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´╗┐Title: Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders on the Great American Desert
Author: Chase, Josephine
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Grace Harlowe's Overland Riders on the Great American Desert" ***

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GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS ON THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT

BY

JESSIE GRAHAM FLOWER, A. M.


ILLUSTRATED



CHAPTER I--WHEN THE COWBOYS LAUGHED

Picking out the ponies for the desert journey. The Overland girls
meet Hi Lang. Grace selects an "outlaw" pony. "Don't reckon you'll
be able to stick on him," warns the guide. Grace Harlowe flings
herself into the saddle, braced for the shock.


CHAPTER II--AN "OUTLAW" MEETS HIS MATCH

Grace fights a stubborn battle with the vicious bronco. "Look
out!" yells the guide. "Wall, ef thet don't beat the Dutch!"
exclaims a cowboy. A fainting conqueror. Cowboys voice their
admiration of the Overland girl, and Bud offers his services in
the event of trouble.


CHAPTER III--A THRILLING MOMENT

Enthusiastic plainsmen give Grace a Mexican lasso. The start for
the desert. A rousing good-bye that ends in disaster. Elfreda and
Grace accomplish a difficult feat. "Hang on! We'll stop him!" The
runaway bronco is thrown. "They're caught!"


CHAPTER IV--PING WING MAKES A DISCOVERY

Elfreda confesses to being "all mussed up," and gives first aid to
an injured cowboy. The lure of the desert. Welcomed at their first
camp by Ping Wing. The Chinaman as a songbird. The Overland Eiders
are aroused by cries and shots.


CHAPTER V--STALKING A MOUNTAIN MYSTERY

Ping uses a frying pan and a can of tomatoes as his weapons.
Scooting for a mysterious foe. "Put up your hands! I have you
covered!" Grace Harlowe exchanges shots with her adversary, then
suddenly sinks out of sight.


CHAPTER VI--INTO THE GREAT SILENCE

Hi stalks an unseen enemy and wings him. The hole in the mountain.
"The hound! He hit her! I'll kill him for that!" Grace,
unconscious, is carried into camp. "This is not a gunshot wound!"
Bullets are fired into the camp of the Overlanders.


CHAPTER VII--THE FIRST DESERT CAMP

Hi Lang shows his charges how to make a campfire on the desert. A
water hole is found. "Some one is trying to poison us!" groans
Hippy. The guide warns the campers against scorpions. Emma Dean
wishes she had gone to the seashore.


CHAPTER VIII--CALLERS DROP IN

Amid scenes of desolation. "A party of horsemen coming this way!"
The Overland party prepares for trouble. Hippy is doused by a wild
desert rider. "Get off my desert!" orders Lieutenant Wingate. The
leader is kicked into a water hole. The battle at the water hole.


CHAPTER IX--PIRATES GET A HOT RECEPTION

Bullets fly fast in the desert camp. Grace protests against Hi
Lang's order to shoot the attackers' ponies. Miss Briggs dresses
the wounds of the victims. The guide reads danger signals in the
sky.


CHAPTER X--WHEN THE BLOW FELL

"It's here!" mutters Hi Lang. Enveloped in a wild desert
sandstorm. "Down! Everybody down!" Overland girls nearly buried
under drifting sands, and camp equipment is wrecked and blown
away. "The water hole is lost!" announces the guide.


CHAPTER XI--FACING A NEW PERIL

Ponies stray away in the storm. On the trail of the missing ones.
The Overland girl makes a capture. Headed for Death Valley. Grace
Harlowe is lost, but doesn't know it. Hi Lang goes to the rescue
and follows her trail.


CHAPTER XII--A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT

"We must find water!" declares Hi Lang impressively. The search
for a desert "tank" begun by the weary Riders. Directed to smell
for water. A thrilling discovery. Hopes dashed to earth. "Get back
to your positions!" orders the guide.


CHAPTER XIII--A STARTLING ALARM

Supper is eaten without water or tea. Hi Lang shows the girls how
to extract food and moisture from a cactus plant. "This is
heavenly!" gasps Emma, and wonders why they did not bring an
artesian well. Shouts and screams suddenly disturb the camp.


CHAPTER XIV--THE MYSTERIOUS HORSEMAN

Hippy Wingate falls into the desert. A happy accident. "Water! I
smell it!" cries Grace. Signal shots are fired. A desert wanderer
rides in begging for water. A solitary horseman views the
Overlanders from afar.


CHAPTER XV--THE GUIDE READS A DESERT TRAIL

A stranger's warning interests Hi Lang. Why the desert wanderer is
always listening. More desert secrets revealed. Emma Dean dreams
of snakes and things. Grace Harlowe is complimented. Hi tells the
Overlanders what the mysterious horseman is.


CHAPTER XVI--THE CROSS ON THE DESERT

Grace learns to throw the lasso. An unpleasant discovery. The
mystery box at the foot of the cross. Emma is eager to see their
find opened. "It rattles like gold," declares Hippy. Lieutenant
Wingate raises the cover of the mystery box.


CHAPTER XVII--ANOTHER MYSTERY TO SOLVE

What the Overland Riders found in the buried tin box. The map that
aroused the curiosity of all. "I'll bury the old thing," declares
Hippy. Hi Lang empties his rifle at the mysterious horseman, and
later makes discoveries.


CHAPTER XVIII--AN OLD INDIAN TRICK

The most trying day of all. Hi Lang utters a warning. A cloud that
aroused suspicion. Overlanders meet with a keen disappointment.
"Folks, the tank is dry! The water hole has been tampered with!"
announces the Overlanders' guide.


CHAPTER XIX--THE WARNING

An all-night ride for Forty-Mile Canyon. The red star is Hi Lang's
beacon. Hippy Wingate mourns at missing a meal. Emma comes a
cropper in a mountain stream. "The last spot made when the world
was built." In camp in the Specter Range. Grace Harlowe's
discovery.


CHAPTER XX--CONCLUSION

Grace Harlowe wades into the mountain stream and suddenly
disappears. A remarkable scene behind the waterfall. Grace makes
an important capture. Mountain and desert mysteries unveiled.
Lindy becomes the daughter of five mothers. Home!



GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS ON THE GREAT AMERICAN DESERT



CHAPTER I

WHEN THE COWBOYS LAUGHED


"Grace Harlowe, do you realize what an indulgent husband you
have?" demanded Elfreda Briggs severely.

"Why, of course I do," replied Grace, giving her companion a quick
glance of inquiry. "Why this sudden realization of the fact on
your part!"

"I was thinking of the really desperate journey we are about to
undertake--the journey across the desert that lies just beyond the
Cactus Range you can see over yonder," answered Miss Briggs, as
she gazed out through the open window of their hotel at Elk Run,
to the distant landscape to which she had referred. "What I am
curious about is how Tom ever came to consent to your attempting
such an adventure."

"I presume he really would have made serious objection had it not
been for the fact that he had signed up for that forestry contract
in Oregon. Tom knew that I would have a lonely summer at home,
and, I believe, deep down in his heart, felt that were he to deny
me the pleasure of this trip, I might break my neck driving my
car. You see, since I drove an ambulance in France I do not
exactly creep along the roads with my spirited little roadster."

"He did not object to the trip then?"

"Well, he did threaten to balk when I told him that we Overlanders
had planned to ride horseback across the Great American Desert,
starting from Elk Run, Nevada. However, he listened to reason. Tom
is such a dear," reflected Grace.

"Yes, reason in the form of Grace Harlowe Gray," nodded Elfreda
understandingly. "Should I ever have the misfortune to possess a
husband I hope he may be as amenable to reason. Where is Tom, by
the way?"

"He has gone out with Hippy Wingate to look for one Hiram Lang,
known hereabouts as Hi Lang, the man who is to act as our guide
and protector across the desert. He is Mr. Fairweather's cousin,
you will recall, and my one great hope is that he may prove to be
as fine a character as the man who piloted us over the Old Apache
Trail last summer."

"I sincerely hope, for our sake, that he knows his business,"
nodded Elfreda Briggs.

"Where did you leave the girls?" questioned Grace.

"I left Emma Dean, Anne Nesbit and Nora Wingate at the general
store where they were selecting picture cards of wild west scenes
to send to the folks back home. By the way, when does Tom leave
for Oregon?"

"To-night. I wish it were possible for him to go with us, knowing
that it would prove an interesting experience for him, but now
that he is out of the army he feels that he must get to work
without loss of time. Tom now has a large family to look after--
Yvonne and my own little self."

"I should say that, after fighting Bolshevists in Russia for the
better part of a year, the desert would be a rather tame
experience for him," observed Miss Briggs. "Of course he cannot be
blamed for desiring to get to work. I feel the same way about
myself, but since my return from France my law practice has been
about what it was while I was serving my country on the other side
of the Atlantic Ocean--nothing at all--so I might as well be on
the desert as in my office."

"Your practice will come back, Elfreda. Don't worry, but in the
meantime try to have the best kind of a time and set what happens
this fall. I hear Tom's step."

A knock followed the brisk step in the hallway, and Grace's
husband entered. Elfreda rose, but Grace held out a hand as a
signal that her friend was not to leave.

"Well, Tom dear, did you find him?" questioned Grace.

"Oh, yes. This town isn't so large that one can well miss finding
any one. Your man, Hi Lang, is getting the ponies into the corral
and you girls are to go out there and make your selections."

"Did Mr. Lang say why he had not called here to see us?" asked
Grace.

"No, he didn't say much of anything. He is not of the saying kind.
I suppose he expected you to look him up. Besides, he is very busy
getting ready for you, I could see that. If you are ready we will
go over to the corral now."

"Where did you leave Hippy?" asked Miss Briggs.

"Talking horse with the owner of the ponies," Grace's husband
informed her, whereat both girls smiled understandingly, knowing
quite well that Hippy Wingate was posing as an expert on horses,
whereas about all the knowledge he possessed in that direction had
been gained from the ride over the Apache Trail during the
previous summer.

Tom led the two girls to the corral at the extreme edge of the
little western village. Anne, Emma and Nora already had found
their way there and were watching the wranglers, as the men who
catch up the ponies are called, roping broncos and leading them
out for the inspection of Lieutenant Wingate and the guide.

"My, but they are a lively bunch," exclaimed Miss Briggs.

The roped ponies were bucking and squealing and biting and
kicking. A suffocating gray cloud of alkali dust hung over the
corral, and, altogether, the scene was not only exciting, but it
stirred feelings of alarm in some of Grace Harlowe's Overland
Riders.

"Surely, Grace, you girls aren't going to ride those wild
animals!" protested Tom Gray.

"Judging from the performances I have just witnessed, I am
inclined to think we are not," replied Grace whimsically. "Which
is Mr. Lang?"

"The man with his hat off leading the pony from the corral."

Tom beckoned to the man who was to guide the Overlanders across
the desert, and, as soon as he had turned the protesting bronco
over to a cowboy, the guide responded to Tom Gray's summons.

"Lang, this is Mrs. Gray and Miss Briggs," said Tom by way of
introduction.

"Reckon I'm mighty glad to know you all," greeted the guide,
mopping the perspiration from his forehead with his sleeve.

Hi Lang interested Grace at once. Of medium height, thin-featured,
with a complexion that reminded her of wrinkled parchment, eyes
that, though intelligent and alert, frequently took on a dreamy,
far-away expression, Hiram Lang proved a new type of westerner to
Grace Harlowe.

"Got your telegram that you reckoned on starting to-day," he told
her.

"Yes. Of course we do not wish to hurry you, but we are eager to
get on our way. What about the supplies and equipment! Have you
ordered everything that I suggested?"

The guide nodded.

"The stuff already has gone on ahead in charge of Ping Wing--"

"Who?" laughed Elfreda Briggs.

"Ping Wing, a Chinaman, with four lazy burros. Good man. Can cook,
too. Been on the desert before. Lively as a cricket. Only trouble
with Ping is that he thinks he can sing. Ride and shoot?" he
demanded, abruptly changing the subject.

"I am not much of a rider, but manage to stick to the saddle most
of the time," answered Grace. "I shoot a little. We are all
novices, with the exception of Lieutenant Wingate who is an
excellent shot. The lieutenant was a fighting aviator in the war."

Hi nodded and stroked his chin.

"Reckoned you could ride some. When we get out on the desert I'll
see how you can shoot. When do you think you want to start?"

"I will leave that to you," replied Grace.

"Three o'clock this afternoon. We'll make the range where Ping
will be waiting for us, and have chow there, then go on in the
cool of the evening. Want to look over the broncos?"

"If you please. I should like to try the ponies that we are to
ride."

"Do--do they always kick and buck as we saw them do just now?"
questioned Miss Briggs apprehensively.

The guide shook his head and grinned.

"They don't like to be roped, that's all. No bronco does. They'll
be as all right as a bronc' can be, so long as you don't use the
spur or get the critters stubborn."

"If you say they are perfectly safe for my friends to ride, I am
satisfied, though I should like to try them out. Hippy, have you
ridden any of these animals?" asked Grace, turning to Lieutenant
Wingate.

"He tried to," observed Tom Gray dryly. "Hippy mounted one on one
side and promptly fell off on the other before getting his feet in
the stirrups. It was not the pony's fault, however, but Hippy's
clumsiness that caused the disaster."

"That's right, have all the fun at my expense you wish. I am the
comedian of this outfit anyway," protested Hippy. "Let's see you
ride one of them, Brown Eyes," he urged, speaking to Grace.

"Please have them saddled one by one and I will try them, Mr.
Lang," directed Grace. "Any pony that I can ride, the others
surely can."

The guide nodded and turned away. Grace watched the saddling with
keen interest, especially the saddling of the first pony selected
for her, which squealed and pawed and danced as the cinch-girth
was being tightened.

"Vicious!" objected Elfreda Briggs.

"No," answered Grace. "Just playful. If the others are no worse,
we shall have a good bunch of horses."

The saddle being secured, Grace stepped up and petted the little
animal for a few moments, then mounted. The pony danced under her,
then, at a word, galloped off. The Overland girl rode but a short
distance, and, turning back, trotted up to the group smilingly.

"Spirited but sweet," was her comment as she dismounted. "He will
be all right if he is used right. Try him, Elfreda. I know you
will like him."

Miss Briggs took her test without falling off, and promptly
claimed the little brown animal as her own private mount.

"You made a most excellent selection, Mr. Lang," complimented
Grace, after she had tried the ponies for the rest of the girls
and found them suitable. Each girl also tried out and selected her
own mount from those that Grace had approved, the cowboys and half
the village being interested spectators. Grace was pleased, both
with the ponies and with the riding of her girl friends. Not the
least of those who were pleased was Hi Lang, who, before the
coming of the outfit, had felt considerable doubt as to the
success of the proposed jaunt. Now he knew that the Overland
Riders were not rank greenhorns, as he expressed it to himself.

"Which animal did you think of selecting for me!" asked Grace
smilingly.

"Reckoned you'd do that for yourself," answered the guide.

"Thank you. Please have that black roped and brought out. He is
the one I think will please me," replied Grace promptly.

"What, that black bronc'? He's a lively one, Mrs. Gray. Don't
reckon you'll be able to stick on him at all," warned Hi Lang.

"I have fallen off before, sir. Have him roped and brought out.
I'll try him out."

The guide shrugged his shoulders and walked over to the head
wrangler.

"Why take such unnecessary chances!" begged Tom Gray. "Surely
there are plenty of ponies in the bunch that are safe for you to
ride."

"Tom, surely the black one can be no worse than that wild western
pony that I bought last fall and rode. You know he was supposed to
be the last word in viciousness and bucking ability, but I rode
him successfully."

"Very well, go ahead. You won't be satisfied until you have tried
him, but remember, I warned you," returned Grace's husband with
some heat.

"Now, Tom," begged Grace pleadingly. "Please don't be a cross bear
and spoil my trip. You have been so perfectly lovely about it
right up to this moment, that it would be too bad if you were to
get peevish now. If you say I must not, of course I will not try
to ride the animal, but I do so want him."

Tom Gray shrugged his shoulders and laughed.

"Go to it, little woman. You have my full permission to break your
neck if you insist. I will see that little Yvonne keeps your
memory green."

"Oh, Tom! You are such a dear, but I promise you that you won't
have occasion to keep my memory green so far as that mischievous
little black pony is concerned."

Grace Harlowe's confidence in herself was not without good and
sufficient reason. The western pony that she had ridden the
previous winter had demonstrated nearly all the tricks known to
the stubborn broncos of the great west. At first Grace had had
some bad spills, but eventually she learned to outwit her pony and
ride him no matter how savagely he tried to unhorse her.

Not only had Grace learned to ride, in anticipation of another
summer in the saddle, but, under her husband's instruction, she
had taken up revolver shooting, and by spring was capable of
qualifying as an expert, especially in quick shooting at moving
targets. Thus fitted for the strenuous life in the wilder parts of
her native land, Grace looked forward with calm assurance to the
experiences that she knew lay before her.

"Bring out the black," Hi Lang had directed. "Cinch him so tight
it will make him squeal."

When a wrangler's rope caught him, the wiry little animal fought
viciously for a few moments, then suddenly surrendered and was led
out as docile as a lamb.

"Who said that black is vicious?" demanded Hippy Wingate.

"Want to ride him?" asked the guide good-naturedly.

"No. I have a real pony for myself."

"Watch those ears, Grace," warned Tom Gray.

"I am," replied Grace, and Hi Lang, overhearing, grunted his
satisfaction.

The black pony's ears were tilted back at an angle of forty-five
degrees, and there he held them while the saddle was being set in
place, and the girth cinched, both forefeet spread wide apart and
head well down. He winced a little as the girth was drawn a hole
tighter so that the saddle might not slip, but otherwise made no
move, which, the cowboys said, was an unusual thing for him to do.

The pony's sudden surrender was of itself suspicious to those who
were familiar with the western bronco, and the laid-back ears were
significant to them of trouble to come.

"Is he an outlaw!" asked Grace, meaning an animal naturally so
vicious that he never had been satisfactorily broken.

Hi Lang, to whom the question had been addressed, gave Grace a
quick glance of inquiry.

"Some call him that. At least he's got the ginger in him, and
mebby he is an outlaw. Keep a tight rein on him; don't let him get
his head down if you can help his doing so, and stick to your
leather. Watch him every second, for he's got a box full of
tricks."

"Thank you for the suggestions. I shall not forget."

"I ought not let you ride him. I reckon you'll get enough of the
critter before you have ridden him many minutes, even if you stick
on that long."

"Mr. Lang, I intend to ride that 'critter,' as you call him,
across the desert. Will he bolt while I am mounting?"

"Mebby. All ready now."

"Have you any last requests to make, Grace Harlowe?" asked Elfreda
Briggs frowningly. Elfreda strongly disapproved of Grace's
"foolhardiness," as she called it.

"Yes, keep back and give me plenty of room. See that the other
girls do the same. The black may do a little side-stepping."

Grace, as she had done with the other ponies before mounting,
stepped up to the black and began petting and caressing him, now
and then straightening up the animal's ears, chiding him as she
might a child. This made the cowboys laugh. Cowboys when subduing
broncos do not ordinarily do so with anything resembling baby
talk, and it was their firm conviction that this pretty young
tenderfoot from the east was about to get the surprise of her
life. Instead of feeling sorry for her, however, the souls of the
cowboys were filled with joy at the prospect of some real fun. It
was not often that they were privileged to see an innocent
easterner make an exhibition of himself on a vicious western pony,
and this was the first time they had ever seen a woman from the
east attempt to ride a bucking bronco, which made the occasion all
the more interesting.

"Stand clear, please," warned Grace, giving the pony's neck a
final pat, and at the same time edging her way back from his head,
measuring the distance to the stirrup with her eyes.

"I'll give you the word when to hit the leather," directed Hi in a
low voice. "Watch your step."

Grace acknowledged the warning with a brief nod, watching the
black's head narrowly. The animal still stood with forefeet braced
apart, head slightly lowered, ears, it seemed, flatter than ever.

"If I miss it I'm lost," muttered Grace, referring to the stirrup.

"Ready," warned the voice of the guide.

The girl's left hand holding the bridle rein crept cautiously to
the pommel of the saddle.

"Now!"

Grace's left foot caught the stirrup and, like a flash, the
Overland girl landed hard and firmly seated on the saddle, the
right foot in the stirrup on that side, then, with the aid of
stirrup and cantle, she braced herself to meet the shock that she
knew was right at hand.



CHAPTER II

AN "OUTLAW" MEETS HIS MATCH


The black did not move a muscle for a few seconds, then, with a
sudden turn of the head, he made a grab for his rider's leg.

Grace, never having taken her eyes from the laid-back ears, gave a
quick kick with her left foot, catching the pony fairly on the
nose. As he hastily withdrew his head, she took advantage of the
opportunity to tighten up on the reins, which brought the animal's
head well up.

All these preparatory activities were observed with intense
interest by cowboys and Overlanders.

"Watch him!" called Hi Lang in an urgent tone.

Grace was watching, her every faculty beat to the task of
discovering what the next move of her mount was to be.

The black, as she tightened the rein, reared high in the air until
his rider seemed to be standing straight up. One moment she felt
that they were both going to fall over backwards, and was about to
clear the stirrups to jump. Instead she brought her crop down on
the black's head, with a resounding whack.

"Yeow!" howled the cowboys, but Grace did not hear them, for the
pony had dropped to all fours, and no sooner had his feet touched
the ground than he leaped clear of it, coming down stiff-legged
with a jolt that jarred Grace Harlowe throughout her body in spite
of her effort to soften the shock by throwing most of her weight
on the stirrups.

"He's going to buck," warned the steady voice of Hi Lang.

Grace knew it in advance of the guide's warning, but, though she
tugged with all her might, she was not strong enough to get the
black bronco's head up so he could not carry out his intention.
There followed a series of bucks and squeals, accompanied with
flying hoofs, that sent the spectators fleeing for safety.

As for the Overland girl, her head was spinning, her hair was down
and her sombrero long since had fallen off and been trampled in
the alkali dust by the hoofs of her mount. The jolting she was
getting was almost more than she could endure and sharp pains were
shooting through her body. This bronco indeed was a master at the
art of bucking, but vicious as were his movements the black had
not succeeded in ridding himself of his rider.

"Look out!" yelled the guide.

All four feet went from under the pony and he struck the ground on
his side with a force that brought a grunt from him. In the cloud
of dust the spectators thought that Grace had been caught under
the horse and crashed. Emma Dean uttered a cry of alarm, and Nora
Wingate turned her head away that she might not see.

"She's all right!" shouted Hiram Lang, who had sprung forward to
give assistance if it were needed.

The pony had thrown itself on its right side. Mr. Lang found Grace
sitting calmly on the side of the saddle, free of the body of the
horse, but breathing heavily. Her quickness had been the means of
her disengaging herself as the bronco threw himself to the ground.

After giving the black a few seconds on his side, the Overland
Rider brought her crop down on his rump with a vicious whack. It
stung. Like a flash the pony was on his feet, with Grace's feet
now planted firmly in the stirrups.

As Grace had expected, the bucking was resumed the instant the
pony felt the smart of the crop. How the dust did fly then, and
how those cowboy wranglers did yell!

"Who's a tenderfoot!" howled Hippy Wingate. "Just watch her
smoke."

Grace Harlowe's whole body was weary, but her grit was not
diminishing in the least. However, she decided that the time had
arrived when she must do a little fighting for herself, and not
leave it all to the pony, so, having arrived at this decision,
Grace watched narrowly for a favorable opportunity to begin.

The opportunity came a few seconds later when the horse threw up
his head preparatory to pitching forward in another series of
savage bucks. Grace jerked the animal's head to one side, brought
her quirt down sharply, and, at the same time, jabbed the little
black fighter with her spurs.

She continued to apply this treatment for several seconds until
the bronco, goaded to a change of tactics, whirled and started
away at a run, driving straight through the assembled crowd. The
crowd fled for their lives with Grace unable now to do more than
stay on the saddle.

The black had not gone far before he stopped as suddenly as he had
started, stopped stiff-legged, braced himself and slid on his feet
through the alkali for several yards.

Grace Harlowe had been alert for this very thing, but just the
same the suddenness of the move had nearly unhorsed her. As it was
she fell forward on the neck of the bronco, but, recovering
herself before the animal could begin bucking again, she regained
her former position in the saddle and applied crop and spur
vigorously.

The bronco again tried to buck, but under Grace's lively treatment
he gave it up and started to run, and for the next few minutes
pony and rider went like a black streak across the landscape, the
Overland girl giving the pony no time for anything but to travel
as fast as his legs would carry him, until they were a full two
miles from the village.

Grace finally turned him about, without resistance on the pony's
part, and raced for the corral, driving and urging the pony with
crop and word, bound to wear him down and convince him once and
for all that she was his master.

As the Overland Rider came up to the corral now at a jog trot, the
bronco covered with white foam, the cowboys broke loose. Shrill
cowboy yells, whoops and cat calls and a rattling fire of revolver
shots into the air greeted her achievement.

"Grab him, you duffers!" shouted Hi Lang, running toward the
bronco as he saw Grace wavering on her saddle. "Can't you see that
game kid's all in?"

It was only by the exercise of sheer pluck that Grace Harlowe had
held her seat on the saddle throughout that grilling ride. She had
fought and won a battle with an "outlaw" pony that many a hard-
muscled cowboy had fought only to lose. Now that she had
conquered, however, Grace felt weak and dizzy, and the reaction,
she found, was worse than the experience itself.

At Hi Lang's command, half a dozen cowboys had sprung to her
assistance, but it was Hi who held up his arms to help her down.

"Fall over. I'll catch you," he urged.

Grace shook her head and tried to smile.

"I--I think I can make it, tha--ank you," she gasped, freeing her
feet from the stirrups and slipping limply until her feet touched
the ground. For a moment she stood leaning against the bronco for
support, one hand clinging to the pommel of the saddle.

The guide sought to draw her away, fearful that the pony might
spring to one side and let loose a volley of kicks.

Grace shook her head, her left hand grasped the mane of the pony
and she pulled herself to his head. Fumbling in her pocket, she
drew forth a piece of candy and felt rather than, saw the bronco's
lips close over the sweet morsel.

"Wall, ef thet don't beat the Dutch!" exclaimed a cowboy. "A
bronc' eatin' outer a lady's hand. What's the alkali flats a-
comin' to!"

"She's a reg'lar lion tamer, thet's the shorest thing I know,"
declared another. "Hey! What's up now?"

Grace's fingers had slowly relaxed their grip on the black
bronco's mane, a faint moan escaped her lips, and the Overland
girl slipped down under the pony's neck in a dead faint. The
bronco, merely by lifting a forefoot and bringing it down on his
conqueror, could have crushed the life out of Grace Harlowe.

Instead, the horse arched his neck, curled his head down and nosed
her with the nearest approach to affection that any man there ever
had seen a bronco exhibit.

Hi Lang gathered the unconscious girl up cautiously and carried
her to a safe spot where he laid her down.

"Get water. Everybody stand back and give her air," he directed.

"I will look after her," said Elfreda Brigg hurrying to Grace's
side.

The water, fetched in a cowboy's hat, came hand just as Grace
regained consciousness Elfreda bathed her face from the hat and
fanned her with her own sombrero.

"What a per--perfectly silly thing for me do," muttered Grace,
raising herself on elbow.

"If you mean riding that wild animal, I agree with you," frowned
Miss Briggs.

"I mean the faint. What will these men think of me!"

"I reckon if you'll give them a chance they'll tell you what they
think," interjected Hi Lang. "Bud, come here," he called,
beckoning to one of the wranglers. "This little lady wants to know
what you fellows think of a woman who rides a horse and then
faints away. Tell her."

Bud stepped up, flushing painfully under his tan, awkwardly
fumbling his hat.

"Ah--Ah reckon they think thet you're 'bout the gamest little
sport thet ever hit the leather," declared Bud. "Any feller thet
sez you ain't, is a liar and a hoss thief!" Bud glared about him
as if challenging some one to take up his defi.

Grace laughed so merrily that, for the moment, she forgot that she
was supposed to be in a fainting condition. Getting up rather
unsteadily, she offered her hand to the cowboy, who, in his
embarrassment, instantly dropped his bravado and half held out a
limp paw for Grace to shake.

"Them's our sentiments. We double cinch what Bud jest articulated,
Lady," called a cowboy voice.

"Thank you, Bud. Thank you all, fellows. It is much higher praise
than I deserve," she replied, smiling and waving a hand to the
group.

"Where do you all reckon on goin', Miss?" questioned another of
the men.

Grace told him that they had planned to cross the American Desert.

"And maybe we're going to look for a lost gold mine or a diamond
mine or an iron mine down in the Specter Range, or something
equally exciting," added Hippy Wingate.

"Reckon there ain't no such animal in these here parts," drawled
Bud. "If you all need help any old time, Ah reckon you all know
where to come for it, Lady," he added.

Grace thanked him and said she would remember.

"You are not thinking of riding that black bronco, are you!"
questioned Tom Gray. "What's the next move?"

"Yes, to your first question. We expect to make our start this
afternoon, unless Mr. Lang advises to the contrary. What do you
say, Mr. Lang?"

"I reckoned that, after what you've been through, you'd be wishing
to lay up for the rest of the day," replied the guide.

"That would be the sensible course to follow," agreed Grace's
husband.

"No. No change of plans is necessary so far as I am concerned,"
she replied. "Mr. Lang, will you please ask one of the boys to
groom Blackie--that is what I shall call my pony--and not to be
cross with him? I do not wish the little fellow stirred up. I have
him temporarily under control, and am certain that after I have
ridden him for a day he will be as manageable as the rest of them.
Where shall we meet you, Mr. Lang?"

"Eight here at the corral. Three o'clock." Hi turned his back on
them and walked away to give Grace's directions about the bronco
to one of the wranglers.

"I am going back to the hotel to lie down for an hour," announced
Grace. "Tom, you may go out and do a little shopping for me while
I am resting. Girls," she said, turning to her companions, "I
would suggest that all of you turn in for a beauty sleep. You will
need it, for we shall have a hot, dusty ride between here and the
mountains, which we shall not reach until some time this evening.
If you have any further purchases to make at the general store,
you had better make them now, or let Tom do it for you. We must be
on time at the corral. Mr. Lang probably has timed our departure
to fit certain plans of his own."

The girls said they had completed their purchases, and shortly
after that all were sound asleep, fortifying themselves for the
experiences before them, experiences that were destined to be the
most strenuous that they had ever met with, outside of the battle
front in France.



CHAPTER III

A THRILLING MOMENT


"We are ready, Mr. Lang," greeted Grace Harlowe as she and her
party came up to the corral where the guide was supervising the
saddling of the ponies for the outfit.

The girls now wore the overseas uniforms that they had worn in
their ride over the Old Apache Trail. In addition, a red bandana
handkerchief was twisted about the neck of each Overland Rider, in
true western style, to keep the alkali dust from sifting down
their necks.

All the equipment except mess kits and emergency rations, and a
canteen of water for each, had been sent forward on the burros in
charge of the Chinaman, Ping Wing, whom the Overland girls had not
yet met.

"How is Blackie behaving at present, Mr. Lang?" questioned Grace,
stepping over towards the guide, who was readjusting the cinch-
girth on the little animal.

"Quiet as a kitten after finding a nest of young mice. Better put
your revolver in the saddle holster where it will be handy. That's
where I carry mine. The lieutenant is stowing his now. Never know
when the 'hardware' is going to come in handy on the desert."

A lump of sugar found its way into the black bronco's mouth from
Grace Harlowe's hand, as she petted and talked to the little
fellow. This time his ears were tilted forward, and he stood
motionless while his new master was caressing him. The instant
Grace stepped away, however, the black grew restless. He dragged
the cowboy who was holding him and threatened to break away, nor
was he quieted until Grace herself intervened and, slipping the
bridle rein over her arm and leading the pony, walked over to Tom
Gray.

"No wonder you are successful in managing a husband," observed
Tom. "Even the dumb animals bow to your will."

"Now, Tom," protested Grace laughingly, the color mounting to her
cheeks. "That wasn't a bit nice of you."

"Ready whenever you are, Mrs. Gray," interrupted the voice of Hi
Lang.

Grace turned to her husband, the laughter gone from her face.

"I shall miss you, Tom dear. Write to Yvonne as often as you can,
and to me, but Yvonne needs our letters to keep her from getting
lonely at school. Good-bye and the best of luck, as we used to say
when we were in France."

Grace patted the neck of the black bronco, and Tom assisted her to
the saddle. Blackie began to prance, but, though he threatened to
buck, he did not. Grace finally subdued him and sat waiting for
her companions to mount, all of whom managed the operation
successfully, though Emma Dean was twice nearly unhorsed.

The cowboys, as the Overland girls observed, were saddled up as if
they too were going along, but she supposed they were starting out
on some duty connected with their work. All but two of them
mounted, and there followed an exhibition of prancing and bucking
that furnished amusement and interest to Grace and her friends.

Bud and a companion finally rode up before Grace and dismounted,
the former removing his sombrero and approaching her awkwardly.

Glancing inquiringly at Mr. Lang, Grace saw that he was smiling.

"Bud has something on his mind. I reckon he wants to unload, Mrs.
Gray," announced the guide.

"Yes, Bud?" smiled Grace encouragingly. "What is it?"

"It's yourself, Miss. The bunch here reckoned as I, bein' gifted
with the knack of gab, it fer me to speak for 'em. They're tongue-
tied when there's a woman on the premises."

"What is it the 'bunch' wishes you to say to me?" asked the
Overland girl.

"They seen you bust the black bronc' this morning, and bein' as no
female woman ever pulled off a stunt like it in these parts, they
reckoned it might not make you mad if they told you you was all to
the good."

"Thank you--thank you all." Grace waved a hand and smiled at the
eager faces of the cowboys who, lined up on their ponies, just to
the rear of Bud and a companion, were eagerly hanging on Bud's
words, but not taking their gaze from Grace Harlowe's face for an
instant.

"The bunch reckoned, too, that bein' a champeen mebby you'd take a
little present from 'em. I ain't much on spreadin' the dough, even
if I have some gab," added Bud, floundering for the rest of his
speech.

"Bud, I'm just as excited as you are, and, were I in your place, I
should not know what to say next," comforted Grace seriously.
"What is it that the 'bunch' wished you to give to me?"

Bud reached a hand behind him, whereupon his companion placed
something in it. Emma Dean whispered to Nora that it looked like a
blacksnake all coiled up and ready to jump.

"This here," resumed the cowboy, holding up the coil that had been
passed to him, "is a real Mexican lariat, made by a Greaser, but
real horsehair, and warranted not to kink or to miss in the hands
of a lady. The bunch reckons they'd like to give it to you to
remember 'em by," concluded Bud, stepping forward and handing the
lariat to Grace.

"Bud--boys, I don't need anything to make me remember you, but of
course I will accept your thoughtful gift. I never threw a rope
and could not hit the side of a barn with one, but now that you
have given me this beautiful piece of rope I am going to learn to
throw it. Mr. Lang, will you teach me how to rope--to throw the
lasso?"

The guide nodded.

"If we come back this way, I hope I shall see all you boys here,
and I will then throw the rope for you and you shall tell me
whether or not I am a hopeless tenderfoot."

"You ain't no tenderfoot already," called a cowboy.

"Thank you. Good-bye, all." Grace waved her sombrero, and, blowing
a kiss to her husband, clucked to her pony and was off at a
gallop, following in the wake of Hi Lang, who had already started
on.

The others of the Overland party swung in and the party began its
journey. They had gone but a short distance when, hearing shouts
to the rear, they turned to discover the cowboys racing toward
them in a cloud of dust.

"What do they want, Mr. Lang!" called Grace, urging her pony up to
him.

"I reckon they're coming out to give you a send off," answered the
guide.

As they approached, the cowboys spread out and began circling the
galloping Overlanders, yelling, whooping and firing their
revolvers into the air. Now and then one's sombrero would fly off,
whereupon a following cowboy would swing down from his saddle and
scoop up the hat.

Ropes began to wiggle through the air as the western riders sought
to rope each other. They were giving Grace Harlowe a demonstration
of what western roping was, and, as she rode, Grace observed and
enjoyed, as did her companions.

Suddenly a rope darted into the air behind her, and, had she not
seen its shadow, Grace surely would have been caught. Interpreting
that shadow for what it was the Overland Rider threw herself
forward on her pony's neck just as the loop descended. It dropped
lightly on her back, but she was out from under it in a flash,
and, as she sped on, she turned a laughing face to the roper, who
was being rewarded by the jeers of his companions who had chanced
to see him make the cast and fail.

Howling and whooping like a wild Indian, another rider shot
directly across Grace's path, his glee spinning his sombrero as
high in the air as he could throw it, intending to ride under and
catch it. Grace's revolver, the same weapon that she had taken
from Belle Bates, the wife of the bandit of the Apache Trail,
whipped out of its holster in a second. Her first shot at the
spinning hat missed, but her second shot was a hit. She put a hole
right through the crown of the hat.

The whooping and yelling was renewed as the owner of the hat
scooped it up from the ground and held it up for the others to
see. There were two, however, who were taking no interest in the
shooting--the cowboy who had tried to rope Grace, and a companion
who was chasing and trying to rope him in payment for his
unsportsmanlike attempt to cast his lariat over Grace Harlowe's
head.

The two were darting in and out among the racing cowboys and
Overlanders at the imminent peril of running down some one; the
dust was a suffocating, choking cloud except as they rode ahead,
and then only those in the lead were out of the worst of it. The
Overlanders were coughing and perspiring, and the shouting and
shooting at times made conversation well nigh impossible.

"What is this, a wild west show?" cried Elfreda Briggs, riding
toward Grace Harlowe, who was entering into the sport with a zest
that set Hi Lang's head nodding in approval.

"The real wild west, Elfreda. It is not easy to find, but we have
found it in earnest. Oh! Look at that!"

The pursuing cowboy had now roped a hind foot of the pony ridden
by the man who had attempted to lasso Grace Harlowe.

The lariat being attached to the pommel of the thrower's saddle,
the roped pony went down on its nose, violently hurling its rider
to the ground, but the little horse was up in a flash, galloping
away and dragging along the rope which it had jerked free from the
owner's hands and from the saddle pommel.

Not only was it dragging the lasso, but also its cowboy rider,
who, with one foot caught in a stirrup, was being bumped along on
his back over the uneven ground.

Elfreda Briggs, nearest to the fallen cowboy, instantly spurred
her pony after the runaway. She was abreast of it in a moment.
Grasping the bridle of the runaway, Elfreda tugged at it with all
her might in her endeavor to stop the animal, shouting, "Whoa!
Whoa!"

In the meantime, Grace on Blackie was heading for the scene at top
speed, seeking to head off the runaway.

Others also were trying to stop the animal and rescue the fallen
cowboy, but it was Elfreda's race, with Grace following her.
Elfreda was clinging desperately to the bridle of the runaway with
one hand, the other holding fast to the pommel of her saddle, but
despite all her efforts she failed to check the speed of the
runaway, leaning over toward it further and further as the space
between the two ponies widened.

This meant a fall for Elfreda, as she suddenly realized.

"Let go!" cried Grace, but Elfreda was too busy to hear and still
held on to the runaway.

The runaway swerved sharply to the right. Miss Briggs had the
presence of mind to kick back with both feet as she felt herself
going to fall off. She did this to clear her feet from the
stirrups so that when she fell she might not be dragged along on
the ground by one foot. She was now leaning too far over to be
able to recover her balance on her own saddle.

Miss Briggs suddenly let go of the pommel of her saddle as she
felt herself slipping, and threw both arms about the neck of the
runaway, to which she clung with all her might.

"Whoa! Whoa!" she gasped chokingly, her feet whipping the ground
with every leap of the runaway as she was dragged along. Elfreda
was taking severe punishment, but she was enduring it pluckily,
determined to hang on until either the runaway stopped or her arms
came off.

Grace Harlowe drew down rapidly on the runaway and its victims,
having so timed her arrival that she succeeded in heading the pony
off, with several yards between it and herself.

"Whoa! Whoa!" commanded Grace sharply, at the same time hurling
her sombrero into the face of the runaway. Instead of slowing
down, he came on with a rush, and Grace, who was now directly in
his path, saw that she could not avoid a collision.

The bronco ridden by Grace braced himself, seeming to know
instinctively what was coming.

In the next moment the runaway plunged against Blackie, and the
impact bowled Blackie over flat on his side.

Grace already had slipped her feet from the stirrups, and, when
the collision came, she too threw herself on the neck of the
runaway.

"Ha--ang on! We'll stop him!" she cried, her arms now tightly
encircling the runaway's neck, her feet dragging on the ground
just as Elfreda's were.

By this time the two girls on the running pony's neck were
surrounded by mounted cowboys.

"Let go! Jump clear so we kin rope him!" shouted Bud, for the men
dared not rope and throw the horse, fearing that he might fall on
one of the girls and crush her.

The cowboys did not seem to realize that neither girl would let go
of her own free will until the runaway had been stopped.

The end came suddenly. The heavy burden on his neck was too much
for the bronco, and, his knees weakening, all at once he stumbled
and went down on his nose, then toppled over on his side,
enveloped in a cloud of dust.

"They're caught!" shouted Hi Lang.



CHAPTER IV

PING WING MAKES A DISCOVERY


When the cowboys, with Hi Lang in the lead, reached the Overland
girls, they discovered Grace Harlowe calmly sitting on the runaway
bronco's head to hold him down.

"Get Miss Briggs out from between the pony's legs. She can't help
herself. Drag the man out, too. The pony fell on him," urged
Grace.

"Are you hurt, Mrs. Gray!" begged Hi anxiously.

"No."

"And Miss Briggs!"

"I think not. She was a little stunned when we fell with the
bronco. Hold down his head so I can get to her."

Surrendering her seat on the bronco's head to a cowboy, Grace got
up and insisted in removing Elfreda from her perilous position.
They stood Miss Briggs on her feet, Grace supporting her with an
arm about her waist to give Elfreda opportunity to collect
herself.

"How do you feel now!" asked Grace.

"All--all mussed up," was J. Elfreda's characteristic reply.

Both girls showed the effects of their experience. Their hair was
hanging down their backs, their uniforms were covered with dust
and their faces were grimy from the alkali dirt of the plain.

"Let me walk you about to see if all your joints function,"
suggested Grace.

"They never again will do so properly as long as I live,"
complained Miss Briggs. "Did the ponies run away? I mean our
ponies."

"I have been too busy to notice. If you will sit down I will see
what I can do for the poor fellow who was dragged."

Elfreda insisted on assisting, and a moment later both girls were
kneeling beside the dazed, but conscious, cowboy whose clothing
was in tatters and whose face was scarcely recognizable from the
dust that was ground into it.

Grace moistened her handkerchief with water from her canteen and
bathed the man's face, and Elfreda, producing a bottle of smelling
salts, held it to his nostrils. The cowboy quickly came out of his
daze. One arm was doubled up under his body, and this Elfreda
Briggs carefully drew out. The cowboy groaned as she did so.

"Can you lift your arm!" she asked.

"No," gritted the cowboy, his face twisting with pain as he tried
to raise the arm.

"His left arm is broken," announced Elfreda. "Men, you must get
this poor fellow to town as quickly as possible. I will make a
sling to support the arm until you can get him to a surgeon."

"Do you folks reckon you want to go back to Elk Run, too?"
questioned the guide.

"I was about to ask that question of you," replied Grace, turning
to Elfreda.

"You should know better than to ask," returned Miss Briggs.

"We will go on, Mr. Lang. Perhaps it is as well that we have been
broken in properly at the start. We shall be in better form to
cope with real emergencies if such arise," declared Grace.

"Real! Huh!" grunted Hi Lang.

"Oh, you'll get used to having things happen," soothed Hippy
Wingate. "Wherever this outfit goes there is trouble and then some
more."

"Yes, but this is the worst," complained Emma Dean.

"Alors! Let's go," urged Elfreda Briggs as she got up after having
arranged a sling to support the cowboy's injured arm.

Their ponies were led up by the cowboys and the girls mounted for
a fresh start, Grace and Elfreda considerably rumpled and both
very tired after their lively experience. The cowboys, having
loaded their injured companion on a pony, now gave the Overland
girls a rousing farewell whoop and trotted slowly homeward.

Hi Lang had uttered no comment on what had occurred, but he was
keeping up a constant thinking, now and then scowling observingly
at his charges. Of Grace and Elfreda he had no doubts, for, in his
estimation, they had graduated from the tenderfoot class. The
others had yet to prove themselves.

The ride was hot and dusty, and, in order to make up for lost
time, the party was riding fast, but the ponies, though already
flecked with foam, appeared to be as fresh as at the start.

"What time do you think we will reach the mountains?" called Anne,
who was suffering tortures from the heat and dust.

"Sundown," briefly answered the guide. "It will be worse than this
after we reach the desert."

"Worse!" groaned Emma. "I shall expire, I know I shall."

The mountains, for which they were heading, were looming larger
now, and looked cool and inviting compared to the heat of their
present position.

"What is that smoke?" asked Grace Harlowe, as they neared the
range, pointing to a thin spiral of vapor rising from the
mountains.

"I reckon it's in our camp. Ping should have chow ready by the
time we get there."

"You intend to go on this evening, do you not?" asked Grace.

"Yes. You said you were in a hurry to get to the desert."

"I shouldn't put it that way, Mr. Lang, but I am rather eager to
get into the real phase of our journey, and eager to know what the
desert is like. I have a feeling that I shall love it."

"Some do--some hate it," replied the guide thoughtfully.

"Do you hate it?" questioned the Overland Rider.

"I love it," murmured Hi Lang after a brief silence. "Little
woman, I love the white sands, the burning heat of the day, the
deadly, sweet silence of the night when all the stars come down so
close you can almost reach out and touch them. I love the dead
odor, and then--"

"Yes?" urged Grace.

"I hate it, I fight it--and I win," added the guide in a tone that
was almost triumphant. "Yet, I'd rather be out there where the
starving coyotes howl the night through, where the great, gaunt
gray wolves loom up in the night seeking what they may kill and
eat, or where a step in the dark may be your last should you tread
on a desert rattler. I'd rather be there and face all of that, and
the peril of dying from thirst, than be anywhere else in the
world," he concluded, and then lapsed into silence.

"I understand, Mr. Lang. It is the lure of the desert that appeals
to you, though none knows better than you the perils that lurk
there for the unwary traveler. I hope and believe that I may feel
as you do about it."

"You will, and so will Miss Briggs. I am not so certain about the
others."

"When you get to know us better, Mr. Lang, you will find that,
though some of us complain and fret, all are true blue."

"Humph! Beckon I know something about that myself. What I saw to-
day shows me that I don't have to worry about you and Miss Briggs.
Did you know that Ike Fairweather wrote me a long letter about you
folks!"

Grace looked her interest.

"Yes. Ike said I'd have my hands full, and that you folks would
trot a pace that would make my legs weary trying to keep up with
you. Said you weren't afraid of anything that walked, crept or
crawled."

Grace laughed merrily.

"Mr. Fairweather is mistaken. I am terribly shy of snakes and--
and--well, I don't know what else" she added lamely.

Hi Lang chuckled under his breath.

"Yes, that's our camp where you see the smoke. I just caught a
glimpse of Ping. I reckon when we get closer we'll hear his
voice."

"We are almost there, girls," Grace called back to her companions.
"That is Ping's smoke you see yonder."

"Is Ping on fire?" answered Emma so innocently that the
Overlanders shouted with laughter, and Hi indulged in the hearty,
soundless laugh that they had already discovered was
characteristic of him.

A few moments later a cooling breeze from the range was wafted
down to them, heavy with, odors of mountain and foliage and
suggestive of cooling mountain water as well.

"What's that screeching?" demanded Hippy Wingate, as they fell
into single file and began climbing a narrow mountain trail.

"Screeching?" answered Anne Nesbit. "Why, that's our Celestial
being singing a lullaby to the coyotes lurking in their dens."

As they drew nearer those in advance could make out some of the
words of the song. The guide pointed to a rock, behind which Ping
was cooking supper, and held up a hand to indicate that the party
was to stop and listen.

"What on earth, is he saying?" wondered Nora Wingate.

"I should call it a heathen version of 'Little Jack Horner,'"
suggested Miss Briggs.

Hi nodded.

"Listen!" urged Grace. "I want to hear it. Perhaps he will sing it
again."

The guide said that when Ping got started on a song he ordinarily
kept it up for some time unless interrupted.

"Sh--h--h!" warned Grace as Emma began to laugh. "He is singing
again."

Ping, in a high falsetto voice that was almost a screech, sang:

"Littee Jack Horner Makee sit inside corner, Chow-chow he Clismas
pie; He put inside t'um, Hab catchee one plum, Hai yah! what one
good chilo (child) my!"

The Overland girls, unable longer to contain their laughter, burst
into a shout of merriment. The song ceased instantly, and a moment
later Ping appeared at the top of the rock, clad in a white linen
suit, the blouse, with its wide-flowing sleeves, being cut in
native Chinese fashion The queue, which Ping had declined to part
was tucked into a side pocket, being all braided up and shiny,
like a snake.

The Chinaman, in greeting, bowed and scraped and smiled and shook
hands with himself cordially.

"Hulloa, Ping Pong! Is supper ready?" called Hippy jovially.

"Him come along, top-side piecee Heaven pidgin man," answered the
Chinaman without an instant's hesitation, which, being freely
translated, meant, "Supper is ready, high Heaven-born man." The
retort brought a peal of laughter from the girls and a flush to
the face of Hippy.

"All right, old top. You win," was the way Hippy confessed his
defeat.

It was a happy, laughing group that rode around the rock and into
the camp where odors of cooking food, and the smiling face of Ping
Wing, met them. Horses were quickly unsaddled and tethered, then
the guide introduced his charges. Ping shook hands with himself at
each introduction, and smiled and bowed with a profound grace that
would have done credit at a king's reception.

"You belongee plenty smart inside," was his greeting to Grace
Harlowe, which she interpreted correctly, Ping having meant to
convey that, in his opinion, she was an intelligent woman.

"Thank you. Is mess ready?"

"Les. You belongee one time Flance!" he questioned, touching the
sleeve of her Red Cross uniform.

"Yes, we all were in France. I drove an ambulance there; Mr.
Wingate was an aviator, and the other young ladies worked in
hospitals and canteens. How do you know about France?"

"Me cook-man in Melican army. No likee war. Belongee too muchee
number one blam, blam!"

"You mean the shooting? You mean you did not like to have the big
German shells come over?" smiled the Overland girl.

"No likee."

Hippy's appetite was getting the better him and at this juncture
he voiced his desire for food.

"Come, come, Ping. We are hungry. Rustle some grub for us, for we
may wish to on our way," urged Hi Lang.

Ping, thus reminded of his duty, hurriedly gathered the mess kits
of the party and soon produced a really fine supper, which the
Overlanders ate sitting on the ground.

"Are you people pretty tired?" questioned Grace.

A chorus of yeses answered her. Elfreda Briggs said she was so
lame that she would be glad never to look at a saddle again, and
Emma Dean declared that her body felt as if it had been
sandpapered.

"I have been thinking that perhaps we had better make camp right
here and go on to the desert some time to-morrow. Will that
interfere with your plans Mr. Lang?" asked Grace.

The guide said it would not, and the girls of the party eagerly
urged that they be permitted to stay where they were and have a
good night's rest, so it was decided to pitch their little tents
on the spot and lay up for the night.

"Ping tells me that a man visited this camp late in the afternoon
and asked a great many questions," Hi Lang then informed them.
"The caller, according to Ping, showed a heap of interest in what
we were here for, where we were going and what we proposed to do,
and said that the best thing for you ladies to do would be to turn
about and go back to Elk Run. Do you know of any one who might be
interested in heading off your journey over the desert, Mrs.
Gray?" he asked, bending a searching look on Grace.

"I do not, Mr. Lang. If I did it would make no difference in our
plans. Ping may be mistaken about the man's motive."

The guide shook his head.

"Ping Wing is not easily deceived. He the caller was a 'number one
blad man,' only he expressed it with some further words to
emphasize his point. There's something about this business that I
don't like. I'll keep my eyes peeled."

"Don't worry, Hi," soothed Hippy. "This outfit can take care of
any bad characters that get in its way. I--"

"Merciful Heaven! What's that!" cried Emma Dean.

"Ping is in trouble!" cried Elfreda.

A shrill screeching, accompanied by the clatter of tinware, a
struggle, then two quick shots brought the Overlanders to their
feet. There was a quick rush toward the scene of the disturbance,
the guide, Grace and Hippy in the lead as they ran stumbling over
the rough ground in the darkness.



CHAPTER V

STALKING A MOUNTAIN MYSTERY


"Ping! Ping!" shouted the guide.

"Where are you, Ping Pong?" added Lieutenant Wingate.

A groan revealed the Chinaman's presence. They found him sitting
on the ground, rocking back and forth holding the thumb of his
right hand. A brief examination revealed that a bullet had clipped
off the end of the thumb.

"I observe that we have started in early," declared Miss Briggs.
"Who did it?"

"That's what I want to know," growled Hi Lang.

"Let me dress the wound, then you can question him," suggested
Elfreda.

This having been done, Ping was led into camp and placed with his
back against a rock where the light of the campfire lighted up his
countenance.

"Tell me what happened!" demanded the guide.

"Big piecee man come 'long. Him clawl like dog. Him listen to what
say."

"To what we were saying!" interjected Grace.

"Les. Him bad piecee man."

Hi Lang and Grace exchanged glances of inquiry. Each was wondering
what the meaning of what Ping had discovered, might be.

"What then!" urged Mr. Lang.

"Him clawl like a dog."

"So you said," piped Emma Dean.

"Me clawl like dog too. One timee me tlow can tlomatoes and hab
hit piecee man on head."

"You threw a can of tomatoes and hit him on the head?" nodded the
guide, whereupon Emma Dean laughed, but no one paid the slightest
heed to her. "What did the man do then!"

"Him jlump. Me hit piecee man with flying pan; then me run. Him
shoot--blam, blam! and run away. Hab hit thumb. Hab makee me stop,
and run away. Why for big piecee man makee so fashion?"

"We do not know why, Ping. That is what we are trying to find
out," answered Grace Harlowe. "Can you tell us how the man
looked!"

The Chinaman shook his head.

"What would you advise, Mr. Lang!" she asked.

"We must beat up about the camp to make certain that he is not
hiding near, then I will stand the watch to-night so that he may
not surprise us. I will get out the rifles, but be careful that you
don't shoot each other. In case you discover some one prowling,
make them stand and put up their hands, then call for assistance.
Ping, you will stay here. Three of us will be sufficient to go
out."

"Whom do you wish to accompany you?" asked Grace.

"You and the lieutenant will go, if agreeable to you."

"It will be more agreeable to go than to stay. Elfreda, you will
please watch the camp," directed Grace. "If disturbed, you know
what to do."

Rifles were laid on the ground by the campfire, Hi, Hippy and
Grace having decided that the rifles would be cumbersome to carry,
and that their revolvers would be much more serviceable. After Hi
Lang had given final instructions as to how they were to operate,
the three started out and soon were out of sight of their
companions.

A new moon, fast sinking into the west, shed a faint light over
the mountains, bringing out the bare spots and deepening the
shadows cast by rocks and trees. The stalkers laid their course by
the moon so that they might keep going in one direction and not
get in each other's way, though some little distance separated
them, and only now and then did they come within speaking distance
of one another.

Not a sound did the guide make as he moved forward. Grace was
almost equally quiet in her movement, but now and then Hippy
Wingate would stumble, followed by a grunt or a growl of disgust
that might have been heard several yards away.

Hippy, being between the guide and Grace, knew that two pairs of
ears were alert for any fumbling on his part, which irritated more
than it helped him to be quiet.

Grace finally halted at the edge of an open space, faintly lighted
by the moon's rays, and waited watchfully before attempting to
cross the open spot. Crouching low, she gazed and listened, every
faculty on the alert. The Overland Rider's heart gave a jump when
she saw something move out there behind a clump of bushes.

With revolver at ready, she waited, then leveled the weapon as
something moved out from behind the bushes.

"A coyote," she whispered to herself. "He hasn't heard me."

He heard her whisper, however. The alert ears tilted forward as
the beast halted; then he bounded away and disappeared in a
twinkling.

Grace was now well satisfied that she was proceeding with
sufficient caution. If she could approach a keen-eared coyote
without disturbing it, how much easier would it be to stalk a
human being. Having decided upon this, Grace got up and stepped
into the moonlit space, feeling more confidence in herself.

She had barely reached the middle of the open space when, from the
other side, and plainly at close range, a revolver banged. She
heard the bullet, as it sped past her head too close for comfort.

Without an instant's hesitation, Grace fired two shots from her
revolver at the flash made by the other weapon, then throwing
herself on the ground, wriggled away into a shadow and lay flat on
the ground, screened by the short shrubbery and the unevenness of
the ground.

Two shots were now fired from the other weapon, aimed, as nearly
as she could see, at the place where she had thrown herself down.
To the last two shots Grace made no reply. She lay waiting, hoping
that the person who had fired them, would come out and show
himself.

This he was too wary to do, and finally, becoming impatient, she
groped for a stone, and, finding a small piece of rock, flipped it
into the air, so that it might fall some little distance from her,
hoping thereby to draw the other's fire.

Still there was no response from her adversary.

"He must have slipped away, and here I have been waiting all this
time, afraid of what proves to be nothing. I'm going to start on,"
decided the Overland girl.

Instead of getting up where she was, Grace crawled further to the
right for some little distance, until she was in a heavier shadow.
There she arose cautiously, weapon at ready, prepared to see a
flash and hear the report of a weapon.

Not a sound nor a movement followed her revealing herself. Grace
now pushed on with still greater caution than before, but rather
more rapidly, believing that her companions by this time had
gained a considerable lead over her.

The moon was getting lower, Grace observed, and soon the range
would be enveloped in darkness, though she was certain that she
could find her way back by the stars, from which she already had
taken her bearings.

In the meantime, Hi Lang, having heard the exchange of shots, had
started for the scene at a long, loping trot, now and then giving
an agreed upon signal whistle to warn Lieutenant Wingate of his
approach.

Hippy had heard the shots too, but his orders were to keep his
position and continue on until directed to stop. As Hi got within
speaking distance of him, Hippy challenged.

"Move forward and keep going until I fire three signal shots to
call you in," directed the guide. "The man may run along the
ridge. Wing him if you see him. He may have shot Mrs. Gray. Both
of them fired. There they go again!" Hi Lang was off at top speed.

Grace, in the meantime, thinking that she had heard a twig snap,
halted sharply. Then, to her amazement, a man stepped out into the
light a few yards to the rear of her. She saw him the instant he
emerged from the shadows, and he was looking in the direction of
the Overland camp.

"Now I have you!" muttered Grace Harlowe, taking a cautious step
toward the man who was standing with his back toward her.

"Put up your hands! I have you covered!" she commanded sharply.

The man whirled like a flash and fired point blank at the Overland
girl. Grace fired almost in the same instant. So close was he to
her when he fired that she imagined she could feel the hot powder
strike her face.

Each fired again. It was close quarters for Grace. She sprang to
the right hoping to disconcert her adversary and make a more
difficult mark for him to hit. He pulled the trigger of his
revolver, and, at that second, Grace, uttering a little gasp,
toppled over, half turning as she plunged forward with arms
outstretched.

Black night instantly enveloped the Overland Rider, nor did she
hear a rattling exchange of shots that followed almost instantly
after her fall, for consciousness had left her.



CHAPTER VI

INTO THE GREAT SILENCE


Hi Lang had reached the scene just as the last shots were being
fired by Grace and her adversary. The guide had seen neither of
the combatants, but he had seen the flashes of their revolvers.

At first he was not certain which was which, but in a moment the
man who had been shooting at Grace revealed himself for a second.
It was then that the guide took a hand.

Hi Lang was a quick and accurate hand with both revolver and
rifle, and he feared no man, nor collection of men. At his second
shot he heard his man utter an exclamation and knew that he had
scored a hit. For the next several minutes the two indulged in
snap-shooting, firing at the slightest sound or movement; then the
mysterious stranger suddenly ceased firing.

The guide was cautious. He did not take advantage of the lull in
hostilities for some little time, and when he did he crawled to
one side and crept noiselessly around to the position that the
stranger had occupied when he had fired his last shot. The man had
disappeared.

Mr. Lang was anxious about Grace Harlowe, but it might be
equivalent to suicide to search for her until he had satisfied
himself that his adversary was either wounded or had gone away.
Finally, having searched all the surrounding bushes and rocks and
finding no one, he returned to the scene of the shooting, softly
calling to the Overland girl.

There was no response.

Hi stood still for a moment trying to recall where he had seen the
flash of her weapon.

"It must have been about where I am standing now. I--"

Hi Lang suddenly disappeared from sight. The guide had fallen into
a crevice in the rocks, a crevice that had been hidden by dwarf
shrubs and mountain grass, and it seemed a long way to the bottom.
Hi bumped his way to the bottom at the expense of some bruises and
a badly ruffled temper.

"Hulloa!" he exclaimed. "What's this?"

He had touched something that was not rock--something that felt
like a human form. The guide struck a match and peered down at
Grace Harlowe, who lay face down at the bottom, and, as he turned
her face up to the light, he saw flecks of blood on it.

"The hound! He hit her! I'll kill him for that, whoever he may
be!"

Placing a hand over Grace's heart, Hi Lang found that she was
alive.

"Thank God for that! Give me the luck to meet the critter that did
this thing," breathed the desert guide.

Hi lifted the unconscious Overland girl in his arms and began
scrambling toward the top of the big crevice. Finding that he
could not make it without freeing one hand, he slipped an arm
about Grace's waist, holding her with it while he used his free
hand to assist him in climbing to the top. He reached it a little
out of breath.

Without giving a thought now to the peril he was inviting by
showing himself so boldly, Hi stepped out into the open space,
raised his revolver and fired three shots into the air, the signal
of recall for Lieutenant Wingate. Then, gathering Grace in his
arms, he started for the camp in long strides, raging silently at
the ruffian who had tried to kill her.

Elfreda, who was on watch just outside of their camp, heard him
coming and challenged.

"It's Hi. I've got Mrs. Gray."

"Is--is she hurt?" questioned Elfreda more calmly than she felt.

"She's been shot, but she's alive."

Miss Briggs ran to meet the guide, and, walking along at his side,
she placed a finger on Grace's pulse and held it there until they
reached the camp. Nora, Anne and Emma paled as they caught sight
of the limp figure in Hi Lang's arms.

"Who shot her!" asked Elfreda.

"The critter who tried to kill Ping, I suppose."

"Oh, this is terrible!" wailed Emma.

"Get water," directed Miss Briggs, after the guide had placed her
where the light from the fire would shine in her face.

Nora fetched water from the spring near which the camp had been
pitched, and Elfreda bathed the wound that she found on Grace's
head. Elfreda's hospital training during the war, in France, had
already stood her in good stead on several occasions since her
return from Europe.

"This is not a gunshot wound," she announced after a critical
examination of the patient's head.

"Not--not a gunshot--" exclaimed Hi.

"No. It is a severe scalp wound, however."

"What made it, then?" demanded the guide.

"Either she has been struck over the head or she has fallen and
bumped her head against the sharp edge of a rock," answered Miss
Briggs.

The Overland girls drew long breaths of relief.

"I found her in a hole in the ground. Fell into it myself. That's
where she got hurt," said Hi. "She and that critter were shooting
at each other when I came up, then all at once the shooting
stopped. I got in a few shots on him myself. Reckon I winged him
for he quit pretty soon after I got there. What do you think?"

Elfreda, still noting Grace's pulse and peering into her face,
nodded encouragingly, and placed her smelling salts under Grace's
nostrils.

"I feared it might be a fracture, but I believe it is not that
bad. Concussion is the word. She must have struck hard, and it is
a wonder she did not break her neck. You see how the neck is
swollen. Her pulse is getting stronger, and I think she will be
out of her faint in a few moments."

Grace regained consciousness shortly after that, but she was still
dizzy and weak from the severe shock of her fall and the loss of
quite a little blood.

"Where--where was I hit!" was her first question, weakly asked.

"You were not hit anywhere," replied Elfreda. "You fell into a
hole and landed on your head. Mr. Lang, will you carry her to her
tent? She must be quiet for the rest of the night, and it won't do
for us to start across the desert until she has had a good rest."

"That suits me. I've got a little job on hand for the morning.
Here's the lieutenant," he added, as Hippy came in, wiping the
perspiration from his forehead.

"What's this! Brown Eyes knocked out again?" he demanded.

"She fell down and hurt herself," answered Elfreda.

"What was the shooting, Hi?"

"Mrs. Gray and that critter out there were doing it. I reckon she
pinked the pirate, for he was shooting with his left hand when he
opened up on me. I reckon I touched him up too, and, getting
enough of it, he cleared out. I'll get him for that," added Hi,
gathering Grace up and carrying her to her tent. "To-morrow we'll
go out and see if we can't round up that critter. Can't do
anything to-night except to see that he doesn't do any more damage
to this outfit."

"I think I'd like to get a shot at him myself," observed Hippy.

"There, Mrs. Gray! You keep quiet. If there's any more scouting to
be done this evening, the lieutenant and I will do it," directed
the guide, laying down his burden.

Hippy nodded.

"Lieutenant, what do you think of this business? Are you certain
that you folks haven't any enemies!" asked Mr. Lang when the two
had walked out beyond the camp and sat down to talk over the
affair.

"Not that I know of, in these parts, Hi."

"It's mighty queer. I can't figure it out," pondered the guide.

"Have you any?" asked Hippy carelessly.

"Reckon I have plenty. They know better'n to cross my trail,
though."

"It strikes me, Hi, old man, that one of them crossed your trail
this evening," chuckled Hippy Wingate.

The guide made no reply then, and for some moments thereafter
occupied himself with his own thoughts.

"You asked me just now if I had any enemies. I'll say this, Lieu--"

BANG! BANG!

Two quick shots were fired from behind Hippy and the guide. One
bullet passed between the two men, the other clipped the crown, of
Lieutenant Wingate's sombrero.

The answer came, it seemed, within a second after the two shots.
Hippy and the guide leaped to their feet, drawing their revolvers
as they did so, and emptying them into the bushes, firing low and
trying to cover all the ground where a man might be lurking.

"As you were about to say," drawled Hippy, slipping another clip
of ammunition into his revolver.

"That there is one man who might and would get me if he thought he
could get away with it. But why should he wish to shoot a woman?
Crawl out to the left and then go in and let the folks know
everything is all right now. I'm going to hang around a bit and
try to tease that cayuse into shooting at me again."

"They're at it again," complained Grace Harlowe in her tent. "Go
out, Elfreda, am see if any one is hit."

Hippy was reassuring the girls when Elfreda came out.

"Humph!" exclaimed Miss Briggs. "We surely are making a brilliant
start. I think I shall be glad to get on the desert. One can see
such a long way there. Grace is anxious to know about those shots,
so I will run in and tell her. Are you going out again, Hippy?"

"Not unless I get a word from Hi. You see I do not know where he
is, and it would not be safe for either of us were we both to be
out there without either knowing where the other is."

Ping, wide-eyed, was an eager listener to what Lieutenant Wingate
had to say, but he made no comment, and no song that fitted the
situation found expression on his lips.

An hour passed, and the guide had not returned. The girls were
getting anxious, but Hippy said that, no shots having been heard,
it was safe to assume that no one could have been hit.

No one had, and all this time Hi Lang, almost within sound of
their voices, had been lying flat on top of a rock, listening with
every faculty on the alert. For two hours the guide remained in
one position, watching, waiting and eagerly hoping.

"One shot--just one second when I can see my mark, is all I ask,"
he muttered. "I'll get that shot yet!"

A few moments later Hi crept down from his hiding place and
returned to camp, on the alert every second of the way for the
report of a revolver and the whistle of a bullet.

"This beats me," he declared in answer to Hippy's question as to
whether or not he had discovered anything. "You folks turn in,
How's Mrs. Gray?"

"Asleep," answered Miss Briggs. "I think she will be ready for a
start some time to-morrow."

The guide told Lieutenant Wingate to turn in also, saying that he
would watch the camp through the night, so the Overland Riders
went to bed for what sleep they could get, but they passed a
restless night, starting up at every sound, listening for the
report of rifle or revolver or a call for help. Nothing disturbing
occurred. Shortly after daylight, Grace got up and dressed and
went out to breathe in the invigorating, sweet mountain air. She
felt strong and able to meet whatever emergency she might be
called upon to face.

Hi Lang was nowhere in sight. Ping, who was fussing with a cook
fire preparatory to getting breakfast, shook his head when Grace
asked him where the guide was.

"No can tell," he said, caressing his injured hand.

Breakfast was served at seven o'clock, but long before that Grace
had been out looking for trail signs and finding some, though she
could not tell whether they had been left by a prowler or by one
of her own party.

It was eleven o'clock that forenoon when Hi Lang strode into camp,
his rifle slung under one arm, a heavy revolver on either hip.

The greeting of the girls brought a smile to the face of the
guide. They were relieved and glad to see him, and he saw it. He
also was glad to be with them once more, for, in the brief time he
had known them, he had grown to feel a genuine affection for these
bright-eyed, plucky young women who preferred to spend their
vacation on his beloved desert rather than dance away the weeks of
their vacation at some fashionable summer resort.

"Mr. Lang, where have you been?" cried Emma Dean.

"Out looking for game," he answered briefly, laying aside his
rifle.

"Did you find it?" asked Grace smilingly.

"No. Ping, bring me some chow. How you feeling this morning, Mrs.
Gray?" he asked after he had begun eating his breakfast.

"Fit and fine, sir. You found a trail, I take it," she added in a
lower voice.

"Yes." Hi gave her a quick look of appreciation for her keenness.
"You hit your man all right. I found blood where he was standing
when you two were shooting at each other. I also found the trail,
further on, the trail of the same man and another. There were two
of them."

"I wonder which, one it was that put a hole through my perfectly
new hat," grumbled Hippy.

"At least one of them has left the range," resumed the guide. "I
found the trail of a pony and footprints of one man on the other
side of the range, but what became of the other fellow, I don't
know. I'm going out again after breakfast and look further. Do you
feel like making a start to-day?"

"Yes. I think we should be moving," replied Grace.

"We'll leave after chow this evening. Better get what rest you can
to-day. Lieutenant, I wish you would stick around and see that the
camp is not bothered."

"If you need him, Mr. Lang, we can protect ourselves. Do not worry
about us," interjected Grace.

"Don't need him. Ping, put some grub in my pack, then I'm off."

After the guide's departure time dragged rather heavily for the
girls. Later in the day Grace took her pony out for a gallop and
felt better for the change. At four o'clock Mr. Lang came in, and,
though he had been up all night and had been hiking in the
mountains all day long since early morning, he appeared fresh and
alert.

"Pack up and get out!" he ordered, nodding to Ping Wing. "Serve
the grub on our mess kits first. Follow the foothills and we will
catch up with you. I give it up, folks. This mystery has got to
solve itself. It's too much for me."

"Don't worry, Mr. Lang. If our friend the mystery man keeps at us
long enough we shall catch him. I wish we knew why he is bothering
us so," said Grace. "I should prefer to stay here until we solve
the mystery, but we must be on our way, and perhaps he may follow
us."

"That sounds interesting," observed Miss Briggs.

Ping and his lazy burros started about an hour before the rest of
the party got under way, and when they did get under way they
jogged along slowly through the foothills of the range, where the
going was fairly easy. The guide said they should come up with
Ping before dark, and that they would, after having mess, then
continue on at a slower pace until they reached a suitable camping
place for the night.

Dusk was upon them when they finally overtook the Chinaman, who
was sitting on the rump of a burro chattering to his mount to get
him to go faster, but without much success. The ponies of the
party then took the lead, which, Hi Lang said, would induce the
burros to move faster in an effort to keep up, but it was a much
slower pace than the Overland Riders were in the habit of
traveling, that they now dropped into.

Night enveloped the outfit suddenly, it seemed to them, and with
the cool of the evening their spirits rose. Even Ping's spirits
rose, until he forgot his aching thumb and broke into song.

The ground began to slope away under the hoofs of the horses, for
they were now moving down a sharp descent, and the air seemed to
take on a strange new quality, a new odor. No longer could the
girls hear the rustling of foliage. A great and impressive silence
settled over them, in which even the footfalls of the ponies were
soft and subdued. Glancing up, they saw the stars shining with a
brilliancy that none of the party had ever observed before.

The chatter of the Overland Riders died away, and Ping Wing's song
died away, also, in a throaty gurgle.

"What is it?" cried Emma Dean. "I feel queer, and my pony is
trembling. Oh, Grace, I'm afraid of something."

Grace knew what it was that was disturbing Emma, for she felt
something of the same sensation that Emma was experiencing, but
she made no reply.

"It is the desert!" answered the guide solemnly. "It is the
mystery of the desert, a mystery that no man can solve. Perhaps it
is the mystery of centuries; perhaps it is the spirits of the
thousands who have perished here on this sweet, cruel sea of
burning sand, that have come back to warn us living ones of the
fate that may be in store for us who dare."

"The mystery of the desert," murmured Grace Harlowe, but Hi Lang
spoke no more. His lips seemed sealed, though could they have seen
his face they would have observed a new and more tender expression
there, and seen him inhale in deep breaths, heavy draughts of the
faintly scented air of the desert that he both loved and hated.



CHAPTER VII

THE FIRST DESERT CAMP


"How far do we go to-night?" asked Grace, after a long silence,
during which the party moved steadily forward.

"Until we find a tank," was the brief reply uttered by Hi Lang.

"What's that he says?" questioned Hippy.

"Mr. Lang says that we must keep on going until we reach a tank,
whatever that may be," answered Grace. "Will you please explain,
Mr. Lang?"

"Tank is a water hole covered by a thin crust of alkali. Sometimes
the crust is there but the water isn't," the guide informed her.

"Do you know where to find one?" questioned Hippy.

"I know where one ought to be, but you can't most always tell.
Ought to reach this one about midnight. If we get water there we
will be all right. Go easy with your canteens, for if we shouldn't
find water you will need what you have."

"Mine is all gone now," spoke up Emma Dean. "May I have a drink of
yours, Grace? My throat is burning."

"One little swallow," admonished Grace, passing her canteen to
Emma. "You heard what the guide said."

"Yes, you'll wish you were a camel before you have done with this
journey," added Lieutenant Wingate.

Too weary to talk, Anne and Nora were nodding on their saddles,
but Elfreda was wide awake and alert, filled with a wonder that
was akin to awe at the vast mysteriousness of the desert night.

It was shortly after midnight when Hi Lang halted and sat
surveying his surroundings.

"Dismount and rest!" was his brief command.

The Overland girls slid from their saddles, and the guide, after
handing his bridle-rein to Ping, strode off into the darkness.

"Oh, this is terrible!" wailed Emma. "I know I shall expire."

"Good! Then we shall have a little peace," retorted Hippy
laughingly.

"Don't," begged Grace. "The poor girl really is suffering, but
when she gets used to the heat and discomforts out here I think
she will really enjoy it." Grace petted the wet neck of her pony
and he nosed her cheek and nibbled at the brim of her sombrero.
"How do you feel, Elfreda?"

"As if I had been wearing a mustard-plaster suit. I am burned from
head to foot."

"Yes, that's the way I feel," cried Emma. "What is good for it,
Grace?"

"Sand," interjected Miss Briggs, which sally caused a laugh and
made the girls feel better.

At this juncture Hi Lang came up to them, walking briskly.

"Stake down and make camp," he ordered.

"You have water?" questioned Hippy.

"Yes. Ping! Hustle your bones. Get some firewood and make a blaze
so we can see what we're doing. When that is ready, get supper
ready, and then pitch the camp."

"Firewood!" scoffed Hippy. "I should like to know where you are
going to find it?"

"Sagebrush! Plenty of that hereabouts."

Hippy could not understand how a fire could be made from green
sagebrush, but he waited to be shown before making further
comments. In a few moments the Chinaman had a little fire blazing,
the guide and Hippy, in the meantime, having staked down the
ponies and relieved the burros of their packs. The burros were
left to roam where they would, Hi assuring his charges that the
pack animals were too lazy to run away.

The girls, while Ping was preparing a light supper for them, set
to work to pitch the tents. Carrying canvas buckets, Hippy and the
guide then hurried to the water hole.

"It won't do to wait for the water, for it has a habit, in this
country, of suddenly disappearing while you wait," explained Hi.

"Yes, but where's the water?" wondered Lieutenant Wingate, as Hi
got down in a hole that he had opened by breaking down the crust
with his boots.

"Give me that blanket and I'll show you," he said, reaching for a
canvas square, which he spread out in the opening and pressed down
with his hands.

In a few moments water began seeping up through the blanket, which
was so placed that it was lower in the middle than at the sides.

"That beats me," marveled Hippy. "How did you know there was water
here?"

"I didn't. I knew where I found it the last time I was this way,
but that didn't mean it would be here this time. These desert
underground streams shift their courses almost as often as the
wind does. Hand me a bucket."

Two buckets were finally filled and passed up to Hippy.

"Water the ponies first. Give them only a little at first. They're
too warm to drink their fill. When you come back bring the red
buckets for water for us to drink," directed the guide.

Hippy, marveling at the ways of the desert, took the buckets and
began watering the ponies. The two bucketfuls answered for four of
them, and by the time he returned to the water hole Hi had two
more bucketfuls ready for him. In this way all the ponies and the
burros were supplied with water, and Hi, working as fast as he
could, filled all the buckets for the night's use of man and
beast, then scrambled out of the water hole.

"I hope we still find water here in the morning," he said.

"What if we do not?"

"Then we go without it, Lieutenant. One has to get used to thirst
out here. You will see many a dry day before we finish our
journey."

"Hm--m--m--m!" mused Hippy reflectively.

"Him come along," cried Ping Wing in a shrill voice, meaning that
supper was ready, as the two men with their water buckets entered
the camp.

"Four meals a day, eh?" grinned Hippy. "That is what I call the
proper thing. I shall have to readjust myself so as to know how to
live on four meals a day, but I am so hungry now that you can see
right through me."

"We always could," teased Miss Briggs.

Now that the supper was ready, Ping piled more sagebrush on the
fire and made a blaze that lighted up the little desert camp, its
white tents standing out clearly defined in the light and
appearing very small. Just beyond them the "crunch, crunch" of the
ponies' teeth as they tore at the sage, which was to be their only
food for a long time to come, could be heard, and it really was a
soothing sound in this sea of silence and mystery.

There was bacon, biscuit with honey, and tea for their midnight
luncheon. Emma and Hippy were first to try the bacon, but no
sooner did they taste of it than they began to choke and sputter.

"Awful! What stuff are you feeding me?" cried Emma.

"Yes, some one is trying to poison us," groaned Hippy.

"What's the matter?" grinned the guide.

"It is the most awful stuff I ever put in my mouth, so bitter I
simply can't eat it," complained Emma.

Grace smiled. She had nibbled at a slice of bacon and knew
instantly what caused its bitter taste.

"Alkali," the guide told them. "Everything you eat and drink out
here will taste bitter, but time you will not notice the bitter
taste."

Emma uttered a suppressed wail. There were complaints from each of
the other girls, except Grace, who, though she disliked that
bitter taste as much as did her companions, was too plucky to
voice her dislike.

"You must make certain that your tents are cleared of tarantulas
before you take off your shoes, folks. If you get out of bed in
the night be certain to put your shoes on first so you do not step
on one of the pesky fellows," warned the guide.

"Any other cheerful little features about this camp that you can
think of?" asked Hippy solemnly.

"Plenty, but I'll tell you about them some other time, unless you
discover them for yourselves before then."

"I wish to goodness that I had gone to the seashore where the
worst that can happen to one is to be pinched by a crab or to
drown in the surf," complained Emma.

A laugh cleared the atmosphere, and the girls, immediately after
supper, prepared for bed, which they welcomed eagerly; and soon
after that the camp settled down for the night, enveloped in deep
and profound silence. A gentle breeze, sweetly cool after the
burning heat of the day, crept in and lulled the tired Overlanders
to sleep.

Now and then the silence was broken by the far off echoing scream
of a prowling coyote or the distant hoot of an owl. But the
Overlanders did not hear. They were sleeping soundly, storing up
energy for the coming day, a day that was destined to be filled
with hardships and excitement and peril for them.



CHAPTER VIII

CALLERS DROP IN


Heat waves were shimmering over the eastern horizon when the
Overland girls awakened next morning. The guide had been up since
daybreak fetching "bitter water," as the girls called it, and
serving it to the ponies and burros.

"Whew!" exclaimed Elfreda. "This looks like a warm day."

"Regular Russian bath day," agreed Anne Nesbit.

"I fear we girls will not have any complexions left after this
journey," added Nora Wingate. "I wonder if that husband of mine is
still asleep?"

"Hippy is always sleeping--when he isn't awake or eating,"
declared Emma ambiguously, causing a laugh at her expense.

"You folks made a mistake that time," chuckled Hippy from the
adjoining tent.

"Everybody makes mistakes. That's why they put erasers on lead
pencils," retorted Emma quickly.

"Good night!" they heard Hippy Wingate mutter, after which he
relapsed into silence, while a shout of laughter greeted Emma's
sally.

"Come, girls, turn out," urged Grace. "We have a day ahead of us."

Breakfast was ready when they emerged from their tents, and this
time they ate without complaining of the bitter taste of food and
water.

The sun came up while they were at breakfast, lighting up the
cheerless landscape and whitening the sands. The mountain range
where they first camped had disappeared in the distance and they
were alone in the burning silence. Ahead, here and there, ugly
buttes lay baking in the morning heat, some showing a variety of
dazzling colors, others a dull leaden gray.

"How far do we go to-day, Hi?" questioned Lieutenant Wingate.

"Until we find water," was the brief, but significant reply.

After breakfast, and while Ping, singing happily, was striking
camp and packing the equipment on the burros, Mr. Lang and Hippy
brought in and saddled the ponies, turning each one over to its
rider as it was made ready; then the start was made. Hippy
Wingate, the girls observed, held a small package under one arm,
which he guarded so carefully that it aroused the curiosity of his
companions, but Hippy merely grinned in response to their
questioning.

As the sun rose higher the heat became well nigh unbearable to
some of the party, and especially to Emma, if one were to judge by
her bitter complaints. Emma declared that she never could live
through it, and Grace began to have doubts herself with reference
to her little friend.

As they progressed, the landscape grew more and more desolate and
forbidding. Gaunt ravens soared staring over the wan plains, hairy
tarantulas now and then hopped from the path of the ponies, and
the "side-winder"--the deadly horned rattlesnake, which gets its
name from its peculiar side-long motion as it crawls across the
burning sands--squirmed out of the way, following snorts of fear
from the ponies.

They halted at noon, for a rest and a light luncheon, near one of
the barren buttes. Grace asked if it would not be possible to find
a resting place on the butte where they might shade under a rock.
Hi Lang shook his head.

"Too many snakes up there," he replied. "Dangerous!"

"Br--r--r--r--r!" shivered Emma.

The water carried in canvas receptacles on the burros was
apportioned among the horses and burros, but there was only a
small quantity left for each animal, not more than a quart apiece.
This, however, was enough to take the keen edge from their thirst.

Following the resumption of the journey, Hippy carefully unwrapped
his package, eager eyes observing the operation. The girls gasped
when he threw the wrapping paper away and revealed a dainty blue
silk parasol, which he raised and held over his head.

"Every man his own shade tree," chuckled Hippy. "If any of you
ladies find you are being overcome by the desert heat, you are at
liberty to ride in the shadow cast by my Christmas tree."

"You are very considerate. We thank you," answered Anne.

"Selfish!" rebuked Emma.

Hi Lang laughed silently, but made no comment. Neither heat nor
hardship appeared to affect him unpleasantly. Hi, Grace observed,
appeared always to be in a listening attitude, as if he were
expecting something or some one. Grace asked him why he did so,
but the guide merely smiled and rode on with head slightly tilted
to one side, listening, listening!

Early in the afternoon the guide began looking for water, now and
then dismounting to search about for a tank, breaking in crusts of
alkali, putting an ear to the ground to listen for the murmur of
an underground stream, or feeling with his hands over several
yards of hot sand in search of a cool spot that might indicate
water.

"Nothing doing yet," he announced. "There ought to be a tank about
five miles further on."

However, they had journeyed on ten miles more before a promising
spot was reached, and the guide and Hippy began to dig for the
precious water that Hi said surely was somewhere below them.

They found it finally, but there was so little of it that he was
not certain that they would get enough for their ponies. There was
but little water left in the canteens, none at all in the bags,
and it became necessary to find a supply sufficient for both
ponies and riders.

"Every drop here is precious," warned the guide. "Be careful that
you do not spill any."

Water was first carried to the ponies, small quantities being
given to them as before, the girls assisting in the operation, and
the supply was getting alarmingly low when Grace, returning from
carrying a quart to Blackie, suddenly halted and gazed off across
the desert.

A cloud of dust, that appeared to be approaching, had attracted
her attention. The Overland girl wondered if it was a wind-squall,
such as she had heard was quite common on the desert. After
watching it for a few moments she decided to speak to the guide
and call his attention to it.

"I see it. It's horses," said Elfreda, stepping up beside Grace.

"Do you think so?"

"I know it is."

"Then your eyes are better than mine," answered Grace. "I suppose
it is some party headed for Elk Run. Mr. Lang!" she called.

"What is it?" demanded Hippy, who was standing over the hole in
which the guide was working.

"A party of horsemen coming this way, sir!"

"You don't say! That's right, Hi," said Hippy, speaking to Mr.
Lang. "Quite a bunch of them, too, I should say."

The guide's head appeared above the rim of the water hole and he
gazed searchingly at the oncoming alkali cloud.

"Bunch of cowboys or wild horse hunters," he observed. "Anyway,
we've got first claim on the water." Hi returned to his work and
Hippy resumed passing water to the girls, but kept the approaching
horsemen under observation, as did also Grace Harlowe.

"Those fellows are kicking up an awful lot of dust, it seems to
me," observed Nora Wingate.

"Yes, I hope they slow down before passing us," answered Anne. "I
have swallowed about all the dust to-day that I can digest."

Emma Dean, not to be outdone, declared that she too had swallowed
a lot of dust--so much of it that a good wind would blow her away
and sift her over the desert.

"You surely would be the plaything of the winds in that event,"
murmured Anne.

"They are heading directly for the camp," Hippy was saying to Hi
Lang, but the guide gave no heed. He wished to get all the water
out of the tank that he possibly could before the party reached
them, knowing very well that they, the newcomers, would also want
water.

A few moments later the desert riders galloped up on foaming
ponies. They were not a prepossessing looking lot, and the eight
men of the party carried rifles in their saddle boots and
revolvers on their hips.

"Water!" shouted the one who appeared to be the leader.

"Here's water, old top, but pass it around. We haven't much, of
the alkali beverage on hand this evening." Hippy handed up a
partially filled bucket to one man and another to the rest until
each man had been supplied.

"I'll take the buckets now," announced Hippy.

"Hey, you! Where you all headed for?" demanded Hi, straightening
up and surveying the newcomers narrowly.

"Reckon we might ask the same question of you. Who's them gals?"
questioned the leader.

"That is none of your business who they or we are!" retorted Hippy
Wingate sternly.

"Say, you fellow! Looking for trouble?!" demanded Hi in an even
voice.

"Pass that bucket to me!" commanded Hippy.

"Ye want thet bucket, hey?" leered the desert rider. Then, quick
as a flash he emptied the contents of it over Lieutenant Wingate's
head.

"Get ready for trouble," ordered Grace Harlowe sharply to Elfreda
Briggs, at the same time raising her right hand above her head, a
signal that Emma, Anne and Nora understood. It was the Overland
Riders' signal of distress and meant that all hands should
instantly prepare to defend themselves.

All the girls expected to see Hippy's revolver out of its holster
after that insult. Instead, the desert rider was violently yanked
from his saddle and stood on his head in the sand. So quick had
Lieutenant Wingate been in unhorsing the man that the ugly visitor
had not even time to draw his weapon.

Up to this juncture, Hi Lang had remained in the water hole,
industriously dipping up water, at the same time keeping a wary
eye on the progress of affairs above. He did not think best to
take a hand until hostilities actually began, knowing that were he
to spring out and draw his weapon, the desert riders would shoot
before his revolver was out of its holster.

Peering out cautiously he saw that every man of the desert riders
was resting a careless hand on the butt of his revolver. At the
same time Hi observed something else in the opposite direction.
Grace Harlowe and Elfreda Briggs had stepped up close to the water
hole and each was standing with a hand on her hip.

The situation was resting on a hair trigger, and, even in the
tenseness of the moment, Hi Lang found himself keenly interested
in what he saw--the Overland Riders in action.

The leader of the newcomers sprang to his feet raging. Hippy
Wingate, now close to the man, pushed the flat of his hand against
the fellow's face.

"Get off my desert, you imitation rough-neck," invited Hippy
sweetly. In the same breath he added in a savage tone: "Keep your
hand away from that gun!" emphasizing his command by thrusting the
muzzle of his own revolver against the desert rider's stomach.

The visitor's back was toward his companions, so that they did not
get the full import of what was taking place, but they looked
their amazement when they saw their leader turn his back on Hippy.
They did not know that he was doing this in obedience to
Lieutenant Wingate's order, nor that the leader's revolver at that
moment was in Hippy's hand, Hippy having slipped it from its
holster while still pressing his own weapon against the man who
had ducked him.

"I told you to get off my desert," said Hippy, incisively. "I've
changed my mind. I'm going to kick you off!"

Lieutenant Wingate retreated a step, sprang clear of the ground,
and with a kick that had sent many a ball over the goal, he kicked
the desert leader into the water hole. Hi Lang was not so
considerate. As the fellow scrambled to his feet, Hi laid him flat
on his back with a blow between the eyes that instantly put the
fellow to sleep.

The battle between the two parties of desert travelers was on in a
second.



CHAPTER IX

PIRATES GET A HOT RECEPTION


The desert riders, who had been laughing over their leader's
downfall after Hippy jerked him from his pony, suddenly awakened
to a realization that the scene they had witnessed had ceased to
become a joke.

The rider nearest to the water hole whipped out his revolver and
fired, but the bullet went over Hippy's head for the very good
reason that, expecting this very thing, he had ducked.

Hippy fired in return, hit the pony, and the rider tumbled off as
the pony went down.

Hi Lang was out of the water hole in a twinkling.

"Keep your hands off your guns!" he shouted to the visitors,
drawing his own weapon.

A bullet went through his hat. Another spun him around as it
furrowed the fleshy part of his left arm, but the man who had
fired the second shot got his reward in the next second. A bullet
from Grace Harlowe's revolver went through his shoulder.

"Let them have it!" commanded Hi Lang. "They're out to do us!"

Two rifles, in the hands of Anne and Nora, banged from the tent in
which they, with Emma Dean, were crouching, waiting for orders to
take a hand in the battle. Bullets were flying rather thickly, but
the desert riders' ponies, under the touching up they were getting
from the revolvers of the defenders, were making careful shooting
impossible for their riders. The defenders had the advantage of a
steady footing under them, and they were shooting with extreme
care, trying their best not to kill any one, but endeavoring to
punish the attackers, and to keep themselves from getting killed.

The grilling fire was getting too hot for the desert ruffians,
handy as they were with weapons and horses. Several, too, had been
hit or unhorsed, though the Overland party did not really know how
much damage they had done to the attackers.

"Shoot their ponies from under them!" commanded Hi Lang. "It's the
only way."

"No, no! Please, not that," protested Grace. "The ponies haven't
harmed us."

The guide shrugged his shoulders and, taking quick aim at a rider
who was jerking his rifle from the saddle boot, shot the fellow
out of his saddle.

Hi Lang's next shot downed a pony, its rider being thrown heavily
to the ground, where he lay stunned from the fall. Four men were
now down and a fifth, the leader of the party of ruffians, was
still in the water tank where Lieutenant Wingate had kicked him
and where the guide had then put him to sleep. The leader had long
since recovered consciousness, but, being unarmed, he wisely
decided to remain where he was, knowing very well that, were he to
try to reach his companions or his mount, he would be shot down.

There were now only three mounted men of the attacking party left
and these suddenly began galloping away from the water hole.

"Rifles!" called Hi.

Grace and Elfreda sped to their tent and quickly returned carrying
four rifles and ammunition. The guide had instantly divined the
purpose of the attackers in drawing off. They wished to get out of
revolver range of the Overlanders and then use their rifles on
them, but by the time the desert ruffians turned, facing the scene
of their late battle, Hi, Hippy, Grace and Elfreda were shooting
steadily with their rifles, pouring a hot fire into them.

One ruffian was seen to sway in his saddle and pitch to the
ground. One of his companions gathered him up, then, with the
wounded man across a saddle, the two remaining bandits galloped
away, leaving their fellows to whatever fate might be in store for
them.

"Cowards!" growled Hippy Wingate.

"No. Common prudence," answered the guide. "Help me get the
fellows who are down. Look out that they aren't playing possum.
Keep your gun in your hand and watch them. Mrs. Gray, will you
follow a short distance behind us, so that you may have all the
wounded men under observation?"

"Yes, Mr. Lang."

"If you see a suspicious move from any of them, shoot!"

"Yes, sir. Come along, Elfreda, your services probably will be
needed. Mr. Lang, you were hit. May we not do something for you
first?"

The guide shook his head and strode over to the water hole, into
which he peered.

"You stay where you are!" he commanded sternly, to which there was
no reply from the leader of the ruffians, who sat scowling up at
him. "Mrs. Nesbit! Watch that fellow and if he tries to get out,
drill him! He isn't fit to live anyway."

The two men, with Grace and Elfreda following, went out to disarm
and examine the men who had been downed. They found that two had
merely been stunned by falls, two others having been wounded in
shoulders and arms, with numerous bullet holes through their
clothing.

Elfreda examined their wounds and announced that none was
seriously hurt, but that the men ought to be taken where they
could have proper attention. Hi Lang laughed.

"Fiddlesticks!" he scoffed. "The only way you can kill this sort
of critter is to kill 'em. We'll fix 'em up and send 'em on. The
ones who got away will be waiting for 'em, so don't worry about
that."

"I shall dress their wounds and give them whatever further
attention I can before you send them away, Mr. Lang," replied
Elfreda firmly.

Grace nodded her approval.

"Lieutenant, help me carry them in. It is wise to keep them well
bunched, you know," advised the guide.

While he and Hippy were doing this, Grace watched the other men.
Elfreda returned to camp with the first ruffian, and there dressed
his wounds, gave the man water and made him as comfortable as
possible. She treated the second wounded man with similar
consideration.

"I do not see that there is anything at all the matter with these
men," announced Elfreda after examining those who had been stunned
by falls. "They should be able to take their wounded companions
back with them. Are there enough ponies left to carry all?"

"I reckon. They're out yonder browsing on the sage. I'll catch
them up and stake them down here. When you say the word, we will
start these critters off, and good riddance it will be."

Just before dark Elfreda "discharged" her patients, as she
expressed it, and they were led to their ponies, assisted to
mount, and told to get out as fast as horseflesh would carry them.
Not a word of information had the guide been able to get from any
of them, not even their names nor why they were on the desert.

"I've seen that cayuse before," declared Hi, referring to the
leader, and regarding the rapidly disappearing horsemen with a
deep frown on his face. "I can't remember where, but one of these
days I'll think of it. Too bad we can't turn them over to a
sheriff, but we're too far out to go back now."

"That gang was looking for trouble when they rode up," averred
Hippy.

"Yes, I reckon they were after us. Somebody sent them after us,
too. Got any ideas on the subject, Mrs. Gray?"

"No, sir. I am thinking of you at the moment. Where were you hit?"

"Shoulder."

"Oh! Why didn't you say so?" cried Elfreda. "Here we have been
wasting time on those ruffians and neglecting you. I'll have a
look, if you please. Which shoulder?"

"Left. Nothing much, I reckon."

Elfreda bared the guide's shoulder and peered at the wound. She
saw that it was merely a superficial flesh wound, but that unless
it had attention it might prove to be more serious.

With skillful fingers Miss Briggs bathed the wound and dressed it,
Hi Lang observing the professional manner in which she went about
her work and nodding reflectively.

"Doctor?" he asked.

"No, lawyer," replied Elfreda with equal brevity.

"Huh!" grunted the guide.

"Were you hit anywhere else?"

"A few scratches, that's all."

Miss Briggs demanded that he show her, which he did. Both lower
limbs were, as he had told her, scratched by bullets that had
grazed them, and these surface wounds she also dressed.

"Anyone else needing surgical attention?" she demanded, smiling at
her companions, shook their heads. "Grace Harlowe, how is it that
you were not shot? I am amazed. You must have been in the water
hole too, hiding from those ruffians."

"Mrs. Gray isn't of the hiding sort," spoke up Hi. "Reckon we
better have supper and get set for the night," he said, turning
abruptly toward the south and gazing off over the desert.

"Do--do you think those men will come back to-night?" questioned
Emma, half fearfully.

The guide shook his head.

"Not to-night. We'll probably meet up with them again one of these
days, and I hope we do," he replied, looking thoughtfully up at
the sky. His survey took in all quarters of the compass, and when
he turned to the Overlanders again, Grace thought he looked a
little disturbed.

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

"I reckon it's the desert this time," he replied.

"A storm?"

"Yes."

"Rain?" questioned Grace innocently.

The guide grinned. "Nothing like that in these parts. Wind, Mrs.
Gray. I reckon you'll meet one enemy that you can't drive off,
before this night comes to an end. We better have chow now, then
make the camp as secure as possible. Shall you tell the others?"
he asked, nodding toward the Overland girls, who, after their
exciting battle, were chattering and laughing as they assisted
Ping Wing to prepare the supper.

"Yes. After we eat. They should know," replied Grace. "You see
they are not at all upset over what occurred."

By the time they had finished supper, which had been eaten amid
much teasing and laughter, some one discovered that the stars,
before so near and brilliant, were now only faintly discernible, a
veil of thin mist having intervened between them and the baking
desert.

Elfreda Briggs regarded the overcast sky for a moment, then turned
inquiringly to the guide.

"Fog?" she asked.

"No. Bad storm. Better go to bed with your clothes on to-night,"
advised the guide.

"Is it so serious as that, Mr. Lang?"

"It may be. Nobody can figure on anything on this desert--storms,
water, everything here is as contrary as an outlaw bronco. Better
turn in soon and have the others do the same, for you may not have
long to sleep to-night."

"I would suggest that you do the same," advised Elfreda. "You need
sleep and rest even more than we do. I hear Mrs. Gray telling our
friends to prepare for bad weather, so I will run along and
listen. Good-night, Mr. Lang."

The Overland girls, requested by Grace to turn in, after being
told that a storm was in prospect, did so, but Hippy still
remained up talking with Ping, who was scouring the cooking
equipment and carefully stowing it in the packs so that it might
all be in one place in the event that the storm was a severe one.
Ping Wing had had experience with desert wind storms; he had
learned to respect their tremendous force, and he too had read the
danger signs in the heavens that night.

The guide being nowhere in sight, Hippy finally crawled into his
tent and lay down with his clothes on, first, however, placing his
revolver where it might be quickly reached in an emergency, but
there was to be no use for his weapon that night. The enemy that
he was to face later on would be proof against bullets, an enemy
that no human courage, skill or ingenuity could stay.

Out by the water hole, Hi Lang sat keeping silent vigil, narrowly
watching those film-mists overhead, his nerves on the alert to
catch the first cooling breath, which he knew from past experience
would be the vanguard of what he fully expected was in store for
them.



CHAPTER X

WHEN THE BLOW FELL


A faint, cooling breath, wafted across the desert, fanned the
cheek of Hi Lang. He inhaled deeply of it, not once, but several
times.

"It is here!" he muttered, "I hope it may be a light one." Saying
which the guide rose and walked briskly to the ponies' tethering
ground. The animals were restive, they were stepping from side to
side and an occasional snort was heard, but they quieted down when
he went among them and spoke soothing words, petting an animal
here, restaking another one there until he had spoken to each
bronco in the outfit.

The guide's next move was to step to Hippy's tent and awaken him.

"What is it? Have the desert pirates returned?" questioned Hippy,
sitting up and rubbing his eyes.

"No! Something worse is coming. Do not awaken the young ladies
just yet. Come out I will show you a great sight."

Hippy sprang up and followed the guide. Hi paused by the embers of
the camp fire long enough to stamp them out.

"So they do not blow about and set our equipment on fire," he
explained.

"Where's the sight?" demanded the lieutenant.

"Look yonder!" directed Hi, pointing toward the western horizon.

The mist had disappeared from the sky like magic and the stars
once more shone out with all their former brilliancy. Off to the
westward, however, there were no stars to be seen. In their place,
stretched clear across the horizon, lay a cloud, black as ink.

"Watch the upper edge of the cloud," said the guide in a low tone.

"It is rolling like the surf," exclaimed Hippy.

"Yes, and in that cloud are tons upon tons of sand that the cloud
is carrying along with it. We'll lose a stretch of our desert here
in a few moments."

"Is there nothing that we can do to protect ourselves, Hi?"

"Not a thing. The equipment has been securely packed. I had Ping
put the rifles in a sack and stand them upright in a hole in the
ground so we may find them after the storm. Without weapons we
should be in a bad way, especially if our friends, the pirates,
return, but I reckon that what's left of that crowd will be pretty
well sanded. This storm is going to pile right up on the range
that we left behind us."

A distant, menacing roar now became audible to the two men, such a
roar as one can hear by placing an ear to the opening of a conch
shell, but magnified perhaps a million times.

The cool breeze, that had shortly before warned Hi Lang, now
became a chill blast, moderate, but plainly thrust ahead by a
mighty force behind it.

"Good night!" exclaimed Lieutenant Wingate. "That breeze must have
been born up in Iceland. Talk about your heat on the desert!
Perhaps we shall have some cool weather here after the storm
passes."

Hi Lang laughed.

"Don't fool yourself, Lieutenant. It will be hotter than ever to-
morrow, blistering, sizzling hot; and the water courses probably
will dive deeper into the earth and give us no end of trouble to
find them. I---"

"It is coming, isn't it?" questioned Graces who had been awakened
by the breeze and had come up behind Hippy and Mr. Lang without
their hearing her.

"It's well on the way, Mrs. Gray. Perhaps it might be well to
awaken the young ladies. Knock down your tents and sit on them or
you won't have any tents left. Reckon we'd better do the same,
Lieutenant."

It was plain that the storm soon would be upon them and all haste
was made to prepare for the blow. The tents were laid flat,
weighted with such equipment as might be expected to hold them
there, and the Overland Riders stood or crouched a little fearful
in this new mystery of the desert.

"Getting closer!" announced the guide.

"What shall we do?" asked Hippy.

"Lie down when you can no longer stand up, and take pot luck."

"Any orders, Mr. Lang?" called Grace Harlowe.

"Yes. Lie down facing the storm and wind your blankets about you.
Be sure to keep your heads covered. If you find that the sand is
piling up on your backs, shake it off."

"If you get buried perhaps you may find a tank down there,"
suggested Hippy, but no one laughed at his sally. "There goes that
crazy Chinaman again. I hope he chokes."

"He will if he keeps his mouth open much longer."

Ping had broken out in song, which the wind was not yet strong
enough to smother.

"Sometim' you look-see piece sand he walkee mountain high, Jist
t'hen wind knock top-side off an' blow 'um up to sky. Jist so my
heart walk up inside--befo' he sinkee down--"

That was the last heard of Ping Wing for some time, the concluding
words of his song having been lost in a burst of wind that drowned
out every other sound.

"Down! Everybody down!" yelled the guide just before the blast
struck them.

The sandstorm swooped down on them suddenly, bringing with it
black night, a roaring, booming, hideous thing. Sand rained on the
blankets, covering the girls of the Overland Riders, and now and
then some heavier object, they knew not what, struck one or more
of them, adding to the terror of the moment.

Emma Dean struggled and moaned in her fright. Her blanket,
loosened by her movements, was whisked into the air and out of
sight in a twinkling. She screamed for help, but no one heard her,
and Emma threw herself down in the sand, or was blown over when
she struggled to a sitting position. There she lay, her face
buried in the sand, sobbing and moaning.

Not a sound had been uttered by any of the other girls. They were
listening, listening, wondering how much longer they would be able
to endure the terrific strain under which they were laboring.

Such wind no person there, except Hi Lang, had ever dreamed could
be possible. Grace found herself wondering if the Arabian simoon,
of which she had read, could possibly be deadlier. She doubted it.

By now the girls were fighting to keep from being buried alive,
and in their choking, suffocating condition they tried to sit up
for air. All lost their blankets instantly. The sand beat on their
faces and heads like sharp-pointed tiny hailstones. Their eyes
were blinded by it, and their bodies burned as if they had been
rubbed with sandpaper, but there was nothing that could be done to
relieve their suffering because no person could stand up against
the mighty force of the wind.

The storm, it seemed to them, lasted for hours, though as a matter
of fact it had blown itself out within fifteen minutes from the
time it struck them.

"Backbone of the storm is broken," yelled the guide in Hippy's
ear, both being under the same blanket.

"So is mine," Hippy howled back. "There's a ton of sand, if there
is a pound on it, this very minute. Hope the girls are safe. Can
we get out?"

"No. The wind is too strong. It will die out in a few moments.
I'll go out the minute I can crawl."

The men waited several minutes, during which the gale was steadily
decreasing. The guide finally poked his head from under the
blanket, shading his eyes with a hand to keep the blowing sand
out, before opening them.

"Cover your eyes and come on," he said, crawling out and starting
to beat his way against the gale toward the spot where the
Overland girls were supposed to be.

They were huddled together, with their arms about each other to
keep from being blown away, every head resting on an arm as they
lay face down on the ground.

"Stand up, but protect your eyes," shouted Hi. "Gale's almost over
and done for."

"So--o--o are we," gasped Grace, staggering to her feet, and
almost instantly landing on her back on the ground where the wind
had hurled her.

Hi assisted her to her feet, Grace laughing and choking at the
same time. The others, in turn, were lifted up by Hi and Hippy,
all leaning against the wind, clinging to each other, and, with
handkerchiefs in their mouths, breathing what air they could get
in this way without taking in any more sand than they could help.

The wind stopped with a suddenness that left every one of the
party unprepared. The result was that they fell forward on their
faces, and for a few moments there was a mixup that, in ordinary
circumstances, would have brought merry peals of laughter, but
there was no laughter this time.

The eyes of the Overland Riders were so filled with sand that they
were too blinded to see the stars that once more were shining
"just above them."

"Wet your handkerchiefs with water from your canteens and wipe
your eyes," suggested Grace.

"Go easy on the water," commanded the guide. "Let's see where we
are at before we use water."

"You are right, sir. I had not thought of that," agreed Grace.

"Our buckets are full, aren't they?" questioned Anne.

"Yes--of sand," spoke up Elfreda.

"The first thing to do is to settle the water question. Ping!"

Ping Wing came running up, his white suit the color of the
landscape, for Ping had been rolled in the sand to his utter
undoing.

"Go see how many horses we have left."

"Me savvy. Tlee."

"Three? That is better than I hoped for," chuckled the guide.
"With three we can reasonably look forward to finding the others
somewhere on the desert, but we can't do much to improve our
situation until daylight. No use to search for our equipment
before then. I will look into the water question, however, right
now."

"This is the most violent landscape that it has ever been my
misfortune to gaze upon," declared Elfreda Briggs, tossing her
fallen hair up and down to shake the sand out of it, a proceeding
that was followed by each of the girls.

"At least we have one thing to be thankful for," observed Anne. "I
thank my stars that it is so dark that we cannot see how really
tough we do look."

"If I look as bad as I feel I must be a terrible sight," wailed
Emma. "Here comes Hi. Have we water?"

"Not a drop except what you have in your canteens. The water hole
is buried so deep that we have lost it. Guard every drop. We are
in a serious situation."



CHAPTER XI

FACING A NEW PERIL


"Aren't the water bags safe?" asked Hippy.

"They're gone," said the guide.

"Everything but the sand seems to be gone," observed Miss Briggs.
"I suppose we should thank the kind fates that we still have
plenty of sand."

"Plenty of some things is too much," declared Nora Wingate.
"Hippy, my darlin', you weren't hurt, were you?"

"Yes, I was killed, but I have come to life again. Hi, what is the
next thing to be done?"

"Kill time until daylight!"

That was practically what the Overland Riders did, but with the
first streaks of dawn the barren spot assumed an appearance of
activity.

"Lieutenant, we'll go out and look for the horses," announced the
guide.

"Is Blackie still here?" questioned Grace.

"No, but there are three ponies left, as you know. Wish to go
along?"

"Yes."

Ping was directed what to do, and Miss Briggs was left to see that
the orders of the guide were carried out during his absence. Hi,
Hippy and Grace then mounted the remaining ponies and started
away, working back toward the range that they had left two days
before. The wind had blown in that direction and it was reasonable
to suppose that the lost animals had been driven before it.

"Spread out, but keep within sight of the lieutenant, who will be
middle man," directed the guide.

When they had finally taken up their positions, some three miles
separated Grace Harlowe and the guide, with Hippy a mile and a
half from each of the two outside riders.

The sun was not yet up, and the morning, while not uncomfortable,
gave promise of what Hi Lang had said it would be--a sizzler.

The three had ridden for a full hour, when off to her right Grace
discovered what she thought was one of their ponies. Urging her
mount forward, she galloped rapidly in that direction, but after
riding for some time she was amazed to find that the animal seemed
to be as far away as when she had started toward him.

"I hope to goodness the pony I see isn't a desert mirage,"
muttered Grace. "Mirage or no mirage I am going to run it to
earth."

She galloped on at a more rapid pace, but it was a long time, it
seemed to Grace, before she saw that she really was nearing the
little animal, who was browsing on desert sage, or what few scraps
of it remained after the storm.

Hoping fervently that it was her own little spirited Blackie,
Grace urged her mount forward at a lively clip and bore down on
the bronco who began edging off when he saw her heading for him.

"It's Elfreda's pony!" cried Grace. "Here, boy; here, boy!" she
called.

The "lost" animal kicked up its heels and started away at a
gallop, with Grace Harlowe in full pursuit.

"How provoking!" cried Grace as the bronco kept galloping from her
with aggravating persistence. The Overland girl rode and coaxed
until she tired of it, then, touching her mount lightly with the
crop, she dashed straight for the tantalizing roamer.

It was a race for a little while, the runners steadily drawing
away from Hippy Wingate and Hi Lang, but to this Grace gave no
thought. Once she nearly got her hand on the bridle of Elfreda's
mount, but the little fellow dodged her at the critical moment.

"Oh, for a rope and the skill to throw it. I'll learn to throw a
lasso at once. I see it is necessary out here. Whoa, boy!" she
commanded sharply.

The runaway bronco stopped short, and, with feet spread apart,
stood gazing at her as if daring the Overland girl to come and
catch him. Grace decided to try new tactics. Dismounting, and
slipping her bridle rein over one arm, she walked slowly toward
the animal, plucking a bunch of sage as she went, and holding it
out toward him.

The pony looked interested, his ears sloped forward and he took a
step or two towards her. Grace walked up to him confidently, gave
him the handful of sage and, after petting him, grasped the lead
rope and then the bridle.

"All of which goes to prove the assertion that it is easier to
catch flies with molasses than with vinegar. Now be a good boy,
and we will jog back home to Elfreda," she soothed to the captured
pony.

Mounting, and attaching the end of the lead rope to the pommel of
her saddle, Grace started for camp. At least she thought that was
what she did. Instead she was headed for the range of mountains on
which they had first made camp. After a little the Overland Rider
came to a realization that the guide and Hippy were nowhere in
sight. Still, she was not greatly disturbed, but she was thirsty.
A few drops of water from her canteen was all that she dared allow
herself.

Grace had been traveling for the better part of an hour, from time
to time glancing up at the glaring sun that was just rising, when
she suddenly brought her pony up short.

"Do you think you can find the way back if I give you the rein?"
she asked, petting her mount.

The pony pawed the dirt and whinnied, but his rider knew that it
was because he too was thirsty, instead of being an answer to her
question.

Grace paused to reflect over her situation, to consider what was
the wise thing to do, finally deciding that she would follow her
trail back to the spot at which she captured the pony.

"From there it should be easy for me to find my original trail;
then all I shall have to do will be to follow it to the camp. We
must go back," decided Grace, turning about and starting away at a
trot, finding no difficulty in making out the tracks of the two
ponies.

The spot at which she had found the lost bronco was reached at
last. Grace sat for some moments, staring at the landscape,
turning in her saddle until she had looked all the way around the
compass, then, clucking to the two animals, trotted away,
following her original trail.

As she progressed, the trail grew fainter, a desert breeze having
almost obliterated the tracks her pony made on the way out with Hi
Lang and Hippy Wingate. To make certain that she was on the right
road, Grace got down and compared her mount's footprints with
those that she was following.

"Yes, I am positive that I am right," she decided and once more
set out. "Hark!" she exclaimed sharply.

Three faraway shots had been fired. Grace waited, and in a few
moments the shots were repeated. She raised her revolver and fired
three signal shots in return. She did this twice, then reloaded
and thrust the revolver into its holster.

"It is doubtful if my shots can be heard, but I have the
satisfaction of knowing that some one probably is out looking for
me. We'll go in under our own power. They shan't say that we could
not find our way home in broad daylight."

The rifle signal shots were repeated shortly after Grace got
started again. She answered them, but was unable to tell from
which direction the signals had come, though the shots sounded off
to the right of her, but she decided to continue on in the
direction she had chosen however, believing that she was headed
towards the camp.

It was nearly noon when Grace discovered a horseman far to the
right. He was too far away to be recognized, and, evidently, he
had not seen her.

The Overland girl fired three shots into the air, which were
answered by a similar signal, then the distant rider was seen to
turn and gallop towards her. Grace headed for him, riding more
slowly than she had been doing, and finally discovering that the
horseman was Hi Lang.

Despite the confidence that Grace had felt in her ability to find
her way in, she experienced a sense of relief. Now he would
compliment her on her ability to find her way on a trackless waste
such as this.

"Where have you been?" shouted Hi when near enough to make his
voice heard.

"I went after Miss Briggs' pony, then got on the wrong trail, if
there be such a thing as a trail on this landscape," answered
Grace.

"We've been worrying about you. Did you get lost?"

"Well, not exactly. I was puzzled at first, but I was following my
trail back towards the camp when you discovered me, or when I
discovered you, to be exact."

"Hm--m--m--m!" mused the guide. "Do you know where you were headed
for when I first saw you?"

"Why, yes. I told you. For the camp, was I not?"

Hi shook his head.

"If your canteen and rations had held out, and you'd kept on going
the way you were headed, eventually you would have landed in Death
Valley," the guide informed her.

"But I followed the tracks left by the pony I was riding," she
protested.

"I reckon you followed some other pony's tracks, for I was on the
trail of the bronc' you are riding."

"Mr. Lang, as a plainswoman I fear I am a miserable failure,"
complained the Overland girl.

"On the contrary you are very much of a success. You did not get
panic-stricken when you found you had lost us, but you used your
head. You found and followed a trail that would have fooled me as
it did you."

"Thank you! How many of the ponies did you find?"

"All of 'em, lacking the one you have here; also found one that
didn't belong to us. We sent him adrift."

"Oh, I am so glad. Then you have Blackie."

"Yes. Let's be going. Things at the camp are not very encouraging.
Much of the equipment has been blown away or buried, but that
isn't the worst of the situation."

"You mean water?" questioned Grace, regarding him inquiringly.

"Yes. We haven't been able to locate a tank to-day, and there
isn't more than a quart altogether left in the canteens."

"What are we to do now?" asked Grace.

"We've got to pull up stakes and move. All hands must search for
water--search until water is found, and keep moving forward at the
same time. If we don't find it by night---" The guide shrugged his
shoulders and clucked to his pony. Grace, her face reflecting the
concern she felt, followed at a gallop and they were soon raising
a cloud of dust on the baking desert.



CHAPTER XII

A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT


A wan and considerably mussed up party of girls met Grace and the
guide when the two rode into what was left of their camp.

"Well, here we are at last," cried Grace cheerily.

"We thought you were lost. How could you have missed such an
opportunity?" wondered Miss Briggs.

"I did not miss it, Elfreda dear. I got beautifully lost and
didn't know it. Most persons when they get lost are very much
alive to the fact, but I traveled on in blissful ignorance of the
fact that I was headed straight for Death Valley."

"I wish you wouldn't talk about it. Death Valley reminds me of the
experience we had last night," complained Emma.

"Oh, then you have been to Death Valley?" questioned Anne.

"No, I said--I mean I said--I mean I meant to have said that---"

"Let it go at that. You will get tongue-tied if you keep on,"
warned Hippy Wingate. "We have something more serious on hand than
to listen to your--"

"Yes, girls," interrupted Grace. "Mr. Lang tells me that we MUST
move on immediately, that we MUST find water, and that, too,
without delay. What shape are we in with regard to equipment?"

"We have our tents," answered Elfreda.

"Some cooking utensils, and our food, which Ping had the foresight
to take to bed with him," said Anne Nesbit whimsically.

"Were the rifles saved?"

"All secure, and the ammunition too," replied Lieutenant Wingate.
"I believe that a few blankets were blown away and lost, together
with numerous odds and ends that weren't nailed down. What could
you expect with a wind strong enough to blow our horses far out on
the desert. Got any water?"

"I have some. Do you mean to tell me, Hippy Wingate, that an old
campaigner like yourself has drunk up all the water he had in his
canteen, and in the face of a great drouth?" demanded Grace,
trying hard not to smile.

"Every last drop of it," admitted Hippy. "But what's a fellow to
do when he is thirsty and his throat is cracking open?"

"Use the precious stuff sparingly. Here! Take a sip from my
canteen. Only a sip, Lieutenant."

With the eyes of the entire party on him, Hippy dared not take
more than enough water to moisten his throat. Grace then took the
canteen from him, passing it to Emma.

"The same holds good for you, Emma," she said, "Take a sip and
pass it along. What water is there may have to be our only supply
all the rest of the afternoon."

"That's right, Mrs. Gray," spoke up Hi Lang. "Ping!"

"Les?"

"Are you all packed and ready?"

"Me belongee chop-chop," answered Ping, meaning that he was ready
to move.

"Follow along behind us, but make those lazy burros keep close up.
We don't want to lose you and have to look all over the desert for
you. Now, folks, please listen carefully to what I have to say.
While I do not wish to alarm you, it is well that you thoroughly
understand what our situation is. We must find water. You will all
spread out with an interval of a hundred yards, say, between
ponies, and scrutinize every foot of ground on either side."

"Who goes where?" interrupted Emma.

"Please be quiet," rebuked Grace.

"I am coming to that," resumed the guide. "Two things I wish you
to look for, alkali crusts that may cover a tank, and
discolorations on the desert. That is, if you find a spot darker
than the prevailing color of the ground, that discoloration may be
the result of moisture. Do you get me?"

"Yes," answered the Overlanders in chorus.

"In the event of such a discovery, shout, or if I am too far away
to hear your voice, fire one shot into the air. About the crusts
that I spoke of, when you find one, hop off and break it in. You
probably will not see water, even though it is there, but, after
you have broken open the crust, thrust your head into the opening
and sniff the air."

"What we need is a thirsty bird dog in this outfit," observed
Hippy, without the suggestion of a smile on his face.

Hi Lang permitted himself a brief silent laugh.

"What are we to sniff for?" questioned Emma in all seriousness.

"For a damp odor. The air under the crust, too, will be perhaps a
degree cooler than the outer air. If it is a dry tank you will get
a dry, earthy odor that you cannot mistake. The one who finds
water will, as I have suggested, shout or shoot. The others will
hold their positions until I have investigated.

"Another thing. Ponies familiar with desert conditions, as most of
ours are, sometimes can smell water when they can't see it. If one
of your animals suddenly bolts in a direction that you think he
should not go, give him his head for a little way. He may lead you
to water."

"Why didn't I think to put a divining rod in my pocket?" chuckled
Hippy.

"You brought a sweet little parasol, that blew away on the wings
of the storm," reminded Nora. "Why didn't you bring something
useful while you were about it?"

"Nora darling, didn't I bring you along? What, tell me, could be
more useful to this outfit than your own beautiful little self?"

"Go on, go on with ye! If there were a Blarney Stone here I'd
throw it at ye!" rebuked Nora, laughing in spite of her effort to
be stern, joined in her merriment by the other girls of the
outfit.

"Take your positions!" ordered the guide. "The lieutenant will
take the center. To the right, Miss Dean, Miss Briggs. Left, Mrs.
Nesbit, Mrs. Wingate and Mrs. Gray. I will take the extreme right.
You, Mrs. Gray, will look after the extreme left. Keep your
formation as well as you can so that we do not straggle too much.
All ready!"

The Overland Riders swung themselves to their saddles and moved to
the positions assigned to them, then started away, walking their
ponies. Their line looked like a troop of cavalry going into
action, except that the horses moved listlessly.

Emma found the first alkali tank, and getting off, broke the crust
and thrust her head in the opening.

"What do you find?" called Hippy.

"Ugh! It smells like a rummage sale," answered Miss Dean.

"Dry!" announced Hippy. "Move along."

All along the line the girls were trying to make merry, trying to
forget the terrible heat, a deadly burning heat, but their efforts
in this direction were not very successful.

Heat waves shimmered over the white sands of the desert with not a
breath of air stirring to relieve the deadly monotony. It did not
seem possible to Elfreda Briggs that human beings long could
endure such heat, and she wondered at the cheerfulness of her
companions.

Hi Lang rode around behind the line of riders to see what it was
that Emma Dean had discovered, but he paused at the dry water hole
for but a moment, then hurried back to his position. Now and then
one of the riders would dismount and examine a patch of ground,
only to meet with disappointment.

They had come up to a vast cup-like depression in the desert,
white with the alkali crust that covered its bottom, when Hi fired
a signal shot to indicate that they were to halt for a rest.

"What is that big hole?" called Lieutenant Wingate.

"A prehistoric lake, in whose alkaline dust no plant, not even
sage-brush, can grow, and upon which a puddle of rainwater becomes
an almost deadly poison. This is one of the most thoroughly hated
spots on the desert, hated and shunned by most of those who travel
this way."

"Is there not water under the crust at the bottom?" asked Miss
Dean.

"Not a drop. There probably has not been in centuries. No water is
known to have been found within a few miles of this spot either,
but, as I have said, one never knows, and the traveler must take
nothing for granted."

"Fine place for a summer outing," observed Hippy.

"Probably there is on all the globe no other spot more forbidding,
more desolate, more deadly," added the guide. "We must be going.
Move on!"

All that afternoon the Overland Riders plodded wearily along, now
and then hopes suddenly raised being dashed to earth by dry water
holes. At the next halt, Hi passed along the line, giving each
rider a sip of water from the slender supply in his canteen, Grace
smilingly declining to drink.

"Have you any left in your canteen?" he asked.

"A few drops, but I am saving them until I am thirsty. I have been
sucking the cork for the last hour." Grace then asked about the
dry lake, and the guide repeated what he had said to Emma and
Hippy.

"How are the girls standing the strain?" she questioned.

"Very well indeed. I hope they hold out as well until we find
water."

"Now that there is no one but ourselves present, please tell me
what the prospects are?" requested Grace.

"I can't, Mrs. Gray, for the very good reason that I don't know.
Of course water we must have or we shall perish, and so will the
ponies. As a last resort we can head for the nearest mountain
range, but it would take us nearly two days to make it with ponies
and riders in good working condition."

"Then the situation really is serious!" asked Grace.

"No, not yet, but we are on the verge of a serious situation. Yes,
that about expresses it. However, I have hopes that we may find a
tank about ten miles from here, one that I have never failed to
find some water in, though at times it has been a mighty slow
process to get it. I must get to the other end of the line now.
Good luck."

Several tanks were found during the next few hours, but not a drop
of water in any of them. It fell to Emma Dean to make a discovery,
however, that thrilled all within sound of her voice.

"Water!" she screamed. "Water!"

"I believe you are right. Hooray!" shouted Hippy Wingate.

"I know I am. It's a lake, a lake full of beautiful blue water!"
cried Emma. "Quick! Shoot to let the others know."

Instead of the agreed-upon single shot as the signal that water
had been found, Hippy Wingate emptied his revolver into the air,
then, urging on his weary pony, rode on ahead, with Emma
following, shouting and urging her pony to go faster that she and
Hippy might reach the precious water ahead of the others. Even
Hippy was excited at the sight that had burst so unexpectedly on
his smarting eyes, for there, a mile or so ahead, surely was a
body of water that the guide himself had not known of or he surely
would have told them.

Attracted by the shots, Hi Lang looked, first in the direction from
which the shots had come, then off across the desert. What he saw
led him to head towards Hippy and Emma, who themselves were
traveling as fast as they could make their ponies go.

Some of the other Overland Riders had followed Emma and Hippy,
they too having discovered the blue lake in the near distance.

The guide fired into the air, to recall the excited riders, but
they gave no heed to his signal.

"Stop!" he shouted when near enough to make himself heard. "Stop,
I say! You'll run your ponies to death."

"Water! Don't you see it?" cried Emma.

"No! That isn't water. Stop, I say!"

"The heat has gone to Hi's head," laughingly confided Hippy to
Emma. "All right, old man, just trail along behind us and we'll
show you," he flung back.

"Stop, Lieutenant! Listen to reason, won't you? What you see is a
desert mirage. There isn't a lake within a hundred miles of us."

Hippy Wingate brought his pony to a slow stop, and Emma, who had
heard, stopped about the same time.

"Mirage?" wondered Hippy stupidly.

"M--m--mister Lang, do--do you me--ean that wha--at we see isn't
wa--ater at all?"

"It's a mirage, I tell you. Get back to your positions!"



CHAPTER XIII

A STARTLING ALARM


Elfreda Briggs and Grace Harlowe did not give way to the panic
that had seized their companions. Both had seen the mirage, each
knew instinctively what it was, but when they saw Hi Lang overhaul
the two leaders, Grace and Elfreda hurried in from their positions
and joined their companions.

"Grace! Oh, Grace," moaned Emma as her friend rode up to them.
"Give me water or I shall die."

"Have courage, Emma dear. We are all suffering from thirst. Hand
me your cup and I will give you a swallow. I don't dare trust you
with the canteen."

Grace poured out about a tablespoonful of water, which Emma drank
in one choking gulp. Each of the others got about the same
quantity, but it was not much of a relief.

"Shall I return to my position now, sir?" questioned Grace of the
guide. "Yes, please. I have told the others to do so at once.
Hereafter, in no circumstances are you people to run away as you
did just now. We must go on as rapidly as is consistent, until
dark. I wish to reach a certain point before we stop for the
night. We may find some relief there unless the storm has buried
everything so deep that we cannot find the place," said Hi Lang.

"Do you mean water?" asked Elfreda.

"I am in hopes that it may be so, Miss Briggs."

"Alors! Let's go!"

The party broke up at once and rode to their positions, Emma Dean,
red of face, her hair down her back, tear drops still trickling
down her cheeks, leaving little furrows behind them, summoning all
her courage and doing her best to regain control of herself.

The mirage had disappeared by the time the start was made, and did
not appear again to tantalize the suffering Overland Riders. All
the rest of the afternoon, eager eyes, reddened by the glare of
the sun on the white desert, sought for water holes. None were
found, not even dry tanks, but when darkness settled over the
desert a faint breeze sprung up. They drank it in eagerly, taking
long, deep breaths and uttering sighs of satisfaction.

Hi called the party together with a signal shot.

"How long before we make camp?" called Grace as she rode up.

"About five miles if my reckoning is right," answered the guide.
"No need to look for water holes now that it is dark. We shan't
find any unless we accidentally fall into one."

"You are about the most cheerful prophet I've ever known,"
declared Lieutenant Wingate. "Glad you weren't with us in the
war."

"At least, Mr. Lang has made good all his forecasts. You must
admit that," reminded Miss Briggs.

"He has, bad luck to him!" growled Hippy, which brought a grin to
the thin, bronzed face of the desert guide.

It was nearly ten o 'clock when Hi finally ordered a halt. The
Riders, upon looking about them, observed that there was
considerable vegetation there, sage, cactus, dwarfed trees and
shrubbery, scattered, twisted, misshapen things, all of them.

"Turn the ponies loose immediately," directed the guide. "They
will get a little moisture from the green stuff. Never mind
staking down. They will not run away. Ping, start a fire and cook
something. Sorry, folks, but it will have to be a dry supper this
time."

"Where is that relief you were promising us a century or so ago?"
demanded Nora Wingate.

"Yes, Mr. Lang. We have been patient and borne our thirst
uncomplainingly. Now, we MUST have relief. I don't want a dry
supper, I want water!" cried Emma.

Anne said she feared that she too had about reached her limit.

"Be patient, girls. Mr. Lang is doing the best he can," urged
Grace.

"Yes, don't we know that?" agreed Miss Briggs. "He is splendid. I
hope these unsolicited compliments do not turn your head, Mr.
Lang," teased Elfreda.

The guide laughed silently.

"Come with me. We can pitch our tents later on," he directed,
striding away. He led them through mesquite bushes, finally
halting before a patch of odd, pumpkin-shaped cactus, that, with
its grotesque shape, its spines and fishhooks, was far from being
attractive-looking.

Hi's knife was out as he halted, and, with it, he laid open a
cactus plant, revealing to the eager eyes of his charges a silver-
white pulp glistening with water.

"This will relieve your thirst," he said, handing the white, moist
mass to Emma.

"Oh--h--h--h!" gasped Miss Dean. "This is heavenly."

To each of the others Hi gave a handful of pulp.

"Nectar straight from Heaven," murmured Elfreda at her first
taste. "Who would think that so much heavenliness could come from
such a hideous plant, so hideous that, were I alone, it would give
me the shivers to look at?"

Uttering exclamations of satisfaction and delight, the Overland
girls ate and ate, soothing their throats and satisfying their
thirst.

"Please tell us what this is, Mr. Lang," asked Grace.

"It is the bisnaga, sometimes called the 'niggerhead,' belonging
to the cactus family, a plant that is ever hailed with joy by the
thirsty traveler."

"It's a life saver," agreed Lieutenant Wingate. "Where is that
Chinaman? Doesn't he ever get thirsty?"

"Don't worry about him. He is out there in the bushes now,
swallowing 'niggerheads' as fast as he can gulp them down. This is
one of the secrets of the desert. There are others--but a man must
know them before he can take advantage of them."

"Tell us about them. I just dote on secrets," exclaimed Emma, her
good nature now fully restored.

"They might answer for an emergency, but nothing short of real
food would answer for me," declared Hippy.

"Just the same a man might live on what we see before us here for
a long time," replied the guide. "If you will examine those
mesquite bushes you will find a bean pod on them. It is a rich and
nourishing food. Then there are the pears of the tuna and the
fruit of the sahuaro or giant cactus."

"We saw a forest of them on the Apache Trail," Grace informed him.

"Yes, I know. You will find all of these nourishing foods about
you here, hideous, some of them, but furnishing food and water
that have saved the lives of many desert travelers.

"Besides these food plants of the desert, we have the cat's-claw,
mesquite and cholla shrubs for fuel; the bear-grass and yuccas for
camp-building. Better than a mirage, is it not, Miss Dean?"

Emma flushed.

"I don't know about that. The sight of that lake that wasn't a
lake made me forget for the moment that I was thirsty," answered
Emma spiritedly.

The Chinaman's shrill call for supper sounded while they were
still talking. The girls, now greatly refreshed, turned campward
and sat down on the ground to eat "poisoned pig," as Hippy Wingate
had named the bacon with its bitter alkaline taste.

"I fear we are forgetting that we still are without water,"
reminded Grace after they had finished their supper, feeling more
like themselves than at any time in the last two days.

"Don't throw a monkey-wrench in the machinery," begged Hippy.
"Let's live while the living is good, and die when we haven't
anything else to do."

"Grace is quite right," agreed Anne. "I am worrying about to-
morrow myself."

"I have been thinking it over," spoke up Hi Lang. "I believe I
will go out early in the morning and ride until noon. I can cover
a lot of ground in that time, and if I do not find water, the
chances are against our getting any in the direction we are going.
In that event we will head for the mountains and fight our way
through. I never knew so many water holes to fail, but the storm
is largely responsible for that condition."

"Why didn't we bring an artesian well with us? I have heard that
one could have water anywhere with one of those. Are they very
heavy to carry?" asked Emma innocently.

A shout greeted her question, and the guide brushed a hand across
his mouth to hide his silent laughter.

"What's the matter? Have I said something funny?" demanded Emma,
bristling.

"That would be impossible," answered Hippy. "No, Emma Dean, an
artesian well would be no burden to carry at all if one were able
to solve the problem of how to carry it. All the makin's are right
here, too. Hi, why didn't you bring a medium-sized artesian well
with you! I am amazed that you would neglect to find a way to
bring one along," rebuked Hippy.

"You are all making fun of me. I think you are real mean," pouted
Emma.

"We're not," protested Hippy.

"Yes, he is, dear. Hippy, stop teasing Emma. She is worn out and
irritable. By the way, Mr. Lang, what is an artesian well?" asked
Nora, which brought down another shout of laughter, this time at
her expense.

"I'm not irritable," objected Emma.

"An artesian well is a hole in the ground, Miss Dean," the guide
gravely informed her.

"I'm going to bed!" announced Emma, getting up. "Am I to sleep in
the open, or do we have tents to cover us to-night?" she asked
with much dignity.

"Ping will pitch the tents. He is getting out the canvas now,"
replied Grace. "Before I turn in I am going out to eat some more
'niggerheads.' Any one going with me?"

All signified their desire to have more of the luscious white
pulp, and in a few moments they were gorging themselves among the
bisnagas.

The moon was now well along in its first quarter, and in the cool
of the evening the Overland girls were in a frame of mind to
appreciate and enjoy the scene.

"The desert has a strange and beguiling beauty all its own,"
murmured Grace.

"Yes," agreed Elfreda. "Such an evening as this makes one forget
the awful heat, and lays hold of one's spirit. Then the silence--
no whistling of wind, no rustling of leaves. Why, I find myself
holding my breath so as not to break the silence."

"I had not observed it," retorted Grace, presenting a smiling face
to her companion. "The camp should be ready by now. I move we go
back and turn in."

"The mystery of it all, too," added Elfreda, turning to walk to
the camp.

The guide told them not to be concerned at his absence if he did
not get in until late on the following day, and the Overland
Riders sought their blankets for a rest which all needed.

The night passed without one of the girls moving, so far as any of
them could remember, when they were rudely awakened next morning.

Shouts and yells from Hippy Wingate, and a scream from Emma Dean,
brought Grace, Elfreda, Anne and Nora to their feet, hurriedly
throwing on sufficient clothing to make themselves presentable.

"Girls! Hurry, hurry!" shrieked Emma.

"Coming! Hold fast!" shouted Elfreda Briggs, running out ahead of
the others.



CHAPTER XIV

THE MYSTERIOUS HORSEMAN


"For mercy sake, what is it?" cried Elfreda.

Emma was dancing about in a high state of excitement.

"Hippy's gone down! Hippy's gone down!" she cried.

"Gone down where?" demanded Grace, appearing on the scene at that
juncture.

"He must have gone very suddenly, for I surely heard him yell less
than five minutes ago," averred Elfreda.

"Look, look!" urged Emma, pointing to Hippy's tent, only the top
of which was visible above the ground.

Grace was already running towards the tent, believing she knew
just what the trouble was.

"Hippy, are you there?" she called.

"I am that, what's left of me," answered a voice that sounded some
distance away.

"Are you hurt?"

"No, Brown Eyes, I am not hurt. Please clear away the wreckage, so
we can see what we have here."

Grace and Elfreda hauled the tent out of the hole in the alkali
crust and peered in. Hippy was sitting at the bottom, about five
feet below the surface, and the instant Grace thrust her head into
the opening she uttered a cry.

"Water!" she exclaimed. "I smell it!"

"I tasted it when I landed on my head in the wet sand," answered
Hippy. "It was good, but I'd a heap sight rather drink my water
standing. One doesn't take in so much sand that way."

"Wa--ater!" gasped Emma Dean. "And it isn't another mirage?"

"It is water, my dear, but how much of a supply there is remains
to be seen. What were you doing out so early?"

"I was going out to get some water food from that horrible looking
pumpkin plant, or whatever it is."

"Ping! Oh, Ping! Fetch the water buckets. Hurry! Mr. Lang has
gone, so we must do what is to be done before the water
disappears. What happened, Hippy?" asked Grace.

"This did, Brown Eyes. I turned over on my blanket, then the earth
yawned and swallowed me down. I slid in head first."

"Here are the buckets and the canvas. I think I will get down
there and assist you. Girls, drink your fill, then water the
ponies. No, you carry the water out and let Ping do the watering."

Hippy assisted Grace down. She dropped to her knees and
immediately began digging in the sand, which was wet and sticky.
With Hippy's aid, she patted the canvas blanket down as she had
seen Hi Lang do it, and in a moment the water began seeping
through. Grace observed that it seeped much more rapidly than when
the guide had performed a similar operation.

"Buckets!" demanded Hippy.

They were lowered, and, in a few moments, half a dozen of them
were filled and handed up to the outstretched hands waiting to
receive them.

"This is splendid! I wish Mr. Lang were here. Too bad," said
Grace.

"Might it not be a good idea for us to fire signal shots to recall
him? He may be within hearing. Sound carries a long distance on
the desert," suggested Miss Briggs.

"Fine, J. Elfreda. Will you fire the shots?"

Miss Briggs said she would, and, in a few moments, three interval
shots rang out. Elfreda fired the signal six times, listening
after each signal for a reply. None was heard, however, and Grace
suggested that she wait half an hour or so, then try it again.

The baling went on, but the ponies and burros drank the water
faster than Grace and Hippy could get it out of the tank and pass
it up to those who were carrying water to Ping who was giving it
to the horses, singing as he worked. This was the happy refrain he
sang:

    "Look-see you bucket, 'fore you tly,
     Got lopee (rope) 'nuf to pump 'um dly.
     One piecee mouse can dlink at liver,
     But let he mousey tly for ever,
     All he can do top-sidee shore
     Is squinch (quench) he t'hirst an 'nuffin more."

"Every 'r' is an 'l' with a Chinaman," laughed Anne.

"That is what makes their pidgin English so quaint," answered Miss
Briggs.

"Ping says the horses don't care for any more water," announced
Nora, returning with two empty buckets.

"Pass them down," directed Hippy. "We will fill everything in
camp, including ourselves."

When, they had finished with their work, the familiar, "Him come
along," in Ping Wing's shrill voice, brought Hippy out of the
water hole in a hurry.

"Are you going to leave me down here, Hippy Wingate, or are you
going to assist me out?" reminded Grace.

"A thousand pardons! The thought of food drives every other
thought from my mind." Hippy reached down and gave Grace a hand.

"Please fire another set of signal shots," suggested Grace,
shaking out her skirt to free it from the damp sand. "Mr. Lang
will be surprised when he finds that we have a water tank right
here in camp. I hope he hears our shots."

Elfreda, having shot into the air six times, put down her rifle
and joined her companions.

"Oh, doesn't that coffee smell good?" she cried. "A warm drink is
even more necessary out here than it is in the city. I hope we
never have another such a dry time as we have just experienced."

"Listen!" warned Grace, holding up a hand for silence.

The reports of two rifle shots were faintly borne to their ears.

"That's a signal. I heard the first a second before I spoke.
Answer them, Elfreda."

Miss Briggs sprang up and fired the rifle three times. An answer
came in the form of three reports that plainly were from a long
distance away.

"That must be Mr. Lang. I am glad," said Grace, her face lighting
up in a pleased smile.

"Him come along," announced Ping a few moments later, using the
elastic expression that stood for the dinner call, as well as to
indicate that some one was approaching.

The Overland girls stood up and, shading their eyes, gazed off
over the desert. They saw a horseman approaching, but the pony he
was riding appeared to be almost dragging himself along.

"That isn't Lang," exclaimed Hippy.

"I see it isn't," agreed Grace.

Being a lone rider the Overlanders knew they were safe from
trouble so far as he was concerned, but they observed the rider
narrowly as he neared the camp.

"Ping! Fetch water!" ordered Grace incisively. "That man and horse
are exhausted."

"Water!" cried the man hoarsely as he rode up to them and would
have fallen from his saddle had Hippy not sprung forward and
grabbed him. He placed the exhausted man on the ground, and
raising the rider's head, held a canteen to his lips.

"Take it easy, old top. Don't choke yourself. We have plenty, but
you mustn't try to drink it all at once," admonished Lieutenant
Wingate.

"Get food," directed Grace. "Coffee and whatever else you think he
can eat."

Ping glided away to prepare the food, Nora and Anne, in the
meantime, having brought water for the traveler's pony.

In a few moments the man sat up, holding his head in his hands.

"Here, bathe your face. It will cool you off," urged Elfreda. The
traveler did so, and, by the time the coffee was ready, he was
able to stand.

Ping had fried some bacon, and, with the coffee and biscuit, the
traveler had a meal the like of which he had not eaten for many a
long day. As yet, the man had spoken only one word--"water"--but
he regarded the outfit with wide, inquiring eyes, as he ate
greedily of the food placed before him.

"Where going?" he asked after finishing.

"Specter Range, I believe. Perhaps taking in the Shoshones. I am
not certain. Our guide, Hi Lang, is not here just now."

"Bad gang there. Drove me out. Will drive you out." He would say
no more, shaking his head when Grace pressed him for an
explanation. After an hour's rest, during which the caller drank
water until they feared for its effect on him, he filled his water
bags from the water hole and lashed them to his pony and mounted.
Elfreda handed him a chunk of bacon, which he acknowledged with a
nod, and stuffed it into his kit.

The traveler now threw back his shoulders and peered at each
member of the outfit in turn as if to impress their faces on his
mind, then swept off his sombrero.

"Thankee, folks," he said, and, putting spurs to his pony,
galloped away.

"There is one man to whom it would be perfectly safe to entrust a
secret," declared Miss Briggs with emphasis.

"What a strange character," murmured Anne, as she gazed after the
galloping pony. "I wonder who he can be."

"I am curious to know what he meant by warning us against the
mountains," interjected Elfreda Briggs.

"And I am rather concerned about Mr. Lang," added Grace. "He must
be a long way from here, else he would have heard our signal
shots. I have an idea that our late caller must have heard them
and that it was he who answered. That must be it. If so I am glad,
for the poor fellow was ready to drop and so was his horse. Shall
we fill the buckets?"

They did. The ponies were thirsty again, and it required several
bucketfuls to satiate thirst, after which everything fillable was
filled with water. Grace, to pass away the time, got out her lasso
and tried to throw it, but she made a complete failure. In turn,
each of the others tried their hand at throwing the rope, but with
no better success. Ping offered himself for a mark, chattering
like a magpie as, each time, the loop of the lasso collapsed
before reaching him.

"What for you makee so fashion?" he cried between laughs, chuckles
and grimaces.

"Never mind, Ping. You will not talkee 'so fashion' one day. When
I learn to throw the rope, which I shall, I will rope you when you
are not looking," threatened Grace.

"No can do," grinned the Chinaman. "HAI YAH! Man b'longey top-side
horse," he cried, pointing off over the desert.

Looking in the direction in which he was pointing, the Overland
girls saw in the far distance a horseman, sitting his mount so
motionless that at first they were not positive whether it were a
horseman or a distorted cactus plant.

Grace ran for her binoculars and for some minutes studied the
stranger.

"That's our caller," suggested Hippy.

Maybe he has decided to hang around for another meal. I don't know
that I blame him."

"No, it is not the same man, at least not same pony," answered
Grace, snapping glasses shut. "The man yonder is riding a black
pony. The one who called on us rode a nearly white animal. I can't
imagine why he is so interested, but he is surely watching us.
However, we won't worry so long as we have a water tank at hand."

At four o'clock in the afternoon the mysterious stranger was still
in practically the same place. He appeared to move only when his
pony stepped forward a few paces for more sagebrush.

"Man b'longey top-side horse!" cried Ping, again pointing in
another direction.

The Overlanders saw a cloud of dust rolling toward them over the
desert, ahead of the cloud being a horseman riding at a swift
gallop.

"This would seem to be our day at home, judging from the number of
callers who are dropping in," observed Elfreda.

Grace threw up her glasses and took a quick look.

"I can't make him out," she said. "It can't be Mr. Lang, for this
man is coming from a direction different from the one he took, if
the footprints of his pony leading out of this camp are any
indication."

"Man b'longey horse hab go chop-chop!" volunteered Ping.

Looking quickly toward the west the Overlanders were amazed to
find that the silent horseman who had had them under observation
for hours was no longer in view. Though not more than two or three
minutes had elapsed since Grace Harlowe last saw him, he had
disappeared as suddenly as if the sands of the desert had opened
and taken him in.

"Maybe he has fallen into a tank, just as I did," suggested Hippy.

"Mr. Lang is coming. It is he, after all," cried Grace joyously,
as she gazed at the swiftly moving cloud of dust that Ping had
called her attention to some moments before.



CHAPTER XV

THE GUIDE READS A DESERT TRAIL


"Did you shoot?" called the guide, pulling his pony down sharply.

Both pony and rider were gray from the desert dust, and the
guide's face was lined with perspiration streaks. It was plain
that he had ridden hard and long.

"Yes. Did you find water?" cried Emma.

"I did, twenty miles or nigh that, from here. What's that?" he
demanded, pointing to the water hole.

"We have water, Mr. Lang," Grace told him, "Mr. Wingate fell
through a crust and discovered a tank. There is water in plenty.
We are so sorry that you had all that journey for nothing. Ping!
Water for Mr. Lang and a bucketful for his pony. How long since
did you hear our signal shots?"

"More'n an hour ago. I wasn't certain, but I thought I heard three
shots. My journey was not for nothing, for I have found a tank and
there we will make our next camping place." The guide paused to
lift the bucket that Ping had fetched, and to drink deeply from
it.

"Who's been here?"

"What makes you think anyone has?" teased Emma.

"Plain as daylight. I followed a pony's trail in for more than two
miles. There's the tracks where he went away," answered the guide
quickly.

"You surely have sharp eyes," nodded Elfreda.

"He was one of those sphinxes, like some other deserts have. This
one was not stuck fast to the ground like a regular sphinx, but
his tongue must have been stuck to the roof of his mouth, for he
couldn't say any more words than a ten-month-old baby," declared
Hippy Wingate.

"Tell me about him," urged Hi, turning to Grace.

The guide nodded understandingly after Grace had told him in
detail of the arrival of the stranger, choking for a drink, and
half famished from hunger.

"That's like him."

"Like whom?" questioned Hippy.

"Like the desert traveler. He is just one of those brainless
fellows like myself, who would rather be out here, suffering,
choking, dying by inches, than be at home surrounded by all the
comforts that a home gives a man. Didn't say what his name is, did
he?"

"No, sir. Let me see," reflected Grace. "He said, 'Water!' Then,
later, after asking where we were going, and being informed that
we expected to visit the Specter Range and perhaps the Shoshones,
he replied, 'Bad gang there. Drove me out. Will drive you out.' As
he left he said, 'Thankee, folks.' To the best of my recollection
he opened his mouth at no other time, except to eat and drink."

"Hm--m--m--m," mused the guide. "In the Specters, eh?"

"I don't know whether he referred to them or to the Shoshones,"
answered Grace.

"Didn't say where he was going?"

"No, sir. Can you tell us, Mr. Lang, why it is that desert lovers
like yourself, and like the stranger who was here, as a more
extreme case are so silent, so taciturn and ever listening for
something? What is it they are listening for?"

"I reckon they take after nature herself out here. When a man is
alone on this big desert he feels very small, and speaking out or
raising a fellow's voice seems as much of a sacrilege as speaking
out loud in church when the preacher's praying. As for listening,
I don't know, but maybe we listen for the sounds that we are so
used to hearing at home, the rustle of leaves, the song of a bird,
but all we ever hear out here in the daytime is now and then the
buzz of a rattler's tail. We don't always shoot 'em because we
sort of hate to make so much noise. I reckon that isn't much of an
explanation, but---"

"I call it very fine," nodded Elfreda. "By the way, Mr. Lang, we
had another caller, a distant caller to-day. He didn't come near
the camp, but sat his pony for several hours apparently observing
us. Perhaps he was resting."

Hi Lang's face showed his interest. He asked questions and frowned
thoughtfully, requesting that they point out as closely as
possible the spot at which the man had been seen.

"You say he disappeared suddenly?"

"Yes, Mr. Lang," answered Grace.

"Was that when I was coming up?"

"You were."

"He evidently saw me and ducked. There's a high ridge of sand over
there where you saw him. He was on that ridge or you wouldn't have
seen him, and when he discovered me he just naturally slid his
pony down the other side and walked away under cover of the ridge
or else got down and peeked over the top of it. I don't like that.
You weren't thinking of going on to-night, were you?"

"Not unless you think best, Mr. Lang," replied Grace.

"Then I reckon I'll ride over there in the morning and see what
his tracks look like. To-morrow night we'll make camp by the water
hole I found to-day, unless some other party comes along and dips
the water all out or it disappears between now and then."

"Did you answer our signal shots that you say you thought you
heard?" asked Hippy.

"Of course I did, though I didn't think you would hear them, being
as there was a gentle breeze from this direction against me. I
staked the ponies down before I went away this morning, and that
black bronco of yours gave me some trouble, Mrs. Gray. I had to
lasso him. When are you going to learn to throw the rope?"

"When are you going to teach me?" returned Grace smilingly.

"That's the talk. We'll begin right now. Get your rope."

Grace was instructed first how to coil the rope, how to make the
loop and to properly grasp it by its hondo, or knot, before
throwing; then the real lesson began.

It was sorry work for her at first, but by the time Ping uttered
his shrill call for supper, Grace had learned to throw the rope
and let the loop drop to the ground without destroying the form of
the loop. Hi announced that, on the morrow, she should be able to
hit a mark on the ground but that considerable practice would be
necessary before she would be able to rope an object that was in
motion.

Supper was followed by an interesting evening, during which Hi
Lang told the Overland girls more of the desert secrets.

"We are now in the skunk country," he said, as they were about to
turn in.

"The what?" demanded Emma Dean.

"I do not mean the sort you probably are familiar with in the
east. The desert skunk is an entirely different animal. He bites,
and his bite is supposed to produce hydrophobia, which means death
out here. He is, therefore, known as the hydrophobia skunk. Go
into any desert camp just before turning-in time and you will hear
the desert wanderers speaking of rattlesnakes and skunks. Every
man who knows those two pests is actually afraid of them."

"This is a fine time of day to tell us," complained Nora.

"That's what I say," wailed Emma. "Why didn't you tell us after
breakfast instead of after supper?"

"Yes. I know I shall dream of snakes and skunks and other
creeping, crawling things to-night," added Anne.

Hi laughed silently, masking his mouth with a hand.

"String a rope all the way around your tent on the ground. No
snake will go over that, especially a horsehair rope. Your lasso
is the thing for that, Mrs. Gray. I will have Ping keep the fire
going and that will keep the skunks away. The insects and other
creeping things we can't stop, so we shall have to take our
chances with them. Sorry, but it was necessary to tell you. If you
are going to be desert travelers you must learn the desert."

"You are perfectly right, Mr. Lang," nodded Grace. "I am very glad
you have told us so much to-night, especially about skunks and
snakes. I will lay my lasso around the tent and sleep in perfect
security. Girls, let's turn in."

Emma dreamed of snakes that night and had nightmare, crying out in
her sleep and getting a violent shaking from Elfreda Briggs as her
reward. Otherwise, the night was peacefully passed.

Early on the following morning, before any of the outfit was
awake, except Ping, who seemed never to sleep, Hi Lang had caught
up his pony and ridden out on the desert and on to the spot at
which the girls had seen the mysterious horseman the day before.
Hi readily found the hoof-prints of the pony ridden by the man,
and examined them with keen interest. He observed other features
of the trail that might easily have escaped even a desert
wanderer's observation, and that told him much.

"I reckon there's going to be some lively doings before we've got
to the end of this journey," muttered the guide, assuming a
listening attitude, with head tilted to one side, eyes fixed on
the blue sky overhead. He stood motionless in that position for
many minutes. Finally arousing himself from his reverie, Hi
mounted his pony and galloped away towards the camp, reaching
there some time before the Riders were awake. Grace Harlowe
appeared about an hour later, and walked out over the desert a
short distance, inhaling the sweet morning air in long, delicious
breaths.

"What is it that smells so sweet?" she called to the guide, who
was busying himself about the camp, for there was a new and
strangely sweet fragrance in the air.

"That's another of the desert mysteries. Supposed to have been
rain somewhere. It's like a breath straight from heaven. I love
it!" Hi straightened up, and, throwing back his shoulders, inhaled
deeply.

Grace was thoughtful as she returned to camp, but it was not of
the desert she was thinking. Rather was it of the man who was
guiding them. He was a poet by nature, but did not know it. He was
intelligent and he possessed a mind and a power of reasoning far
beyond what one might look for in a man of his calling.

"Was the morning perfume what induced you to take such an early
ride, Mr. Lang?" asked Grace sweetly.

The guide gave her a quick glance.

"What makes you think I took a gallop this morning, Mrs. Gray?"

"In the first place your pony is not tethered where he was last
night, and, secondly, your trail, going and returning, is plain
out there," she said, with a gesture towards the desert.

"You're sharp," observed Hi briefly, and proceeded with his work
without offering further information. Grace believed, however,
that he had ridden out to look at the trail left by the solitary
horseman who had been watching their camp, but asked no further
questions. Hi would speak when ready to do so; that she knew.

The Overlanders moved at an early hour and made camp that night at
the water hole found by the guide the day before. Several pairs of
keen eyes frequently swept the horizon during the day, and again
on the following morning, for the mysterious horseman, but it was
three days later before he was again seen in the distance.

"What's the matter with my taking a shot at him?" demanded
Lieutenant Wingate.

"No!" answered the guide with emphasis. "Give the calf enough rope
and he'll hang himself. Saddle up and we'll ride that way and have
a look at the trail again."

The watcher disappeared as the Overlanders were saddling their
ponies. As before, the guide made no comment after he had examined
the hoof-prints left by the observer's pony, and the journey was
resumed.

The days drew on, and the Overlanders, now more used to the
hardships and heat of traveling on the desert, began to take a
real pleasure in the work, to enjoy the free life and the
excitement that came to them in one form or another nearly every
day. Now and then a day would pass without water, but they made
the best of it, having confidence that Hi Lang would find it in
time, no matter how dark the outlook. The mysterious horseman had
appeared several times, always too far away to enable them to get
a good look at him. Occasionally Hi would go out for a look at the
pony's trail, but it was not until they were nearing the mountain
ranges, after three weeks of journeying across the hot sands, that
the guide gave a direct answer to a direct question as to whether
or not he knew what the mysterious one was up to. Hippy had asked
the question when they were at supper one evening.

"I don't know what he's up to, of course," replied Hi Lang. "I do
know that he is the same fellow who left the range after we folks
were shot at there, for the hoof-prints of his pony are the same.
He is watching us, and we'll hear from him later," he declared
impressively.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CROSS ON THE DESERT


"You should have let me take a shot at him when I had the chance,"
grumbled Hippy.

"Time enough to shoot when we are shot at," rebuked Grace. "We are
not starting trouble, but when it comes we know how to meet it. Do
we not, Mr. Lang?"

Hi Lang nodded enthusiastically.

Grace had been practicing persistently with her Mexican lasso, and
was now beginning to learn to rope a pony. That is, she had
succeeded, when riding alongside a trotting pony who objected to
being caught, in casting the lasso over its head, but so far as
catching the hind foot of a moving bronco with her loop, that was
far beyond her. Grace doubted if she ever would gain sufficient
skill to do that.

Elfreda, too, was an apt pupil and not far behind her companion in
casting the rope. She was glorying in the life of the west, which
was becoming more and more alluring to her as the days passed.

"Two days more and we'll be in the foothills of the Specters.
Maybe you will be able to rope a wildcat there," said the guide,
smiling at the two girls.

"Four-or two-legged?" inquired Hippy.

"Possibly both. After we get cooled off in the mountains, if you
folks think you wish to go on down into the Colorado Desert, I
will show you some real desert heat. By comparison, this desert is
as cool as a summer resort."

Grace said they would discuss their future movements after they
had rested up a bit in the mountains. All the girls were looking
forward to the mountains where shade, spring water and cooling
breezes awaited them. Some of them were filled with curiosity as
to what else awaited them there, having in mind the prophecy of
the desert rider whom they had succored.

It was with thoughts of the mountains, and with eager eyes
searching the horizon ahead, that the Overland Riders set out for
their day's journey on the following morning. A brief stop was
made at noon for a cup of tea and biscuits, after which the daily
search for a water hole was begun. As night approached, the search
became more intensive, but it was not until after nightfall that a
tank was found.

A full moon hung in the heavens and the night was a beautiful one,
a peaceful, restful desert night. Camp was quickly made a short
distance removed from the water hole, and, after water had been
supplied to the ponies, and the water bags and pails filled, the
party sat down to supper and to a discussion of the topic
uppermost in their minds--the attack that had been made on them,
and the mysterious horseman.

"What is that I see out there?" suddenly demanded Nora Wingate,
pointing to an object out on the desert, some fifty or sixty yards
from where she was sitting.

"It looks like a cross tilted on its side," said Anne.

"That's what it is," nodded the guide.

"A cross? What for?" questioned Emma.

"Some poor desert traveler who couldn't find a water hole,"
replied Hi Lang reflectively.

"Did you know that thing was there?" demanded Emma.

"Yes, of course."

"And yet you camped right here? I shan't sleep a wink to-night."

"Don't be foolish, Emma. Let it be a reminder to us to be prudent
with our water supply," soothed Grace. "I do not suppose this
water hole existed at that time; did it, Mr. Lang?"

"It may have. Travelers have been known to give up and die of
thirst when water was almost within reach of their hand. You will
see more such as that as we get south," said Hi, nodding in the
direction of the leaning cross.

"I suppose that, in most instances, they were persons who did not
know the desert well," suggested Grace.

"Just so," agreed the guide. "Shall we go out and look at it?"

"Not to-night, thank you. The morning will do for that. It is not
a pleasant thought to take to bed with one."

Hi got up and strode out to look at the cross, followed by Hippy.
The guide believed in investigating everything. It was a
precaution that he had learned after many journeys across the
Great American Desert. It might not mark the resting place of a
lost traveler at all; the cross might be a guide to water, or it
might mean nothing at all. In any event Hi's curiosity must be
satisfied.

"What do you find?" questioned Hippy, as he joined the guide by
the leaning cross.

"The stones that held it up have been moved, as you see. They are
scattered, some half covered with sand. Windstorm did that in all
probability. Queer thing, but I don't see any indications of
anything but wind having disturbed the place."

"Hand me a stone and I'll prop it up," requested Hippy. The guide
did so, and Lieutenant Wingate dropped the stone beside it, after
straightening up the crude cross.

Both men heard a metallic sound as the stone struck the ground.
The quick ear of Hi Lang told him that something other than desert
sand lay there at the foot of the crossed sticks.

"See what it is," urged Hi.

Grace had been observing the movements of the two men and her
curiosity was rapidly getting the better of her.

"Come, Elfreda, let us go out and see what those two men are so
deeply interested in," she urged, rising and starting towards
them, followed by Miss Briggs.

"Looks like a tin box," answered Hippy. "There's only a corner of
it sticking above the sand."

Hi got down on his knees and peered at the object, then, lighting
a match, looked it over more closely.

"Reckon it's a cracker box. Pull it out."

"I wouldn't do that," protested Grace, who now saw what had so
interested Hippy and the guide. "It seems like a sacrilege to
disturb it."

"On the desert, Mrs. Gray, one's life may depend upon the
thoroughness with which he investigates everything that he was not
before familiar with--anything unusual. This is unusual."

"I know, but---"

"Out she comes," answered Hippy.

"Oh!" exclaimed Grace Harlowe under her breath.

"Another match, please, Hi."

By the light of the flickering match the men and the two girls
peered at the object that Lieutenant Wingate took from the sand
and held up for their inspection.

"It isn't a cracker box at all. It looks more like a safe deposit
box," he declared. "What shall I do with it, Hi?"

"Take it into camp and open it, of course."

Grace protested again, but not so insistently as before. The guide
said he had a theory about the cross and the supposed grave, a
theory which he proposed to prove or disprove before leaving that
night's camping place.

"I know what it is," volunteered Miss Briggs. "I have one like it
to keep my private papers in, except that this one shows wear and
has lost most of its enamel, I suppose from the action of sand and
weather."

"What is it? What is it?" cried Emma, unable longer to restrain
her curiosity. Following her, as she came running to the scene,
were Anne and Nora.

"We don't know yet. It is a box, but we haven't opened it," Grace
informed her.

"Who found it?" demanded Emma.

"Mr. Lang and Hippy."

"Do--do we get what is in it?" persisted Miss Dean.

"This is an Overland affair, Emma," said Hippy. "Mr. Lang is an
Overlander so far as this party is concerned, and, as a matter of
fact, he discovered the box."

"You mean you did, Lieutenant," corrected the guide.

"We discovered it. That, I think, is the best way to settle it.
However, we are counting our chickens before they are hatched.
Let's go in by the fire where we can see."

Hippy carried the box under his arm, followed by the entire
Overland party, their curiosity being intensified by his delay in
opening it. Observing this, Lieutenant Wingate took his time,
helped himself to a drink of water, discussed their find with Hi,
then shifted the box to the other arm and began, discussing the
weather.

"Are you ever going to open that thing?" cried Emma. "You are so
aggravating."

"Oh, yes, the box," exclaimed Hippy. "Come over by the fire where
we can see what we are about."

Hippy sat down, held the box up to his ear and shook it.

"Yep! Something in it. Sounds like gold rattling about in there,
but the box is locked. Get a hammer so I can break it open."

"I do not like the idea at all," objected Grace somewhat severely.
"It is not our property and we have no right to---"

"Everything on the desert is any man's property," corrected the
guide. "Further, it is our duty to open the box. We do not know
but it may contain the last request of some unfortunate desert
traveler, and if that is so it may lay in our power to do him a
great service. Of course, if you say we must not open it, we will
respect your wishes in the matter."

"You may do as you wish," answered Grace.

The guide produced his heavy clasp-knife, provided with a can-
opening attachment, and pried the cover loose.

"Do you wish to open it, Brown Eyes?" asked Hippy, holding the box
up to Grace.

She shook her head.

"Then here goes for better or for worse," announced Lieutenant
Wingate, throwing open the cover and revealing the contents of the
box to the eager gaze of the Overlanders.



CHAPTER XVII

ANOTHER MYSTERY TO SOLVE


"Fiddlesticks! Nothing but paper," wailed Emma Dean, peering into
the mystery box.

"No. There is something more." Hippy lifted out the paper, a
folded paper, and placed it on the ground. "Here is a gold watch
and a handful of gold. Let's see how much there is." He counted
out a hundred dollars, which, with some silver and a plain gold
ring, and the paper first removed, made up the contents of the
box.

"Not much of a find, is it?" smiled Anne.

"No. It's a shame, too, after our expectations had been worked up
to concert pitch," declared Nora. "Hippy Wingate, this is your
doings."

"Blame the fellow who put the things in the box. I only took them
out," grumbled Hippy. "Guess that's about all, Hi," he added,
looking up sheepishly at the guide.

"You haven't looked at the paper," reminded Elfreda.

"It's only a piece of wrapping paper," returned Hippy. "What do I
want to look at that for?"

Grace Harlowe stooped over, picked up the paper and felt it
gingerly.

"There IS something here!" she exclaimed. "The wrapping paper
evidently has been folded over as a protection to what is inside."
Grace thereupon opened the wrapper, revealing a tightly folded
package of heavier paper. The rubber band that held the inner
package together fell apart as she placed a finger on it to remove
it.

The eyes of the party were instantly centered on Grace Harlowe,
who carefully unfolded the paper and held it down so that the
light from the campfire might shine on it.

"It is a map," she said. "It is a map, drawn with pen and ink.
This looks promising," she added, spreading the map out on the
ground. "What a queer thing to bury, and who did it? Surely not
the man who lies there under the cross."

"I should not take that for granted," observed Hi Lang quietly.

"Please let me see it," requested Miss Briggs.

Grace handed the map to her, and Elfreda studied it frowningly.

"It means nothing in particular, I should say. It might be a map
of a scene in Switzerland for all we know," declared Nora. "Hippy,
you are a champion finder. I wonder if they give medals for
persons who find things--who make great finds."

"Nora dear, if I had found one of the Egyptian pyramids out here
on the American Desert, you would blame me for not handing out the
Sphinx at the same time," protested Hippy.

"It may mean a great deal," said Grace.

"I agree with you," nodded Elfreda, who was still studying the
map. "It is a mystery map, and it plainly meant something to its
possessor or he would not have brought it out here and buried it.
By the same token, I should say that it applied to something in
this part of the country. I am inclined to believe that it does.
There is a name here. Mr. Lang, do you know of any person of the
name of Steve Carver?"

"No, Miss Briggs. May I have a look?"

"Oh, pardon me," begged Elfreda, handing the map to the guide. Hi
studied it for several minutes, then returned it.

"It's not a picture of anything that I ever saw, I reckon," he
said.

"What shall we do with it?" asked Miss Briggs.

"I would suggest that we make a copy of it, returning the map to
the box and burying the box by the cross where we found it,"
replied Grace.

"Yes, but what about this gold, Brown Eyes?" demanded Hippy.

"Put that back, too. It doesn't belong to us, Am I not right, Mr.
Lang?" she asked.

"I reckon you are," agreed the guide, nodding his approval of the
suggestion.

"What's the use in finding things?" grumbled Hippy, permitting the
gold to slip through his fingers into the metal box.

Elfreda, on a piece of wrapping paper, made a careful copy of the
map, then returned it to Lieutenant Wingate, who placed it in the
box and slammed down the cover.

"I'll bury the old thing, of course, but some one else will dig it
up. That's why I should advise keeping the whole business," said
Hippy, rising and walking over to the cross with the box under his
arm. They heard him working out there and, in a few moments, he
returned. "Deed's done," he informed them. "What are you going to
do with the copy of the map, J. Elfreda?"

"Entertain myself in studying it. Nothing may come of that, of
course, but, like Emma, a mystery does appeal to me."

"So it does to me," agreed Grace. "Were it not for the fact that
my intuition tells me that the map is going to play an important
part in our journey, I should not have been in favor of making a
copy of it, so take good care of the copy, Elfreda dear."

The rest of the evening was spent in discussing their mysterious
find and all sorts of theories were advanced for the box being
buried by the leaning cross. Hi Lang listened to all of this, but
made no comment. He had his own ideas on the subject.

Next morning Hi was out long before the others were awake, making
an investigation on his own account. He had barely begun this
when, upon glancing up, he saw the solitary horseman far out on
the desert, sitting motionless, apparently observing the camp of
the Overland Riders.

The guide took his time at what he was doing, at the same time
keeping a watchful eye on the distant horseman.

"I thought so!" exclaimed Hi Lang. "I think I'll give that fellow
a run," he decided after a moment's reflection, during which he
observed the watcher narrowly.

Catching up his pony, the guide quickly saddled, and, mounting,
started across the desert at a brisk gallop. Five minutes later
the solitary horseman turned his pony about and dashed away. Hi
threw up his rifle and sent a bullet after the man, continuing to
fire until the magazine of his rifle was emptied.

After reloading Hi thrust the rifle into its saddle boot and rode
on until he reached the point from which the horseman had been
observing. Hi Lang got down and again examined the hoof-prints of
the watcher's pony.

"Huh!" he grunted. "That cayuse will keep on until something hits
him--hits him hard. I reckon I begin to smell a mouse, and I think
Mrs. Gray does, too. Hope she didn't hear me shooting back there.
But none of that outfit is so sleepy or thick-headed that they
don't see or hear pretty much everything that's going on about
them."

Having freed his mind, Hi remounted and rode slowly back towards
the camp. The Chinaman was getting breakfast when Mr. Lang rode in
and tethered his pony.

"Pack up right after breakfast. We've got a long journey to-day,"
he directed.

Ping nodded his understanding and went on with his work, humming
to himself. Half an hour later the Riders began to appear, each
with a cheery good morning for their guide and adviser.

Grace and Elfreda came out together. Miss Briggs paused to chat
with the guide, Grace walking on and strolling about to get an
appetite, as she nearly always did in the early morning.

Hi Lang observed her narrowly when Grace halted by the cross and
stood gazing down at it thoughtfully.

"I wonder who you are, unhappy traveler?" she was murmuring. "I
wonder, too, if there are any who are wondering where you are?"
Grace observed that the ground had been disturbed since last she
saw it, but she made no comment when, a few moments later, she
joined Mr. Lang and Elfreda.

"Grace, I was just asking Mr. Lang who it was that was shooting
this morning," greeted Elfreda.

"I presume he told you it was a mirage of your dreams, did he
not?" smiled Grace teasingly.

"It was Mr. Lang who did the shooting," replied Elfreda. "Grace,
our mysterious horseman was on the job again this morning."

"Did you hit him?" questioned Grace.

Hi Lang shook his head.

"Too far away. Knew I couldn't get him. All I expected to do was
to give him a polite hint that his attentions were displeasing to
us. It was the same man that has been following us all along, Mrs.
Gray. It was the same hoofprints, too, that I found up in the
range where we first made camp. If that critter and I ever get
close enough to see each other's eyes there's going to be a
shooting match. When we get to the hills he will have the
advantage of us, because he can get closer without being seen."

"Please don't worry, Mr. Lang. We will meet that emergency when we
come face to face with it. Perhaps by then I may have skill enough
with the lasso to practice on a real live man," laughed Grace.

"I reckon you could get most anything you cast for already."

"Thank you! When do we start?"

"Right away. Just as soon as we finish breakfast. Ping is packing
up and we will be off in no time."

Breakfast had been eaten, and in something less than twenty
minutes from that time, the party was well on its way, and the
sun, red and angry, was showing its upper rim above the sands of
the desert.

"A hot time on the old desert to-day," observed Hippy. "Emma, how
would you like a dish of strawberry ice cream for luncheon?" he
teased.

"I think you are real mean," pouted Emma.

Grace, at this juncture, galloped up beside the guide to ask him
about the water hole that they were hoping to reach, that day, but
from his shake of the head she knew that he was not particularly
hopeful about finding water there.

"It should be easy for you to nose out a water tank, Mr. Lang,"
she said, smiling over at him.

"How so?"

"You are so successful in unraveling the mysteries of nature that
you surely should be able to discover water even where there isn't
any."

"What are you driving at, Mrs. Gray?"

"I have an idea that you solved at least one mystery this
morning."

Hi Lang flushed a little under his tan and shook his head.

"There's no use trying to keep anything from you, and there's no
reason that I know of, why I should. No one is buried in that
place where we found the box. The cross was set up to keep people
away so they wouldn't find the box with the gold and the map. It
was my idea that we should find it to be so. How did you know?"

"I saw what you had been doing," answered Grace. "What do you
think is the most important contents of the box, the gold?"

"No. I reckon the map might be a sight more valuable than the
handful of gold if one knew where to find the place that the map
pictures. There's a heap of bad actors down this way, Mrs. Gray.
They are regular land pirates. We call them desert pirates. They'd
murder a man for two bits, and I reckon that maybe they had
something to do with that place back there, and that the fellow
who owned the map, when he saw the pirates coming, buried it so
they shouldn't find it."

"Then this is another mystery for us to solve, Mr. Lang--the
mystery of the buried map. I suppose you have discovered that the
girls of the Overland Riders are possessed of the usual curiosity
of their sex, have you not?"

Hi laughed silently.

"You've got a poser this time. 'Fraid your curiosity won't be
gratified, so far as that map is concerned, but I reckon you'll
find so much doing before long that you will forget all about this
particular mystery. We are not being watched out of mere
curiosity, Mrs. Gray," declared the guide.

"I am well aware of that, Mr. Lang," replied Grace Harlowe
gravely.



CHAPTER XVIII

AN OLD INDIAN TRICK


It was the most trying day of their journey that the Overlanders
were experiencing, because of the heat and the fact that they were
getting further and further below sea level. The heat was a
lifeless heat, and the members of the outfit found themselves
nodding and swaying in their saddles, keeping awake only by much
effort.

"Water only five miles away," called Hippy Wingate late in the
afternoon in a cheerful voice. "Wake up, Overlanders! Hi says we
will be there before sundown."

A little later the party broke into a gallop, leaving Ping Wing
and his lazy burros far to the rear of them. They were now
crossing that arid region known as the Pahute Mesa, and, just over
the horizon, lay a series of broken mountain ranges, wild, cut off
from civilization, and shunned by all save those whose duty, fancy
or love of adventure called them there. On beyond these the desert
again took up its monotonous reach, hotter, more deadly than
before. Just now, however, the thoughts of the Overland Riders
were on the water hole for which they were heading, and, next in
importance, the cool mountain ranges. Hi Lang beckoned to Grace to
ride up to him.

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

"Please caution the young ladies to be sparing of the water."

"Why, it isn't possible that we are short of water," protested
Grace.

"We may be."

"Will you please explain? Your words intimate that you may have
discovered something."

"I saw dust rising from the desert over yonder, a short time ago.
It moved along in a little cloud to the westward and finally
disappeared."

"Do you think it was our mysterious horseman?" asked Grace.

"Maybe. There was more than one horse, as I could tell from the
dust kicked up."

Grace asked what relation that had to the shortage of water.

"Just this, Mrs. Gray. That cloud rose--and I saw it the instant
it appeared--from about where the tank that we are heading for
should be. That's all. Of course I don't know what those folks
were doing there, but I am warning you to go easy on the water."

Grace thanked him and rode over to her companions to caution them
to be sparing of the water, saying that it were possible that they
might be short of it, though Grace confessed to herself that she
did not see how even a visit of the desert "pirates" to a water
hole possibly could prevent her outfit from getting sufficient
water for their use. Of course, if there were but little water in
the tank it might take a long time to get enough for the ponies.

"Something has occurred, has it not?" questioned Elfreda in a tone
barely loud enough for Grace to hear.

"Mr. Lang saw a cloud of dust that aroused his suspicion. The
guide has something of an imagination," added Grace, smiling at
her perspiring companion.

After a little Hi Lang ordered the party to drop into a slower
pace, saying that he wished to save the ponies so far as possible.

"Dismount, but wait before you unpack," directed the guide, when
the party arrived at the water hole.

"Girls, please stay where you are for the present," called Grace.

"What's the big idea?" demanded Hippy Wingate.

"Mr. Lang wishes to see if any one has been here. He thought he
saw a dust cloud in this direction this afternoon and desires to
have a look around, so don't stamp about and destroy the trail, if
there is such a thing," admonished Grace.

Hi Lang got down in the water hole, and for a few moments was out
of their sight. He rose finally and clambered out, his face
wearing a stern expression, and Grace saw at once that the guide
was trying desperately to control his temper.

Without so much as looking at the Overlanders, Hi Lang began
nosing about, now and then bending over to peer at the ground,
stepping cautiously, following a crooked course, all of which
excited Hippy Wingate's merriment.

"He works just like a dog does when the rabbit season opens,"
declared the lieutenant. "What's he up to?"

"Looking for trouble," suggested Emma.

Hi followed the trail he had picked up some little distance out on
the desert, which the light of the full moon enabled him to do. He
then stood up and gazed at the sky for a brief moment.

"Unsaddle and make camp," he directed tersely.

"Did you find what you expected?" asked Grace.

"Yes. I'll tell you about it as soon as we make camp."

"How's the water?" called Hippy.

"There isn't a drop in the tank, Lieutenant. Ping, you will give
the ponies about a quart apiece from our supply, no more. We will
stake down now."

Camp was quickly made and the bacon was frying over a small,
flickering cook-fire a few moments afterward. Efforts to be merry
at supper that night were a failure, and Hi Lang was unusually
taciturn.

"May we hear the worst now, Mr. Lang?" asked Grace as they
finished the meal.

"As I told you, there is no water in the tank, but the sand is
still moist, showing that there was water there a short time
since."

"Some one must have been rather dry," observed Hippy, but no one
laughed at his humor.

"There probably was not much water left there after the party
before us finished helping themselves, but there would have been
sufficient for us if they had left the tank alone. They tampered
with it, folks!"

"How do you mean, Hi?" questioned Lieutenant Wingate.

"By digging in and poking about in the tank they have managed to
start the water seeping deeper into the ground until it finally
found a new course and disappeared. It's an old Indian trick
they've worked on us."

"Is it possible that men can be so desperate?" wondered Anne
Nesbit.

"Men!" exploded the guide. "They're not men. They're low-down
hounds!"

"Why should they wish to do these things to us?" demanded Nora,
flushing with resentment.

"There were three men in the party this time, one being the same
fellow that has followed us most of the way out here. I don't know
who the others are. It isn't so much the water that's bothering me
as it is that they don't come out and face us if they have a
grudge to settle with us. I'm ready to meet them and I reckon you
folks are too."

"I think it would be a relief to have them do so," agreed Elfreda
Briggs. "This constant tormenting gets on one's nerves after a
time."

"What is your plan? I know you have one, Mr. Lang," spoke up
Grace.

"The clouds are making up in the south, and in a couple of hours
they will hide the moon. It isn't advisable to do anything until
the night gets good and dark, so I suggest that you folks lie down
and get some rest, for we have a long, hard ride ahead of us."

"To-night? Ride to-night?" questioned Emma.

"Yes. Ride and ride hard. Even the lazy burros have got to get a
move on. We must ride all night to-night, and when day dawns we
must be in or near Forty-Mile Canyon. Then let those pirates find
us if they can. They will find us sooner or later, in all
probability, but by that time we shall be doing some stalking on
our own account. You see, they will be expecting to find us here
in the morning, but we shall be far on our journey by then," said
the guide.

"What! Ride all night?" demanded Emma. "I'll die! I surely will."

"And probably all day to-morrow," nodded the guide. "I will start
the Chinaman on his way the moment the sky becomes overcast, and
we will follow an hour or so later. You folks will have that much
longer to sleep. Good-night, folks." Hi got up abruptly and walked
away to give his orders to Ping Wing.

"This is where we link arms with trouble," observed Miss Briggs,
with a shake of the head.

"Stick by me. I have a rope and I know how to throw it, J. Elfreda
dear," replied Grace Harlowe laughingly.



CHAPTER XIX

THE WARNING


"Turn out!" It was Hi Lang's voice that summoned the girls from
their tents, and a far from welcome summons it was, for they were
sleeping soundly.

"Lieutenant, the ponies are saddled and ready," said the guide,
halting at Hippy's tent. "Please give the Riders the tent
equipment to carry and assist them to lash the stuff on.
Everything else has gone forward."

"All right, old ma-an. Can't give me five minutes for a cat-nap,
can you?" begged Hippy.

"Turn out!" Hippy yawned and got up. The night was now pitch dark,
and Lieutenant Wingate fell over tent stakes and ropes and
whatever else was handy for him to catch his toes on, as he
staggered about aimlessly.

Bethinking himself of the guide's orders, Hippy suddenly began
pulling up the stakes from the girls' tent and let it down on
their heads. Emma Dean cried out, which brought a stern command
for silence from Mr. Lang. Following that, there was not a sound
in the camp during the next fifteen minutes.

"Packs lashed to ponies behind saddles," announced Hippy. "Party
ready to move."

"Mount and follow me. No loud talking, please; light no matches.
You understand why I am so strict?" said the guide in an
apologetic tone.

"We understand fully, Mr. Lang," replied Grace in a low voice.

"Start!" he commanded.

The start was made at a jog-trot, which, after a few minutes, was
changed to a gallop. This pace was continued for some time, but
finally the guide slowed down and began peering into the darkness,
looking for Ping and his burros. Elfreda marveled at the almost
uncanny instinct of their guide, and how Ping could lay a course
that could be followed in the dark was a mystery to her. She asked
Hi Lang how it was done.

"See that red star over on the horizon, Miss Briggs? Ping is
instructed to keep that star between the ears of his burro and not
to wobble. By keeping the same star between the ears of my bronco
I am bound to overhaul Ping, provided he has held to his course. I
am, however, allowing for some deviation and keeping a close
lookout."

It was not more than ten minutes after that when Mr. Lang
discovered the Chinaman and his burden bearers plodding along less
than a hundred yards to the right of the course that the Overland
Riders were following. Ping, though he had heard the party coming
up, held to his course until directed to fall in behind them.

"A mariner following a compass course could do no better than
that," declared Grace Harlowe.

"It really is marvelous, though Mr. Lang doesn't think so,"
replied Elfreda.

From that point on the journey was slow and wearisome. No one
complained, however, and the ponies with their riders moved
through the night like specters of the desert.

The first leaden streaks in the sky in the east next morning found
the Overland Riders still a long distance from their objective,
the clouds not having darkened the moon as early in the evening as
Hi Lang had hoped they might do, thus delaying the start.

"I see nothing to interest us," announced Grace after a survey of
the desert with her glasses.

"Neither do I. Reckon that spy will be surprised when he makes his
morning call and finds us gone," chuckled the guide. "Yonder are
the mountains where we turn in," he added, pointing.

"I thought that was a cloud on the horizon," said Miss Briggs.
"How far is it from here?"

"About five miles. We'll be there in two hours. Mrs. Gray, will
you use your glasses occasionally as we go ahead? Stop now and
then and take your time in making observations. You can catch up
with us without straining the pony, I reckon," grinned the guide.

"Don't we stop for breakfast soon?" begged Emma.

"Tighten your belt," answered the guide. "It may be some hours
before we can settle down for rest and food."

Emma groaned dismally, and Hippy looked serious. Missing a meal
meant taking a good part of the joy of living from his day.

Sweltering heat followed the rising of the sun, and, as it lighted
up the desert with its glare, Grace stopped and began her survey
of the horizon as requested by the guide. She sat her pony until
she had carefully examined it all the way around.

"All clear, so far as I can see, Mr. Lang," she said, riding up to
him.

Hi nodded, but made no comment, for he could read the desert
better than could Grace Harlowe with her powerful binoculars.

It was eight o'clock in the morning when finally they turned into
Forty-Mile Canyon and began picking their way over the rough
ground. The desert heat followed them until the walls of the
canyon rose sheer for several hundred feet, and they came to a
cascade that, falling into the canyon, became a mountain brook.
Here there was a marked change in the temperature.

"Dismount and water the horses; then we will press on," directed
the guide. "Drink cautiously yourselves. This water is too cold to
be gulped down and will chill your blood if you take too much of
it. Do not let the ponies have all they want, either."

"You mean to say that we will go on after breakfast, do you not?"
questioned Lieutenant Wingate.

"No. We move in ten minutes."

"Humph! France in wartime was living. This is--well, I don't
believe my vocabulary is quite equal to the occasion," declared
Hippy.

"Do we go the entire length of this canyon, Mr. Lang?" asked
Grace.

"No. There are several trails leading out of it, but I shall not
take the first one. I prefer to take the second or third trail,
perhaps just before night. Whoever is interested in us will surely
find our trail leading into Forty-Mile Canyon and will follow it,
but by the time they reach, say the second turning-off path, the
canyon will be as dark as a dungeon. They will then either make
camp for the night or turn back, believing that we are going all
the way through the canyon."

Elfreda nodded her appreciation of the guide's reasoning.

"With the easier traveling on the desert, which they probably will
follow, they will be able to take their time, knowing that they
can head us off at the lower end of the canyon. You see, a
straight line isn't always the shortest distance between two
points so far as time is concerned," smiled Hi Lang.

"But we won't come out at the lower end, eh?" nodded Hippy.

"You said it, Lieutenant."

"I always say something rather brilliant before mess," observed
Hippy airily.

"Yes, but after mess you are afflicted with what might be called a
'fat mind,'" interjected Emma Dean.

Hippy grinned and took up another hole in his belt.

From that point on, the ponies traveled in the mountain stream.

"There's no need to be quiet here. Make all the noise you wish,"
suggested the guide.

"May I scream?" called Emma.

Hi Lang nodded, and Emma uttered a wild cowboy yell which so
startled her pony that the little fellow jumped, and, losing his
footing on a slippery rock, went down on his nose. Emma landed in
the stream, and for a few moments there was excitement among the
Overland Riders, Hippy and Grace succeeding in rescuing Emma and
holding her pony before serious results could follow. Emma,
however, was soaked to the skin; her hair was wet and tumbled, and
in a short time her face took on a bluish tinge from her ducking
in the icy cold stream.

"Serves you right," declared Hippy Wingate. "Anybody who can make
a noise like that before breakfast ought to be ducked."

"Were it not that the water is so cold, I should be inclined to
agree with you," laughed Grace.

After the girls had walked Emma about to get her blood
circulating, a fresh start was made. Thereafter the journey was
uninterrupted until darkness began to settle over the canyon. In
passing, the guide had pointed out in turn three trails leading up
the mountainside, but the Overlanders were unable to see anything
that resembled a trail in any one of them. When they reached the
fourth trail Hi ordered a halt while he investigated it.

"We shall leave the canyon by this trail. You will have to climb
the mountain and lead your ponies," directed the guide on his
return. "It will be a hard climb, but it has to be made. I'll lead
the way. Dismount and follow me."

Night had fully fallen when, after a desperately hard climb, the
top of the mountain was reached. The Overlanders were tired and
hungry, but they were not to have their supper yet. Hi pushed
deeper into the mountains before he found a place to his liking.
Then they had supper and soon after were sound asleep.

Before sunrise the next morning the journey was resumed. Their
objective was the Specter Range, still a four-days' journey
distant.

When they at last reached the range they pitched their camp on the
western edge, overlooking an arid desert to the south, broken
mountain ranges in all other directions.

"Did you see any trail marks at the point where we entered the
Specters, Mrs. Gray?" asked the guide of Grace.

"No. Should I have seen something?"

"Several horsemen passed that way only a short time before we
arrived, but, from the glance I got of the trail, I don't think
the fellow who's been dogging us was among them."

"Who could they have been?"

"Wild horse hunters, maybe. There're plenty of them and they're
usually a tough bunch. I'll scout about and see what else I can
discover."

Mr. Lang discovered nothing of importance, nor was the camp
disturbed that night.

Early next morning Grace went out to familiarize herself with
their surroundings and also to try to shoot some game, for the
party needed fresh meat. She had gone only a short distance when,
her gaze focused on a yucca tree ahead. Fastened to the tree was a
sheet of paper, evidently recently put there, and on this was a
crudely drawn heart with a bullet hole through it. Beneath the
heart were scrawled the words:

     TAKE NOTICE HI LANG AND YOUR FRESH KIDS!

Grace stared in amazement for a moment, then removed the paper
from the tree and flattened it out on a rock. Taking a pencil, she
drew a smaller heart below the one already there and filled it in
entirely in black. She put the paper back in place and, drawing
her revolver, put a bullet hole through the center of the black
heart.

"I hope they'll take the hint," she muttered, and turned back
toward the camp, knowing that the sound of her shot would cause
anxiety.

"What were you shooting at?" cried Hippy, who had started to run
toward the sound.

"At a mark," replied Grace truthfully.

"Oh, all right. Breakfast's ready."

Grace went to the stream that flowed from the foot of the
waterfall near by. The stream followed a shallow ravine for a
short distance then disappeared in a crevice in the rocks. As she
was washing her face, Grace straightened up to throw her hair out
of the way. She gasped in amazement:

"Gracious, I'm getting nervous! I thought I saw a face peer out
from behind the waterfall!"

Hi came in, stating that he had shot a bear.

"It's a small one, and after breakfast I'll have him over here and
we'll have bear steak."

"Did you get anything else, Mr. Lang?" asked Elfreda.

"Well, I learned that we were not trailed here, but were headed
off. I think that's Alkali Pete's--otherwise known as Snake
McGlory--work. Then, too," and he turned his eyes on Grace, "I saw
a black heart."

"A black heart!" was the cry.

After the story was told Anne asked:

"Do you know what it means?"

"No, Mrs. Nesbit. But keep away from the yucca tree. A gun may be
trained on the spot. Never be without your weapons in this
country," he warned, "and keep eyes and ears open." Then he left
them, to go for the bear.

Grace walked to the waterfall with Elfreda.

"Grace Harlowe Gray, I've been studying that map," Elfreda said.
"Look here. I think this is the very place meant."

"Oh, Elfreda, I believe you're right!" cried Grace after studying
the map, which Elfreda put before her, for a moment. "There's the
pyramid rock and the waterfall. Yonder are the three rocks
designated as 'the three bears,' and there's the trunk of what was
a yucca tree, and the stream disappears just a few yards beyond
us--'stream's end,' as it says on the map! Elfreda---"

"Grace, look! A rag doll over there on that boulder!" interrupted
Elfreda.

The two girls went over. The doll was soiled, but had evidently
not lain out in the weather.

"Shall we take it in?" asked Elfreda.

"No; leave it where the child put it. But we'd better keep watch
on the place. It's queer to find a child's toy here, and while it
may mean little, it may mean much."

When the two girls returned to camp they found that Hi was just
back with the bear.

"Oh, girls! Hippy! Mr. Lang!" and the two in chorus fairly spilled
out the story of the face seen by Grace back of the waterfall and
the doll and their belief that the map was of the place on which
they now camped.

Hi Lang took the map and studied it intently.

"It surely is," he finally announced.

"What does the map mean?" questioned Anne.

"Oh, I guess there'd been rumors of gold or silver, and some one,
believing the stories, made a map, maybe by hearsay, maybe at
first hand. Maybe he talked too much, and some other fellow
knocked him on the head and took it."

"Don't you think there's anything in it?" inquired Emma Dean
disappointedly.

"Oh, maybe so, maybe not. Can't say."

After lunch Grace donned hip boots and went down toward the fall.
Seeing Elfreda there intent on the map, she announced:

"I'm going wading, Elfreda. Want to come?"

"Emphatically not. Do your boots leak?"

"I'll tell you in a moment," laughed Grace, stepping into the
water. "All right, so far," she called, wading toward the fall.

Grace thrust her bare arms through the sheet of water pouring from
above, groping for the rocks behind.

Sharp screams, at first loud and piercing, an instant later
muffled and seeming far away, brought Elfreda to her feet. Grace
was nowhere to be seen.

"Help! Grace has gone in!" shouted Elfreda, plunging into the cold
water.



CHAPTER XX

CONCLUSION


Hippy heard. Hi, farther away, heard. Both ran through the bushes.
Anne, Nora, and Emma sped to the stream.

Hippy and Elfreda were searching the bottom of the stream, which
was not more than three feet deep. Hi stopped them and asked
Elfreda to tell what she knew.

"Both hands were thrust through the fall like this," and Elfreda
thrust her own hands through the sheet of water. "I was looking at
the map when I heard her scream. Looking up, she had disappeared."

Lang nodded and plunged through the waterfall. Those on the
outside heard a shot, followed almost instantly by a second one.
At the sound Elfreda and Hippy plunged through the fall. Near the
base of the fall was no wall of rock behind the water. Instead, a
tunnel-like cave led into the mountain. Elfreda gasped and Hippy
looked in amazement. Grace lay on the floor of the cave and Hi
Lang had a man flown and was beating him, while a little girl was
trying to aid the man by striking Hi over the head and shoulders
with a stick.

Wingate snatched the stick from her. The child shrank back, and
Hi, realizing that he was going too far, ceased beating the man.

"The fellow struck Mrs. Gray with the butt of a revolver, I
reckon, then shot at me. I put a bullet through his shoulder and we
clinched. How's Mrs. Gray, Miss Briggs?"

"I'll have her around in a few minutes," answered Elfreda
confidently. "Who's the man and what is he?"

"Some crazy loon. Strong as a giant, too. Here, you!" to the child
reaching toward the man's revolver that lay on the floor. "I'll
take that. Is this man your father?"

The child nodded.

"What's your name, kid?"

"Lindy Silver."

"He grabbed my hands and jerked me into the cave. Then he struck
me," explained Grace, who had opened her eyes and now sat up.

"The scoundrel!" exclaimed Hi, jerking the man to his feet.

At Hi Lang's suggestion, Hippy and the two girls went up to the
camp. It was an hour later when the guide joined them.

"The fellow's name is not Silver. He's Steve Carver," Hi informed
his hearers. "He's loony. He didn't say so, but he thinks he has a
claim that's valuable. He declared, too, that we're here to rob
him and threatened to get us if we didn't move on at once."

"Was it he who put the paper on the yucca tree?" questioned
Elfreda.

"No, he didn't do that."

"Then we have other foes," said Grace slowly.

"What a shame to let Lindy live like a wild animal," broke in
Elfreda.

"Perhaps we can do something for her," responded Grace.

Just then a revolver, fired close at hand, sent a bullet a few
inches from Nora's head. Then came a rattling fire of rifle shots.
The rifle bullets were going high, possibly due to the fact that
they were being fired from a point higher than the camp.

The men, armed only with revolvers, had gone from the camp at the
revolver shot.

"Quick, Elfreda!" cried Grace. "Rifles and ammunition for all. For
Hi and Hippy, too. We're being attacked!"

"Him come along," chirped Ping Wing, trotting up to Elfreda with a
rifle in either hand and two belts of ammunition.

"Take them to the men," ordered Elfreda.

Grace took command of her Overland Riders and placed them at
advantageous points out of sight behind rocks and bushes. From her
own position Grace saw a head and a pair of shoulders above them
on the ridge and a rifle aimed toward the spot where Anne was
stationed.

Before the fellow could fire there was a report near at hand.

"Got him!" exclaimed the guide.

"Now we'll get it!" muttered Grace.

They did. Bullets from the ridge above them rained on the foliage
and the rocks about the campers, but so far none was hurt, though
they could tell that several of the attackers received bullet
wounds when raising their own rifles in order to fire.

Creeping closer to Hi Lang, Grace held a whispered consultation,
suggesting to him that they try to flank their opponents and to
drive them toward the camp where it would be possible to capture
them. This was agreed to, but at Elfreda's suggestion they decided
to wait until darkness fell.

When night came there was shooting from the ridge, but the return
fire came only from one rifle, that of Ping Wing. Even this ceased
in about half an hour, but by that time the Overlanders met in the
rear of the party on the ridge. Here they spread out and began to
move cautiously toward the camp, hoping to come upon their
attackers, either singly or together, and drive them before them.

Grace had gone a short distance when she saw a man rise suddenly
about ten feet in front of her. Without a sound she rose and,
slipping her revolver to her left hand, grasped her lasso with her
right. It was a true throw, and the rope fell over the man's
shoulders, pinning his arms to his sides. Without a moment's
hesitation, the girl snubbed the lasso about a tree and, holding
it firmly, fired three signal shots into the air.

The man was heavy, and the best Grace could do was to keep the
rope taut, taking up the slack when the fellow tried to roll
toward her to loosen the strain.

"I'll get you for this!" raged the ruffian.

"Keep quiet or I'll get you first."

Rifles began to bang toward the camp. Three sides were engaged, so
it seemed to Grace, judging by the sound. What was the meaning of
that?

The sound of voices presently reached her ears. The prisoner
heard, too, and began, to stir.

"Keep quiet!" ordered Grace. "One sound from you and I will shoot.
Understand?"

"Yes," he muttered, and sank back.

Grace strained her ears. Were the men of her party or of that of
the roped villain? To her relief the men--apparently only two of
them--passed by without discovering her and her prisoner, and he,
intimidated, kept quiet.

Suddenly a loud, penetrating "Coo-e-e-e-e!" woke the echoes of the
mountains. It was the call of the cowboy, a friendly, thrilling
sound.

A moment of silence, then "Overla-a-a-and!"

"Overla-a-a-and!" cried Grace joyfully. "Careful, man. I can yell
and shoot at the same time," she told her prisoner, who had moved.

Two men came running over the rocks.

"Mrs. Gray!" shouted the guide.

"Here! Careful! I have a prisoner!"

"Hullo, kid," cried a familiar voice.

"That's Bud Thomas's voice! The man who gave me this lasso,"
answered Grace, laughing joyously, if a bit hysterically.

"Sure, it's me. And a lot of the other boys!"

The two men came over to Grace's side.

"Hello, kid. You're a smart one. That fellow's Snake McGlory, the
hombre we boys came out to get."

The fighting was over, for the members of McGlory's gang, for such
they were, were captured, some of them wounded.

"Steve Carver got his," said Lang, on the way back to camp, the
two men seeing that McGlory went quietly. "He was the fellow who
shot at us and some of this man's gang got him, probably thinking
he was one of our outfit."

"Oh, poor little Lindy!" murmured Grace.

Back at the camp Grace had to tell her story.

"And I caught him because you boys gave me that lasso. Wasn't I
thankful that I had the rope and had learned to use it! But how
did you boys happen to come along?"

It seemed, according to Bud's story, that Belle Bates, the wife of
the bandit whom Grace had wounded when he attacked the Overland
Riders on the Apache Trail the summer before was the sister of
Snake McGlory. It was she, bent on vengeance, who had instigated
the trailing of the party and the attack on them. Snake and his
gang were delighted with their task. Through a girl of Shoshone
Pete's whom Belle liked and confided in, the cowboys had learned
of the plan and set forth to prevent its accomplishment.

The prisoners were taken to the county seat, and in time received
prison sentences for their many crimes in the countryside.

Hi Lang spent some hours in the cave, and when he came back told
the girls that Carver had not been "loony" after all, for in the
cave he found silver, and, time proved, a considerable vein.

Lindy grieved over her father's death. But the Overland Riders
took her in charge, first registering the mine in her name,
inducing HI Lang to see to it that it was later worked. The child
was sent to school, the Overland Riders being appointed her
guardians by the court.

"But now we are to head for home," said Grace, leaning over her
camp outfit.

"Ping Wing is pleased over that prospect. Listen to his song,"
laughed Elfreda.

All stopped their work to watch the Chinaman pack his stores,
singing as he did so:

    "Supposey you makee listen to my singee one piecee sing.
     Me makee he first-chop fashion, about the glate Ping Wing;
     He blavest man in desert side, or any side about;
     Me bettee you five dolla', HAI! ha blavest party out."

THE END





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