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Desert Conquest - or, Precious Waters
by A. M. Chisholm
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"And now what?" asked McHale.

"Now," Casey replied, "I guess we've got to make good."



CHAPTER XI

Some two miles distant from the construction camp at the dam, a little cavalcade moved slowly through the darkness of a moonless, cloudy night. A southeast wind was blowing, but it was a drying wind, with no promise of rain. It had blown for days steadily, until it had sucked every vestige of moisture from the top earth, leaving it merely powdery dust. Because of it, too, no dew had fallen; the nights were as dry as the days.

In the grain fields, the continued blast had stripped the surface soil away from the young plants, wrenching and twisting them, desiccating their roots, which, still too feeble to reach what dampness lay lower down, sucked ineffectually at the dry breast of the earth. The plants they could not feed took on the pale-green hue of starvation. There, among the young grain, the stronger gusts lifted dust clouds acres in extent. Low down along the surface, the soil sifted and shifted continually, piling in windrows in spots, burying the young plants, leaving others bare. Odd little devils of whirlwinds, marked by columnar pillars of dust, danced deviously across the fields and along the trails. From the standpoint of a disinterested person, the ceaseless wind would have been unpleasant in its monotony; but from the viewpoint of a rancher it was deadly in its persistence.

The moving figures were so strung out that it appeared almost as though they were riding in the same direction fortuitously, without relation to each other. First came two horsemen; then, at an interval of five hundred yards, came a buckboard, with two men and a led horse. In the rear, five hundred yards back, were two more riders.

This order, however, was not the result of accident, but of calculation. The buckboard held Oscar and the elder McCrae. Also it contained a quantity of dynamite. Naturally, it was drawn, not by McCrae's eager road team, but by a pair of less ambition. And the riders, front and rear, were in the nature of pickets; for, though it was unlikely that any one would be met at that time of night, it was just as well to take no chances.

The riders in the lead were Casey Dunne and Tom McHale. Each had a rifle beneath his leg. In addition, McHale wore two old, ivory-handled Colts at his belt, and Dunne's single holster held a long automatic, almost powerful as a rifle. They rode slowly, seldom faster than a walk, peering ahead watchfully, their ears tuned to catch the slightest suspicious sound.

"This here is like old times," said McHale. "Durn me if I hadn't about forgotten the feel of a gun under my leg. I wish we could have our photos took now. We sure look plenty warlike."

"I don't want any photo," said Casey. "If I can get home without meeting any one, it will suit me down to the ground. I wish we hadn't brought these guns. It's safer every way."

"It's safer for some people," McHale commented. "S'pose we struck hard luck to-night and got backed into a corner or followed up too close—how'd we look without guns? 'Course, I'd take awful long chances before I shot at anybody; but all the same a Winchester helps out a retirin' disposition a whole lot."

"No doubt about that. But the devil of packing a gun is the temptation to use it before you really have to. That accounts for a lot of trouble. Why, even in the old days, a man who didn't pack a gun was safe, unless he tracked up with some mighty mean specimen of a killer. And those dirty killers usually didn't last long."

"That's so in one way," McHale admitted, "but I look at it different. If nobody but the killers had packed guns they'd have run the whole show. Some of them gents killed for the fun of it, like a mink in a chicken coop. The mean sort'd pick out some harmless, helpless party, and stomp up and down, r'arin' and cussin' till they got up a big mad. The chances was about even they'd shoot. Usual they didn't try them plays on men that wore their artillery in plain sight."

"Well, we haven't any killers now, anyway," said Dunne. "This is about as far as it's safe to go with the horses. We'll wait till the others come up."

In a few minutes, the faint straining of leather, creak of springs, and subdued clank of axles came to them. The buckboard loomed out of the darkness, and halted suddenly.

"That you, boys?" McCrae's voice asked.

"Yes. We won't take the horses any farther. If that watchman is on the dam to-night he might hear something. We can pack the powder the rest of the way ourselves."

The rear riders, young Sandy McCrae and Wyndham, arrived. Then a dispute arose. No one wished to remain with the horses. Casey Dunne settled it.

"There's only one man going to plant powder and cut fuses, and that's Oscar," said he. "If we all go messing around with it in the dark, half the shots won't fire, and we may have an accident. Outside of that there's nothing to do except take care of the watchman if he's there; and he's sure to be. Wyndham, you're not cut out for that sort of work. You will stay with the ponies. Now, McCrae, you'd better turn around and drive home."

McCrae pulled the team around. "Good luck, boys," said he quietly, and was gone. The spare horse which had been tied to the buckboard remained for Oscar.

The Swede proceeded to load himself with dynamite, placing it around his legs in the high socks he wore, in the breast of his shirt, and in his pockets. This was the overflow from a gunny sack in which he carried the rest. He resembled a perambulating mine.

"Ay ban ready now," he announced.

"I say, Oscar, don't trip," said Wyndham facetiously.

"Nor interfere," McHale added. "Plant them number twelves of yours plumb wide apart, Oscar, and don't try to scratch your ankle with your boot."

Oscar grinned at them, his big, white teeth shining in the darkness. He attempted the repartee of his adopted country.

"You faller tenk you mek big yoke—vat!" said he. "You go to hal, please."

"Sure—if you bump anything hard," McHale retorted.

"Come on, come on!" said Casey impatiently.

Wyndham remained with the horses. He was to allow the others half an hour, and then bring the animals down nearer the dam, so that no time should be lost in getting away. His companions vanished in the darkness.

Young McCrae took the lead. In the moccasins he affected he trod noiselessly, making no more sound than a prowling, nocturnal animal. Casey Dunne followed, almost as light-footed. Behind him Oscar clumped along, planting his heavy boots solidly at every step. McHale brought up the rear. Soon they struck an old cattle trail which wound down a short coulee and brought them to the bank of the river immediately below the dam. McCrae halted.

"There she is," he announced.

Across the river lay the huddled, black shapes of the camp buildings, with here and there a pallid spot which marked a tent. Not a light was visible there. Evidently the camp slept, and that was as it should be. But nearer at hand, beside the bank of the river where the bulk of the dam reared itself, a solitary light gleamed.

"That's the watchman," McCrae whispered. "We're in luck, boys. He's on this side."

"Say, Ay sneak up on dat faller," Oscar proposed. "Ay mek von yump—so!—and Ay gat him in de neck." He uttered a horrible sound, suggestive of death by strangulation.

"Shut up!" hissed young McCrae fiercely. "Keep him quiet, Tom!"

"Shut up, Oscar!" growled McHale. "Don't you savvy nothing? You and me ain't in on this. Stand right still now, and don't breathe no harder than you have to. Go to it, boys!"

If young McCrae had been a prowling animal before, he was now the ghost of one. Casey Dunne, behind him, endeavoured to copy his noiseless method of progress. Gradually they drew near the light.

They could discern the figure of the watchman beside it. He was sitting on a stick of timber, smoking. McCrae drew from his pocket a long canvas bag, of about the dimensions of a small bologna sausage, and weighed it in his hand. They crept nearer and nearer. They were not more than ten feet away. The guardian of the dam laid his pipe on the timber, rose to his feet, and stretched his arms high above his head in a huge, satisfying yawn.

At that instant McCrae sprang like a lynx on a fawn. The sandbag whistled as it cut down between the upstretched arms, and the watchman dropped as if hit by lightning.

"That was an awful crack, Sandy," said Casey reprovingly. He flashed the lantern at the face, and slipped his fingers to the wrist. To his relief, the pulse was strong.

"I had to get through his hat, hadn't I?" said McCrae. "I wasn't taking any chances. He's got a head like a bull. Come on, let's fix him up."

The watchman came out of their hands trussed up like a fowl for roasting, securely gagged, with a gunny sack drawn over his head and tied at the waist. They lifted him between them and bore him away from the dam to what they considered a safe distance.

"'Watchman, tell us of the night,'" chuckled Casey. "He's all right, by the way he kicks, and nothing can hit him away out there. They'll see him first thing in the morning. Hustle up Oscar, now. This is where he gets action."

Oscar, when he came up, got to work at once. Because the planting of shots by different men would have been both unsatisfactory and dangerous he worked alone. The others lay flat in the gloom, watching the lantern which he had appropriated flitting here and there along the structure.

"Oscar's some powder man, you bet," McHale observed. "He don't look like he had the savvy, but he'll cut them fuses so's the shots'll come mighty near together. Blamed if I know why a Swede takes to powder. Seems to come natural to 'em, like pawin' snow to a cayuse."

The light blinked and disappeared as Oscar descended. Followed a long interval of silent waiting. Then across in the camp a dog began to bark, at first uncertainly, with what was almost a note of interrogation, and then, as the wind brought confirmation of suspicion to his nostrils, with savage vigour. By the sound, he was apparently approaching the dam.

Some sleeper, awakened by the noise, yelled a profane command to the animal, which had no effect. It merely awakened another, who cursed the first sleepily.

"Hey, Kelly," he called, "hit that dog with a rock!" A pause. "Hey, Kelly, wake up, there!"

"I guess we've got Kelly," Casey whispered to Sandy. He called out hoarsely: "He'll quit in a minute! G'wan to sleep. You don't know your own luck."

But the dog continued to bark, jumping up and down frantically. A light appeared in a window of one of the shacks.

"Blazes!" muttered McHale, "somebody's getting up."

A low whistle came from behind them. It was significant of the tension of the moment that both McHale and McCrae jumped. But Dunne was cooler.

"That's only Wyndham with the horses," he said.

Suddenly a long aperture of light appeared in the dark wall of the shack. For a moment it was partially obscured by a figure, and then it vanished utterly. The door had closed. The light from the window remained.

"Somebody's come out," said McHale. "That's about where Farwell's shack is. What's keepin' Oscar? He's had time enough. Maybe I'd better go across and hold up this feller? We don't want——"

The lantern bobbed into view once more. Oscar was coming at last, but he was taking his time about it. Had he placed the powder? Had he fired the fuses? Or had something gone wrong at the last moment? They asked themselves these questions impatiently. It would be just like him to have forgotten his matches. It might not occur to him to use the lantern flame. In that case——

"Come on, hurry up there!" McCrae called softly.

Oscar clambered up beside them. "Ay tal you somet'ing——" he began. But the dog yelped suddenly. A sharp voice cut across to them:

"Kelly! What the devil's going on here? What are you about? Who's that with you?"

"Farwell!" Dunne whispered. "Did you light the fuses, Oscar?"

"Sure t'ing," Oscar replied. Proud of the phrase, he repeated it. "She ban light, all right."

"When'll she fire? Quick, now?"

"Mebbe fema minute. We ban haf lots of time to gat out of har. Say, Kessy, what faller——"

An oath cracked in the darkness like a rifle shot.

"You, Kelly, answer me! Come across here at once!" He paused for a moment. "By thunder! Kelly, I'll come over there and——"

Casey Dunne did not hear the conclusion of the sentence. His mind was working swiftly. For, if Farwell tried to come across, he would probably be killed by the coming explosions; and that must be prevented at any cost. The destruction of the dam was justifiable, even necessary. But homicide with it would never do. To shoot in self-defence or to protect his rights was one thing; to allow a man to be killed by a blast was quite another. But just how to prevent it was the question.

"Come along, Casey," McHale urged. "We ain't got too much time."

"Time or not, we can't have Farwell hurt. You go. I'll be after you in a minute."

"If you stay we all stay," said McHale. "Let him take his chance. Come on!"

"Git, I tell you," Casey insisted. "I've got to keep him where he is till the first shot goes." He called out: "All right, Mr. Farwell. You don't need to come. I'll be there."

"That's not Kelly's voice," snapped Farwell. "What deviltry's going on here?"

By his voice, Casey guessed that he was advancing. He dropped the pretence as useless. "Get back, there!" he ordered sharply, but endeavouring to disguise his natural voice. "Get back to your shack, you, or I'll drill you!"

Farwell's response came with surprising promptness in the form of a revolver bullet that sang just above Casey's head. By the momentary flash of the weapon his big figure was just discernible standing bent forward, legs wide apart, tense and watchful.

As Casey's hand dropped to his automatic, McHale clutched his wrist. "Don't shoot!" he whispered.

"I'm not going to hit him," Casey replied. "I'm just going to make him stay where he is."

"Let me," said McHale, and fired as he spoke. Farwell's revolver answered. They emptied the guns in the darkness; but as one shot high by accident and the other low by design, no damage ensued.

The camp, aroused by the shooting, buzzed like a hornet's nest. Lights appeared everywhere. Dark figures streamed out of doorways and thrown tent flaps; and, once outside, stood in helpless uncertainty.

"Coom, coom!" cried Oscar. "Ve gat out of har!" They rose and ran in the dark.

A mighty roar drowned the echoes of the pistol shots, as the bass bellow of his sire might dominate the feeble bleatings of a new-born calf. A vivid flash split the night. In the momentary illumination details were limned sharply—the buildings, the groups of men on one side, the running figures on the other. And poised, stationary, as it seemed, in mid-air, above the instant eruption, hung a mushroom cloud of smoke and dust, specked with fragments of riven wood and shattered concrete. Through the succeeding contrasted blackness the debris thudded upon the earth. With scarcely an interval followed a second shot, a third, a fourth. The air became alive with hurtling masses raining from the heavens.

The four dynamiters reached Wyndham, who, cursing in his excitement, was straining every muscle and a comprehensive vocabulary in an effort to hold the frightened horses.

Casey, McHale, and Sandy seized their nigh stirrups, shot them at their left toes, gripped saddle horns, and went up in an instant. Oscar, less expert, fumbled for a hold with his toe, hopping on his right leg as his horse sidled and backed.

"Stand still, Ay tal you!" he gritted. "By Yudas, Ay club hal from you purty kvick!"

Young McCrae wheeled his horse on the off side and gripped the headstall by the bit. "Up you go!" he cried, and Oscar fell into the saddle, the horn striking him amidships and momentarily checking a torrent of oaths. "Hang on, now!" McCrae ordered and let go.

They shot away with a wild plunge and a scurry of panicky hoofs. The going was rough, but luck was with them. They surged up the coulee, emerging on the higher bench land by the trail.

"Look here, Tom," said Dunne, "what did you want to do the shooting for back there? Afraid I'd get rattled and hit somebody?"

McHale grinned in the darkness. "Not hardly. Mostly, Casey, you mamook tumtum a heap—you look ahead and savvy plenty. You're foolish—the way an old dog fox is. But onct in a while you overlook a bet. You're too plumb modern and up to date."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"A lot. I don't know no other man hereabouts that packs a forty-four automatic. See, now?"

"No."

"Why, Casey," said McHale, "I'm surprised at you! It's clear as gin. Them guns spits out the empty shells right where you stand. Farwell finds 'em, and he goes lookin' for a gun to fit 'em. You've got it. There ain't no other gun hereabouts that takes forty-four automatic ammunition. Now, my old gun don't leave no trail of ca'tridges to follow unless I breaks her open. So I just naturally horned in and played the hand myself."



CHAPTER XII

When daylight fully disclosed the wreck, and also his night watchman lying helpless out of harm's way, Farwell was in a savage temper. Never before, in all his career, had anything like that been put over on him. And the knowledge that he had been sent there for the express purpose of preventing anything of the kind did not improve matters. He hated to put the news on the wire—to admit to headquarters that the ranchers apparently had caught him napping. But, having dispatched his telegram, he set his energies to finding some clew to the perpetrators of the outrage.

He drew a large and hopeless blank in Kelly, the watchman. Mr. Kelly's films ran smoothly up to a certain point, after which they were not even a blur. The Stygian darkness of his hiatus refused to lift by questioning. He had neither seen nor heard anything suspicious or out of the ordinary. About one o'clock in the morning he had laid down his pipe to rest his long-suffering tongue. Immediately afterward, so far as his recollection went, he found himself tied up, half smothered, with aching jaws and a dull pain in his head.

Farwell metaphorically bade this unsatisfactory witness stand aside, and proceeded to investigate the gunny sack, the rope that had tied him, and the rag and stick that had gagged him. Whatever information these might have given to M. Lecoq, S. Holmes, or W. Burns, they yielded none to Farwell, who next inspected the ground. Here, also, he found nothing. There were footmarks in plenty, but he could not read them. Though in the first flare of the explosion he had glimpsed three or four running figures, his eyes had been too dazzled to receive an accurate impression.

"Maybe an Australian nigger or a Mohave trailer could work this out," he said in disgust to his assistant, Keeler. "I can't."

"Well, say," said young Keeler, "talking about Indians—how about old Simon over there? Might try him."

He pointed. Just above the dam an Indian sat on a pinto pony, gazing stolidly at the wreck. His hair streaked with gray, was braided, and fell below his shoulders on either side. His costume was that of ordinary civilization, save for a pair of new, tight moccasins. Having apparently all the time there was, he had been a frequent spectator of operations, squatting by the hour watching the work. Occasionally his interest had been rewarded by a meal or a plug of tobacco. These things he had accepted without comment and without thanks. His taciturnity and gravity seemed primeval.

"Huh! That old beat!" said Farwell contemptuously. "Every Indian can't trail. However, we can't, that's sure. Maybe he can make a bluff at it. Go and get him."

Keeler brought up old Simon, and Farwell endeavoured to explain what was wanted in language which he considered suited to the comprehension of a representative of the original North American race. He had a smattering of Chinook,[1] and for the rest he depended on gestures and a loud voice, having the idea that every man can understand English if it be spoken loudly enough.

[1] AUTHOR'S NOTE.—Chinook, the trade jargon of the Pacific coast, is similar in origin to the pidgin English of China. It is composite, its root words being taken from various tribal vocabularies and from the French and English languages. The spelling conforms to the pronunciation; and the latter in most cases is merely the Indian rendering of French and English word sounds. It is, in fact, an Indian Volapuk, used extensively by the tribes of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. The number of words is comparatively small, probably not exceeding nine hundred. Therefore each has various meanings, rendered by shades of pronunciation or by combination with other words. Thus the word "mamook," signifying to do, to make, to perform, or anything denoting action, begins some two hundred phrases, for each of which there is one equivalent English word. Its nearest parallel is the French verb "faire," and its use is much the same. It is impossible in this space to attempt a vocabulary. "Halo" is the general negative. Throughout I have endeavoured to supply the meaning by the context.

"Simon," said he, "last night bad man come and mamook raise heap hell. Him blow up dam. You savvy 'dam,' hey?"

"Ah-ha!" Simon grunted proudly. "Me kumtuks. Me kumtuks hell. Me kumtuks dam. Dam good, dam bad; godam——"

"No, no!" rasped Farwell. "Halo cuss word—no bad word—no. D-a-m, 'dam.' Oh, Lord, the alphabet's wasted on him, of course. What's Siwash for dam, Keeler?"

"Search me," said Keeler; "but 'pence' is Chinook for fence, and 'chuck' means water. Try him with that." And Farwell tried again.

"Now, see, Simon! Last night hiyu cultus man come. Bring dynamite—hiyu skookum powder. Put um in dam—in chuck pence. Set um off. Mamook poo!—all same shoot. Bang! Whoosh! Up she go!" He waved his hand at the wreck. "You kumtuks that?"

Simon nodded, understanding.

"Mamook bang," said he; "mamook bust!"

"Right," Farwell agreed. "Cultus man come at night. Dark. Black. No see um." He made a footprint in the earth, pointed at it, and then to Simon, and waved a hand at the horizon generally. "You find trail, follow, catch um. Hey, can you do that, Simon? And I'll bet," he added to Keeler, "the infernal old blockhead doesn't understand a word I've said."

But Simon's reply indicated not only comprehension, but a tolerable acquaintance with modern business methods. Said he:

"How moch you give?"

Keeler grinned. "I think he gets you," he commented.

"I guess he does," Farwell admitted. "How much you want?"

"Hundred dolla'!" Simon answered promptly.

"Like blazes!" snapped Farwell. "You blasted, copper-hided old Shylock, I'll give you five!"

Simon held out his hand. The gesture was unmistakable.

"And they say an Indian doesn't know enough to vote!" said Farwell. He laid a five-dollar bill in the smoky palm. "Now get busy and earn it."

Simon inspected the ground carefully. Finally he took a course straight away from the dam.

"That's about where those fellows ran," said Farwell. "Maybe the old rascal can trail, after all."

Simon came to a halt at a spot cut up by hoofs. He bent down, examining the tracks carefully. Farwell, doing likewise, caught sight of a single moccasin track plainly outlined. It lay, long and straight-footed, deep in the soft soil; and where the big toe had pressed there was the mark of a sewn-in patch.

"Here, look here!" he cried. "One of 'em was wearing moccasins, and patched moccasins at that."

"Sure enough," said Keeler.

"Here, Simon, look at this," said the engineer. "You see um? One cultus man wear moccasin. Was he white man or Indian?"

Simon surveyed the track gravely, knelt, and examined it minutely. "Mebbyso Injun," he said.

"Mebbyso white man," Farwell objected. "What makes you think it's an Indian?"

"Oleman moccasin, him," Simon replied oracularly. "White man throw him away; Injun keep him, mend him—mamook tipshin klaska."

"Something in that, too," Farwell agreed. "It's a straight foot—no swing-in to the toe. Still, I don't know. I've seen white men like that. I wonder——" He broke off abruptly, shaking his head.

Simon gave a correct imitation of mounting a horse. "Him klatawa," he announced. "Him Injun."

"Got on his horse and pulled out, hey?" said Farwell. "Yes, of course, that's what he did. That's why the track is pressed in so deep. That's all right. Simon, how many men stop last night?"

"Four, five cayuse stop," Simon answered. "Mebbyso four, five, man stop."

"Well, four or five cayuses must have left a trail of some kind. You find it. Follow—catchum. Find where they live—their illahee, where they hang out. You get that?"

Simon nodded and went to his horse. Farwell frowned at the lone moccasin track, and, lifting his eyes, beheld Simon in the act of mounting. Contrary to the custom of white men, the old Indian did so from the off side. Farwell swore suddenly.

"What?" Keeler asked.

"Hey, Simon!" said Farwell. "This man with oleman moccasin—him make track getting on cayuse? Him stand so to get on cayuse. You sure of that?"

Simon nodded. "Ah-ha!" he agreed.

"Then he's a white man," Farwell exclaimed. "This is the track of a right foot, made while he was standing reaching for the stirrup with the left. An Indian always gets on his horse from the wrong side, and puts his right foot in the stirrup first."

"So he does," said Keeler.

"So this fellow is a white man," Farwell concluded triumphantly. "We want a white man with a patched moccasin. You kumtuks, Simon? Injun mount so. White man so—left foot up, right foot down. White man's moccasin, Simon."

"Huh!" Simon grunted gravely. "Mebbyso white man; mebbyso sitkum Siwash."

"Half-breed nothing!" Farwell declared. "Straight white, I tell you. Now get ahead on the trail."

But whatever Simon's skill as a trailer, it availed little. In half a mile the hoofprints merged with many others in a beaten track, and so were lost. Simon halted.

"Halo mamook!" said he, signifying that he had done his possible. The fact was so self-evident that Farwell could not gainsay it.

"That's an easy five for you," he grumbled. "We might as well get back, Keeler. I never took any stock in that old buck, anyway. He's a gold brick, like all the rest of them."

But Simon, when they had gone, kept along the beaten track. And shortly he came to where McCrae had turned the buckboard around. Simon, after examining the tracks, took pains to efface them entirely; after which he ambled on, his usually grave countenance illumined by a grin.

Following the road, peering narrowly at either side, he finally came in sight of Talapus Ranch. Halting, he surveyed the fields.

The ditches of Talapus were once more running rap-full; and Donald McCrae, his son, and half a dozen men were busy with shovels and hoes turning the water down among the young grain in marks already prepared which followed the natural slope of the land; taking care that the little rivulets should be of sufficient strength to run the length of the field, but not so strong as to wash out the soil; adjusting the flow to a nicety with miniature dams of sods and stones.

Old Simon rode slowly along the ditch until he came to where Sandy McCrae was working.

"Hello, Simon!" said the latter carelessly. "How you makin' it this morning? You keeping skookum?"

"Ah-ha!" Simon responded gutturally. "Skookum, you?"

"You bet," Sandy replied. "Hiyu skookum me." He leaned on his shovel for a moment, stretching his young, sinewy body, grinning at the Indian. The latter dismounted, and, stooping down, touched the young man's worn footgear.

"Mamook huyhuy moccasin," said he.

"Swap moccasins?" Sandy repeated. "What for? Yours are new. Chee moccasin, you; oleman moccasin, me. What are you getting at? That's fool talk."

But Simon insisted. "Mamook huyhuy," said he. "Halo mitlite oleman moccasin."

"Why shouldn't I wear my old moccasins?" asked Sandy.

Simon lifted McCrae's right foot and placed his finger on a patch beneath the ball of the great toe. His features expanded in a knowing grin. Sandy McCrae's face suddenly became grave and his mouth grim. His voice, when he spoke, was hard and metallic.

"Quit this sign business and spit it out of you," he ordered. "Mamook kumtuks! Tell me what you mean!"

Simon condescended to a measure of English which he knew well enough, but which he usually disdained on general principles. He pointed back whence he had come.

"Tenas sun (early morning) me stop along camp. Boss tyee man goodandam mad. Him say cultus man mamook raise hiyu hell. Catch hiyu skookum powder—bang! Whoosh! Upshego!" He mimicked Farwell's words and gestures to a nicety. "Him say, s'pose me catch cultus man me catch kwimnum dolla'." He exhibited the five-dollar bill, grinning once more. "Good! Me nanitch 'round me find trail. Boss tyee man see track of oleman moccasin." He pointed to Sandy's right foot.

Young McCrae, his face black as the heart of a storm cloud, said nothing; but his eyes glinted dangerously. The Indian continued:

"Me klatawa kimta on trail. Tyee man him come, too. Bimeby come to hiyu trail, all same road. Me lose trail. Me tell tyee man 'halo mamook.'" He grinned broadly. "Him klatawa back yaka illahee. Me come along alone. See where chik-chik wagon turn around. All right. Me come tell you mamook huyhuy moccasin."

It was very plain to Sandy now. The old Indian had recognized the track of his moccasin at the dam; had followed the trail to the travelled road where he had deliberately quit; and had come on to warn him to get rid of the incriminating moccasins which were even then on his feet. The suggestion of exchange was merely polite diplomacy.

"Simon," he said slowly, "blamed if you ain't a white Injun!"

Simon acknowledged the compliment characteristically. He produced a pipe and examined the empty bowl with interest.

"Halo smokin', me!" he observed gravely.

Sandy nodded and handed him a large plug. The Indian filled his pipe and put the tobacco in his pocket.

"You my tillikum," he announced. "When you tenas boy I like you, you like me. Good, Konaway McCrae (every McCrae) my tillikum." He made a large gesture of generous inclusion, paused for an instant, and shot a keen glance at his friend. "Cas-ee Dunne my tillikum, too."

"Sure," said Sandy gravely. "We're all friends of yours, Simon."

Simon nodded and considered.

"All rancher my tillikum," he continued after an interval. "Ah-ha! Good! S'pose some time me mamook sick, me feel all same oleman—no more grub stop, no more smokin' stop—mebbyso all rancher potlatch grub, potlatch smokin', send doctin', send med'cin'? You kumtuks?"

He formulated this general scheme of pension and old-age insurance gravely. With five dollars in hand and a future provided for by grateful ranchers, he would be able to worship the Saghalie Tyee at the mission with a good heart.

"You don't want much," Sandy commented. "I guess we'd chip in, though, if you got up against the iron any time. Sure. S'pose you mamook sick, all rancher mamook help, give you muckamuck and smokin', stake you to doctor and dope; s'pose you go mimoluse, bury you in style."

Simon nodded, well pleased. A fine funeral thrown in for good measure suited his ideas perfectly. It was no more than his due for this evidence of friendship. So much for the future. Now for the present. He surveyed the five-dollar bill and chuckled.

"Tyee man hyas damfool!" said he. He cast a shrewd eye at the sun, which stood near the meridian. "Sitkum sun!" he announced.

"Noon—and that means you're hungry," said Sandy. "I never saw you when you weren't. Go on up to the house, and say I sent you. Muckamuck mika sick yakwahtin. Eat till your belly goes back on you, if you want to."

Simon grinned again; but he pointed to Sandy's feet.

"You mamook hyuhuy moccasin dam quick!" he warned once more.



CHAPTER XIII

Casey Dunne crossed from the Coldstream Supply Company's store—which was also the post office—to Bob Shiller's hotel. His pockets bulged with mail, for it was his first visit to town since the destruction of the dam a week before, and there was an accumulation of letters, newspapers, and periodicals. Ever since then he had been irrigating, throwing upon his thirsty fields every drop of water he could get.

As he came upon the veranda, he saw Shiller in conversation with a stranger.

"Oh, Casey," said Shiller, "I want you to shake hands with Mr. Glass. Mr. Glass—Mr. Dunne. Mr. Glass," the genial Bob went on, "has some notion of locating here if he can get a place to suit him. He likes the land, and he likes the climate; but the recent—the events—er—the way things shape at present has a leetle undecided him. Anything Mr. Dunne tells you, Mr. Glass, will be straight. He has land to burn, and one of our best ranches. Yes. I'll just leave you to talk it over together." And so saying, he executed a masterly retreat.

Glass was a mild, colourless, middle-aged man, attired in worn hand-me-down garments. His blue eyes, clear and direct enough, seemed to hold a little of the pathetic apprehension and appeal of a lost puppy. He hesitated when he spoke, repeatedly qualifying his statements. His was the awkwardness of the man who, having spent his life in familiar surroundings in some small community, suddenly finds himself in new places among strangers. And, lacking adaptability, is constrained and ill at ease.

"You see, Mr. Dunne, it's this way with me," he began. And, appearing to remember something suddenly, he asked: "Hadn't we better have a drink?"

"Not unless you need it in your business," said Casey. "Sit down and smoke a cigar with me and tell me your trouble."

"Well, I'd just as soon," said Glass, plainly relieved. "I don't drink much myself. My wife don't like it. It's a bad example for the children. But I thought that out here, maybe from what I'd heard——"

"Current Western fiction!" Casey laughed. "No, we don't drink every time we shake hands. Couldn't stand it. Well, what can I do for you?"

And thereupon Mr. Glass unbosomed himself ramblingly, with much detail, which included a sketch of his life and family history. Casey saw that Shiller had unloaded a bore on him.

Glass, it appeared, hailed from Maine, from the vicinity of one of the "obscots" or "coggins." He had followed various callings—carpenter, market gardener, and grocer—with indifferent success; but he had succeeded in accumulating a few thousand dollars. His eldest girl was not well. Consumption ran in her mother's family. The doctor had ordered a dryer climate, a higher altitude. For some years Glass had been thinking of migrating westward; but he had stuck in the narrow groove, lacking the initiative to pull up stakes and see for himself the land in which others had prospered. This sickness had decided him—and here he was.

He liked the climate, which he was sure would be just the thing for his daughter; and he liked the land. But here was the point—and it was the point which was worrying Sleeman grayheaded. There was trouble between the ranchers and the land company. Not that it was for him to say who was right or wrong. But there was trouble. Now, he was a man of small means, and he was forced to put all his eggs in one basket. Which was to say, that if he bought land, and subsequently was unable to get water for it, he would be ruined. Also he had heard that the ranchers were unfriendly to those who bought land from the company.

"And I'm a man that has kept out of trouble all my life, Mr. Dunne," he concluded plaintively. "I'm on good terms with everybody at home, and I wouldn't want, right at the start-off, as you might say, to have anybody think I was trying to take water away from him. And yet I like the country. I thought maybe you could advise me what to do. It seems like a lot of gall asking you, too; you having land for sale and me thinking of buying the company's. But, then, I saw their advertising. It was only right I should go to them, wasn't it?"

"Of course," said Casey. "I haven't any land for sale now. I'm holding what I have. But as to advising you, it's a difficult thing. Here's the situation: The amount of the total water supply is limited. The railway claims the right to take it all, if it likes. We claim enough to irrigate our properties. Right there we lock horns. There is a lawsuit just starting; but the Lord only knows which way it will be settled, or when. And now you know as much about it as I do."

"It don't look good," said Glass, shaking his head. "No, sir, it don't look good to me. And here's another thing. They tell me that there was trouble out here a ways the other night. I mean with the company's dam. Of course, I don't know anything about it myself; it's just what I've heard. I hope you don't mind me speakin' of it."

"Not in the least. Well, what about it, Mr. Glass?"

"It was a turrible risky thing to do—to blow up a dam," said Glass. "It'd be against the law, wouldn't it? Of course, I don't say it was. It might not be. I don't claim to know, and likely whoever done it had reasons. All the same, I wouldn't choose to be mixed up in doin's like that."

"Good thing to keep out of," Casey agreed.

"I wouldn't want anything of mine to be blown up."

"But who would blow up anything of yours?"

"I don't say anybody'd do it, of course," Glass protested hastily. "Only, you see, men that'd blow up a dam are—I mean, if I bought land off of the company and started in to use water and farm, they might blame me. I wouldn't want to get my neighbours down on me, Mr. Dunne."

"Does that mean you think that some of your prospective neighbours blew up the dam?"

"No, no," Glass disclaimed, in a flurry. "I don't know who did it, of course. I'm not saying anybody did. Only somebody must of. That's just common sense. You'll admit that yourself."

"Why, yes, that's a pretty safe conclusion," Casey agreed. "I don't think you need worry about that, though. The only point is whether the company will be able to keep an agreement to supply you with water. I can't tell you whether they will or not. If you buy you take a chance. If you bought from me, you'd take almost the same chance."

"I don't know what to do," said Glass, picking nervously at his white-metal watch chain. "It's hard to tell—there's so many things to be considered. I can't afford to lose money. This irrigation's new to me. I never saw it working. Would you mind if I came out to your farm and sort of looked around? I could learn a lot that way. Maybe if you had time, you could explain what I didn't understand? But, then, I wouldn't want to trouble you."

But Casey Dunne was already tired of Glass, of his timidity, his indecision, his self-effacement, his continual air of apology for existence.

"Come any time," he said. "Glad to see you. Sorry I can't do any more for you; but you'll have to decide for yourself."

"Yes, I know," Glass agreed dismally. "I'll look around first. I'm obliged to you. You—you're sure you won't have a drink? No. Well, I guess I'll go in and write a letter to my wife. I write to her twice a week. I'll see you later, maybe."

Casey nodded, glad to be rid of him. He put his feet on the rail and proceeded to go through his correspondence, which, though bulky, was not especially important.

"The mails would be a whole lot lighter if it wasn't for fake oil and cement propositions and special offers of the world's best authors," he grumbled. "Promoters and publishers seem to consider the small post office the natural breeding ground for suckers. Maybe they're right, too. Hello! Here's something different."

It was a large, square, white envelope, perfectly plain, but of aristocratic finish and thickness.

"Wedding—for the drinks!" growled Casey. "Not so different, after all." He ripped it open ruthlessly with his thumb. "Here's where I get set back a few dollars starting another domestic plant. Blamed if it's any better than—hello!"

It was not a wedding announcement. Instead, it was a check. The amount thereof was the surprising sum of eighty cents, exchange added; and the signature, firm, square, clear-cut as lettering, was "Clyde Burnaby."

"Now what the devil?" Casey exclaimed, and jerked out the accompanying letter.

It was merely a short, friendly note. Miss Burnaby inclosed her check for one year's interest, at 8 per cent. on the loan from Mr. Dunne. She referred to the Wades. Gave an item or two of unimportant personal news. Hoped that his ranch was flourishing, and that he was well: and was his very cordially.

In feminine fashion followed a postscript:

Kitty Wade tells me that you are having trouble with some company which is taking water that you need for your ranch. I hope it isn't serious trouble, though she hinted as much. Do you care to tell me about it?

Casey Dunne sat for some minutes, the check and letter across his knees, while he gazed unblinkingly through the hot sunshine. It was some time since he had given Clyde Burnaby more than an occasional thought; his immediate affairs had been too pressing. Now the vision of her, as he had seen her last, rose before his eyes, and he found it a pleasant recollection. He, whose life since childhood had been passed in the outposts and beyond them, treasured the memories of the few occasions when chance had permitted him to sit with his own kind, to talk to them, to live as he would have lived had not fate forced him to hoe his own row, and chosen for him a row in the new lands.

Of the women he had met in these rare incursions he could recall none who pleased him as well as Clyde Burnaby. Her interest in his affairs pleased him also. He recalled her as she had sat across the aisle in the Pullman, her absolute frigidity to the advances of the would-be Lothario, her haughty stare when she had suspected him of like intent, her perfect composure during the holdup. Little things like that showed the stuff a girl was made of. Nothing foolish or nervous or hysterical about her. And then, subsequently, when he had met her on her own ground, she had endeavoured to put him at his ease. Funny that, but he appreciated it, nevertheless. And she could talk. She didn't giggle and ask inane questions. Nor did she treat him as some sort of a natural curiosity, who might be expected to do something shocking but entertaining at any moment. She was sensible as—well—as sensible as Sheila McCrae herself.

And that, Casey reflected, was by way of being a high compliment; for Sheila had more sense than most men. He would take her opinion on any subject as well worth consideration. She and Clyde Burnaby were two young women very much above the ordinary run—in his opinion, at least.

Idly he wondered if chance would ever bring them together. Unlikely. Because he had nothing else to do at the moment, he amused himself by a process of transposition, of transmigration. He imagined Clyde Burnaby in Sheila's place, riding Beaver Boy over the brown swells, along the narrow trails and abrupt rises of the foothills, raising several hundred chickens, helping with the housework, the mending—all the daily feminine chores that fell to the lot of a rancher's womenkind. Would she be as good a friend to him as Sheila had been? And he fancied Sheila in her place—tailor-mades and evening gowns instead of riding skirts, Paris instead of pony hats, with nothing in particular to do but have a good time and spend money. Make good? Of course she would. She was clean-cut, thoroughbred, smart as a whip. Perhaps she wasn't quite as good-looking as Miss Burnaby; but, after all, that was largely a matter of taste. She was a different style.

He looked at the check lying on his knee, and laughed at the idea of interest on ten dollars. He had forgotten all about that conceit, but she had not. He would frame the check—yes, that was what he would do. In time there would be quite a bunch of them—that is, if she remembered to send them. Well, anyway, he would have to acknowledge it, and he might as well do it at once.

He went indoors and began to write. He had intended but a brief note, but in construction it lengthened. With him letter writing was never an effort. He wrote as easily as he talked, colloquially, without any attempt at style or set phrase. Soon he found himself tersely describing the water situation, forecasting the probabilities. As these were not too cheering, he frowned and added an optimistic sentence or two for general effect. He concluded with a hope that she would some time honour his country with a visit, when his ranch and all it contained—including its owner—would be entirely at her service.

On his way to post the letter he passed Glass, still struggling with his own composition. That poor devil! A perfect type of incompetent. He was too slow and timid for the West—too old to learn the lessons of self-reliance and adaptability of a new land. However, that was his own affair. If he would work he could make a living, and that was all that he or those like him could make anywhere.

Dunne strolled down to the station to mail his letter in the box there; and, as he turned the corner of the building, he came full upon Farwell and another burly individual in conversation with Quilty, the station agent.

"Tell them to start a tracer from the other end after those car numbers," Farwell was commanding; "and you start one from here. I've got to have them right away; work's at a standstill. Those cursed fatheads in the freight department don't know enough to shovel ballast. Get after them with a sharp stick."

"I'll do me best for ye," Quilty promised; "but freight on this line comes whin ut comes."

"It will come when I want it, or somebody will lose a job," said Farwell. "I'm not the ordinary consignee, and you can tell them that, too."

"I'll do that same," said Quilty; "but I misdoubt if a cyar wheel turns the faster for ut. I mind back in eighty-five—or maybe 'twas eighty-three ut was—whin O'Brien—'Flapjack' O'Brien they called him then, though he's climbed high enough since—well, whin O'Brien was a plain, iveryday, thievin' conthractor, and a dom bad wan at that, he had a nephew named Burke that married a Finnegan—or maybe ut was Finucane—whose father pulled ould Sivinty-six, a wood-burnin' monsthrosity iv an ingin' that be th' grace iv God an' a full sand box might be good for a 3-per-cent grade anny dry day in summer but a Friday. Annyways, as I started to tell ye, Danny Powers fired for Finnegan or Finucane, whichever ut was, and him and this Burke——"

But Farwell cursed Powers and Burke. "You burn the wires getting those cars for me!" he ordered. "What the devil do I care for all those construction-days micks? You talk too much. Get busy!" With which he turned and walked away with his companion.

"Pleasant gentleman, Corney!" Casey ventured.

The little station agent winked. "Th' black dog is on him sure enough," he observed. "Since his dam was blowed up, he has th' civil word for nobody. Listen, now, Casey. Somebody will pay for that night's work."

"I don't quite get you, Corney."

"Oh, divil th' fear iv yez not gettin' me. I'm not speakin' now in me official capacity; for praise God this dam is outside th' duties iv me jurisdiction. I'm tellin' ye as a friend."

"I know, Corney; but tell me a little plainer."

"Plainer is ut? Yez are a man grown. Do yez think yez can crim'nally an' wid conthributory vi'lence aforethought dynymite me employers' property, an' no comeback at all? Have sinse!"

"Hold on," said Casey. "Go slow, Corney." But Mr. Quilty dismissed this preliminary objection with a wave of his hand.

"Thim's figgers iv speech. I assume yez are innocent until yez are caught. Faix, it's not me'd give th' hot tip iv a warnin' to a crim'nal. But whisper now! Th' comp'ny is for siftin' this outrageous outrage to th' bottom, an' then liftin' th' bottom to look under it. Havin' put its hand to th' plow, it will l'ave no stone unturned to probe th' mysthry. Ye seen that felly wid Farwell. He's th' railway detective!"

"Meaning that they're out to round up somebody, eh?" said Casey. "All right, Corney; let 'em go to it."

"In me official capacity," said Mr. Quilty, looking him sternly in the eye, "I hope th' dirty blagyards is caught red-handed and soaked hard for th' shameless and di'bolical atrocity they have perpetuated. For such abandoned miscreants hangin' is too dom ladylike a punishment. I want yez to understand me official sintimints in me official capacity clearly. Yez may quote me exact words if ye feel so disposed."

"In your official capacity," said Casey, "your official sentiments do you great credit."

"I'm glad ye think so," said Mr. Quilty; "for in me private capacity, speakin' widout prejudice to me salary and as a true son iv dear, ould, dirty Dublin to a friend, me private sintimints is these: Th' man that invinted dynymite should have a set iv goold medals th' size iv a compound's dhrivers. But if iver ye mintion me private sintimints to a soul, I'll have yer life!"



CHAPTER XIV

Farwell was by nature obstinate; he was also resourceful, and accustomed to carrying out his instructions by hook or by crook. That was one reason why he was such a valuable man. He accomplished his ends or his employers' ends after some fashion. Therefore, when the almost completed dam was destroyed, he recognized merely a temporary, if expensive, setback. The company could afford to pay for any number of dams; but, in order to push their sales, and, as a first step toward acquiring other properties at a minimum figure, they wanted the water on their lands at once. Very well, they should have it.

Though the dam was practically wrecked, the main canal was intact. Its intake was just above the dam, solidly built of masonry, with sluice gates to control the volume of water. Without the dam it carried a comparatively small stream. With the dam, and the consequent raising of the water level, it would roar full from wall to wall, a river in itself.

Just at its lower lip Farwell began to drive piles at an angle upstream. He sank brush with hundreds of bags of sand, made cribwork filled with whatever rubbish came to his hand, and soon he had the makings of a temporary dam, rude, but effective. It would serve three purposes: It would fill the company's ditches; it would practically empty the ranchers'; and it would render the rebuilding of the permanent dam easier. Farwell was quite satisfied with himself.

Meanwhile, he found time to ride over to Talapus occasionally. His footing there was anomalous, and he felt it. On the one hand he wished the McCraes well and had done all he could for them; on the other he was ruthlessly carrying out a project which would ruin them. Under these circumstances he looked for no more than tolerance. He now owned frankly to himself that he was in love with Sheila. He had made little progress with his wooing, nor did he expect to make more just then. His blunt assertiveness covered a natural shyness where women were concerned, and he had about as much idea of the fine points of the game as a logger has of cabinet-making. Still, he was drawn to her by a desire which he was unable to resist. He had a profound belief in himself and in his capacity for material success; he considered himself an eligible match for any girl, and he relied on Sheila's good sense to realize what he had taken pains to make plain—that while his loyalty to his employers forced him to carry out their instructions, his sympathies were with her and her family. Of this he had given indubitable proof. He had no intention of dropping out of sight, of discontinuing his visits, so long as they were tolerated, of leaving the field clear to another, perhaps to Dunne. With her he bore a white flag always, insisting that between them there was friendly truce.

He was of the opinion that the McCraes, father and son, had no hand in the dynamiting; though he conceded that they could make an excellent guess at the perpetrators. But Farwell thought he could do that himself; he fixed the responsibility on Casey Dunne.

The McCraes did not mention the dam, but Farwell had no hesitation in broaching the subject. He predicted speedy and exemplary punishment for the guilty.

Donald McCrae listened gravely, his face expressionless. Sandy wore a faint, ironic smile which irritated Farwell.

"You don't think so?" asked the engineer pointedly.

"You're doing the talking—I'm not," said Sandy.

Farwell reddened angrily. There was more in the tone than in the words. It implied that talk was Farwell's long suit. Farwell disliked Sandy extremely, but with a self-control which he rarely exercised, forbore to retort. Hot-tempered as he was, he realized that he could not declare his belief in the guilt of any person without some evidence. His smouldering eye measured Sandy, taking him in from head to foot, and rested on the smoky golden tan of a pair of new moccasins which he wore.

Now, Sandy had acquired the moccasin habit in childhood and retained it. It was rarely that he wore boots around the ranch. Farwell, looking at the new moccasins, which were handsomely embroidered with silk thread, noted the straight inner line of the foot, from toe to heel. It was like the foot of an aborigine; undeformed, undeflected from nature's lines by fashionable footgear. By suggestion the moccasin track at the dam occurred to him. He recalled its straight inner line. McCrae's moccasined foot would make just such a track. Was it possible that he, at least, was one of the dynamiters?

Not only possible, Farwell decided, after a moment's reflection, but probable. The elder man he exonerated mentally. The son, young, hostile, possessing unlimited nerve, was just the man for such an enterprise. And if he were concerned in it, and the fact were ascertained what a devil of a mess it would make!

For a moment he was tempted to test his suspicion by some pointed allusion, but thought better of it. And shortly after the two men withdrew, leaving him with Sheila.

"This is a nasty business," said Farwell, after a long pause, reverting to the former topic. "I wouldn't like it—no matter what turns up—to make any difference between us."

"There isn't much difference to make," she reminded him.

"No, I suppose not," he admitted, slightly disconcerted. "We're merely acquaintances. Only"—he hesitated—"only I thought—perhaps—we might be friends."

Which was going very strong—for Farwell. He said it awkwardly, stiffly, because he was quite unaccustomed to such phrase. Sheila smiled to herself in the growing darkness.

"Well, friends if you like. But then we are of different camps—hostile camps."

"But I'm not hostile," said Farwell. "That's nonsense. Business is business, but outside of that it cuts no ice with me."

"Doesn't it?"

"Not with me," he declared stoutly. "Not a bit. You didn't blow up the dam. Even if you had——"

"Even if I had——"

"I wouldn't care," Farwell blurted. "Thank the Lord I'm not narrow-minded."

Sheila laughed. Her estimate of Farwell did not credit him with wideness of outlook. But her reply was prevented by the thud-thud of rapid hoofs. A horse and rider loomed through the dark.

"Hello, Sheila!" the rider called.

"Why, Casey, this is luck!" she exclaimed. Farwell scowled at the evident pleasure in her voice. "Light down. Better put your horse in the stable."

"That you, McCrae?" said Dunne, peering at the glow of Farwell's cigar. "I want to see you about——"

"It's Mr. Farwell," Sheila interjected quickly.

A pause. Casey's voice, smooth, polite, broke it.

"I didn't recognize you, Mr. Farwell. How are you?" He dismounted, dropped his reins, and came upon the veranda. "Lovely night, isn't it? Well, and how is everything going with you?"

"I'm fairly busy," Farwell replied grimly, "thanks to the actions of some persons who imagine themselves unknown."

Casey Dunne lit a cigar and held the match in his hand till the flame touched his fingers. He spoke through the ensuing greater darkness:

"I heard that your dam wasn't holding very well."

"Not very well," Farwell agreed, struggling with his temper. "Perhaps you heard that it was dynamited?"

"I think I've heard most of the rumours," Dunne responded calmly.

"I have no doubt of that," Farwell observed with meaning.

"Great country for rumours," Casey went on. "Somebody always knows your inmost thoughts. Your intentions are known by others before you know them yourself. You are no exception, Mr. Farwell. The mind readers are busy with you. No action you might take would surprise them. They are quite ready for anything."

"I may surprise these wise people yet," said Farwell. "I suppose they counted on depriving our lands of water by destroying our dam?"

"That's certainly an original way of putting it," said Casey. "Well?"

"Well, they didn't foresee that, though our permanent work is wrecked, and will take time to rebuild, we would put in a temporary wing of logs, brush, and sand which would give us a partial supply."

"No, they didn't foresee that, likely," Casey admitted. "This wing dam of yours is quite an idea. By the way, I'm not getting enough water now, myself. Couldn't you get along with less than you are taking?"

"No," Farwell returned shortly.

"These wise people thought you could or would," said Casey, and, turning to Sheila, asked for her father. A few minutes afterward he strode off in search of him.

Farwell endeavoured to pick up the broken thread of conversation with Sheila. But this proved difficult. She was preoccupied; and he himself found Dunne's concluding words sticking in his memory. Did they hide a sinister meaning? He disliked Dunne heartily, and he was jealous of him besides, without having any definite cause; but he no longer underrated him.

On his way to camp he turned the problem over and over in his mind, but could make nothing of it, unless the words foreshadowed an attempt on the temporary dam. But there seemed to be little chance for the success of such an undertaking. Big acetylenes flared all night by the makeshift structure, and two men with shotguns watched by it. The whole camp was under almost martial law.

Farwell walked down to the river before he retired, to find the watchman very wide awake and a torrent booming through the stone-faced canal intake, to be distributed through a network of ditches upon the company's lands miles away. Farwell, satisfied, instructed the watchmen to keep a bright lookout, and turned in.

Once in the night he awoke with the impression that he had heard thunder, but as the stars were shining he put it down to a dream and went to sleep again. In the morning one of the watchmen reported a distant sound resembling a blast, but he had no idea where it was. Farwell attached no importance to it.

But in the middle of the morning his ditch foreman, Bergin, rode in angry and profane. And his report caused similar manifestations in Farwell.

The main canal and larger ditches had been blown up in half a dozen places, usually where they wound around sidehills, and the released water had wrought hideous damage to the banks, causing landslides, washing thousands of tons of soil away, making it necessary to alter the ditch line altogether or put in fluming where the damage had occurred.

Nor was this all. Some three miles from the camp the main canal crossed a deep coulee. To get the water across, a trestle had been erected and a flume laid on it. The fluming was the largest size, patent-metal stuff, half round, joined with rods, riveted and clinched. To carry the volume of water there were three rows of this laid side by side, cemented into the main canal at the ends. It had been a beautiful and expensive job; and it reproduced finely in advertising matter. It was now a wreck.

Farwell rode out with Bergin to the scene of devastation. Now trestle and fluming lay in bent, rent, and riven ruin at the bottom of the coulee. The canal vomited its contents indecently down the nearest bank. A muddy river flowed down the coulee's bed. And the peculiarly bitter part of the whole affair was that the water, following the course of the coulee, ran back into the river again, whence it was available for use by the ranchers. It was as if the river had never been dammed. What water was diverted by the temporary dam got back to the river by way of the canal and coulee, somewhat muddied, but equally wet, and just as good as ever for irrigation purposes.

Bergin cursed afresh, but Farwell's anger was too bitter and deep for mere profanity. He sat in his saddle scowling at the wreck.

Once more it had been put over on him. He thought he had taken every possible precaution. Of course, ditches might be cut at any time; short of a constant patrol there was no way of preventing that. But this coulee was a thing which any man with eyes in his head and a brain back of them might have seen and thought of. And he had allowed this costly bit of fluming to lie open to destruction when it was the very key to the situation, so far as the ranchers were concerned!

His instructions had been to take the water to bring them to a properly humble frame of mind. It was part of his job to protect his employers' property; that was what he was there for. He had taken ordinary precautions, too, so far as the dam was concerned. But he had entirely overlooked the fact, as obvious as that water runs downhill, that if his canal were cut at the coulee its contents must flow back into the river. Everything was now set back. With this second outrage land sales would stop altogether. It was a sickening jolt. He thought of the questions he would have to answer. He would be asked why he hadn't done this. It would be no answer to point out that he had done that. People were always so cursed wise after the event!

And then he remembered Casey Dunne's words. Dunne had said that he was not getting enough water, had asked for more, had practically given him warning. Now every rancher's ditches were running full, and all he had to show for his work was a horrible mass of wreckage.

Farwell had disliked Dunne at first sight; now he hated him. He would have liked to come to actual grips with him, to break that lean, wiry body with his own tremendous strength, to bruise and batter that quietly mocking face with his great fists.

But the worst of it all was that he had nothing to go on. There was not a shred of evidence to connect Dunne with the destruction of the dam and flume. The detective sent down by the company had looked wise but had found out nothing. The only thing in the nature of a clew was a moccasin track, and that led to young McCrae, whom, for Sheila's sake, he did not wish to involve. He felt that through no fault of his own he had made a mess of everything. The ranchers had won every round. As Africa had been the grave of countless military reputations, so Farwell saw his own repute interred along the Coldstream.

Something had to be done. He was tired of taking unavailing precautions, of sitting passively waiting for attacks. In the nature of things it was impossible to guard adequately works extending over miles of uninhabited country. Guerilla warfare could not be met by regular tactics.

As he scowled down at the muddy torrent an idea began to germinate in his mind. The main thing was to crush these ranchers, to bring them to their knees. After that all would be easy, there would be an end of difficulties. The engineering problems were the least. He had a free hand; he was backed by an enormous corporation which would go the limit. He resolved to fight fire with fire—to give the ranchers a dose of their own medicine.



CHAPTER XV

When Clyde Burnaby entered Wade's office, that busy lawyer was much surprised. "I thought you had gone away," he said as they shook hands. "It beats me how any young woman with the price of an elsewhere can stay in this town in summer."

Clyde laughed as she sat down. She looked deliciously cool, though the mercury was in the nineties, and the dusty canyonlike streets were like ovens. "I was on the point of going," she admitted, "but I don't know where to go. I came for some information on another point, Mr. Wade."

"Yes?" said Wade interrogatively. "We carry a very complete stock of information here." He waved a hand at the formidable rows of half-calf and circuit bindings in his bookcase. "What particular shade, model, or style may I show you? Something seasonable and yet durable? Here is a very attractive and well-bound ten-pound creation covering most of the common or garden varieties of contract, including breach of promise to marry. Nice summer reading. Or, perhaps——"

"Now do you think any sensible man would break such a promise to me?" she laughed.

"You know the answer already," Wade replied. "You are a very good-looking young woman—almost as good-looking as Kitty."

"Model husband," Clyde commented approvingly. "Kitty is a darling. But to come to the point, Mr. Wade, I want some information about Mr. Dunne."

"Casey Dunne?" inquired Wade, with a slight lift of his brows. "What has he been doing? What do you want to know about him?"

"I want to know about his business affairs—or perhaps I should say his business troubles."

"Why?" Wade asked bluntly, eying her with curiosity.

Clyde's colour heightened a little but she met his gaze directly. "I had a letter from him," she replied, "in which, among other things, he referred to his troubles with the railway company that owns land in his district—troubles about water. It seems to be a serious matter."

"How did he happen to write you about it?" asked Wade. "Do you correspond? I beg your pardon. It's none of my business, but Casey isn't given to telling his troubles."

"I think," said Clyde, "I had better tell you how I first met Mr. Dunne." She did so, considerably to Wade's surprise.

"That's just like Casey all through," he commented. "Close as a clam. Never told me about meeting you before. And so he lent you ten dollars! You!" He chuckled at the idea. "Well, later he may have a use for that same ten."

"You really mean that? If money would help him now——"

"It isn't necessary just yet. I'll tell you how matters stand." He did so with brevity and lucidity. "The situation now is that the government leaves the right to water to be determined by the courts. The court won't sit till some time in September. So there you are. Meanwhile the company is trying to take the water and the ranchers are trying to prevent them. So far nobody has been hurt, but I'm afraid, with the bitterness which is sure to develop, there may be serious trouble at any time."

"Mr. Dunne and his friends have not funds for a long legal fight?"

"No. Casey himself is land poor—that is, he has put every dollar he could rake together into land. He will either go broke or make a killing. The others have good ranches, but no money. And they can't raise any on their land, for nobody would lend under these conditions. Their very existence is involved."

"I have plenty of money," said Clyde. "More than I know what to do with; more than I can ever spend, living as I do. I will give you a check now for whatever sum you require to take this case to the very highest court."

"That's a very generous offer," said Wade, "but I can't accept it. It's not merely a case of lack of the sinews of war. It's a case of a huge corporation against a few individuals with as little influence as they have money. You might put up law costs to an enormous extent uselessly. You see, you would be bucking Western Airline. Your respected uncle might do that, but you can't."

Clyde's smooth forehead wrinkled thoughtfully. But she merely said: "If I can do anything—with money or in any other way—for Mr. Dunne and his friends, I'm ready to do it."

"I don't know what you can do just now," said Wade. "I'm going on a vacation for a few weeks. Most of it I intend to spend out in that part of the country. When I return I'll know more about it."

"Is Kitty going, too?" Clyde asked.

"She wants to, but I don't like the idea. It's a little rough there. I'd prefer her to go where she'd be more comfortable."

"She wouldn't enjoy it alone."

"Suppose you keep her company," Wade suggested. "She'd be delighted."

"Suppose," said Clyde, "we both keep you company?"

"Eh!" said Wade.

"Well, why not? We're both sick of dressed-up summer resorts. I want to see this country of Mr. Dunne's. We can rough it if we have to. We'll have a camp or take a house—we'll get along somehow."

"Oh, nonsense!" Wade objected. "You wouldn't like it. It's as hot as perdition in the daytime. You'd be sick of it."

"If we don't like it we can leave. If Kitty will go and doesn't object to me, will you take us both?"

"You'll both go if you want to, whether I say 'no' or not," said Wade. "Is this a put-up job? Have you fixed it with Kitty?"

"Not yet," said Clyde, her eyes twinkling, "but I'm going to."

From Wade's office Clyde went straight to the headquarters of the Hess System, finding its chief in the act of leaving.

Jim Hess was big, carelessly dressed, kindly faced, and the gray of his close-clipped moustache was yellowed by smoke. He sat down and motioned his niece to a seat, his hand mechanically searching for a cigar.

"Well, young lady, what's the trouble?" he asked.

"I want about fifteen minutes of your time, Uncle Jim."

"Easy," Hess commented. As a rule he was sparing of words. "I was afraid you wanted to borrow money." Nevertheless he eyed her shrewdly. She was a great favourite of his, and he devoted much more time to her affairs than she suspected.

Beginning at the beginning, she told him of Casey Dunne, her meeting with him, the water trouble, and the attitude of the Western Airline. Her memory was good and her understanding excellent. Therefore she was able to state the case clearly.

"This Dunne and his friends," Hess commented, "seem to me to be up against it."

"I thought that you might be able to do something to help them."

"What?"

"I didn't know. But you are a railway man. You may have some influence with Mr. York or his directors. Perhaps you might bring influence to bear."

Hess smiled grimly. "Old Nick has more influence with York than I have. He crosses the street when he sees me. I like him about as much as he likes me. He's boss of his own show—his directors cut no ice. Anyway, it's none of my business. I've no excuse for butting in." Her face showed her disappointment. "I'm sorry," said Hess. "I'd do anything I could for you, little girl, or for any one who ever did you a good turn. But you see how it is. I can't ask favours of York and his crowd. If I did they'd only refuse."

"Of course not—if it's that way," Clyde acknowledged. "I didn't know. I thought you might be able to do something or suggest something."

Hess was silent, smoking meditatively, drawing aimless lines on a blotter. "Got much money loose?" he asked suddenly.

"Plenty," Clyde replied. "Why?"

"Well," said Hess slowly, "just at present Western Air looks to me like good buying."

"Does it? I'll buy a little, if you say so."

"Don't say I said so; don't mention my name. Tell your brokers to buy quietly at the market just as much as you can stand. Tell 'em to buy till you countermand their instructions. I'll let you know when to do that. Tell 'em to buy at the present market. If the price breaks keep on buying. And if you go away anywhere let me know where a wire will get you."

"Thanks, Uncle Jim," said Clyde. "You think Western Air is a good investment, then?"

"I didn't say that—I said it was good buying," said Hess. "It's not high now. Some day"—he hesitated—"some day it ought to be worth as much as Hess System—as much as one of our own stocks."

With this prophecy, which he appeared to regret, Jim Hess patted his niece on the shoulder, told her not to worry about other people's troubles, and departed to keep his engagement.

Clyde immediately rang up Mrs. Wade, and, finding her at home, proceeded there at once, to "fix" matters; a thing by no means hard to accomplish, for Kitty Wade found the prospect of a lonesome vacation very unattractive, and was a willing conspirator.

"We'll just make Harrison take us," she declared. "We'll have all sorts of a good time, too, riding and driving and fishing and whatever else they do. Won't it be a relief not to have to dress up? And I'll be an ideal chaperon, dear, upon my word."

"Oh, my liking for Mr. Dunne hasn't reached that stage," laughed Clyde, flushing a little, but too wise to pretend density. She had ever found that the best defence against such badinage lay in frankness. "But don't leave me alone with him, Kitty. It might end with his endowing me with his name and worldly goods. 'Mrs. Casey Dunne!' Euphonious, don't you think? I wonder if I should like to hear myself announced in that way?"

Kitty Wade glanced at her narrowly. Clyde's face expressed nothing but laughing amusement.

"Harrison has a high opinion of him," she said. "I believe his father was supposed to be wealthy until after his death, when Mr. Dunne was a boy. And he is very presentable. I think he deserves a great deal of credit."

"So do I," Clyde agreed heartily. "I told Mr. Wade that I was prepared to furnish whatever money was needed for this lawsuit of Mr. Dunne's."

"You did!" exclaimed Mrs. Wade. "Why, Clyde whatever for? How does it concern you?"

And Clyde told her for the first time of her first meeting with Casey Dunne.

"And you never told me!" Kitty Wade commented, as her husband had done. "It's a real romance in real life. But I think you are the most generous girl I ever heard of. If you were in love with him, of course that would explain it. Aren't you, now—a little?"

"I'm not in love with him, Kitty—honestly I'm not," Clyde responded. "I don't know whether I shall ever be or not. He did me a service which I would like to repay. I have more money than I know what to do with. If money would help him over a rough place it was up to me. At least, that's how I looked at it. And as for going out to his country—why, I want to, that's all. I want to see the country which produces that sort of man. He's different from the others, somehow. I don't think he cares whether I have money or not. He wasn't going to recall himself to me till I practically recognized him. I know I'm good-looking and I know he knows it, but I don't think he cares. And he'd never have written me in this world or told me a thing about it himself if I hadn't written him first and asked him to."

"Why, Clyde!" Kitty Wade exclaimed in amazement.

"That's exactly what I did," Clyde asseverated. "If I were in love with him that would be the last thing I'd own up to, wouldn't it? Heavens above! Kitty, I know it's unmaidenly by all the old standards. You're married; you have your husband and your home and your interests. I have none of these things. You can't realize how utterly purposeless and idle and empty my life is. Just killing time. That was well enough a few years ago, and I enjoyed it. But now I'm as old as you are. I want something different from the daily and yearly round of sameness. If I were a man I'd work sixteen hours a day. If I had any special talent I'd cultivate it. But I haven't. I'm just an ordinary rich girl, in danger of physical and mental stagnation—in danger of marrying some equally rich man whom I don't love, in order to provide myself with new interests."

"Casey Dunne is a new interest, I suppose," said Kitty Wade dryly.

"I wish you wouldn't, Kitty," said Clyde.

"Then I won't," said Kitty Wade, "for I think you believe what you say. Which," she added to herself, "is more than I do, young lady."



CHAPTER XVI

On all the ranches along the Coldstream there was water in plenty. The ditches ran brimful. In the fields the soil was dark with grateful moisture; the roots of the grain drank deep, fed full on the stored fertility of ages magically released by the water, and shot suddenly from small, frail plants, apparently lying thinly in the drills, into crowding, lusty growths, vigorous, strong-stemmed, robust, throwing millions of green pennants to the warm winds. Down the length of the fields at narrow intervals trickled little streams like liquid silver wires strung against a background of living emerald. Pullulation was forced, swift, marvellous; one could almost hear the grain grow.

Though everything pointed to a bumper crop, this depended on a continued water supply, and the ranchers took full advantage of the present, for none could tell how long the conditions would endure. As soon as one piece of land had sufficient moisture the water was shifted elsewhere; they allowed no overflow, no waste. This meant long hours, continuous, if not arduous work.

Naturally each ranch's main ditch was the heart of its water supply. From these, smaller ditches carried the supply to the different fields. These represented the arteries. The small streams trickling down the long irrigation marks through the grain and root crops might be likened to veins. To supply these it was necessary to tap the arteries every few yards; and the adjustment of these outlets, as ditches always lower during the heat of the day when suction and evaporation are the greatest and rise in the cooler hours of the night, was a matter of some skill and difficulty.

Dunne and his entire force worked overtime, taking all they could get while they could get it. Glass, the timorous would-be investor, paid him several visits. The first time Casey himself showed him over the ranch, explaining the theory and practice of irrigation, telling him what crops could be grown, what could not be grown, and what might perhaps be grown but as yet had not been proven. Glass absorbed this information like a sponge. Once more he recited his doubts and fears, going over the same ground with wearying detail. Casey, on the second visit, handed him over to Tom McHale, who listened pityingly.

"This here Glass sure needs a guardian or a nursemaid or something," he told Casey afterward. "He don't seem to know which way to string his chips. He makes me that tired I sorter suggests maybe he'd better pray about it; and he says he's done that, too, but don't seem to git no straight answer. So I tells him if the Lord don't know I surely don't. And then he says he'll ask his wife. His wife! Whatever do you think of that? I quit him right there!"

But Glass wandered from ranch to ranch, a harmless bore, relating his perplexities to people too busy to listen. Finally he announced that he had bought land and sent for his family. And on the strength of this began his rounds again, eager for agricultural information.

At this time Casey received a letter from Wade giving the date of his long-promised visit to Coldstream. He added that his wife and Miss Burnaby would accompany him. They would stay, he said, in town, at the hotel. Immediately Casey went into committee with Tom McHale.

"Wade was coming here," he said. "The ladies complicate matters, but we'll have to do the best we can. It's the house that worries me. It's not furnished the way I'd like to have it. And then it's small. I guess we'll have to move out, Tom."

"Sure," McHale agreed at once. "We can bed down anywheres. I'll rig up a couple of bunks in the new tool house. We're pretty well along with the water. I can 'tend to that while you show 'em the country."

Straightway Casey commanded Feng, his Chinaman, to clean and scrub, much to that Celestial's disgust.

"What foh?" he demanded. "Housee plenty clean. Las spling me hiyu sclub, hiyu wash, hiyu sweep undeh bed. All light now."

"All right for man; no good for woman," Casey explained. "Two lady come stop, Feng."

"Ho!" said Feng, adjusting his mind to a new situation. "You and Tom mally him?"

"No," Casey responded. "One married already. Ladies all same my friends, Feng."

"No good." Feng announced with certainty. "Woman fliend no good. All time makee too much wo'k. All time kick at glub. Mebbyso want blekfust in bed. Mebbyso bling baby. Neveh give Chinaboy a dolla'. No good. S'pose you bling woman fliend me quit. Me go back to China."

"If you quit me now, one dead China boy stop," Casey threatened. He added craftily: "This lady tyee lady. All same mandarin's daughter. Hiyu rich!"

"Ho!" said Feng thoughtfully. "Hiyu lich, eh? All light. Me clean housee."

But, though he had won this diplomatic victory, Casey was not satisfied. Finally he took his perplexities to Sheila, enlisting her aid in problems of decoration and the like.

"Where does this Miss Burnaby come in?" she asked. "Who is she?"

Casey told her, and she frowned dubiously.

"Seems to me you butted into real society when you went outside, Casey. If she has all that money she's apt to be pernickity. I hate fussy women. Is she pretty?"

"Why—yes, I think so," he admitted. "Oh, yes, she's pretty—no doubt about that. But I don't think she's fussy. You'll like her, Sheila. She doesn't scare or rattle easily. In some ways she reminds me of you."

"Thank you. And how do you know she doesn't scare or rattle?"

He evaded the question. "I don't think she would."

"Why didn't you ever mention her before?"

"Never thought of it. I hadn't the least notion that Mrs. Wade was coming, let alone Miss Burnaby. You see, it puts me up against it. I'll be ever so much obliged if you'll help me out."

"I'll come over and arrange things in the rooms, of course," Sheila acquiesced.

And so, when Casey awaited the coming of the train which bore his guests, it was with the knowledge that his rough-and-tumble, quarters had been made as presentable as possible.

Wade and his party descended, attended by an obsequious porter laden with bags, and in a moment Casey was shaking hands.

"And so this is your country!" said Mrs. Wade eying her surroundings rather dubiously. In her heart she was appalled at the prospect of passing several weeks in such a place.

"Well, some of it isn't mine," he laughed. "I wish it were. This is only the makings, Mrs. Wade. Wait a few years. Now, here's what we do. We have dinner at the hotel. Afterward we drive out to the ranch where you are all to stay."

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