeant quietly. And, as the other nodded,
and tapped his hip significantly: “Mind, though, I ain’t anxious to have
any shootin’ on this business, unless it’s absolutely necessary. I don’t
want no cursed chasin’ in th’ dark, either, with th’ chances o’ th’
hawsses comin’ down wallop, in every doggoned badger-hole around. I
ain’t just figured _how_ I’m a-goin’ to get ’em yet! Can’t tell, this
stage o’ th’ game. It’ll most likely have to be somethin’ almighty
sudden, yu’ can take yore oath o’ that!”

Arriving later at the previously mentioned line of brush that fringed
the west side of Tucker’s pasture, they struck in along the old cow
trail and dismounting about thirty yards from the gate, still within the
shelter of the dense bush, they squatted down and awaited events.

A three-quarter moon showed itself rarely through a thick rift of clouds
and, as their eyes became accustomed to the curious gray light that
flooded everything around, objects within a certain radius stood out
with surprising clearness.

“Lord!” said the policeman in a low undertone, “I wish we could smoke.
’Twon’t do to chance strikin’ a match, though. Reckon they’ll foller th’
fence-line from th’ sou’west angle when they _do_ come. Good job Tucker
ain’t got no dogs to start in yappin’. Guess _he’s_ drunk an’ sleepin’
by now. Good job, too, he don’t know no more’n he does. He’d be
a-runnin’ around all worked up like a flea in a mitt, with that old
Mauser o’ his, an’ shootin’ at th’ moon.”

“We’ll have ter look out for them hawsses o’ our’n a-whinnyin’, too,”
said Gallagher anxiously. “That’s what I’m scared of.”

A slow, dreary hour passed. Ellis arose stiffly, and stretched himself.

“I’m gettin’ tired o’ settin’ here,” he whispered to the other. “I’m
a-goin’ out to th’ edge o’ th’ brush. If either o’ them hawsses starts
in, yu’ cut th’ wind off’n him quick.” And he stole away noiselessly.

He was barely away ten minutes before he came gliding back.

“Here comes somebody,” he whispered. “Along from th’ sou’west angle, as
I figured, too. Guess it’s them, all right. If ’tis, I reckon I’ll have
to jump somethin’ hot off’n th’ brain ’bout gettin’ ’em.”

With all their faculties on the stretch, they held their breaths and
listened intently. Soon their eager ears caught the sound of approaching
horses and the faint creak of leather. Straining their eyes in the
gloom, they presently made out the forms of two riders slowly and
cautiously traversing the cleared strip that lay between the fence and
the line of brush.

Reaching the gate they halted, but making no attempt, as yet, to
dismount or open it, remained lolling on their horses and talking in low
tones.

“Waitin’ for Shorty,” whispered Ellis to Gallagher who, smothering a
chuckle, whispered back: “Some wait!”

Even in that dim light they could see that one of the riders loomed up a
big, bulky shape, in contrast to his slighter-appearing companion.

“That’s Big George, all right,” murmured the rancher into Benton’s ear
as a low, deep bass undertone rumbled to them. “Listen ter that voice o’
his!”

Ready for emergencies, they quietly watched the two dark forms and
patiently waited. Their vigil was short. An unmistakable, smothered oath
came to their ears. The guarded, booming growl of the bigger man, became
more insistent. They saw the slighter shape dismount and, presently the
“tang” of a tightly stretched barbed-wire gate being released and drawn
aside sounded sharply in the stillness. The big shape, still mounted,
slowly disappeared into the shadows beyond, the smaller one resuming his
seat in the saddle and waiting at the opening.

Feverishly the Sergeant weighed the situation. “Scotty” Robbins—and,
without a doubt, it must be he—possessed an extraordinarily fast horse,
he reflected. Even if he _was_ able, under the guise of Shorty, to range
near enough to close, it was not particularly easy to pull a good rider
like Scotty out of the saddle. He would be sure to raise a loud outcry
at the first attempt, and thus warn Fisk. If he once got away, it would
be futile to follow him in the dark.

The emergency caused a wild thought to flash into Benton’s fertile
brain. Why not _rope_ him? Long years of constant practise had rendered
him clever with a lariat. It was worth trying. The tumble would insure
Scotty’s partial silence anyway, and Gallagher could fix the rest,
leaving him free to tackle Big George, whom he knew it would be suicidal
to ever call on to surrender at close range.

Clutching his companion, he whispered tensely: “Now they’re split! I’ll
have to nail Mister Scotty quick, before he gets a chance to make a
breakaway. That roan o’ his—‘Duster’—can run anythin’ around here off’n
its laigs. I’m a-goin’ to try _ropin’_ him. Let’s have that rawhide
riata o’ yores—that ‘black-jack’ o’ mine kinks. Get yore handkerchief
ready, an’ run out an’ cram it into his kisser an’ choke th’ —— if he
starts in to holler. Here, Barney!”—he slipped the latter a pair of
handcuffs—“hold these. Keep ’em open an’ give ’em to me when I say. Now
look out! Gaffle him quick when I jerk him off’n th’ perch.”

Leading Shorty’s horse slowly and heedfully back through the brush, the
way they had come, he mounted and, after carefully shaking out a loop to
his liking in the riata, which he trailed in readiness with back-flung
hand, he circled around until he reached the clear space between the
fence and the brush.

Suddenly his borrowed mount nickered. Scotty Robbins started nervously
at the sound, but a sigh of relief escaped him as the shape of the
familiar white horse became revealed to his vision.

“Oh, Shorty—that yu’?” he called out, in a loud, tense undertone.

There was no answer from the rider, who approached near—_nearer_.

Suddenly. “Swis-s-s-s,” came the sibilant hiss of something through the
air, and the loop of a riata flopped fairly over his head and shoulders.
Taken utterly by surprise, he uttered a frightened squawk and, with a
quick upward thrust of his arm, endeavored to free himself of the
encumbrance. The movement was too late. That single squawk was his
limit. For the other, wheeling his horse on the instant, rammed in the
spurs, and the next moment there came a terrible jerk that tore his
clutching hands from the saddle-horn and flung him to the ground with
all the breath knocked out of his body.

The startled, riderless horse gave a violent jump at the unexpected
occurrence and tried to run, but the trailing lines under its feet
causing its head to be yanked down severely at every step, from
customary experience it soon pulled up, snorting nervously.

With as much compunction as a cow-puncher who drags a calf up to the
branding fire, so Ellis swiftly trailed the unfortunate Scotty towards
the opening in the brush. The watchful Gallagher darted noiselessly
forward and, turning him on his back, slacked off the lariat.

Benton leaped down. “Quick!” he whispered fiercely. “Let’s have ’em!”

Snatching the handcuffs from the other, he snipped them on Scotty’s
wrists. The latter was still moaning and gasping with the shock of his
fall.

“Yu’ ain’t croaked him, hev yu’, Sargint?” said the rancher, in a low
voice.

“Nah,” snarled the policeman, in a tense whisper. “That flop’s jerked
th’ wind outa him, that’s all. He’ll come to in a second an’ most likely
start in to bawl, so yu’ll wanta be ready with that handkerchief. Say!
that’s sure some rope-horse o’ Shorty’s—c’n turn on a dollar. See here;
look! I’m a-goin’ to wait at th’ gate for George. No use for to try an’
rope _him_—he’s too heavy. I’ll have to fix him some other road. He’ll
be some handful, too, believe me! If I shout for yu’, leave Scotty an’
come on th’ dead run. Mind, though, I don’t want no shootin’ unless it’s
absolutely necessary.”

He turned swiftly, and was about to mount again, when a sudden thought
flashed into his mind. Scotty was not wearing white chaps. They would be
a “dead give away,” he reflected. At close range they would show up
plainly to Fisk in that light.

The next instant he had unbuckled the waist-strap and kicked them off;
then, leaving Shorty’s white horse, he ran to where his late victim’s
mount still stood waiting. At his sudden, hasty approach, it edged away
slightly, and snorted, scenting an unfamiliar being; but, impatient, he
grabbed at and caught one of its trailing lines, and the next minute was
in the saddle. The stirrups were about an equal length to his own, so he
felt comfortable enough on the beautiful, springy beast. Taking up its
owner’s previous position at the open gate, he waited quietly.

Soon there came a slowly gathering, muffled thud of many hoofs, and the
shadowy blurr of a bunch of horses became visible to him as they drew
near. On they came, and the leader, after suddenly stopping and snorting
with puffed-out nostrils at the apparition of the rider, who remained so
motionless at the side of the gate, darted through, the others speedily
following, well strung out by the skilful tactics of their driver to
avoid jamming at the opening.

As the last horse passed through the gate, Ellis planted himself
squarely in the midway, facing the rider, who was bringing up the rear.
The huge form gradually loomed up nearer to him in the surrounding
gloom.

“H—l! what yu’ waitin’ fur, d—n yu’?” rumbled the deep, harsh,
low-pitched voice. “Why didn’t yu’ head ’em off, west?”

Benton moved forward slowly with raised hand.

“Sh-sh!” he hissed warningly.

Fisk halted irresolutely. Scotty’s horse fooled him completely.

“What’s up?” he growled.

Ellis, his powerful right arm swinging free, ranged up alongside as if
to have speech with the other. Then suddenly, and with an uncanny
swiftness, he silently and viciously struck for the angle of the big
man’s jaw.

The blow crashed home, and the great body went lurching sideways out of
the saddle. Like a flash the Sergeant swung down off his horse and
jumped for the rustler, dragging out another pair of handcuffs as he did
so.

His haste was his undoing, for he got wedged in between the frightened,
jostling horses and knocked sprawling. The next instant a huge,
bear-like shape that made horrible, beast-like noises in its throat,
fell upon him and clutched his arms. Frenziedly he writhed under that
terrible grip.

“Barney!” he yelled. “Oh, Bar—!”

But his cry changed to a gurgle as the other’s hold shifted to his
throat. With desperate efforts he fought off the choking clasp and,
wriggling somehow from under his enemy’s smothering weight, scrambled
with reeling brain to his feet.

Big George had arisen also, snorting and grinding his teeth with mad,
demoniacal passion, and Ellis instinctively guessed that he was fumbling
for his gun. Entirely forgetful of his own weapon in the Berserker rage
that possessed him, the Sergeant sprang at the giant rustler, hitting
out with great smashing punches to the jaw and stomach, that sent Fisk
staggering back and gave him no opportunity to draw. With a snarl like a
wild beast, he closed again with his slighter antagonist and, as the two
men swayed hither and thither, Benton became dimly conscious of
Gallagher’s form and voice added to the melee.

Stumbling and tripping, the struggling, cursing trio came headlong to
the ground. Suddenly, with a gurgling yell of pain, Fisk released his
grip on Ellis, who was the under dog and, clutching at his own throat,
fell backwards; his head, meanwhile, giving curious, spasmodic jerks.
Uncomprehending, but quick to follow up his advantage, the Sergeant
rolled over upon him; and as he did so, his hands, seeking the other’s
neck, encountered a rope, and he instantly realized what had happened.

“Steady, Barney!” he panted. “Ease up a bit. Yu’ll choke him.”

Roughly, and with the swift celerity of men accustomed to throwing and
hog-tying steers, they trussed up their late formidable antagonist,
winding the forty-foot riata around him as he kicked and raved, with a
maze of knots that left him as helpless as a child. Then, utterly spent
with their exertions, they lay back, gasping for air and sweating.

Gradually recovering, they regained their speech somewhat.

“G—d!” said Ellis, still breathing heavily, “that’s about the worst
man-handling I guess I ever _did_ get! Here! This won’t do, lyin’ on our
backs all night. Where in h—l’s them bracelets? I dropped ’em somewheres
around here.” And, arising unsteadily, he began to kick amongst the
short grass.

With the aid of some matches the missing articles were eventually found.
The two men then turned to the huge, bound figure of the rustler, who
was still cursing and twisting under his bonds. Cautiously, loosening
one great arm at a time, they clasped the steel loops around the
enormous wrists.

“Should have a gun,” muttered the Sergeant. “He was a-tryin’ to draw,
all right. Can’t get at it, though, while he’s on his back. Here, let’s
roll him over on his face, Barney, so’s I can get at his hip-pocket.”

In about as gentle a fashion as a lumber-jack twisting a log with a
cant-hook, so the big body was heaved over into the desired position,
and Ellis commenced his investigations. A smothered exclamation escaped
him.

“Hullo!” he said, “what’s this? So _that’s_ why I didn’t get mine, eh?”

He struck a match, disclosing by its light the butt of a long-barreled
Colt’s .45 protruding from the rustler’s right hip-pocket. Being
unscabbarded the wing of the hammer had (providentially, for Benton)
caught in the torn lining of the pocket and become firmly fixed therein.

“Eyah!” ejaculated Gallagher. “D’yu’ ever see th’ likes o’ that, now?
Talk about luck—what!”

Ellis carelessly spilled the shells into his hand. “How’s Scotty?” he
inquired.

“Oh, him?—he’s all right,” answered the rancher. “He come around while
yu’ was a-waitin’ at th’ gate fur Big George, here. He started in to
snivel, but I d—d soon shoved th’ handkerchief in his trap.”

“Mighty good job yu’ fixed George as yu’ did,” said the Sergeant. “I
didn’t wanta shoot, but I guess I’d a-had to if yu’ hadn’t come along
just then. I ain’t heavy enough to rough-an’-tumble it with a bull like
him. He well-nigh got me that first trip. Thank yu’, Barney. Yu’re right
there with th’ goods, an’ no mistake.... I’ll never forget it.”

“Aw, h—l,” said the other roughly, to hide his feeling. “’Twarn’t
nothin’, Sargint. I on’y picked up th’ first thing as come handy—that
riata yu’d chucked off’n Scotty. That’s all right.”

A string of oaths from the recumbent Fisk aroused them.

“Hey!” rumbled the growling, bass voice threateningly. “Who is yu’
fellers, anyways? What’n h—l d’yu’ think yu’re at? Yu’l....

“One o’ yu’s Barney Gallagher—I know that. I’ll fix yu’ fur this,
Barney!”

Ellis unwound the lariat from around the big man’s legs; then, striking
another match, held it to his own face.

“Know _me_, now?” he said. “George—I reckon I’ve got yu’! Get up, yu’
big stiff, or I’ll fix _yu’_!”

A fresh burst of blasphemy greeting his request, he picked up the riata
again and, dropping a loop over the rustler’s head and shoulders, drew
it taut.

“Yu’ go get me one o’ them hawsses, Barney,” he said quietly.

Gallagher sauntered over to where the two animals had halted after their
first scare and were placidly feeding, and returned with Scotty’s horse.
The Sergeant mounted and took a turn of the riata around the
saddle-horn.

Amidst an ominous silence he swung around in his seat with shortened
leg. “Comin’?” he inquired significantly.

Big George was no coward, but he was between the devil and the deep sea;
for in the cold cruelty of the policeman’s tones he read aright the
signs of a pitiless purpose if he still persisted in further obstinacy.
Sullenly he rolled over onto his knees, and awkwardly raised himself on
his feet.

“So,” said Ellis approvingly, “that’s better.”

Dismounting leisurely, he drew off the loop and coiled up the riata.

“Get yu’ over to that openin’ in th’ brush, where yore partner is,” he
continued, in an authoritative, menacing voice. “Here!—this way.” And,
grasping the big man’s shoulder, he guided him over to the indicated
spot.

There they found the handcuffed, miserable Scotty. He had made no
attempt to run away. Naturally a timid rogue, the rough handling that he
had received had knocked whatever little pluck he possessed out of him
completely. Now he whined like a frightened child, blaming Fisk for
their mutual mischance; but the latter cursed savagely back, threatening
him in horrid terms, so he ceased his lamentations in pure dread of the
other’s dominant personality, and relapsed into shivering silence. Fisk
began to raise his voice again.

“What d’yu’ figure on chargin’ us with, anyways?” he snarled. “Why, yu’
ain’t got nothin’ on us! We was on’y lookin’ fur one o’ our own hawsses,
as we thort might—”

“George,” said the Sergeant appealingly, with up-raised, protesting
hand, “don’t! Yu’ gimme a pain—honest, yu’ do. I’ll tell yu’ what I’m
chargin’ yu’ both with, bein’ as yu’re from Missouri, an’ want to be
shown.” And in no uncertain terms he proceeded to do so, and cautioned
them.

“Why didn’t yu’ call on me an’ tell me yore business, as yu’re supposed
ter do?” blustered Big George in injured tones. “I’d a-come with yu’
peaceable enough. I’ll make a statement ag’in yu’ two fellers ’bout th’
way I was man-handled.”

The policeman uttered a snort of ironical amusement.

“‘Come peaceable’!” he echoed. “Yes, yu’d a-come peaceable enough—yu’ve
shown that. I’ve got th’ marks an th’ feel o’ yore little donnies on my
throat yet. I don’t bear yu’ no grudge fur that, though. Yu’ go ahead,
then, with yore statement, Mister Bloomin’ Lawyer, an’ I’ll come back at
_yu’_ with a charge of ‘resisting arrest an’ assaultin’ a police-officer
in th’ lawful execution of his duty,’ fur which yu’re liable to get two
years extra. ‘Call on yu’ an’ tell yu’ my business’ indeed! An’ who’s to
prove I _didn’t_?” he queried, with an ugly laugh. “If yu’ like to call
it square why, all right. But if yu’ mean actin’ dirty, I’ll act dirty,
too—an’ ahead o’ yu’ at that.”

The force of the other’s argument seemed to impress the big rustler
considerably, and he remained silent.

“I’ve got yore record from over th’ Line, George,” the Sergeant
continued. “It’s sure a peach.... Five years in th’ State ‘pen’ at
Huntsville, Texas. Another five in Rawlins, Wyoming. An’ three in Sante
Fé, New Mexico.... ‘Call on’ a rough-neck like yu’?” he repeated. “With
such a record as that? In th’ dark—at close range—with a .45 on yore
hip? ‘Call on yu’! ‘—an’ bring my knittin’. What’d yu’ bin doin’ th’
whiles? Shot me dead, most likely, or made some break that’d a-forced me
to shoot _yu’_—just ’bout th’ last thing I wanted to happen. No, Mister
George; for reasons yu’ll know later, yu’re worth more to me alive than
dead. ‘Call on yu’!’ Not if I know it. I’d trust yu’ ’bout as much as I
would a grizzly, a wolf, or a ‘diamond-back.’ Yu’ don’t get me like them
two yu’ stretched down at Los Barancedes. Yep, I know all ’bout _that_,
too. What’s that? On’y ‘greasers’? Mebbe—but if th’ Rurales’d a-caught
yu’ they’d a-surely bumped yu’ off, greasers or not. Now, see here;
look,” he concluded with a harsh ring in his raised voice, “yu’ get me,
once an’ for all. Yu’re a prisoner. I know my duty as a Mounted
Police-Sergeant, an’ I don’t have to get arguin’ th’ point with
four-flushin’, tin-horn scum like yu’. An’ mind, now, what I said about
that charge goes if yu’ make one more break, talkin’ back to me.”

A hasty search of the two men’s pockets, revealing nothing more
dangerous than a jack-knife belonging to Scotty, he turned to Gallagher
and bade him bring up the horses.

“Knot th’ lines ’round th’ horns o’ George’s an’ Scotty’s,” he said,
“an’ string ’em together ’bout three foot apart with yore lariat,
Barney. I want yu’ to trail ’em. I’ll come on behind.”

When all was in readiness he jerked out a curt order to the captives, to
“Climb aboard an’ hold onta th’ jug-handle!”

“’Member,” he added warningly. “I’m close behind, so don’t be so foolish
as to chance anythin’. First man that does’ll get hurt—bad.”

Then, and for the first time, Big George noticed the Sergeant’s mount.
Speechless for the moment, he stood, pop-eyed, gaping stupidly.

“Look, look!” he ejaculated to his partner in distress, “why, that’s
Shorty’s—” his voice failed him.

“Eyah! That’s what put th’ kibosh on me,” commiserated poor Scotty
feelingly. “He must ha’ corralled _him_, too, an’ th’ ——’s given us
away. _Must_ have—who else could ha’ put this feller onta us?”

Ellis, in his own saturnine fashion, chuckled grimly at this last
remark. “Sure,” he said, “_that’s_ what. Now, yu’ fellers climb up
_pronto_. I ain’t a-goin’ to hang around here all night.”

In dismal silence they obeyed resignedly, and the grim little procession
eventually reached the detachment. Wearily they dismounted, and the
Sergeant drew Gallagher aside.

“Yu’ go on in first Barney,” he whispered. “Light th’ lamp, an’ wake th’
old feller I told yu’ about. Tell him to go an’ camp in th’ kitchen for
th’ night—I’ll bring him in some blankets, later. I don’t want them
fellers to see _him_.”

The other, nodding silently, entered the building, and soon a light
shone through the open door. Presently he came out again.

“All set,” he said.

The Sergeant then proceeded to usher in his prisoners and, after
leg-ironing them together, with a significant gesture handed the key
over to Gallagher. Seen in the light the two rustlers presented a
grotesquely dissimilar appearance.

Big George fully justified his soubriquet. Standing nearly six feet two,
his enormous breadth of shoulder and hairy, barrel-like chest which the
torn shirt revealed seemed, somehow, though, to detract from his actual
height. His age might have been forty or thereabouts. On some
physiognomies evil passions have imprinted their danger signals
unmistakably. Fisk’s sinister countenance, with its somber, desperate
eyes and bushy tangle of coal-black beard which hid, one instinctively
guessed, a cruel mouth and a terrible, animal-like jaw, might to many
imaginations have found its prototype in the ruthless visage of a
moss-trooping cattle-reiver of the Middle Ages captured, perchance, in
some Border night foray.

In strange comparison to _his_ formidable personality, a comparison
which might have been likened to that of a coyote shackled to a grizzly
bear, stood alongside him his slightly-built companion, Scotty. He had
sandy hair, closely set, shifty blue eyes, and a large, loose-lipped
mouth with a receding chin. It was a cunning, vicious, yet decidedly
weak face and, noting its defects, one could easily imagine the truth of
old Hiram Bryan’s previous assertion: “Th’ young chap seems ter do as he
tells him.”

Ellis, with seemingly careless indifference, but keeping a wary eye on
Big George, removed the handcuffs off both men. He then proceeded to
relieve them of all their belongings, which he placed in separate bags
that were specially made for that purpose, and numbered. Then, after
making out an itemized list for each, he began to—ostentatiously—count
out their money. Each of the men possessed a small quantity, and this he
put in a couple of envelopes, marking the amount on the outside.
Gallagher, leaning against the door, watched the performance with
curious interest. He had an inkling of what was coming. Benton, seating
himself, beckoned the two forward to the table. Shackled together, they
awkwardly obeyed. He chose Scotty first, and reckoned up the few bills
and silver belonging to that individual.

“Eight dollars and sixty-five cents,” he concluded. “That correct?”
Scotty nodded. “All right, then,” said Ellis, licking up the envelope
and pushing over a pen. “Look over that list an’ see ’f it’s O. K.
before yu’ sign for it.”

Scotty glanced through the items and nervously affixed his signature.
The same procedure was gone through with Fisk. As the latter finished
signing, the policeman drew the piece of foolscap towards him and,
extracting a folded paper from a small wallet, leisurely compared the
two specimens of caligraphy. With a satisfied sigh, he thrust them both
into his pocket and looked across the table with a sinister smile at Big
George.

“Mister Gordon Brown,” he murmured reflectively.

The two culprits started violently, and stared with dismay at the man
who had thus outwitted them once more. Fisk strove to recover himself.
Over his perturbed, evil face there crept the blank, lifeless expression
of duplicity.

“Wha’s that?” he inquired innocently.

The Sergeant’s smile vanished. His face hardened, and he began to speak,
drawling out his words one by one.

“I’m chargin’ yu’ both,” he said sententiously, “with stealin’ a team,
wagon, an harness, valued at two hundred an’ seventy-five dollars, from
one, Lloyd Pryce, of Beaver Dam, on th’ sixth o’ June; afterwards
selling the same as your own property to one, Hiram Bryan, on th’
thirteenth o’ th’ same month.” Then followed the customary warning.
“That’s all,” he finished, “an I guess it’s sure enough, too.” He eyed
them a moment amidst a dead silence, and then broke out irritably:

“What do th’ likes o’ yu’ want to come over _this_ Side for—peddling
yore dirty work in a decent, law-abiding country? Why in h—l couldn’t
yu’ stay where yu’ both belong? Now, get yu’ away back there an’ sit on
that bench.”

Apathetically they obeyed, with the hopeless resignation of men for whom
life could hold no more surprises, and which, in Fisk’s case, was all
the more remarkable, considering his previous belligerent attitude. It
had been on the tip of the policeman’s tongue to question him as to what
had become of the money thus fraudulently obtained but, on second
thought, he desisted. Some lie or another would be the only result of
such an inquiry, he reflected; and besides, he had warned them.
Gambling, he knew, was notoriously rife at the Wharnock ranch, which was
probably the true cause of its disappearance. (A correct guess, as was
subsequently proved at their trial.)

Ellis looked at his watch. It was just going on midnight.

“Seems too bad—a-commandeering yu’ for all this work, Barney,” he said
apologetically, to Gallagher.

“Oh, I ain’t worryin’ none, Sargint,” the other answered. “I got that
meat in all right, this mornin’; but there’s my team I’d like to turn
out inter th’ pasture, a cow as should be milked, an’ some chickens I
wanta leave some feed out for. I guess yu’ll be wantin’ me inter Sabbano
with yu’ th’ next couple o’ days, eh?”

Benton nodded. “P’r’aps it’s more’n likely somebody’ll be around in th’
mornin’,” he said hopefully. “An’ then yu’ll be able to run on down an’
do yore chores. Say, will yu’ off-saddle an’ fix up th’ hawsses? Turn
them two belonging to these fellers out in th’ pasture—there won’t be
room for no more when yores an’ Shorty’s is in—an’ say, Barney; bring in
all th’ blankets yu’ can lay yore hands on in there.”

In about half an hour the rancher returned, laden with a heavy bundle of
the aforesaid articles, which Ellis shook down on the floor in the
corner farthest from the door, subtracting two, however, for old Bryan
in the kitchen.

“Yu’ll have to bunk down here for th’ night,” he remarked curtly to the
prisoners. “Yu’ might as well get down to it right away, an’ get all th’
sleep yu’ can, because it’ll be a long trip tomorrow.”

Wearily they rolled their coats for pillows, and curled themselves down,
dormant murder gleaming in Fisk’s somber, brooding eyes as he glanced
now and again at the cell door whence issued the untroubled snores of
Shorty.

Benton drew Gallagher on one side. “We’ll have to do a ‘night guard’ on
these fellers,” he whispered. “Guess we’ll do two hours apiece. I’ll do
th’ first trick an’ hand over th’ watch to yu’ when I’m through. Yu’ go
on inta my room there, an’ lie on th’ bed.”

Slowly the night dragged through for the tired, haggard, unkempt
watchers. After waking the Sergeant up at eight o’clock, the rancher
went out and did the stable chores, and when he returned Ellis cooked
breakfast for all hands—taking good care to keep Shorty and old Bryan
aloof from their former acquaintances.

As they were finishing the meal there came a knock at the door, and on
opening it the policeman was surprised to see Pryce and two other riders
outside. Benton closed the door behind him and stepped forward. The
rancher seemed oppressed with a certain shamefacedness, and fidgeted
nervously with his quirt.

“Sargint,” he began. “I guess I kinder riled yu’ yesterday—actin’ as I
did—but I was fair mad, an’ I—well, it’s that cursed temper o’ mine gets
th’ better o’ me. I ask yu’ to try an’ forgit it.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Pryce,” said Ellis shortly. “I’m glad yu’ve come
around, anyways, as I was just figurin’ how I was goin’ to get word to
yu’ to come inta Sabbano.” And in a few words he acquainted the other
with an account of the previous night’s adventures.

“Well, yu’ do surprise me!” exclaimed Pryce wonderingly and, with rising
wrath: “Why, Big George, an’ Scotty—I always give ’em th’ run o’ my
place as if they belonged there, whenever they come a-ridin’ around.
Why! come to think o’ it, three days before my outfit was stole, I
’member meetin’ up with Scotty in th’ Four-mile coulee; we was both
lookin’ for strayed stock—an’ I mind tellin’ him as me an’ th’ woman
figured on drivin’ inta Sabbano on th’ Thursday, an’ he asked me to
bring him some Bull-Durham ’baccer from there. Guess I forgot it.
Anyways, Big George, he was around about a week afterwards, an’ listen!
He had th’ gall to tell th’ woman as how what a dirty deal it was to
rustle a feller’s outfit, an’ what th’ parties deserved as did it. Where
was them hawsses all th’ time, d’yu’ think, Sargint, before they sold
’em to th’ old man, I mean?”

“Staked out in th’ bush somewheres, I guess,” said Benton. “They’ve both
o’ ’em got touches o’ rope-burn around th’ fetlocks. Say, who’s yore
friends, Pryce?”

“Two fellers as kin swear to my outfit,” replied the rancher. “I brought
’em around to see it.” And, turning, he introduced the men to the
Sergeant.

“Well, put yore hawsses up an’ come on in,” said Ellis. “Don’t yu’ get
a-talkin’ to th’ prisoners mind, though,” he added. “Least said, soonest
mended. We figure on pullin’ out in ’bout an hour’s time.”

A clatter of wheels disturbed them and, turning, they beheld a wagon and
team approaching, driven by none other than old Bob Tucker. There was
something irresistibly funny in the excited motions of the dissipated,
elderly Jehu, as he urged his team forward with an unending string of
Afrikander expletives, which made them all burst out laughing.

“_Eyck! Eyck! Azi-wan-n! Ari-tsemah! Hamba-ké!_” he bawled.

The policeman stepped forward and held up his hand as the sweating
horses drew near.

“_Wana!_” he shouted. “_Wacht-een-bietje!_ What’s bitin’ yu’ now, Dad?”

Tucker was tremulous and incoherent, but by degrees he managed to impart
the somewhat belated news that “’is ’orses ’ad bin let aht of ’is field”
during the night, and that “’e ’ad fahnd ’em abaht free mile sou’west
from ’is plice.”

“Yu better let ’em stay out now, too,” said the Sergeant. And he told
the old man everything. “Yu needn’t be scared of yore bunch no more now.
What! Yu’ didn’t hear nothin’ in th’ night? Why, I reckon we made ’bout
as much racket amongst us as yu’ do a-shovin’ yore old team along. I
guess ‘Johnny Burke’ put _yu’_ to sleep, all right. Yu’d better
_outspan_, now yu’ve got here, an’ turn yore team out in my pasture.
We’ll want yu’ along with us in Sabbano as a witness. Yu’ can come back
with Barney Gallagher on Shorty’s hawss. Yu’ can ride _him_, all
right—he’s quiet.”

Fisk looked up brazenly at the new-comers as they entered, but Scotty
remained with downcast eyes, in nervous trepidation as Ellis and his
visitors, withdrawing into a corner, commenced to converse in low tones.
Seeing the re-enforcements, Gallagher slipped away and departed to his
ranch. When he returned, he found Pryce’s wagon and team standing
outside the detachment, with old Hiram Bryan occupying the driver’s seat
and Tucker alongside him.

Putting the stable-blankets and some hay in the bottom of the box, the
Sergeant led forth the handcuffed and shackled Fisk and Robbins, and
assisted them into the wagon. Shorty, for obvious reasons, he placed on
the former’s own horse, which was led by Gallagher. A wise precaution,
considering the glances of deadly hatred which, from time to time, were
exchanged between the former and Big George, each still firmly believing
the other to have turned traitor. Ellis brought up the rear on the
buckskin, with Shorty’s rifle in a carbine sling at the saddle-horn.

It was a long, monotonous trip, but nothing untoward happened. To avoid
stopping anywhere for dinner, the Sergeant had previously put in the
wagon a big pack of cooked food and a jar of water; so, halting mid-day,
they ate a meal and then, resuming their journey, arrived in Sabbano
about sundown. Tired and dusty, they eventually drew up at the
detachment.

Sergeant Churchill surveyed the party with astonishment.

“Hello! Where you klatch-um?” he inquired jocosely.

“Klatch-um allee same Chellee Kleek,” responded Ellis. “Give us a hand,
Churchill, an’ let’s get ’em inside. Cloakey an’ Wardle—them two J.P.’s
of yours—are they both in town?”

“Billy Cloakey is,” answered the other. “But Old John Wardle went away
to th’ coast a couple o’ days ago, for a holiday. Don’t know _when_
he’ll be back. What’s up? Want ’em to hold a prelim’?”

“Yes,” said Benton thoughtfully. “Guess I’ll go an’ wire the O.C. just
now, to send one o’ the inspectors down by the mornin’ train.”

As the nine-thirty west-bound train drew up at the little station next
morning Benton, who was on the platform awaiting it expectantly, stepped
forward and saluted a tallish, blond man, dressed in the dark-blue serge
uniform of an inspector.

“Well, Sergeant,” greeted the latter, “you’ve been doing great business,
I hear? But I can’t forget you’re the disturber of my rest, all the
same,” he added, with a wry smile. “Aren’t there any local J.P.’s around
here who could have handled these cases?”

Ellis grinned back apologetically. “Sorry to have had to drag you out of
bed so early, sir,” he said. “Yes, there are a couple of resident J.P.’s
here. Wardle, who runs a general store and the post-office, and Cloakey,
a real estate man. Wardle’s away at the coast just now, so I was forced
to wire for you. Cloakey’s here, though, to sit with you on these cases.
Two of the men I’ve arrested are particularly tough, and I was anxious
to get them into the Post by tonight’s train, if possible.”

They turned away from the station, and commenced to walk slowly up the
main street.

“Have they engaged counsel?” pursued Inspector Darby. “I didn’t see any
one on the train I knew, coming up.”

“No, sir,” answered the Sergeant. “I asked them all, individually, last
night, before I wired to the O.C., but none of them seemed inclined to
want a lawyer when I explained that this was merely the preliminary
trial. It was the same about witnesses before we left Cherry Creek.
Fisk, the ringleader, starting in to bluff that: ‘They’d have all the
“mouthpieces” _and_ witnesses they wanted, when the _real_ trial came
off’; so I didn’t bother with them any further. But, as a matter of
fact, sir, I don’t see how they possibly could have any witnesses at
all. They’ve taken pretty good care of _that_ in the crooked work
they’ve been carrying on. This is Mr. Cloakey coming down the street
now. I don’t think you’ve ever met him, have you, sir?”

The Inspector replied in the negative, as he gazed with well-bred
curiosity at his prospective associate on the magisterial bench, who was
just then drawing abreast of them. He beheld a big, cheery-faced,
somewhat corpulent, man nearing middle age, who grasped his hand with
genial warmth, as the Sergeant, with easy deference, introduced him. A
few civilities were exchanged, and Ellis led the way to the detachment
which, on entering, he perceived to have suddenly assumed an unwontedly
tidy appearance. After hurriedly gathering his witnesses, he formally
opened the court, and the preliminary inquiry began.

Shorty’s case was taken first, the local sergeant guarding the other two
in an inner room, so as to be out of hearing. A sullen plea of “Not
guilty” was entered to the first and second charges. “Guilty” to the
third—that of “Having a weapon on his person when arrested.” Dealt with
summarily on this minor offense, he was given the option of paying a
fine or the alternative of a short term of imprisonment with hard labor.
He chose the latter.

The two principal charges—“Cattle stealing,” and “Conspiring to commit
an indictable offense”—were next proceeded with. Ellis, after being
sworn, gave his evidence, the strange nature of which—in the former
charge—relaxed even the imperturbable Inspector’s judicial calm, as he
and his colleague listened with unconcealed interest to the coyote
episode, and viewed the half-chewed brand which the Sergeant fitted into
the cut-out in the hide. Benton’s testimony in both cases being largely
corroborated by Gallagher, Shorty was duly committed to stand his trial
at the next sitting of the Supreme Court.

The case against Fisk and Robbins was much more protracted and tedious.
Charged jointly, they entered a similar plea to their confederate on
each indictment. From time to time, during the proceedings, the
Inspector’s casual glance flickered curiously from Big George’s battered
physiognomy to the bruised face and scratched throat of the Sergeant.
But he was a wily, old, experienced officer and, as neither side
appeared anxious to enlighten him, he drew his own conclusions and
wisely refrained from comment. Adjourning for lunch, and also to view
the alleged stolen team and wagon, the hearing was resumed again in the
afternoon, and eventually the two rustlers were committed.

Ellis then drew the attention of the Court to the case of old Hiram
Bryan, who had shakily given his evidence during the trial. All huddled
up, the aged, decrepit man sat there in silence, his wistful gaze
wandering from face to face.

“Your Worships,” he said, “in the absence of all proof of complicity, I
have detained this man merely under a ‘vagrancy’ charge, so as to insure
his appearance in this court as an all-important witness.”

The two justices of the peace nodded understandingly. A whispered
colloquy ensued between them, then they turned and gazed thoughtfully at
the bowed figure of the broken man who was awaiting their will with the
apathetic resignation peculiar to the aged. Inspector Darby, leaning
forward, chin resting in hand, presently broke the silence.

“Sergeant Benton,” he said, with a slight note of irresolution in his
voice, “taking into consideration the somewhat cruel position that
circumstances have placed this man in, it is not, of course, our
intention to press that charge against him. But you no doubt realize
that it is of vital importance to this last case that his evidence be
forthcoming at the Supreme Court.”

Ellis bowed his head in assent. He was prepared for this emergency that
he had foreseen from the beginning.

“Your Worships,” he said, in quiet, convincing tones, “if you see fit to
discharge the accused I will hold myself personally responsible for his
appearance when this case comes up at the next Sessions.”

His superior turned again to his fellow justice, and they conferred
awhile in low tones. This consultation ending, the Inspector faced round
once more.

“All right, Sergeant,” he said.

Ellis motioned to the old man to stand up. Dully and awkwardly though
the order was obeyed, the venerable face was not devoid of a certain
dignity as its owner raised a pair of honest eyes and gazed back
unflinchingly at his judges. The Inspector cleared his throat.

“There has been no evidence adduced in this case to prove that you had
any knowledge of these men’s alleged criminal actions and intent,” he
said, in his even, passionless tones. “Rather, it seems that you have
been their unfortunate victim, for which you have this Court’s sympathy.
This charge of ‘vagrancy’ against you will be dismissed ... but you
understand that your evidence will be required again when the Supreme
Court sits.”

The old man gazed at him vacantly, and the Sergeant opened the door.

“All right, Bryan,” he said; “you can go. I want to see you later,
though.”

And, clutching his hat in his trembling old hands, the other tottered
slowly out.

Pryce arose. “Your Worships,” he began imploringly, “how ’bout me team
an’ wagon? Is there any chance of me bein’ able to take ’em back with
me? I’ve got a tur’ble pile o’ work to do, an’ I need ’em bad.”

The Inspector contemplated the rancher’s anxious face thoughtfully a
moment or two before replying.

“Why, yes, Mr. Pryce,” he answered slowly, eyeing his confrère, who
nodded his concurrence to this request. “I don’t see why you shouldn’t.
But you will have to sign a document undertaking to produce them, if
required, when this case comes up at the next Sessions, you understand.”

All business being now at an end, the Sergeant formally closed the
court, Inspector Darby and the congenial Mr. Cloakey departing to the
hotel, and Ellis to the depot freight office with Pryce to make
inquiries respecting the arrival of some police stores that were
overdue. Finding that the latter had come, he arranged with the rancher
to haul them out to the Cherry Creek detachment on his return trip.

With this and various other small duties the time passed rapidly, and
twilight was descending when the Sergeant retraced his steps up the main
street on his way back to the detachment. He felt jaded and weary from
lack of sleep and the strain on his physical and mental powers during
the past forty-eight hours, but a certain exultation at the thought of
all that had been accomplished in that space of time buoyed him up.

In the midst of his somewhat tiredly complacent reflections he became
aware of a figure approaching him unsteadily along the uneven board
sidewalk whom he recognized as Hiram Bryan.

A sharp gust of wind suddenly deposited the latter’s ancient battered
hat in the gutter and made merry sport with his venerable wisps of hair
and gray beard. Stooping to recover his headgear, he lost his balance
and pitched heavily forward. He struggled to his feet again with
difficulty and leaned for a space, all covered with dust, up against the
wall of the Chinese restaurant, his breath coming and going with wheezy
asthmatical sobs.

Ellis presently drew up alongside and contemplated the unlovely but
pitiable spectacle with a slightly compassionate grin.

“Hello, Dad,” he remarked. “Where d’yu’ get it? Been celebratin’ along
with Bob Tucker, I guess. Well, old gentleman, yu’ got outa that mix-up
all hunkadory, an’ I was glad of it.”

But the old man only rocked perilously on his heels, regarded his
interlocutor somberly awhile with liquor-blurred eyes, and resolutely
held his peace.

Momentarily nonplussed at the other’s silence, the Sergeant continued in
tones half playful, half serious:

“Come, old Kafoozleum; yu’ ain’t very grateful, it seems. Life an’
liberty’s somethin’, anyhow, an’ it’s more than teams an’ wagons—or
booze. For now, see here; look! This is th’ straight goods—if yu’d ever
gone up in th’ Ghost River bush, along with them two fellers, either yu’
or th’ nitchie, they’d a-seen to it as neither o’ yu’ come out of it
alive again to, perhaps, get a-talkin’ afterwards. Yu’ can take yore
oath o’ _that_.”

“An’ I hadn’t bin diddled out o’ me outfit,” piped old Bryan doggedly,
with the hopeless, unreasoning obstinacy of the aged. “I’d a-bin away
from yu’ all—a-livin’ quiet on some little ol’ homestead. But—yu’
corralled me team an’ wagon, lad. I’m little better’n a hobo now.”

Surprise, not unmixed with amusement at this somewhat illogical
outburst, rendered Ellis speech- less for the moment.

“But they _wasn’t_ yore team an’ wagon, Dad,” he said. “Th’ Law—” And
then he stopped, recognizing the absurdity of ever attempting to argue
under such conditions. A great pity, though, for the old, broken man,
welled up in his heart.

“Here, here,” he began, not unkindly. “Don’t get a-talkin’ foolish, now,
Hiram.”

And his hand sought the other’s shoulder. But Bryan avoided his touch.

“Nay,” he said thickly. “Let be, lad. I’m an old man, an’—an’ draw fast
to homeward. I’ll soon be in a good place, God grant—an’ out o’ reach o’
all yore laws an’ contraptions. Let be, lad. Yu’ve played h—l wi’ me,
amongst yu’.”

The words of rough condolence died in the Sergeant’s throat. He saw,
through misty eyes, the poor old derelict, fuddled with whiskey and
sorrow, go shambling on his way with bowed gray head. And the sight was
more than he could stand. With a few strides he overtook the aged Hiram
and, in spite of his feeble resistance, gently, but firmly, turned him
around.

“I’ve been a-figurin’ this business out—right since we come in from
Cherry Creek,” he said huskily. “Yu’re comin’ along with us on th’ train
to-night, Dad, when we take them prisoners down. An’ I’m a-goin’ to get
yu’ into a certain place that I know of, where yu’ll be looked after
good for th’ rest o’ yore days—Father Rouleau’s Home for the aged an’
infirm. Besides—I want yu’ somewheres handy when that case comes off.”



CHAPTER XI


    “My object all sublime
    I shall achieve in time—
    To let the punishment fit the crime;
    The punishment fit the crime.”

    —_The Mikado_

The three rustlers were tried at the following Criminal Assizes held
about two months later.

Fisk, obtaining money from some unknown source, was the only one of the
trio represented by counsel, retaining that eminent criminal
lawyer—Denis Ryan—to defend him. Robbins’ craven heart failing him at
the eleventh hour, he pleaded guilty to all charges, and threw himself
unreservedly upon the mercy of the Court. Shorty, actuated more by
motives of spite against Big George, whom he still firmly believed to
have betrayed him, entered a similar plea. Brooding over his former
accomplice’s imaginary perfidy during his past two months in the
guardroom awaiting trial, the one thought—to “get even” with his
enemy—had gradually become an obsession, which finally culminated in a
deliberate intention to reverse his original plea on arraignment.

These two totally unexpected occurrences combined to render Fisk’s case
hopeless. His counsel, with characteristic ability, put up a brilliant
and spirited defense for his huge, ill-favored client; but it was a
forlorn hope, and he knew it long before the jury returned with their
verdict of “Guilty.”

One of the most decisive factors in the case had been the evidence of
the old Indian—“Roll-in-the-Mud”—who, examined through an interpreter,
stated that Fisk had approached him with an offer of a five-dollar bill
and one of Tucker’s best colts, in return for his help in driving the
bunch of horses at night up the difficult bush trail in the Ghost River
district.

Sentence in each case was deferred until three days later, when the
prisoners were taken to court again. Big George and Shorty, whose
previous criminal records told heavily against them, were very severely
dealt with by a judge whose lack of sympathy with stock rustlers was
proverbial. The former, proven to be the ringleader and instigator of
the crimes, received a sentence of ten years’ penal servitude; the
latter, seven. Scotty, being that it was, as far as could be
ascertained, his first offense, and who, furthermore, was adjudged to
have been the tool of Fisk and Shorty, drew the comparatively lenient
sentence of four years.

The two first named took the announcement of their punishment with the
silent, dogged indifference of men to whom durance vile was no new
thing; but Scotty burst out into loud lamentations and weeping as the
prisoners were quickly ushered downstairs to the court cells underneath.

Filled with pardonable elation at the successful termination of his
cases, Benton left the courthouse and leisurely betook his way back to
the Post. All the genial _bonhomie_ that his many-sided nature could
command now asserted itself, and he strolled along, humming a cheery
lilt, his heart merry within him. Still in this enviable frame of mind,
he departed later in the day for his detachment.

That night, standing on a corner of the main street in Sabbano, idly
smoking and watching the faint reflection of a far-distant prairie fire,
he heard himself hailed and, turning, greeted a man who sauntered slowly
across the street to him with a familiarity that bespoke long
acquaintance.

“Hello, Charley,” he said. “What’s blown _you_ into this jerkwater
burg?”

The other struck a match and relit his cigar before replying, disclosing
a gaunt, lined, intellectual face with a grim mouth, which was somewhat
accentuated by a close-cropped, grizzled military mustache.

“Case,” he answered laconically. “Say, Ellis, where’s Churchill? He’s
stationed here, isn’t he?”

Benton nodded. “Yes,” he said; “but he’s been in the Post, now, for
three days—waitin’ for a case of his to come off at Supreme Court. He
was there when I came away this afternoon. Why? What d’you want _him_
for?”

“M-m! Oh, nothing in particular,” his companion mumbled. “Just wondered
where he was, that’s all.”

The newcomer deserves a more especial mention, for his history was a
sad, though not an uncommon one. Charles Musgrave, M.D., had begun life
as a clever young house-surgeon attached to a famous London hospital.
Possessing extraordinary daring ability, inspired by a genuine love for
his profession, he gradually obtained a reputation that caused him to be
regarded as one of the foremost exponents of surgery of his day. Then it
was—unluckily for him—at the zenith of his fame, that he became enamored
of lovely Blanche Farrel—then a nurse in St. John’s Hospital.

It was the old, time-worn, sordid story that the world is aweary of—his
wife’s education and morality proved to be inferior to her beauty. After
enduring two soul-wracking years of jealousy and humiliation as the
result of the unfortunate misalliance that he had contracted, he
obtained a divorce, and, abandoning his career, went to South Africa,
where he strove to efface the bitter memories of his past misery amidst
the vast whirlpool of cosmopolitan adventurers that thronged the Rand.

Still retaining the skill and love of his profession that had once
created him a power amongst his fellow-men, he rapidly acquired an
immense practise in Johannesburg. This, coupled with various lucky
mining speculations, enabled him in a few years to amass a considerable
fortune which, alas, was doomed, however, to be swept away, along with
thousands of others, at the commencement of the great war. Declining,
then, the offer of an important position at the Wynberg base-hospital,
he became the principal medical officer of the Irregular Horse, which
Ellis had joined—composed mainly of his fellow-refugees of the Rand.
Possessing much personal bravery, he served throughout the war with
great gallantry, exhibiting on many occasions such an utter disregard
for his own life whilst attending wounded men under fire, that
frequently caused him to be mentioned in despatches.

The climax of that long-protracted, bitter struggle, leaving him an
impoverished man once more, he forsook the country that had engulfed his
second fortune and prospects. Still resolutely turning his face away
from England, he came to Western Canada, where his ability in his
profession speedily raised him again in the medical world. Here, working
hard and drinking obstinately, he led an existence which, if it was not
commendable, was only in accord with that of many others whom Fate and
the vicissitudes of life have entreated thus unkindly.

Most men can, and invariably do, recover from the first benumbing
effects of misfortune, but—they cannot _forget_. In appearance the
doctor was a rather distinguished-looking man, tall and
powerfully-built, with closely cropped iron-gray hair, and a complexion
that was bronzed and roughened by years of exposure to a tropical sun.
That worn, haggard face of his, though, told a real tale. The furrows
there had been plowed by an enduring bitterness, and though only in his
forty-fifth year, he looked considerably older.

Exchanging a few desultory remarks, they strolled on down the sidewalk
and, passing the station, drew near to the last of the scattered houses.
During their progress Ellis had been aware of light footsteps following
them and, glancing back once or twice, had noticed a woman approaching.
Soon she caught up to them and, thinking that she was about to pass, he
drew in close to Musgrave to give her room to get by. Presently she came
alongside and, to his utter surprise, a sweet, girlish voice said,
coaxingly:

“Why, hello, Church’; coming in?” And a hand caught his that hung at his
side and gave it a gentle squeeze.

They were just within the glare of one of the few street lamps that the
ill-lighted little town boasted, and opposite the gate of the end
cottage. He beheld a girl, whose age he might have computed at anything
between eighteen and twenty-five—tall, and voluptuously formed, with
thick masses of dark hair that curled in little wavy tendrils around a
broad, low, white forehead with level brows. Her complexion still
retained the soft bloom of that of a healthy country girl, and a pair of
bewitching dark-brown eyes flashed into his with a fluttering
self-consciousness that told him many things.

Musgrave took a step or two forward and, turning, contemplated the scene
with lazy curiosity, not unmixed with amusement. Sheer astonishment tied
Benton’s tongue for an instant, then:

“Sorry, sister,” he said gravely. “Guess you’ve got the wrong number.
Better ring up again.”

The girl uttered a little gasping giggle of surprise.

“Oh,” she said. “I thought you were the _other_ policeman.”

She fidgeted a little at his silent regard and clicked the gate open,
continuing:

“Well—you look a pretty nice boy!”

But the words, though light and brazen in themselves, rang false, and
betrayed the novice. She began to flinch under the steady stare of those
calm, watchful, passionless eyes and, returning his look with a slight
air of defiance, twisted and untwisted her gloves with a little nervous
laugh.

Ellis hesitated. He was no Joseph—this was Churchill’s district, and
_his_ look-out, was his first impulsive reflection. But
something—something that was, perhaps, _childish_, in the girl’s great
dark eyes and winsome face, in which there still remained a trace of her
lost innocence and her self-conscious voice and manner, held him awhile
longer, motionless.

And, as the man continued to stand there with bent head, curiously
still, as if carved in stone, just looking—and _looking_—in deep,
thoughtful silence at the wanton young beauty who sought to tempt him,
the filmy, transparent outlines of _another_ face, it seemed to him,
rose up alongside hers.

The sweetly grave, spiritual face of a girl, long since dead, whose love
had once been his—the very incarnation of womanly purity.

“Yes,” he mused, “that was it—that was it begad! it was the _eyes_ ...
they were very, very like poor Eileen’s.”

Presently he cleared his throat and began to speak.

“See here; look, Mandy,” he said soberly. “If I was doing my duty
properly I should just take you down to the police station, lock you up,
an’ put a charge against you that a certain section of the Criminal Code
prescribes for your offense. D’you get me?”

She shivered and paled a little, and her great eyes opened wide as she
searched his face beseechingly, as if trying to discern whether he was
in earnest. There was no banter in his tones, so she came closer and,
catching his hand again, looked into his face with a forlorn sort of
smile that was at once both roguish and pitiful.

“D’you mean that, or are you on’y just foolin’, Policeman?” she
implored. “You wouldn’t arrest me, would you?”

The Sergeant contemplated her thoughtfully. And a great pity arose in
him, for the fingers that clasped his own were deadly cold, and the
cheap finery that she was clad in was but a miserable protection against
the chilly wind that had sprung up.

“Now listen,” he said. “_You_ haven’t been in business long, my girl.
You can’t fool me. Quit it, kid, before you get in _real_ wrong. Get
back to th’ farm again.”

She stared at him with open-eyed astonishment.

“Why!” she gasped, “who told you I come from a farm?”

He laughed quietly. “Just a sayin’ sister,” he said. “Seems I wasn’t far
out, eh? Where _do_ you come from, then?”

But her lips only trembled and closed tightly, as she regarded him now
steadfastly, in dogged silence.

“Now, see here; look,” Ellis went on slowly. “If it’s because you’re up
against it an’ want money, why—” He drew out a five-dollar bill from his
pocket and closed her fingers gently over it.

The kind ring in his voice unnerved her. She looked at him vaguely for a
few seconds with heaving bosom and glistening, tear-filled eyes, then
suddenly burst out into passionate sobbing.

“Oh!” she wailed between the convulsive spasms of emotion that shook
her. “Oh, my God! D’you think I’d be doin’ this if we didn’t! No, no!
Oh, dear!”

The Sergeant’s brows contracted with a sudden, sharp, lowering glance.

“Who’s _we_?” he inquired with significant interest.

With a few long-drawn, shuddering sobs, like a child that has been
scolded for crying, she quieted down curiously at his question and,
presently pulling out a handkerchief, began to dry her eyes.

He reiterated his query, but she only stared back at him with dumb,
though not defiant, obstinacy, as before.

“You stayin’ _here_?” He indicated the cottage. She nodded. He turned on
his heel and prepared to depart.

“You go in then, kid; you’re cold,” he said. “You be a good girl, now,
an’ don’t get chippyin’ round no more or you’ll be gettin’ into trouble.
Good night.”

And, leaving her gazing after him wistfully, he rejoined the waiting
doctor, and they moved off slowly back the way they had come.

“Moral reformer, eh! for a change?” Musgrave remarked with a flippant,
gibing laugh. “Well, it isn’t worse than many of your vagaries. We shall
have you entering Holy Orders next, I suppose?”

In his heart the savage old cynic approved; but, for the life of him, he
could not check the sneer.

Ellis made no reply. It was a habit of his very often not to answer
Charley, and the latter did not mind it in the least.

“Now listen,” pursued Musgrave. “I’ll tell _you_ something now. I’ve
been here for two days. Langley, who owns the hotel here, is an old
patient of mine. He wired me to come down an’ see a man who was ill in
his place—chap asked him to get a doctor. Rattray, the medico here, is
in hospital himself, undergoing an operation for appendicitis, so I came
along. Now, I’m a specialist. I don’t undervalue _my_ professional
services in the least, I can assure you. Quit that, years ago. I have my
fee. Those that don’t care to pay it are welcome to get somebody
else—that’s all there’s to it. Now—coming back to this case in
hand—naturally, after having to come all the way down here, one of the
first things I did was to sound Langley as to my prospective patient’s
financial stability. May sound mercenary, or merciless, whichever you
please—to _you_—but, as I said before—Well, Langley said he was all
right, as far as he knew. Seemed to have plenty of money—has paid up
square enough during the week or so he’s been in the hotel—was an
absolute stranger to him—registered as John Walters, from Toronto—said
he’d been sick for a couple of days. So I went upstairs to have a look
at him. He looks to me like a clerk, counter-jumper—town-bred,
anyway—might be anything—I don’t know what his line in life is—never
asked him. He must have divined that I’d been questioning Langley about
him, for one of the first things he said to me was: ‘Money’s all right,
Doctor. Oh, I’ve got plenty of “dough.”’ And he fumbles under the
bedclothes and shakes three or four _hundred_-dollar bills at me.
_Hundred-dollar_ ones, mind you! Afterwards, when I was examining him, I
found he was wearing a leather money-belt next to his skin—you know—the
kind we used to have in South Africa, with pockets all round. I don’t
know, of course, how much he’s got in it; but he hangs on to it mighty
close, and seems very nervous and suspicious. He’s a pretty sick man,
anyway. I may have to rush him into town to one of the hospitals, and
operate on him right away. I’m just waiting for a certain symptom to
show up. Now, here’s one of the queerest parts about this business. The
morning after he’d put up at the hotel—so Langley tells me—_this girl_
came here, along with some chap. Whether they’re man and wife, or not, I
couldn’t say; they’re living together _as_ such, at all events, and
they’ve rented that cottage. What the fellow’s name is I don’t know, or
what his business here is, either. He dresses fairly well, and he’s got
good looks—of a certain type. But it sure is a d—d bad face, all the
same. Typical ‘white-slaver’s.’ Well, yesterday afternoon I went
upstairs to see my patient. I’d just got to the landing where his room
is, when I heard somebody talking to him—in precious loud, ugly tones,
too. I heard this: ‘Yer thought yer could “shake” me—hidin’ away in this
burg, eh? Now, look a-here. I’m nigh broke—you’re flush. If yer don’t
come across quick, I’m a-goin’ to start somethin’. I’ve bin here close
on a week now, an’ I ain’t a-goin’ to wait no longer!’

“I promptly opened the door and stepped in, and here was my gentleman,
standing by the side of Walters’ bed. The expression on his mug was
anything but sweet, and as for Walters—he was all in—collapsed,
absolutely. ‘What’s the trouble?’ I said. ‘Oh, nothin’,’ says Mr. Man,
kind of off-hand; ‘just a-talkin’ over a little business matter with my
friend, here.’ ‘Well, now look here,’ I said; ‘I’m the doctor attending
this man. He isn’t in a fit condition to talk business to anybody,
especially _your_ kind. Just _look_ at him, man! Now, you get straight
out of here—right now. I’m not going to have you worrying this man in
the condition that he’s in; and remember, you’re to stay out—for good.
You keep away from here altogether, or I’ll d—d soon take steps to make
you. D’you hear?’ He looked at me in a precious mean, ugly sort of way,
but he slunk out, and he hasn’t been near Walters since. That’s _why_ I
wanted Churchill. Looks now as if _he_ might know something, eh?”

Ellis uttered a short, mirthless laugh. “That’s what,” he answered
succinctly.

They walked on in silence for awhile.

“It’s like this,” resumed Musgrave. “I’m purely and simply in the
position of a doctor called in to see a patient. As long as I’m
remunerated for my professional services it’s none of my business to go
poking about, prying into other people’s affairs, and I don’t intend to
in this case. That’s up to _you_. But, all the same, the whole thing
seems a kind of a rum go, and I thought I’d better mention it to one of
you. Whatever’s this fellow, Walters, going around with all this money
cached on him for? keeping indoors always, religiously, at night—so
Langley says ... of no occupation—never speaking to anybody if he can
help it ... as mum as you please.... Never letting on to Langley, or any
one, that he knew this other chap, either. Then this talk I overheard in
his bedroom ... proper blackmail. The plot thickens—ahem! I think we’d
better temporarily assume the respective rôles of Sherlock Holmes and
his pal, Dr. Watson, to clear up this dark mystery,” he concluded, with
a melodramatic chuckle.

The Sergeant nodded, with a thoughtful grin.

“M-m, yes! it sure does look kind of queer,” he murmured. “Guess I’ll
take a _dekho_ at both these ginks tomorrow, Charley, before I pull out
to the Creek. That girl, for instance. You can take your oath she’s just
travelin’ with that chap. Been enticed away from some little country
burg—you know the ways and means these brutes have o’ working these
things? Once away from home they’re done for, and scared to go back. He
must be just usin’ her as a decoy-duck for some rotten business best
known to himself, but you could see how green she was. Churchill—what?
the d—d fool—riskin’ his job—gossipy one-horse _dorp_ like this!”

They had reached the door of the hotel.

“Well, I’m going to turn in,” said the doctor. “Sure you won’t come in
and have a drink?”

Ellis shook his head. “No, thanks, Charley,” he said; “I’ll enjoy one
better tomorrow. See you then. Good night, old man.”

And he walked slowly on towards the detachment. Half an hour later he
threw aside the paper that he had been reading and, yawning wearily,
prepared to go to bed. Suddenly, there came to him the remembrance of
some mail matter that he had brought with him from the Post, and which
he had neglected to look at as yet. Mechanically he felt in his pockets.
No!—it wasn’t there—must have left it in his red serge when he changed
into his stable-jacket. His surmise was correct, and presently he began
to tear the envelopes open, glancing carelessly through their various
contents. Well, well, the General Orders for the current month, his
shoeing account returned with a small mistake in it, a peremptory
request—obviously dictated from the Quartermaster’s Store—anent having
his Monthly Returns despatched at a somewhat earlier date than had
hitherto been his habit ... nothing very _important_, there. What did
Dudley mean? Hello! What was _this_? He had drawn from the last envelope
a typewritten copy of a circular. He stared vaguely at the headlines of
the notice, which ran:

                     WANTED FOR MURDER AND BURGLARY
                              $500 REWARD

    The above amount will be paid to any one giving information that
    will lead to the arrest of either of the below-described men,
    who, on the night of August 28th, 190— in company with
    one—Joseph Lipinski, alias George Winters—since arrested in
    Seattle—shot and killed, John Hetherington, night-watchman of
    the Carter-Marchmont Trust Building, who surprised them in the
    act of robbing the safe in the Company’s offices, in New
    Axminster, B. C.

    Description. No. 1. Henry Shapiro (alias Harvey Stone, alias
    Nathan Porter). Known to the Chicago police as “Harry the Mack.”
    Age 37; 5 ft. 11 in.; about 190 lbs.; black hair; has peculiar
    light gray eyes, with slight cast in the left one; complexion,
    swarthy; clean shaved; is of Jewish descent; nationality,
    American;—

Followed details of dress and general habits. Concluding:

    Lipinski, in a statement that he has made, alleges that it was
    Shapiro who fired the shot which killed Hetherington. Was a
    former prison mate of Shapiro’s in Elmira Penitentiary, where
    the latter was serving a term of five years for safe-blowing.
    This man has a criminal record also, he says, in Chicago, and
    has served a three-year term in Joliet, Ill., on a charge of
    white slavery. We are endeavoring to obtain his photo, Bertillon
    measurements, and finger-print classification from one of these
    institutions.

    No. 2. Herbert Wilks. Age 26; 5 ft. 8 or 9; about 165 lbs.; blue
    eyes; brown hair; complexion, fresh; clean shaved; nationality,
    Canadian; dressed in a dark-blue serge suit; gray Fedora hat,
    with black band round it; brown boots. This man is a former
    employee of the Trust Co., and was discharged by them two days
    previous to the date on which these crimes were committed. As
    far as is known, he has no record and has never been in trouble
    before. Has the reputation of being quite a sport. Possesses a
    jaunty air, drinks heavily, is a cigarette fiend, carries a
    cane, and is said to be fond of women. Comes from Hamilton,
    Ont., and is believed to have relatives there. Lipinski states
    that Wilks must have the bulk of the money (approximately
    $2,000.00) that was stolen, as he had quit them earlier, leaving
    the safe open, in which they only found $150.00. That they were
    in the act of splitting this when they were surprised by the
    watchman. That they separated and ran different ways immediately
    after the murder, being fired at by the patrolman on the beat,
    who had heard the shot. Has not seen either of them since, and
    has no idea which way they went. Had often seen Shapiro in
    company with a woman, whom he did not know. The greater part of
    the money stolen is in the shape of Bank of Commerce bills of
    large denominations, which they may have difficulty in changing.

    Wire all information to

    _John Mason_,
    _Chief Constable_.

Below, ran the usual injunctions:

    Members of Line, or other detachments are notified to keep a
    sharp look-out for these men, who may have come East.

    (_Signed_) _R. B. Bargrave_, _Supt._
    _Officer Commanding L. Divn._

For some few seconds the Sergeant sat perfectly motionless, failing at
first to grasp the full significance of what he had just read, the typed
characters of the circular appearing but a mere indistinct blur to his
abstracted eyes. Then, slowly but surely, the conviction grew in his
mind that here—_here_ in his hand, he held, undoubtedly, the very key to
the mystery that Musgrave had confided to him that night.

“Well, I’ll be ——!” he ejaculated softly to himself. He looked again at
the date of the crime. “Ten days ago. Holy Doodle! they must have been a
bloomin’ long time makin’ up their minds to wire East, or I’d have got
this long ago. S’pose they figured they had ’em corralled all hunkadory
in the town somewhere ... couldn’t get away ... or, when they nailed
this Lipinski man in Seattle, that they’d all beat it the same road. Ten
days ... an’ this chap—Walters, as he calls himself—has been here for a
little over a week. That fits in O. K.”

He sprang to his feet and buckled on his side-arms beneath his
stable-jacket; then, putting on his hat, he extinguished the light and
slipped stealthily out of the detachment into the dark of the night.

“Here goes for that five hundred ‘bucks,’” he muttered grimly. “No use
wastin’ time over Walters. _He_ can’t run away. Let’s have a _dekho_ at
this Mr. Shapiro—if it _is_ him. Why in thunder should they choose
_this_ place of all places to get playin’ hide-an’-seek in? Well, I
guess we’ll know later.”

Entering the lane that lay at the rear of the buildings paralleling the
main street, he strode swiftly and silently back towards the cottage
where the girl had informed him she was staying. As he approached it
there came through the stillness a smothered murmur of voices and,
presently the low-pitched, guarded tones of a man’s growling bass, mixed
with a woman’s sobbing, reached his ears.

Quickening his pace, he noiselessly drew near the scene of the
altercation, the thick carpet of dust effectually deadening his
footsteps. There, under the light of the lamp, he beheld the figures of
a man and a woman, the latter unmistakably the young would-be “Delilah”
who had accosted him earlier in the evening.

“How come you to make such a —— fool break as that?” came the man’s
voice, fierce and indistinct with passion. “_He_ ain’t th’ cop that’s
here reg’lar. He’s easy, _that_ guy. This feller, he _knows_ me—beat me
up one time—him. I—— By G—d! I believe you were a-puttin’ him wise!”

The girl’s weeping response was inaudible to the listening policeman,
but it only seemed to add fresh fuel to her persecutor’s rage for, with
an inarticulate snarl, he struck at her savagely and, with a piteous,
heart-broken cry, she reeled back from the cruel blow.

The sight maddened Ellis and, with an angry shout, he sprang forward.
The man, who hitherto had been standing with his back to the light, now
swung sharply around at the interruption. In a flash the Sergeant
recognized that face again. It was “_Harry_”—the man who had robbed the
woman on the train, and whom he had thrashed so severely some two months
earlier.

Like lightning both men’s hands streaked to their hips, but the yeggman
was the quicker of the two. The girl saw his action and, with a hasty
movement, flung herself between the combatants with raised, protesting
hands.

“No, no, no! Harry, _don’t_!” she screamed.

But, simultaneous with her cry, came the flash and crack of his gun.
Staggering with the shock of the bullet, she clutched at her bosom in
stupid bewilderment.

“Oh, God!” she gasped in her agony. “Oh, bub-bub-bub!” And, swaying with
a side-long lurch, she fell heavily to the ground.

For a few seconds the two men remained motionless, stupefied at the
tragedy that had been enacted before their eyes. Then the policeman’s
gun spoke and, with a groaning blasphemy, Harry reeled back, dangling a
shattered left wrist that he had flung up instinctively to shield his
head.

Again and again the Sergeant pressed the trigger, but a succession of
empty clicks were all that followed. With dismay he then recollected
expending four fruitless long-range shots at a coyote that evening
whilst exercising Johnny, and neglecting to reload.

He was at the other’s mercy. But that individual, seemingly demoralized
by the excruciating torture of his wound, failed to profit by his
advantage. Still clutching his gun, he wheeled around and dashed for the
railroad track.

In feverish haste Ellis ejected the spent shells, dragged forth three
more cartridges and, thrusting them into the cylinder of his weapon,
with the practised flip of the finished gun-fighter, flung two more
shots after the fugitive, who had recoiled from his sudden contact with
the barbed-wire fence that ran alongside the track.

At the second report Harry pitched forward on his face, but the next
moment he had rolled under the lower strand of the wire, arisen to his
feet again and limped away in the gloom, heading for the station.
Benton’s first fierce impulse was to follow in immediate pursuit, but a
low moan of intense half-conscious agony from the stricken girl checked
him.

“Can’t get far winged like that, anyway,” he muttered. “I’ll get him
later.”

Stooping down, he gently gathered up the inanimate body in his powerful
arms and strode towards the cottage with his burden. The head, with its
soft mass of curly dark hair, lolling over helplessly against his
shoulder like a tired child’s, whilst the bright arterial blood pumped
in quick jets from the bullet wound in her breast all down the front of
his stable-jacket.

With an impatient thrust of his knee, he burst open the gate and,
climbing the few steps, entered through the open door into the front
room, where a lamp was burning. Here he deposited the girl on a low
couch.

Attracted by the shots, soon there came the sounds of hurrying feet and
the murmur of many voices and, presently, a small concourse of excited
and curious people began to gather in front of the cottage where the
light was showing through the open door. The Sergeant stepped forward
hastily.

“Quick!” he said. “One of you run up to the hotel and get Dr. Musgrave;
he’s staying there. Quick! By G—d! This girl’s been shot, and she’s
bleedin’ to death!”

And, in response to his appeal, two figures immediately detached
themselves from the gathering and sped away. Turning back to the couch,
he kneeled down and, ripping open the girl’s flimsy blouse, rolled his
handkerchief into a pad and pressed it tightly over the wound. She lay
quite still, with closed eyes, groaning occasionally with the deadly
pain that wracked her, a bloody foam bubbling up from her lips at each
gasping breath. Soon Musgrave came bursting in.

“Why, what’s this?” he said breathlessly.

“That fellow—with her,” answered Ellis disjointedly. “Wanted for
murder—B.C.—went to arrest him—shot at me—hit her—instead— Can’t tell
you now— Here, Charley!—look after her—goin’ after him—not far away—hit
bad.”

He was on his feet as he spoke, swiftly ramming fresh shells into his
gun; and, with one last look at the unconscious face, he jumped down the
steps and started for the station via the direction that Harry had
taken. A few of the more adventurous spirits attempted to follow him but
he peremptorily ordered them back. Catching sight, though, of a face
that he knew, he hastily beckoned its owner aside.

“See here; look, Wardle!” he said, in a tense undertone to the
kindly-faced old man who officiated as postmaster in the little town.
“I’m glad you’re here. There’s a girl in the house there, who’s been
shot up pretty bad, an’ I think it’s all up with her.” He rapidly
explained the situation to the other, adding: “You’re a J.P.... Don’t
attempt to worry her if she’s too far gone, remember, but try an’ get a
deposition off her if the doctor will allow it, an’ get him an’ somebody
else to witness it.... Can’t stop now—got to get after this chap,
quick!” And he hurried away.

A man swinging a railroad lamp came forward and accosted him, whom he
recognized as the station agent.

“Look, now, Carey,” he said significantly, in response to the other’s
excited offer of help. “Come, if you want to. But I tell you flat—you’re
takin’ a big chance of gettin’ hurt. Douse that cursed light,” he added
irritably, “or you’ll be makin’ a proper mark of us.”

The other promptly obeyed, and presently they reached the beginning of
the platform. The Sergeant produced a small electric torch.

“Should be some blood to trail him by,” he muttered. “I got him twice.
Hello! here it is!”

Pressing the button at intervals, they followed the faint dribbles and
spots along the ties. Clear past the station offices and freight shed,
it led them, right to the shelving terminus of the platform, where they
brought up a dozen or so yards beyond when the blood marks suddenly
ceased.

“What place is that?” whispered the policeman, indicating a small
structure whose shadowy outlines loomed up vaguely against the
surrounding gloom.

“Section men’s hut,” the agent whispered back. “There’s only some tools
and a handcar in there. It’s locked, though, and Petersen, the section
boss, has the key. He can’t get in there. Let’s go on a piece—we may
pick it up again.”

They crept cautiously on for a short distance, but the sanguinary trail
failed to reappear.

“No use goin’ any farther,” protested Ellis, in a low tone. “P’r’aps
he’s doubled back an’ cached himself under the platform.”

They retraced their steps and soon picked up the blood spots again.
Benton, gun in hand, halted irresolutely in front of the section hut.

“You _sure_ it’s locked, Carey?” he said.

The other moved ahead impatiently. “Yes, _sure_” he answered. “It’s no
good lookin’ there, Sergeant—let’s rout around the platform.”

A sudden impulse, though, moved Ellis to step over to the shed. Grasping
the door handle, he pulled on it. To his surprise it swung open.

The next instant there came a rattle as of tools being displaced as a
dark form arose. Followed a blinding spurt of flame and a deafening
report right, it seemed, in his very face. Instinctively, he winced
away, with a burning pain in his left ear and, ducking down, with deadly
calculation he fired upwards twice as he did so.

The detonation in the galvanized-iron structure was terrific. When the
echoes gradually died away, a curious scraping, threshing noise,
monotonous in its regularity, succeeded, coupled with a horrid,
long-drawn, liquid gurgle, as of water issuing from the neck of an
inverted bottle.

These ominous sounds, too, eventually ceased, and the silence of the
night settled over all once more. Carey clutched Benton with a shiver,
and his teeth chattered like castanets.

“Is—is he—dead—d’you think?” he quavered.

“Don’t know,” returned Benton in a low voice. “Sufferin’ Moses! my
_ear’s_ hurtin’ me somethin’ fierce. I’m bleedin’ like a stuck pig. Keep
you well to the side, there, when I flash the light in. You never know
what’s goin’ to come off.”

Cautiously he pressed the spring of his torch and, as the little halo of
radiance penetrated the obscurity, he gave a quick, searching look. With
a satisfied sigh, he released the button and turned in the darkness to
his companion.

“All right, Carey,” he said reassuringly. “You can light up again now.”

With shaking fingers, the other produced a match and, relighting his
lamp, cast its rays into the opening. He beheld a sight that was to
remain in his memory for many a day. With a cry of horror, he tumbled
back, the lantern falling from his nerveless grasp.

“Oh, my God!” he cried. “Oh, Lord!”

Ellis stooped and picked up the smoking globe.

“Here, here!” he remonstrated callously. “What’s wrong with you, Carey?
Get a hold of yourself, man. You’re a peach to want to come man-hunting,
you are. Have you never seen a stiff before? Get in an’ have a good look
at everythin’, because you’ll most likely be an important witness at the
inquest.... O-oh!” he broke off, with a sharp intake of his breath, “my
ear’s givin’ me h—l. Lend me your handkerchief.”

Thus urged, and trembling violently with horror and repugnance, the
agent nerved himself again to the ordeal. Raising the lamp once more, he
gazed with morbid fascination at the ominous heap that but a short while
back had been a strong, hot-blooded man.

With the handkerchief pressed to his wound, and cursing softly with the
pain, the Sergeant jerked his gun back into its holster again. Stepping
forward, he inspected his handiwork critically. The two heavy, smashing
bullets of the Colt’s .45, fired at close range, had done their deadly
work effectively. One, penetrating a little beneath the left eye, had
blown away a portion of the skull in its exit, whilst the other, tearing
its passage through the thick, bull throat, had turned the place into a
veritable shambles.

Still clutched in the stiffened right hand was a huge, unfamiliar type
of pistol, which weapon the policeman examined with curious interest,
coming—as it nearly had—to ending _his_ earthly existence. The terrible
simplicity of the creed that was his in such matters forbade his
evincing the slightest vestige of pity or remorse for his dead enemy.
The vision of a pale, pinched-faced young mother, with a little child,
seemed to arise before his eyes, and the heart-broken cry of a stricken
girl still rang in his ears and hardened his heart.

“Blast you!” he muttered savagely. “You only got what was comin’ to you.
It was me or you, this trip, an’ no error. You had an even break,
anyway.”

The agent turned aside, shaking in every limb.

“Let’s get!” he said, with an oath. “Ugh! I can’t stand it no longer. I
guess sights and happenings like this ain’t nothing to you, Sergeant ...
you’re used to it in your line of business. Besides, you’ve been through
a war and must have killed and seen lots of fellers killed before. It
don’t turn you up like it does me. Come away, for the love of God. By
Gosh! but I could have sworn that place was locked. Petersen must have
forgot to snap the padlock. I’ve got a duplicate key here. Guess I’d
better lock everything up tight, eh? and give you the key.”

“Yes,” said Ellis. “And give Petersen strict orders not to open it up
again till I say so. Nothing’s got to be touched till the coroner gives
the word. Old Corbett acts in this district. Wonder whether he’s at his
place?”

“Oh, he’s there, all right,” said Carey. “But he’s sick—all crippled up
with rheumatism. His daughter—you know, the one that rides—she was in
today and I was talking to her.”

“That settles it,” said Benton. “I’m goin’ to wire the O.C. now, an’
I’ll get him to send a coroner down by the mornin’ train. Let’s have
that key for a bit. I want the doctor to have a look at this body.”

Some twenty minutes later he returned to the cottage. Musgrave and old
Wardle met him on the threshold, and the former, with a significant
gesture enjoining silence, softly closed the door. With the light of a
strange exultation showing in his haggard face and bloodshot eyes, he
proceeded to acquaint them with all that had happened. They listened
with eager curiosity.

“Whew!—some shave, all right,” remarked the doctor. “Here, Ellis! Let’s
fix up that ear of yours. You’re bleeding like the deuce, and that tunic
of yours is soaked.” And, as Benton removed the handkerchief. “Why, man,
it’s clipped the lobe clean away! Come on in, then, but be as quiet as
you can—I’ve put her on the bed in the other room. I’ve given her a
strong morphine injection to ease the pain. It’ll keep her quiet for a
time.”

He turned, with his hand on the doorknob, but Ellis caught him by the
arm.

“Charley,” he said, with a catch in his voice. “That girl saved me. Is
she—is there any—”

“No,” answered the doctor quietly. “That slug’s gone slap through the
right lung and out under the shoulder. She’s done for, though she may
live for a few hours. Must have been an awful high-pressure gun that he
used.”

“It sure was,” said the Sergeant. “It was one of those German ‘Lugers.’
You’ll see it still clutched in his fist when you go down there.”

“Eh, laad!” said the kindly old postmaster, who originally hailed from
Yorkshire. “But she’s rare an’ weak ... an’ th’ doctor don’t think as
’er’ll last th’ night out. It’s nobbut o’ a deposition she were able to
gie us, th’ poor lass, for ’er could scarcelins speak, an’ I had’na th’
heart to worrit ’er. She says as ’ow ’er name’s Elsie Baxter, an’ that
yon man o’ ’ers as she calls ’Arry—shot at yo’ but ’it ’er, instead,
accidental, when she got betune ye. She wouldn’t tell me where ’er coom
fra’, tho’, or what _’is_ other name be. Fair frightened, ’er is, ’bout
’im bein’ ketched, an’ ’er keeps on a-cryin’ out ’is name real
pitiful-like, an’ sayin’ as ’e did’na _mean_ to shoot ’er. I ’ad ’Arry
Langley, from th’ ’otel, in there, an’ ’im an’ th’ doctor’s witnessed
it. Did yo’ say yo’ gaffled ’un, laad?”

The Sergeant, with his brooding mind still obsessed with the memory of
his recent conflict, regarded his questioner absently, with a livid,
scowling face.

“Eyah!” he snarled darkly, with an ugly oath, and with grimly
unconscious humor imitating the other’s dialect: “A gaffled ’un, all
right, Dad!—nobbled ’un proper. A knaws ’un’s name, too, an’ all ’bout
’un!”

Quickly and deftly, the doctor dressed the Sergeant’s torn ear,
bandaging the wound with an antiseptic pad against it. Whilst this was
in progress, they conversed in low tones.

“Why, come to think of it,” said Musgrave, “I remember now seeing an
account of that business in the paper, at the time. Lord! I was slow—not
to have tumbled before. I wouldn’t make much of a sleuth, I’m afraid.”
He carefully replaced his surgical apparatus in his bag. “Didn’t you see
it?” he inquired.

Ellis shrugged indifferently. “Lord, no!” he said. “Why, I go from a
month on end and never _see_ a paper—out there at the ‘Creek.’ Besides,
we don’t go by the _papers_. I was officially notified in this case.
’Course, I’m not forgettin’ if it hadn’t been for you tellin’ me what
you did, I’d never been able to connect up.”

He was silent for a moment or two. “How about the other chap, Charley?
Walters—Wilks—or whatever his name is,” he asked, a trifle anxiously. “I
suppose it’ll be safe enough to leave _him_ till tomorrow?”

“Oh, sure,” said the doctor reassuringly. “I don’t think he’s exactly
able to ‘take up his bed and walk’ _just_ yet. I’ll keep an eye on
_him_. There! that’ll do for the time. I’ll fix it up again tomorrow for
you.”

With a weary yawn, Benton arose from the chair on which he had been
sitting during the ear-dressing process.

“Here’s the key of that section house, Charley,” he said, handing the
other over that article. “Take a run on down there, will you? an’ have a
look at that body. I’ll stay an’ watch this poor kid. An’ say! I can’t
very well wear _this_!”—he indicated his ensanguined stable-jacket—“you
might bring me back my serge, old man! It’s lying on the bed in the
detachment.”

“All right. I’ll go now,” said Musgrave. “Remember,” he added, “the
kindest thing you can do is to keep her as quiet as possible. I’ve done
all that I’m medically able to do, but it’s a parson _she_ needs—more
than a doctor. Aren’t there any here?”

“Yes,” said Ellis listlessly, “on Sundays. There’s denominations galore
represented _then_. This is a sanctimonious little ‘_dorp_.’ The Church
of England man is the only one resident here, though. He’s away in
town—attending the Church Convention. I was talking to him this morning
when I was going to court, an’ he said he didn’t expect to come back
till the day after tomorrow.”

“Well, she’s sleeping now,” said the doctor. “I’ve stopped the external
bleeding and given her a strong morphine injection, as I think I told
you. Give her all the water she wants to drink, if she wakes up, but
beyond getting the necessary particulars regarding her, I wouldn’t
encourage her to talk. Come on, Wardle! We’ll go on down to this place.”

The two men tip-toed out softly and closed the door, whilst the
Sergeant, carefully stripping off his blood-stained stable-jacket,
entered the bedroom noiselessly, and seated himself at the side of the
suffering girl. Still under the influence of the powerful drug, she was
dozing peacefully and, but for an occasional gurgle of blood in her
throat, her breathing was considerably less labored.

Long and earnestly he gazed at the face of the girl who had,
undoubtedly, saved his life, though at the forfeit of her own. The
features were already pinched and drawn, and the rich color of the
cheeks had faded to a dull, ashen gray, save where two hectic spots
indicated her rising temperature. For, upon that countenance, the Angel
of Death had set his dread seal, and passed upon his way.

Oppressed by deep pity and many troubled thoughts, Ellis sank into a
gloomy reverie from which he was aroused by Musgrave returning—alone.
Arising quietly, he obeyed the other’s silent motion and followed him
outside.

“Well,” he said listlessly, slipping on the red serge which his
companion handed to him, “did you see him, Charley?”

Musgrave glanced curiously at the powerful, still profile of the man
before him.

“Yes,” he said slowly. And even _his_ trained nerves could not suppress
a slight shudder at the remembrance. “Poor old Wardle’s gone home
feeling pretty sick, I can tell you ... an’ I don’t wonder. You’re some
bad man with a gun, Ellis.”

The Sergeant, with mind sunk in a fit of abstraction, eyed him absently.

“Eyah,” he said. “I guess I put the sign on him, all right.”

The doctor scrutinized the drawn, blood-stained face closely.

“Look here,” he said kindly. “You look a bit strapped, old man. You go
on home to bed now. _I’ll_ stop with the girl!”

The considerate words seemed to arouse the other strangely.

“No, by ——!” he said vehemently, with a sobbing oath. “I’m goin’ to stay
till—till—”

His voice broke. Recovering himself, he continued, with an effort:

“It’s the least I can do. You can sleep on that couch in the front room.
I’ll call you if she’s in bad pain.”

“All right—all right!” answered Musgrave gently and, gripping the
Sergeant’s shoulder with a sympathetic pressure, “we won’t fight over
it, old man. I understand. Call me if I’m needed. I don’t think your
‘guard’ will be very long now, though.”



CHAPTER XII


    On those poor frail sisters who’ve fallen low,
    And who suffer and die through the sins of men—
    More sinned against, than sinning, I trow—
    Shew Thy Mercy—Thy Pity—Lord Christ, Amen.

    —_Court of Common Pleas_

Wearily, and with a throbbing pain in his torn ear, Ellis resumed his
vigil. An hour slowly passed. Two hours. Suddenly a restless movement
from the bed aroused him from the dreamy lethargy into which he had
sunk, and he gazed into the wide-open, bewildered eyes of the awakened
girl that were regarding him wonderingly through their long lashes.

“How did I come here?” she articulated painfully.

“I carried you in,” he said. “You’ve been in here for nearly three hours
now.”

Her lips moved soundlessly, and she remained with puckered forehead, as
if striving to collect her thoughts.

“Then who were those other men?” she said in a hoarse whisper.

“Well, one was the postmaster, and there was the man that owns the
hotel. The other man was the doctor. It was he who fixed you up.”

Then, for the first time, she seemed to notice his bandaged head. With a
little cry, she struggled feebly to raise herself, eyeing him fearfully
the while.

“Where’s Harry?” she gasped tensely. “You’ve been hurt, like me. Did you
an’ him get shootin’ at each other again? Oh, tell me. Where is he?”

He strove to soothe her and allay her agitation, but without avail.

“Please! oh, please, Policeman!” she sobbed. “Don’t arrest him. Let him
go! He didn’t _mean_ to hurt me.”

Her continued piteous pleading moved him greatly. Puzzled at this
attitude towards the man who had ruined and maltreated her, Ellis
inquired gently:

“Why?”

The great imploring dark eyes became like two twin stars, seeming to
search his very soul, as a wave of ineffable forgiving pity and devotion
glorified the face of the dying girl.

“Because—I—I—” she faltered.

The simplicity of her implied admission struck him dumb with surprise
for a moment, and he stared at her in stupefied amazement.

“What?” he almost shouted. “You still love that chap after—after—”

Speech failed him and he could only continue to look at her in awed
wonder.

Hard as they may find it to observe other precepts of the Great Master,
this one, at least, most women have practised easily and naturally for
over nineteen hundred years—“Forgive, until seventy times seven.”

The acts of some of these—how they warred with their husbands and
paramours and were worsted; how they provoked the presiding magistrate
and stultified the attesting policeman by obstinately ignoring their
injuries written legibly in red, and black, and blue; how they
interceded with many sobs for the aggressor—are they not written in the
book of the chronicles of every police court in the world?

This propensity leads them into scrapes, it is true, for our world in
its wisdom will always take advantage of such weaknesses. Perhaps the
next will make them some amends.

The bright, fever-lit eyes never left Benton’s face, and two tears
rolled down her sunken cheeks as she nodded silently in answer to his
incredulous query. Such an expression, indeed, might the Covenanter’s
widow have worn, as she looked into the ruthless countenance of Graham
of Claverhouse and begged for the life of her only son. And such it is,
also, that makes Guido’s famous picture of Beatrice Cenci one of the
saddest paintings on earth.

_That_ look was almost more than the Sergeant could endure, and he
hastily turned his head away to hide the hot, blinding tears that sprang
to his eyes. There seemed something very terrible, just then, in the
pathetic working of his stern face, as the strong man strove to hide his
emotion.

“Diamonds and pearls,” he whispered brokenly to himself; “diamonds and
pearls.”

And _this_—love such as _this_, had the dead man gained, then spurned
brutally from him, and cast away.

The Soul—to the last, could still triumph over the poor broken Body, and
_Love_—glorious, all-forgiving Love—arise, victorious and conquering;
through life—through death—aye—beyond the grave itself—to the very
Resurrection Morn.

The sands of the poor sufferer’s existence were running out fast now.
Benton shuddered when he thought of the horror that would surely come
into those shining, steadfast eyes if she were told whose blood was upon
his hands. Why disturb the brief space that was allotted to her by
revealing the awful truth? It would be a crime, he reflected. He lied,
bravely and whole-heartedly.

“No,” he said. “I haven’t arrested him, my girl. I was chasin’ after
him, an’ scratched one of my ears pretty bad climbin’ through that
barbed-wire fence alongside the track. A way-freight goin’ East pulled
through just about five minutes after, an’ I guess he must have made his
get-away on that.”

She drank in his words with an eagerness that tortured his conscience
sorely, but a quick, joyful light dawned on her face as his reward, and
she sank back on the pillows again with a little weary, gratified sigh
of relief. The strain had been too much for her, however, and she began
to choke pitifully, as a fresh gush of blood bubbled up from her lips
and stained her white breast. He slipped an arm under her head and,
tenderly as a woman might have done, he soothed and ministered to her
paroxysm.

For some few minutes she lay in a sort of stupor, and he watched her
anxiously, undecided whether or not to awaken Musgrave; but presently
she revived a little and her breathing became easier. The flow of blood
from her mouth had abated and, as she looked up and saw him supporting
her, the pale lips relaxed into a faint semblance of their old roguish
smile; when her face and bosom had been gently sponged, and she had
drunk a glass of water, she spoke—almost in a whisper, but quite calmly
and clearly:

“You ca-can’t—arrest me—now!”

The unutterable pathos of her pitiful little jest nearly broke him down
then but, with a struggle, he raised his eyes and, with a twisted mouth,
smiled valiantly back at her.

“What did—that—doctor—say?” she asked slowly. “Does he—think—I’ll—die? I
feel so—very—weak—and—tired ... and my—chest—hurts me—terrible.... I
think I—must be—dying.... Am I?... Look—at me—Policeman!... tell me....
Did he—say—I’m not—afraid....”

“Elsie, girl,” he said unsteadily. “Elsie, you’re—” He stopped and,
choking a little, reached out a slightly shaking hand to smooth back the
dark curly hair from her white forehead. “You’re going home, girl—you’re
going home!”

She gazed at him searchingly for a few seconds, then turned her head
away listlessly, with a sharp intake of her breath. There was a long
silence which was broken by Ellis.

“Elsie Baxter _is_ your name, all right, isn’t it?” he asked gently.

She nodded, watching his face closely meanwhile.

“How old are you?”

“Twenty-two,” she whispered.

“What nationality?”

“American.”

“What part of the States do you come from, my girl?” he continued.
“Where are your parents—if you have any—or your friends?”

But his inquiries failed to elicit any response, and all he got was the
same passive look of mute entreaty which she had exhibited to all his
queries on the occasion of their first meeting.

“Come,” he whispered coaxingly. “Why won’t you tell me? You ought to.”

She sighed as if she were exhausted. “What’s the—use?” she murmured. “My
real mother—is—dead—an’—an’—my father—an’ my step-mother—were unkind—to
me—so I ran—away....”

She met his perplexed look with a faint, weary smile, and cuddled his
hand beseechingly. “That’s all,” she said. “There.... I can’t—tell you
any—more—now.... Best—thing—if they never—hear.... I’m—going
soon—where—I don’t—know.” She ceased, panting for breath.

He desisted then, for the doctor’s final injunctions came to his
remembrance with a pang of regret. He had encouraged her to talk too
much already.

Aye—what _was_ the use, he reflected. There was a world of meaning in
her answer—too great to be misunderstood. Time, it is true, had wrought
curious changes in his wandering life and ways, and both memory and
conscience had, to a certain extent, become oblivious to many things;
but, in the former faculty, assuredly one period in his history was not
included. With a bitter hatred which not even the lapse of over twenty
years could quench, he recalled only too well, the pale, sneering face
of the virago who had usurped the place of his own gentle mother, and
whose animosity had eventually been the means of driving _him_ from
home, also.

“Yes,” he mused. This poor dying waif and he probably had much in
common.

The girl lay quiet for a long while, and a cheap American alarm clock
ticked sharply in the stillness. Presently she turned her face to him
again and regarded him earnestly.

“Will—you please—say a—prayer?” she articulated painfully. And, as he
hesitated and looked at her in dumb misery: “Won’t you?...
even—even—for—such as me?”

A terrible revulsion of feeling shook his strong frame. Who was he, that
he should dare to presume to pray for the dying? Fallen sinner though
she might be—what was _he_?... And a vision of his own reckless and
irresponsible past seemed to rise up before him accusingly.

“Please,” the weak voice pleaded.

With bowed head and bursting heart he falteringly repeated the only
prayer that he remembered—“The Lord’s”—and, with its “Amen,” a solemn,
awesome quiet descended upon the little room.

And then—the end came very quickly. She turned her head and looked at
him kindly. Her eyes were alight with a great, dreamy happiness, and in
their depths he beheld the radiant glory that, passing all human
understanding, heralds the near approach of death.

“Kiss me,” she whispered faintly.

All his manhood sorely shaken, he stooped to bestow the caress. Only
once in that last quiet minute of life—for death-struggle there was
none—the white lips moved; and the Sergeant, bending down his ear,
caught what may have been an appeal to the Father’s mercy, but Ellis
always believed it was a man’s name.

She sighed once or twice wearily, gasped a little and, leaning her head
back with a slight shiver, the poor girl’s spirit went forth into the
Night.


For a long time Benton never stirred. A sense of utter desolation, he
knew not why, seemed to gather all around him. Inheriting from his
mother a strongly impressionable nature, he was always chivalrously
predisposed towards women and, somehow, complete stranger to him though
the unfortunate waif was, the inexpressible pathos of her lonely, tragic
death stirred all his being with a great, compassionate pity.

Suddenly he broke down and burst out sobbing, with the deep, convulsive
emotion terrible to witness in a strong man; then, throwing his arms
about the dead girl, he fell to his knees and, gazing imploringly into
her quiet face, held her tightly, as if that firm clasp would hold her
back one step on the road along which the messengers of God had beckoned
her.

Would those with whom he was a byword for hard sternness of character
have known him _then_?

The light of the lamp sank lower, flickered a little, and was gone. Worn
out, mentally and bodily, the bowed head of the tired, kneeling watcher
gradually drooped forward until it rested upon the bosom of the
motionless form. The still face had settled into the serene, peaceful
grandeur of the death-calm. Beautiful she had been in life, aye, but
never so beautiful as now.

Then, to the exhausted, sleeping man, there came a wondrous dream, and
in it, behold! she appeared unto him again in all the glory of her
youth, innocence, and beauty, clad in white and glistening raiment, with
her arms outstretched to him from afar on High.

And, in her great, dark eyes, he seemed to see shining the love and pity
of Mary Magdalene—she whom He denied not, but said: “_Her sins which are
many are forgiven, for she loved much; but to whom little is forgiven,
the same loveth little._”



CHAPTER XIII


    So—peacefully, slept the un-shrouded dead,
      Beyond caring whether they stoned or kissed her;
    Till a Ministering Angel came instead,
      In the guise of a Salvation Army Sister.

    _Poor “Skagway Kate”_

Brightly, ah, so brightly, the rays of the early morning sun flooded
that sad room with their golden radiance, lighting up with a veritable
halo of glory the still, peaceful face of one for whom the weary
troubles and pain of this world had ceased.

The door opened softly and Musgrave, standing in its aperture, surveyed
a scene that awed and shook even _his_ cynical nature to its very
depths. For some minutes he remained with bowed head, perfectly
motionless, a picture of silent sympathy then, tip-toeing noiselessly
forward, he shook the still sleeping Benton gently, and a haggard, drawn
face was slowly upturned to his.

“Come, old man,” he said quietly. “Rouse yourself. You can do no more
good here now.”

And, stiff and cold, the Sergeant arose and followed him out like a
child.


Wearily he returned to the detachment and, with mechanical instinct,
tidied up the place. Then, duly attending scrupulously to his personal
toilet, he went down to the hotel, where he forced himself to swallow a
few mouthfuls of food and a cup of coffee. Later he repaired to the room
of Musgrave’s patient and, after subjecting that unfortunate individual
to a somewhat lengthy examination, he formally placed him under arrest.
These duties despatched, he departed with a heavy heart to the station
to await the incoming west-bound train, which was over an hour late.

Gradually, under the influence of his surroundings and the fresh morning
air, mind and body, from constant habit, returned, naturally, to their
normal state of soldierly alertness. To all outward appearance he became
once more the composed, practical guardian of the Law, resourceful and
ready for any duty that claimed him. Presently he was joined by the
station agent, who greeted him with a sort of miserable heartiness.

“Well, Sergeant,” he began, “and how are we this morning? Some doings
last night, eh? What about that ear of yours? You look as if you’d sure
come through a rough house, with that bandage on. What’s the other
feller look like?”

Ellis did not answer for a moment, but a faint grin overspread his
haggard face as he regarded the other’s tell-tale countenance
attentively.

“_We_!” he echoed, with quiet derision. “I’m afraid _we_ doesn’t feel
very well this nice mornin’, Carey. Ear stings like the devil. As for
the other fellow—you know what _he_ looks like, all right. You look as
if you were just doin’ a ‘walk-march’ to your _own_ funeral. You’d
better keep a flask on your hip for emergencies, as you an’ me’ll be the
star witnesses when this inquest comes off. I’m expectin’ the coroner
an’ one of our inspectors on this train.”

“Oh, I don’t think I’ll fall off the perch just yet,” said the agent,
with a sheepish smile. “I’ve got the other key off Petersen,” he
continued significantly. “One or two of the curious ones came nosing
around, but I warned ’em off the course, quick. Hello! here she comes.
Well, I’ll see you later, Sergeant.” And he hurried away about his
duties.

Inspector Purvis, a dark, heavy-set, middle-aged man, wearing the South
African and Riel Rebellion campaign ribbons, acknowledged Benton’s
salute punctiliously and, turning, introduced his companion.

“This is Dr. Sampson, the coroner, Sergeant Benton,” he said.

And Ellis shook hands with a tall, gray-mustached, pleasant-faced man,
whom he knew very well by sight. The latter glanced sharply at the
policeman’s bandaged head.

“Looks as if you’d been in the wars, Sergeant,” he said. “What’s
happened you?”

Ellis drew them on one side and briefly related his story, to which they
listened with lively interest.

“Well, well,” said the Inspector at its conclusion. “We’ll wait till
this train pulls out, and let these people get away, and then we’ll go
on down to this section hut and view this body.”

Ten minutes later they stood in front of the shed, and Ellis unlocked
the door and flung it open. An angry buzz greeted them, as their
presence disturbed a hideous swarm of blue-bottle flies. Sharp
exclamations of loathing and disgust escaped the two newcomers who,
after gazing for a few seconds at the _thing_ that had once been a man,
proceeded to note all details carefully, with the callous precision of
men hardened to such sights.

Once the Inspector’s glance traveled curiously, from the shattered head
of the corpse, to the stern, bandaged face of the man beside him, who
had caused this terrible transformation.

“Some shootin’!” he observed, in a low voice, to the coroner.

It seemed to be rather a doubtful compliment, though, under the
circumstances, so the latter only nodded nonchalantly, and refrained
from comment himself.

“There’s absolutely no doubt about this being Shapiro, the man that’s
wanted, sir,” said Ellis. “I saw the other man, Wilks, who’s lying sick
up at the hotel, this morning. He confirms this man’s identity, and
admits everything. I’ll take you up to see him later.”

Presently the coroner straightened himself up.

“All right!” he said. “I guess I’m through here, if you are, Inspector.
Let’s go and view the other body at the house the Sergeant speaks of.”

They turned to go, and Ellis locked the door again.

“Oh, Benton!” said the Inspector, in a low tone, beckoning him aside.
“Just a minute.”

With a slightly uncomfortable presentiment of what was coming, the
former obeyed.

There was a moment’s silence, while the Inspector eyed him keenly, but
not unkindly.

“I understand this isn’t the first man you’ve shot and killed in the
execution of your duty, Sergeant, since you’ve been in this Division,”
he said.

Ellis bowed his head in assent.

“Well, in that case,” continued the Inspector briskly, “your previous
experience has no doubt enlightened you, then, in regard to the
customary procedure in such cases. You are, of course, aware that the
finding of a coroner’s jury, while it may acquit you of all blame in
causing a person’s death, doesn’t necessarily preclude any subsequent
inquiry that the _Crown_ may see fit to institute later, although it
would naturally carry considerable weight with it in such an
eventuality....”

He paused for a moment, and then went on in the slightly sententious
tones of one who knows he has an unpleasant duty to perform:

“I’ve the O.C.’s orders to place you under ‘open’ arrest, and take you
back to the Post with me. There will be a formal charge laid against
you, and you will have to face an inquiry in regard to this man’s death.
Of course, I shall remain here until these inquests, etc., are over.
That is all, Sergeant. Now we’ll go on down to this other place.”

With a strange, indefinable feeling of reluctance, he conducted them
thither. Awed, and filled with compassion at what they beheld, they
halted irresolutely, a moment, on the threshold, and bared their heads
reverently in the presence of the dead. Then, entering the chamber, they
made a brief examination which, to Benton, standing idly there in his
dumb misery, seemed almost in the light of a sacrilege.

A whispered colloquy ensued between them for a few minutes, and then
they gently withdrew and closed the door, Ellis following them out to
receive his instructions.

“Inspector,” began the coroner, “I would have liked, if possible, to
have had this double inquest held here; but there’s not enough room, I’m
afraid. Could you—”

Ellis, with ready tact, broke in quietly: “I think I can arrange that,
all right, doctor. I know the man who rents this cottage next door. He’s
the day operator at the station. His wife’s away just now, so he’s
staying with Mr. Carey, the station agent. There wouldn’t be any
difficulty about obtaining the use of _his_ premises to hold the inquiry
in, and I could have the other body removed down here, so as to utilize
this place as the morgue.”

“Ah, very well,” said the coroner, with evident relief; “that will be
entirely satisfactory. There’s just one other thing I would like you to
see to, Sergeant. Kindly get some woman to attend to the necessary
arrangements in this last case—lay her out decently, and so on—you
understand?”

“And afterwards,” supplemented the Inspector, “of course give Dr.
Sampson all the assistance you can in empanelling a jury. Why, hello,
doctor!” he exclaimed, turning to Musgrave, who had just joined them.
“_You_ seem to have been getting yourself mixed up in stirring events
around here, according to what Sergeant Benton tells me. Whatever brings
you so far away from home? I guess we’ll need your evidence at these
inquests.”

The three men chatted awhile, then presently, the coroner and the
Inspector departed for the hotel, leaving Musgrave and Benton together.

An indefinable constraint seemed to have fallen upon them, for the
gloomy memory of the past night was still vivid in their minds and
oppressed them greatly. The doctor was the first to break the silence.

“By gum!” he said; “I’d clean forgotten about your ear, Ellis. My bag’s
still here. Let’s dress it again for you. Come inside again for a bit.”

With deft hands he soon performed the operation and Benton, studiously
avoiding the elder man’s eyes, thanked him and, with a slightly overdone
yawn, prepared to leave and carry out the orders that he had previously
received. Throughout Musgrave had talked incessantly on irrelevant
subjects. It seemed as if he were maundering with design, beating about
the bush of some communication he feared to make, and just talking
against time.

“Well! have you seen that patient of mine up at the hotel yet?” he
inquired.

The Sergeant, with a curious, apprehensive glance at the closed bedroom
door, beckoned the other outside. As if, almost, he feared that the dead
might hear.

“Yes,” he said. “Saw him when I went up for breakfast He’s the man, all
right—Herbert Wilks—admits everything. Seemed glad to get it off his
chest. Told me the whole business. Sounds just like a dime novel yarn.
Well, truth’s stranger than fiction, so they say. Appears he’s been a
dissipated young beggar, and he got fired from the Trust Company for
inattention to his work. The very day he got let out he happened to pick
up a paper in the manager’s private office, which turned out to be
nothing more or less than the combination of the safe. Suppose the
manager—or whoever _had_ the combination—was scared to commit it to
memory alone. Well, being, as I said before, a dissipated young scamp,
he’d somehow got mixed up with this Shapiro chap in one or two dirty
deals—women, I guess—an’ what not. Of course, he was pretty sore about
gettin’ the push—went on a bust that night, an’ while he was ‘lit’ told
Shapiro all about this paper he’d found. You just bet Mister ‘Harry the
Mack’ wasn’t goin’ to let a chance like that go by, an’ soon got Wilks
goin’ ... telling him what a good opportunity it was to get back at
them, an’ all that. Well, they fixed everything up for two nights after,
and brought in Lipinski along with them. Shapiro’d got a set of
burglar’s tools and soon effected an entrance. He an’ Wilks crawled in,
leaving Lipinski as a ‘look-out.’ Wilks messed with the combination for
a bit an’ tried to open her up, but couldn’t work it. Might have been an
old one that’d been changed two or three times since the scale’d been
written on this paper. Anyway, there seemed nothing doin’ an’ ‘Harry,’
being a yegg, got tired, an’ suggested blowin’ it. He went out to get
the ‘soup’ ... from a pal of his who lived a short distance away,
leaving Wilks still there. While he was waiting, our friend had
_another_ go at it, an’ this _time_ managed, somehow, to turn the trick.

“He cleaned up everything, as _he_ thought, and beat it in a hurry,
leaving the safe open. Told Lipinski he’d be back in a minute—an’
skinned out. ‘Honor among thieves’—what? Well, naturally, the first idea
that came into his head was to go back to his home town—Hamilton—and
swank around there for a bit with this money, thinking, of course,
though, that suspicion might fall on him right away, bein’ fired two
days before, and the safe, not blown, but opened by the combination, he
was cute enough not to attempt to get aboard the East-bound _there_. Mr.
Man gets some crooked pal of his—a chauffeur—to drive him in his
automobile as far as Garstang. He laid up there till the ten-fifteen
came along next morning. Then he got a bloomin’ fright. He was sitting
in the first-class coach, all tickled up the back at makin’ his get-away
so easy when, who should come an’ plank himself down on the seat
alongside him but Mister ‘_Harry the Mack_.’ This chauffeur pal of his
had double-crossed him after he’d driven back—told Shapiro everything
who, you bet, wasn’t goin’ to get left like that.

“All this is, of course, what Harry told him. He’d managed to get on the
train all right, without bein’ spotted—taking—” He lowered his voice,
and indicated the drawn blinds with a significant gesture—“with him.
Partly to divert suspicion, I suppose ... look like respectable
couple—man an’ wife. Well, naturally, Harry talked pretty ugly ... what
he’d do to him, an’ all that, if he didn’t whack up; but Wilks wouldn’t
’come across’—kept bluffin’ that he’d divvy up later on, an’ so
on—knowing that he was safe enough as long as he was amongst a crowd of
people. Of course Harry never breathed a word about shootin’ the
night-watchman. The first intimation Wilks had about _that_ was in a
paper at the hotel, here. It appears about ten minutes after he’d
vamoosed with the money Harry came back with the ‘soup,’ to do the
blowin’ act. Lipinski told him that Wilks would be back in a few
minutes, so they waited a bit. As he showed no signs of returning, they
decided to go ahead without him—Lipinski goin’ in with Harry this time,
to give him a hand. It didn’t take ’em long to see what’d happened, you
bet. Everything all strewn around and turned upside down. They found a
hundred an’ fifty in a small drawer I guess he’d overlooked in his hurry
an’, according to Lipinski’s statement, they’d just split this up when
the poor, bloomin’ watchman happened along an’ Shapiro fixed him. Then
they bolted an’ the patrolman on the beat shot at them an’ one skinned
one way an’ one the other. Lipinski didn’t see Harry again after
that—beat it on his own to Seattle later, an’ got nailed.

“Well, it seems they kept up this chewin’ the rag an’ watching each
other till the train got down as far as here. It was gettin’ dark, then.
Harry’d got a bottle of whiskey in his grip when he’d come on the train.
He started in to get primed up on this, an’ Wilks got scared, for Harry
began to raise his voice an’ look at him pretty nasty, with his hand in
his hip-pocket. They managed to kick up such a row between ’em that the
con’ came along—gave ’em a callin’ down an’ threatened to chuck ’em off
the train if they didn’t shut up. Harry started to give the con’ a whole
lot of lip, an’ while these two were squabblin’ together, Mister Wilks
slipped off—_here_—just as the train was on the move.

“Of course Harry, as soon as he missed him, promptly got off at the next
stop—Glenmore—fifteen miles east of here—an’ caught the West-bound back
again in the morning. Went straight to the hotel an’ soon located his
man. Didn’t speak to him, though. Didn’t register at the place,
either—but that may have been because of the expense—hadn’t any too much
‘dough’ left, an’ p’r’aps figured he’d most likely have a long wait. He
rented this furnished cottage instead, for a few days. It belongs to a
chap named George Ricks, over at Beaver Dam. He comes into town an’
lives in it himself all the winter, but leaves it in charge of some chap
here to rent to anybody who comes along during the summer. I guess Harry
felt pretty safe, knowing that Wilks wasn’t exactly in the position to
give him away. There’s absolutely no doubt what his intention was—”

The Sergeant paused a moment and eyed his listener grimly. The latter,
with an equally grim comprehensive gesture, nodded silently.

“Well,” he went on, “here they camped, watchin’ each other’s every
little movement. Shapiro never got much of a show to do anything,
though, for Wilks took darned good care to keep inside the hotel most of
the time. He admits he was scared to death, especially after reading
about Harry shootin’ the watchman. Just dawdled around—couldn’t make up
his mind _what_ to do, knowing that he couldn’t shake Harry a _second_
time. He was feeling pretty sick, too.... I guess this thing’s been
comin’ on him some time, hasn’t it, Charley?”

The doctor, nodding again, replied: “Yes, about a month, most probably.”

“An’ that’s how the case stands,” concluded Ellis wearily. “If you
hadn’t gone into his room that time when you did, Harry’d most likely
put the kibosh on him right there. Choked him, p’r’aps. I got the money
off him, O. K. About a hundred short—what he’d paid for his ticket
through to Hamilton, a bribe to that chauffeur, Kelly, his hotel bill
here, an’ odds an’ ends. The New Axminster men’ll get their hooks on
that chauffeur quick, I’ll bet, when the O.C. forwards them my crime
report. Don’t know whether they’ll be able to make a charge stick or
not—may do. I turned the money into the bank for safe keeping. Inspector
Purvis’ll take it down with him when we go back to the Post.”

There was a long pause. “Well, what’ll happen to this fellow now?”
inquired Musgrave.

“Guess Churchill’ll have to keep an eye on him,” said Ellis
indifferently. “Take him in to the Post soon as he’s able to travel.
He’ll be held there till a New Axminster man comes for him. Feel sorry,
in a way, for the poor sick devil, but that’s all that can be done with
_him_, now. Well, I must be getting—lots o’ work to do. See you later,
Charley.”

The elder man laid a detaining hand on the Sergeant’s shoulder, and his
voice shook ever so little as he said slowly:

“Wait a bit. There’s something I want to tell you before you go.” He
swallowed and hesitated slightly in his agitation. “It’s about
that—that—that poor girl,” he continued, in strained, unnatural tones.
“Ellis, old man, you don’t know how sorry I am that I sneered at you
last night.... About being a moral reformer, and all that.... I hardly
meant it at the time. And I’ve been feeling pretty bad since—since—”

His voice broke, and he left the sentence unfinished. This was a great
concession from Musgrave, and his hearer thought so, as he grasped the
other’s arm with a sympathetic pressure.

“Charley,” he said gently, “Charley.... Don’t think of that again....
See here; look! I don’t take you in earnest, every time. You’re the best
friend I’ve got ... an’ the very first man I’d think of comin’ to, if I
was in trouble. Maybe you don’t know it, but I tell you that same
sarcastic tongue o’ yours has cured me of lots o’ dam’-fool notions—time
an’ again.”

They remained silent awhile, after this, then Musgrave went on, in a
stronger voice:

“This is what I wanted to say. Seems very apparent,
they—this—unfortunate couple, have little or no money—”

The Sergeant nodded, and cleared his throat. “Very little,” he said.
“Man’s got a few dollars left—seven-fifty, or something like that.”

“Well, now; look!” said the doctor. “These two will have a decent burial
in the cemetery here, at my expense. It’s my wish.” And, as Ellis raised
a protesting hand, “No, no, my boy—let be! _You’re_ not immaculate, God
knows, but, by the Lord Harry! you’re a better man than I am, and I
respect you for many things.... ‘As ye sow, so shall ye reap.’... It’s
thirty years since I heard that text; I forgot it the same day, and
never thought of it again till now. There may be truth in it. I say, for
the peace of my soul, let me do this thing; and little though it is—may
the Recording Angel—if there is one—remember it as something in my favor
when my time comes.”

Ellis never forgot those words, nor the weary, bitter, hopeless look
that accompanied them; and, long years afterwards, their remembrance
rushed back to his mind with vivid distinctness, as he held poor
Musgrave’s dying head.

Drearily he wended his way up the main street, his mind preoccupied with
the problem of fulfilling the coroner’s final request. He knew
comparatively few of the male—let alone, the female, community, of the
little town and, somehow, he instinctively shrank at the thought of
having to approach strange women anent such a delicate duty. In his
perplexity he went to Carey, and besought the latter’s advice.

The agent mused a space. “Let’s see,” he said. “There’s Mrs.
Steele—she’s head of the Women’s Church Guild here, and there’s Mrs.
Parsons, and Mrs. Macleod. You go and see them. They ought to be able to
help you out. I’ll tell you where they live.”

With a vague feeling of uneasiness, Ellis departed, and presently found
himself at Mrs. Steele’s abode. A gray-haired, elderly woman, with a
high-featured, severe face, answered his summons and, with some
trepidation, he broached the subject of his visit. She listened
impatiently, her hard eyes narrowing and her thin lips compressing
themselves into a straight line.

“No!” she snapped coldly, as he ended. “I _don’t_—an’ what’s more ... I
wouldn’t think of asking—or expecting—any decent woman to go getting
herself mixed up in such a scandalous business as this.”

And she began to slowly thrust the door to. “Such shockin’ goin’s on in
a decent, God-fearing neighborhood!” she shrilled. “Wicked hussies
walkin’ the street, an’—an’ men being shot—an’ all, an’ all.... God help
the town that has to depend on the likes of you policemen to keep such
bad characters away!”

The virulence with which she uttered this last somewhat unjust, remark,
stung him sharply.

“Aye, madam,” he echoed bitterly. “An’ God help all poor, unfortunate
souls that are dependent upon the likes of you for Christian mercy,
too!”

But his words only greeted empty air, for the door was slammed violently
to in his face.

Feeling sick at heart, he wandered away, only meeting with more or less
indifference at the other addresses that Carey had given him. By this
time a strange nervousness, entirely foreign to his nature, began to
assail him. Men he understood and could deal with. But women—ah, that
was a very different matter.

He was just on the point of abandoning his quest in despair when he
beheld a woman coming out of a store opposite to where he stood. The
light of a great relief immediately lit up his troubled eyes for, in the
plain, homely, blue-serge uniform that she wore, with its red-barred
bonnet, he recognized at a glance the all-familiar badge of the
Salvation Army—that long-suffering and too frequently disparaged
organization which, nevertheless, spreads its gospel of humility and
help to the ends of the earth; whose followers, whilst always remaining
nobly indifferent to the shafts of misguided ridicule leveled against
them from time to time by members of many far less charitable sects,
never shrink from entering the lowly dwellings of the poorest of the
poor—aye—and the foulest dens of iniquity—in the _practical_ fulfilment
of their creed of genuine Christian mercy and succor.

Ellis looked eagerly at the slight figure for a moment. Why not try her?
he reflected. Surely she wouldn’t turn him down, like the rest? Didn’t
the Salvationists always hold a service for the prisoners in the
guardroom every Sunday morning? And didn’t they help out all the poor
devils who were down and out when their sentences were expired—giving
them shelter, food, and clothes, and finding them jobs? Yes, he would
ask _her_!

He crossed over and, with a few quick strides, overtook the little
woman, who stopped at his salutation and turned a worn, patient face to
his, regarding him with astonishment meanwhile, out of a pair of kindly
brown eyes.

Why did he stammer and hesitate like that? she wondered. Surely he could
not be afraid of _her_? For the Sergeant’s voice and manner betrayed a
curious timidity just then, that was strangely out of keeping with his
bronzed, hard-bitten face and athletic figure. His recent experiences
had rendered him decidedly nervous in approaching women. She listened to
his request with passive interest, and nodded her acquiescence, gazing
intently, all the time, at his bandaged head.

“I’m afraid you must have got hurt bad,” she said sympathetically. “It
was all in this morning’s paper, an’ everybody’s full of it. I came up
on the early train to nurse a sick woman here. I remember seeing you
once before, a long time ago, at the Barracks. I was in the Female Gaol,
talking to Mrs. Stratford, the matron, an’ you came over from the
guardroom.”

“Would to God you’d been here last night!” he blurted out passionately.

“Aye, would to God I had!” she echoed, with a wistful sadness. “Give me
the key, then, Sergeant. I’ll go right on down there now.”

Silently he handed it over, and tried to thank her, but somehow—the
words would not come. He only looked at her, with a dumb gratitude
showing in his tired eyes, swallowed a little, and turned quickly away.



CHAPTER XIV


    “Mother and daughter, father and son,
    Come to my solitude one by one;
    But come they stranger, or come they kin,
    I gather—gather—I gather them in.”

    —_The Old Sexton_

Two days later the little funeral cortège slowly wound its way up to the
diminutive cemetery, situated on a rising plateau at the back of the
little town.

It was a still, fine afternoon, and the bright sunshine flooded
everything around that peaceful spot with its sleepy, golden haze. Far
away in the distance arose the purple peaks of the Rockies, white-capped
with their eternal snows against the pure, turquoise-blue sky. It was a
day to gladden the hearts of all living creatures, but somehow its
tranquillity awoke no response in the breasts of the two men who
followed the dead to their last resting place.

Arriving at the grave-side they reverently bared their heads, and the
clergyman, a kindly, earnest-faced young man with a deep, resonant
voice, began the service.

Ellis felt unaccountably oppressed with many conflicting emotions.
Though never a downright unbeliever, religion was to him more or less of
a sealed book, and the reckless, irresponsible wandering life that had
been his since boyhood had not been conducive to much serious thought on
that sacred subject. The solemn, beautiful, tremendous words that stand
at the head of the burial service, with their glorious, all-powerful
promise of Eternal Life affected him strangely now, with their
awe-inspiring significance.

_“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” saith the Lord: “He that
believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever
liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”_

Often—ah, how often—with the callous indifference bred of active service
and its cruel, sordid realities, had he listened to them before, out
there on the far-away South African veldt, blaspheming, as like as not,
under his breath at the heat, and the dust, and the maddening flies as,
“Resting upon Arms Reversed,” he stood beside the freshly dug grave of
some dead comrade.

“_The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away._”

And the vision of his dream rose up in his brooding mind once more; and
again he seemed to behold that poor girl before him, arisen from the
dead, and the glory in her eyes as, with bowed head and outstretched
arms like the Angel of Pity, she gazed sweetly, but sadly, down upon him
from amidst that great, shining, billowy cloud of light.

And then—his brain sank into a deep oblivion of dreamy, chaotic thought,
through which the curate’s sonorous intonation, sounding far off and
indistinct, penetrated at intervals.

“_We therefore commit her body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to
ashes, dust to dust._”

At the well-remembered words mechanically, from long practise, he
stooped and cast a handful of earth into the grave. And, the dull thud
of its fall upon her coffin, was on his very heart.

The service ended, but still the scarlet-coated figure remained there
motionless, with bowed head, as of one in a dream. He was aroused from
his reverie by Musgrave touching him on the arm.

“Come, old man!” said the doctor gently, “it’s all over now; let’s go.
Are you going to wait for the—other?...”

“Yes,” responded Ellis in a strained, unnatural voice, without raising
his eyes.


Drearily, without another word being uttered on either side the whole
way back, they returned to the detachment and, sitting down in the
little office, filled their pipes and smoked moodily awhile, amidst an
embarrassing silence, which was finally broken by Musgrave.

“Well, Ellis, old man,” he said quietly, “seems we’ve come through
rather a sad passage.”


Benton raised his troubled eyes and, for the first time that day, looked
the other squarely in the face, with a certain sense of relief as he did
so.

“Yes,” he answered listlessly. “I know I have. Charley,” he continued,
“I don’t know exactly why it is, but that girl’s death’s shaken me up
rather bad ... kid was an utter stranger to me, but somehow—somehow—it
seems as if I’d known her always. Must have been her eyes.” His voice
shook a little, and trailed off into a murmur. “Yes ... they were very
like poor Eileen Regan’s—way back there in Jo’burg—very like hers,
weren’t they?”

He paused, and the doctor nodded sympathetically. Before the war he had
known the Sergeant’s dead love well—had attended her in her last
illness. There was a long silence.

“Don’t worry, Ellis,” said Musgrave softly. “She’s in a better place
now, I think, for she was more sinned against than sinning, poor girl.”

Benton got up and, leaning out of the open window, looked dreamily away
over the sun-scorched prairie.

“Aye,” he muttered slowly, half to himself; “I don’t think—I know. I saw
the look on her face the night she died ... an’ I saw her
again—afterwards. That should stop me from worrying. See here; look,
Charley,” he went on, in a steadier voice, turning to his companion:
“You must have seen many deaths in your time—lots more than I have, I
guess ... an’ God knows I’ve seen enough, one way an’ another. I tell
you—people in their last stages see something that _we_ can’t. It’s
beyond _our_ ken—but it’s there. Probably you as a doctor, with all your
scientific medical theories, analyze it differently, but you know what I
mean, for all that.”

Musgrave did not answer at once, but smoked thoughtfully on for a space.

“Yes,” he agreed, with a curious, dry intonation in his voice, “I know
what you mean, all right. No doubt they _do_ possess some strange
prescience ... but I don’t think we’ll start a discussion on that, old
man. Circumstances have reduced both of us to a certain frame of mind
just now, wherein we might be persuaded into believing anything.”

Ellis cogitated awhile over this last utterance.

“M’m—yes,” he admitted reluctantly. “Only temporarily at that, too.
Begad!... I’m the one that knows it.... Guess I’m the most impulsive,
changeable beggar that ever was.... Always have been more or less of an
impressionable fool—where women are concerned, anyway. S’pose it’s my
nature. Here are we two—we’ve both had our troubles at various periods
of our sinful lives. Some were of our own making—some were not. Mind!
I’m not meanin’ this lightly, remember ... far from it at such a time as
this ... but just the plain, absolute facts—coming from a man who knows
himself too well to trust his passing emotions.” He struck a match and
lit his pipe again, continuing with some irritation in his voice. “All
that bunkum that religious extremists and temperance cranks would have
you believe ... about sudden conversions an’ all that.... Fellows _can_
alter their ways a bit—chuck a brace, an’ climb out of the pit they’ve
dug for themselves, no doubt. But it’s a _gradual_ process, an’ doesn’t
come quick by any means, like these fanatics try to make out. There’s
one of ’em, in particular, who makes a specialty of writing—what he, in
his limited knowledge of actual facts—conceives to be true Western
yarns. Most of ’em, I guess, pass as such with the general public who
read ’em. Oh, he’s great on this conversion business. One was a fool
book about _our_ Force, I remember, where he makes the bucks go pallin’
around arm in arm with their superior officers—doin’ the ‘Percy, old
chap,’ stunt, ‘When we were at college together, you know!’ Sounds all
hunkadory—like a happy family, an’ all that but, unfortunately, it ain’t
true. Can’t imagine it happening with any of the powers that be in _our_
Division, anyway. Take ‘Father,’ for instance—what? Then, again—all that
stuff—what ‘Tork abaht Tompkins’ our regimental teamster calls ‘’Igh
falutin’ Bull-Durham,’ and ‘Father’—‘Poppycock’ that’s written about the
Force. An’ oh—_always_ in a bloomin’ red serge, of course, no matter
what dirty job they’re on ... never a stable-jacket—they don’t wear such
things. All the pictures you see of Mounted Policemen, too, chasin’
cattle rustlers, arresting bootleggers, an’ nitchies, in which we’re
depicted as such ’eroes’—red serge, again—so’s the noble Mounted cop can
be seen comin’ a long ways off. That reminds me, though—I’ll have to
ride back to the Creek in one myself,” he added ruefully. “My
stable-jacket’s ruined with all that blood on it.”

He paused, and knocked the ashes out of his pipe.

“No, _sir_,” he continued emphatically. “_I_ know what becomes of the
large percentage of your sudden converts. Most of ’em land up as
hopeless booze artists in the last stages of D.T.—or else go
_completely_ bug-house. Lord knows, we get all kinds of ’em in that
guardroom at the Post. Many’s the screechin’, prayin’ strait-jacketed
nuisance I’ve had to escort up to Ponoka. After all’s said an’ done, the
only philosophy a man can practise to make life worth living at all, is
just to peg along quietly, doing the best he can under the circumstances
in which he finds himself placed day by day. I know it is for a Mounted
man, anyway for, begad! he get’s everybody else’s bloomin’ troubles
dinned into his ears in addition to his own.

“As you said just now, we’ve both come through a sad passage. We have.
But this feeling won’t stay with us. We’ll be genuinely an’ sincerely
sorry an’ repentant for the time being, but by degrees we’ll fall back
into our old ways again. It may be smug, complacent reasoning, but it’s
a fact. Now, isn’t that right, Charley?”

The elder man smiled wearily. “Guess you’re pretty near it,” he
admitted. “Don’t know whether you’re able to put all _your_ troubles
behind you as effectively as you intimate. I know I can’t lots of mine.
There’s some I can’t forget—even after all these years. They’re with me
night and day. Remember me telling you ... that day when we were up at
Cecil Rhodes’ tomb, ’way back there up in the Matoppos?”

He gazed at Benton anxiously, almost timidly. Ellis bowed his head in
assent, but he could not find words to answer just then. For there was
something in the haggard, deeply lined face of his old friend that
forbade conventional condolence.

A long silence ensued, and presently Musgrave rose to go.

    “The Devil was sick—
    The Devil a monk would be;”

he quoted, with a wry, whimsical smile. “I guess I’ll go on over to the
hotel and see ‘Wilks,’ as you call him. He was much better this morning.
Believe he’ll pull through without an operation now. Churchill should be
able to take him down in three or four days’ time if he keeps improving
like this. By the way! Churchill’s making a pretty long stay at the
Post, isn’t he?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” yawned the Sergeant. “P’r’aps he’s not through with
that case of his yet. It was right at the end of the docket. Maybe he’s
got mighty good reason for not hurrying back, too,” he added ominously.

“I never noticed till the other day he’d got the South African ribbon
up—whatever outfit was _he_ in?” inquired the doctor.

“Search me,” said Ellis contemptuously. “The ‘Can I Venture,’ ‘Jam
Wallahs,’—‘Sacca Bona’s Horse,’ or some irresponsible bunch o’
Bashi-Bazouks, I guess. I’ve never asked him. I think I told you before,
Charley, there’s five hundred dollars’ reward for Wilks. If it comes
through, so much the better for both of us. I’ll see you sure get your
fee an’ expenses in full. In all fairness you’re entitled to half of it,
anyway, in consideration of the whisper you gave me in the beginning.”

“Didn’t think you fellows were allowed to accept rewards,” said the
doctor.

“Well, we’re not, as a rule,” Ellis admitted. “But now an’ again they
make exceptions when the crime has been committed outside our usual
jurisdiction. Take that hold-up of the C.P.R. passenger train near Ducks
in B.C. that time, by those three chaps—Bill Miner, Shorty Dunn, an’
Lewis Colquhoun. Five of our men got rewarded for nailing _them_. Let’s
see! there was Wilson, Shoebotham, Peters, Stewart, an’ Browning. They
got thirteen hundred an’ fifty apiece for that job. But we never receive
it direct. It has to come through the Commissioner. Generally it’s
turned into the Fine Fund at Headquarters, an’ the grant is made from
there.”

“All right,” said Musgrave indifferently, as he opened the door. “If it
does come through—why, all well and good, though I’m sorry, in a way,
for the poor devil.”

With his hand on the knob, he turned, the ghost of a smile flitting
across his strong intellectual face.

“Guess you weren’t far out in your remarks just now,” he said. “Seems
the transformation’s begun already. Afraid we’ve come down to Mother
Earth again with a vengeance. Remember Sir Noel Paton’s great
picture—‘The Man with the Muckrake,’ Ellis? So long!”

“So long,” the other answered mechanically, without turning his head.

And the door closed softly.



CHAPTER XV


    O Memory, ope thy mystic door!
      O dream of youth, return!
    And let the lights that gleamed of yore
      Beside this altar burn!

    —_Gray_

The subtle irony conveyed in the doctor’s last words had not been lost
on their hearer.

“Aye! ‘The Man with the Muckrake,’” he soliloquized. “That was just it.
Also, it was characteristic of Charley that he should have interpreted
the impression in such fashion, too.”

It was Sunday, and the sound of the church bells tolling for evening
service, interspersed with the merry voices of children in their play,
fell unheeded on the ears of the man who, with mind sunk in far-away
thought, still remained in the same attitude, with his arms resting on
the window ledge, gazing out over the unbroken vista of rolling prairie.

That stern, bandaged face, framed in the open casement, its brooding
eyes fixed, seemingly, on the beyond, with the whole setting bathed in
the blood-red flame of the sunset’s afterglow, might have impressed one
as vividly suggestive of that striking example of the late Sir John
Tenniel’s art, in his depiction of that scene enacted in far-off
Khartoum twenty-three years before—of _one_—who, wounded and desperate,
gazed day by day from a window in the citadel out across the
sun-scorched desert towards Metemmah, his despairing eyes forever vainly
seeking that help which came not.

The evening shadows began to fall, but still Ellis remained in that deep
reverie while, as if in a dream, visions of his past life rose up in his
mind with strange reality.

As if it were only yesterday he recalled that last stormy scene which
clinched his determination to leave home. The scornful, accusing face of
his step-mother, and his father’s angry, worried countenance, as he
(Ellis) gazed steadily and defiantly back at the woman whose continual
petty spite had contrived to make his life at home unbearable.

Both of them were still alive and well, old Major Carlton had mentioned
in his last letter. No—they never spoke of him. He was an outcast from
his family of his own accord. Yes, that might be, but never a prodigal,
or a remittance man, despite his birth and early breeding.

No, he could never be classed with such as they, thank God. Ever since
he had shaken the dust of England off his feet he had earned his living
honestly with the toil of his brain and body, as a man amongst men. He
had done nothing to shame his manhood, and his life was his own to live
out as he saw fit; so, come what might, unless by their express behest,
his people should never behold his face again, whether in life or death.

Then, tripping fast over one another, came flashes of the wild, free
life on the range that had followed his emigration. That evening he
arrived at the Circle H—only a boy in his teens, hungry, foot-sore, and
moneyless, after tramping all the way from Billings. The rough, morose
face of “Big Jim Parsons,” as he sneeringly asked him his nationality,
and finally flung him a job, as a bone to a dog. That worthy’s kindness
to him afterwards, in recognition of his proven courage and
adaptability, and the unspeakable language the foreman was wont to use
in his clumsy attempts to gloss over any generous deed. Poor old Jim.
_His_ had been the kind of friendship that counts. Too bad that horse
had killed him like it did, after all his years of riding. The fun they
had when they blew into town after the round-ups. The trivial arguments
that so often ended in death, and the blind, unquestioning sincerity
with which they espoused their bosses’ and friends’ feuds over the
sheep-grazing infringements and other grievances of cattle men. The
smell of scorched hide and the bawling of cattle in the corrals on
branding days. The riding and steer roping at Cheyenne and Red Butte on
gala occasions. Aye, that was the life. Why hadn’t he stuck to it
instead of becoming by turns, prize-fighter, soldier and, finally,
Mounted Policeman? getting, in the latter vocation, as he had previously
remarked, a taste of everybody else’s worries in addition to his own.

Then followed brief memories of his pugilistic career. That scrap on the
open street in Butte that night, which had been the thin edge of the
wedge of his subsequent entry into professional fighting, when he put
away “Bull Blatzsky” for chasing that girl. The piteous appeal in her
frightened, pretty face as she sought his protection, and the
contemptuous sarcasm of the formidable prize-fighter, telling him to
“beat it back to th’ farm.” The tingling in his veins, and the
exultation that he had felt surging through him as he beheld his
opponent weakening, and the yelling plaudits of the crowd as he fought
himself out of that last clinch and landed the final punch that ended
matters. He had knocked out men enough since then, Lord knows, at one
time and another, and perhaps might do the same for many more, but that
hot, proud flush he would never feel again. That fight in which he had
defeated Gus Ahrens at Madison Square Gardens in New York, and received
a thousand dollars as his long end of the purse. The terrible month’s
spree that followed. And then—the low-down, insidious propositions that
various promoters and managers kept putting up to him from time to time
which, finally, decided him to forsake the ring. Yes, begad! the average
standard of prize-fighting morality was rotten to the core. He could
vouch for it from personal experience. It was a good job he’d quit it in
time before the crooks got him; but, at any rate, he could always look
back to those days with the clear conscience of one who had never “put
anything over” on the public. Fought on the square at all times, and
given the best that was in him for the spectators and those that had
backed him. Whatever they might have said or thought, it surely was not
flagging endurance or courage that caused his departure for South
Africa.

And, with that reflection, the memory of his first glimpse of that later
unquiet land came back to him, and again he seemed to see the huge,
black, up-flung wall of Table Mountain clean-cut against the blue-black,
star-studded sky, and the twinkling lights of Capetown beneath its
shadow, with the great, yellow African moon above all, as he beheld it
from the deck of the _Braemar Castle_ the night she made Table Bay.

What a curious old and new-world town Capetown was, with its civilized
and uncivilized mixture of races, creeds, and dress that you could stand
and watch jostling each other in front of the windows of those splendid
up-to-date stores in Plein Street. English, Dutch, Portuguese,
Hottentot, Malay, Zulu, Kaffir, Hindoo, and Chinese, with the ubiquitous
Jew bidding fair to outnumber them all. What a pleasant, lazy time he
had had, wandering around there before he went up-country. Out
Greenpoint way to the sea’s edge, where one could look clear across past
the lighthouse to Simon’s-Town, and Lion’s Head Mountain. And those
occasional trips to the outlying suburbs, Wynberg, Paarl, Woodstock,
where all the magnates’ luxurious bungalows were, lying half-hidden
amidst huge, clustering masses of magnificent tropical foliage; and
Rondebosch, where “Groot Schuurr,” the palatial home of Cecil Rhodes,
the great Dictator of Cape Colony and Rhodesia, was situated.

He was dead now—that strong, skilful protagonist to whom Africa owed so
much, and buried in accordance with his last wish—in a tomb cut out of
the solid rock on the summit of the highest peak in the Matoppos,
appropriately termed “The View of the World.”

    It is his will that he look forth
      Across the world he won—
    The granite of the ancient North—
      Great spaces washed with sun.

Aye—Kipling’s immortal lines were a fitting requiem to the memory of the
great dead. Cecil Rhodes was gone, but—

    Living he was the land, and dead,
      His soul shall be her soul!

How well he recalled that memorable pilgrimage thither, as if to a
shrine, that he and Musgrave had made together after the war.

Then those two years spent in the Chartered Company’s service, before
the war came, and the godforsaken places he was stationed in previous to
his transfer to Johannesburg—Umtali, Nhaukoe, Mumbatua Falls, and
Inyongo, up in the Mungamba Mountains, with mostly only natives for
company. The bright, cool days, and the long, sweet, silent nights
afterwards, up in the Magaliesberg Range, where it was so still that it
seemed uncanny. The glorious sunrises—the air heavy with the scent of
wattle bloom and mimosa flower, as you came out from your tent in the
morning, feeling full of the joy of life, healthy and strong, unrecking
of the morrow, and amused yourself throwing stones at the baboons that
barked “Boom ba! boom ba!” at you from their perches away up on the
ledges in the _krantzes_.

And then—“Jo’burg,” with its conglomeration of cosmopolitan adventurers.
Hard-drinking, busy, grasping men, all struggling gamely in the same
great vortex of speculation in the gold and diamond mines of the Rand,
and all breathing the same hatred towards the South African Republic,
and the tyranny and injustice of “Oom Paul Kruger” and his ministers,
whose grasping avarice and total disregard of even the common rights of
citizenship were gradually making the _Uitlander’s_ lot unbearable.

Yes, but old Oom got _his_ afterwards, when the war he had provoked
finally overwhelmed him and forced him and Steyn to flee from the
country and people that they had ruined. A faint, reflective smile
relaxed his somber face as he absently hummed a few lines of a doggerel
ditty that had been sung around every camp fire from Pretoria to
Capetown in the later stages of the war:

    “Oom Paul Kruger” seems every one’s pal
    In this wide world, wide world.
    For he is such a cleanly, sweet-smelling old chap;
    Handkerchiefs, he disdains—gives his fingers a snap;
    Oh! ain’t it a shame that he’s wiped off the map
    Of this awfully wide, wide world?

Aye, that war.... He’d sure done some hard slugging there, one way and
another. That two months on the Karroo Desert ... whew! rotten
water—what little there was of it—and fellows going under every day with
“enteric.” Those cursed night marches, after a long day’s _trek_, where
your horse kept coming down with you amongst the _meerkat_ holes in the
dark. Lord! but they were hard, bitter men in that Irregular Horse—had
had enough to make ’em—mostly refugees from the Rand. They sure could
fight, and were up to all the Boer’s tricks, too. That was some scrap at
Wepener, under that burning sun all day. What a smack that bullet gave
him. Slap through his body. Felt just like being hit with a hammer.
They’d got him at last, but at a price—for had he not deliberately
picked off six “_Doppers_” before it came, as he lay cached behind that
broken-down Cape cart?... Flopped ’em out, one after the other ... and
lots more before that, too, at Elandslaagte, Waggon Hill, and in various
small skirmishes.

That chase after De Wet and Kritzinger, long afterwards, during the
guerilla warfare that followed, when they and Honeycroft’s column
converged on Pampoon Poort and nearly nailed the whole bunch. He’d
killed five horses in that two weeks’ drive. Those Argentines hadn’t got
much bottom in them, though. Basuto ponies were the stuff—if you were
lucky enough to get hold of one—for they mostly got snapped up by the
officers. Tough!... the cayuses in this country were pretty hard—some of
’em—but they weren’t a patch on those little Basutos.

Ah, well, it was all over now; but what misery and fun they had had,
mixed. Either a feast or a famine. Starving one day, gorged the next.
Things had got pretty slim, though, towards the end, with all the
countless columns ravaging the country. Couldn’t even get a bit of
firewood to boil your coffee, let alone a pig or a chicken. Nothing left
except a few thin sheep, and those stringy, pink-eyed Angora goats—worse
provender than “bully” or “Macconnochie Ration.” The night he, Barney
Ebbsworth, and Billy Gardiner “feloniously, and with intent,” stole that
keg of rum at Norval’s Pont, and the glorious drunk that they and the
guardians of the neighboring blockhouse had on it.

Yes, they were pretty tough specimens, all right, in that regiment, for
the surroundings and conditions they lived under in those haphazard days
were not particularly conducive to much close observance of the higher
ethics of refinement or morality. “Sufficient unto the day thereof” had
been the only maxim that went there, for the span of life was of too
doubtful duration, between sun-up and sun-down, to speculate overmuch on
what the morrow might bring forth.

He’d done _his_ bit, anyway, and had come out of it safely, with three
medals and completely restored health. Luckier than lots of the poor
devils in his regiment, so many of whom were lying in their lonely
graves back there, on which the _aasvogel_ perched by day and the hyena
prowled around by night—or those that were living, crippled up for life,
perhaps, scores of them. No! South Africa was all right in some ways,
but he wouldn’t care to live there again, for many things. The American
continent was a better country for a poor man, after all, and he hadn’t
done so badly. He’d not saved a fortune, it was true; he’d given more
away to others than he’d ever spent on himself, for he was always an
easy mark for any poor devil with a hard-luck story. But he’d generally
kept a moderate stake in the bank for a rainy day, so there was no
particular cause for him to take such pessimistic views of life as he
was prone to do at times. He’d much to be thankful for. His police
record was good, and he had risen very quickly during his five odd
years’ service. For, without being exactly over-zealous, his list of
convictions—long-term ones at that—was probably higher than any other
man’s in the Division, and some of them had caused him to be the
recipient of favorable recognition from the Commissioner on more than
one occasion.

Yes, without being unduly “stuck on himself,” he _did_ possess a good
many of the natural qualifications requisite for police duty. For stock
cases, anyway, and the position he occupied in the province as a
Sergeant in the R.N.W.M.P., undoubtedly gave him a certain standing in
any community. Grouse and worry as he might, there _was_ a good deal of
fascination about the life, which was exemplified by the unconsciously
keen interest that, entirely apart from the fact of mere duty, he felt
in the various crooked problems that he was called upon from time to
time to solve.

If only it wasn’t such a cursed _lonely_ life. Lonely, in the sense of
his self-imposed isolation that he felt was incumbent on him, more or
less, in the interests of duty. That’s what gave _him_ the pip, and
caused those rotten fits of depression that came over him at times. Yes,
there was no doubt about it—he was getting crankier and crankier every
year. He was conscious of it. What was coming over him? He didn’t use to
be like that. Fellows were starting to call him “Old” Ben, too, already.
He didn’t deserve _that_, surely—even if his hair _was_ turning slightly
gray. He could still show some of those young men, ten years his junior,
a thing or two yet, in any test of physical endurance or skill.

Yes, it was lonely, all right. But, then, it didn’t do for a man
situated in a crooked district like he was to get going around with the
glad hand, either. That was apt to make a policeman’s duty highly
disagreeable on occasion, as he knew from past experience. No, the only
way was to keep aloof from people as much as possible in a place like
this; then they had nothing on you, obligation or anything else, and you
could soak it to ’em without compunction whenever occasion arose. They
weren’t all like Barney Gallagher or Lake. Thank goodness, he could
always trust _them_, and could talk freely in their company without
having to be continually on his guard.

Thus he continued to muse, his mind reverting in turns to many curious
problems, till suddenly rousing himself with a start, he drew back from
the window and, stretching and yawning, looked at his watch.

“Lord, what a time I’ve been dreaming there!” he muttered. “It’s too
late for grub at the hotel. I guess I’ll have to go on down to the
Chink’s an’ get something there.”

He lit the lamp and, after hunting around for some cleaning kit, began
mechanically to clean his dusty riding boots, preparatory to going out.
Whilst thus engaged, the door opened, admitting Sergeant Churchill.

“Hello, Ben,” greeted that individual, with an assumption of geniality.
“You still here?”

Ellis turned and, straightening himself up, regarded the other with
languid interest.

“Hello,” he returned. “Train in? Was beginning to think you’d deserted.”

Churchill did not answer immediately but, divesting himself of his
side-arms and serge, sat down and proceeded to smoke.

“Had a trip up to the ‘Pen’ with a bunch o’ prisoners,” he volunteered
presently. “Yours amongst ’em. That Fisk started in to give us a lot o’
trouble on th’ way, but we put th’ kibosh on _him_ properly, before we
got there.”

“M’m, m’m,” said Benton absently. “He’s a bad actor, ‘Big George.’ How
d’you make out with that perjury case of yours?”

“Nine months,” answered Churchill laconically.

A long silence ensued, during which Ellis continued his polishing,
Churchill eyeing him furtively meanwhile.

“Must have got a bad smash?” he ventured, indicating the other’s
bandaged head. “Heard all about it at th’ Post.”

“Oh,” replied Ellis indifferently, “did you?”

His tone was anything but encouraging. Churchill licked his lips and
essayed another attempt.

“What verdicts did the coroner’s jury bring in on those cases?” he
inquired, with a forced carelessness in his tone that did not deceive
Benton in the least. “I haven’t seen th’ paper.”

Ellis, with his foot on a chair, paused and turned, brush in hand.

“Eh?” he returned irritably.

Churchill, avoiding the other’s eyes and fumbling with his pipe,
repeated the question.

Benton reached for a memorandum form that lay on the desk, and tossed it
over unceremoniously.

“There’s a copy of the wording of the findings,” he said shortly.
“Condensed, it practically amounts to ‘death, caused by an act of
justifiable homicide,’ in the one case, ‘manslaughter,’ in the
other....”

He finished his cleaning operations and proceeded to pull on his serge.
Churchill fidgeted uneasily.

“Was there—what kind of evidence was adduced?” he began. “Did—?”

“Here!” interrupted Ellis harshly. “What the devil are _you_ beating
’round the bush for? Why don’t you come across with it plain? What d’you
want to know?”

The local Sergeant flushed angrily, stung to the quick by the rough
incivility of his companion’s speech and the cold, contemptuous stare
that accompanied it, but sheer bodily fear of the ex-pugilist silenced
the retort that sprang to his lips, and he sank back in the chair from
which he had half arisen.

“Oh—nothing,” he mumbled thickly. “I thought p’r’aps—”

“Yes,” broke in Benton savagely. “I know what you _thought_, and I’ll
tell you this much, Mr. ‘B——’ Churchill.... If I hadn’t given my
evidence mighty darned careful, _you’d_ have been on the flypaper,
properly, both feet. _Your_ name cropped up during the inquests—one of
the jury-men gently inquiring ‘why _you_ weren’t present, as p’r’aps
_you_ might have been able to throw some light on one or two obscure
points in the inquiry.’ But, luckily for you, none of the others took
his suggestion up.” He paused and, emitting a short, ugly laugh,
continued: “I’m under ‘open’ arrest, an’ I’ve got to go back with
Inspector Purvis an’ face a formal charge of manslaughter—same as in
that Cashell business. We should worry, anyway. What gets _my_ goat is
you thinkin’ you were smart enough to cover up your trail in a little,
one-horse ‘_dorp_’ like this. D’you figure you could pull off anything
like that, with all these old geezers of women around? What? I don’t
think. It’s a good job for you none o’ _them_ happened to be called as
witnesses. All those who gave evidence were men, an’ most of ’em friends
o’ yours, at that. See here; look! I couldn’t exactly say how much you
_did_ know, but I can make a pretty good guess. There was a lot you
couldn’t _help_ but tumble to, which puts this case entirely outside the
ordinary. Anyway, it doesn’t look as if you’d had much regard for your
own nest.”

He remained silent for a space then, his voice shaking ever so little:

“I’ve got no use for you, Churchill. I’m not stuck on you one little bit
... an’ I guess that feeling is reciprocated, for I can see the mark of
my fist on your blooming dial right to this very minute. Mind you,
though, I’m not blaming you in any way for _all_ that’s happened. That’s
out of the question—an’ it wouldn’t be logical, or fair. I’m not
moralizing, either, for I reckon there’s too many ‘glass-with-care’
labels on both of us to start slingin’ rocks at each other—but all the
same ... there’s _something_ about this business I can’t forget ... an’
you know d—n well what that _something_ is!”

And, opening the door, he strode out heavily, and banged it behind him.

Ellis, duly tried on the formal charge that had been laid against him,
was honorably acquitted of all blame, and returned to duty. Later
receiving the grant for his well-earned reward—half of which he, with
the utmost difficulty, prevailed upon Musgrave to accept—he obtained ten
days’ leave and, dragging the latter from his all-absorbing practise for
that period, the two departed away up to the Kananaskis Falls on a
fishing trip. The doctor insisted on paying all expenses in connection
with this outing, and presented his companion with a magnificent English
green-heart fly rod, which Ellis had often eyed longingly.

Both men, possessing in a great degree the same morose, taciturn
characteristics, they derived a certain grim pleasure in each other’s
company and, loving and understanding the sport as only good fishermen
can, it is needless to say that they had extraordinarily heavy catches
and, in their silent, undemonstrative way, enjoyed themselves hugely.

Their time seemed all too short, however, and it was with a feeling of
real regret that they finally struck camp and returned once more to the
routine of their respective duties, vowing fervently to come again the
following season. The Indian summer—that most beautiful and reliable
period of the year in the Canadian West—gradually passed. November saw
the first fall of snow, and from then onward the weather grew steadily
colder as the icy grasp of winter began to grip the West.

Gradually the stock depredations in the Sergeant’s district grew more
and more infrequent, until they practically ceased altogether for, by
this time, men who had hitherto been inclined to step aside from the
straight trail grew afraid of him. Afraid of that sneering, merciless
tongue that stung them to the quick with its bitter venom—of the heavy
hand that struck by night as well as day—and, of that scheming, cunning
brain which, outclassing theirs in its superior knowledge of ways that
are dark on the range, seemed to anticipate and forestall every crooked
move that they made.

But, what dumbfounded them more than anything else, was the strange
apparition of a great, brutal _heart_ at the bottom of it all. There was
Mrs. Laycock, they reflected, who had been burnt out in that last bad
prairie fire, and whose husband he had been the means of sending to the
penitentiary a short time before as an incorrigible horse thief. Had not
Benton gone into her stable and, single-handed, taken out and hitched up
that maddened team to the democrat, getting badly kicked in doing so?
And, after driving the woman and her family safely out of the fire zone,
returned and routed out every able-bodied man within its radius? and
then, not sparing himself, worked them like galley slaves, trailing wet
hides and flogging with gunny-sacks until they had got it under?

True, he had come around later with a subscription list in her aid, and
a look on his face that seemed to work wonders with those parsimoniously
inclined. But did not his own contribution on that occasion exceed by
fourfold any one of _theirs_? even if the Government did not pay
inordinately high salaries to members of the Force.

And Jim McCloud, too. Had not the Sergeant, at the imminent risk of his
own life, pulled Jim out of that muskeg at Willow Mere one night? Jim
was “full,” without a doubt; otherwise an old hand like him would never
have got himself into such a jack-pot; but, all the same, he well-nigh
followed his horse. Had not the Sergeant packed him across his saddle to
the nearest ranch—worked over him until he came around and was all
right—and then afterwards, cut short Jim’s surly thanks with the remark
that “he had only saved him that he might have the satisfaction later of
getting him where he wanted him”?

_Jim McCloud_, of all men. Jim, who had been ahead of them all in his
bitter vilification of the new policeman and, avowedly, the latter’s
worst enemy on the range. Only the _two_ of them there at the muskeg ...
evening, at that ... not another soul within sight or hearing. All the
Sergeant needed to have done—if he had liked—was to sit in his saddle
and just—_watch_.

Of what earthly use were all the many opportunities to rustle that
showed up so invitingly at times while such a ruthlessly clever anomaly
as he was stationed in the district? A man who seemed to possess endless
disguises and hiding places and never to sleep; whose disquieting
presence, supremely indifferent to weather conditions or darkness, was
apt to upset all their calculations as to his whereabouts in a most
sudden and undesirable fashion?

No—so long as _he_ was around, it was not worth the while risking “a
stretch in the ‘Pen,’” even if owners _were_ a little lethargic and
careless, at times, about getting their colts and calves branded. There
must be “snitches” in their midst, “double-crossing” them, they argued
darkly. _Must_ be—otherwise whence had he obtained the knowledge that
had led to the undoing of so many? And, as this disturbing possibility
continued to gain credence, the seeds of mutual distrust and
apprehension were sown broadcast amongst them which, needless to say,
was greatly beneficial to the rest of the law-abiding community.

If this altered state of affairs was highly satisfactory to Benton’s
commanding officer it was even more so to the Stock Association, and the
Sergeant was the recipient of many tributes of esteem and gratitude from
that sterling body for the good work that he had done.

                                PART II



CHAPTER XVI


    “I was a stranger, and ye took me in:”

    —_St. Matt_. XXV, 35

The long, bright May day had drawn to a close, and darkness was setting
in, through which a few faint stars had begun to twinkle. Ah, here was a
light at last; and a welcome sight it was to the tired girl, leading an
equally tired, fat, old gray horse as, topping a rise in the trail, she
beheld the visible signs of a habitation gleaming in the distance.

“Come on, Sam,” she coaxed cheerily, with a slightly impatient tug at
the reins and quickening her pace. “We’ll soon be there, now, old boy,
and you’ll get a good long drink and a feed!”

Plodding wearily on, they stumbled over the ruts of a well-worn trail
diverging at right angles from the one they were traversing, and which
the girl instinctively took, guessing that it led to the dwelling whose
beacon shone brighter and brighter with every nearing step.

Suddenly she pulled up short for, through a lull in the brisk night
breeze—like an Æolian harp—there came to her astonished ears the
unmistakable sounds of a piano. A fresh gust of wind carried it away
next minute, though, and she moved forward again. Soon the shadowy
outlines of a building became visible amid the surrounding gloom, and
the music became distinct and real. Dropping the horse’s reins, the girl
stepped slowly and carefully towards the light, thrusting out her hands
with experienced caution as she did so, fearful of encountering the
customary strands of a barbed-wire fence. Meeting with no such obstacle,
she drew nearer to the open window, absently humming a bar of “The
Bridal Chorus” from “Lohengrin,” which air the invisible pianist had,
with masterly improvisations, just drawn to a close.

Then she halted, paralyzed for the moment with astonishment—all her own
musical instincts fully aroused—as a man’s deep, rich baritone voice
floated forth on the night air, singing a well-remembered song, but as
_she_ had never heard it sung before. And, though not of a particularly
sentimental temperament, she found it impossible to listen to the
beautiful words on this occasion unmoved:

    If I were hanged on the highest hill,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
    I know whose love would follow me still,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

Entranced, she stood motionless. Whoever could this unknown vocalist
with the magnificent voice be, singing “Mother o’ mine, O mother o’
mine” in the wilderness? The slow, deep, ineffable pathos of its last
verse thrilled and touched her strangely:

    If I were damned of body and soul,
    I know whose prayers would make me whole,
    Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

As the song ended, she roused herself out of the dreamy reverie into
which she had fallen and, moving forward again, peered through the
window. But the light was between her and the singer and she could not
see plainly. Retracing her steps, she approached the front entrance and
knocked gently on the door. There came a crash of chords, a moment’s
silence, then a firm, decided step sounded inside and the door was
opened. She caught only the vague impression of a man’s form in the
gloom, for the light was hidden from view in the back room; then a
pleasant—unmistakably, a gentleman’s voice—with a slightly imperious
ring in it said:

“Good night, madam. Is anything the matter? Did you wish to see me?”

“I’m—I’m afraid I’ve lost my way,” she answered. “I’m trying to get back
to Mr. Trainor’s ranch. I’ve not been in this district very long and
I’m—I suppose I’m what you call ‘a bit green’ as yet at finding my way
about on the prairie,” she added merrily.

He laughed at her last words. “So,” he said. “Seems a bit like it. Dave
Trainor’s lies about seven miles nor’east of here. You’re riding, of
course?”

“Oh, yes,” she said plaintively. “But all the _decent_ horses are away
on the spring round-up, and the only one I could get was old Sam, and
he’s _so_ fat and lazy and slow. It’s too much like ‘working your
passage’ with him. That’s the principal reason I’m out so late. I’d been
to see Mrs. Goddard, at the Bow View ranch, and her husband told me of a
trail which he said would be shorter than the one I came by. He wanted
to ride back with me, but I was full of self-confidence and thought I
could make it alone all right. Consequence is—here I am, ‘lost on the
bald-headed,’ as they say. Poor old Sam’s pretty nearly played out for a
drink and a feed—an’—an’ so am I,” she continued frankly. “I’ve walked
an awful long way to ease him, for I’m not exactly what you’d call a
feather-weight.”

Her humor was irresistible and infectious. “All right,” he said gaily.
“You’ll find this a pretty rough roadhouse, I’m afraid, though. It’s the
Mounted Police detachment, and I’m the Sergeant in charge. But—we’ll do
what we can. You go on in, please, and make yourself at home. I’ll fix
up your horse now, and get you some supper afterwards.”

Ten minutes or so later, he returned from the stable to find his guest
sitting on the music stool in the inner room awaiting him. Exclamations
of surprised mutual recognition escaped them as they saw each other for
the first time in the light.

He beheld the same winsome face and the tall, athletic, majestically
proportioned figure of the girl who had spoken to him and admired
Johnny, his horse, one day the previous summer, as he was waiting
outside Sabbano station while she, for her part, saw the stern, bronzed,
scarred face and uniformed figure of the rider with whom she had
conversed, and for which lapse she had, incidentally, been so severely
censured by her aunt.

Now that he was at leisure to observe her closely he remarked her small,
superbly carried head, surmounted with its thick masses of silky,
shining, naturally curly, almost blue-black hair, and her face—which,
though pleasing, healthy, and happy—could scarcely be called beautiful
at first sight, since the cleft chin was too determined, and the mouth,
with its humorous upward curl at the corners of the lips, too large and
strong. Her brow was broad, low, and white, with thick, level eyebrows
that matched the color of her hair. But it was her speaking, eloquent
eyes which attracted him the most. They were of the very darkest hazel;
one moment sleeping lazily under their long lashes, the next sparkling
and snapping like the sunlight on a rippling stream as they reflected
the constant lively and changeful play of their owner’s irrepressible
emotions. A short Grecian nose, perfect teeth, and a pink-brown
complexion that bespoke a love of a fresh air life completed the
altogether charming personality of this interesting brunette.

She was attired in a well-worn khaki divided riding-skirt and a plain,
white linen blouse, with a red silk scarf loosely knotted around her
splendid columnar throat. Her feet—absurdly small for a woman of her
generous build—were encased in high-heeled, spurred riding-boots; and as
she sat there with an easy, self-possessed grace, a cow-girl’s Stetson
hat tilted rakishly on her raven-hued, glossy hair, nonchalantly
swinging a quirt in one of her fringed gauntlets, she presented a very
alluring and delightful picture indeed. Plain, and almost coarse though
her dress was, its simplicity only served to enhance the rounded
outlines of her abnormally tall, classical, magnificent figure.

“Well, well,” said the Sergeant. “This sure is a pleasure. Why, I might
have known you again if only from your voice.”

She laughed with a deep, musical, mischievous chuckle, like a boy whose
voice is breaking.

“Same here,” she said, with emphasis. “Though I’ve never had the
pleasure of hearing yours in song before. Why, you must be the Mounted
Policeman I often hear Mr. Trainer speaking of? I never thought to
connect you with the same man on the black horse that time last year.”

“Sure,” he answered, grinning. “Only I hope Dave doesn’t libel me as
badly as some of ’em do, for I’m very sensitive. My name’s
Benton—Sergeant Benton.”

Her dark eyes flashed roguishly and, drawing off a gauntlet, she held
out her hand with a frank, impulsive camaraderie and grasped his with a
warm, strong clasp.

“My Good Samaritan,” she said simply. “I’m very glad to know you and,
since introductions are going, suffice it to say _my_ name’s
O’Malley—Mary O’Malley—and I originally hail from New York. At present
I’m companion to Mrs. Trainer, governess to her children—what you will.”

He nodded. “Well,” he said, “since you’ve been kind enough to confer the
title of ‘Good Samaritan’ on me, I must make good on the best this poor
house can offer you.”

And he bustled through into the kitchen. “No, no,” he protested
laughingly, as she arose with an offer of help and made as if to follow
him. “You be good, now, and stay right where you are. You may run things
at Dave Trainer’s, but I won’t have you butting around _my_ kitchen. Oh,
I’m quite a competent cook, I can assure you.”

She gave a little comical grimace of despair. “Oh, very well, then,” she
said. “I’ll just stay here and sulk instead.”

And she began to wander around the room, examining all his military
accouterments, pictures, and curios, with a lively, almost childlike,
interest, calling out from time to time “What this was for?” and “What
that was?” etc. Then, suddenly seating herself at the piano, she lifted
up a great, rollicking voice and, in an amusing, exaggerated Hibernian
brogue, commenced to sing “Th’ Waking of Pat Malone”:

    Thin—Pat Malone forgot that he wot dead—
    He raised his head and shouldthers from th’ bed;

Which ditty tickled her host beyond measure as he continued his cooking
operations.

Presently, tiring of the piano, she got up and, leaning in the doorway,
regarded him with serious, appraising eyes.

“Man,” she said solemnly, “’tis th’ grand voice that ye have—singin’
away all on your lonesome.”

And, dropping the brogue, she quoted, to his intense amusement and
surprise, a well-worn verse from “Omar Khayyám.”

“So,” said Ellis, with a delighted chuckle, as the daring and utter
absurdity of the quotation, under the circumstances, struck him, “it’s
kind of you to suggest it. All the ingredients are at hand, too, except
the ‘Flask of Wine,’ ‘Wilderness enow,’ particularly.... Sorry about the
Wine, though, after that compliment. Unfortunately, we’re strictly ‘on
the tack,’ as we call it, just now. Oh, ‘Barkis is willin’,’ all right.”

He cleared the books and papers off the table in the living-room and,
spreading out the simple repast that he had prepared for her, drew up a
chair.

“Grub pi-i-ile!” she shrilled, in droll imitation of a camp cookee; and,
seating herself, she attacked the frugal meal with a healthy appetite
that fully demonstrated her previous admission that she was hungry.

“Sorry I forgot to ask whether you’d have tea or coffee,” he said
apologetically. “I’ve made you coffee.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” she said carelessly. “I much prefer coffee.
Thanks. My! but I’m hungry!”

He sat down in one of the easy chairs opposite and, leaning his head
back against the leopard skin, watched her with a lively and
all-absorbing interest. Her complete self-possession and confidence, and
the unconventional manner in which she proceeded to make herself
entirely at home in the detachment, amused and astounded him. He
remembered the impulsive, winning way that she had come over and spoken
to him on the occasion of their first meeting. She was a new type to him
and he realized that she was quite out of the ordinary.

She was not “mannish,” but there seemed to be a good deal of the
irresponsible boy, as it were, left in her. She couldn’t be a strolling
ex-actress, he reflected. The utter absence of coquetry, the fresh,
healthy, open-air look of her, and the mention that she had made of the
position she occupied at the Trainors’ immediately dispelled that idea.
And besides, Dave Trainor’s wife was a lady-like, nice woman
and—particular. He was a frequent and welcome caller at their ranch—knew
them intimately.

No, she was all right. Just a big, simple, jolly girl, well bred and
educated; brought up, perhaps, amongst a host of brothers and their
friends so, therefore, accustomed to masculine society, and most likely
preferring it to her own sex. Mixing with them in their out-door
sports—clean minded, healthy specimens like herself—daring, high
spirited and impulsive, without being brazen and bold—funny, without
being vulgar. Her manner, and clear, frank, honest eyes showed him that.
Used to being teased and welcomed everywhere—clever, mirth loving,
independent, self-reliant, kind and brave.

It was thus that he mentally diagnosed the character of his fair guest.
He was no vain, smirking Lothario, but he instinctively guessed how that
strong mouth of hers could set, and those hazel eyes blaze and
scintillate with dangerous anger at times; and that the man who was
ill-advised and—ignorant enough—to ever make the foolish break of
misconstruing her careless geniality for anything else _but_ that, was
only inviting disaster of the most ignominious and humiliating kind.

Her gaze flitted around the room continually as she appeased her
appetite, and he was subjected to an exacting and minute inquisition
anent the duties and life of a Mounted Policeman.

“And do they supply your detachments with pianos, too?” she inquired
ingenuously. “Now, you needn’t laugh. I believe you’ve only been telling
me a lot of nonsense. ‘I was a stranger, so you took me in.’ It’s too
bad of you.”

“Honor bright, I haven’t,” he protested, with a grin. “I’ve told you the
truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Pianos! Oh, my
long-suffering Force. No, we get a pretty good outfit, but the
Government don’t extend their generosity quite _that_ far. This musical
box belongs to the Honorable Percy Lake. He’s a rich Englishman who
plays at ‘rawnching’ here—a ‘jolly boy,’ as we call ’em. His place is
about five miles due west from here; it’s fitted up like a Fifth Avenue
mansion. Oh, he’s no end of a swell. But it’s caddish of me to make fun
of him, for he’s an awfully decent chap at heart, in spite of his lazy,
fastidious ways, and a man—every bit of him. He’s away in California
just now. He and his wife always flit South with the geese before the
winter sets in, but they should be back any old time now. He was scared
the punchers would ruin this piano if it was left to their tender
mercies. It’s a pretty good one, I believe—a Broadwood. Had it shipped
out from the Old Country and, as he knows I’m fond of music, he insisted
on carting it over here. Kind enough, but whatever I’d do with it if I
was transferred suddenly anywhere else, I don’t know. It’ll be a relief,
in a way, when he redeems it.”

He got up and poured her some more coffee, remarking a little anxiously:

“I suppose the Trainors will be having a search party out for you,
thinking something’s happened. Shouldn’t wonder but what Dave’s on his
way down here right now to notify me.”

“Oh, no; don’t you worry,” she said reassuringly. “I told them I _might_
stay at the Goddard’s place for the night. I would have done so, only I
found little Willy Goddard was sickening for measles and I didn’t want
to take chances in my capacity of governess of probably passing it on to
the Trainors’ children—Bert and Gwyn. Not that I’m scared for
myself—I’ve had it, years and years ago. Oh, the Trainors know I’m jolly
well able to take care of my little self,” she added, with a slight
suggestion of defiant challenge in her tones and look which stirred the
fiery Benton blood in his veins strangely.

“Yes, you just bet you are!” he ejaculated admiringly, as he appraised
her strong, splendid figure. “You’re away taller than I am, and I
shouldn’t wonder if you don’t _weigh_ heavier, too. Riding keeps my
weight down, though. I don’t suppose I go more’n a hundred and
seventy-five; but that’s plenty heavy enough for a horse.”

She nodded carelessly. “Went one hundred and seventy-eight last week
when I weighed myself on the grain scales—and I’m five feet ten and a
half. Oh, Finnegan, that’s me!

“I had quite an adventure coming along,” she continued, with reflective
gravity. “After I’d left the Goddards’ I came through a place away back
on the trail there—I think it’s called ‘Fish Creek.’ I was passing by a
bit of an old homestead—you couldn’t dignify it with the title of
‘ranch.’ There was a tumble-down old shack there, anyway, and as I came
round the front of it—the trail bends there—I saw a funny little old man
standing, or rather, leaning, in the doorway. He’d got a bottle in his
hand and, oh! he _was_ so tipsy—singing away like anything.

“Well, as soon as he caught sight of me, he raised his bottle and
shouted ‘’_Urroo!_’ I didn’t know what he was rejoicing about, but of
course I shouted ’Urroo! back. And then I suppose he intended to come
over and speak to me, but the steps of his shack were broken and, oh,
dear! he came such an awful tumble off his perch and smashed the bottle
all to pieces.”

Ellis gave a shout of laughter. “Why, that must be old Bob Tucker,” he
said. “He’s always getting ‘lit up.’ Did he scare you?”

The great, smiling girl arose and, dusting some crumbs off her lap, drew
herself up to her full regal height and looked down upon him with
pitying toleration.

“Huh!” she ejaculated. But words cannot express the world of scornful
amusement, derision, and incredulity that she put into the exclamation.
“Scare nothing! the poor little, dirty old tipsy thing. I got off Sam
and picked him up, and then I saw he’d cut one of his hands on the
broken bottle. It was bleeding ever so badly, and a piece of the glass
was still sticking in the cut. When he saw he’d lost all his whiskey he
started to swear something awful—leastways I _think_ it was swearing....
It sounded like it, but it was in a funny language I couldn’t
understand. And then he began to cry. Oh, I _was_ so sorry for him. I
helped him up the steps into the shack, and got some water and washed
his cut hand—then I tied it up with my handkerchief. All the time he
kept whimpering: ‘Oh, gorblimey, it ’urts! it ’urts!’ And he kept
calling me ‘_intombi_.’ What’s that mean?”

“It’s Zulu,” said Ellis. “It means ‘young woman.’ I guess he was
swearing in Kaffir or the _Taal_. He’s an old Cockney, but he’s lived
the best part of his life in South Africa.”

“Well,” she continued, “after I’d fixed up his hand he stopped crying
and commenced to shout: ‘’Urroo! ’Urroo!’ again. And then he pulled a
dirty old letter out of his pocket and began to tell me it was from
‘Jack ’Arper,’ who, he explained, was a friend of his son’s, somewhere
down in Eastern Ontario. ‘’E tells me my b’y ’Arry’s _vrouw’s
doed_!—gorn to ’eving!’ he says, in a screech you could pretty nearly
hear to Sabbano. And it was awful the way he chuckled and grinned over
it. Just as if it was some great joke. ‘An’ Jack, ’e says as ’ow ‘Arry’s
bin _dronk_ ever since, but wevver it’s becos ’e’s sorry, or becos ’e’s
glad, w’y ’e don’t know.... An’ ’e says as ’ow ’Arry wants me to come
back Heast an’ live wiv ’im on th’ farm. An’ I’m a-goin’, too!’ he says.
‘I’ve sold aht this old plice—an’ me stock—to Walter ’Umphries, an’ I’m
a-goin’ to _trek_ next week. ’Urroo! ’Urroo! ’ere goes nuthin’!’”

Ellis, at this point, was convulsed with mirth; for her exact mimicry of
old Tucker’s Cockney speech was startlingly natural and funny in the
extreme.

The girl laughed with him, continuing: “He was stumbling about and
waving his arms all the while he was telling me this joyful news, and he
wanted to get me some supper but, ugh!... I simply couldn’t. The place
and everything was so dirty—like a pigstye. I was glad to get away, and
I left him standing on the broken steps waving his bandaged hand to me.
The poor old thing! does he live there all alone?”

Ellis nodded. “Yes,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get him to sell out
and go and live with his son down East for a long time now. I’m glad to
hear he’s going at last. He’s too old to live alone like that. His
daughter-in-law was the obstacle. The reason I asked you if you were
scared was because he’s got a playful way of flourishing a loaded rifle
around sometimes when he gets on these toots. He put the fear into me
properly one time, I remember.”

A photograph, slightly yellow with age, in a splendid silver frame on
the piano attracted her attention and, with an “Excuse me,” she crossed
over and scrutinized it long and earnestly. It was the sweet, proud,
regally beautiful face of a woman attired in an evening dress of the
style worn in the early ’seventies. Ah! no need to tell her who _that_
was! For, in spite of his mutilated ear and scarred, bronzed face, she
recognized in the portrait the same regular, clean-cut features and
steady eyes of the man who sat there silently watching her, with his
head thrown out into strong relief against the leopard-skin kaross.

She glanced at him in mute inquiry, and back to the photograph again,
instinctively guessing _now_ whence the inspiration of that moving song
had come which had been the means of arousing in her a greater interest
in her host than she would perhaps have cared to admit.

“It’s my mother,” he said simply, interpreting her look. “She died when
I was just a kid at school. A little over a year before I came out to
the States.”

There was silence for awhile and presently he sprang up briskly.

“Well, now, I don’t want to hurry you, Miss O’Malley,” he said, “but
we’ve got seven miles to go and it’s a quarter to eleven now. They’ll
all have gone to roost at the Trainors’ long ago, I expect. I’m going to
give you a _good_ horse to ride ... the black fellow you liked so much.”
(She gave a little exclamation of delight.) “The work began to pile
up—there’s some awful long patrols to do here. It was too much for one
horse, so I kicked for another and got it. I ride ’em turn about.
There’s a good pasture at the back, with water, so when I go away for a
few days I can always turn the spare one out. I’ll shove your saddle
onto Johnny—he’s quiet—and I’ll ride Billy and trail old Sam alongside.”

She thanked him prettily and gratefully for the hospitable entertainment
accorded her and his kind offer of guidance.

“Oh, not at all; not at all,” he replied cheerily. “It’s the other way
about, I’m thinking. You’ve quite livened things up around here. I’m a
kind of a lonely beggar. You can’t think how I’ve enjoyed your company.
Well, I’ll go and get those horses and we’ll hit the trail.”

To the lonely man that night ride to the Trainors’ ranch with such an
interesting companion seemed all too short, and but for the late hour
and the fact of her being by now very tired, he could have wished the
distance longer.

Everything was dark and still as they neared the ranch, until two huge
coyote hounds hearing their approach ran out barking, and overwhelmed
them with a boisterous welcome when they dismounted. Hitching the horses
to the fence, Ellis swung open the hanging gate of the square, railed-in
enclosure within which the ranch dwelling stood, and they walked slowly
up the path. Aroused by the dogs, Trainor himself came out to meet them
with a lighted lantern in his hand.

“Hello, people!” was his hearty greeting. “What’s abroad? That you,
Mary? Why, Sergeant, it’s you, eh? What’s this young lady been up to
now? Is she under arrest?”

“Sure thing,” said Ellis, laughing. “I’m thinking of charging her with
‘vagrancy’—found her wandering around the prairie ‘riding the grub
line.’”

Explanations followed, and Trainor led the way into the house. It was a
comfortable, home-like, roomy dwelling, simply, but well and
substantially furnished, with many splendid bear, deer, and other skins
scattered around the painted hardwood floor in lieu of carpets, for
Trainor had traveled considerably, and been a mighty hunter in former
years. The well-stocked book shelves, the piano, and a few, but good,
oil paintings and engravings that adorned the walls, seemed to imply
that the owners were people of substance and refinement. Trainor was a
tall, strongly-built man of fifty or thereabouts, with a heavy, fair
mustache and a humorous, weather-beaten face. His speech, although
slightly nasal, was that of an educated American, and his genial,
kind-hearted personality created an instinctive liking with all who met
him.

He was roughly dressed in a waistcoat, gray-flannel shirt, with blue
overalls tucked into high riding-boots; for, apart from the fact that he
was well-to-do, and one of the largest stock owners in the district, he
was a worker himself, and liked to superintend the running of his ranch
personally.

“The wife’s gone to bed long ago,” he said. “I was sitting up, reading,
when I heard the dogs start in to yap. Why, Mary, my girl! I thought you
said you were going to stay the night at the Goddards’? They’ve got the
measles there, eh? Well, all’s well that ends well, thanks to Sergeant
Benton, here. Trust you not to get left, anyway. You look pretty well
played out, though. You’d better go to roost or you’ll be losing your
good looks. Won’t she?”

“Impossible!” exclaimed the sergeant, with such fervent emphasis that a
faint blush arose on the girl’s rather tired face, as she thanked him
again and bid him “Good-night.”

He chatted awhile with Trainor, who had hospitably produced a bottle of
whiskey, and presently got up and prepared to depart, refusing the
latter’s invitation for him to stay the night.

“Can’t chance it tonight, Dave,” he said. “I’m anticipating the arrival
of one of our officers—Inspector Purvis. He’s about due here, visiting
detachments, and I don’t want to be away when he comes. Thanks, all the
same! No, you needn’t come out. I’ll off-saddle and fix up old Sam. So
long.”



CHAPTER XVII


    Of lovers she had a full score,
        Or more,
    And fortunes they all had galore,
        In store;
      From the minister down
      To the clerk of the Crown,
    All were courting the Widow Malone,
        Ohone!
    All were courting the Widow Malone.

    —_Charles Lever_

In spite of his morose and surely somewhat fantastic constancy, which
obsession, be it remarked, he was rather prone to exaggerate than
minimize, and the bitter, hopeless philosophy with which he had come to
regard his single and seemingly inevitable lot, it must be admitted that
Ellis found his mind subconsciously reverting on many occasions during
the next few weeks to the girl who had so unconventionally invaded his
bachelor quarters.

“Yes, begad! there _was_ a strong fascination about her,” he
soliloquized. She was so totally different to any other woman who had
come into his lonely life. Several times, too, he found this same
compelling influence answerable for his change of direction as he found
himself absently swinging off the main trail north into the one that
diverged east and led to the Trainors’ ranch where, by now, he had come
to be regarded as a regular and welcome visitor.

The girl, on her part naturally enough, was by no means oblivious to the
reason of his frequent calls, though she always greeted him with her
customary careless, wide-eyed geniality, their acquaintance by now
having ripened into the intimacy of teasing, playful badinage, at which
pastime, needless to say, both of them excelled.

With an innate delicacy that was only natural and instinctive in one
come of his gentle birth and early breeding, he had forborne from ever
asking her the reason that she was occupying the comparatively humble
position of governess, lady companion, or—as she herself had put
it—“what you will,” on a ranch. It puzzled him. When he had first met
her the year previous she was then apparently traveling in state,
plainly, although richly, dressed, with an elderly aunt, who—her
disagreeable and snobbish manner notwithstanding—distinctly radiated
every indication of imposing worldly affluence.

Anyway, those were the impressions that he had formed in the brief
glimpse afforded him of the two ladies on that occasion. On this head he
one day casually sounded Dave Trainor, as the two of them lounged in the
stable talking cattle and horse, preparatory to the Chinese cook’s
shrill summons of “Glub pl-i-i-ile!” heralded with the customary knuckle
tattoo on an inverted dishpan. Trainor, with a slight touch of
reminiscent garrulity—a mannerism of his—and with his usual preface:

“Now, see here; look! I’ll tell you how that is, Sergeant,” proceeded to
enlighten him. “I’ve known that girl,” he began, “and all her family for
many years back—ever since she was a little slip of a kid, in fact. I
started out in life as a mining engineer. That’s my real profession,
though I’ve been in the ranching business now for twenty years or more.
It must have been in ’seventy-four, or thereabouts, when I first met her
father—Terence O’Malley—in New York. He was a mining stockbroker then,
and being more or less mixed up in the same class of business, we
drifted together and became pretty chummy. He was a typical harum-scarum
Irishman out of Ireland. One of those lovable, brilliant kind of
ducks—the life and soul of whatever company he was in. A regular ‘Mickey
Free.’ Of good birth and education, clever and shrewd in his business,
but a proper gambler at heart, and impulsive and changeable as the wind.
She’s very like him in many ways—got all his impulsiveness, witty humor
and brogue, but without his selfishness and improvidence. Oh, he was
sure some high flier, O’Malley. Made fortunes in one day—lost ’em the
next. You know the way they run amuck on the Stock Exchange? He married
a New York girl—think her name was Egan. Anyway, _she_ was of Irish
extraction, too. This girl—Mary—is the eldest of the family. She’s got
four brothers, but they all came some years later—there’s quite a space
in between her and them. Somehow another they were all brought up and
received pretty fair educations. The boys have got decent enough
positions in various parts of the States—able to keep themselves now, at
all events. They’re good kids enough, but inclined to be a bit
wild—possess a lot of the characteristics of their old man. He died
about three years ago—of disappointment and shock, when the final crash
came in his fortunes. I guess his heart was weak.

“It was a queer household, theirs, as you can imagine, with the
fluctuating nature of the father’s income—and he was one of those who
never dreamt of laying by for a rainy day. Yes, _sir_! I tell you there
were hard struggles at times in that family. One week—on ‘Easy Street.’
The next—‘broke to the wide’—unable to pay the rent. O’Malley’s wife had
died in giving birth to the last boy and afterwards, all through their
ups and downs, that girl kept things as straight as she could. She was a
regular mother to the boys in those days—has been all along. They’d have
all gone to the devil long enough ago if it hadn’t been for her. She’s
twenty-eight now, though she don’t look it. After her father died, she
went to live with an aunt of hers—a Mrs. Gorman, of Philadelphia. She’s
sure got the ‘rocks,’ all right, but I guess she’s about as disagreeable
an old party as you could find. You’ve seen her, you say?” (Ellis nodded
grimly.) “Well, her acquaintance doesn’t belie her face. I don’t know
how on earth Mary stuck to her for so long. It was a case of ‘nowhere
else to go,’ I guess, poor girl, and she’s very patient. Must have had a
hard time of it, from what little she’s told us. She isn’t the bewailing
sort that cry their troubles abroad to all and sundry they meet, but I
suppose it got too thick for even her to stand any longer, so she
decided to cut loose from ‘Aunty.’ She wrote to the wife, asking her if
she knew of any position that she could earn her own living at over on
this side. So that’s how it is she’s here, looking after Bert and Gwyn.
Those kids just worship her. Seems she prefers this fresh air life to an
office job. You might know that, anyway, by the look of her. I tell you,
I respect and admire that girl, Benton. Hello! was that ‘Grub pile!’
just went? Come on in, or we’ll be getting a scolding for being late.”


Slowly but, nevertheless surely, as the weeks, and gradually months,
went by, and their intimacy increased, the inevitable happened to Ellis
and Mary; for mere platonic friendship between two individuals of their
warm-blooded natures was impossible amidst such surroundings, and by
imperceptible degrees their mutual interest and liking for each other
had developed into a stronger feeling.

But still Ellis wavered. For the pessimistic ideas that he held
regarding a Mounted Policeman’s general life, insufficient pay, and
hazardous occupation—in the non-commissioned ranks, anyway—rendering him
unfit for marriage ties, continued to obsess him and slightly warp his
ordinarily generous, impulsive nature. The habits of years are not
easily broken, and long companionship with Musgrave had not tended to
mitigate his views. Since the death of his first love he had, in a great
degree, held aloof from women’s society, keeping a tight curb on himself
and rigidly repressing all his emotions. In whatever few convictions he
possessed regarding the grand passion he was an idealist, and wedded
bliss in the form of the average smug, thrifty marriage of
convenience—contracted usually by the man of meager or moderate
means—did not appeal to him at all.

Whether or not the girl reciprocated his affection a characteristic lack
of vanity precluded his knowing, for as yet there had been no love
passages between them to warrant his believing so. He thought she liked,
and was not altogether indifferent to him, and that was all.

It is not to be supposed that he was entirely alone in his attentions to
that debonair young woman. Her sex were not over numerous in the
neighborhood, and she was therefore distinctly attractive to the various
bachelors—young, middle-aged, and old—who resided within a twenty-mile
radius of the Trainors’ establishment. Thus it may be inferred that she
did not lack suitors, many of them admittedly eligible as regards their
possession of worldly goods—a fact which Ellis forcibly realized at
times, when the bitter consciousness of his own limited means and
prospects would come home to him with cruel intensity.

But the strong, sane, logical mind of the man predominated, and he kept
himself well in hand. They had the prior right, he argued; for, plain
and homely though most of them might be, they didn’t hang fire like him,
anyway. They were in the position to give the girl a better home than he
could ever hope to offer her. He would therefore be no
“dog-in-the-manger” to stand in their way, he decided. So, whenever he
chanced to find one of these would-be suitors ahead of him in the field,
he always promptly excused himself and withdrew; which policy of
self-effacement, be it remarked, piqued poor Mary not a little.

He was not exactly made of the stuff that calculating, luke-warm,
cautious lovers are prone to be composed of, but the fires of jealousy
had once scorched him pretty severely and the memory of the lively
torment that he had endured in those miserable days was still too vivid
in his recollection to risk a possible repetition of that dread disease.

He need have had no fear. One and all—irrespective of age, wealth, or
appearance, she treated them with the same laughing impartiality,
rendering to each the same answer. In kindly fashion at that, too, for
she realized only as a dowerless spinster can, that the well-meaning,
earnest love of an honest man is not a thing to be contemptuously cast
aside or scoffed at. As often as not Ellis, nearing the Trainors’ ranch,
with the intention of paying a visit, would chance to observe one of
these rejected, love-lorn swains galloping or driving away in eccentric
haste; and, hopelessly in love though he himself was, that fact did not,
however, totally eclipse his sense of humor.

He was only human, and the sight of a discomfitted rival beating an
ignominious retreat—or as he (Ellis) put it—“chasing himself over the
bald-headed,” was too irresistibly funny a spectacle to prevent a surly
chuckle escaping him. And, postponing his intended visit just then, from
motives of delicacy, he would ride on his way, in all probability,
rejoicing.



CHAPTER XVIII


    She’d come again, and with a greedy ear
    Devour up my discourse:

    —_Othello: Act_ I, _Sc_. 3

One glorious September afternoon, appreciating the girl’s fondness for
riding Johnny, Ellis rode over to the Trainors’, leading his favorite
mount. Entering the house, he received the usual kindly welcome from the
rancher and his wife; the latter a stoutish, jolly-looking woman with a
great mass of fair, fluffy hair—some years her husband’s junior.

“Well, well,” she said, looking up at him with playful amusement. “And
where, _sir_, have _you_ been hiding yourself lately? We’d begun to
think you must have fallen down a gopher hole or something.”

He walked through into the kitchen and drank a dipperful of water
thirstily, before he answered. Returning, he grinned significantly at
his hostess.

“All right, let it go at that, Mrs. Trainor,” he replied. “Here, Gwyn!”
he continued, slewing around and catching hold of that little blonde
seven-year-old fairy, “where’s Miss O’Malley?”

“Shan’t tell you!” came the mutinous giggle.

“Oh, yes, you will,” he said, tickling her. “Come on, now; you tell, or
I’ll—I’ll take you out and put you right on top of the barn for that big
sparrow-hawk to come and get! He likes little girls like you. One!
Two!—are you going to tell me—?”

“Yes, yes!” came the smothered squawk. “Pu-put me down, though.
She—she’s drying her hair in the sun back of the house,” she whispered
gravely.

“Is she? Well, you go and tell her I want her,” he whispered back. “Run
like anything.”

“Oh, she’ll come quick enough when she knows you’ve got Johnny for her
to ride,” remarked Trainor, smiling. “She won’t look at that Pedro horse
of mine so long as _he’s_ around. Say!” he broke off. “Bert’s sure
getting to be some marksman, ain’t he? He’ll be running you pretty close
when he gets older, Sergeant. Look at that, now!”

These remarks were occasioned by the entrance of a sturdy youngster of
nine, who was proudly dangling the carcasses of half a dozen fat
gophers.

“No, no, Bert! You mustn’t bring them in here!” cried his mother
sharply. “Take them outside and give them to Tom and Jerry!”

Hugging a small “twenty-two” rifle and his dead gophers, the boy gave a
roguish grin at Ellis and departed, followed by two huge mewing tomcats.

“Little brutes were just ruining the garden,” said Trainor, “so I put
Bert onto them. He’s just having the time of his life with that new gun
I bought him.”

Ellis, seating himself at the piano with an assurance that bespoke long
familiarity in that kindly, homelike household, began to idly strum.
“Come, Lasses and Lads,” with a whistling accompaniment. Suddenly a
shadow darkened the open door, and a mischievous voice greeted him with:

“Hello, ‘Mancatcher’! What brings you here this late along? We’d begun
to think something had happened to you.”

With her great, shimmering, glorious mass of glossy black hair rippling
and tumbling about her teasing, slightly sunburnt face, Mary looked like
a girl of eighteen. And as she stood there, with her superb figure drawn
up to its full height, she made a picture that aroused the Sergeant’s
slumbering passion anew with increased fervor.

But his well-trained visage and voice evinced nothing of his feelings as
he returned her pleasantry with, an answering careless:

“Why, hello, ‘Mousetrap’! Comin’ for a ride?”

Mrs. Trainor exploded with bubbling mirth.

“Why, why! whatever new nicknames are these? You two’ll be forgetting
what your real names are altogether soon. I never heard such nonsense.”

“It isn’t, Mrs. Trainor,” said Ellis aggrievedly. “It’s just
_that_—mice! I found her busy catching ’em in one of the oat bins in the
stable the other day. She just catches and plays with ’em—lets ’em run,
then grabs ’em again.”

“Huh!” said the girl contemptuously. “That’s nothing! I’m not afraid of
mice. Poor little things. Besides, I had gauntlets on.”

“No,” said Ellis slowly, with a mocking chuckle, “it’d take more than a
mouse to scare _you_—we know that! Come! I’ll trade you aliases. _I_
haven’t caught a man for over two months now.”

His mischievous meaning was only too obvious, and the girl colored to
her laughing eyes, grabbing, next instant, a ball of wool from Mrs.
Trainor’s lap, which she shied at him.

Benton, dodging this missile, gazed piercingly at her for several
seconds without moving a muscle of his face; then, suddenly swinging
around on the music-stool, he brought down his hands with a crash of
chords and, in a great rollicking voice and a broad Somersetshire
dialect, commenced to sing a bucolic love ditty. Something that went:

    “Vor if yeou conzents vor tu marry I now,
    Whoy—Vather ’e’ll gie uns ’is old vat zow!
    With a rum dum—dum dum—dubble dum day!”

“Boo-o-oo! La, la, la!” shrilled poor Mary, covering her ears. “Oh,
_please_, Mrs. Trainor, _do_ make him stop!”

“What’s the use, my dear?” cried that merry dame, in great amusement.
“He wouldn’t listen to me. He’s too impudent for anything.”

While Trainor slapped his thigh and guffawed uproariously.

“Oh, oh!” screamed the girl, stamping and pirouetting about the room,
“he’s starting _another_ verse! Oh, quit, quit, quit! or _I’ll_ start in
opposition! I’ll make such a noise they won’t be able to hear you!”

And at the top of her voice she started to declaim lustily:

    “Arrah, go on! You’re only tazin!
    Arrah, go on! You’re somethin’ awful!
    Arrah, go on! You’re mighty plazin!
    Oh, arrah go way! go wid yer! go way! go on!”

“That settles it,” shouted Ellis, jumping up. “I’ll sure give in to
_that_. Peccavi! I’ll chuck up the sponge. But you be good after this
now, or I’ll sing you some _more_ ‘Zummerzet.’ Don’t bother about
getting your hair done up again, Miss O’Malley. It looks ‘Jake’ like
that. Just tie a bit of red ribbon round. Come on; go and get your
riding things on. Johnny’s feeling pretty good—hasn’t been out for three
days now.”


“Oh, my, but that’s great!” gasped Mary ecstatically, half an hour
later, as they pulled their excited, eager horses up to a walk, after a
perilous neck-and-neck gallop, supremely careless of whatever
badger-holes lay in their course on the long, flat stretch. “Aha,
Johnny, old boy! you sure do like to be let out for a run, don’t you?”
she continued caressingly, as she patted the arched, swelling neck of
the great springy beast under her who, with a network of quivering,
hard, grain-fed muscles rippling beneath his smooth, black-satiny coat,
sidled and paced with daintily uplifted forefeet. The powerful animal
carried his substantially-built rider as if she were only a child,
flattening his ears and biting with equine playfulness meanwhile at
Billy, the big, upstanding, well-coupled-up bay that Ellis was riding.

“Well, whither away?” he inquired. “Where shall we go? Gosh, but it’s
hot!”

“Let’s go up on the top of that big hill over to the west there—where
that flat stone is,” she said, indicating a high, conical hill,
something like a South African _kopje_ that loomed up in the distance.
“I always call it ‘Lone Butte’ because it’s all by itself. It’s cooler
up there, and we can lazy around and look at the mountains.”

Half an hour’s ride over steadily rising ground brought them to their
destination and, arriving at the foot of the aforesaid butte, they
dismounted and, leaving their horses to graze, with dropped lines,
slowly made the ascent. There, on the extreme top, a relic of some vast
upheaval in the past, was a huge, long, low-lying flat stone, upon which
Mary seated herself and, removing her Stetson hat, let the cool breeze
play on her forehead and blow the shining tendrils of hair about her
face. Ellis flung himself out at full length on the short turf at her
feet and together they silently gazed in huge contentment at the
panorama that lay unfolded before them.

Below, looking east, shimmering with the little heat waves, the long
rolling vistas of greenish-brown prairie lay stretched out to the
horizon, through which, like a gleaming silver thread, wound the Bow
River; while to the west, above the pine-dotted foothills of a great
Indian Reserve, rose the upflung, snow-capped violet peaks of the mighty
“Rockies,” the hot afternoon’s sun enveloping all in its sleepy golden
haze.

The Sergeant, with his chin resting in his hands, looked long and
lovingly at the peaceful beauty of the scene.

“Begad, just look at _that_ now!” he murmured. “No wonder a fellow loves
an open-air life in the West ... there’s a picture for some poor beggar
that’s p’r’aps cooped up in an office all day, what? ... just the kind
of background Charley Russell always manages to get into his pictures,
isn’t it? To my mind he and Remington are the only artists who can
depict the prairie and its life properly—_they_ don’t slur over detail
like some of ’em. No matter whether it’s landscape, Indians,
cow-punchers, horses, cattle, hunting scenes, gun-scraps, or what not,
they give you the real thing—correct in every item. _That’s_ what hits
us who live _in_ such backgrounds. They not only make you _see_ it on,
canvas, they positively make you _feel_ it.... Well, Charley Russell
ought to know, if any man!... he punched cattle and wrangled horses for
a living—long before he ever thought of painting!”

A gopher popped up its head out of a hole a few feet away from Benton
and, after blinking inquisitively awhile with its beady brown eyes at
the two human beings who remained so still, it apparently decided that
there was nothing to fear from them and emerged fully from its retreat.
With tucked-in paws, it sat bolt upright and regarded them with grave
interest.

Ellis eyed the rodent indolently for a space; then, reaching cautiously
to his hip, he half drew a deadly-looking “Luger” pistol from its
holster—to which previously mentioned confiscated weapon sinister
memories were attached. The girl saw his movement and involuntarily
thrust out a protesting hand.

“No, no!” she said, in a loud eager whisper. “Don’t shoot the poor
little chap—it isn’t as if he was in the garden. ‘Live, and let live,’
you know. Oh, you _nasty_ thing!”

As the Sergeant, laughing quietly, in lazy acquiescence, jerked his gun
home again and, instead, spat with unerring aim on the gopher’s fat
back, which insult caused it to dive instantly into its hole again. For
a long time they remained silent, drinking in the fresh air; then the
girl who, with elbows-in-lap, was leaning forward absently swinging her
quirt, flicked her abstracted companion playfully.

“Come! don’t go to sleep,” she said. “A dime for your thoughts, O man of
many moods! You look like Hamlet watching the play—lying gazing away
there.... Wake up and talk to me, sir!”

Ellis, who lay stretched out with his back, turned to her, rolled over
and looked up into the long-lashed, half mocking, half serious hazel
eyes.

“‘Hamlet’!” he echoed, with an amused chuckle. “And pray what have _I_
done to deserve the honor of being likened unto ‘the melancholy Dane,’
kind lady? ‘Wot shall I tork abaht?’ as old Bob Tucker would say. ‘Bid
me discourse—I will enchant thine ear!’—à la ‘Baron Munchausen.’”

“No, don’t be foolish,” she said beseechingly. “Can’t you be serious for
once in a while, please? I don’t feel in the mood for any ‘Munchausen’
nonsense _just_ now. Confine yourself strictly to the truth on this
occasion. Just tell me _who_ you are—where you came from—and what you’ve
done for your living ever since you can remember! There, now, you’ve got
your orders in full ... fire away!”

Ellis gave a dismal whistle. “Pretty big order on short notice,” he
said. “If you expect me to fill all that, extempore, I’ll have to limit
it to a synopsis.”

There was, undoubtedly, a strong fascination about Benton, and few there
were of either sex who came into contact with him that did not fall
under the spell of his personal magnetism. The dry humor he emitted at
times, and the utter absence of self-consciousness or vanity in his
quiet, forceful personality, may have accounted for this in a great
measure. Also, in a simple, direct fashion, he could “talk well”; and
when he chose to exert himself, or was in the mood, could be a most
interesting companion as a raconteur, drawing upon a vast reserve of
experiences accumulated during his stirring, eventful, wandering life.

The quiet peace of his surroundings were conducive to such a mood just
now and, as the girl adroitly drew him on, he responded, and talked of
his past life as perhaps he had never done to man or woman before. Those
who love make good listeners and, as Mary, sitting there, heard with an
all-absorbing interest of his strange ups and downs, trials, hopes, and
adventures, she gained a vivid and lasting impression of the career of a
strong man who, early in life, had cut himself adrift from kith and kin;
glimpsing something of the real, deep, complex nature of this careless
soldier of fortune who, all unconsciously, had won her heart long ago.

His story began with his early schoolboy recollections. The unhappy
period following his mother’s death, and his final emigration to the
United States; then passed on, fantastically, through innumerable chops
and changes of life. It told of a wild, haphazard existence in camps,
and on the range in Montana and Wyoming, the lure of the gaming table,
and the companionship with men of nearly every nationality under the
sun. Desperate ventures in bubble speculations that either broke or made
the investors, of chances missed by the merest margin of time and
travel. It touched on all the phases of his pugilistic career, his later
adventures on the South African veldt and memories of the great war. He
described his return from that unquiet land, how he had eventually
joined the Mounted Police, the years that had followed in that Force,
and some of the various cases that had brought him his third stripe.
Sometimes on foot, more often on horseback, now fairly prosperous, now
poor, in and out, back and forth, chore boy, cookee, bronco-buster,
pugilist, Chartered Company’s servant, Irregular soldier, and finally
Mounted Policeman, moved Ellis Benton, taking his chance honestly and
bravely in the great game of Life.

All this he related without bravado, deprecating false modesty or
extravagant gesture, and the simple, earnest manner in which he told his
life’s story caused the great, generous heart of the listening girl to
go out to him in a wave of love and sympathy—the outward expression of
which she had difficulty in controlling.

Gradually, however, his mood changed, and the trend of his experiences
veering from the hard-bitten facts of ordinary police duty to the more
humorous occurrences that from time to time vary its red-tape-bound
monotony, he recounted several laughable episodes in which he had been
involved at different periods. The relation of these tickled the girl’s
imagination greatly.

“Yes,” he said musingly. “We do get up against some funny propositions
at times, that any one who’s blessed in the least degree with the saving
sense of humor can’t help but appreciate. If it wasn’t for these
occasional little happenings our life would be pretty dull. I remember
one time”—he checked himself, with a laugh. “Bah! I’m yarning away like
an old washerwoman full of gin and trouble.”

“Will you go on?” Mary said, leaning towards him with dancing eyes.

The thrill in her voice—strangely contagious it was—told how much she
was interested. It was not to be wondered at. There was only one man on
earth for whom she really cared—he lay stretched before her then, and
probably what attracted her most in him was his manly simplicity and the
sincerity of his tones and expression which, somehow, always had the
knack of carrying absolute conviction with them in the narration of even
the most trivial story.

“Well,” Ellis went on, “I was on Number Thirteen—south-bound—one day,
about eighteen months back, I guess, returning to my line detachment at
Elbow Vale. As we pulled away from Little Bend—the first stop—the Con’
came into the car I was in with a wire in his hand. ‘Benton,’ he said.
‘Anybody here by that name?’ I was in mufti—had been on a plain-clothes
job. ‘Right here!’ I said, and opened it up. It was from the O.C., and
as far as I can remember, ran something like this: ‘Definite information
just to hand. Arthur Forbes escaped Badminton Penitentiary; is on No.
13; forty-five; weight, one hundred and ninety; five feet ten; thick
black eyebrows; hook nose; triangular scar top bald head; dress unknown;
search train thoroughly; arrest without fail, signed R. B. Bargrave.’

“It wasn’t much of a description to work on, but I realized it was a
hurry call and was very likely all the O.C. had been able to get. It was
up to me to make good somehow. So I started in to investigate that train
with a fine-tooth comb, and I put the Con’ wise, too. It’s only a short
train—the Southbound—and I thought I’d have an easy job locating my man
if he was on it. I sauntered casually through, from end to end, and
sized all the passengers up. There was only one who came anything near
the description I’d had given me. Beggar was a parson at that, too. I
passed him up for the time being, and when we stopped at Frampton, I and
the Con’ made a pretty thorough search of the tender, baggage, and mail
coaches—also the rods underneath the whole length of the train. Nothing
doing, though, so we got aboard again. Then we ransacked every cubby
hole we could think of. Nothing doing again there, either. I began to
figure I was up against a hard proposition, or that p’r’aps he wasn’t
_on_ the train at all. But the wire read so positive, and our O.C. isn’t
the man to send you on a wild goose chase. Besides, I hated to think
this gink might slip it over on me after all, and make his get-away.

“Consequence was—I only had this parson to fall back on. I was only two
seats back from him, so I could watch him good. He was a big, stout,
broad-shouldered chap about the height and weight of the description,
all right; clean-shaved and very pale, with a hook nose and thick black
eyebrows, too. Didn’t fancy, somehow, that his expression and the cut of
his jaw was exactly in keeping with his clerical dress—and his hair—what
little I could see of it under his shovel hat—was pretty short. But
there! you can’t always judge a man by his personal appearance. It isn’t
wise or fair. Though honestly—I tell you, Miss O’Malley, I _have_ seen
parsons before now with faces tough enough to get them six
months—without the option of a fine—just on sight. I casually moved up
to the seat alongside his, on the other side of the aisle, where I could
keep good tab on him. He’d got some magazines and two or three clerical
papers—_The Pulpit_, _The Clerical Review_, etc., that he seemed very
interested in, and I began to think what ridiculous nonsense it was for
me ever for an instant to associate _him_ in my mind with an escaped
convict on the mere coincidence of his answering a vague description.
While all this was running in my head something happened which caused me
to change my mind a bit and feel kind of uneasy and suspicious of my
Reverend ‘Nibs.’

“All the way from Frampton, the whole bunch of us in the car—with the
exception, of course, of the divine—had been in turn amused and annoyed
at the antics of a bleary-eyed-looking bohunk who’d come aboard there
with a bottle of ‘Seagram’s’ rye sticking out of his pocket. He’d got a
proper singin’ jag on, and every now and again he’d pull out his bottle
and whet his whistle. Might have been anything from a camp cookee to a
section hand out on a ‘toot.’ _I_ don’t know what the beggar was.
Anyhow, getting tired of sitting still and singing on his lonesome, he
comes zig-zagging up the aisle, pitching cheerfully into some one’s lap
at every lurch of the train. The last lap he hit happened to be this
parson’s, who shoved him off disgustedly, and drew in the hem of his
garments, so to speak, all same Pharisee and Publican. The way he did it
got that drunk goin’ properly—made him pretty nasty. So he gets back at
the parson by pulling out his bottle and offering him a drink right then
and there. Of course that fetched a great big ignorant laugh out of the
whole lot of us, watching this Punch and Judy show. Parson never let on,
though—kept his face on one side, staring out of the window. Well, the
drunk, seeing his offer of a nip was turned down, takes one himself and,
swaying all over the place, puts his hand on the parson’s knee and looks
up into his face.

“‘Sh-shay, Mister!’ he says, as solemn as an owl. ‘_I_ don’t believe in
Heaven!’

“Of course we all started in to grin again, and the parson looked like a
proper goat. But still he took no notice—kept as mum as you please,
though; I guess if it’d been _me_, that drunk’d have got a back hander
across the mouth and kicked off the train by the Con’ at the next
station.

“Beggar got tickled with the fun he was causing, and he kept on
repeating this conviction of his over and over again like a parrot; but,
as the parson took not a bit of notice, he shut up for a bit and dozed
off to sleep—much to our relief. We were getting a bit fed up with him.
Then it was ‘Mister’ Parson made a darned bad break. He began fumbling
in his pockets for something—a penknife, if I remember—to cut the leaves
of a magazine. Well, his gloves seemed to hamper him, so he took them
off and I got a good look at his hands. They—like his mug—didn’t fit in
with his dress at all. Pretty rough-looking mitts, that it was very
evident had recently done heavy manual work—all grimed up, with black
broken nails and hard callosities on the palms.

“Still I hung fire—for _his_ cloth always demands a certain amount of
respect. He _might_ have been working in his garden, I argued to myself.
I didn’t want to make any fool break by humiliating a, p’r’aps,
perfectly innocent man and a gentleman on mere suspicion, and without
any positive proof. While I was twisting things over in my mind, the
brakeman came through, calling: ‘Baker’s Lake! Baker’s Lake!’ And
presently the train began to slow down. Parson began to gather all his
belongings together as if he was going to get off there. I was ‘between
the devil and the deep sea’—properly. For it was a case of ‘Going!
going!’ and the next minute it’d be ‘Gone!’ with me, p’r’aps, for the
goat instead of him.

“But just then Providence, in the shape of the drunk, settled all my
doubts for me at the eleventh hour. The brakeman calling out the name of
the station, and the parson rustling around with his traps, had combined
to wake this beggar up, and he started in to sing again. He quite
brightened up at the sound of his own music—takes another swig at his
bottle and, squinting at our reverend friend, starts in again with his
old parrot squawk:

“‘_I_ don’t believe in Heaven, mister! _I_ don’t believe in Heaven!’

“Parson stands up and reaches for his bag off the rack.

“‘Don’t you?’ he says, showing his teeth in a nasty sort of grin. ‘Don’t
you? Well, then—you can go to H—l!’

“That fixed it—absolutely. I jumped up and followed my ‘wolf in sheep’s
clothing’ down the aisle and out onto the platform.

“‘Just a minute, please,’ I said. ‘I’m a sergeant of the Mounted Police.
I don’t think there’s any doubt about _you_.’ And I collared him.

“For answer, he dropped his bag on the instant and closed with
me—desperate—tried to trip me up. Oh, I tell you, he sure _was_ some
handful. Well, he wouldn’t give in, quiet, and I began to get mad at the
way he was scuffling with me, so I let go of him and broke away for a
second. Then I came in on him quick and flopped him out with an uppercut
and a back-heel—and as he keeled over his hat flew off and I saw the
scar on the top of his bald block. Regular entertainment for the people
on the train and the platform. They were wondering what the deuce was up
when they saw us scrapping and rolling around there. I shoved the steels
on him and took him back next train.”

Mary laughed heartily at the conclusion of this episode.

“Wherever had he got the parson’s clothes from?” she queried.

“Oh,” said Ellis, with a grin, “when I landed back to the Post with him
I heard the city police’d received a report from the Reverend
Seccombe—the Baptist minister—to the effect that his house had been
broken into the night before and some of his clothes pinched. We got him
to come down to the guardroom right away, and he immediately identified
the clothes the prisoner was wearing as his—and the bag, too. He and the
other gink were just about the same build and height. Oh, his understudy
pleaded guilty to burgling this house then and there, when he saw a
bluff wouldn’t go. Made a statement and told us the whole business.

“It appears he’d broken into a shack when he first made his get-away
from the ‘pen,’ and stolen some workman’s clothes. He was kind enough to
leave these behind him when he exchanged with Seccombe. Oh, he sure was
some ‘Holy Roller,’ this Mr. Arthur Forbes. _Just_ such another
flim-flammer as that Jabez Balfour, who put that smooth ‘Liberator gold
brick come-on’ over a lot of the smug Nonconformist fraternity in the
Old Country many years back, and then skipped out to Buenos Ayres. This
beauty was doing eight years for a somewhat similar fake—a big oil well
‘salting’ swindle. He’d defrauded the public out of something like four
hundred thousand dollars.”

He rolled and lit a cigarette and, after carefully extinguishing the
match, gazed dreamily awhile across at the mountains, behind which the
sun was gradually disappearing. Presently, looking up at his companion
with a faint, whimsical smile playing over his stern features, he said
quietly:

“Now it’s _your_ turn to be Scherazerade. So far, I’ve been in the rôle
of Sinbad—completely monopolizing this ‘Arabian Nights’ entertainment in
a very one-sided manner. Won’t you tell me something of _your_ life—in
return?”

She shrugged her broad, gracefully rounded shoulders with a queer little
hopeless gesture, all the life seeming to have gone suddenly out of her
mobile face as she regarded him now with grave introspection.

“I’ll tell you a little,” she said slowly. “But I’m afraid you won’t
find it very interesting.”

What she related was a very fair corroboration of the facts previously
told him by Trainor; and though in their narration she strove to appear
indifferent to the changing fortunes of her family, and to gloss over
her father’s improvidence and selfishness, reading between the lines it
was very apparent to Ellis what sacrifices she had made willingly for
those same young brothers of whom she spoke with such loving solicitude.

“So ye see, me frind,” she wound up with a kind of forced gaiety:

    Fwat ups an’ down an’ changes there be
    E’en in the lives av th’ loikes av me.

Four years ago the fortunes av the House of O’Malley were in the
ascendant; today they are shtrictly on th’ wane.”

She threw up her head and smiled gamely in a forlorn sort of way; but
the quivering lips belied the careless, inconsequent tones, and he,
guessing that the tears were not far from the surface, dimly sensed
something of the bitter struggle that that brave heart must have been
forced to make at times to keep up appearances in past periods of
adversity. With this in his mind, he impulsively held up his hand to the
girl, and she, choking back a little sob in her throat, reached out and
clasped it warmly in hers.

“Eyah!” he said; “I guess we’ve both had our ups and downs, all right,
but there’s one consolation about our respective lots—they might have
fallen in worse places, though there’s little _real_ peace in the lives
of us who are comparatively poor and have to earn our own livings
forever dependent on the whims and fancies of the powers that be, set in
authority above us.

“Take the life of the average non-com, or ‘buck,’ in this Force, for
instance. It may seem rot to get harping on grievances at such a time
and place as this, I know,” (he made a sweeping gesture to the landscape
with outflung arm) “but there’s no lasting peace of mind or future in
it. People see us patrolling around in a smart uniform, and riding the
pick of the country in horseflesh, thinking, I suppose, what a fine time
we have of it. They little guess it’s one continual round of worry and
trouble. All the way from murder and robbery to settling neighbors’
trivial squabbles over dogging each other’s cattle, paying the cost of
divisional fences, and all those kind of petty disturbances. Either
that, or being chased around from one detachment to another, though in
that respect I must say this Division isn’t as bad as some of ’em.
Couldn’t have a better O.C. or Inspectors’n we’ve got in L. As long as
you’re onto your job and do your work right, they let you pretty well
alone. But it’s the confounded office work that we have to do in
addition to our ordinary police duty that _we_ get fed up on. Talk about
red tape! This outfit’s sure the home of it! Every report, every little
voucher for p’r’aps fifty cents’ expenditure—four, and sometimes five,
copies of each. Statistics for this, and statistics for that; monthly
returns, mileage reports, and the copy of your daily diary. Oh, Lord!
you should just see what we have to get through. Most of us use
typewriters, of course, or we’d _never_ make the grade at all. It’s much
easier and handier. Guess you saw that one of mine in the detachment.

“Office work or not, though, this job’s away ahead of being stuck in the
Post. The daily round of a ‘straight duty buck’ doing prisoners’ escort
about Barracks is, without doubt, _the_ most demoralizing existence
goin’. The monotony’s something fierce. And a non-com’s isn’t much
better, either. Sent out on every little rotten job that turns up,
hanging around stables and the orderly-room, always expected to be on
hand and within call. Taking charge of grousing fatigue parties, etc.
Thank goodness! I never had much of it to do. I was only in the Post a
month when I first took on. Been on detachment ever since, barring six
weeks I once put in as Acting Provo’ in charge of the guardroom, while
Hopgood was sick.”

He rolled another cigarette and, inhaling and expelling a whiff of
smoke, continued reflectively: “This is a good outfit—this Force—no
doubt about it. I guess as regards its system, discipline, and results,
it’s out and away the best Military Police Force in the world—with the
exception, p’r’aps, of the Royal Irish Constabulary. Good men take on
and serve their time. Some reengage, and some quit. But just as good men
take their place and the work goes on. But, as I said before, there’s no
rest, or future in it for the average non-com, or buck. You never know
when your day’s work’s done.

“No, it’s just one continual round of listening to, and settling other
people’s troubles. Seems nonsense, I know, to get talking like this for,
after all, it’s only what we’re paid for. Somebody’s got to do it. But
there it is—trouble, trouble, trouble, the whole time. All my life, with
the exception of the time I deliberately struck into the fighting game,
I’ve wanted to live peaceably; but it seems to have been my luck,
somehow, to always get the reverse. Especially on this job. No matter
how quiet and easy-going you try to rub along there are always some
nasty, bullying, ignorant, cunning beggars who, just because you’re a
bit decent to them, take it for granted you’re easy and try to impose on
you. Anyway, that was _my_ experience on the first two or three
detachments I struck. Not on _this_ one, though! Didn’t give ’em a
chance. Fellow that was before me, corporal named Williamson—decent
head, all right—but he tried that ‘live, and let live’ stunt and it
didn’t work a bit. No, _sir_! They just took advantage of him every turn
and corner. Oh, I tell you, Miss O’Malley, it sure was some tough
district—this—when I took it over.”

His brows contracted loweringly, and a menacing light gleamed in his
deep-set eyes.

“I soaked it to ’em, though, the dirty dogs!” he muttered, with a savage
snap of his strong white teeth. “They wanted to be _shown_.... I’ve sure
_shown_ some of ’em, all right. The inside of a ‘Pen’,’ at that. Kept
’em on the high jump ever since. It’s the only way _to_ deal with that
class. Treat ’em like the scum they are, and they’ll be good then and
eat out of your hand. They’re too ignorant and cunning to appreciate any
civility or kindness.”

He smoked thoughtfully on awhile after this slight outburst of
bitterness, amidst a silence that was presently broken by Mary.

“You’re fond of reading, aren’t you?” she inquired. “And music?”

His moody face cleared instantly, like the sun coming from behind a
cloud.

“Aye! you just bet I am!” he said fervently. “I’ve read, and played, and
sung every chance I’ve got—wherever I’ve been. Fond!—well, I should say
I am. I fancy if it hadn’t been for _that_, I’d have gone to the devil
long ago.”

He was sitting up on the grass, with his elbows on his knees and his
face buried in his hands. Neither of them spoke for a time and he, still
gazing across at the distant “Rockies,” muttered, half unconsciously, to
himself:

“No, just _peace_—that’s all I feel I want now. To have some steady job
to work at, with a future, and a home ahead of it. Neither molesting, or
being molested by any one.”

The girl leaned forward, listening wonderingly, as she watched the hard,
clean-cut profile of his faraway, moody face, surprised to hear him
ramble on so. He appeared to be entirely oblivious of her presence. He
made a very long pause and then, when she thought he was thinking of
something quite different, he suddenly said:

“I’m getting older now, and I’ve got more patience than I used to have
but, all the same—I’ll take no abuse, back-lip, or stand for being
imposed upon by any man. It’s been a word and a blow with me all my
life, and I guess that’s the reason why I’m only a poor man today. For
many’s the jackpot it’s landed me into. Aye! and many’s the good job
I’ve had to quit through the same thing.

“Just _peace_!” he repeated again, dreamily. “You realize it in some of
George Eliot’s tales of old-fashioned English country life, in Gray’s
‘Elegy,’ in Marie Corelli’s song of ‘The Lotus Lily.’ Ah, yes! she felt
it when she wrote that beautiful thing in her Egyptian tale of ‘Ziska’:

    “‘Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!
    It floats in a waking dream on the waters chilly,
      With its leaves unfurled
      To the wondering world,
    Knowing naught of the sorrow and restless pain
    That burns and tortures the human brain;
    Oh, for the passionless peace of the Lotus-Lily!’”

He ceased, and sunk his face in his hands again. The breeze stirred the
grizzled-brown hair on his temples, and he remained still for so long
that she thought he had fallen asleep; but presently he seemed to rouse
himself a little, and said idly, in a low voice:

“Men like me don’t _have_ to care what people say, or think, about us.
Ever since Mother died, I’ve been practically alone in the world, and
steered my course as I saw fit—just gone ahead and done what I thought
was right. Am I the worse man for being poor, I wonder? I’ve never
crawled to hold a job—or for money, anyway! Badly though I’ve always
wanted it. For it makes all the difference in the world—money. I’ve kept
my self-respect as far as _that_ goes—poor consolation though it may be
now—just when I need it most.”

The girl flicked him with her quirt.

“Don’t you think we’d better be going?” she said gently. “It’s getting
late. The sun’s gone down a long time now.”

At the touch, and the sound of her voice, he roused himself with a start
and regarded her absently.

“By George!” he muttered. “I must have been dreaming. Sorry, Miss
O’Malley.” He pulled out his watch. “Sure _is_ late,” he said. “Why
didn’t you give me a good slap and wake me up before? Letting me go to
sleep like that. Well, I guess we’ll toddle on down to the horses.”

“You _haven’t_ been asleep,” she said, with a faint smile. “But you’ve
been sitting there talking away to yourself like a man in a dream.”

He flushed, and laughed a little, shamefacedly.

“Have I?” he answered. “I sure must be getting as ‘nutty’ as a sheep
herder! What was I talking about?”

“Oh, all sorts of things,” she said evasively. “I’ll tell you sometime.”

He laughed again and, after eyeing her incredulously for an instant,
turned and strode down the declivity to where the patient horses still
waited. The girl gazed wistfully for a moment or two after his
retreating form, with its slim waist and square, splendidly-drilled
shoulders; then, with a little weary sigh, she arose and, mechanically
putting on her hat and dusting her dress, followed him.

Catching up Johnny, who nickered at her approach and picked up his
forefoot for sugar, she mounted with the lithe agility of the expert
horsewoman. Ellis swung up on Billy, and in silence they set out at a
brisk lope for home.



CHAPTER XIX


    For, immune from scoff of bachelor chum,
    Into his kingdom he had come;
    A rose-strewn path he would henceforth tread
    Through the generous will of the kindly dead.

    —_The Legatee_

“Go on! you’re only fooling! Is that straight now, Hop? What
pipe-dream’s all this?”

Dr. Musgrave’s incredulous remarks were addressed to Provost-Sergeant
Hopgood, the non-com. in charge of the guardroom, who, reclining in an
easy chair in the former’s combined study and consulting-room on this
September evening, was regarding his host somewhat lugubriously through
a blue haze of cigar smoke.

“No pipe-dream at all ... kind of wish it was,” he answered, with a
slight trace of bitterness in his tones. “’Twas Churchill wised _me_ up.
He was in from Sabbano today. Appears Ben’s been rushing this girl—or
woman, I should say—she’s near thirty, I understand—for quite a time,
now.”

Musgrave’s air of surprise was slowly succeeded by one of unwilling
conviction.

“Well, I’ll be——!” he muttered. “I might have tumbled, too!”

“Why, what’s up?” said Hopgood eagerly, staring at him now with
wide-eyed wonder. “You knew about it all the time, eh? Did Ben tell you?
Have you seen her? What’s she like?”

Musgrave knocked the ash off his cigar and gazed reflectively out of the
open window.

“Think I have,” he said. “I was walking down Eighth Avenue with him—day
he was in town, last month. ‘Hello!’ he says, pulling up suddenly.
‘Here’s somebody I know from my district!’ And, in that happy, casual,
easy way he’s got, he introduced me to a female acquaintance of his,
who’d just come out of Black’s jewelry store. She was a great big tall
dark girl—finest figure of a woman I think I’ve ever seen. Regular
whopper—not fat with it, either. Made you think of Boadicea, or
Brittania, somehow, to look at her. She didn’t strike me as being a
beauty, exactly, but she’d got a nice kind face. Lots of fun in her,
too, and a lady, unmistakably. I rather liked her. We stood there
chatting a few minutes, and I remember she told me she was in town for a
day or two, shopping. Never a peep from that old fox, Ben, though. You’d
never have dreamt there was anything doing from the way he acted then.
Everything was as casual as you please. Begad! I’ll soak it to him for
putting it over on me like this! That’s if it _is_ right,” he added,
with a dubious smile. “Somehow, I can’t credit it, though. Why, he’s the
very last man I’d have expected to go dangling after a woman!”

“Bet he don’t do much dangling,” remarked the Provost sagely. “Not if I
know him. He ain’t that kind. More’n likely it’s the other way round.
I’ve known quite a few women get struck on him. Queer beggar! he’s never
aloof, rude, or cold, but somehow—he just doesn’t seem to _notice_ ’em
at all. P’r’aps that’s what gets ’em. Besides, he’s a proper man to look
at, and when he’s penned in a corner with a woman with no chance of
escape, he talks in that kind, simple way of his—you know his way,
Charley.”

Musgrave nodded.

There was a long silence, the two men puffing thoughtfully at their
cigars and gazing with owlish abstraction at each other.

“Didn’t you tell me once that he was engaged to some girl in Jo’burg?
When he was with the Chartered Company?” pursued Hopgood.

“Yes,” answered Musgrave moodily, “he was.” He paused, and an
unfathomable, far-away look crept into his eyes as he gazed absently
across at a window in the opposite block that the last rays of the dying
sun transformed into a flaming shield of fire. “Beautiful Irish girl
named Eileen Regan. She’d a face like a Madonna, I remember. She was a
Roman Catholic, and a very devout one at that. They _might_ have been
happy together.... I don’t know. It’s hard to predict how these mixed
religions’ll turn out. Poor things never got the chance to see, anyway.
For she died—died of enteric, just before the war started.”

Hopgood eyed the other tentatively for a second or two. “_This_ one’s
Irish, too, I understand?” he remarked. “Irish-American, anyway.... He
seems mighty partial to the Irish. Her name’s O’Malley. They’ll be able
to keep a pig and ‘live pretty,’ what?”

And, overcome by the thought, he made a comical grimace of despair and
sank back into the depths of his luxurious chair, while the roar of the
busy street below floated up to their ears.

Musgrave cleared his throat. “Mother was an Irishwoman,” he said
presently. “Probably that accounts for it. She was a Miss Fitzgerald, of
Dublin—sister of that brave, splendid chap, Captain Fitzgerald, who was
killed along with poor Fred Burnaby and many others of Stewart’s column,
when the square was broken in the fight near the wells at Abou Klea, in
the Soudan War of ’eighty-four and five.”

He smoked on silently for a space. “Oh, h—l!” he burst out, with a
sudden incredulous bitterness that startled even the cynical Hopgood.
“Why, that beggar’s _always_ come to me before with his troubles. Guess
I’m the only one he ever _does_ confide in. Many’s the time I’ve acted
as Father-confessor and mentor to him. Surely he’d never have passed me
up in such a momentous business as this? What saith the poet:

    “You may carve it on his tombstone,
    You may cut it on his card
    That a young man married is a young man marred.”

The Provost emitted a noisy, snorting laugh.

“Yes,” he remarked, with the jeering familiarity of old acquaintance,
“and I must say you’re a nice blooming old Gamaliel to act as mentor to
anybody, Charley, especially if you expect him to embrace _your_
self-constituted creed of morality and philosophy. Oh, you’re some
Father-confessor, all right, what? Besides, he _ain’t_ young. That is,
unless you call thirty-nine unsophisticated youth. ’Bout time he _was_
making the break. There’s no fun in getting married when you’re old, all
same Pope’s ‘January and May.’ He happened to mention it was his
birthday to a bunch of us down town when he came in last month. I
remember him saying it was his thirty-ninth, because I and Berkley, Mac,
and Port stuck him for the drinks on the strength of it. We rushed him
into the Alberta bar right away and—”

“How about the way he used to hand it out about non-coms and bucks
getting married in your Force, too?” interrupted Musgrave, grinning.
“‘Look at Beckstall,’ he would say. ‘Look at Corbett,’ and lots of
others. ‘Big families—always broke—dragging out their miserable lives in
rotten little line detachments—can never afford to send their poor wives
away for a change anywhere—they don’t _live_—they just _exist_, from one
year’s end to another. That’s all there’s to it! D’you think I’d let
myself in for a purgatory like _that_?’ and so on. You’ve heard him,
Hop, too—lots of times, what?”

Hopgood held up his hands appealingly.

“Don’t shoot, Colonel!” he said. “I’ll come down! _I’m_ not holding any
particular brief for him. Guess he’s pretty well able to conduct his own
defense. _Ish ga bibble!_—it ain’t _our_ funeral.”

It was worse than useless to argue with Musgrave. All his opponent’s
best hits were turned aside by the target of his cynicism and unbelief,
while his repartee and sarcasms often came home.

“Funny chap!” he resumed musingly. “I think he is just about _the_ most
interesting and complex character I’ve ever come across. He’s very much
of a man, but at the same time—he’s as simple as a kid in some things.
Beggar reads a lot, and he’s as rum in his tastes in that as he is in
everything else. Fond of all this old-fashioned stuff. The heighth of
his imagination in humor he finds in Balzac’s and Rabelais’ yarns, or
Boccaccio’s ‘Decameron,’ and his ideals of pathos in George Eliot’s or
Dickens’s tales. Whatever can you do with a man like that?”

“Oh, what’s the use of talking?” broke out Hopgood testily:

    “A fool there was, and he made his prayer—”

he quoted, with a low, bitter laugh. “And by gum! it’s me that knows
it.”

The doctor silently eyed him in cynical abstraction awhile after this
outburst, then his grim mouth relaxed into a faint sympathetic grin, and
he held out his hand.

“Aye!... ‘Even as you and I,’” he finished softly. “Shake!... Is _that_
why you chucked up your commission in India?... I and Ben always thought
so,” he continued, as the Provost nodded wearily to his query. “None of
our business to get making inquisitions, though.... Well! this sad news
has been quite a shock to our nervous systems. Kind of breaks up us
‘Three Musketeers,’ eh?... Looks very much as if we’re going to lose our
D’Artagnan. The old chum of your bachelor days is, somehow, never the
same again to you after he gets married. S’pose an all-wise Providence
has ordained things so for some unfathomable reason. Think we need a
little drink to console us.”

And he got up with a dreary sighing yawn and, unlocking a small mahogany
liquor cellaret, produced a splendid silver and cut-glass “Tantalus.”

“What’s yours, Hop?” he inquired. “Brandy, or ‘Scotch’?”


Leaving these two well-meaning, if cynical, worthies to console each
other with the bitter philosophy which retrospection of past irremedial
misfortunes has caused many better, and worse, men than them to revert
to, let us return to the detachment at Cherry Creek, where at this
particular moment the object of their commiseration is leaning back in
his favorite chair, with his head resting in its customary position
against the leopard-skin kaross. Tired out by a long and uneventful four
days’ patrol, Ellis lit a pipe and gazed wearily out through the open
door into the gathering dusk. Gradually, his mind, still obsessed with
the vague memories of brands of missing cattle and horses and the usual
round of more or less petty complaints, strayed back to the Trainors’
establishment.

He found himself wondering how Mary was, and what had caused her to be
so strangely silent and abstracted during that last homeward ride
together from Lone Butte. At supper time, too, he mused, she had been in
the same mood ... had hardly spoken to him at all? Could it be that—?

And, not unmixed with an unfamiliar, slightly self-conscious, feeling of
shame, came the sudden thought that she _might_ have grown to regard his
attentions in a more serious light than mere frank camaraderie. And, if
that was so—well—she sure _must_ be thinking him a proper “laggard in
love.” Not much of the “Young Lochinvar” about him, he reflected
bitterly. Anyway, it certainly didn’t seem very gentlemanly behavior on
his part, or the right thing, exactly, to run around after a girl—like
he undoubtedly had, to a certain extent—with Mary, and then keep her
“hanging on the fence” indefinitely, as it were, like that. Surely the
Trainors must be wondering not a little, too. How the deuce was it that
he had never thought of his conduct in that light before? What a simple
fool he had been not to have “tumbled” to all this earlier? Should he
chance it? She could but “turn him down” like she had the rest—some of
whose very palpable discomfiture he had been a casual and not altogether
disinterested witness on more than one occasion.

And then, on the other hand, was he _justified_ in asking _any_ woman to
share the lot that he had so often bitterly inveighed against as being
utterly insufficient, unsuitable, and contrary to all his ideals of
conjugal happiness?

His somewhat gloomy reflections were suddenly disturbed by the sounds of
an approaching rider, who presently drew up outside the open door.

“Oh, Sargint!” came the gruff bark of Gallagher; “yu’re back, eh? Bin
down for me mail, so I brung yores along.”

“Good man! much obliged. Come on in, Barney!” Ellis called out.

And the rancher, swinging down from the saddle, dropped his lines and
slouched in with a packet of letters in his hand.

“Nothin’ doin’, an’ nobody around for yu’ while yu’ was away,” he
remarked, dropping into a chair and lighting his pipe. “Gosh, but it’s a
warm night for this time o’ year!”

The Sergeant reached out for, and began leisurely to open up his mail.
Most of it bore the regimental stamp of L Division. Returned crime
reports, with caustic, blue-pencilled marginal comments in the O.C.’s
caligraphy, requesting certain omitted particulars therein. Circulars
respecting stolen stock, descriptions of persons “wanted” for various
crimes, drastic orders emanating, primarily, from Headquarters at
Regina, regarding new innovations to be observed in certain phases of
detachment duty, etc., the monthly “General Orders,” and so on. But
presently a somewhat large envelope, addressed in a clerk’s hand and
bearing an English stamp and the London postmark, attracted his
attention. Whoever could be writing _him_ from the Old Country? he
wondered. The only letters he ever received from _there_ were mostly
from Major Carlton, and this wasn’t _his_ handwriting.

With a vague feeling of uneasiness, he turned it over in his hand
irresolutely for a moment, then opened it. It contained a closed
envelope and a letter which bore the heading of a London legal firm.
Mechanically he smoothed this latter communication out and began to read
the epoch-making document that was destined later to create for him a
new world and to transform his desert into a paradise.

    _Dear Sir_,—We are charged with the melancholy duty of breaking
    to you the news of the death of your old friend, Major Gilbert
    Carlton, on the 20th ult. Our late respected client, although
    possessing all the outward appearances of being a hale, robust
    old soldier, had for many years suffered from what physicians
    term an “aortic aneurism,” the origin of which was probably the
    result of the privations and exposure endured by him in the
    various campaigns that he had gone through. The final bursting
    of this “aneurism” was the cause of his sudden death.

    Suffering from such an ailment, it is therefore not surprising
    that he apparently realized of late that his end might come upon
    him unexpectedly at any moment of his advanced age. This
    presentiment he recently confided to us, during one of his last
    business visits. The enclosed letter he left in our care,
    charging us—in case of his decease—to forward it immediately to
    you.

    For many years he frequently spoke of you to us with great
    regard and feeling; referring to you always, as “The boy,
    Ellis,” or “_His_ boy,” in tones which moved us not a little,
    evincing as he did, such a kindly love and esteem for you. He
    was seventy-five years of age, and, as you are of course aware,
    a bachelor all his life, possessing only distant relatives.
    Although not by any means a recluse, and enjoying life to its
    full in his old-fashioned, cheery way at his estate—Biddlecombe
    Hall, in Devonshire, surrounded by many of his old soldier
    friends—he was not an extravagant man and the revenues of the
    said estate have been steadily accumulating for many years. This
    magnificent property, with all revenues thereof had been left to
    him under the will of his cousin, the late Lord Baring, his
    nearest relative.

    We enclose a copy of the testament, by which you will see that
    (with the exception of the estate, which, re a stipulated clause
    in Lord Baring’s will, has reverted at the death of the last
    incumbent to the Morley Institute, to be used as a sanatorium
    for tuberculosis patients, and a few bequests to old servants)
    he has bequeathed to you the great bulk of his money. We hold at
    your disposal, a sum (discounting probate dues) approximately
    nearly ninety thousand pounds.

    We beg to congratulate you on the acquisition of this
    considerable fortune. Thinking that you might desire to
    relinquish your present occupation at once, and not knowing how
    you are financially situated, we enclose a credit for five
    hundred pounds, for which please sign the accompanying receipt.
    Kindly communicate with us at your earliest convenience.

    We are, dear sir, yours truly,
    _Eaton and Smith_.

Dazedly Ellis glanced through the attached copy of the will and reread
the letter through. Gallagher, who had been intently watching his face
throughout, vaguely aware from the Sergeant’s unconcealed agitation that
some tidings of an unusual character had been received, inquired
casually:

“Why, what’s up, Sargint? Hope yu’ ain’t bin a-gettin’ bad news?”

Ellis regarded his interlocutor absently a moment or two, and then his
preoccupied gaze flickered away again through the open door into the
darkness of the night.

“It’s both good _and_ bad, Barney,” he answered slowly. “I’ll tell
yu’—later.”

Choking back many conflicting emotions, he now picked up the previously
mentioned closed letter which, he perceived, was addressed to him in his
old friend’s handwriting. With a feeling almost of awed reverence, he
broke the heavy wax seal, stamped with the Major’s own signet ring and,
drawing out the letter, began to read a communication that was to remain
indelibly in his memory forever:

    _My Dear Lad_,—I take up my pen to write this—the last letter
    you will ever receive from me—while I am still of clear mind,
    and in possession of all my faculties. Life is very uncertain at
    all times, and especially so in the case of an old fellow like
    me. I have got what the doctors call an “aneurism,” Ellis, and
    have had it for many years now. A man cannot expect to come
    through the hardships of such campaigns as the Afghan and
    Soudan, unscathed. I was at Charasiah, Kabul, Maiwand, and
    Tel-el-Kebir, my boy, and I tell you I have worked, bled,
    starved and suffered above a bit in my time. My incubus has been
    troubling me greatly of late and I cannot mistake its meaning.
    Dr. Forsyth has warned me that it may burst at any time now.
    Many thanks for granting my wish in sending me that photograph
    of yourself in your Mounted Police uniform. I look at it often.
    For though externally it depicts one whom I believe to be a
    soldier, and a man in word, deed, and appearance, in it I seem
    to see again the face of a boy that I once loved, because—he had
    his mother’s dear, dear eyes.

    Yes, Ellis, my lad!... Now that I know my end is not far off, I
    feel that I cannot die peaceably without telling you what has
    been to me a sacred secret since I was in my thirties.

    It must have been in ’sixty-two, or thereabouts, when I first
    met your mother, in Dublin. The regiment that I and your father
    were in lay at Athlone, then. I grew to love her. Loved her with
    a passion that I fancy comes to few men, and my supreme desire
    was to be able to call her my wife. I suppose the Almighty
    willed it otherwise, though, and it was not to be.... For John
    Benton, your father, came along, my boy, and he was a big man,
    and a strong man, and a handsome man, with a bold masterful,
    loving way with him that took her by storm, as it were, and I—I
    faded into insignificance beside such a splendid personality as
    his. He won her from me, but that fact could not kill my love;
    all outward exhibition of which, though, I have guarded well. My
    Dear Lad I have worn the willow decently, I hope, as an honest
    English gentleman should, and have borne my cross patiently
    through the long, weary years that have passed since then.

    With the recollection of _such_ a woman as your mother lingering
    still in my remembrance,—whose dear face—God grant, I may behold
    again, shortly—can you wonder that none other has come into my
    life to take her place, and that I have been true to the memory
    of my first, and only love. You alone of your family have _her_
    eyes, and impulsive, loving ways, and for those reasons were
    always my favorite—headstrong lad, though you were.

    On the subject of your estrangement from your family, I have
    nothing to say, beyond that I consider that it is a matter which
    lies entirely between your own conscience—and God. You were
    sorely tried, I know.

    I am leaving to you the greater portion of my money. It is my
    desire, as through it, I hope, your future path in life will be
    smoothed considerably. May it ultimately bring you the happiness
    of enabling you to marry a good, true, loving woman, and of
    living henceforth, in that station of life to which you properly
    belong.

    Do not grieve for me my lad!... Best think of me just as a
    kindly old soldier, at the end of his service, who was ready and
    willing to go to his rest—only awaiting “The Last Post” to be
    sounded. I have not lived altogether unhappily. I have drunk
    deeply of the joys of life in my time, and I possess many good
    and true friends. My days, thank God, have been, for the most
    part, passed cleanly as a _man_—in the open, breathing His fresh
    air. Through it I have had ever your dear mother’s memory to
    keep my conscience clear, and have striven steadfastly to adhere
    and live up to, most all, I trust, of the precepts that are
    embodied in the formula, “An officer, and a gentleman.” As in
    the sunset of my life I sit alone in my chair in the twilight,
    dreaming of bygone days, it seems to me that I can see the
    shining welcome of many long-lost and well-remembered faces.
    They come and go, and I love them well enough, but
    _one_—especially beloved above the rest is with me always.

    But why speak of _her_?... Now that she is again so near to
    me—now that I go, I hope, where _she_ has gone!... The
    guiding-light of the soul of her true womanhood is shining
    brighter and brighter in the gloom ahead of me still, and of
    _her_ will my last thoughts be on this side of Eternity.

    And now! ... Ellis, my boy! my boy! ... One last “Good-by!” ...
    God bless you, and may your life be a long and happy one.

    I am, believe me, to the last.

    _Your old friend_,
    _Gilbert Carlton_.

A smothered sob burst from Ellis, and the letter fluttered from his
grasp to the floor. Gallagher, still watching him curiously, repeated
his former query:

“What’s up, Sargint? Hope nothin’s—”

Ellis interrupted him huskily, but not unkindly.

“Get out, Barney!” he said. “Don’t talk to me just now! I’ll tell
yu’—sometime! Beat it! there’s a good chap. I just wanta be alone.”

And, with one last lingering look of silent, wondering sympathy, the
rancher arose and departed slowly into the night.

Overcome with his thoughts, Ellis sat for a long time motionless; then,
mechanically groping for the letter again, he reread it. Its simple
pathos touched him strangely as the awe-inspiring significance of the
long, patient struggle of that faithful old heart—stilled now, alas,
forever—began to creep into his dazed brain. He raised his swimming eyes
to the portrait of the gentle woman, the memory of whose beauty and
kind, sweet personality had been the good angel alike to poor old Major
Carlton and himself throughout both their strenuous and sin-tempted
lives.

Not in vain had been her early teachings and loving, self-sacrificing
patience and forbearance, while he was yet a wilful, headstrong
youngster. As, gently, and with a mother’s tact, she strove to curb his
faults and instil into him—through love, and love alone—truth, honesty,
and the main principles of right and wrong.

Not in vain had she entered into her rest and, as an angel in the stead
of a beautiful, pure, true-hearted woman, interceded for the souls of
both men in their tempestuous journey through life.

Long and wistfully the Sergeant gazed into the grave, sweet eyes and
proud, clean-cut features—so like his own—and his stern bronzed face
became softened and glorified with a wave of ineffable filial devotion
too sacred for words.

“Mother!” he whispered brokenly. “Mother! Oh, Mother!” and dropped his
head upon his outstretched arms across the table.


But grief—no matter however sincere and true—to the average healthy man
is but a transient emotion. Ellis was no dissembler, and sadly though he
mourned the loss of his old friend, as the first transports of his
sorrow subsided and he became calmer, a slow, dim realization of the
tremendous possibilities of his good fortune began to flood his mind.

For to him it meant—freedom, at last, from all the unavoidable, petty,
sordid worries connected with the calling that he followed. No more
gloomy outlooks upon life in general, or pessimistic forebodings arising
from the consciousness of straightened means. Free at last to wander
around the earth at will and visit all its beauty spots that he had read
or heard about. Free to enjoy all the pleasures of the world that money
can command. He was still only a comparatively young man, strong and
active far beyond the average.

And, above all, it meant—and the very thought of his presumption stirred
him strangely and caused a mighty wave of long-pent-up love to surge
through his heart—perhaps also it meant—Mary.

So the joy of life filled him and transfigured his scarred, somber face
with a dreamy expression of happiness that lies beyond the power of mere
words to adequately describe. No more was the ideal life that he had so
often—ah! how often?—pictured longingly to himself in his fits of
morbid, spiritless depression, only a monotonous repetition of hopeless
empty dreams. It actually lay now within his power to gratify his
heart’s desires to their fullest extent.

And then—to the weary man in that humble abode, which was, nevertheless,
all that he could call “Home,” there appeared a wondrous fantasy which,
in its awe-inspiring, majestic grandeur, might have been likened,
almost, unto some allegory, or a scene in the Revelation. With mind
absolutely, utterly detached from all things material, he sat there
motionless, as if in a dream, and it began to float before his far-away
eyes like a filmy roseate mirage.

For, in his exalted imagination, it seemed to him that he was standing
upon the shores of a great sparkling crystal sea, as it were, in the
first faint flush of a radiant dawn. Purple, crimson, saffron-yellow and
turquoise, the morning lights stole in succession across the sleeping
world, and slowly—slowly, in the mystic East—the flashing rays of a
magnificent sunrise began to creep over the rim of the horizon,
transforming the gleaming waste of waters into a vast expanse of golden
flame.

And, as he gazed entranced at this gorgeous spectacle, suddenly he grew
conscious that he was not alone. Turning, he became aware of the figure
of a woman kneeling on the ground hard by, with her head bowed in an
attitude suggestive of sorrowful abandon. Her form, though the face was
turned from him and partly shrouded by her huge masses of dark,
disordered hair, seemed vaguely familiar; and he found himself engaged
in idle speculation as to her identity. Something in her posture of
dejection instinctively stirred in him a fleeting memory of Thomas
Moore’s beautiful poem. “Paradise and the Peri,” the poor Peri humbly,
yet vainly, craving admission into Paradise. Vaguely and disconnectedly,
some of the lines wandered into his mind:

    One morn a Peri at the gate
    Of Eden stood, disconsolate;

    The glorious Angel who was keeping
    The Gates of Light beheld her weeping;

Awhile he contemplated the woman with a great pity in his heart, and was
about to draw nigh and comfort her when all at once his impulse was
checked and he remained spellbound in mute amazement.

For, seemingly from _nowhere_, a transcendentally glorious voice—_that
sounded not of this earth_—suddenly arose in the stillness around them.
Pure, peaceful, unutterably sweet, far beyond this world and its works,
the golden notes floated forth into the hush of the opal dawn, uplifting
the hearts of the listeners on the wings of sound—verily to Heaven’s
gate:

    “O Rest in the Lord! wait patiently for Him!
    And He shall give thee—He shall give thee—
    O He shall give thee thy heart’s desire!”

The eternal solace of the weary and heavy-laden, the Divine appeal to
all poor struggling souls rose and fell, finally melting away into
nothingness, save where the deep, cloister-like silence flung back a
faint far echo. Beside the bowed female figure there became visible a
vague shimmering _something_ which, almost imperceptibly, began to
assume the outlines of a human form. Disturbed strangely at what he knew
not, the wayward, reckless soul of Ellis Benton became filled with a
great and reverential awe.

He sank to his knees and bowed his head. When, fearfully, he dared to
raise it again, his eyes beheld _one_ clad in shining raiment, about
whom there clung a halo of radiance. Slowly the glistening form turned
and a cry of wonderment and adoration burst from his lips. For, lo!—it
seemed to him that _once more_ he looked upon the face of his long-dead
love—Eileen Regan.

Motionless, she gazed down upon him long and earnestly, with gravely
sweet, kind eyes; then, stooping low, she embraced the sorrowing woman
tenderly, and kissed her on the brow, bidding her be of good cheer and
calling her “Sister.” Presently, drawing herself erect, she uplifted her
heavenly voice again, and there rang forth—as he well remembered her
singing it in _life_, one never-to-be-forgotten Christmas morn, in that
little Catholic Church in far-off Johannesburg—“In Excelsis Gloria”:

    “Glory to God in the Highest!
    And on earth peace, goodwill towards men!”

She bent and kissed the woman a last farewell. Then, raising her arms in
holy benediction, she slowly became a _shade_, as before, unfolding her
wings and floating away diaphonously into the silvery mists of the early
morn.

The kneeling woman then arose and, turning, came towards him swiftly. A
tall, stately figure of a woman, with a kind, strong, sweet face; the
tumbled masses of her glossy, raven-hued hair all floating and rippling
about her regal shoulders and white columnar throat.

Near she drew to him—nearer. She stretched out her bare rounded arms to
him with a little happy loving cry as she smiled into his eyes, and he
saw the splendor and glory of the world in hers.

While, far away in his ears, rang the echo of his own voice calling upon
a woman’s name—wonderingly, passionately—“Mary!... Mary!... Mary!...”

    The wild hawk to the wind-swept sky,
    The deer to the wholesome wold,
    And the heart of a man to the heart of a maid
    As it was in the days of old.
    The heart of a man to the heart of a maid—
    Light of my tents, be fleet!
    Morning waits at the end of the world;
    And the world is all at our feet.

    —_Kipling_

“Wake up, Johnny, yu’ old fool!... don’t yu’ start in to lazy on me or
I’ll—”

Here Ellis shrewdly pinched his mount’s withers, causing that animal to
flatten his ears and nip playfully at his rider’s knee.

“Look out, doggone it! If _I_ happen to get a bit absent-minded at
times, yu’ needn’t follow suit!” he exclaimed sharply, as he jerked his
horse away from the edge of a small, but wicked muskeg, around which the
trail that led to the Trainors’ ranch circled. “I sure don’t want to be
getting in the soup like Jim McCloud did that time, on _this_ day of all
days. I’ll hand yu’ over to Mary, begad!... she’ll teach yu’ to
‘soldier,’ yu’ old sucker!”

It was a glorious sunshiny afternoon, and the light cool breeze sent the
occasional little tufts of fleecy-white clouds scudding across the
turquoise-blue sky, and waved and brushed the surface of the long
prairie grass as if with an invisible hand. To the gait of his horse
Ellis whistled to himself—happily—half dreamily, as if he voiced some
inner thought—an old, long-forgotten air, presently breaking into its
words:

    “Sae kind, kind and gentle it she,
      Kind is my Mary;
    The tender blossom on the tree,
    Cannot compare wi’ Mary.”

Duly arriving at the ranch, he dropped his lines, and leisurely
sauntering up to the familiar dwelling where he perceived the owner and
his wife sitting in the shade of the veranda, he hailed them cheerily.

Trainor looked up at the other’s approach and, lowering the paper that
he was reading, nodded to him nonchalantly; his spouse gave no
salutation whatever, and appeared engrossed in her sewing.

Ellis halted irresolutely, sensing something strange and apathetic in
the manner in which he was received—something _distant_, as it were—and
he became slowly conscious of a presentiment that his forebodings had
not been without reason, and that all was not well as heretofore, when
their usual welcome had been so genuine and unrestrained. With a feeling
of vague uneasiness at his heart, he regarded them blankly a moment or
two, glancing from one to the other inquiringly; then he said:

“Is anything the matter? What’s wrong?”

Trainor fidgeted nervously in his chair awhile, and then raising his
self-conscious eyes to the level of his questioner’s breast, blurted
out:

“Well, you see, Benton, it’s like this ... er—”

But words seemed to fail him, and he left the sentence unfinished,
relapsing into silence and gazing miserably at his wife, as if seeking
her assistance in his explanation. The latter, now for the first time,
raised her head and, gravely contemplating the troubled, anxious face of
the Sergeant, addressed her husband.

“Best tell him, Dave,” she said, with an inflection of slightly frigid
hostility in her tones. “If you won’t, _I will_!”

Thus adjured, Trainor coughed awkwardly and began afresh:

“Well, now, see here; look! I’ll tell you, Sergeant. It’s about that
girl, Mary—Miss O’Malley, I mean. You know how I and Mrs. Trainor love
and regard that girl? ... known her since she was a little kiddie, and
think as much of her as we do of our own children—”

He stopped, and Ellis nodded silently.

“For over a week now,” continued the rancher, “that girl’s been acting
queerly—seems worried—won’t talk, and she’s not looking at all well.
This afternoon we simply couldn’t stand it any longer—she was looking
miserable, and it made _us_ miserable, too, seeing her like that. We
were right here on the veranda, and she came out of the door to go
riding. I caught hold of her by the shoulders—half joshingly—‘Mary, my
dear!’ I said; ‘what’s wrong? You’re not looking yourself. There’s
something the matter—won’t you tell us? You’re not afraid to tell _us_,
are you, my girl?’ She struggled a bit when I had her cornered like
that, and tried to get away from me—then she raised those beautiful
honest eyes of hers and looked me squarely in the face. She tried to
speak, but somehow the words wouldn’t seem to come, and—”

“And _then_,” broke in Mrs. Trainor, taking up the tale, “she flung away
from him and threw her arms around my neck and hid her face against my
shoulder. You know, Mr. Benton, she’s the very soul of honesty ...
candid and unafraid to a degree—she doesn’t know what evasion or
subterfuge means—she’s like a brave, simple child in that respect. She
clung to me for a bit, and then she breaks out into that quaint Irish
brogue of hers—like she often does when she’s agitated or excited:

“‘Och! ’tis waithin I am for a man to speak!’ she wails out. ‘And, oh,
my dear! ... weary waithin ’tis, ochone!’ And then she burst out crying,
with great shaking sobs—oh! _how_ that girl _did_ cry—as if her heart
was breaking. I talked to her and soothed her the best I could, and by
and by she became quieter, dried her eyes, kissed me, and went away to
her horse. She didn’t say any more than that and I didn’t ask her—didn’t
need to ... for there! ... isn’t that admission enough? D’you think _we_
looking on at this play all this time don’t know _who_ she meant?” Mrs.
Trainor continued, eyeing Benton severely. “Haven’t you been coming here
regularly, paying her marked attention, taking her out for rides, and
all that? D’you think it’s possible to deceive _us_. If you’ve only been
amusing yourself at her expense all these months with no serious
intentions, I tell you plainly, Mr. Benton ... I don’t think you’re
acting in a proper manner at all. That girl is one in a thousand.
Besides—she has refused many good offers of marriage—and all for your
sake, too—from men who were in the position to give her a downright good
home and all the comforts of life. You may think it’s not our business,
but I tell you it _is_!” she ended, with sparkling eyes. “And we’ve made
up our minds this sort of thing shan’t go on any longer—that is, unless
you can give us your positive assurance that your intentions are really
sincere.... No! you needn’t look at me in that idiotic way!” she cried,
arising and stamping her foot angrily. “I mean what I say, and I—”

Benton, with a flash of white teeth, and a broad and rather foolish grin
on his—now happy—face, suddenly stepped forward and gripped the
indignant lady gently by the shoulders.

“_Mrs._ Trainor!” he said, with a daring earnestness that almost took
the breath away from that scandalized dame as she struggled to free
herself. “If you open your mouth to say one word more, I’ll—as sure as
you’re the wife of your husband—I’ll kiss you bang in front of him!”
And, releasing her, he continued: “What you’ve just told me’s made me
the happiest man alive.... I know where I get off at, now ... and I’ll
proceed to tell _you_ something!”

And rapidly he acquainted the astonished pair with the news of his
unexpected good fortune, apologizing for his seemingly callous conduct
with a deep, sincere contrition that impressed them in no little degree
and dispelled all their lingering doubts.

Trainor reached out a massive hand. “Sergeant,” he said, with great
feeling. “Shake! I’m in wrong! I take it all back how I’ve misjudged
you! I might have known you weren’t _that_ kind!”

Ellis, swallowing a little, grasped the offered hand warmly.

“Dave!” he blurted out, “it’s _me_ that’s to blame, all right. It’s
mighty good of you and Mrs. Trainor to condone that sure questionable
simplicity of mine in the way you have. I should have put myself right
with both of you at the start.”

But Mrs. Trainor outdid her husband in impulsive warmth.

“You threatened to kiss me,” she began archly. “Now, I’m going to do
more than threaten. There, sir!”

And, suiting the action to the word, she kissed him heartily. Then,
womanlike, as the reaction to her happiness—she began to cry. At which
Trainor guffawed and caught hold of her teasingly. But, dragging herself
away from him, she pushed Ellis towards the path.

“Now you go!” she sobbed, “after her—straightway. And don’t you dare
bring her back here until you’ve kissed her tears away and she’s her own
happy self again. That is, if you can find her,” she added, with wet,
smiling eyes. “I don’t know exactly which way she went.”

“Oh, I’ll find her, all right,” said Ellis cheerfully. “I think I know
where she’ll be.”

And, turning, he strode off to the waiting Johnny, mounted, and set off
at a brisk lope towards “Lone Butte,” that reared its head in the hazy
distance. For it was _there_ that he guessed instinctively she had
betaken herself.

Purposely making a wide detour to escape her possible observation,
thirty minutes’ brisk riding brought him into a small coulee, dotted
with a young growth of Balm o’ Gilead trees and alder bushes, which lay
to the rear of the butte and exactly opposite to the side where the
regular path to the summit began. Here he dismounted and, leading
Johnny, to save a later descent for that animal, commenced to slowly
make the ascent.

Pausing to take breath within a few yards of the top, the breeze brought
to his ears the unmistakable sounds of somebody whistling carelessly to
herself. Yes, that was her whistle, all right, he reflected; so she
couldn’t be so _very_ unhappy. Intending to steal up to her unobserved,
and calculating from his memory of the position of the big stone, that
she would have her back turned towards him, he crept warily to the
summit.

Soon, not thirty feet distant on the small plateau, he beheld her seated
on the stone and, as he had surmised, facing the West. But her attitude
of dejected abandon sobered him somewhat, and the low, monotonous
whistle sounded doleful in the extreme. Noiselessly the Sergeant
decreased the distance between them, and when within a few feet halted,
not wishing to startle her too badly. On account of her wide-brimmed
Stetson hat tipped back on the nape of her neck, and the breeze blowing
in her ears, she had not thus far been aware of his close approach, the
thick, “old-bottom” prairie grass effectually deadening the ring of
Johnny’s steel-shod hoofs.

Long and earnestly, with a great love not unmixed with a pang of remorse
in his heart, Ellis gazed on the still unconscious girl. Then all at
once he gave a violent start, which almost betrayed his presence to her.

For, suddenly, and with the clarity that the great king saw the writing
on the wall, again he seemed to behold, and comprehend fully now, the
significance of the strange fantasy which had appeared to him in the
detachment the previous night.

The dreary whistle ceased, and with her chin resting in her hands she
began to idly croon to herself an old-fashioned time-worn ballad, which
he vaguely recognized as Whittier’s “Maud Muller.” Lord! what a time it
seemed since he’d heard _that!_ he reflected. It took him right back to
the scenes of his boyhood again at Shrewsbury—peaceful, gray-spired
old-world Shrewsbury. Verse by verse, came the monotonous refrain of the
antiquated poem to his ears—just as a little girl will sometimes drone
to herself as she sits plaiting her hair in the sun:

    Maud Muller looked and sighed. “Ah me!
    That I the Judge’s bride might be!
    He would dress me up in silks so fine,
    And praise and toast me at his wine.”

How the air of a long-forgotten song, a chance phrase in a book, the
scent of new-mown hay and of certain flowers, the splendor of a tropical
sunrise, the glory of a flaming crimson and gold sunset, or the calm
beauty of a moonlight night will ofttimes awaken in us strange old
longing memories of other—and, perchance—happier days. Harking back now
through all the years came to him, dimly, the recollection that the
_very last_ time he had heard _that_ was at a gathering of young hearts
held in his old school town, when he was a bright-eyed young sinner of
thirteen or thereabouts—“soirees,” as they were called then. Yes, it was
at Dr. Pennington’s, and saucy, yet tender-eyed, little Darthea
Pennington had recited it. She had cried, too, at its conclusion, he
remembered; which spectacle of girlish emotion had prompted him to start
in tormenting her with some youthful nonsense, in a well-meant effort to
revive her natural gaiety. True, she’d slapped his face as the reward
for his impudence, but didn’t she relent later to the extent of allowing
him to kiss “friends,” and afterwards take her in to supper?

    “And I’d feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
    And all should bless me who left our door.”

    The Judge looked back at he climbed the hill,
    And saw Maud Muller standing still.

With bowed head the listener stood there motionless, whilst a wave of
emotion surged through his heart, awakening all the sentiment which,
through long years of iron self-repression, had lain dormant in his deep
nature.

Whatever had possessed her to hark back to this memory of her girlhood?
he mused. Under ordinary circumstances he would no doubt have resorted
as heretofore, to his customary badinage—chaffed her about “grinding out
Whittier by the yard,” or mimicked her in a mincing falsetto. But now—as
he heard it _now_—the element of absurdity was distinctly lacking ...
nay! it was pitiful—almost tragic ... how like a simple child again she
seemed, in her unhappiness?

With pathetic, monotonous regularity—as if she were seeking to distract
her thoughts from her trouble by repeating some orison—the interminable
stanzas rose and fell, with a quavering cadence:

    Then she took up her burden of life again,
    Saying only. “It might have been.”

Choking back a lump in his throat, Ellis now dropped his horse’s lines
and stepped forward.

“Mary!” he called softly.

And, at the sound of his voice the girl, with a slight start and
exclamation, turned and looked up at him. With a feeling of deep
contrition he remarked her pale, tear-stained face, and the dark shadows
under her splendid eyes, denoting mental worry and sleepless nights. Her
first surprise over, she settled listlessly back again to her old
dejected attitude, but never taking her great weary eyes off his face.
Never a word had she uttered yet, but continued to gaze silently on the
man before her with a forlorn, wistful expression that cut him to the
very heart. Suddenly she began to speak, but her voice seemed to ring
strangely lifeless and far away in his ears.

“Oh! ... and are you back again?” came the toneless accents, “to mock me
with that handsome, cold face of yours? I was happy enough till _you_
came into my life ... you who’ve laid yourself out to make me love
you—for nothing, p’r’aps, except your own amusement ... ’tis through I
am with happiness now, I guess ... would to God we’d never known each
other.... Oh, go! ... go away, please!... I—I just can’t bear it....”

Before the infinite pathos of her hopeless look and bitter words the
strong man shook with his emotion until speech seemed beyond him. For,
remorse-stricken though he was, beneath her reproach he glimpsed the
evidence of so great a love that he could only stand and regard her with
awed amazement. Aye!—well he knew now, that come what would or could,
all that love was his, and would be his forever. Suddenly he leaned
forward with outstretched arms and struggling, heart-wrung words burst
from his lips; a golden gleam from the sinking sun, just then, lighting
up and intensifying the manly beauty of his strong, clean-cut features.

“Mary!” he cried hoarsely. “Oh, Mary, my girl. I’ve been thoughtless—I
didn’t know!... forget—forgive!...”

Dazedly the girl stared for a moment at the imploring face of the man
she loved, her misery-benumbed brain failing at first to grasp the
significance of his impassioned appeal. Then a quick, joyful light of
comprehension dilated her great weary eyes, and with an unsteady
movement she arose from her seat on the stone and swayed towards him,
sobbing in her throat. The next minute her round arms were about his
neck, her eager lips sought his—and they were quite alone.


Long he held the overstrung girl in his arms, kissing and soothing her
with every endearment that a man’s love can command in such ecstasies;
smoothing her glorious hair and pressing his cheek to hers with
whispered, broken words of affection until she became calmer, and her
happy tears ceased.

Then, gently, he told her the news of his changed fortunes and, drawing
forth the lawyer’s letter, bade the astonished girl read its contents.

“And now, my dear, I want you to read this, too,” he said. “You have the
right to.”

And reverently he handed her the letter of his old dead benefactor,
silently watching her face as she perused its contents. He saw the light
gradually fade from her eyes, which commenced to fill with tears. Her
lips quivered and she began to sob again softly, as she read on, rocking
herself to and fro and making no attempt to hide her emotion. Presently
she ended the missive and looked across at her lover with glistening
eyes.

“Oh! ... the poor old fellow ... that poor old soldier ... oh! this is
_too_ pitiful for anything!... How he must have suffered when he lost
her—waiting patiently all those years!...”

She continued to gaze silently at him awhile. Then suddenly, with her
wet eyes blazing with her great love, she leaned forward and flung her
arms around his neck again with passionate abandon, still clutching the
letters.

“Fwas ut for money ye waithed, ye foolish man?” she cried, relapsing
into her soft Hibernian brogue as she patted his shoulder caressingly.
“Och, glory be! but ’tis glad I am ye didn’t tell me—or show me thim
letthers till—till afther!... ’Tis little ye must know av th’ heart av a
woman loike me!... Och, me bhoy! me bhoy! ... a pauper I’d have married
ye ... an’ loved ye still ... for yersilf alane!”

For answer, Ellis tipped her head back on his arm and kissed her fondly.

“Aye!... I guess you would!” he returned, with a grim chuckle. “And then
p’r’aps both of us ’ud have been sorry forever after!... No, my dear!
... when Poverty knocks on the door, Love ‘beats it’ out of the
window!... I’ve seen too many of these ‘Love in a shack’ businesses ...
everything’s all hunkadory at first ... but it don’t last.... You and
I’ve worked long enough for the powers that be.... Now that’s all
changed.... You shall never know sorrow or worry again—if I can help it,
Mary, my girl!”

Cheek to cheek, they were silent awhile, gazing dreamily across at the
distant “Rockies.” Then he continued quietly. “First thing I must get my
discharge from the Force. I’ll forward an application to ‘purchase’
tomorrow! Special case ... under the circumstances, I think the O.C.’ll
recommend it all right, though as a rule he’s dead against this
‘purchasing’ business ... don’t know but what he isn’t about right, too
... anyway, ‘Isch ga bibble!’... I’ll work it somehow within a month.
Then we’ll hit for Europe, Mary. A downright good long easy-going trip
... taking our time and lazying around in all the beautiful old places
we’ve read or heard about, and never seen.... Rome, Venice, and some of
those old Moorish places in Spain. Then when we’re tired of them and
want some amusement and change of scene we’ll go to Paris, or London—see
all the best plays and hear all the best singers. Later we’ll go on down
through the Mediterranean to the north coast of Africa, and see Tunis
and Algiers and Cairo. By and by, when we’re tired of running around,
we’ll ‘beat it’ for this country again and settle down on a place of our
own. It won’t be a ‘rawnch,’ like the Honorable Percy’s, either....
Guess I know how to run one as it _should_ be run. I know of a peach of
a place—sou’west of here—right on the Elbow ... pretty place, too—bush
all round it and all kinds of good feed range and shelter. It’s an ideal
place for either horses or cattle—horses especially. Belongs to old J.
G. Robinson. He’s getting on in years now and wants to quit the game. I
know he’d sell out to me—I know him well. It’s the open range and the
foothills of ‘Sunny Alberta’ for me and you, Mary dear—somewhere in the
West, anyway ... where we can look across at the ‘Rockies’—like we’re
doing now. We’d never be happy anywhere else. Of course ... you won’t be
cooped up on this precious ranch-in-perspective _all_ the year round ...
neither of us, for that matter. It won’t be necessary, for I’m going to
try and get Barney Gallagher to come to me as my manager. I fancy I can
fix things with him.”

The girl, smiling at his enthusiasm with a little happy ejaculation,
shook him impulsively.

“Oh, let’s wake up!” she cried. “Are we only dreaming? ... are you
_sure_ this isn’t only just a beautiful dream, from which we’ll wake up
presently? I can’t realize it’s all true, yet!”

He tilted her chin up and gazed into the glorious hazel eyes lovingly.

“No, my dear,” he murmured, the hard lines of his somber face softened
into an expression of dreamy, quiet peace. “It’s no dream this time. I’m
done with my hopeless, empty dreams now! I’m a poor man no longer! Oh,
Mary, my girl! My great big splendid-looking wife-to-be! ... how I
surely do love you! Promise me you’re going to be very, very happy now,
and give me another kiss! We’ll have to be getting back. I don’t want to
be getting into Mrs. T’s bad books again,” he added, grinning. “She gave
me orders ... very peremptory orders ... but I think I can report that
I’ve carried ’em out! Now give that kiss!”

What a wonderful change—spiritually and physically—a little love can
effect! Gone were all poor Mary’s dark shadows, pallor, and weary
despondency. Once again her laughing long-lashed hazel eyes shone with
the happy lights of yore. Locked in each other’s arms, for the time
being, in a rose-tinted world of their own and completely oblivious to
their surroundings, they happened to sway up against Johnny who, turning
his head, with a mildly inquiring eye, tucked up his nigh fetlock and
nibbled at them for sugar, nickering softly the while.

And Mary’s horse, down on the flat below, whinnied back a responsive
“All’s Well.”


Footnote:



GLOSSARY

_Aasvogel_—(_Dutch Taal_) A species of South African vulture.
(_Carrion._)

_Allemachtig_—(_Dutch Taal_) Almighty!

_Adios_—(_Spanish_) Good-by!

_Dekho_—(_Hindustani_) Look.

_Disselboom_—(_Dutch Taal_) Wagon-tongue.

_Dopper_—(_Dutch Taal_) A term generally applied to the Boers in S. A.

_Doed_—(_Dutch Taal_) Dead.

_Dorp_—(_Dutch Taal_) A small town.

_Drink hael_—(_Dutch Taal_) Signifying “Drink hearty!”

_Dronk_—(_Dutch Taal_) Drunk.

_Eyck! Eyck! Azi-wan-n! Ari-tsemah! Hamba-ke!_—(_Kaffir expressions,
urging on horse, oxen, or mule_) Literally—“Get up there! Go on!”

_Inspanning_—(_Dutch Taal_) Harnessing up horse, oxen, or mule teams.

_Indaba_—(_Zulu_) Talk, language.

_I Korner_—(_Dutch Taal_) An expression of incredulity, “understand!”

_Intombi_—(_Zulu_) Young woman.

_Isch Ga Bibble!_—(_Yiddish_) “I should worry!”

_Ja_—(_Dutch Taal_) Yes!

_Kinders_—(_Dutch Taal_) Children.

_Kopje_—(_Dutch Taal_) Small hill, or butte.

_Krantzes_—(_Dutch Taal_) Rocky precipices.

_Laager_—(_Dutch Taal_) Camp, abode.

_Leugenaar_—(_Dutch Taal_) Liar.

_Meerkat_—(_Dutch Taal_) A species of animal like a gigantic gopher
which burrows on the veldt.

_Myjnheer_—(_Dutch_) Mr.

_N’dipe Manzi_—(_Kaffir_) “Give me some water!”

_Nee-moyee_—(_Cree_) “No!” (Pronounced “Naz-mo-yer.”)

_Outspan_—(_Dutch Taal_) Unharnessing horse, oxen, or mule teams.

_Paseur_—(_Spanish_) Walk.

_Pronto!_—(_Spanish_) “Quick! Look sharp!”

_Salue!_—(_Signifying_) “Here’s luck!”

_Saku Bona N’kos!_—(_Kaffir_) “Good day, Chief.”

_Saku Bona, Umlungu_—(_Kaffir_) “Good day, White Man!”

_Sjambok_—(_Dutch Taal_) Rawhide whip.

“_Skiet die Verdoe Schepsel!_”—(_Dutch Taal_) “Shoot the damned rascal!”

_Soor_—(_Hindustani_) Swine.

_Taal_—South African Dutch language.

_Trek_—(_Dutch Taal_) March, travel.

_Tronk_—(_Dutch Taal_) Gaol.

_Uitlander_—(_Dutch Taal_) Outlander. Unfranchised by the S. A.
Republic.

“_Umbagi!_”—(_Kaffir_) Signifying “Move on there!” “Get along!”

_Umfundusi_—(_Kaffir_) Preacher.

_Umlungu_—(_Kaffir_) “White man!”

_Vierkleur_—(_Dutch Taal_) The flag of the late South African Republics.

“_Voertsek, Du Verdomde Schelm!_”—(_Dutch Taal_) “Get out, you damned
rascal!”

_Vrouw_—(_Dutch Taal_) Wife.

“_Wacht-een-bietje!_”—(_Dutch Taal_) “Wait a bit!”

“_Wana!_”—(_Kaffir_) “Stop!” “Halt there!”



RALPH CONNOR’S STORIES OF THE NORTHWEST

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list

_THE SKY PILOT IN NO MAN’S LAND_

The clean-hearted, strong-limbed man of the West leaves his hills and
forests to fight the battle for freedom in the old world.

_BLACK ROCK_

A story of strong men in the mountains of the West.

_THE SKY PILOT_

A story of cowboy life, abounding in the freshest humor, the truest
tenderness and the finest courage.

_THE PROSPECTOR_

A tale of the foothills and of the man who came to them to lend a hand
to the lonely men and women who needed a protector.

_THE MAN FROM GLENGARRY_

This narrative brings us into contact with elemental and volcanic human
nature and with a hero whose power breathes from every word.

_GLENGARRY SCHOOL DAYS_

In this rough country of Glengarry, Ralph Connor has found human nature
in the rough.

_THE DOCTOR_

The story of a “preacher-doctor” whom big men and reckless men loved for
his unselfish life among them.

_THE FOREIGNER_

A tale of the Saskatchewan and of a “foreigner” who made a brave and
winning fight for manhood and love.

_CORPORAL CAMERON_

This splendid type of the upright, out-of-door man about which Ralph
Connor builds all his stories, appears again in this book.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York



NOVELS OF FRONTIER LIFE BY

WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list.

_MAVERICKS_

A tale of the western frontier, where the “rustler” abounds. One of the
sweetest love stories ever told.

_A TEXAS RANGER_

How a member of the border police saved the life of an innocent man,
followed a fugitive to Wyoming, and then passed through deadly peril to
ultimate happiness.

_WYOMING_

In this vivid story the author brings out the turbid life of the
frontier with all its engaging dash and vigor.

_RIDGWAY OF MONTANA_

The scene is laid in the mining centers of Montana, where politics and
mining industries are the religion of the country.

_BUCKY O’CONNOR_

Every chapter teems with wholesome, stirring adventures, replete with
the dashing spirit of the border.

_CROOKED TRAILS AND STRAIGHT_

A story of Arizona; of swift-riding men and daring outlaws; of a bitter
feud between cattle-men and sheep-herders.

_BRAND BLOTTERS_

A story of the turbid life of the frontier with a charming love interest
running through its pages.

_STEVE YEAGER_

A story brimful of excitement, with enough gun-play and adventure to
suit anyone.

_A DAUGHTER OF THE DONS_

A Western story of romance and adventure, comprising a vivacious and
stirring tale.

_THE HIGHGRADER_

A breezy, pleasant and amusing love Story of Western mining life.

_THE PIRATE OF PANAMA_

A tale of old-time pirates and of modern love, hate and adventure.

_THE YUKON TRAIL_

A crisply entertaining love story in the land where might makes right.

_THE VISION SPLENDID_

In which two cousins are contestants for the same prizes; political
honors and the hand of a girl.

_THE SHERIFF’S SON_

The hero finally conquers both himself and his enemies and wins the love
of a wonderful girl.

Grosset & Dunlap, Publishers, New York





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