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Title: Arizona Argonauts
Author: Bedford-Jones, H. (Henry)
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: Cover art]



ARIZONA ARGONAUTS



[Frontispiece: (gunman and horse)]



  ARIZONA ARGONAUTS


  BY

  H. BEDFORD-JONES



  GARDEN CITY NEW YORK
  GARDEN CITY PUBLISHING CO., INC.
  1924



  COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
  DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES
  AT
  THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS, GARDEN CITY, N.Y.



  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER

  I. Two Palms
  II. Shipwrecked Men
  III. Bill Hobbs Arrives
  IV. Sandy Invests Twice
  V. Clairedelune
  VI. Deadoak Feels Remorse
  VII. Stung!
  VIII. Doctor Scudder
  IX. The News Story
  X. Flight
  XI. The Sun Strikes
  XII. Scudder Comes
  XIII. Untangled



ARIZONA ARGONAUTS



CHAPTER I

TWO PALMS

Piute Tompkins, sole owner and proprietor of what used to be the Oasis
Saloon but was now the Two Palms House, let the front feet of his chair
fall with a bang to the porch floor and deftly shot a stream of tobacco
juice at an unfortunate lizard basking in the sunny sand of Main Street.

"That there Chinee," he observed, with added profanity, "sure has got
this here town flabbergasted!"

"Even so," agreed Deadoak Stevens, who was wont to agree with everyone.
Deadoak was breaking the monotony of an aimless existence by roosting
on the hotel veranda.  "I wisht," he added wistfully, "I wisht that I
could control myself as good as you, Piute!  The way you pick off them
lizards is a caution."

Piute waved the grateful topic aside.  "That there Chinee, now," he
reverted, stroking his grizzled mustache, "is a mystery.  Ain't he?  He
is.  Him, and that girl, and what in time they're a-doing here."

"Even so," echoed Deadoak, as he rolled a listless cigarette.  "Who
ever heard of a chink ownin' a autobile?  Not me.  Who ever heard of a
chink havin' a purty daughter?  Not me.  Who ever heard of a chink
goin' off into the sandy wastes like any other prospector?  Not me.
I'm plumb beat, Piute!"

"Uh-huh," grunted Piute Tomkins.  "Pretty near time for him to be
shovin' out as per usual, too.  He was askin' about the way to Morongo
Valley at breakfast, so I reckon him an' the gorl is headin' north this
mornin'."

The two gentlemen fell silent, gazing hopefully at the listless waste
of Main Street as though waiting for some miracle to cause that desert
to blossom as the rose.  At either side of the porch, rattled and
crackled in the morning breeze the brownish and unhappy-looking palms
which had given the city its present name.  They were nearly ten feet
in height, those palms, and men came from miles around to gaze upon
them.  It was those two palms that had started Piute Tomkins in the
orchard business, which now promised to waken the adjacent countryside
to blooming prosperity.

At present, however, Two Palms was undeniably paralyzed by the odd
happenings going on within its borders.  Contributory to this state of
petrifaction was the location and environment of the desert metropolis
itself.  Lying twenty miles off the railroad spur that ended at
Meteorite, and well up into the big bend of the Colorado, in earlier
days Two Palms had been a flourishing mining community.  It was now out
of the world, surrounded by red sand and marble cañons and gravel
desert and painted buttes; Arizona had gone dry, and except for Piute
Tomkins and his orchard business, the future of Two Palms would have
been an arid prospect.

Piute Tomkins was the mayor of Two Palms and her most prominent
citizen, by virtue of owning the hotel and general store, also by
virtue of owning no mines.  Everyone else in Two Palms owned
mines--chiefly prospect holes.  All around the town for scores of miles
lay long abandoned mining country; the region had been thoroughly
prospected and worked over, but was still given a tryout by occasional
newcomers.  The Gold Hill boom in particular had sent revivifying
tremors up through the district, several unfortunate pilgrims having
wandered in this direction for a space.

Inspired by the rustling quivers of the brownish palms outside his
hostelry, Piute Tomkins had passed on the inspiration to other
prominent citizens.  They had clubbed together, and managed to get some
wells bored out in the desert--installing mail-order pumping machinery
to the indignation of Haywire Smithers, proprietor of the hardware
emporium across the street.  They then set out pear and almond trees,
and sat down to get rich.  Piute Tomkins had been sitting thusly for
five years, and after another five years he expected to have money in
the bank.

"I was wonderin' about them pears, when they come to bearin'," he
reflected to Deadoak.  "What we goin' to do with 'em when we get 'em?
It's twenty miles south to Meteorite, and thirty mile west to Eldorado
on the river, an' fifty mile north to Rioville.  How we goin' to get
them pears to market?"

"They come in an' buy 'em on the trees," said Deadoak encouragingly.
It paid Deadoak to be heartening in his advice.  He was the only man
thereabouts who understood the workings of cement, and during the
orchard boom he had put in a hectic six months making irrigation pipe.
He also owned several mines up north.

"Speakin' o' that chink, now," he said, sitting up suddenly, "you say
he's headin' for Morongo Valley to-day?  I bet he's heard about that
there mine o' mine--the one that stove in on Hassayamp Perkins an'
broke his neck.  Sure he didn't mention it?"

"He ain't talked mines a mite," said Piute, casting about for a lizard.
"Nope, not a mite.  Haywire was tryin' to interest him in them two
holes west o' the Dead Mountains, but he plumb wouldn't interest in
nothin'.  It's my opinion, private, that he's aimin' to raise garden
truck.  Most like, he's heard of the irrigation projects around
here--they was wrote up in the Meteorite paper last year--and he's come
down to find the right place for garden truck.  Chinks are hell on
raisin' lettuce an' stuff."

"What in hallelujah would he do with it when he got it?" demanded
Deadoak witheringly.  "Eat it?  Not him.  Now, the way I take it----"

He hushed suddenly.  The hotel door had opened to give egress to a
large man--a tall, widely built man, clad in khaki--and a girl, also
clad in khaki.  The man moved out into the white sunlight, looking
neither to right nor left, and vanished around the side of the
building.  His features, one realized, were those of a Chinaman.

The girl, who flashed a bright "Good morning!" to the two men and then
followed, was slender and lithe, and carried over her shoulder a black
case and tripod slung in a strap.

"Camera again," observed Deadoak, as she too disappeared.  "Why in time
do they go out workin' with that picture machine?  It don't look
sensible to me.  Didn't you ask him?"

"Him?"  Scorn sat in Piute's tone.  "Tom Lee?  He don't never talk.
Don't know when I've seen a man that talked less than him.  That is, in
company.  Up in his own room I've heard him jabber away by the hour.
Him and the girl always speaks English----"

"Say!" exclaimed Deadoak, excited.  "I bet I got you now!  You remember
that guy come out three years ago an' boarded over to Stiff Enger's
place by Skull Mountain?  Lunger, he was, and his folks sent money for
his carcass when he cashed in.  Stiff said that he'd stalk around by
the hour talkin' queer talk to himself and wavin' his hands at the
scenery."

"He was an actor, wasn't he?"

"Certain.  Well, that's what this chink is--that's why he's learnin'
his parts up in his room!  Then he goes out in the desert somewheres
with the girl, and she puts him through his paces and takes pictures of
him!  Piute, I bet a dollar he's a movin' picture actor and they're
makin' pictures of him--that's why they always go some different place!"

"Might be some sense to that notion," ruminated Piute Tomkins.  "Still,
it don't look----"

From behind the hotel burst forth the roar of a flivver.  The car
careened into sight, the big yellow man sitting in the rear, the girl
at the wheel.  It skidded into the dusty street, righted, and darted
away.  At the next corner--the only corner--it turned up past Stiff
Enger's blacksmith shop and disappeared.

"Uh-huh," commented Piute.  "They're headin' for Morongo Valley, all
right, if they don't stop somewheres first.  They're plumb liable to
stop, too.  That ain't but a track these days; no travel atall that
way.  I told the chink it was a bum road, but he just grinned and
allowed the car could make it."

"Well, there's scenery a-plenty up Morongo way," averred Deadoak.
"That's all there is, scenery an' rattlers.  Wisht they'd take a notion
to dig into that mine o' mine, they might dig up ol' Hassayamp.  He had
a bag o' dust on him when she caved in, but I reckon he's all o' twenty
feet inside the hill."

Why Tom Lee had come to Two Palms, no one knew.  A most amazing
Chinaman who spoke very good English, who put up at the hotel and
seemed to have plenty of money, and whose business like himself was a
mystery.  He would go for one day, or two or three into the desert, and
invariably come back empty-handed, so far as anyone could tell.

What was even more astonishing, his daughter always drove him.  At
least, Tom Lee said she was his daughter, and she seemed quite
satisfied.  Everyone in Two Palms fairly gasped at the bare thought,
however; for she was actually a pretty girl and looked as white as
anyone.  More so than most, perhaps, for life in Two Palms was not
conducive to lily complexions, yet the desert sun had barely given her
features a healthy sun-glow.

A pilgrim, during some prospecting toward Eldorado, had come upon the
girl sitting in the car, one day, and had been struck dumb by sight of
her.  Later, he had wandered morosely into the Two Palms, begging a
drink in charity, and murmuring something about having proposed
mattermony before the ol' man showed up and he had realized the dread
secret of her birth.  Still murmuring, the pilgrim had wandered off
toward Meteorite and had been no more seen of men.

"Still an' all," observed Deadoak, whose mind had reverted to this
incident, "I dunno but what a man _might_ do worse.  She's durn pretty,
I will say, and always has a right sweet word for folks.  I dunno but
what she might be glad to take up----"

"Now, Deadoak, you look here!"  Piute turned in his chair and
transfixed the other with a steely gaze.  "I'm mayor o' this here town,
an' deputy sheriff, and it's my duty to uphold morality and--and such
things.  Don't you go to shootin' off your mouth that-a-way, I warn
you, legal!  Don't you take too much for granted.  We need irrigation
pipe, and we're liable to need more, but that don't give you no license
to presume.  You go to outragin' the moral feelin's of this here
community and somethin' will happen quick!"

"I was just thinkin'," Deadoak weakly defended himself.  "And Mis'
Smithers allows that she's a right smart girl, considerin' what's
behind her----"

"Don't you think too hard," said Piute, getting up and shoving back his
chair, "or you'll have a accident!  Mind me, now."

He stamped inside the hotel, calling to Mrs. Tomkins in the kitchen
that the guests had departed and she could tidy up the rooms a bit.



CHAPTER II

SHIPWRECKED MEN

Sandy Mackintavers was slowly piloting his big Twin-Duplex along a
rough and rugged road.  It crested the bleak mesa uplands like a
red-bellied snake.  A twining, orderly road of brickish red, now and
again broken into by flat outcrops of yellow sand or white limestone
cut into its tires most pitifully.

One who knew Arizona would have recognized that road, although Sandy
himself might have gone unrecognized.  He was coated with the dust of
several bathless days, and underneath the dust, his heavy features were
drawn and knotted.  Sandy had a general idea that he was in Arizona,
but did not care particularly where he was, so long as the car kept
going and he drifted westward, unknown of men.

Six weeks previous to this momentous day, Mackintavers had been a power
in the world of mesa, ranch, and mine that centered about Albuquerque
and Socorro; the world that he had now left far behind him to the
eastward, forever.

His wealth had been large.  His unscrupulous fingers had been clutched
deep in a score of pies, sometimes leaving very dirty marks about the
edge.  Mining was his specialty, although he was interested in trading
stores and other enterprises on the side.  Any bank in the Southwest
would have O.K.'d the signature of Alexander Mackintavers for almost
any amount.

Yet Sandy had few friends or none.  His enemies, mainly those whom he
had cheated or bluffed or robbed, feared him deeply.  He gave no love
to any man or woman.  He was said to own the courts of the state and to
be above the law; the same has been said of most wealthy men, and with
about the same degree of truth.

For, of a sudden, the world of Sandy Mackintavers had cracked and
smashed around him.  Somewhere a cog slipped; he had been indicted for
bribery.  That had broken the thick crust of fear which had enveloped
him, had released his enemies from the shackles of his strong
personality.  Overnight, it seemed, a dozen men went into the courts
against him, backed by the evidence of those who had taken his money
and had done his dirty work.

Sandy Mackintavers, for the first time in his life, had thrown up his
hands and quit.  His magic had gone; little things done in careless
confidence now suddenly loomed up huge and threatening against him.  He
faced the penitentiary, and knew it; too many of his own hirelings had
turned upon him.

Fortunately for himself, he slipped through the bribery charge on a
technicality, and devoted himself to buying off his worst enemies.
That saved him from the courts and the penitentiary, but it brought
down upon him a horde of vultures--both men and women with whom he had
in times past dealt with after his own fashion.  Now they dealt with
him, and in full measure.

Mackintavers was broken in spirit.  Before he could rally, before he
could get breath to fight, they crushed him with staggering blows on
every side.  Sins ten years old rose up from the past and smote him.
He deserved all he got, of course.  The vultures gathered around and
stripped him to the bones, as pitilessly as he had stripped them in
other days.  His ranch, his mines, his trading stores--all of them
went, one by one.  When Sandy saw the last of his wealth vanishing,
with more vultures hovering on the horizon and not a soul sticking by
him, he climbed into his big car, the last remnant of prosperous days,
and "beat it."

At forty-eight he was beginning life over again, with most of his nerve
gone, at least temporarily, and a beggarly five hundred dollars in his
sock.  He had no idea of what might happen to him next, so he buried
his wad in this first national bank and started.

With this brief digression, we find Sandy Mackintavers at the wheel of
his big car, aimlessly crawling over the bleak mesa toward no place in
particular.  In the rear of the car were heaped a camping outfit and
Sandy's personal baggage.  Mackintavers knew that he was already far
away from Albuquerque and his usual haunts, and well on the way to
California; but he had no definite city of refuge in mind, unless he
were to strike down across the border into Mexico.  He had a hazy
notion of selling his car somewhere, and then--well, his brain was
still too staggered to be of much value to him.  He was as a man dazed,
awaiting the next blow and caring not.

When Mackintavers observed two men on the road ahead of him, he slowed
down.  He had lived thirty years in the Southwest, and he believed in
giving men a ride, even if they were tramps, as the blanket-rolls
showed.

"Ride, boys?" he sang out, slowing down between the two men, who had
separated.

"You bet!"

The man to the left, a tall, rangy individual, hopped to the running
board and opened the tonneau door behind Sandy.  An instant later,
Mackintavers felt something cold and round pressed into his neck, and
heard the stranger's drawling speech.

"Sit quiet, partner, and leave both hands on the steering wheel--that's
right.  Now, Willyum, investigate our catch."

Mackintavers glanced at the other man and found him to be a rough-jawed
individual, who was nearing him with a grin.  Across the haggard,
pouched features of Mackintavers flitted an ironic smile.

"What's this--a holdup?" he inquired calmly.

"Exactly," answered the cultivated voice behind his ear.  "The owner of
so highly pedigreed a car as this one, must perforce need his loose
cash far less than Willyum and I.  We are, I assure you, rank amateurs
at the holdup game; this, in fact, is our initial venture, so be
careful not to joggle this revolver.  Amateurs, you know, are far more
irresponsible with a gun than are professionals."

"You needn't be wastin' time and breath on me," said Mackintavers.  "If
there was any money to be made in your business, I'd join ye myself.
Ye'll find eight dollars and eleven cents in my pockets, no more."

"Hold, Willyum!" ejaculated the bandit in the rear.  "Let us engage our
victim in pleasing discourse.  Is it possible, worthy sir, that you do
not own this fine motor car?"

"I own it until I meet someone who knows me," said Mackintavers grimly.
He had none too great a sense of humor--one contributing cause of his
downfall.  But he knew that his five hundred was reasonably safe, since
the average car driver does not carry money in his sock.

"There's something familiar about the shape of your head," observed the
bandit in reflective voice.  "I cannot presume to say that we have met
socially, however.  May I inquire as to your name?"

Mackintavers hesitated.  He was warned by a vague sense of familiarity
in this man's voice, yet he could not place the man or his companion.
However, he felt fairly confident that they were not former victims,
and concealment of his identity would in any case be futile.

"My name's Mackintavers.  Aiblins, now, ye've heard of me?"

The hand holding the revolver jumped.  The bandit slowly withdrew his
weapon, and made a gesture which held his companion from entering the
car to search the victim.

"Mackintavers!" he repeated.  "Why, sir, we have read great things of
you in the public prints!  I am glad we had your name, for we could not
rob you--on two counts.  First, there is honor among thieves; second,
you are a repentant sinner.  We have read in the papers that you have
devoted your entire fortune to reimbursing those whom in past years you
have dealt with ungenerously.  Sir, I congratulate you!"

Mackintavers winced before the slightly sardonic voice.  It was true
that the newspapers had pilloried him unmercifully; they had joined in
the landslide that had swept him away, and their tongues had cut into
him deeply.

"Who the devil are you?" he rasped, with something of his old asperity.
"You talk like a fool!"

The bandit laughed.  "Mr. Mackintavers," he said gaily, "meet Willyum
Hobbs, formerly known as Bill Hobbs!  At one time a famous burglar and
safecracker--I believe the technical term is 'peterman'--Willyum was
some time ago converted to the paths of rectitude.  His present lapse
from virtue is due solely to hunger.  Willyum, meet Mr. Mackintavers!"

Hobbs grinned cheerfully and stuck forth his hand.  He was a solemn
man, was Hobbs, a very earnest and unassuming sort.  It was rather
difficult to believe him a criminal.  Also, Bill Hobbs had his own
ideas about society, being a well-read man of a sort.

"Glad to meet yuh," exclaimed Hobbs beamingly.  "Say, that's on the
level, too!  I mean, about us bein' empty.  I gotta admit it don't look
honest to be stickin' yuh up, but gee!  We had to do somethin' quick!
We been on the square until now, the doc an' me."

"The doc!"

Mackintavers turned about, a sudden flash in his cold eyes, to meet the
quizzical regard of the man in the tonneau.

For a moment the two gazed silently at each other.  The bandit was not
an old man, being distinctly young in comparison with either of the
other two; yet something had seared across his face an indefinable
shadow.  It was a rarely fine face, beneath its stubble of reddish
beard.  It was not the handsome face of a tailor's advertisement--it
was the handsome face that is chiseled by character and suffering and
achievement.

Despite its harshness, despite the cynical eyes that sneered through
their laughter, this red-headed man was a flame of virile strength and
surging energy--tensed high, nervous, like steel in temper.  The
blanket-roll across his shoulders swung like a feather.  His hands, as
his bronzed face, were lean and energetic, unspeakably strong.  It was
evident that this man and Willyum had come from the very antipodes of
life and environment.  An overwhelming surprise lighted the broken face
of Mackintavers as he gazed.

"The doc!" he repeated slowly.  "Why--why--aiblins, now--man, ye can't
be the same!"

"I am, Mackintavers; the same man who removed that broken appendix from
your insides two years ago in St. Louis, and a thousand dollars from
your pocketbook for the job.  Quite a drop for me, eh?  Quite a drop
for Douglas Murray, to be a bindle stiff, eh?"

Mackintavers stared, as at a ghost.

"I can't believe it!" he said.  "Aiblins, now, it's some joke--some
damned nonsense!  Why, you were one of the finest surgeons in the
country, a man at the top, not yet thirty----"

Bitterness seared itself across the face of Murray.

"That's exactly what broke me," he asserted in biting tones.

"But I don't understand!" blurted Mackintavers.

Willyum Hobbs made a gesture, an imploring gesture; across his homely,
earnest features flitted a look of appeal, of anxious worry.  He
glanced at Murray as a dog eyes his troubled master, with love and
uneasiness.  But Douglas Murray laughed jeeringly, harshly.

"Come, Mackintavers, look alive!  It was success that downed me--too
much work.  I had to keep going twenty hours a day to save human lives
during the influenza epidemic.  It started me working on dope.  I knew
better, of course, but thought myself strong.

"The dream book got me at last, like it gets all the fools.  One day,
in the middle of an operation, I broke down.  I had to have a shot
quick, and I got it.  I had to do it openly, if the man on the table
were not to die; so I did it.  Inside of a week, the news had spread
through the whole city.

"It spread everywhere.  I made an effort to fight, of course; did my
desperate best to conquer the dream book.  In the end, I won the fight,
but by that time my nerve was gone.  Everyone passing me in the street
knew that I was a dope fiend.  It was whispered at me socially and
financially--from all quarters.  At last I woke up to the fact that my
money and good repute were gone.  I can still practise medicine--if I
have the nerve."

"Hm!" grunted Sandy.  "Why didn't you stick it out?  Aiblins, now, a
man like you!"

"Why didn't you stick it out yourself?"  Murray's laugh bit like acid.
"Do you know why I stood in the top rank of surgeons?  Because a great
surgeon must be like a sword; he must decide instantly, quick and true
and sharp--and he must be right.  The hemming and hawing kind never
reach the top, Mackintavers.  And I--well, my nerve was gone after the
publicity, and all.  I was a branded man!  Like yourself."

Mackintavers shivered slightly.  "You haven't lost your nerve," he
retorted, "or you would not admit it so readily."

"Rats!  I've been on the road for six months, trying to recuperate
under the open air and get away from everything.  Now, Willyum!  Roll a
cigarette and don't shake your head at me.  You'll like Willyum, friend
Mackintavers.  He has a proprietary interest in me.  He believes that I
restored some of his vitality----"

"Aw! you knows it damn well!" broke out Hobbs affectionately, and
turned to Sandy.  "He found me layin' in a ditch, and he cut me open
an' took care o' me----"

"Oh, hush your babbling!" snapped Douglas Murray.  "Let's discuss more
pleasant matters.  Where are you going from here, Mackintavers?  You
offered us a ride, you know----"

Sandy made a vague gesture.  He could not have been recognized as the
Mackintavers of a month ago; he was pitifully broken and indecisive.

"Anywhere," he said weakly.  "Into Mexico--anywhere.  You'd better hop
in.  We'll go on to California, huh?"

There was silence to his invitation.  Hobbs was rolling a cigarette,
Murray produced a briar pipe and raked up some loose tobacco from his
coat pocket.  He was sitting on the equipage in the tonneau of the car.
The broiling sun of Arizona drifted down upon them, insufferable and
suffocating.

"We're not broke," said Hobbs suddenly.  "We're not broke, but we gotta
get to grub quick.  That's why we stopped you.  This desert----"

Mackintavers waved his hand.  "I have some grub back there.  And a
little money hidden.  Let's go together, eh?"

Murray lighted his pipe and glanced at Hobbs, inquiringly, his eyebrows
uplifted in a satirical questioning.  Hobbs frowned in his earnest
fashion.

"Why, Mackintavers, you and us has met up kinda queer; we're all in the
same boat, sort of.  But I dunno about goin' on together.  I'm tellin'
you straight, we gotta eat, but we aim to do it on the level--far's we
can."

"You--what?" blurted Sandy.  "You hold me up, and then you----"

Douglas Murray intervened.

"What Willyum is attempting to express," he said blithely, "is a
simple, but profound thought.  He has been a burglar; he is now
reformed, and I trust is ambitious of leading an honest life.  As for
me, I have no particular ambition, unless it is to win a fairly honest
place somewhere at the back of the world, and a chance to explore the
anatomy of unfortunate humans.  The idea, as you will gather, is that
while we are shipwrecked men like yourself, we are essentially honest
in our endeavors.  We, at least, have no illusions.  If we rob, it is
from the necessity of remaining honest men at heart.  You relish the
paradox, I hope!  It is really excellent.

"But how about yourself?  I would not insinuate that we are better men
than you, heaven knows!  However, if you are about to enter upon a
career of rapine and plunder, my dear Sandy, our ways had best separate
here----"

Sandy Mackintavers, his head sunk upon his breast, made a gesture as if
demanding peace.  He stared out at the desert road, his fingers tapping
the steering-wheel.

"You're a queer pair!" he reflected aloud.  "Aye, a queer pair.  To
tell ye the truth, now, d'ye know what's broke me?  It's because I've
not a friend to my name.  And why not?"

Murray spoke, with the cold, clear analysis of a vivisector.

"Because there's been no honesty in you.  Sincerity is what makes
friends."

"Aiblins, yes.  They've taken my money--they've been afraid of me; when
the pinch came, they turned on me and sank their fangs.  And I've come
to know what I've missed.  D'ye mind, now, I'd like fine to have a
friend or two!"

In the voice of Mackintavers, in his sunken face, there was the tragic
wistfulness of a lost child seeking the way home.

"I would that," he pursued slowly.  "Now, I could start clear again--if
a man can ever start clear of his past.  Can he?  I dunno.  I've always
admired ye, Murray, and the way ye handled me that time in St. Louis;
I've never forgotten it.  To think that here ye are, to-day!  'Tis a
queer world.  Shipwrecked men, like ye say, and we're driftin' wild.
Well, I've tried the other way, I've fought wi' the wrong weapons.  If
ye say the word, Murray, I--I'll start clear again!"

Murray knocked out his pipe and motioned to Willyum Hobbs.

"Hop in here, Willyum; I believe the grub is underneath me.  Drive on,
comrade!"

"Where to?" demanded Sandy, wonder in his eyes.

"Follow the road!  Follow the path of ambition, to California.  Let us
find a town at the back of the world, and carve out our destiny from
the desert sands!"

The starting gears whirred.  The big car gathered momentum and drew
onward along the blazing road that wound snakily across the scorched
mesa land.  The shipwrecked men were on their way to nowhere.

And Bill Hobbs burgled a can of tomatoes with gusto.



CHAPTER III

BILL HOBBS ARRIVES

Sandy Mackintavers had a very definite reason for guiding the
Twin-Duplex in the direction of Meteorite, at the end of the railroad
spur that runs north from the main line and the highway.

The three partners had decided--or rather, Sandy and Douglas Murray had
decided, for the vote of Willyum was always that of Murray--not to go
on to California, and not to cross the line into Mexico.  It was too
hard making a living in California, and it was too hard to keep alive
in Mexico.  Their decision was to seek a one-horse town at the back
door of things, and there to seek a general recuperation of spirit.

In order to do this with the proper degree of unconcern, it was
necessary to sell the big car and to buy a flivver that would negotiate
anything once.  Meteorite was a live town and was the headquarters of a
stage line which would undoubtedly use the Twin-Duplex, so Sandy headed
north to Meteorite.

Thus did destiny weave her gossamer net.

"This is no place to settle down!" Douglas Murray wrinkled up his thin
nostrils at the oil tanks and the dump heap which fringed Meteorite.
They were arriving late in the afternoon.  "This is an abode of
filth--a commercial metropolis!"

"It's a good place to start from, ain't it!" quoth Willyum, gazing afar
at the blue peaks rimming the horizon.  "Once we could get out in them
hills--aw, look at the colors on 'em!  Wouldn't it be great to camp out
there?"

Sandy smiled grimly at the wistful ignorance of the ex-burglar.

"I've done it in hills like 'em," he said, "lookin' for color of
another kind, and I've been glad to drink the water out o' my radiator!
Aiblins, now, we'll find what we're looking for, beyond Meteorite.
Don't know much about this country."

It was four o'clock when they purred into Meteorite and drew up at the
hotel--where was also the stage headquarters.  The travelers were hot,
dusty, and thirsty.  Directly across the street from the hotel, was a
flaring soft-drink parlor, its depths cool and inviting.

"Good!" exclaimed Douglas Murray, as he felt the hot sand beneath his
feet.  "Come on over to the liquid emporium, boys, and I'll set up the
drinks!"

"Not me," Sandy grimaced.  "That sort o' stuff gets my innards, Murray.
Besides, I'd better be seein' about business right now.  Aiblins, we
might make a deal to-night and be gone to-morrow."

"Suit yourself," Murray shrugged.  "How about you, Willyum?  Ice cream
or business?"

"Me fer the cold stuff," averred Bill Hobbs.  "I'm dry."

"Come on, then.  You register for us, Sandy?  Thanks.  We'll be back
and join you shortly."

"Need any money?" volunteered Mackintavers.

"Nope.  Not yet.  We're far from broke, thanks."

Murray and Hobbs walked across the street, stiff-legged with much
riding, and entered the alluring portals of the refreshment palace.

A single man leaned over the bar, slowly consuming a bottle of
near-beer and talking with the white-aproned proprietor.  He was a
dusty man, a withered, sun-browned, sand-smitten specimen of desert
rat, and was palpably the owner of the two burros tethered outside the
entrance.

"Ice cream," ordered Murray, ranging up alongside the prospector.
"Have a dish, partner?"

"Thanks," rejoined the other, nodding assent.  "Sure.  As I was sayin',
Bill, it was the gosh-willingest thing I ever struck!  Think o 'me
purposin' mattermony, right off the bat like that--and a good-lookin'
girl, I'm sayin'!  And when she was feelin' around for the right words
to accept me, prob'ly meanin' to fish around an' make me urge her a
mite, I seen her ol' man come walkin' along.  In about two shakes I
seen he was a chink."

"Yes?"  The proprietor tipped Murray a wink, and set forth the ice
cream.  "What then?"

"I faded right prompt," said the desert rat.  "Right prompt!  I
dunno--it kind o' dazed me fer a spell.  When I got into Two Palms next
day, I was tellin' Piute Tomkins about it, and he up an' says them two
was stayin' at his hotel--the chink and the girl, which same bein' his
daughter, he allowed it was all right an' proper.  I judge Piute was
soakin' them right heavy, else he wouldn't ha' stood for chinks
boardin' on him.  Piute has his pride----"

"And he got a pocketbook likewise," put in the proprietor.  "I know
_him_, I do!  Piute would skin his grandmother for a dime.  What's the
chink doin' over to Two Palms?"

"Damfino," rejoined the desert rat.  "Piute don't know, an' if he
don't, who does?"

"Where's Two Palms?" inquired Murray, who had been absorbing this
information with interest.  "Near here?"

"Near and far," said the proprietor.

"Near in mileage, but far in distance, so to speak.  It ain't nothin'
but a waterhole at the back door o' creation.  Ain't goin' there, I
hope?"

"Heading that way," said Murray.  "What's there?"

"Well they got a bank, or did have, unless she's broke by now; and a
hotel and a few other things.  If I was you I'd go somewheres else."

"Where?"

"It don't matter particular--anywheres."

Murray grinned.

"You seem to have a down on Two Palms, partner.  What's the idea?"

"Well, they's a close corporation there, a bunch of oldtimers that's
mostly related and don't take much stock in outsiders, if you savvy.
Nothin' there but desert.  Stage runs up there once a week with the
mail, which same if it wasn't contracted for wouldn't go."

"What's this about the chink and the girl?" put in Hobbs.  "Sounds
queer."

"If you ask me, it is queer!" said the desert rat, with some profanity
to boot.

"They come through here, I remember 'em," spoke up the proprietor,
leaning on the bar.  "Darned pretty girl, too.  Mebbe he's _mining_."

"Piute said not."

"Oh!" exclaimed Hobbs quickly.  "Are there mines around Two Palms?
Gee!  Say, doc, let's get us a mine!"

"Might do anything," said Murray sardonically.  "Want to find it or buy
it?"

"Buy it!" exclaimed Hobbs with fervent intonation.  "Sure, buy it!  Let
Sandy do it; don't he know all about them things?  Let's go on to Two
Palms an' do it!"

Murray nodded and turned from the bar.  "Well, so long!" he said in
farewell, and sauntered out into the street.  Hobbs followed him.

The desert rat gazed after them with bulging eyes; then, shoving the
remainder of his ice cream into his mouth, he drew the back of his hand
across his lips and left the place hurriedly.  Disdaining to notice his
burros, he shuffled up the street to the post office, entered, and
bought a postal.  Over the writing desk in the corner he bent
awkwardly, and indited a laborious message to one Deadoak Stevens, at
Two Palms.

"There!"  He gazed upon his handiwork with great satisfaction.  "If
this yere intimation don't git Deadoak to work, it'll be funny!  They
got the coin, them three pilgrims has--look at the car they rode up in!
I bet I done Deadoak a good turn.  If I had a decent hole o' my own,
now, I'd unload on them birds!"

Sandy Mackintavers, meantime, had fallen to work with true Scottish
thrift; when the others rejoined him in the hotel, he was displaying
the Twin-Duplex to the proprietor of the stage line.  The latter
gentleman exhibited very little interest in the proposed deal, and
disclaimed any notion of buying the car; however, he crawled into her,
over her, and under her, then summoned one of his drivers from the
group of loafers on the hotel veranda and ordered him to drive the car
around and bring her back.

In five minutes the driver returned, and violently disparaged the car
so far as stage use was concerned.

"Well, I'll tell ye, now," said the owner, "I really ain't got much use
for her.  But I got a couple o' flivvers over in the garage, last
year's model, good shape; if ye'd consider a trade and take 'em both
off'n my hands, we might talk turkey.  Step in the office, gents."

They stepped in, and presently stepped out again.  Sandy had rid
himself of the big car, attaining two flivvers and five hundred cash.

That evening he did a thing which would have mightily astonished anyone
who had known the old Mackintavers.  He called the other two into his
room, and laid upon the table all his worldly wealth.

"Now, partners," he stated, "there's all I got.  Split it up and start
even."

Murray's keen eyes swept his face, and read there a stubborn
earnestness.  It was not without an effort that Sandy had achieved this
moment.

"Aw, hell!" broke out Hobbs.  "Wot kind o' guys d'you take us for, Mac?"

"We're partners, aren't we?" affirmed Sandy.  "Aiblins, now, one friend
ought to help another and----"

"We're more than partners, Mac," said Murray quietly.  "We're friends,
as you say.  Is it your proposition that we throw all we have into a
common fund?"

"Just that," said Mackintavers doggedly.  "Each one of us helps the
other to get on his feet, eh?"

"And use the common funds for that purpose?  I get you."  Murray puffed
a moment.  "Well, Willyum, say your mind!"

"I say, Yes!" spoke up Bill Hobbs eagerly.  "Mac's playin' on the level
with us, ain't he?  Well, then, meet him square.  If all of us is goin'
to be pals we----"

Murray made a gesture of assent, and reached under his armpit.

"Willyum was a hobo when we met," he said, "and hobos go heeled, Mac.
I didn't leave St. Louis bone dry myself.  Here's our contribution.
We'll each drive a flivver from here, and if I were you, I'd convert
this wad into travelers checks before we leave in the morning.  They'll
be good anywhere."

He opened a flat purse and drew out a roll of bills.  Mackintavers
gasped as they fell on the table.  His features slowly purpled.

"Good gosh!" he ejaculated.  "Why----"

"Nine hundred," said Murray.  "Evens up pretty well with your thousand.
You keep the bank, Sandy.  Say, there's a place north of here called
Two Palms, with an interesting yarn attached regarding a chink and a
girl; smacks of mystery.  Also, it's a mining country and little known.
Let's go there to-morrow!"

"All right," said Sandy brokenly.  "You--you boys now, how d'ye know I
won't beat it with your pile?  What right ye got to treat me----"

"We're friends and partners, aren't we?" cut in Hobbs.  "Forget it,
Sandy--forget it!  Us guys is goin' to hang together, that's all.
We're usin' your flivver, ain't we?  Well, that's all right.  If you
see a chance to buy a mine, buy it; we'll be partners.  If doc sees a
chance to cut a guy open an' make some money, we're partners.  If I see
a chance to--to--to----"

"To crack a safe?" suggested Murray whimsically.  Hobbs gave him a
glance of earnest reproach.

"Aw!  Come off o' that, Doc; well, whatever I see a chance to do, we'll
do.  Right?"

Mackintavers nodded, and raked the money together.

A fact which the desert rat had foreseen, but which hardly appeared to
Murray as any momentous factor in the affairs of destiny, was that on
the following morning the stage went to Two Palms with the mail.

A few hours after the stage pulled out, the two flivvers were filled
with the necessary elements and crated tins of spare gasoline; Sandy
Mackintavers piloted one in the lead, and Murray and Bill Hobbs
followed in the second.

The road to Two Palms was good, comparatively speaking; that is, it was
a road.  Before noon, Sandy paused to lower the top of his car.  Bodily
discomfort meant nothing to him; and he was more used to sun than to
wearing a hole through stout imitation-leather with the top of his
head, to say nothing of the risk of breaking his neck.

"You bob around like a cork in a washtub, Mac," observed Murray.  "When
you hit that dry wash a mile back----"

"Don't mention it!" grunted Sandy.  "I forgot which way the gas
throttle worked--it's different in an automobile.  Why didn't we bring
some lunch?"

"Too much interested in Meteorite scenery," said Murray.  "Willyum!
Peter a can of something--if 'peter' is the correct expression----"

"It ain't," retorted Hobbs cheerfully, "but I will."

A frugal luncheon disposed of, they continued the journey northward.
That eighteen miles or so to Two Palms, was longer than any fifty they
had previously experienced.

Meteorite lay among the hills, and in order to get to the basin which
encompassed Two Palms, the road twined endlessly through the sandy
washes and graveled valleys of the bleak red hills.  They encountered
the stage on its return journey, and had to back fifty feet to a
turnout, a proceeding which was nerve-racking in the extreme.

But at length the sandy desert basin unfolded before them, and Two
Palms in all its glory.  It was not unlike a score of other desert
towns they had encountered; a string of adobes and unpainted frame
structures, crouching chameleon-like upon the sand, with wagon tracks
in lieu of roads winding away to north and west.  Drawing closer, the
pilgrims discerned the details of Main Street, with its hitching posts
and straggling fronts; the hotel, notable by reason of its twin palms;
the hardware store, the general store and post office, the blacksmith
shop at the corner; the long, low chain of roofless adobes where in
more prosperous days Mexican workmen had lived; the abandoned newspaper
office, the little group of men and women in the shade of the hotel
porch, watching the new arrivals.  And, hardly to be observed, was the
figure of Deadoak Stevens, off to one side, with the fragments of a
small-torn postal about his feet and a look of eager secretiveness in
his eyes.  Deadoak was thankful that he had grabbed that postal before
Piute, as post-master, had a chance to read it; having read, he had
promptly destroyed the secret, and meant to garner to full harvest of
these pilgrims unto himself.

Douglas Murray failed to observe a slight raise in the road which Sandy
had negotiated with ease; his thoughts were all upon the hotel and
group of live human beings ahead, and the correct manner in which to
stop his car.  Thus, he killed his engine a hundred feet from the goal.

"Curses on the beast!" he ejaculated, and crawled out.  Bill Hobbs was
ensconced in the tonneau.

Murray cranked--and then something happened.  He remembered afterward
that he had forgotten to brake the car in neutral.  He remembered it
after the radiator hit him over the ear and one of the fenders gently
pushed him twenty feet distant.

Bill Hobbs sat on top of the load, paralyzed with terror, as the car
leaped away.  From the watchers on the hotel porch burst yells of
grateful delight over this break in the monotony of existence.  The
flivver plunged at the nearest hitching post, blithely carried it away,
and decided to investigate the abandoned print-shop.

When Murray sat up and wiped the sand from his eyes, he ruffled up his
red hair and stared amazedly.  The flivver was there, to be sure; one
wheel had burst in the door of the printing office, the other was
wedged about the steps, and the machine was lifeless.  But Bill Hobbs
had vanished.  Unforeseeing the sudden halt of his equipage, he had
shot headfirst from his perch, and neatly catapulted into the open
doorway.

Murray was the first to reach the spot, while from the hotel porch
streamed the others.

"Willyum!"

"Comin' right up," answered the voice of Bill Hobbs, and the latter
showed himself in the doorway, grinning.  "I've busted up somebody's
place and----"

"Don't worry about that, stranger," said Deadoak Stevens, at Murray's
elbow.  "It ain't been occupied since Jack Haskins cashed in.  He left
a sister back east, but she ain't seen fit to remove the remains yet.
Glad to meet ye, gents!  James Cadwallader Stevens is me, but Deadoak
Stevens by preference an' example."

"Meet Bill Hobbs, Deadoak."  Murray waved his hand toward the rumpled
figure in the doorway, and turned as Sandy and the others joined him.
"And this gentleman is Sandy Mackintavers, mining expert of parts East,
who expects to settle here as Bill Hobbs has settled.  I am Douglas
Murray, doctor of medicine and surgeon extraordinary----"

Piute Tomkins hastened to rescue matters from the unseemly grasp of
Deadoak, and performed the introductions with gusto.

"As mayor of this here municeepality, gents," he concluded, "I welcome
you to our midst.  Two Palms is on the crescent curve to prosperity an'
wealth.  The population is increasin' daily----"

"Say!" broke in Bill Hobbs, wrinkling up his face earnestly.  "What's
that you guys say about this here printin' office?  There's machines
and stuff in here--don't nobody want it?"

Piute waved his hand.

"There is no printer in our midst, pilgrim.  All this flourishin' place
needs is a real newspaper, but so far fate----"

"I'm it!" exclaimed Bill Hobbs gleefully.  "I believe in signs, Doc--us
guys was sure guided here!  I'm goin' to take over this joint where I
landed!"

Murray looked up at the ex-burglar.  "You!  Why, Willyum, I didn't know
you were a printer or----"

"I ain't," said Willyum earnestly, "but I will be.  Is it agreeable to
you guys?"

Piute Tomkins bowed his lank figure.  "Stranger, set right in the game!
Them chips are yourn."  He turned to Murray, caressing his mustache
mournfully.  "But, Doc, I'm right glad to welcome you to our midst,
only we don't need no internal investigator in these parts, seein' that
nobody ever dies here except by sudden accident----"

He paused, stared over Murray's shoulder, and his grizzled jaw gaped.

Down the street came a flivver, swaying and roaring--a dusty flivver
containing no one except the girl at the wheel.  She halted the car
with a grind of brakes, and, seeming quite oblivious of the strangeness
of the' scene before her, leaned put.

"Mr. Tomkins!" she cried, an anxious excitement in her face.  "Does
anybody here know anything about medicine?  My--my father has been hurt
and----"

"Praise be to providence!" orated Piute quickly.  "Miss Lee, meet Doc
Murray--Doc, meet Miss Lee!  I'm sure glad the good name o' Two Palms
has been saved this-away--you'll make a livin' here yet, Doc----"

"Get in, please!" exclaimed the girl, with a swift gesture to Murray.
"You'll have to come with me at once----"

"With pleasure, madam."  Murray bowed, recovered his battered hat, and
climbed into the flivver.  The engine roared; the car crawled off, got
its second wind, and vanished around the corner of the blacksmith shop
on two wheels, Sandy and Bill Hobbs staring blankly after it.



CHAPTER IV

SANDY INVESTS TWICE

The coming and departure of the girl was dramatic enough to leave all
of assembled Two Palms transfixed with astonishment, until Piute
Tomkins gave vent to his feelings, forgetful that Mrs. Tomkins and Mrs.
Smithers were present.  The indignation of Mrs. Tomkins at the language
of her spouse quite absorbed the attention of Piute pro tem., and in
this brief interval Deadoak Stevens got in his thoughtful work.

Sandy Mackintavers caught a murmur at his elbow and turned to find
Deadoak addressing him in lowered tones.

"You're the mining gent, ain't you?"

"Aiblins, now," hesitated Sandy, "ye'll not consider----"

"Tut, tut!" exclaimed Deadoak, winking.  "I understand things, pardner;
a friend o' mine over to Meteorite sent me word that two gents were on
rout here with a minin' sharp.  Now, let me warn you not to give ear to
these here desert rats all around, but step over to one side with me.
I got a confidential communication----"

"Keep it, then," said Sandy brutally, "until we get settled here!  Come
up to the hotel to-night."

"And ye won't talk mines to nobody else first?"

"Nary a soul," returned Mackintavers.  "Hey, Hobbs!  You goin' to come
out o' that place?"

Bill Hobbs scratched his head and considered his position.

"If you guys will drag the corpse out of the way," and he gestured
toward the flivver.  "I'm goin' to give this joint the once over, Mac.
Join you over to the hotel later.  Gee!  You ought to see this joint,
Mac!  Where did Doc go to?"

Willing hands removed the flivver from the doorway.  Deadoak, being
rebuffed by Sandy, remained to scrape an acquaintance with Bill Hobbs
and elucidate the kidnapping of Murray; while Piute Tomkins, taking in
hand his guest, performed the same office to Mackintavers, en route to
the hotel.

That evening, Deadoak sidled cautiously to Mackintavers's room,
knocked, and slid inside as the door opened.

"Ah!" he exclaimed, breathing more freely.  "Ding my dogs, but I had a
stiff time eludin' that pirootin' son of a gun, Piute Tomkins!  He
suspects somethin'."

"So do I," said Mackintavers, grimly eyeing his guest.  He did not know
that Deadoak had just come from a long and involved conference with
Piute, wherein property had changed hands and other arrangements had
been made; he did not need to know all this, however, to realize that
his visitor had not come for philanthropic purposes.

Deadoak, blissfully unconscious that he was introducing a new game and
a cold deck to the gentleman who had invented that game and patented
the cold deck, sank into a chair and blinked solemnly at the lamp.

He produced a battered corncob pipe, filled and lighted it, then
straightened out his legs along the floor and blew a cloud of smoke.

"If I had money," he prologued dismally, "I wouldn't ask odds o' no
man----"

"Me the same," struck in Sandy.  "Aiblins, now, I'd wager there ain't a
man in this country who couldn't develop a promising hole if he had
money.  Go ahead."

Slightly daunted by the grimly sophisticated front of his host, Deadoak
took a new pull at his pipe and began afresh.

"It's a right queer yarn, this story I got on my mind," he observed
dreamily.  "Up north of here is the Dead Mountains, and it's a good
name.  If there's anything deader'n them hills, I'd admire to see it!
Ye go out the good road along to where Piute an' me has got pear
orchards an' wells.  After that, it ain't no road--it's an excuse.  I
don't reckon anybody has traveled that way sinct ol' Hassayamp Perkins
got stove in by the cave-in."

"How long ago?" queried Sandy seeking facts.

"Two year.  I ain't been that-a way myself, and nobody else ain't got
right good reasons for doin' it, except that there crazy chink.  He
went that-a way this mornin', and he ain't got back yet.  Another hill
fell on _him_ I reckon.  After ye get through the marble cañon, there
ain't only volcanic ash and rock till ye come into the basin.  I been
over in Death Valley an' the Aztec Fryin' Pan, and they don't hardly
show up alongside that basin to speak of.  It ain't big, however, and
from there ye go into Morongo Valley."

"Sounds lively," commented Mackintavers without great interest.

"It is.  If ye take two steps in any direction, there comes such a
buzzin' ye can't hear a man shout at ye twenty feet away--that's how
many rattlers there is!  Well, as I was sayin', Hassayamp homesteaded
Morongo Valley.  It ain't but a few hundred acres, and he'd located a
spring o' water big enough for all he wanted--he didn't wash much,
Hassayamp didn't."

The shaggy brows of Mackintavers were bent upon the speaker in a silent
but forbidding fashion that somehow discouraged the careful narrative
which Deadoak had built up in his mind--a narrative with cunning
discursions and excursions.  He decided to throw it all overboard and
to reach the point at once.

"As I was sayin', Hassayamp homesteaded that valley to keep out other
folks----"

"'Twouldn't protect his mineral rights," shot in Sandy shrewdly.
"Mineral rights belong to the state.  Did he homestead the valley an'
lease the mineral rights?"

"I was comin' to that if ye give me time," said Deadoak plaintively.
"Yep, he done so.  Reg'lar five-year lease.  Now, Hassayamp was Piute
Tomkins' father-in-law by marriage, savvy?  Well, when the shaft fell
in and wiped out Hassayamp, Piute fell heir to the homestead, which
same had been proved up all correct, and the mine."

"Piute owns it now, then?"

"He do.  I'm comin' to that if ye give me time.  But here's somethin'
Piute don't know!  A spell before Hassayamp got stove in, he come to
town needin' money.  Piute Tomkins, whose repytation for pinchin' the
eagle into a sparrer ain't laid over by no one this side o' Phoenix,
didn't have no faith in him; but I did.  So Hassayamp comes to me,
quiet, and gives me samples an' eloocidates how he'd got a road up to
the mine and had rigged up a hand crusher and done other work there,
and needed money to see her through.  I give him five hundred an' took
out a mortgage on the hull prop'ty."

"Homestead and minerals?" queried Sandy casually.

"Certain!  I took in everything, you can bet!"  Deadoak tapped his
pocket.

"You got the papers to prove it, of course?"

"Comin' to that if ye give me time.  Ding my dogs, ain't you got no
patience?  Well, me an' Piute don't hitch extra well.  After Hassayamp
cashed in that-a way, Piute always figgered on takin' over the place,
but he never got time.  I figgered on takin' it over, but never got
around to it, rightly, so let her drift.  Piute don't know yet that I
got that mortgage, which same can be foreclosed any time a-tall, it
bein' two year old.  So I got her sewed up plumb legal, ye see."

"I see."  Sandy's shrewd eyes narrowed.  If there was anyone in the
Southwest who knew mining law down to the ground, it was Sandy
Mackintavers.  "What's in the mine?"

"Ding my dogs!  I'm comin' to that now.  Hassayamp got gold
there--struck a lode o' quartz that runs about twenty-five to the ton
and promises to get richer quick.  Here's the samples he brung me."

Deadoak had now reached the apex of his elaborately conceived edifice.
Producing a buckskin bag, he emptied it on the table.  Specimens of
very average gold quartz littered the table.  Among them were several
pieces of a reddish crystalline substance.

"That don't look so bad," commented Sandy, fingering the quartz.  He
indicated the glassy red samples.  "What's that stuff?"

"Volcanic bottle-glass, I reckon--how it come with the samples I dunno,
unless Hassayamp thought it was pretty.  This here quartz, like you
say, ain't bad; I'd say it was pretty dinged good, if ye ask me!"

Sandy's eyes glinted at the red-glass specimens, and suspicion filled
his heart.

"Uh-huh," he grunted.  "What's your proposition?"

"Well, I don't want to sell outright.  That there lode is goin' to pay
big when she's developed.  Looks to me, the way them specimens shape
up, like she'd run into rotten quartz an' free gold; ye can see that
for yourself.  Sooner'n sell the hull thing, I'd hang on a spell
longer.  But here's my idee: You an' your pardners buy the mortgage an'
give me a one-fourth int'rest in the mine.  You'll have to foreclose
the mortgage----"

"Is it recorded?"

"Sure--I recorded her after Hassayamp cashed in an' Piute got his
title."

"Uh-huh."

"Bein's you'll have to settle Piute, an' develop her an' so forth, I
ain't aimin' to stick ye none.  Say, you buy the mortgage for five
hundred, go ahead an' foreclose her, keep the homestead if ye want it,
and give me one-fourth int'rest in the mine.  Ain't that fair?"

Sandy frowned thoughtfully.  He knew that on this basis he was going to
be stuck somewhere--and he believed that he knew exactly where.
Deadoak was trying to unload upon him a worthless mortgage.  Since that
mortgage covered the mining rights and the improvements
thereon--property of the state and not subject to mortgage--the
document was illegal.

Mackintavers had made a fortune because he knew men, could probe into
their minds and motives, could find their weak points and utilize them.
He had lost that fortune because he had tackled the wrong man, and he
had no intention of repeating the mistake.  He sized up Deadoak for
exactly what that gentleman was--a shiftless desert rat planning to
take in the innocent stranger, without any very deep or well-laid plot.
It aroused all the predatory instinct in Sandy.  Forgotten were his
virtuous resolves and high aspirations.  Before his mind's eye unfolded
a simple but beautifully perfect scheme by which he might grab this
property entire.

Being tempted, he fell.  He could not well be blamed, for those
red-glass samples on the table, those carelessly lumped pieces of
"volcanic bottle-glass," showed the richest ruby silver Sandy had ever
seen outside Nevada!

Sandy had already weighed the possibility of those samples not having
come from Morongo Valley; he had decided that they had done so.  He was
staking his game now upon his judgment of Deadoak Stevens, who was
palpably a weak stick.  Swiftly weighing things, he decided that
Deadoak was trying to rid himself of a worthless mortgage upon an
ignorant stranger.  And having so decided, he gambled.

"Aiblins, now," he said at length, "I'll tell ye!  Want to look over
the ground first, ye understand.  I'll give ye ten dollars cash for
that mortgage, and my note for the balance, ninety days, includin' in
the note that the title is clear except for this mortgage, and that the
samples ye got there come from this mine in question."

"A note?" exclaimed Deadoak in obvious dismay.  "Why, I was figgerin'
cash----"

"Well make the note thirty days, then.  I ain't buyin' a mine from a
set o' samples!"

"Oh, that's fair enough, I reckon," said Deadoak.  "Sure, fair enough.
You can pick up that lode five minutes after ye get there, and match up
them samples with the outcrop!  That quartz sticks out o' the surface,
Mac!  If Hassayamp hadn't got ambitious to strike the rotten streak,
he'd ha' been rich now."

"Where's the nearest State Land office?"

"Meteorite--that's the county seat, too," replied Deadoak, entirely
unconscious that Sandy wanted that bit of information very, very badly.
"Here's the mortgage--it ain't a mortgage, it's the other thing, the
one that lets ye grab a place the minute payments ain't made, with no
legal notice or nothin'.  I had a cousin oncet that cleaned up a lot o'
money over in California, usin' them things instead o' mortgages, so I
used it too."

Deadoak handed over a much thumbed but entirely legal deed of trust,
Mackintavers inspected it carefully, then calmly jotted down the
details as to the location of the defunct Hassayamp's property.

"Aiblins, now," he said, rising, "I'll just run down and see Piute
Tomkins' deed to that property--make sure it corresponds with this
location, and is clear otherwise.  Ye don't mind, o' course?"

Deadoak looked up in weak protest, then yielded.

"O' course not," he said with dignity.  "Bein' a stranger, it's natural
that ye should take precautions; but when ye've been here a spell,
ye'll find out that----"

"Ain't doubtin' you," said Sandy.  "Not a mite!  Now, you write out
that note to suit yourself, but make it contingent upon the facts bein'
as you say.  And write out a conveyance o' that mortgage to me."

Leaving the room, Mackintavers slowly descended the stairs toward the
office, where Piute Tomkins and Haywire Smithers were engaged at their
nightly cribbage.  He paused on the landing, to chuckle to himself.

"This mine is comin' cheap!" he reflected.  "Volcanic
bottle-glass--that's a good one!  Aiblins, now, it's a gamble.  Should
I do it to-night or wait?  If Deadoak had paid the least attention to
the ruby silver--but he didn't!  Not a mite.  He was all afire over
selling me that mortgage.  I'll do it!"

He went on down stairs.  His whole scheme of action, which promised to
work with the beautiful precision of a machine, demanded that he
conclude the deal to-night and get Bill Hobbs off to Meteorite within
the hour.  Reaching the hotel doorway, he saw a bobbing light across
the street in the newspaper office.  His voice lifted in a bellow.

"Bill Hobbs!  You there?"

"Want me?" came the reply.  "Is Doc back?  I been lookin' over this
joint----"

"Get over here in a hurry.  I need you."

Sandy turned to the office, where the two cribbage players were gazing
up at him.  He jerked his head slightly to Piute.

"Can I see ye a moment in private?"

"Certain, certain!"  Piute rose with almost suspicious alacrity.  He
had been waiting and praying for just such an invitation.  "Step into
the back office, will you?"

When the two men were alone in the inner office, with the lamp lighted
and the door closed, Sandy Mackintavers brushed aside all preamble and
came direct to the point.  He held in his hand the deed of trust, which
he had not returned to Deadoak.

"I understand ye have a homestead in Morongo Valley.  I'll offer ye a
hundred cash for it."  Piute's leathery complexion changed color.

"A hundred!" he repeated in injured accents.  "Why, that there
homestead is the very pride an' joy of my heart!  She sure is.  I aim
to lay out pears in that there Valley next Jan'ary.  Got water, she
has----"

"Here's a mortgage on the property," and Sandy brutally tapped the
paper in his hand.  "I've bought it.  It's two years old.  Sooner than
foreclose, I'll buy your title.  Aiblins, now, ye have a price?"

Piute looked a trifle staggered, but shook his head firmly.

"Nope.  Nothin' under a thousand takes that there place!  I dunno 'bout
this mortgage--ain't heard of it----"

"Look at it," struck in Sandy.  "I'll go to law and take the place if I
want!  Give ye two hundred cash, not a cent more."

"Nope," said Piute, bristling.  "I got a few rights my own self, and I
know 'em!  If it's the minerals ye're after----"

"Minerals!" exclaimed Mackintavers with scorn.  "I'm done with mining.
I want a homestead."

"Well," proposed Piute, "that's diff'rent.  I'll give ye an option on
the homestead for a thousand.  Ye look her over, and if she's what ye
want----"

"Nothing doing," rejoined Sandy.  "I'm offering cash down, here an'
now.  And I won't listen to a thousand."

Piute hesitated.  He had not glimpsed Sandy's roll of travelers'
checks, these three pilgrims looked none too prosperous, and he began
to think that he had set the ante too high.

"Tell ye what," he said, "I wa'n't figgerin' on selling, but cash is
diff'rent.  And this here mortgage thing--well, say seven hundred!"

Sandy thought of that ruby silver ore, and fished for his check book.

"You show me clear title an' give me a deed, and I'll give you five
hundred.  Take it or leave it!  That's the last word out o' me."

"All right," said Piute.

Mackintavers signed up checks to that amount.  Bill Hobbs arrived in
time to join Haywire Smithers in witnessing the transfer, then
accompanied Sandy to the upstairs room where Deadoak awaited them.
Hobbs was mystified, but Sandy refused explanations.

"I brought Mr. Hobbs along," said Sandy, "as his money will be
partially concerned.  Aiblins, now, if you've got the note and
conveyance made out----"

"Here they be," said Deadoak, trembling with concealed joy.

Mackintavers read over the papers carefully, while Deadoak explained
the situation to the bewildered Bill Hobbs.

"Ten dollars cash--here ye are," said Mackintavers.  He signed the note
and returned it with a ten-dollar bill.  "When Doc Murray gets back,
we'll go out and look over the place."

"Suits me," and Deadoak sidled to the door.  "Good luck, gents!  See
you later."

Left alone, Sandy Mackintavers pressed Willyum into a chair and set
forth exactly what he had accomplished.  He took up the samples of ruby
silver ore.

"I never saw anything to beat that ore--anywhere!" he said.  "And these
desert rats never heard of such a thing; all they know is gold.  Can ye
run a flivver, Bill?"

"I can't," said the bewildered Hobbs, "but I guess I can.  Why?"

"You got to run back to Meteorite to-night--right now!"

"Gee!" breathed Willyum, his eyes bulging.  "What's the rush?"

"Shut up and listen!" roared Sandy.  "Aiblins, now, ye think I'm a
fool.  Well, I'm not!  If a minin' lease ain't worked, it lapses; if
proper reports ain't made, it lapses; if it's mortgaged, with
improvements, it's illegal.  Deadoak's deed o' trust ain't worth the
paper it's written on, and he knew it!"

"But--but you bought it----"

"I gave him ten dollars as a free gift.  That note, now--when he comes
to collect, he'll get nothin'.  But I got hold o' the mortgage to save
trouble, that's all."

"You ain't goin' to pay the note?"

"Not hardly!" said Sandy with a grim smile.  "My property will all
belong to you an' the doc.  I guess I can trust you men with it!  Now,
I bought Piute's deed in order to have clear title to everything.
Savvy?"

"Not--not yet," murmured Willyum dazedly.  "Who owns the mining rights?"

"The state!  The lease has lapsed long ago, and ain't been renewed.
I'm goin' to write out a bill o' sale, givin' you an' Doc all I own, so
Deadoak will have nothin' to sue on when he presents that note.  After
he's out o' the way, we'll settle things.  You beat it for Meteorite
right off, and when the land office opens in the morning--be there!
Take out a mining lease on this entire Morongo Valley homestead
land--in your own name.  Get it for five years, under the precious
metals clause.  I'll convey the mortgage to you.  Record that in your
own name and let her go.  We don't need to foreclose on that worthless
paper.  It simply clinches everything in our name, clear."

"But listen!  Wait till Doc comes home and----"

"Wait for nothin'!" shouted Sandy furiously.  "Aiblins, now, d'ye know
what this Deadoak scoundrel will do?  He knows as well as I do that his
mortgage is illegal.  About to-morrow night he'll be in Meteorite
expecting to lease mining rights on that valley, meaning to stick us
later on.  Savvy that?"

"How d'you know none of these guys ain't done it already?" asked the
worried and still bewildered Hobbs.

"I'm gambling on their general shiftlessness.  Men of that stamp, not
expecting us to arrive and not expecting me to buy the place without
seeing it, will think they have lots of time to work the double cross.
Now, ye'd better run some gas out o' my flivver and fill up your own
tank."

"But this--this ain't on the square, is it?" protested Bill Hobbs
weakly.

"On the square!" repeated Sandy, stifling his own doubts with a
ferocious mien.  "Of course it is!  I bought a worthless mortgage with
a worthless note--ain't that even?"

Bill Hobbs declined to struggle further with the problem, and gave up.

Meantime, Deadoak Stevens was closeted below stairs with Piute Tomkins
in the inner office.  Deadoak was just pocketing two hundred and fifty
dollars.

"Fall for it?" said Deadoak.  "Piute, ding my dogs if he didn't fall
clear through the crust and he ain't stopped yet!"

"Well, we got a good price, I'm bound to admit," said Piute
thoughtfully.  "As a beginning, it's good.  But I'm a bit worried over
them minin' rights, Deadoak.  If we'd knowed a couple o' days ahead
that them pilgrims was on the way, we could ha' renewed the lease or
took out a new one.  You got to tend to that pronto."

"Yep," agreed Deadoak.  "I'll take that cayuse o' your'n and ride over
to Meteorite in a couple o' days.  Then I'll lease them mineral rights.
Might's well try to shave that note over to town, too; mebbe somebody
will know who Mac is."

"Don't wait no couple o' days," said Piute sagely.  "You light out on
that cayuse 'fore daybreak!  When them pilgrims gets tired o' lookin'
for ruby silver in that there prop'ty, they'll most like go to workin'
Hassayamp's gold lode.  Then we trots out the minin' lease on 'em, with
threats o' prosecution for workin' without no lease."

"She listens good," and Deadoak nodded.  "Ding my dogs, Piute, if I
ain't sure glad them pilgrims come to Two Palms to-day!"

"I'm sure glad," corrected Piute, "that we knowed they was coming!  But
I wisht we'd knowed it a few days earlier.'  I didn't allow they'd bite
so quick an' sudden, without even lookin' over the place.  Them ruby
silver samples was what done it."

"Them," admitted Deadoak modestly, "and the way I played my hand."

"Well, you get them rights, and get the lease sewed up quick!"
admonished Piute.  "But don't advertise it none.  Go to the newspaper
office and stick a piece in the paper about them wise men from the east
alightin' in Two Palms an' buyin' property reckless and regardless.
Say the printin' office was sold for two thousand, and Hassayamp's
homestead for five thousand, and there's a big boom comin'
this-a-way----"

"But, Piute," protested Deadoak, "they'll know we're plumb liars, them
Meteorite folks will!"

"They know it anyhow," and Piute Tomkins grinned as he closed his safe.



CHAPTER V

CLAIREDELUNE

Douglas Murray, sitting beside the unknown girl as she drove out of Two
Palms, was for a moment dazed by the face of her.  With Koheleth,
Murray had sworn that all was vanity and an empty chasing after winds;
yet the very sight of this girl's face, anxious and smitten as it was
with hurried fear, for a space struck the cynicism from him.

"You're a real physician?" she asked, her eyes not lifting from the
road ahead.

"I am, madam; Douglas Murray, at your service.  I arrived in Two Palms
about ten minutes ago, and from what I have seen of the place, I do not
wonder at your astonishment."

"Oh--I remember now!  There were automobiles there."  She flashed him a
sudden, swift glance, then returned her gaze to the road.  "My name is
Claire Lee.  My father has been hurt--we had a puncture, and while I
was fixing it, he wandered off on the hillside.  I think he fell.
After I got him back into the car, he fainted, and he looked so
terribly ill that I stopped at the first opportunity to leave him in
the shade, and managed to get him there.  The road is so rough that I
thought it would hurt his leg----"

"Very well done," said Murray quietly.  He wondered what kind of a man
her father could be, to let this girl fix a puncture.  "The road is
pretty bad, beyond a doubt.  Was his leg broken?"

"I don't know.  I was so afraid--I thought it might have been a
rattlesnake, but he said no----"

Something in the way she bit off her words hurriedly and anxiously,
struck Murray as out of the ordinary.  He dismissed the query as he
studied her face, feeling a little in awe of its startling and
indefinable beauty.  Despite its quietly poised strength, despite the
upflung chin, its every line was carven with a rarely delicate
precision.  Each contour was mose exquisitely balanced.  The hands and
fingers, too, revealed this same fine artistry of line.

In her face lay character, strong and sensitive; no whit out of
drawing, as Murray would have expected to find in a girl of the desert
places.  Only in her eyes lay a deeply indefinite shadow, a hint of
rebellious pride, expectant, as though ready to take up arms instantly
against some dogging trouble-maker.  The sheer beauty that shone from
her clearly level blue eyes and veiled her pale, sun-golden skin, was
about her like an evanescent gossamer substance, striking her lightest
word into shiftings of lost meanings and half-sensed sweetness.

"Clairedelune!" thought Murray.  "Clairedelune--lady of the
troubadours, sweet lovehurt of the soul--dear spirit-fragrant whiteness
of the silvern moonbeam in the fairy ring!  Clairedelune--embodied
ecstasy of the poet's soul, the light that never was on land or sea----"

A sardonic curve tipped his lips as the flivver bucked and reared and
cracked his brow against its top.

"Oh!" exclaimed the girl penitently.  "I'm sorry I I always do the
wrong thing with this car.  I've just learned to drive it, and it's so
different from a Twin-Duplex!  I always open the throttle when I mean
to close it."

So she had been driving a Twin-Duplex!  The more Murray studied her,
the more her presence here puzzled him.  Wealth and breeding--even in
the lines of the khaki dress was the one, and the other lay in her eyes.

"You've not been long in this country?" he asked.

"No, we came from San Francisco."  She checked the words abruptly, as
though she had spoken before thought.  Then, perhaps finding it
necessary to avoid abruptness, she added: "And I broke the
plate-holders when I got father into the car--just as we thought we had
succeeded!  That means it must be done all over again."

"Taking photographs, eh?"  Murray laughed whimsically.  "It seems to
me, Miss Lee, that you could take photographs anywhere in this country
and they'd be all the same!"

"Oh, no indeed!  We've been looking for a particular place--well, no
matter.  There's where father is."

She pointed ahead to a patch of green and brown.  This was Piute's
so-called ranch--a frame shack beside the road, with a few young
Lombardy poplars sprouting into the sky, and acres of young pears
stretching symmetrically across the desert floor.  The dull clank clank
of the pumping engine reverberated ceaselessly.  No one lived on the
place, but Piute Tomkins came out twice a week and had the engine going
during these intervals, for irrigation purposes.

Experiments of some kind, thought Murray; that explained it very well.
The father was a scientist engaged in work here, no doubt.

Murray thought at first that the road ended here; then he saw that it
continued, an indefinite track winding away over the blazing, sun-white
desert surface, winding between outpost yuccas, across to the horizon
of this level expanse, as level as a billiard table, swept and
garnished by the desert winds.

"Oh, he is conscious--and watching us!" exclaimed the girl as she
halted the car.

Murray leaped out.  In the scant shade under the poplars, beside the
road, lay the figure of a man, shoulders and head propped up by his
rolled-up coat.  His open eyes were fastened upon Murray as the latter
approached.

It was with a distinct mental shock, almost a physical shock, that
Murray realized this man was a most unmistakable Chinaman.  Then, for
the first time, he remembered the tale of the desert rat in Meteorite.

So he understood now the shadow in the girl's eyes--yet, he swore to
himself that there must be some tremendous error of providence here!
He did not look back at the girl; he gave his whole attention to the
matter in hand.  He heard her voice speaking his name, and saw the man
before him make a quiet gesture of acceptance.  Then Tom Lee spoke.

"My left leg, doctor.  The knee is hurt.  The pain is severe."

Murray saw now, that the strong, masterful, yellow features were beaded
with the sweat of pain.  He knelt, then glanced up.

"A knife, Miss Lee?  I shall cut these trousers to avoid causing
further suffering----"

It was Tom Lee who silently reached into his pocket and produced a
knife, which the girl took and opened, handing it to Murray.  The
latter fell to work.

For ten seconds, the slender, powerful hands of Murray busied
themselves about the injured member; a scant ten seconds, touching
lightly and deftly.  Then from Tom Lee broke a low, tensioned grunt of
agony.  His fingers clenched at the ground, his head fell back into the
arms of the girl.  He was senseless.

"Oh!" she cried out.  "What is it--what have you done----"

Murray rose.  The old sardonic twist was in his face now as he looked
upon them.  Still the clear beauty of the girl drove into his heart;
the frightened, wondering face of her was like a sweet hurt to the soul.

"A dislocated knee," he said quietly.  "I have replaced it.  Perhaps we
had better lift him and place him in the car now, while he is
unconscious.  A few days of repose will see him none the worse."

"There is nothing else?" she exclaimed.  "But you have not examined----"

Murray's brows lifted.  "My dear young lady," he said drily, "more than
one surgeon has been glad to stand at my operating table and learn of
my technique.  In this case, I have both examined and operated; there
remains only convalescence."

A slow flush crept into her face, as she stared at him.  But she
ignored his rebuke.

"Why--it was wonderful!  A touch--only a touch----"

Murray bowed.  He had left his hat in the car, and the late afternoon
sun struck his coppery hair to red gold.

"Thank you, Miss Lee," he said, and smiled frankly.  "I value that
compliment more than many I have received in other days.  And now, may
I suggest that we lift him into the car at once?  I will take--or wait!
There is a house of some kind here; let us make him comfortable for the
night.  You return to town in that car, and obtain some more
easy-riding conveyance.  He is a large man, and would have to sit
doubled up; we could not get into town before dark, and I would like to
bandage his knee properly without delay.  An hour or so might make a
difference of days in his recovery."

"Just as you think best," she answered.  "He must recover as soon as
possible----"

"I'll look around here."

As he sought the shack, Murray angrily shrugged his shoulders.  The
discovery of the racial identity of her father had left him dazed; now
he revolted inwardly against the fact.  There was nothing good in the
world after all.  Beautiful as this girl was, exquisite as she was, she
was a living lie--not by her own fault, perhaps, but no less a lie.
For Murray, the world was tainted again.

He found the shack to be a one-room affair, containing two bunks with
dubious blankets, a table, and two chairs.  Behind it was a shed
containing the clanking gas-engine, upon which he promptly put a
quietus.  Returning, he found Tom Lee still unconscious.

"Let us carry him.  I'll take him about the hips--you take his
shoulders."

Although he had perforce taken for granted her ability, Murray was a
little surprised at the way in which the girl carried her share of the
burden--lightly and with ease.  Strength in that fragility, he thought!

When they had put the man in one of the bunks, Claire spoke quietly.

"If you'll wait here, please, I'll get some stuff for bandages."

He nodded, and sat down beside the bunk.  He watched the face of Tom
Lee curiously, and to his inward astonishment found himself reckoning
it a very fine face.  Here was not one of hybrid orientals who seeks
notoriety by taking unto himself a white wife; in repose, the man's
face was singularly massive, eloquent of self-repression, instinct with
a firm command.  Not a handsome face in any sense, but most striking.
A man, thought Murray, who lived a stern inner life--a man who had
mastered the secret of reserve.

"Here," said the girl's voice.  Murray turned to her.  She was
extending several strips of silk and one of linen; her clear eyes spoke
of anxious solicitude, but were unembarrassed.

"He has not recovered yet?"

"Thank you.  These are excellent, Miss Lee!  I'll have him fixed up in
no time.  No, I don't want him to recover just yet."

He was aware that she had again left the shack, but now he was bending
over the man's figure, intent upon his task, bandaging the injured knee
firmly and deftly.  When at length he finished and sat back, he found
that the liquid black eyes of Tom Lee were open and were calmly
regarding him.

"Broken?" demanded the yellow man laconically.

"No; dislocated.  You'll be around in a few days."

The massive chest heaved, as though in a deep breath of relief.  The
eyes flickered again to the doorway; following them, Murray saw Claire
enter, a basket in her hand.

"Fortunately, we've some lunch left, Doctor Murray--oh!"  She saw that
Tom Lee was awake, and she hastened to the bunk, pressing her lips to
the cheek of the yellow man.  "I'm so glad it's nothing serious,
Father!  And wasn't it wonderful to find Doctor Murray----"

The big powerful hand of the yellow man patted her shoulder.

"It's all right, my dear," said Tom Lee, surprising Murray again by the
perfection of his English.  "No great harm done.  The pictures are
safe?"

"I broke them--getting you into the car----"

"Never mind."  The yellow face was quite impassive.  "Easy enough to
get more, Claire.  Why am I in this place, Doctor?  And where is it?"

Murray explained to him in a few words.  "I'll stop here with you,
while Miss Lee goes in to town for a wagon or vehicle of some
sort--even a buckboard might do.  There's no great hurry about it.
We're only a few miles from town, and I'd not advise moving you before
the morning."

"Very well, Doctor," said the deep, grave voice.  "Suppose that you
leave Claire with me, and you take the car into town.  You'll find a
thermos of tea in the car--we had an extra one that we did not use.  If
you'd not mind getting it, I think we can provide a very fair meal."

Murray nodded and passed out to the car.  Upon reaching it, he saw what
he had not previously observed--the rear of the front seat was fitted
with a large carrying bag, and in the tonneau was an open camera case,
from which had been disgorged half a dozen plate-holders, most of them
trampled and cracked.  The carrying bag was unstrapped, and from it
Murray took a quart thermos bottle, then returned.

He found the table covered with the contents of the basket--sandwiches,
tinned meat, and half a dozen odd little crocks filled with the most
amazing Chinese delicacies.  Tom Lee ate nothing, but smoked a tiny
pipe of gold-mounted bamboo, which Claire filled and lighted for him.
Nor did he talk at all, save to answer a direct question, leaving the
burden of conversation to Murray and the girl.  His eyes watched Murray
sharply, however; perhaps he did not fail to note that while the
red-headed medico was discreet enough to ask no questions regarding
them, he also avoided all reference to himself.

"I expect to settle in Two Palms," said Murray suddenly, feeling that
they were wondering about him even as he was about them.  "For my
health.  I came here with two friends, and we may all become citizens
of the desert for a time."

The girl's eyes went to her father, as though to seek from him
permission to speak.  But Tom Lee watched Murray through his
pipe-smoke, and made no sign.

"It is a wonderful place," and the girl sighed a little.  "Savage
and----"

"Ah!" exclaimed Murray.  "You must have blankets; these nights are
cold.  You can't use these horribly soiled ones in the bunks, Miss Lee."

"There is a suitcase strapped behind the car," spoke up Tom Lee.
"Everything necessary is in it."

Murray went out to the car and began unstrapping the suitcase he found
there.  The sun had fallen behind the western buttes--purple-red peaks
that seemed to jut out of the level desert floor, solid blocks of
shadowed Tyrian now, that with the sunrise would betray the most
delicate of greens and pinks, and that with noon would gleam savagely
in the harshest and crudest of stark reds.

And here the green pear trees, five-year trees, silvered the
sunset-reddened sand as though reflecting the pale whiteness of the sky
that would darken soon into the deep blue of the spangled night.
Murray paused and looked at it all, awed before the silence.  Then came
a crunch of sand and a voice behind him.

"It is the magic hour of the desert--this and the sunrise, yet each so
different!  I wonder that artists do not try to paint such things,
instead of hills in the sun and the bald architecture of buildings!
Here is the miracle, and they see it not."

Murray turned to the girl.  "The miracle indeed, Clairedelune!" he said
softly.

Her eyes met his, and she was laughing.

"That," she said unexpectedly, "is what Father calls me!"

"Oh!" said Murray, remembering suddenly.  How in the name of everything
could a Chinaman pick upon such a name as that--a name of poetry, of
romance, almost of oblivion!  A sudden distaste for that name seized
upon Murray.

The girl read the sardonic thoughts in his face, and turned away.  A
coldness was upon her when she spoke; as it were, a veil was drawn
between them.

"If you'll bring the suitcase inside, please, we'll get Father fixed up
comfortably."

Murray obeyed dumbly.

Half an hour later, he started for Two Palms.  He should have covered
the few intervening miles in no time, but one of his forward tires blew
out with a roar and left him sitting thoughtfully in the mountain
places.

By the time complete darkness fell, he had found a spare tube and was
patching up the blown tire with fumbling fingers.  Presently he got the
stubborn rubber obedient to his wishes, and for fifteen minutes labored
over a wheezing pump.

It was nearly midnight when he came laboring into Two Palms under the
flooding moonlight, and with sighs of fervent relief brought his
vehicle to a halt beside the dark and silent frame of the hotel.

"No, I guess I'll stick to the name," he thought, as he climbed out and
gazed at the silvern glory of the night.  "Clairedelune!  Shall I let a
big yellow man drive all the romance out of things?  Not yet.  Find the
best that remains in your life, my boy, and transmute it into precious
metal if you can; you need it!  Well, it's been a strenuous day--I'm
for bed.  Time enough in the morning to organize the rescue party."



CHAPTER VI

DEADOAK FEELS REMORSE

Haywire Smithers had at one time maintained a livery, which was now
defunct.  However, he disinterred an ancient surrey, hitched up one of
Piute's horses, oiled his springs, and set forth with Murray to fetch
in Tom Lee and Claire.

Before leaving town, however, Murray was interviewed by Sandy
Mackintavers, who laid bare the little deal in real estate.  Murray
listened without comment, his keen eyes searching the heavy features of
Mackintavers.

"I thought," he said quietly, "that you had decided to throw overboard
all the shady tricks of yesterday, Sandy?"

Mackintavers flushed.  "Shady?  And what's shady about this, will ye
tell me?"

"Giving a note that you don't expect to pay, for one thing."

"Wasn't the paper worthless that I gave it for?"

"No matter; it was unnecessary.  That note will be met and paid, Sandy."

"Man, ye don't understand this game!" said Sandy with earnest
conviction.  "There was nothin' wrong about it; one man get ahead of
the other, that's all!  Aiblins, now----"

"Aiblins, now," and Murray smiled quickly, "we're partners, so say no
more about it.  Only, after this, let me in on these little deals, Mac;
if I'd been here last night, you'd not have given that note.  After
this, we'll pull together--and go slow.  I'll wager that when Hobbs
gets back, you'll find that you've been neatly stung."

"How?"

"Lord, man, I don't know!  I was merely expressing an opinion.  We'll
put the deal over, however, and if Willyum holds to his notion of being
a printer, we'll give him a helping hand."

"Right."

So Murray went forth into the desert, and it was nearly noon when he
returned.  The surrey discharged its passengers at the hotel, and Tom
Lee was carried to his room.  He had a slight touch of fever and Murray
assumed prompt charge of him, installing Claire as nurse and ordering
that the injured man be kept alone and unexcited.

Luncheon over, and his patient reported asleep, Murray discussed
immediate plans with Sandy.  To go out to Morongo Valley and
investigate their purchase, was naturally the first impulse of both
men; but they had to await the return of Bill Hobbs, in order to make
sure of their position.  That Hobbs himself would accompany them to
Morongo Valley, was unlikely.

"We may get off in the morning," said Sandy.  "He'll not like it there,
Doc.  He's taken a notion to the printin' business, and his heart will
be back here."

"Let him stay here, then," assented Murray, "and go in for his chosen
profession!  At least, for the present.  He'll get tired of playing by
himself, I imagine.  Suppose we go over and get the shop cleaned up a
bit for him?"

Sandy agreed.  On the hotel porch they encountered Piute Tomkins, who
was busily engaged in hounding unfortunate lizards to a miserable fate.
Murray paused and addressed him.

"As the mayor of this municipality and deputy sheriff, Mr. Tomkins, we
call upon your aid!  Now is the time for all good men to come to the
aid of the party.  Arise and shine!  If you want a print-shop opened
here, let's go and open it.  Our estimable partner Bill Hobbs will be
back anon, and upon his return he'll find the place cleaned up.  It
will encourage him."

"Where's he gone?" queried Piute, untangling his legs from his chair
and rising.

"Joy-riding.  Careening blithely forth upon the desert winds, his soul
unblemished by care and his tires filled with ethereal zephyrs.  Comest
thou?"

Piute looked a trifle blank, and followed.

The shop was just as the defunct owner had left it--or rather, as
Willyum had left it the night previous.  The neglect and dirt of a
twelvemonth faced them, and they attacked it valiantly.  After half an
hour, however, they gave it up as a hopeless job.

"I never seen a clean printer yet," observed Piute thoughtfully, "and
there ain't no use tryin' to improve on the Lord's handiwork, I reckon.
I'm goin' to rest a spell."

He departed.  Murray looked at Sandy, and grinned.

"Well, the floor looks cleaner, at least!  Let's take an inventory!"

Sandy dismally shook his head and drifted away in the tracks of Piute.
But Murray, who was operating with the interests and future of Bill
Hobbs in view, continued his labors.  He was enjoying himself, sating
his archæological cravings, as it were.  Having rescued Bill Hobbs from
an aimless existence of more or less criminality, he felt that if Hobbs
now had leanings toward settled life in this spot, he should be aided
and encouraged thereto.  Murray was not oblivious of a sense of
responsibility; besides, he had a real affection for the earnest
Willyum.

He explored the place thoroughly.  Coming in from the outside world, in
touch as he had been with the prices of things, he was astonished to
find that the shop must have been well stocked up shortly before the
demise of the late proprietor.  The ink-rack was filled with tubes and
tins; a gasolene drum reposed in the corner; news print paper was
stacked high in a closet, ready cut, and there were two untouched
rolls; bond and job paper of all kinds was in abundance.

The large foot-power job press seemed new and good, while the cutter
and other varied machines were in fair condition, type racks,
furniture, stones--all the paraphernalia of a printing establishment
were here.  Murray was not so sure about the press, and with reason.
This was an ancient and much mended relic, a flat-bed hand-power
creation such as made Ben Franklin famous; an instrument such as is
keenly sought after by dilettanti print-artists who love good work, and
shunned by those who seek commercial results.

"Looks to me as though Willyum can step right in and take hold,"
thought Murray.  "He can learn to set type easily enough--he'll have
to!  There's a place to sleep in back, and he can rustle his own meals.
I guess Bill can manage."

Returning to the hotel, he took a chair beside Piute and Sandy, and was
talking idly when Claire Lee appeared in the doorway.

"Mr. Tomkins!" she exclaimed.  "How can I get off some letters and
telegrams?"

"Give 'em to me," said Piute.  "Stage comes in next week."

"Next week!"  Dismay filled the girl's face.  "But--but these are
important!  They must go off at once!"

Piute pulled at his mustache and frowned.

"Sho!" he exclaimed.  "If I'd knowed that this mornin', you could ha'
sent 'em by Deadoak.  He took my hoss an' rode over to Meteorite."

Mackintavers gave Murray a significant glance, followed by a wink.

"But surely," persisted the girl, "there must be some way----"

"There is," said Piute encouragingly.  "If ye don't want to take 'em
yourself in that car, why, I reckon Shovelface Ryan would saddle up and
ride over for five dollars.  He's the helper up to the blacksmith shop.
Shovelface done set off a blast too soon one time and it plumb
disorganized his talkin' and hearin' apparaytus, but if Stiff Enger is
around he can interpret for ye."

The girl hesitated an instant, then came out into the sunlight and
walked up the street.

"It's right queer, now----" and Piute favored his auditors with an
exposition of his own views, the views of Deadoak, the views of
Haywire, and in fact the views of Two Palms in particular and in
general, upon the subject of Tom Lee and Claire.

Before Piute had exhausted the subject, Claire came into sight again,
returning.  At the steps she thanked Piute for his suggestion.

"Mr. Ryan is going," she said, then paused.  "Father is still asleep,
Doctor Murray.  Do you think he's all right?"

"Absolutely, Miss Lee," answered Murray.  "He must be kept quiet for a
few days, that's all.  I'll look in on him tonight."

She nodded and was gone.

Conferring with Sandy, Murray decided to get one of the flivvers in
shape for the trip to Morongo Valley, and ascertained the road
carefully from Piute.  That gentleman was openly curious as to the
whereabouts of Bill Hobbs, but gained no satisfaction; and presently
took his departure in somewhat of a huff.

"Aiblins, now," said Mackintavers, "we may take for granted that Hobbs
will be back sometime tonight, so that we can start in the morning, if
his report's good.  Suit ye?"

Murray nodded.  They took the car over to the hardware emporium of
Haywire Smithers, and filled her with gasolene and oil; their spare
cans were still untouched.

Claire joined them at the supper table with word that her father had
awakened, and when his meal was finished, Murray went to visit his
patient.  He found Tom Lee taciturn, the fever departed, and mentioned
that he would be gone for a few days.

"We've invested in a mine," he explained, smilingly, "and we're anxious
to look the ground over.  You'll need no attention, Mr. Lee, if you
keep quiet.  Three days in bed, and you'll be able to step around with
a cane.  I'll see you when I return."

"Very well," said Tom Lee without comment.

Murray went downstairs to find Bill Hobbs at the table, devouring
everything in sight.  Piute was hanging around, so the cautious Willyum
made no reference to his trip, beyond stating the unavoidable fact that
he had been to Meteorite.  And at this, Piute Tomkins could not repress
his uneasiness.

"Gee, that road was suttinly fierce!" remarked Willyum between bites.
"I left there about noon, and had two punctures comin' over the rocks.
Say, I met a guy on horseback, too!  That guy Deadwood----"

"Deadoak!" said Piute explosively.

"Yep, Deadoak.  He give me a hand blowin' up a tire."

Piute was looking very melancholy when the three partners left the
dining room and adjourned to their own room.

Once in private, Bill Hobbs unbosomed himself of sundry papers.  He had
carried out his business, and he merely turned over his papers to
Mackintavers with a grin.  Sandy examined the documents, and nodded
grimly.

"Good!  D'ye mind, Murray, what our host said about Deadoak?  Ye met
him, Hobbs.  He was on his way to Meteorite, to get the mining lease!"

"Oh!" said Bill.  "Come to think of it, he did look kinda funny!"

Murray chuckled.  "Then, Sandy we own everything in sight?"

"Everything," assented Mackintavers vigorously.  "And a good job it is!"

"All right.  You look dead for sleep, Willyum, so turn in.  We're off
in the morning to inspect the property.  Want to go along?"

Hobbs hesitated.

"Well, I want to bad enough, only for that there joint across the
street----"

"All right."  Murray chuckled again.  "We've cleaned up a bit for you,
so fall to work!  In two or three days we'll be back, and have an
arrangement in regard to the future.  If you're seriously set on
opening up a print-shop, we'll agree----"

"As partners?" queried Willyum anxiously.

"Sure," asserted Sandy, with one of his rare smiles.  "We go
three-square in everything!  Mine and homestead and newspaper--we'll be
running the country next!"

"'Where every prospect pleases and only man is vile,'" quoth Murray,
and grinned.  His grin was worthy the name, and was most reprehensible
in a man of his years and experiences.

"You take the papers," said Mackintavers, extending them.  "Don't leave
'em with Bill.  'Twouldn't be safe.  A mere ex-burglar would be an
infant in arms with these natives to plunder him!"

"I s'pose so," agreed Bill Hobbs mournfully, and bade his partners
farewell.

At six in the morning, Murray and Sandy Mackintavers drove out along
the north road toward Morongo Valley, and vanished for a space from
human ken.  At a later hour, Bill Hobbs went forth to his "joint," and
was too much absorbed to show up again at the hotel until supper.

And, in the meantime----!

Toward noon, Claire summoned Piute Tomkins to her father's room, with
word that Tom Lee wished to speak with him.  Piute obeyed the summons.
When he entered, Tom Lee gazed at him steadily for a moment.

"I wish to know, Mr. Tomkins," he said slowly, "who owns the valley at
which we looked the other day--Morongo Valley, I think the name is."

"Who--who owns it?" stammered Piute.  He was of a sudden acutely
mindful of a sub rosa transaction by which Deadoak had transferred that
property to him, and he to Mackintavers.  "Why--d'ye mean the homestead
or the mine, now?"

"Both," snapped Tom Lee impatiently.  "All of it--all of the little
valley!"

Piute was positively staggered.  He had no certain clue from this
whether Tom Lee wanted the mine or not; chances were, he did.  Murray
and Mackintavers were gone--and Bill Hobbs, he guessed shrewdly, knew
little of the matter, or at least could sign away nothing.

"Well, I'll tell ye," said Piute, desperate.  "Right queer about that
there place, it is!  Ye see, the feller that homesteaded it an' worked
the mine, he got stove in under his own shaft.  My father-in-law, he
was, and a right mean ol' scoundrel to boot.  Well, Deadoak Stevens, he
wanted the prop'ty, on account o' Hassayamp havin' a bag o' dust on him
and meanin' to dig up the remains----"

"Who owns the property?" cut in Tom Lee impatiently.

"Why, Deadoak!" rejoined Piute.  "At least, he done so a couple of days
ago, and I reckon still does."

"Where is he?"

"I dunno.  Went off to Meteorite yes'day.  He'll be back soon enough."

"If you'll send him to me, Mr. Tomkins, I'll appreciate it greatly."

"Certain, certain," and Piute backed out, pausing in the corridor to
mop his beaded brow.  Tom Lee had been to Morongo Valley and had found
something.  Mackintavers had been deluded into buying the property."

"Plague take it!" said Piute.  "If Deadoak was here now!"

Late that night, Deadoak staggered into the hotel and fell upon the
neck of Piute Tomkins with tears,--metaphorically speaking.  Curses
were nearer the truth.

"He done beat us to it!" sorrowed Deadoak, rolling a cigarette while
Piute rustled him a cup of coffee in the kitchen.  "He done grabbed the
minin' rights, Piute----"

"Let it go!" exclaimed Piute energetically.  "Listen here, now----"  He
expounded the interview with Tom Lee.

"That there chink has found somethin'!" he declared with vigor.  "You
chase up to his room an' see if he wants to buy the place."

"Ding my dogs, Piute!  I can't sell that there place no more--she don't
belong to me!"

"If he wants it, get an offer.  If it's enough, buy it back from
Mackintavers!"

Deadoak protested.  He was saddle-galled and weary, disconsolate and
disgusted, and he had no heart for intrigue.  Piute Tomkins goaded him
to it, however, and sent him despite protests to the room of Tom Lee.

Fifteen minutes later, Deadoak stumbled downstairs to the office where
Piute awaited him.  He dropped limply into a chair.

"Well?" snapped Piute.

"Ain't no well--nothin' but a dry hole," mourned Deadoak.  "That there
chink offered--or rather, I brung him up to offer--five thousand cash
for the place.  Ding my dogs!  If only we hadn't acted so preceptous
with that there pilgrim!  I ain't never knowed what real remorse was
until right now----"

"Well, saddle up an' beat it to Morongo Valley pronto," exclaimed
Piute.  "Buy back----"

"Not me!  I done had enough ridin' to last my mortal lifetime----"

"You're goin', and you're goin' in the morning!" asserted Piute
emphatically.  "Savvy?  See what that there chink found--trail him
down!  I got no use for yeller men cheatin' honest citizens out o'
their rights.  You're goin', understand?"

Deadoak assented weakly that he understood.  Presently, however, he
rallied again.

"Now, Piute, show some sense!" he pleaded.  "Ain't you jest said that
the chink and this Doc Murray were out together?  Well, they framed up
the deal on us, that's all; the doc got the chink to----"

"You're a plumb fool, Deadoak," exclaimed Piute scornfully.  "Why, the
deal hadn't been put through when Murray went out to 'tend to the
chink!  'Course, it might ha' been framed up since; all these here
pilgrims seem a durn sight smarter'n you'd think for.  I tell ye
what----"

"Say!" broke in Deadoak with sudden remembrance.  "I met Shovelface
Ryan on his way to Meteorite--the chink girl had give him ten dollars
to take some letters over there pronto.  Tellygrams too.  Well,
Shovelface give me a squint at 'em, but he wouldn't let me open 'em
a-tall; he's a queer cuss, Shovelface is, in some ways!  Them letters
was addressed to chinks in San Francisco, and they had photygrafts
inside--they'd been put in damp and had curled up; I could feel 'em----"

"That proves it!" cried Piute in triumph.  "That proves it, Deadoak!
This here chink done located somethin' out to that place.  And by whiz,
he photygrafted it!  Then he writ back to all his chink friends to let
'em in on the good thing."

"But all this," said Deadoak thoughtfully, "ain't nothin' to me no
more.  I don't own no mine in Morongo Valley!  I don't own nothin'
except a note for five hundred----"

"Well, _I_ got some money to work with," broke in Piute.  "You vamose
out to that there mine and look her over!  The chink an' the girl brung
back some pictures and some of 'em was broke, but I guess a few was
saved; the girl developed 'em in that closet the chink hired for a dark
room.  Most likely she left 'em there.  I'll have a look in there early
in the mornin', and mebbe we can get a clue.

"Then, you chase out to the valley an' keep your eye on things.  Take
some grub and a pair o' blankets, and watch what them pilgrims does,
savvy?  Take them glasses o' mine, and you can lay up top o' the hill
all snug."

"The sun lays up there, too," said Deadoak, plaintively.  "It lays up
snug, and it's hotter'n hell, and brings out the rattlers an'----"

"You never mind," cut in Piute.  "You're a-goin', that's all!"

Deadoak bowed his head in bitter assent.

"My, but you're plumb sot in your ways, Piute!" he returned feebly.
"I'll go."



CHAPTER VII

STUNG!

Sandy Mackintavers was desert-wise, so far as automobile travel was
concerned.  He did not travel without spare water-bags and lengths of
rolled chicken-wire, and at Meteorite he had fitted his flivver with a
running-board pump.

After passing the marble cañon and negotiating the stretch of bad land
where volcanic ash sifted into the air and obsidian glittered under
foot, Murray steered the flivver down into the basin where all road was
lost, where the loose sifting sands were blazing with the heat of an
inferno, and where the car bogged down into the bottomless dust.  Sandy
deflated the tires, and when this would no longer serve, utilized the
chicken-wire to run out of holes; by some miracle of desert sense, he
managed to hold the right direction, although the rude map furnished
them by Piute was useless to Murray.

It was nearly evening when they arrived at the spot dignified by the
name of Morongo Valley, and the westering sun transmuted the sterile
scene into one of glorious radiance and scarlet-tinged hues.  All
around stretched the peaks of the Dead Mountains, not clothed with the
glorious forests of New Mexico, but with their naked eminences now
gleaming in blue and scarlet fires of sunset, their valleys long
streamers of darker purples, their bald slopes a yellow golden glory.

The valley itself was a box cañon, a small one, the upper end a solid
mass of greenery.  There was water here--a tiny trickle, that had been
brought from the hillside to vivify the upper flat, and had given its
precious life to all the higher slopes, before it lost itself in the
farther sands.

The road, better preserved here, led them to the shack of Hassayamp.
It was scarce worthy the name of shack--a rough erection of boards and
scraps of tin, designed only to afford shelter from the elements.
Sandy, standing beside the car and scrutinizing the hill-slopes,
pointed upward.

"That's the mine, I'm thinkin'--that contraption o' timbers halfway up.
It seems to have caved in.  We're not interested in that, however; ruby
silver is what'll make us sit up!  Time for that in the morning."

Murray viewed the interior of the shack, and declared for sleeping in
the open air.

They were up and about by sunrise.  Murray was cool and rather sardonic
in regard to the whole affair, but Mackintavers was cheerful and blithe
as any boy of a prospector on his first search for earth-gold.  The
sight of that glittering silver ore, that wondrous ruby silver ore
whose arsenic had ruined many a man and whose silver content had made
thousands rich, was like a tonic in the blood of Sandy.

By evening they had gone over the ridge wherein lay the unfortunate
Hassayamp, and had found no ruby silver vein.  They had struck gold in
promising lodes, but gold was naught before the ruby silver--if they
found it.  Sandy continued cheerful, and Murray was coolly complacent,
doing as Mackintavers bade him but frankly without hope of success.

With the following morning, they took picks and labored valiantly until
shortly before noon.  Then Murray descried a little group of figures
breaking its way toward them--not from the direction of Two Palms, but
from the north, from the desert of the Colorado.  The group resolved
itself into two plodding, patient burros and the nondescript outline of
a desert rat.  The latter greeted them as they met him at the shack.

"Howdy, pilgrims!  Seen your smoke this mornin', and sinct I was
headin' in for town anyhow, I come this way.  My land, but you're in
style, ain't ye!  Autobile an' all--say, is that a real autobile?  I
seen one oncet, las' time I was over to Eldorado--but sho!  Here I be,
forgettin' all decency!  My name's George Beam, gents, though most
folks address me as Sagebrush."

"Glad to meet you," said Sandy cordially, completing the introductions,
"and ye better sit in with us for a snack, old-timer.  Any luck?"

"Ain't kickin' none," said Sagebrush, combing the sand from his wealth
of sodden gray whiskers.  His eyes followed Murray.  "Say, is them real
bakin' powder biscuits ye got?  Well, I never!  They look real good,
too, for them kind; I allus had a notion folks ought to study
sour-dough more back in the settlements, but mebbe there's somethin' to
bakin' powder----"

Sagebrush drifted along garrulously, glad of a chance to talk.
Presently, when the coffee had been finished and pipes were lighted, he
gazed around and grew personal.

"This here is a good place," he observed, "if it's quartz you're after,
gents.  If it don't intrude none, what ye lookin' for?"

Mackintavers chuckled, and produced his ruby silver samples.

"This," he answered laconically.  "Know it?"

Sagebrush took the samples, inspected them, and then began to grin
widely.

"Ruby silver!" he ejaculated.  "Ye don't mean to say--my gosh!
Pilgrims, I'm right pained to hear tell o' this, but----"

"Huh?" queried Sandy with a grunt.  "What d'ye mean?"

"Ye didn't allow them samples come from here, did ye?"

"Understood so," returned Sandy, frowning.  "What d'ye mean, huh?"

Sagebrush grinned again.  "Why," he said, hefting the samples, "las'
time I seen these here spec'mens, they was reposin' on the desk o'
Piute Tomkins, back to Two Palms.  Piute brung 'em home from Tonopah
three year ago, and was right proud of 'em, too.  I reckon that there
no-account Deadoak pirated 'em from him and passed 'em off on you.
Deadoak is right smart, some ways----"

Murray looked at the gaping Mackintavers, and rolled over with a shout
of laughter.

"Stung, Sandy!" he cried, sitting up.  "Hurray!  The bad man of New
Mexico stung by a simple Arizona native--whoop!  The biter got bit--oh,
Sandy, Sandy!  And look at the big blisters on my perfectly good
hands----"

Sandy growled something inarticulate, then rose to his feet.

"I'm goin' to look at them quartz lodes," he grunted.  "See ye later!"

Sagebrush gazed after him with sober mirth.

"Too bad ye got took in," he observed.  "But I'm right glad ye take it
calm, pilgrim.  If ye didn't get bit too deep, ye got a fine place
right here.  Me, I like to git farther away from settlements--too many
folks around spoil the desert.  But if ye like this here oasis, she
ain't bad.  Say, if you're a doctor, wisht ye'd look at that there
Jenny burro o' mine.  She ain't been right peart for two-three days;
kind o' down on her feed.  Ye might light right on what she needed----"

Murray assented and strolled over to the burro in the train of
Sagebrush.  The whimsical irony of it struck him full; Douglas Murray,
peer of the finest surgeons in the land, giving advice upon a sick
burro!  But he gave the advice, and grinned as he watched the aged
desert rat shuffle off down the valley with his animals.

Sagebrush wended his way down the valley in patient tolerance of sun
and sand.  But of a sudden he wakened to the startling fact that his
name was being called; amazedly, he peered up at the hillsides, shaded
his eyes with his hand, and descried the figure of Deadoak Stevens
approaching, carefully leading one of Piute's cayuses down the rocky
descent.

An hour afterward, Deadoak was riding up to the shack in the valley,
with a fine appearance of just finishing the end of a toilsome journey.
A meeting with Sagebrush had afforded him a plan of campaign.  He
observed Murray sitting before the shack cleaning a revolver, and
dismounted with a cheerful greeting; his cheerful expression vanished
quickly, however, when Murray pointed the revolver at him and rose,
blazing with wrath.

"So you've come to the scene of your crime, Deadoak!  Put those hands
up--that's right!  And stand still--don't back away; you've nowhere to
back."

"Wh-what's the matter?" stammered the paralyzed Deadoak.

"The matter?" repeated Murray.  "You know!  You've defrauded honest
men, and now you're going to settle up.  If you've any last words to
say, say 'em quick!  My finger's trembling on the trigger.  Tonight
you'll be reposing under that tree; we're here alone, Deadoak Stevens,
and you shall perish at the hands of the man whom you----"

Deadoak trembled, and his jaw sagged.

"Say!" he croaked.  "I--I--honest, now, I come out here to square
things up!  I heard that Mac was lookin' for ruby silver--them samples
was a mistake!  Piute said he'd put 'em in with Hassayamp's stuff one
time.  I rid here to----"

"What!"  Murray lowered his weapon, in genuine amazement.  Deadoak
leaped at the chance.

"Yep, that's right, Doc!  _I_ didn't go to defraud nobody!  If you
ain't satisfied with the deal, I'll take back the prop'ty and no hard
feelin's--that's what I rid out here to say, if ye give me a chance.
Ding my dogs, I ain't no gunman.  P'int that thing another way!"

Murray obeyed.

"You don't mean that you'll take back the property?  At the price we
paid?"

"Certain!" assented Deadoak, fervently virtuous and hugely relieved.
"Give ye a profit, if ye feel bad.  Why, Doc, we wouldn't go to
pirootin' no pilgrims--future denizens o' this here great an' glorious
Two Palms!  We wouldn't have ye feel that we was anythin' but honest
an' simple natives, welcomin' you to our midst.  We'll go to 'most any
length to make things good.  If we'd knowed that Mac was attracted by
them ruby silver samples--which same I didn't know--we'd have run down
the thing then an' there----"

"Hold on," interjected Murray.  "Here's Mackintavers now."

Sandy had descried the arrival of the visitor from afar, and was now
hastening toward the cabin.  It was a rare thing, an unknown thing, for
Sandy Mackintavers to meet any man who had successfully bilked _him_;
he arrived upon the spot somewhat out of breath, and gazed upon Deadoak
more in sorrow than in wrath.

Deadoak, however, hastened to avoid any trouble by apprising Sandy of
the reason which he avowed had caused his visit.

"And now," he added, screwing up his leathery countenance into
sanctimonious lines, "I stand ready to do the right thing, gents.  I'm
offerin', this bein' on behalf o' me and Piute together, what ye paid
for the prop'ty and five hundred to boot."

"What about your mortgage?" queried Sandy shrewdly.

"Include that in the takin' back if ye like.  All I want is to do the
right thing."

"All right," said Sandy.  "Murray, let me speak with ye to one side."

Deadoak sat down and rolled a cigarette.  Taking Murray's arm, Sandy
mopped his face and walked out of earshot, then he paused.  As he met
Murray's puzzled gaze, an earnest look crept into his heavy features.

"Ye'll leave this matter to me?" he queried.  "In other words, will you
be willing to let me gamble for the good o' the firm?"

Murray smiled quizzically.  "Go as far as you like, Sandy!  I'll back
your play."

"And if we go broke on it, no hard feelings?"

Murray laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.

"Don't be a fool!  We're men and not children.  Play your own game!"

Sandy looked vastly relieved, then strode back to Deadoak.

"Well, now, your proposition is good," he said cordially, even
genially.  "I'm proud to meet a man like you, Deadoak Stevens!  We
thought you and Mr. Tomkins had trimmed us, and were inclined to be
sore about it--now that we've found the mistake, we apologize."

"Then you take me up?" queried Deadoak eagerly.

"No."

"Wh--what!  Ye said no?"

"Of course!" returned Sandy warmly, taking no heed of the thunderstruck
look which had clouded Deadoak's staggered features.  "Would we take
advantage of ye that way?  Not us!  We're not that sort!  We don't
whine, Deadoak; we're not kids.  We'll keep what we got, and make the
best of it!"

Deadoak's countenance was a study in futility.

"You--d'ye mean----" he choked, then continued feebly.  "Have ye found
somethin'?"

"Maybe, we have!" Sandy beamed upon him.  "Just between ourselves,
friend, I'll tell ye that we have.  So--ye see?"  His wink was
significant.

"I see," agreed Deadoak mournfully.

"'Twill make ye rejoice, no doubt," pursued Sandy, "to know that our
luck was good.  We appreciate your disinterested----"

"'Senough!" blurted Deadoak, turning.  "I'll be weavin' back, I guess.
So long."

"Won't ye wait till mornin', anyhow?" queried Sandy with concern.

"Nope, thanks."

Dejectedly, hopelessly, Deadoak stumbled to his cayuse, pulled himself
aboard, waved a limp hand, and rode down the valley.  He was slumped in
the saddle like a man who sees no hope in the future.

"He's mighty cheerful over something," said Murray drily, and chuckled.

"Cheerful?"

"Well, Sandy, suppose you elucidate?  Why did you turn him down?"

Sandy faced his friend and made a wide gesture.

"Murray," he said earnestly, "I'm playin' a hunch.  Why should that
fellow come here and make us an offer?  I don't know--but there was
something behind it.  We've got something that somebody wants.  And
I've a notion who that somebody is."

"Oh!"  Murray gave him a keen glance.  "Then you really found
something?"

Sandy rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  "Come with me and I'll show you."

Murray accompanied him past the shack, up toward the head of the
canyon.  Sandy led the way to one side, where a high rocky wall formed
a solid background.  Before this was a stretch of sand, perfectly
level, a hundred feet wide; this was enclosed on either hand by a low
growth of manzanita, whose grotesque, wine-red limbs curled eerily in
the sunlight.

"Look there," said Sandy, pointing.

On either side of this little clearing, a stake had been thrust into
the sand.  About the head of either stake, had been bound a scrap of
red paper.  One scrap had been torn away by the wind.  On the scrap
which fluttered from the other stake, was a flaring black Chinese
ideograph.

"Aiblins, now," said Sandy, while Murray examined the paper, "that
looks like a chink laundry-man's mark, eh?  And ye said that the chink,
Tom Lee, had been out here and was comin' home when ye treated his leg.
What did he put those stakes in for?"

"I'll bite," said Murray, gazing at the scene with a frown of
perplexity.  "What?"

"Blamed if I know," returned Sandy.



CHAPTER VIII

DOCTOR SCUDDER

Days of honest work and virtuous toil evolved a new Bill Hobbs--a grimy
individual streaked with sweat and daubed with printer's ink, yet as
absorbedly delighted in his new task as a child with a fresh toy.

For the first time in his life, Willyum was his own boss at actual
labor.  The financial aspect of his travail had not yet arisen to
trouble him.  Naturally swift to comprehend things mechanical, he set
himself to learn type, and succeeded more or less.  He had found enough
old job stuff set up to show him the use of the quoins, sticks, and
furniture--although these names meant nothing to him--and after various
attempts in which some type was sadly ruined, he managed to get the
hang of the job press.  The flatbed was a simpler proposition.

"Gee!" he observed, standing in his doorway one noon with a fine air of
proprietorship, and watching the dusty stage roll in from the south.
"Here's another stranger comin' to town.  And the doc ain't back yet
with Sandy!  Well, I guess I'd better eat an' then begin to get out the
first issue of the paper.  We'll see who this stranger is, huh?"

He walked across to the hotel, where already most of Two Palms was
assembling with avid curiosity to watch the debarkation of the new
arrival.  Bill Hobbs took one square look at the stranger, then he
suddenly became inconspicuous.

The arrival was a tall man, well dressed, his luggage expensive and
heavy.  His features were very remarkable; they were features, once
seen, never to be forgotten.  He seemed fairly young, virile and
energetic.  When he removed his straw hat to wipe the dust from his
face, he displayed a high, narrow brow that was white with the pallor
of the city.

Beneath this brow were straight black eyebrows like a bar across his
face.  The eyes, too, were black--an intense and glittering black,
luminous as black crystal.  A finely trimmed black vandyke shaded his
mouth, but accentuated the high, thin lines of his countenance.  The
whole face was undeniably aristocratic, very handsome in a mesmeric
way, yet it held an indefinable hint of vulpine.  The stranger's hands
were long, white, powerful.

"I have a friend, a Mr. Lee," said the stranger to Piute Tomkins.  His
voice was smooth and very self-assured, pregnant with authority.  "He
has, I believe, engaged a room in advance of my coming?"

"He ain't," returned Piute, surveying the stranger.  "But come in and
eat, 'less ye want to miss dinner.  I guess we can rustle a room
somehow.  We're havin' a treemenjous boom right now and all the
bellhops is off to the gold rush, but I s'pose we can put ye up."

The spectators grinned at this elaborate irony.  The stranger, however,
fastened his black eyes upon Piute, and after a few seconds Piute began
to look uncomfortable.

"Ah, you are a very facetious gentleman!" said the stranger coolly.
"May I inquire if Mr. Lee is stopping here?"

"Yep," said Piute, reddening a trifle.  "He's up in his room with a
busted leg--but ye'd better pile in to dinner 'fore seein' him.  Dinner
don't last long here."

"I hope not," said the stranger, going toward the hotel doorway, while
the crowd guffawed at the confusion of Piute Tomkins.

Bill Hobbs, with incredulity in his eyes, slid into the hotel office
and listened unashamedly while the stranger conversed with Piute.  The
conversation was largely concerned with Tom Lee, and Piute got some
information which made his eyes widen.  Willyum got the same
information; and, when the stranger was gone from the office, he sidled
up to the desk and inspected the register.  He saw that the stranger
had signed as "James Scudder, M.D." of San Francisco.

"Gee!"  Bill Hobbs grinned suddenly.  "He ain't even usin' a alleyas,
huh?  Gee!  I got a real story to write up now----"

Forgetful of dinner, he turned and put for his office across the street
in a burst of feverish energy.  Once there, he seized a pencil and
began to scribble down what he had overheard, and then grabbed a stick
and turned to the nearest type-case.  In another moment the butchery
was going forward merrily.

In the meantime, Doctor Scudder finished a hasty meal and then was
taken to the room of Tom Lee.  Presently he was sitting beside the
latter's bed and inquiring into the accident.

In the adjoining room sat Claire Lee, busy with some sewing; but there
was a flutter of fear in her eyes, and from time to time her lips
trembled, as though she were fighting down some inner repulsion, some
frightful and unspeakable horror whose talons were gripping at her from
that inner room.  And yet the two men, whose conversation came clearly
to her, were not speaking of her at all.

"You wired me that you had found the place--the place which exactly
suited you," said Scudder calmly.  "So I came right along."

"Good!" said Tom Lee, who was sitting up in bed.  "Good!  I am eager to
get to work.  Did you arrange for a contractor as I ordered?"

The doctor nodded.

"Yes.  I stopped in Meteorite and got hold of a good man there.  He's
coming over this afternoon--drives his own car--and you can go over the
plans with him to-night.  Of course, you'll have to figure on expensive
work, for men and supplies will have to be shipped from Meteorite by
truck."

Tom Lee waved his hand negligently, as though the question of expense
were one to be waived altogether.

"That goes without saying," he responded.  "But I am glad that you
came; I need you very badly.  The allowance of opium that you gave me
ran out four days ago."

Scudder laughed, and relaxed in his chair.

"And how are you doing without it?" he inquired.  "Can you get along?"

"Not here in bed," he rejoined.  "If I were outside, actively engaged,
at work upon our plans, I think that the activity would help me
tremendously.  When I was busy with Claire looking up the place, I
found this to be true."

Scudder's black eyes narrowed very slightly, as though inwardly he were
a bit astonished.  But his words gave the lie to this supposition.

"That's exactly what I calculated on," he returned easily, "and it
proves that my theories have been correct.  Fortunately, I brought
along a good supply.  By the way, I'm interested in this fellow who
fixed you up--did you say his name was Murray?  What did he look like?"

Tom Lee described Murray very accurately.  From Scudder broke a word of
astonishment.

"By George!" he exclaimed.  "Do you know, that's very remarkable!"

"What?" demanded Tom Lee, gazing at him with heavy-lidded calm.

"That he should turn up here!" Scudder was animated, vigorous.

"You know him, then?"

"No, but I know of him.  Why, that fellow was one of the greatest
surgeons in the country until a year ago!  He went all to pieces in a
hurry and dropped out of sight; it was more or less hushed up, of
course, but in professional circles the truth is known.  It was caused
by morphia; the poor fellow; must have been a hopeless victim."

"He does not look it now," said Tom Lee.  His features contracted
slightly.  "Morphia!  And that goes back to opium again.  All the more
need of our getting to work without further delay, Doctor Scudder!  You
will remain here for a time?"

Scudder's eyes went for an instant to the door of the other room.

"Yes, as long as you want me," he rejoined.  "In fact, I think I'll
remain here until things shape up right, then return to San Francisco
for my things, and come back here for good.  I'll want to keep an eye
on the building work."

Silently, without a word, Tom Lee took from a table beside the bed a
little round cup of horn.  Once it had contained a brownish substance,
but now it was scraped clean inside, scraped down to the very horn.
Silently, he held it out to the doctor.  It was an opium _toy_.

Scudder smiled and nodded as he took the little cup.  "I'll attend to
it at once," he said, and rose.  "Do you like this desert country as
much as you expected?"

"Yes," said Tom Lee gravely.  "It is wonderful; it is ideal!  I like it
for itself, no less than for our purpose.  I am an American; I love
this country, I am part of it--and this desert is to me like the great
wilderness of my own Shensi, the very heart of the ancient land, full
of great unguessed things and strange powers!  Yes, I like this desert."

Scudder, shrugging his shoulders as though to indicate that it was all
a matter of choice, turned away.  At the door of the other room, Claire
halted him.

"Doctor!  Is it true--what you said about Doctor Murray?"

For a moment Scudder looked into her eyes as though reading what lay
behind her eagerness, her compassionate words.  Beneath his beard, his
lips tightened.

"Yes," he said.  "I'm sorry to say that's quite true, Miss Lee.  Of
course, this Murray may not be the same man.  I'm delighted by your
father's improvement; I think this country is going to do wonders for
him!  If you'll excuse me, I'll get him a little opium now.  It'll help
him greatly and put him in shape to go over things with the contractor
tonight."

He left for his own room, which was across the hall.  When the door had
closed behind him, Claire Lee stood motionless, both hands at her
breast.  In her eyes was a numbed, wondering look, the look of one who
was inwardly fluttering with fear of the unknown and the intangible.
Then, as Tom Lee called her, the look vanished and she turned to the
other room.

Tom Lee looked up at her, then held out his hand.  She took it,
silently, and his strong fingers closed upon hers in a mutely
significant gesture.  It was an endearment, that quiet touching of the
hands, but it was more than an endearment.  From the massive
personality of the man there went out to the girl a quiet force, a
compellant for poise; a reassurance of strength and faith and love
unassailable.

"You are not glad he has come?" asked Tom Lee, watching her eyes.

"No," she answered simply.  "I do not believe in him!"  A wistful smile
came to her lips, as she touched his coarse black hair with caressing
fingers.

"My dear," said Tom Lee gravely, "he has done great things for me; his
treatment is helping me tremendously.  He is efficient, that man!"

Claire said no more.  She turned away and opened a box that lay upon
the table.  From it she took a lamp, filled the bowl with peanut
oil--which is odorless--and lighted it.  She laid out a bamboo opium
pipe, a needle, a set of the simple, but ingenious scales, and then
turned again as Doctor Scudder knocked and entered the room.

Late that afternoon, two other men drifted into Two Palms.  One came
from the north, and this was Deadoak Stevens.  He tramped
disconsolately into the hotel and sought out Piute Tomkins, with whom
he was closeted for some time.  The two men emerged from their talk
with an air of hopelessness; Piute had chewed at his ragged mustache
until it had become a wisp.

The other arrival was the Meteorite contractor, by name Patrick
Hennesy.  He greeted Piute jovially; a brawny, red-faced man, and
registered for the night.  Then he inquired for Doctor Scudder, and was
directed to the latter's room.  As he turned from the register, he was
frowning.

"What's this?" he said, beckoning to Piute and pointing with one stubby
finger to the register.  "Who's this guy Mackintavers?  He don't go by
the front name o' Sandy, I suppose?"

Piute assented with a trace of surprise.  Patrick Hennesy broke into a
lurid oath and inquired as to the whereabouts of said Mackintavers.
When informed that Sandy was then somewhere to northward, he doubled up
one huge fist.

"What's bitin' you?" inquired Piute with interest.  "Know him, do you?"

"Know him?" Hennesy glared for a minute, then relaxed.  "Well, I used
to know him--and I sure want to see if he comes back to-night!  If he
don't--then don't say nothin' about me, savvy?  I'll connect with that
cuss later."

Piute assented, not knowing just what to make of all this.  He felt too
hopeless over the report of Deadoak Stevens, however, to push his
inquiries into the matter.

Bill Hobbs, in the interim, was working feverishly through the hot
afternoon in his printing office across the street.  He had already
evolved some principles of type setting, and now he was alternately
cursing and blessing the implements to his hand, as he set up a
grotesque and fearful array of words.

Toward sunset he viewed his labors with a marvelling satisfaction.  The
late proprietor had left a front-page form already in shape to receive
news articles, and Bill Hobbs hung over the stone with an admiring eye
as he studied the news article which he had supplied in part.

"Gee!"  Willyum sucked in his breath admiringly.  "I'll break off for
supper, then do some more.  Tomorrow I'll have her done.  Gee!  Ain't
she great!"

That evening he continued his labors by lamplight.

In the room of Tom Lee across in the hotel, Patrick Hennesy was that
evening poring over blue prints and architect's plans, discussing them
with Tom Lee and Doctor Scudder, while Claire listened and made
occasional comments.  Hennesy looked completely stumped and extremely
mystified.  He was unable to arrive at the purpose of the buildings
which Tom Lee wished him to erect, and the probable cost of them
staggered him.  But when Tom Lee calmly extended him a check which ran
into four large figures, and told him to take it on account, he was
forced to accept matters.

"Then I'll be back later," he said in conclusion.  "I'll run out to
that place soon's you got the deed, and see just what gradin' will have
to be done, and git a shovel to work."

Early in the morning, the contractor departed back to Meteorite,
repulsing all efforts of Piute and Deadoak to penetrate his mysterious
business with Tom Lee.

Through the morning, Bill Hobbs slaved in his printing office.  At
noon, he announced jubilantly to Piute and other citizens of Two Palms,
over the dinner table, that his forms were locked and on the press, and
that he'd run off a newspaper that afternoon that would sure make 'em
sit up some when they read it!

At two o'clock, after some slight delays incidental to inking and other
complicated matters, the _Helngon Star_ went to press.

"Gee!" exclaimed Willyum as he drew the first sheet away and looked it
over with humble devotion in his eyes.  "Gee!  Ain't that wonderful,
now?"

He was right.  It _was_ wonderful.



CHAPTER IX

THE NEWS STORY

The last game of cribbage had been settled, and Haywire Smithers had
departed to his own place; Mrs. Tomkins had come home from the weekly
meeting of the Two Palms Ladies' Aid and had gone up to bed; and Piute
Tomkins was locking up for the night when Murray and Sandy Mackintavers
came in from Morongo Valley--dusty, sun-bitten, and hungry.

Piute listened sadly to their request for grub, and agreed to rustle up
some.  He was no longer proud and haughty before them; he had given up
the unequal battle and had ceased to struggle.  Virtue had descended
gloomily upon him, even as a mantle.

"Step into the dinin' room, gents, and I'll discover somethin'," he
announced.

"How's my patient?" asked Murray, pausing en route to the wash room.

"The chink?  All right.  Say, I reckon ye ain't heard the news about
him?"  Piute went back to his desk and procured a sheet of paper.  "And
about Scudder, too.  Your friend sure busted somethin' in these parts,
he sure did!  Look over this here paper; it come out to-day, and I
guess Scudder ain't seen it yet.  I want to be watchin' when he does
see it, that's all!  Then I got a business proposal to lay before ye
whilst ye eat."

Murray took the sheet, and an ejaculation broke from him as he saw that
it was the first issue of Willyum's paper.  He hurried after Sandy,
made haste to get the sand and alkali out of his eyes and hair, and
passed into the dining room.  Piute lighted a lamp, and the two friends
settled down to peruse the astounding results of Bill Hobbs's labors.

Mere print cannot reproduce the phenomenon.  Mere printers cannot set
in type all that Willyum, in his blissful ignorance, had achieved in
that primary issue of the revived Helngon Star.  The date had been
unchanged.  The advertisements along the sides had been untouched;, yet
Willyum had managed to fill four columns, by dint of ornaments and
other aids to progress.

The news story touched first upon Tom Lee, and was begun with this lead:



    We got in our midst today tmo guys that come direct from tHe hall
    oj & Fame iNtwo tHe sentrel Presinct oF Two Palms$ tHe misterY has
    beeu sollved:*



The article went on to say, more or less legibly, that Tom Lee was
immensely wealthy, and that he owned a string of oriental shops in the
Bay region of San Francisco.  He was, in fact, a magnate pure and
simple in the antique line, and was rated many times a millionaire.

"Aiblins, now," observed Sandy, puzzling over the page with knotted
brows, "Bill is tryin' to say somethin' about a man named Scudder, but
I ain't right sure----"

Piute joined them, bringing in some dishes.  "Scudder is a doc," he put
in, "and a friend of the Chinee.  I'd say, offhand, that he's due to
raise partic'lar hell about to-morrow, when he sees that there paper!"

Murray whistled, as he perused the paper.  "Say, Sandy--listen here!"

Willyum's remarks on Doctor Scudder were frankly illuminating about
Willyum himself:



    I wunst seen tHis gink iN neworLeens.?; wHen i was vagGed and hE
    was iN tHe dOck two for pedLing dope & Happy dust two the nlgge*rs
    & jUdje give him hEll,? for it----



Willyum's remarks, apparently, knew no shame over the fact that he had
been "vagged"; but they excoriated Doctor Scudder as a peddler of
"dream-books" and a supplier of dope.

They went on to say that Scudder had been forced to leave New Orleans
for his own health; that he had there been a "dope" supplier to the
underworld.  In language of beautiful simplicity, Willyum said that
Doctor Scudder was a top-notch crook and would murder his grandmother
for a dollar.

Sandy broke into a roar of laughter, but Murray frowned gravely.

"Willyum's asleep now, I imagine--well, let him rest in peace until
to-morrow!  He's in bad."

"How come?" queried Mackintavers, while Piute stood by the kitchen door
and listened hard.

"Libel.  If these things aren't true, this man Scudder can just about
rake the hair off Willyum!  Confound it all, you go and put your foot
in it when I'm not around, and then Bill Hobbs goes and does the same
thing!  Why, Scudder can sue for big damages----"

"Huh!" grunted Sandy complacently.  "Let him sue!  You can't draw blood
out of a turnip, not even with the law to help ye.  So this Tom Lee is
a rich man, is he?  That's interestin'."

Murray nodded.  "Seems to be.  Queer what he's doing here, Sandy!  But
the girl--the girl Claire!  I tell you, she's white!  That's the
queerest thing of all."

Piute came forward, bearing coffee and flapjacks, and sat down to light
his corncob.  He wore a portentous and solemn air.

"Ye don't think there's nothin' wrong, do ye?" he asked.

"No," said Murray decisively.  "Nothing.  It's something we don't
understand, but it's nothing wrong.  Tom Lee is no ordinary man."

"I reckon not," said Piute drily.  "He done offered five thousand for
Morongo Valley."

The two friends quickly glanced at each other, then stared at Piute.

"Five thousand?" repeated Sandy, incredulous.

"Yep.  Now I'm putting it straight up to you gents, layin' all cards
down, and leavin' it to you to do the right thing if ye sell to him.
He wants to see you and buy the property.  I guess you'll sell at
_that_ figger, huh?"

Murray leaned back in his chair and gazed at Sandy.

"It's up to you, Mac," he said briefly.

"What's he want? the minin' rights or----?"

"The whole works," returned Piute.  "Or so he allowed.  All of it!"

"No tellin' his game," quoth Sandy.  "Doc, find out his object when ye
see him in the mornin', and we'll talk it over."

Murray nodded assent, astonished and mystified by such an offer for
Morongo Valley.  He was too weary to discuss it now, however, and he
wended his way to bed without further delay.

Early in the morning he was aroused by voices, and sat up.  Sandy, who
occupied a second bed in the same room, was talking with Bill Hobbs,
and the latter turned to Murray with a proud but modest grin.

"Hello, Doc!  Mac says you seen the paper last night.  Kinda nifty,
ain't it?"

"A miracle," said Murray gravely.  "How you did it, I can't figure out
yet!"

"Oh, printin' ain't so much," observed Bill loftily.  "There was a few
mistakes, I seen on readin' her over, but next time she'll come through
better.  But what's this Mac is tellin' me about gettin' in bad?"

"All depends," responded Murray.  "That story about Doctor
Scudder--where on earth did you get the nerve to print that, you big
boob?"

"Why, it's true!" asserted Willyum stoutly.  "I was vagged down to
N'Orleans, just like I printed it, and seen him in court bein' tried
for supplyin' dust an' hop to----"

"Was he convicted?" demanded Murray.

"Nope.  He slid through; his pals squared the bulls, I guess."

"Good Lord!"  Murray began to dress.  "Well, he can't get any money out
of you, that's some satisfaction."

"Well, I ain't worried none," said Bill.  "Leavin' all that out, how
did the paper strike you--honest, now?"

"Great stuff, Willyum," responded Murray, whereat the earnest William
glowed delightedly.  "You've hit your vocation, if you can make it pay
in these parts.  You get to work learnin' how to print, and we'll look
into the business end of it.  If it seems likely to pay, then we'll all
put it through together."

"That's treatin' me white, Doc," answered Bill.

"Well," said Murray thoughtfully, "what we'll do, I don't know yet."
He turned to Sandy and put the issue squarely up to him.

"I'll see Tom Lee after breakfast.  If there's no valid reason for
keeping the place, why not make a good profit while we can?  Let him
take the whole place--unless you think there is any reason to keep it."

The mining man stared reflectively out of the window.

"There is and there ain't," he said slowly.  "I'll be frank with ye,
Murray--that place out there attracts me!  We could settle there and
make a fair livin' from the valley itself, what with the water there
and all.  Aiblins, now the quartz will pay, too.  It's not big, but I'm
thinking it runs big later on.  Lookin' at it from the development
angle, instead o' from the prospector's viewpoint, it might be worth
keeping."

"All right, then we'll keep it."  Murray turned to the doorway.  "Come
on down and let's get breakfast."

Half an hour later, the three partners were just pushing back their
chairs from the breakfast table when they caught the sound of loud
voices coming from the hotel office.  The voices drew nearer, then in
the doorway appeared the figures of Doctor Scudder and Piute.

"That's him," and Piute pointed out Bill Hobbs.

His face white with anger, a copy of the _Helngon Star_ clenched in his
hand, Doctor Scudder faced the amateur printer with blazing indignation.

"This is an outrage!  As sure as my name is Scudder, I'll have you
jailed for this criminal----"

Murray stepped between the two men, in an attempt to pacify his brother
physician.

"One moment, sir," he intervened.  "Our friend here is not a printer
and has allowed himself to be carried too far through his unfortunate
ignorance of the libel laws.  As a professional man myself I can
realize how you must feel; but if you will allow me to explain the
matter----"

Murray checked himself.  In the blazing black eyes of Scudder he
suddenly read a scornful anger that was now directed against himself.

"I don't desire any explanation from a man of your character, Doctor
Murray," snapped Scudder.  "I recognize you; you are the once eminent
member of a profession which you disgraced!  I have exposed you to Mr.
Lee and his daughter in your true colors, as a dope fiend and one who
should have been long ago ejected from the medical fraternity----"

It was at this point that the fist of Murray collided violently with
the countenance of his colleague.  Doctor Scudder was flung backward,
caught his foot against a chair, and fell into the corner; he sat there
motionless, staring up with one hand clapped against his bruised cheek,
in his eyes an expression of dazed, but virulent enmity.

"That'll be enough from you," said Murray, standing over him.  "If you
want to argue the matter any further, get up!  You don't want to, eh?
All right.  I'd advise you to go mighty slow with your libel talk
against Mr. Hobbs, because if you start anything, I fancy that I would
have a pretty good case of malicious slander against you.  So think it
over."

Murray turned away and left the dining room with his friends.  Outside,
he quickly hushed their indignant utterances; he was once more cool and
calm, entirely master of himself again.

"Let the matter drop right here," he said briefly.  "That fellow won't
make any more trouble; our best bet is to leave him absolutely alone.
I'll go up now and see Tom Lee."

He ascended the stairway to the upstairs hall, and knocked at the
entrance of the two rooms occupied by the Lees.

Claire admitted him.  Beneath her radiant greeting he noticed as he had
previously noticed, the undefinable shadow that hovered in her eyes.
The shadow, he thought, had deepened since he had last seen her.

Tom Lee was awake and expecting him.  Murray returned the greeting of
the big Chinaman, then met the latter's inflexible gaze with a square
challenge.

"I understand," he said quietly, "that your friend Doctor Scudder is
here.  I presume, naturally, that you would prefer to have him in
charge of the case.  He has just advised me that he has made you aware
of certain facts----"

Tom Lee lifted his hand commandingly.

"I am very sorry," he said, "that you and Doctor Scudder have had any
misunderstanding, as your manner would imply.  He told us a little of
your story, not in any unkindly spirit, but simply because the mention
of your name drew the memory from him.  I wish you to retain charge of
the case by all means.  When you have looked at my leg, please sit
down; I want to speak with you."

Murray bowed.  He examined the injured knee, pronounced it to be
mending in good shape, and informed the patient that in another two
days he could walk a little.  At a gesture from Tom Lee, he took the
chair beside the bed.  The oriental gazed at him for a moment, then
spoke.  "I know from my own experience that you are a man of great
skill.  I understand from Doctor Scudder that you were at one time a
victim of morphia, but I can see very plainly that you have overcome
this danger."

In the manner of the speaker there was a serene calm that quite swept
aside any possible search after information.  Tom Lee continued, his
gaze holding that of Murray.

"We may speak frankly, Doctor Murray.  For many years I was a victim of
opium.  I was born in this country, and in business affairs I have
become a rich and even powerful man; but I have never succeeded in
getting loose from the chains of the poppy.  Some time ago, I came in
contact with Doctor Scudder, a man who has had great experience with
drug users.  He undertook to cure me, and I believe that he is
succeeding."

Murray listened to this confession in some astonishment.  The oriental
did not speak with any symptom of shame.  He seemed to face the matter
in a very blunt and straightfordward way, which was very significant of
the man's strong character.

"I determined," pursued Tom Lee, "to devote a portion of my wealth to
helping others of my race to rid themselves of the opium habit.  To
this end I have been seeking a place which will be out of the world and
remote from any accessibility to the drug.  This portion of the desert,
with its climate and situation, is ideal for my purpose.  I propose to
erect a sanitarium and colony at my own cost, and to maintain it myself.

"Since meeting you, I believe that you can assist me.  Doctor Scudder,
who has agreed to give my enterprise the benefit of his knowledge and
skill, is a thoroughly good physician.  I shall also need a surgeon,
however, and I believe that you can fill that position admirably if you
will.  After much search, the spot which I have chosen is the place
called Morongo Valley, north of here.  I understand that you have
recently bought it.  I will be glad to buy it back from you at any
price you may consider; and will make a flat offer of five thousand
dollars."

Murray listened to this proposal in astounded silence.  He realized
that this man was one who swept aside all small things, and who dealt
upon a large and broad scale with everything and everyone.

Thus he was not so much surprised at the offer to use his services, as
at the outline of Tom Lee's business in this part of the country and
the philanthropic ambitions of the Chinaman.  Before the man, he felt
ashamed.  When he contrasted his own endeavors, and those of
Mackintavers, to scheme and obtain Morongo Valley and keep it, with the
frankly stated aims of this yellow man, he felt very small.  He felt
dwarfed before the personality of Tom Lee.

"My two friends have joined me in buying this land," he answered
slowly.  He did not do his patient the injustice of considering the
offered position in the light of a bribe to sell the valley.  "If we
sell to you at this figure, we shall make a profit--yet we had already
decided not to sell it.  Mr. Mackintavers thinks there is gold in those
hills----"

Tom Lee smiled.  "Keep the gold, then," he said.  "Listen!  I have my
plans all drawn, ready for work.  I have in prospect a hundred more of
my countrymen--most of them my own employees--in San Francisco, who
have consented to break with opium if I will help them.  My idea is to
keep them at physical work--to use them here in the construction of my
buildings, and in reclaiming the soil--as a part of the cure.  If you
and your friends wish to work a mine, I will provide the labor.  Why
not?  Keep the mining rights to the land if you wish."

Murray's face cleared.  "That is eminently fair," he said reflectively.
From the outer room had come a murmur of voices, and as Claire now
appeared he rose.  "I'll speak with my partners about it, and let you
know.  As concerns your offer of a position--may I reserve judgment
upon that for a time?"

"There is no hurry," said Tom Lee, and looked at Claire.

"Doctor Scudder was here but would not come in," said the girl, a faint
color in her cheeks.  Murray, catching her glance, read a strange
expression in her eyes, an expression so fleeting and indefinable that
it wakened him instantly to the sense of something unusual.  What had
Scudder said out there?  What did the girl think of Tom Lee's proposals?

"You have heard our conversation, Miss Lee," said Murray quickly,
turning to her with his swift disarming smile.  "May I inquire whether
you think me a fit person to be associated in such a work?"

She met his gaze squarely, although her color deepened a trifle.

"I should be only too glad," she answered him, "to know that you would
accept!"

He was surprised by the evident sincerity of her words.

"Something queer about all this!" he thought to himself, when he had
taken his departure and was on his way downstairs.  "Something queer
about Scudder, too--I shouldn't wonder if Willyum had told the truth
about him!  And Clairedelune seems afraid of something.  A white girl,
I could swear, and as good as she is beautiful.  What is her origin,
then?  Where is the answer to this riddle?"

He passed across the street to the printing office, where he found
Mackintavers awaiting him.  He told the two exactly what had been said,
and they held a long discussion.  Bill Hobbs swore that there was
something crooked about anything with which Doctor Scudder was
connected; but Murray, more correctly, considered that Bill was
prejudiced.  In the end, they decided to accept Tom Lee's offer.  As
soon as Willyum was established in his printing office, Murray and
Sandy Mackintavers were to visit Morongo Valley on a more extended
prospecting trip.

Their first business was to get Willyum settled.  Ascertaining from the
subscription list of the late proprietor that there was a goodly
scattering of ranchers and homesteaders and prospectors about the
district and learning that a newspaper would be welcomed and supported
by some advertising, all three partners got down to steady work.

Sandy and Murray canvassed the town with no little success.  Two days
later, a derelict in human shape blew in from the south, having heard
that a paper was to be started in Two Palms.  He was a hobo printer, a
shiftless fellow who would be worthless to any real establishment--but
to Bill Hobbs he was a providential shower of manna.  Bill engaged him
on the spot as preceptor.

During the three days which elapsed thus, Murray saw Claire Lee at
intervals.  He also informed Tom Lee of the decision regarding Morongo
Valley, received a check for five thousand dollars, and made over the
deed to the land in the name of Claire, as requested.  He and his
friends encountered Doctor Scudder frequently, but the encounters were
very cold and formal.

On the third evening Patrick Hennesy arrived from Meteorite in his car,
and was at once closeted with Tom Lee.  As the latter was still
confined to his room by Murray's orders, supper was served there by
Piute.  Hennesy beckoned Piute aside.

"Is that fellow Mackintavers still here?" he demanded in a grim whisper.

Piute allowed that he was.

"Then don't say nothin', but fix it up for me to meet him back o' the
hotel early in the morning--all alone.  Will ye?  I don't want no
interference."

Piute grinned suddenly.

"Will I?" he retorted.  "Say!  Them fellers--I put 'em next to a sale
for their prop'ty, all fair and square; and they didn't even so much as
slide me a ten-spot!  Ain't that gratitood?  I'm askin' ye--ain't it?
Well, don't you worry none, Hennesy!"

"Ain't you a deputy sheriff?" demanded the contractor.

"Me an' Deadoak is both depitties.  Why?"

"Tell you later," and Patrick Hennesy winked joyfully at Piute.



CHAPTER X

FLIGHT

Upon the following morning, Murray was at the printing establishment
watching Bill Hobbs and his human derelict swear at each other, when
Piute Tomkins beckoned him outside to the street.

Piute stood there, ostentatiously fingered a burnished deputy's star
which adorned his sun-faded vest, twirled his melancholy mustache and
spoke.

"Doc, the pris'ner wants to see ye."

"Prisoner?  What prisoner?"

"Your partner, Mac."

"Good lord!"  Murray stared blankly at him.  "You don't mean
he's--arrested?"

"Certain."

"On what charge?"

"Assault with 'tent to kill.  Him and another man been mixin' it up
consid'able back of the hotel; other man's Hennesy, the contractor from
Meteorite.  Seems like Mac took after him with an ol' wagon spoke and
nigh riled him to death.  I got him locked up in an extry room, so come
along."

Murray followed, bewildered and angered.  Sandy arrested!

Piute led the way into the hotel, and to a room at the door of which
stood Deadoak Stevens on guard.  A stern and implacable proponent of
justice, Deadoak was also possessed of a polished badge and an ancient
revolver, both of which he displayed with ostentation.

"Hennesy's goin' right back to town," he informed Piute, "he wants to
see ye 'fore he pulls out."

Piute strode away.

Murray, meantime, entered the room, where he found Mackintavers
sitting, the picture of disconsolate despair.  Sandy glanced up, then
dropped a battered countenance into his hands and groaned.

"Hello!" said Murray cheerfully.  "Hear you've been fighting.  What's
the fun about?"

"Doc, it's no use," groaned Sandy.  "I'm a branded man!  I thought
nobody'd know me around here--but along comes a man named Hennesy, a
man whom I'd had dealin's with in New Mexico.  Fact is, I made him
leave there for his health.  Now he's turned up here.  I run up against
him--wham!  Then we went to it, that's all."

"I hope," said Murray, "that you hurt him worse than he hurt you?"

"I done my best," was the gloomy response.  "I sure knocked him
out--then this here deputy sheriff dropped a gun on me."

Deadoak Stevens introduced his head inside the door, which he had
placed ajar.

"He's goin' to Meteorite after the sheriff," he announced, "and you'll
stay right here until he gets back----"

"Nonsense!" declared Murray.  I'll bail him out and----"

"There ain't no one here to bail him out to," said Deadoak.  "You got
to wait, that's all.  Ding my dogs, this here ain't no city!"

"Don't you try to stick with me, Doc," said Mackintavers hopelessly.
"It ain't fair to you an' Hobbs.  Things like this'll come croppin' up
all the while----"

"Don't be a fool," snapped Murray, and rose.  "I'll see what can be
done, Sandy.  We'll take care of this fellow somehow.  Did you have a
wagon-spoke in your hand?"

"I don't know," said Sandy.  "I was hittin' him with everything in
sight."

Murray chuckled and left the room.

He saw Piute Tomkins in the office downstairs, and speedily found that
there was no way of freeing Mackintavers until the sheriff arrived in
person.  Piute flatly refused to accept bail, and there was no justice
of the peace in town--the one and only J.P. being at the moment some
score of miles away looking for a tungsten mine in the Saddleback
hills.  Murray gave up the attempt in disgust.

As he left the office, he saw that an automobile was standing at one
side of the hotel, its engine purring.  Standing talking to the driver
was Doctor Scudder.  Scudder stepped back, waved his hand, and the car
drove away in the direction of Meteorite.  Too late to halt the driver,
Murray realized that it must be the man with whom Sandy had mixed.  But
what business had the man with Doctor Scudder?

Scudder passed him with a single flashing look, and Murray went on
across the street, where he imparted to Bill Hobbs what had happened.
They were still debating the matter, when the doorway was darkened--and
Murray looked up to see Claire Lee.

She had already met Bill Hobbs, and had displayed much interest in his
activities.  But now she responded to Willyum's greeting with only a
faint smile, and turned to Murray a gaze that was distinctly troubled.

"Doctor Murray," she said, a trace of color in her cheeks, "will you
take me up to Morongo Valley in your car--right away?"

Murray was taken aback by this flat request.

"I--why, Miss Lee, what do you mean?  Your father can't travel yet----"

"It's not a question of my father," she said, biting her lip.  "Here is
a note that he asked me to hand you----"

She extended a paper, which the astounded Murray took and opened.  The
note was brief:



    My dear Doctor Murray:

    Please do as Claire says--and don't delay or ask questions.

    TOM LEE.



Murray looked from Bill Hobbs to Claire, and choked down the questions
that rose to his lips.

"When do you want to go?"

"Now," said the girl quietly.  "I'll get my things in a few minutes."

"How long do you want to stay?"

"Until we hear from my father."

"Hadn't I better see him----?"

"No.  He wants me to go at once."

Murray scratched his red thatch, more embarrassed and put to confusion
than he cared to admit.  This thing was preposterous on its face!  No
reason assigned--nothing but the request to take this girl away out
there to the Morongo Valley, for an indefinite stay!

He looked helplessly at Bill Hobbs.  "Willyum, can you take care of
Sandy?"

"Sure," asserted Willyum, wide-eyed.

"I am at your service, Miss Lee," said Murray.

"You--you are very good, Doctor," she said, and he thought that her lip
trembled.  "I'll be ready in five minutes."

"Very well.  I'll meet you behind the hotel, at my car--it's the one
stacked with supplies in the back seat."

She turned and left the print shop.  Bill Hobbs looked at Murray
bewilderedly.

"What's it mean, Doc?"

"How the devil do I know?" Murray swore in puzzled disgust.

"Looked to me like she'd been cryin', Doc."

Murray swore again, and started for the door.

"Come on and help me throw some things together--put one of those extra
gas cans in the back of my car, will you?  Fortunately she's full up on
everything.  And you'll have to get Sandy's money before the sheriff
gets it----"

They crossed to the hotel, and while he prepared for the trip, Murray
instructed his henchman, whom he placed in charge of the mutual funds,
to explain matters to Sandy and to do whatever might be possible.

The two men descended to the car, which was already filled with a mass
of supplies made ready by Murray and Sandy against their return to the
valley on a prolonged prospecting trip.  Willyum turned over the
engine, and as he did so, Claire appeared, bearing only a small handbag.

The anxiety in her countenance broke in a smiling greeting, and she
climbed in beside Murray.  The latter shoved down on his pedal and sent
the flivver toward the street.  He waved a hasty farewell to Bill
Hobbs; and as he did so, a backward glance showed him the tall figure
of Doctor Scudder, standing in the doorway of the hotel and gazing
after them.  Somehow, the remembrance of that impassive, high-browed,
jet-bearded figure left a feeling of disquiet within him.

Not until they had left Two Palms behind them, was the silence broken.
Then Murray, seeing Claire's handkerchief going to her eyes, put on the
brakes.

"What's the matter?" he exclaimed.

"Nothing--please go on!"  The girl forced a smile.  "I'll tell you
what's happened--I'll tell you what's happened----"

Murray drove on frowning.  Presently Claire spoke, her voice low.

"You'll have to try and understand everything, Doctor Murray; I know
that you're a gentleman, and father agrees with me.  He isn't an
ordinary Chinaman, you know--a coolie.  Before the revolution, he went
into business.  He consolidated a number of antique shops near San
Francisco into one big combine, and he's wealthy.  But he has so set
his heart on doing good to other men who have the opium habit, and
helping them to break it, that whoever can approach him in the right
way can--can win his trust.  Doctor Scudder has done this."

"Ah!" said Murray.  "You don't like Scudder, eh?"

"I don't trust him!" exclaimed the girl passionately.  "I think he's
been deliberately keeping Father under the influence of opium, while
pretending to cure him; a doctor can obtain the drug now, you know, and
no one else can.  Well, this morning I met Doctor Scudder in the hall,
and he said something--something I resented, and when I told Father,
there was a row.  I'll have to be perfectly frank about it, Doctor
Murray.

"Doctor Scudder apologized to me and said I had misunderstood him, then
he launched a bitter attack on you and said that he meant to prove you
were not what you seemed to be at all--that you were engaged in
smuggling drugs----"

"I?" exclaimed Murray, then laughed amusedly.  "Nonsense!"

"Well, there was a fuss," said the girl.  "I hoped that Father might
begin to see Doctor Scudder as I saw him; but I don't know--it's
terribly hard to tell just what he thinks and does not think, for he
seldom says anything.  When we were alone, he told me to take that note
out to you, and to have you take me to Morongo Valley at once--without
any delay."

"And no reason given?" asked Murray, in open astonishment.

"None," she responded.  "I thought that perhaps he wanted to get you
away from Doctor Scudder, to prevent trouble; but why should I go too?
He refused absolutely to explain anything."

Murray reflected that there might be excellent reasons for the girl
going too, but that certainly none appeared.

"Well," he said whimsically, "since we're on our way, we might as well
go!  I certainly am honored and delighted by your company, Miss Lee.  I
think you're a very wonderful sort of woman, and that your father
should send you with me, like this, implies a trust which I shall try
to deserve."

The girl glanced at him, and to his amazement he saw that a smile was
rippling in her face.

"You've been wondering about me, I suppose?  Most people do; they seem
to think that it must be terrible to acknowledge a Chinaman as one's
father, and to love him!  I remember that when some of the girls came
home with me one vacation, they could not see the wealth and happiness
around me, the devoted servants such as they had never been used to,
the love and affection which had been flung about me.  All they could
see was the yellow man who was their host----"

Her voice trailed off, and suddenly Murray realized that her smile had
not been one of mirth.  A quick flash of pity leaped through him.  He
saw her life as it must be--always a stigma upon her, always the yellow
man whom she loved and who loved her, always the shadow that enveloped
her friendships and all that she did!

"A year ago, Miss Lee," he said quietly, "I was among the leaders of my
profession.  Through the deadly sin of heedlessness, of failure to
observe what I was doing in the effort always to do more in my
profession, I became a drug fiend.  Since then, I have conquered
myself--but in the world's eyes I can never be rehabilitated.  So I,
too, have learned the folly of caring what the world thinks or says.
It is the inward self that matters; nothing else."

"Oh, but you are cynical about it!" she answered simply.  "Rather, you
are trying to be cynical, and not succeeding very well.  Haven't you
found that after all life is very good as it is--that in one sense the
world does not matter, but that in another sense one must regard it
very keenly?  To be thought ill of, hurts, and hurts much.  There is
always self-respect, and the inner guidance of one's own life to be
followed; but all the same, one must bring one's self into accord with
the things outside.

"It does not worry me to be considered the daughter of a yellow man.  I
am only sorry that people cannot know, as I know, the wonderful
character and goodness of Tom Lee.  Why, if he is able to do what he
came here to do, he will be a tremendous benefactor of his own race!
Hundreds of the men who work for him are still slaves to opium,
although most of them would be glad to be free again."

Murray followed the road mechanically.  It was a poor road, merely a
track across the white-gray desert face, dodging to avoid ancient
"Joshua trees" or groups of cacti, ever following the line of least
resistance and curving endlessly.

The road did not interest Murray; he was thinking of the girl beside
him and her situation.

"At least," he said gravely, "I think that I can appreciate the
character of your father; and if I were you, I wouldn't worry about my
own position.  You're a marvelously beautiful girl,
Clairedelune--beautiful beyond words, and with a deep fund of
personality to back it.  To have your trust and confidence and
affection would be an unbounded honor to any man alive!  For you to
think, perhaps, that any man who cared for you might be prejudiced
because there is Chinese blood in your----"

"Oh!" cried out the girl suddenly.  Her voice startled him, shook him.
He saw that her face had mantled with crimson.  "Oh!  But that isn't
so!"

"What?"  Murray turned toward her, slowed the car, stared uneasily at
her.  She met his gaze with level eyes, although her bosom was heaving
tumultuously.

"I thought you knew!" she exclaimed.  "I'm only an adopted daughter,
Doctor Murray; father found me in San Francisco at the time of the
fire, and could never discover my real parents.  So he adopted me----"

"Adopted you?  Would such a thing be allowed?"

"Yes, for all the records were destroyed; besides, at that time Father
was known as a Manchu prince, and his position was highly respected.
To save trouble, Father merely took the adoption for granted; it was
never legal, perhaps, but it was never questioned.  And so----"

Murray sat in a daze, unable to find words in the astounded
comprehension that burst upon him.  He could see only the one great
fact--that she was bred of no oriental race!  He knew now that he must
have been prejudiced before that supposition; he had fought the
prejudice, had conquered it, but none the less he felt a surge of
relief, and a song uprose in his heart.

Then he told himself that he was a fool to think such thoughts.  What
matter to him?  As to what the girl had suggested about his being a
drug smuggler, quoting Scudder, Murray never gave this another thought.
He forgot it completely.



CHAPTER XI

THE SUN STRIKES

More than once did Murray curse himself for a fool as he piloted the
car northward into the wastes, but he continued his course without
delay.

The girl's story had moved him strangely, stirred him to the depths.
Still it was not clear to him why he was thus taking Claire out into
the desert--except that he was compelled thereto by the dominant will
and massive personality of Tom Lee.  To tell the truth, Murray was far
from urging upon himself any logical reasoning for what he was doing;
the presence of Claire beside him was reason enough.  He was joyful at
the intimacy established between them, at the friendly confidence that
had risen.  It was long since Douglas Murray had craved the company of
a woman--and now he felt strangely happy and buoyant.

They were in the marble cañon now, and repairing a tire that had blown
out.  There was about them the full heat of a desert day, sickening and
insufferable.  The white walls of the cañon, where was no shade or
relief from the blinding dazzle of the white sun, refracted the heat
tenfold and shimmered before their eyes in waves of smoldering fire.
All breeze was dead.  The car, where the sunlight smote it, was
blistering to the touch.

Murray got the tire repaired, and with a deep sigh of relief flung the
jack into the car.  He refilled the boiled-over radiator from one of
the water canteens swinging beside the car, then climbed under the
wheel.  He paused to mop his streaming face.

"Do you think your father means to come out to Morongo Valley?"

"I think so, with the contractor--perhaps tomorrow or today.  Really,
Doctor Murray, I can't say just what he intends!  When Father gives no
explanation of his actions he simply is inscrutable."

Murray nodded and started the car forward.  He could well understand
that Tom Lee, masked by oriental calm and being governed by the
unfathomable oriental mind, was, even to Claire, an absolutely unknown
quantity.

They cleared the cañon at last.  Here was not the table-flat desert,
however.  From the canyon the trail debouched into a wilderness of
volcanic ash and wind-eroded pinnacles, where along the rocky portals
great smears of smoke-weed hung wavering like the wraith of long-dead
fires.

From here, at last, back to the desert--and into one of those salt
sinks of the desert, a basin of some ancient sea, perhaps, where the
road wound precariously between stretches of sun-baked, salty earth
that none the less quivered to the touch of any object, and formed at
the bottom of the baked crust a quagmire from which was no escape.  The
fiery air made the travelers gasp as each parched gust of breath smote
their lungs; and the salty, invisible dust stung their skins and choked
their throats with remorseless burning.

And in this cockpit of hell, the blistering heat combined with the
rarefied atmosphere to blow out another tire--and to blow it out this
time beyond repair.

"Whew!" exclaimed Murray disconsolately, viewing the damage.  "Nothing
for it but to strip her and put on the other spare."

"Can't you run on the rim?" queried Claire anxiously.

"No chance, with this load of stuff in back, and the road we must
follow!  We'd smash every spring in the car.  Well, here goes!"

There was no breeze.  The far vistas of the horizon hung dancing with
heat waves, like painted scenery jerking on springs.  Mountains and
mirages, all hung there and danced, a weird dance of death and
desolation.

The unstirred air was heavy and thick with invisible dust.  Sunlight
crawled and slavered white-hot brilliance over everything, pierced into
everything.  His face running with blinding sweat, Murray impatiently
threw aside his hat.  Presently his unruly red hair was no longer wet
and blackened; it crowned his flushed features like an aureole, crisp
and dry and very hot.

He had the new tube and casing on, and attached the pump.  Laboring
steadily, he cursed to himself at the heat--the broiling, insufferably
dry heat of that salt basin.  A sudden breath of hot air caused him to
glance up, and his lips cracked in a smile.  Claire was leaning from
the car and fanning him, her straw hat flapping the air down over him.

"Thanks, Clairedelune," he croaked hoarsely.  "It helps."

"Will you have a drink?  The water bottle----"

"No, thanks.  I'll finish this job first."

The tire was beginning to harden.  He bent again over the pump, driving
himself to the labor.  At last it was done--done well enough, at least.
He disconnected the pump and tossed it into the car.  A word from
Claire broke in upon him.

"What's that!  Something moved against the sand--oh!  It's a snake!"

He laughed unsteadily as he looked.  A snake in truth--an incoherent,
feeble object that slipped across the sand and blended there, shapeless
and indistinct; a stark-blind thing, a living volute of death and
venom.  Murray flung a handful of sand.  The reptile lashed out
viciously at the air.

"A rattler shedding its old skin; blind and deadly poisonous at this
season," he said.  "I remember Mackintavers warned us about it--no
rattles, no sound at all!"  He laughed, for his own voice astonished
him; it sounded thin and tenuous, far away, distant.

With a distinct effort of the will, he forced himself to stoop after
the jack; disengaging it, he rose and lifted it into the tonneau, with
strange effort.  Claire got out of the car in order to let him in more
easily, but he did not climb into the shadow of the top.  Instead, he
held to the open door for an instant, then sank down upon the running
board.

"I think I'll rest," he said, looking from bloodshot eyes at the figure
of the girl beside him--the slender, cool figure that seemed to defy
the sunlight.  "Clairedelune--it comes from the troubadours, that
name--the softly sweet glory of the silven moonlight--the sheer beauty
that wrings the heart and soul of a man with pain and sweetness----"

His head jerked suddenly.  As though some inner instinct had wakened to
fear and danger within him, his voice broke out sharply, clearly:

"No cold water, mind!  It kills--no cold water, mind!"

Not until his head fell back into the car doorway did Claire Lee
realize that something was actually wrong.  She had thought him
babbling a bit--now, for a terrible moment, she thought him dead.

Yet his last words abode with her, remained fixed and distinct in her
mind.  No cold water!  His heart was beating; he was not dead after
all.  He must have realized, in that moment, what the trouble was!
Sunstroke.  She realized it now, realized it with a fearful sense of
her own futility.  She had no water, except the ice-cold water in the
porous waterbags beside the car!

Hesitation and fear, but only for an instant.  She seized the nearest
bag, her hands trembling in desperate haste, and jerked out the cork.
Part of that precious fluid she poured into the sands, then stumbled to
the front of the car and stooped to the petcock of the blistering
radiator.  As the hot water poured into the bag, she could feel its
coldness change to a tepid warmth.  Hastily she ran back to Murray and
poured the contents of the bag over his head and shoulders.

She grew calmer, now; he was at least alive, and she had done her best!
But there was more to do.  Morongo Valley lay ahead, not so far, and
she knew the road.  With much effort, she lifted the unconscious body
into the front seat, where it reposed limply, and then climbed over it.
She had forgotten to crank the car, and had to go back again, out into
the sunlight.

No word, no cry from her clenched lips.  She cranked, climbed again
into the car, and closed the door that would hold Murray in place.
Then she drove, with an occasional frantic glance at the lurching,
senseless man beside her.

She drove as fast as she dared set the car through the loose sands.
When she had driven that road first, it was trackless.  Now there lay
faint markings to guide her--the tracks of her own and of Murray's car,
the shuffled traces of hooves and feet.

No wind ever lifted in this basin, no flurry of sand ever drove across
the burning surface, down below the level of the surrounding desert.
Until the rains or a storm came, the tracks would be there undisturbed,
as the dust-marks within a pyramid of ancient Rameses.

Soon, so soon that she scarce realized it, the blue and brown mountains
that had been trembling over the horizon were drawn into sharper and
richer colorings, and the long walls of the valley were opening out
ahead.  The Dead Mountains, those--bare of men or beasts or devils!

Morongo Valley at last--the sharp turn, with the Box Cañon opening out
ahead, rich and sweetly splendid in its touch of vivid greens!

It was only two hundred yards in length, after that turn; yet to the
tortured girl, those two hundred yards seemed endless.  She did not
pause at the shack, but drove on, toward the right-hand wall.  Still
within her mind dwelt the last words uttered by Murray--"no cold water!"

The trickle of the creek was icy cold; out of the ground and in again.
But she knew where there was a seepage of warmer water--water unfit for
drinking.  She had found it while she was here with Tom Lee; it was a
little up the hillside, above and facing that natural amphitheatre
which Tom Lee had staked out as a building site.  About it there was
shade, for the water had provoked green growths on the hillside--a
clump of green there against the brown.

She knew that this was the spot, and she headed for it.  Recklessly,
she drove the car at the steep hill, rocking and lurching across
gullies and rocks, until the engine died down; then in low again,
climbing a mad course, until at last a boulder blocked the wheel and
the engine died on the crash.

There was but a little way to go.  She got Murray out of the car,
somehow, and dragged him, spurred by fear that she had been too late in
getting here.  Yet he still lived.

She laid him on his back in the course of the tiny seepage of
water--and then it seemed so cold to her that new fear gripped on her
soul.  She tasted it, and grimaced.  It was not cold, and it was
brackish, impregnated with minerals.  So slight was the flow, that it
existed for little more than the length of Murray's body.  And there
was not the shade here that she had anticipated--it was too slight, too
little, here at noonday!

That was easily remedied.  A trip to the car, and she had opened
Murray's lashed bundles.  A trip down the hillside to the shack
provided her with stakes.  From four of these she stretched a blanket
above the recumbent man, and saw that now the congestion had died out
of his face.  He was breathing more easily, too.

Then reaction came upon her, and bodily weariness, and flooding tears.

She rallied, however, and fell to work.  By mid-afternoon she had
accomplished much.  Seeing no hope of moving Murray to the shack, she
made another low canopy of blankets, preparatory to removing him from
the seepage; opened out provisions, brought up a tiny sheet-iron stove
from the shack--it would be cold with the night, bitter cold!  There
were many things to be done, and her hands were unaccustomed to doing
these things; but she did them.  And when they were done, she took the
hand-ax she found in the car, and sallied down past the shack in search
of firewood, for the hillside was bare.

When she returned, and came into sight of the camp, she dropped her
burden and ran forward; for Murray was standing there in the sunlight,
one hand to his head, staring around him dazedly!

Her cry of protest swung him about.  He managed a wan smile, then
obeyed her imperative, panted orders and dropped beneath the blanket
canopy she had erected.  She came up to him, breathless with effort and
fear.

"The sun got me, eh?" murmured Murray.  "Clairedelune, you're a wonder!
I don't see how you did it.  Lord but I feel ill again----"

He dropped back limply, and she burst into tears of despair and
helplessness as she knelt above him.

Again she lashed herself to work, removed the blanket from above the
seepage, and laid it aside for a night-covering.  A Californian, she
knew little about sunstroke; but she believed that now he had fallen
into a coma, which might pass into sleep, and his regular breathing
gave her some assurance.

The afternoon dragged into evening, and the night came.  Still Murray
lay senseless, breathing heavily but evenly.  The sun slipped out of
sight under the western rim, and darkness clamped down until the stars
shone.

Claire spread her blankets above the tiny shelter she had made for
Murray, and lay with her face to the south and Two Palms.  What time it
was when she wakened, she did not know; she lay for a moment wondering
why she had roused, then glanced toward Murray's shelter.  In the
starlight she could see that he had not moved.  She could hear his
breathing, as it had been.  Then--her gaze leaped to the desert floor,
where two moving stars were drawing close.

An automobile!  Hope sprang within her, drew a quick, glad cry from her
lips.  She leaped up and arranged her dress with shaking fingers.  Tom
Lee was coming, then, was almost here!

Hurriedly she made shift to light a tiny blaze from the fragments of
her fire, to guide the arrivals.  As the car came into the valley
below, the sound apprised her that it was a flivver, and she became
certain that Tom Lee had come.  The car threaded its way up the
hillside, and ten feet from Murray's car, came to a halt.  Its engine
was not shut off, and its headlights held Claire in the center of this
scene, lighting the place dimly, but efficiently.

Two dark figures leaped from the car and came toward her.  A cry broke
from Claire, and she drew back--not Tom Lee after all!  Here was Piute
Tomkins, and with him a stranger whom she did not know.  But her fear
vanished swiftly, and she choked down her disappointment.

"I'm _so_ glad you came!" she exclaimed.  "Doctor Murray has been
hurt--why, what's the matter?"

She halted, blankly astounded.  The stranger and Piute both produced
revolvers, and their manner was distinctly unfriendly.  The stranger
now flashed the badge of a sheriff; he was a keen-eyed man, bronzed and
resolute.

"You're under arrest, Miss Lee," he said.  "So is Doctor Murray.  That
him yonder?"

"Arrest?" faltered the girl, shrinking in amazement and fear.

"Yep, complicity," said Piute.  "The doc had a lot of opium in his
room, and morphine--and you're helpin' him in his getaway!  This here
is the sheriff--Hennesy sent him over a-flyin'----"

"But--but it's impossible!" wailed the girl, anguish in her voice.
"He's ill--he's had sunstroke!  And he's never had any opium----"

The sheriff, who seemed to dislike his job, shook his head.  "Sorry,
Miss Lee, but we got the goods on him.  My car broke down and we had to
impress Bill Hobbs to bring us out here----"

At this instant another figure came into the rays of light from the
car.  It was Bill Hobbs.

"What's the matter, Miss Lee?" he demanded.  "Where's the doc?"

"He's ill--he had to fix a tire and the sun made him ill," she said
weakly.  "These men are trying to arrest him and me--oh, it's
ridiculous!"

"Gee!" breathed Willyum, staring from her to the recumbent figure
beneath the blankets.  Then he swung on the other two.  "So that was
why you had me run you out here, huh?  Tryin' to make a pinch, huh?
You kept darned quiet about it!"

"Enough for you," snapped the sheriff.  "Get busy, and help carry that
man----"

Suddenly Bill Hobbs changed.  In a moment, he became a new man.  Across
his face swept an altered look; his hand leaped to his armpit, and an
automatic flickered out toward the two men.  He took them completely by
surprise, covered them before their weapons could lift.

"Put up yer mitts!" he breathed hoarsely, a wild light in his flaring
eyes.  "Put 'em up, youse!  So help me, if I gotta croak you----"

The two obeyed, utterly astounded.

"You'll do time for this," began the sheriff furiously.  Bill Hobbs
flung an excited, reckless laugh at him.

"Will I?  You'll go to hell first!  Now look here--the doc ain't done
nothin' at all, and you'd ought to know it!  You big stool, you," Bill
cast the words venomously at Piute.  "I'll cook ye for this!"

"Hey!  It wasn't me!" spoke up Piute in obvious alarm.  "It was Doc
Scudder!  Don't go to p'inting that there gun too reckless----"

"Scudder, was it?" Bill Hobbs swore.  "I said that gink was crooked!
So he tried to frame the doc, here, did he?"

"Good lord!" uttered the sheriff suddenly.  He had been staring hard at
Bill Hobbs; now he took a step backward, across his face flitting a
look of recognition.  "It's Swifty Bill!"

Willyum snarled at him.

"Yah, Swifty Bill!" he jeered.  "Seen me before, have ye?"

"I've got pictures of you, my man," said the sheriff.  "And word that
you're wanted in Memphis--you've been wanted there for a long time!
Those handbills have been up on my office wall for three years--why I
didn't know you before, I can't say why----"

Bill Hobbs spat a vicious oath at him.  Claire had shrunk back,
white-faced and fearful, watching the intense scene before her with
eyes that only half comprehended.

"Know me, do you?" flung out Bill Hobbs.  "And ye'll try to pinch one
o' Swifty Bill's mob, will ye?  I guess not!  The doc ain't done
nothin', I tell you!  Youse guys ain't goin' to frame him an' get away
with it, not for a minute!"

"See here," broke out the sheriff.  "You're trying to buck the
Government, Swifty Bill, and you know what _that_ means!  This man
Murray had a lot of opium and morphine in his possession, and has no
permit for it.  You'd better put down that gun----"

"I got that gat down on _you_," said Bill firmly, "and she stays like
she is."

Suddenly he paused, then broke out anew, an impulsive eagerness
brightening in his face.

"Say!  What d'you guys say to this--leave the girl an' the doc go, and
take me with you?  I'll go!  How's that, now?  If ye want me, all
right.  If ye don't, I'll sure croak both of youse if we don't blow out
o' here!"

Piute looked at the sheriff, but the latter scarcely hesitated.  Those
three-year-old handbills on the wall of his office recurred to his
memory; Swifty Bill was implicated in a federal job back in Memphis,
and there was more credit to be gained from the capture of such a man,
than from taking in Murray.  Besides, the drugs had been confiscated,
and the chances were that Murray could not be punished for merely
having them in his possession.

"You're on!" said the sheriff quickly.

"Then leave your guns and beat it to the car.  I'll come in a minute."

The sheriff nodded to Piute.  The two men dropped their weapons and
retraced their steps.  After watching them for an instant, Bill Hobbs
turned to Claire Lee, and gestured toward Murray; his eyes were
suddenly brimming with devoted affection.

"He ain't dead, miss?"

"No--but he's very ill----"

"Listen!  I gotta beat it with these guys, see?  When we get to Two
Palms, I'll wise up your dad.  I guess the doc ain't bad hurt.  What's
in this dope frame-up, anyhow?"

"I don't know--it's all some mistake," said Claire vaguely.

"All right, then.  Say, tell the doc I'm squarin' things up, will you?
Him and me's pals, see.  Tell him, will you?"

Claire nodded dumbly.  So quickly had the situation evolved itself,
that she was not yet fully sensible of its significance.  The meaning
of all this rapid-fire exchange of words was as yet only partially
comprehensible to her.  She could only nod assent.

Bill Hobbs turned and stumbled away to the car and the waiting
handcuffs.



CHAPTER XII

SCUDDER COMES

The night passed, and the day, and another night, dragging their weary
length above Morongo Valley.  After the car that bore Piute, Willyum,
and the sheriff had vanished over the desert horizon, that horizon had
remained unbroken.  No one had come.

Murray slept the clock around, and wakened hungry but very weak.  All
strength seemed to have fled out of him.  The rare sunstroke of the
desert had smitten fiercely.  When he heard Claire's narrative of what
had happened during the preceding night, his first thought was to get
back to the aid of Bill Hobbs; but when the girl inspected the car, she
pronounced the task hopeless.

"The front axle's all crooked, and the left wheel is half twisted off,"
she reported, her eyes resting upon him anxiously.  "I must have done
it getting up here----"

"No matter," said Murray, losing all energy.  The least movement
appeared to drain his strength.  The slightest touch of that blinding
sunlight sent his brain whirling and reeling.

"I give up," he went on.  "I'm good for nothing.  Take a look around
for rattlers; you have to watch out for them this season, for they give
no warning but strike blindly;--and they're bad medicine.  Lord, but
I'm helpless!"

As he lay there, he reviewed the girl's story of the attempted arrest,
and believed that he understood it very plainly, although he did not
attempt to explain matters to Claire.  She had enough to worry her, he
decided.

He remembered that Scudder had been talking with the contractor when
Hennesy left to get the sheriff.  He knew already that Scudder had
opium, for the use of Tom Lee.  It would have been no hard matter for
Scudder to have planted some of the drug among his own effects, he
reflected.

"I'll settle with you, Scudder!" he vowed to himself.

Toward sunset they searched the horizon, but vainly.  What was
happening beyond that horizon, over the rim of the world?  Murray
worried, more about his friends than himself, for he was little
concerned over Scudder's enmity and attempts to disprove him in the
eyes of Tom Lee.

But Sandy Mackintavers was in the toils, and as for Bill Hobbs--Murray
groaned at the thought.  He knew that Willyum had only recently come
out of "stir" when he had picked up the ex-burglar.  Now that Bill
Hobbs had deliberately sacrificed himself in order to save Murray and
Claire Lee, it meant a setback that would put him in the criminal ranks
again for good.  And at this moment, when both his friends needed him
so sorely, Murray was stretched out here in the desert, helpless and
impotent--himself under the menace of a cloud!

During that day, Murray and the girl lived long, came to know each
other deeply; not with the superficial words and phrases and acts of
civilized life, but in primitive ways and fashions.  When the night
closed down again like a mantle above the desert, it drew them yet
closer together.

"Your father will be here tomorrow at latest," said Murray reflectively.

"He should have come long ago."  Claire's eyes were filled with somber
shadows.  "I'm afraid that--that Doctor Scudder has been keeping him
under the influence of opium.  How I detest and fear that man!  I wish
that Father could be made to see him as I see him, that he would break
with the man!"

"I think he will, eventually," said Murray, and smiled grimly to
himself at thought of the reckoning he would have with Scudder.

The night passed.  Once, Murray wakened; it seemed to him that he
caught, in the desert silence and cold stillness, the throbbing motor
of an automobile.  Yet he could see no lights, and Claire had not
wakened.  He lay for a space, watching vainly, and at last fell asleep
again.

With the morning, Murray opened his eyes to find Claire already up and
breakfast nearly ready.  He tried to rise, and managed to leave his
blankets, but he was giddy and too weak to walk.  With a muttered curse
at his own feebleness, he sank down again upon the sand.

"If no one shows up here by afternoon," he declared resolutely, while
they breakfasted and discussed the situation, "I think we'd better make
an effort to get back with the car.  She may run; when it comes to
flivvers, the days of miracles are by no means over----"

At this instant, Claire sprang to her feet with a cry of joy.

"Look--look!  A car!"

Murray twisted around, and saw a moving object upon the desert face.
From where they were upon the hillside, it was possible to see only the
stretch of the cañon floor immediately below them; a twist in the cañon
walls hid the remainder of the road from their sight, until it came out
again upon the desert basin half a mile away.  It was out there,
crawling in from the low horizon, that the moving automobile appeared.

"It's Father!" cried the girl, watching the car intently as it rapidly
drew closer to them.  "It's our car!  I know it because we had to put
the license plate on the right fender--oh, I'm so glad.  Now
everything's all right!"

Silence fell upon them both.  They watched without further speech as
the car came in toward them, and finally vanished from sight.  Five
minutes later, it appeared down below in the little valley, its
cheerful thrum reverberating upon the morning silence, echoing back
from the cañon walls.  But, as Claire watched, uneasiness grew in her
eyes.

There was but one man in the car, the driver.  The flivver was halted
down by the shack, and its driver alighted.  Murray glanced at the
girl, and read a swift flutter of fear in her eyes.

"It's not Father at all--it's Doctor Scudder!" she breathed.

"Don't worry," said Murray coolly.  "I expect your father sent him
here.  Ah, he's coming up!  That's good."

His calm manner exerted a quieting effect upon Claire.  Toward them
from the cañon climbed Doctor Scudder.  As he came closer, his cheery
"Good morning!" floated to them, and both Murray and Claire made
answer.  Scudder completed the climb, panting a little, and removed his
hat to wipe his brow.

"Where's Father?" exclaimed Claire eagerly.

"I'm sorry to say, Miss Lee, that he's not well," returned Scudder, his
eyes taking in each detail of the scene.  "Hobbs came into town
yesterday in custody of the sheriff, and told us of the situation here.
Your father hoped to be able to come himself, but early this morning he
was taken rather ill.  So I came in his place."

"Did you give him more opium?" cried the girl accusingly.  Scudder's
brows lifted.

"No, I mean that he was really ill, Miss Lee.  For the past two days he
has not touched the drug, and his system is not yet inured to the
deprivation.  What's this, Murray--sunstroke?  I hope you'll let me do
anything in my power----"

"Thanks," said Murray quietly.  Instinct told him that the words of
Scudder were a tissue of lies, yet he knew that he was in need of the
man's skill.  "I'd like to have a talk with you all alone.  Miss Lee,
would you have any objection to leaving me and Doctor Scudder in
private for a few moments?"

"Ah!" said Scudder suavely.  "I was about to make the same request!"
He smiled thinly.  "And I have a very good excuse, Miss Lee.  The
contractor arrived yesterday to come out here with your father; but as
their trip has been temporarily delayed, your father asked if you would
take some pictures of the ground just back and above the place he had
selected as a building site.  It has something to do, I believe, with
the building of a tank or a reservoir for water from the spring.
You'll find the camera in the rear of the car."

"Very well," said Claire, with a nod of her head.

She departed down the hillside, and Scudder gazed reflectively after
her, watching her lift the camera from his car, and then start toward
the wall of manzanita that cloaked the upper end of the valley.
Murray's voice caused him to turn.

"Well, Scudder, we'd better have a showdown," said Murray calmly,
gazing up at the man.  "The sheriff was out here, as you know, and told
about finding dope in my belongings.  What made you plant the dope
there?  That was a silly way to try and discredit me in the eyes of Tom
Lee."

Scudder looked down at him and smiled.  There was nothing mirthful in
the smile, however.  It was a cold, hard, deadly smile, like the fixed
and drawn-back lips of a snake waiting to strike.

"You guessed right, Murray," he said unexpectedly.  "It _was_ a rather
futile thing, and I've found a much better way.  I don't mind telling
you that I gave Tom Lee enough opium last night to keep him doped for a
week, so there'll be no interference."

Murray swore.  "You damned whelp!" he said, trying to raise himself,
but vainly.  "If----"

Scudder leaned forward and shoved him back in his place, with a chuckle.

"No more fisticuffs, eh?" he sneered.  "Not in condition just now, are
you?  Well, I'll have you fixed up in no time!  Morphia victim, weren't
you?  Well, I'll pump morphia into you for about three weeks--and turn
you loose.  That'll take care of you, I guess."

From his pocket, Scudder took a hypodermic case, and a bottle of
tablets.  He filled the tiny thimble-cup with water from the spring,
dropped a tablet into it, unfolded the inch-square metal stand, and set
the cup in place.  Then he put the stand down, struck a match, and held
it beneath the cup.

"Handy affair, this!" he observed.

Murray watched him in horror which changed from incredulity to
realization that the man intended his words literally.  Knowing that
Murray had been a morphia victim, he was now deliberately taking
advantage of his helplessness to inject the drug again--and with Murray
in his charge, he could put him hopelessly under the spell of the drug
once more!

"Good God, man!" cried Murray, getting up on one elbow.  "You can't
mean----"

Scudder put out a foot and shoved him back again.

"Lie put, will you?" he chuckled.  "Wait till I get this syringe
filled, and by the time Claire comes back, you'll be past speech!  And
you won't speak to her again until I'm ready to let you."

While he spoke, Scudder filled the syringe, and adjusted a needle.
Then, the syringe in his hand, he came and stood over Murray.

"Struggling won't do you any good," he said, and bent down.

Murray struck at him--struck weakly and vainly.  Scudder seized his
right wrist and drew it down--put it under his foot and held it there.
Then he seized Murray's left arm, gripped the wrist, and drew it up to
meet the syringe.

"Now for happyland!" he said.  "One slight prick----"

He paused suddenly--paused and jerked himself upright, a flood of color
sweeping into his pale features as his head came up.  From the clumps
of manzanita twenty feet away, had come a voice.

"Hold on, Scudder!"

And from that covert of twisting, grotesque, blood-red manzanita trees,
stepped Tom Lee.  Murray felt something of the fright that had seized
upon Scudder, for the presence of Tom Lee seemed nothing short of an
apparition.

"I waited for this, Scudder!" rang out the voice of the yellow man, his
eyes fastened upon the horrified gaze of Scudder.  "When you gave me
all that dope last night, I guessed that you were coming here; I
discovered that you had planted the stuff in Doctor Murray's suitcase,
I had begun to penetrate your wiles and deviltry!  Now it's ended."

Tom Lee came forward.  Before him, Scudder shrank.  The syringe dropped
from his nerveless fingers; he stepped back from the figure of Murray,
retreated from the advancing form of Tom Lee in visible terror and
consternation.

"You devil!" cried the oriental, a deep and surging passion filling his
voice.  "I came here last night in Hennesy's car--I've been waiting for
you!  I heard all your lies, heard all your plotted deviltry.  You
thought you'd dispose of Murray and have Claire in your power, didn't
you?"

There was reason for the sheer terror that filled Scudder.  The face of
the advancing man had changed into a frightful mask; it had changed and
altered into the face of the great stone Buddha that watches over the
Yungmen caves--it had become a purely Asian face, filled with terrible
and deadly things, unguessed menaces.

Murray painfully got to one elbow again and watched.  The others were
oblivious of him; all their attention was fastened upon each other.
Still Scudder retreated, and still Tom Lee advanced upon him,
weaponless, yet in his advance a potent and fearful threat.  Before
that threat, Scudder still retreated, his face ghastly.

"Damn you!" he cried, his voice shrill.  "What d'ye mean by all
this----?"

"You can't get away from me," said Tom Lee impassively.  "I'm going to
have a reckoning with you."

"No, but I can stop your game!" retorted Scudder with an oath.  The
mask was gone now, and he cursed luridly.  "You can't run any damned
Chinese bluff on me----"

With the words, he plucked a revolver from his pocket and fired.

The shot echoed and reëchoed in the cañon.  Tom Lee did not move.
Scudder glared up at him and made as if to lift the weapon again, then
he hurled it from him with another curse, and kicked at something on
the sand at his feet.  A shrill scream broke from him.  Something fell
away from his kick--an incoherent, feeble object that slipped to the
sand and blended there, shapeless and invisible; a stark-blind thing, a
living volute of death and venom--a rattler, that had struck blind, but
that had struck home!

With that scream still on his lips, Scudder whirled about and began to
run.  He fled, as though after him pursued some invisible and awful
thing.  He ran blindly down the valley as though in search of
something, desperate in his extremity; he passed the automobile in
which he had come, running, stumbling through the soft sand.  And so
out of sight around the twist in the cañon.

"Let him go!  It is finished."

The words came from Tom Lee.  He turned to Murray, smiling, and the
smile seemed fastened in his face.  He lifted his arm, and looked at
the hand, curiously.  A cry broke from Murray, for the hand was
streaming with a scarlet fluid.

Abruptly, Tom Lee pitched forward and lay in a heap, just as Claire,
called by the shot, appeared.



CHAPTER XIII

UNTANGLED

A flivver that bore two men, came crawling down the slope of the
desert-rim in the early morning.  Near the approach to Morongo Valley,
it halted.  The two men alighted to inspect a heap in the sand, from
which a carrion bird flapped heavily away.  They looked at the body,
glanced at each other, then silently got into the car and continued
their journey.

"Rattler, I judge," observed Sandy Mackintavers.  "And a good job."

The car crept up the valley to the shack, stopped, coughed, and became
silent.  Murray was awaiting it, pale and weak but walking; beside him
was Claire, and joining them was Tom Lee, his right arm in a sling.

Murray's face lighted up, and his hand shot out.

"Willyum!" he cried delightedly.  "We thought we must be dreaming when
we saw you!  And Sandy too--but I thought you were behind the bars!"

Across the earnest features of Bill Hobbs broke a rippling light of
gleeful mirth.

"Say!" he exclaimed, while he pumped Murray's hand.  "Say, I gotta hand
it to that sheriff for bein' a prize boob!  I was wanted all
right--three years ago!  Since then, I done the time an' got out again,
see?  When the answer come to his wire, that was the sickest guy you
ever seen!  But say, Doc, how are you?"

"Fine!  Coming around all right."  Murray's gaze went to Sandy
Mackintavers.  "What stroke of luck turned you loose, Sandy?"

The voice of Tom Lee interposed, with a chuckle.

"That was my doing, gentlemen," he said blandly.  "The contractor,
Hennesy, preferred to withdraw all charges against Mr. Mackintavers, to
losing my contract.  And, Mr. Mackintavers!  I wish you'd come up the
hill here.  There's something I want to show you."

Sandy nodded and joined him, and the two men ascended toward the
seepage where Murray had lain.

Bill Hobbs looked from the face of the girl, alight with a strange
happiness, to the incisive, quizzical eyes of Murray.  He seemed to
sense a constraint, flushed slightly, and was turning away when
Murray's hand halted him.

"Hold on there, Willyum!  I'm glad, old man, very glad, that
everything's clear for you!  By the way, I've an item of news for your
paper.  You know what I told you about the sanitarium?  Well, Mr. Lee
is going ahead with his plans, and I'm to be in charge----"

"Say!" broke out Hobbs with sudden remembrance.  "What happened to
Scudder?  We seen him out yonder, and Mac laid it to a rattler."

"Mac was right, I suppose," said Murray, thoughtfully.  "Although I'm
not so sure that it wasn't the hand of Providence, Willyum.  But lay it
to the rattler and play safe.  He shot Tom Lee through the arm before
the rattler got him; he sure had panic, blind panic!  And, by the way,
I have another item of news for you----"

Murray glanced at Claire, who smiled happily.  "Miss Lee," he pursued,
"has decided to chance being the wife of a country doctor."

A shout from the hillside drew their attention.  Tom Lee was standing
beside Claire's camp, and out of the seepage of water near by, shouting
and waving his hands, was Sandy--dirty, streaked with sand and water,
adrip with perspiration and exultancy.

"Aiblins, now, will ye look at this!"  He pointed to the seepage, a
blaze of excitement lighting his face.

"We see it," answered Murray, laughing.  "What's the matter with it?"

"Matter with it?" shouted Sandy, waving his arm at the brow of the
hill.  "Free gold, that's what!  It'll take us smack into rotten
quartz, that's what!"

A little later, Bill Hobbs, standing by his automobile, rolled a
cigarette.

"Aw!" he muttered to himself.  "Aw, gee!  And now I gotta go back to
the printshop and work all alone with that old derelict--and Sandy's
gotta work all alone at the mine--aw, gee!  Ain't it hell how a woman
busts up everything!  I wisht I was a poor man again!"





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