"What's Tom McHale doin'?"
"Some fool joke. He's full of them. I reckon he wants us to ask him."
McHale called to them: "Boys, if I was you I'd move out of line of me and Bob's door."
"What did I tell you?" the wise one commented. "You bet I don't bite. I——"
Out of the door of Shiller's surged Cross, gun in hand. Uncertain where to find McHale, he glared about. Then, as he saw him standing in the middle of the road, the weapon seemed to leap to a level. Simultaneously McHale shot from the hip.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Pale-pink flashes stabbed the afternoon light. Coldstream echoed to the fusillade. Its inhabitants ran to doors and windows, streaming into the streets. One of the store windows suddenly starred. Long lines, like cracks in thin ice, appeared in it, radiating from a common centre. The proprietor and his friend, electrified, ducked and sprang for shelter. A woman screamed in fright.
Suddenly Cross staggered, turning halfway around. The deadly rage in his face changed to blank wonder. His pistol arm sagged. Then he collapsed gently, not as a tree falls, but as an overweighted sapling bends, swaying backward until, overbalanced, he thudded limply on the ground.
McHale, half crouched like a fighting animal awaiting an attack, peered with burning eyes over the hot muzzle of his gun at the prostrate figure. Swiftly he swung out the cylinder of the weapon, ejected the empty shells, refilled the chambers, and snapped it shut. Shiller's door opened. McHale covered it instantly, but it was Shiller himself.
"So you done it, did you?" he said.
"Sure," said McHale. "He comes a-shootin', and I gets him. Likewise I gets them two tillikums of his if they want it that way."
"Billy's keepin' them quiet with the pump gun," Shiller informed him. "You better get out o' town. I'll clean up your mess, darn you! Git quick. Them fellers expects some more in."
McHale nodded. "I ain't organized to stand off a whole posse with one gun. So long, Bob. I'm plumb sorry I mixed you into this. They won't like you much now."
"They don't need to," said Shiller. "Want any money? Want another gun? I got a handy little three-ought-three carbine."
"No. I'll get my own outfit. I may have to lie out for a spell. Well, I'll be movin'."
He mounted swiftly. Men crowding up to the scene of the affray stopped suddenly. Few of them had seen the like before. They shrank back, awed, from the killer. He rode down the street, gun in hand, casting swift glances right and left, ready for any attempt to stop him. There was none. He vanished in the swells of brown grasses, riding at an easy lope, as unhurried as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
Tom McHale reached Chakchak, stabled his horse, made a hasty toilet, and attacked a belated supper. While he was eating with hearty appetite Casey and Wade strolled in.
"Did that freight come?" asked Casey.
"Nope," said McHale. "I got a tracer started after her."
"Anything doing in town?"
"Why, I reckon there was a leetle excitement there for a few minutes," said McHale. "Sort of an argument in front of Bob Shiller's."
Casey, from his knowledge of McHale, came to attention at once. "Well?" he asked abruptly.
"Well, it was me and this here Cross," McHale explained. "I downed him."
"In the argument?" laughed Wade, who did not comprehend. But Casey asked quickly: "Gun?"
"You did! How'd it happen? Is he dead?"
"I miss once, but three times I'm pretty near centre," McHale replied. "Course, I didn't wait to hold no inquest, but if he ain't forded Jordan's tide by now he's plumb lucky; also tough. Only thing makes me doubt it is the way he goes down. He don't come ahead on his face the way a man does when he's plugged for keeps; but he sorter sags backward, so he may have a chance. Still, I reckon she's a slim one."
Casey got the full story with half a dozen brief questions.
"Clear case of self-defence, isn't it, Wade?"
"Looks that way, if the evidence corroborates what he says," the lawyer replied. "Are you sure he shot first, Tom?"
"Better put it he meant to shoot first," McHale responded. "Naturally, I ain't standin' round waitin' for no sightin' shots. It comes close to an even break."
"That's good enough," Wade declared. "If his actions left no doubt of his hostile purpose in your mind you were justified in protecting yourself."
"They sure didn't," said McHale. "He's out to down me, and I know it. There ain't no Alphonse and Gaston stuff when he comes boilin' out, pullin' his gun. I just sail in to get action while I got the chance."
"Exactly," said Wade. "Well, Tom, you'll be arrested, of course. If Cross isn't dead, likely you can get bail. If he is, I'm afraid you'll have to remain in custody till the trial. I'll defend you myself, if you'll let me. Or maybe it would be better to get a man whose practice is more on the criminal side. I'll get the best there is for you."
"I'm obliged," said McHale. "I'll stand a trial all right, but I ain't figurin' on bein' arrested for a while."
"Nonsense!" said Wade. "You don't mean to resist arrest? That's foolish."
"Oh, I dunno," said McHale. "Depends on how you look at it. I ain't goin' to resist to speak of; I'm just lyin' low for a spell. I reckon I'll pack old Baldy with a little outfit, Casey. 'Bout two days from now you'll find him out by Sunk Springs if you ride that way."
"I don't get the idea."
"It's this way," McHale explained. "This Cross is one of a bad bunch. They'll be out for my scalp. They don't want no law in this. I been hearin' 'bout Cross and this old-timer, Dade. They're great tillikums, and Dade is the old he-coon of the bunch. I ain't takin' a chance on some little tin-starred deputy standin' them off. Furthermore, I figure it ain't unlikely they'll come after me some time to-night. If it was just you and me, Casey, we could stand the hand, and whatever hangin' there was would come off in the smoke. But with women on the place it wouldn't be right. So I'll just point out for a little campin' spot somewheres, and save everybody trouble. If any of these here sheriffs or deputies gets nosin' around, you tell 'em how it is. I'll come in when the signs is right, and not before. Tell them not to go huntin' me, neither, but to go ahead and get everything set for a proper trial. I'll send word when I'll be in."
Wade chuckled. "They can't arrange a trial without somebody to try, Tom."
"They'll have to make a stagger at it, or wait," McHale responded seriously.
It was dusk when he headed westward, old Baldy, lightly packed, trotting meekly at the tail of his saddle horse.
Casey, coming back from a final word with him, met Clyde strolling toward the young orchard. He fell into step.
She regarded him quizzically. "I won't ask a single question. You needn't be afraid."
"Did you think I meant to head off your natural curiosity? Not a bit of it. You want to know where Tom is going at this time of night, and why?"
"Of course I do. But I won't ask."
"You may just as well know now as later." He told her what had happened, omitting to mention McHale's real reason for leaving the ranch. Even in the darkness he could see the trouble in her eyes.
"You really mean it?" she questioned. "You mean that he has killed a man?"
"Either that or shot him up pretty badly."
"I can scarcely believe it. I like McHale; he's droll, humorous, so cheerful, so easy-going. I can't think of him as a murderer."
"Nonsense!" said Casey. "No murder about it. It was a fair gun fight—an even break. This fellow came at Tom, shooting. He had to protect himself."
"He could have avoided it. He had time to get on his horse and ride away. But he waited."
"He did right," said Casey. "This man would have shot him on sight. It was best to settle it then and there."
"That may be so," she admitted, "but life is a sacred thing to me."
"No doubt Tom considered his own life tolerably sacred," he responded. "As an abstract proposition life may be sacred. Practically it's about the cheapest thing on earth. It persists and repeats and increases in spite of war, pestilence, and famine. The principal value of the individual life is its service to other life. Cross wasn't much good. That old Holstein over there in the corral, with her long and honourable record of milk production and thoroughbred calves, is of more real benefit to the world. You see, it was Tom or Cross. One had to go. I'm mighty glad it was Cross."
"Oh, if you put it that way——"
"That's the way to put it. Of course, we aren't sure that he's more than shot up a little. Still, knowing what Tom can do with a gun, I'm inclined to think that Cross is all same good Indian."
For some moments they walked in silence. It was rapidly becoming dark. A heavy bank of cloud, blue-black in the waning light, was slowly climbing into the northwestern sky, partially obscuring the last tints of the sunset. The wind had ceased. The air was hot, oppressive, laden with the scents of dry earth. Sounds carried far in the stillness. The stamp of a horse in a stall, the low, throaty notes of a cow nuzzling her calf, the far-off evening wail of a coyote—all seemed strangely near at hand, borne by some telephonic quality in the atmosphere.
"How still it is!" said Clyde. "One can almost feel the darkness descending."
"Electrical storm coming, I fancy. No such luck as rain."
"I don't suppose it affects you," she remarked, "but out here when night comes I feel lonely. And yet that's scarcely the right word. It's more a sense of apprehension, a realization of my own unimportance. The country is so vast—so empty—that I feel dwarfed by it. I believe I'm afraid of the big, lonely land when the darkness lies on it. Of course, you'll laugh at me."
"No," he assured her. "I know the feeling very well. I've had it myself, not here, but up where the rivers run into the Polar Sea. The vastness oppressed. I wanted the company of men and to see the things man had made. I was awed by the world lying just as it came from the hand of God. The wilderness seemed to press in on me. That's what drives men mad sometimes. It isn't the solitude or the loneliness exactly. It's the constant pressure of forces that can be felt but not described."
"I think I understand."
"The ordinary person wouldn't. There are no words to express some things."
"I'm glad of it; I don't want the things I feel the most cheapened by words."
"Something in that," he agreed. "Words are poor things when one really feels. Providence seems to have arranged that we should be more or less tongue-tied when we feel the most."
"Is that the case?"
"I think so—with men, at any rate. It's especially so with most of us in affairs of love and death."
"But some men make love very well, you know," she smiled.
"I defer to your experience," he laughed back.
"Oh, my experience!" She made a wry face. "And what do you know of my experience?"
"Less than nothing. But from some slight observation of my fellow men I am aware that a very pretty and wealthy girl is in a position to collect experience of that kind faster than she can catalogue it."
"Perhaps she doesn't want to do either."
"Referring further to my fellow man, I beg to say that her wishes cut very little ice. She will get the experience whether she wants it or not."
"Accurate observer! Are you trying to flatter me?"
"Do you think me pretty?"
"Even in the darkness——"
"Be serious. Do you?"
"Why, of course I do. I never saw a prettier girl in my life."
"Cross your heart?"
"Honest Injun—wish I may die!"
"Oh, well," said Clyde, "that's something. That's satisfactory. I'm glad to extract something of a complimentary nature at last. You were far better when I met you at the Wades'. You did pay me a compliment, and you asked me for a rose. Please, sir, do you remember asking a poor girl for a rose?"
"I have it still."
"Truly?" A little throb of pleasure shot through her and crept into her voice. "And you never told me!"
"I was to keep it as security. That was the bargain."
"But how much nicer it would be to say that you kept it because I gave it to you. Are you aware that I made an exception in your favour by doing so?"
"I thought so at the time," said Casey. "I expected a refusal. However, I took a chance."
"And won. Are you sure that you have the rose still? And where among your treasures do you keep it?"
"You don't know where it is! That's just like a man. For shame!"
"You're wrong," Casey said quietly. "I keep it with some little things that belonged to my mother."
She put out her hand impulsively. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "I—I beg your pardon!"
His strong fingers closed on hers. She did not withdraw her hand. He leaned forward to look into her upraised eyes in the growing darkness.
"That seemed the proper place to keep it. I value your friendship very much—too much to presume on it. We are at opposite ends of the world—I'm quite aware of that. When this little holiday of yours is over you'll go back to your everyday life and surroundings, and I don't want you to take with you one regret or unpleasant memory."
"I don't know what I shall take," she replied gravely. "But I'm not at all sure that I shall go back."
"I don't understand."
"Suppose," she said, "suppose that you were a moderately rich man, in good health, young, without business or profession, without any special talent; and that your friends—your social circle—were very much like yourself. Suppose that your life was spent in clubs, country houses, travel—that you had nothing on earth to do but amuse yourself, nothing to look forward to but repetitions of the same amusement. What would become of you?"
"To be perfectly truthful," he replied, "I should probably go to the devil."
"The correct answer," said Clyde gravely. "I am going to the devil. Oh, I'm strictly conventional. I mean that I'm stagnating utterly—mentally, morally, and physically. I'm degenerating. My life is a feminine replica of the one I suggested to you. I'm wearied to death of it—of killing time aimlessly, of playing at literature, at charity, at uplifting people who don't want to be uplifted. And there's nothing different ahead. Must I play at living until I die?"
"But you will marry," he predicted. "You will meet the right man. That will make a difference."
"Perhaps I have met him."
"Then I wish you great happiness."
"And perhaps he doesn't care for me—in that way."
"The right man would. You're not hard to fall in love with, Clyde."
"Am I not—Casey?" She smiled up at him through the dark, a little tremor in her voice. She felt his fingers tighten on hers like bands of steel, crushing them together, and she was conscious of a strange joy in the pain of it.
"You know you are not!" he said tensely. "I could——" He broke off abruptly.
"Then why don't you?" she murmured softly.
"Why not?" he exclaimed. "I'd look pretty, wouldn't I, a busted land speculator, falling in love with you! I've some sense of the fitness of things. But when you look at me like that——"
He stooped swiftly and kissed her, drawing her to him almost fiercely. "Oh, girl!" he said, "why did you tempt me? I've forgotten what was due you as my guest. I've forgotten all that I've been remembering so carefully for weeks. Now it's over. Some day the right man will tell you how he loves you."
"I am waiting," she whispered, "for the 'right man' to tell me now!"
"Why," he exclaimed incredulously, "you don't mean——"
"But I do mean," she replied. "Oh, Casey, boy, didn't you know? Couldn't you guess? Must I do all the love-making myself?"
The answer to this question was in the nature of an unqualified negative, and extended over half an hour. But Casey retained many of his scruples. He could not, he insisted, live on her money. If he went broke, as seemed likely, he must have time to get a fresh stake. Clyde waived this point, having some faith in Jim Hess. Of this, however, she said nothing to him.
"We had better go," she said at last. "It is quite dark. Kitty will wonder where we are."
"Shall you tell her? Better."
"Not to-night, anyway. She—you see——"
"She'd jolly you, you mean. Of course. But We may as well have it over."
"Not to-night," Clyde repeated. She was uncomfortably conscious of her confidences to Kitty Wade, made without much thought.
They approached the house from the rear, passing by the kitchen, whence issued the sound of voices.
"Let's take a peep at Feng's company?" Casey suggested.
The kitchen was built apart from the house, but attached to it by a covered way. Standing in the outer darkness, they could look in through the open window without risk of being seen, and were close enough to overhear every word.
Feng was resting from the labours of the day, sitting smoking on the kitchen table. Facing him, a pipe between his wrinkled lips, sat old Simon. His face was expressionless, but his eyes, black, watchful, were curiously alert.
"What foh you come, Injun?" Feng demanded. "Wantee glub? Injun all time hiyu eat, all same hobo tlamp. S'pose you hungly me catch some muckamuck. Catch piecee blead, catch col' loast beef—loast moosmoos!"
"You catchum," Simon agreed. "Casey—where him stop?"
"Casey!" Feng's features expanded in a grin. "Him stop along gal—tenas klootchman, you savvy. Go walkee along gal. P'laps, bimeby, two, tlee hou', him come back."
Simon grunted gutturally. "Ya-as," he drawled.
"Hiyu lich gal," Feng proceeded. "Have hiyu dolla'. You bet. She one hiyu dam' plitty gal, savvy?"
"Hush!" Clyde whispered, as Casey would have put an end to this risky eavesdropping. "I didn't think that Feng had such good taste. I'm getting compliments from everybody to-night. I'm really flattered. I want to hear some more."
"Better not," he advised apprehensively.
"But I want to."
"Ya-as," Simon drawled again. "Hyas kloshe tenas klootchman—ah-ha. What name you callum?"
"Missee Clyde Bullaby," Feng replied, making a manful attempt at Clyde's surname, which was quite beyond his lingual attainments.
"Clyde!" Simon repeated, in accents of incredulity. "Me savvy 'Clyde.' Him big man-horse hyas skookum man-horse. Him mammook plow, mammook haul wagon!"
"You hyas damfool Injun!" said his host politely. "Missee Clyde Chlistian gal's name, catchum in Chlistian Bible; all same Swede Annie, all same Spokane Sue, all same Po'tland Lily."
Simon digested this information with preternatural gravity. "Ya-as," said he. "Casey like Clyde?"
"Clyde likee Casey," Feng responded knowingly. "Casey call um woman fliend. Lats! All same big Melican bluff, makee me sick. Bimeby some time she makee mally him. Bimeby baby stop. Then me quit. Me go back to China."
The prophet's last words blurred in Clyde's ringing ears. The friendly darkness hid her flaming cheeks. Why, oh why, had she listened? She was not even shocked by Casey's muttered curse. She felt his hand on her arm, drawing her gently back into the deeper shadows. In silence she followed.
"I'll fire that infernal yellow scoundrel to-morrow," he growled.
"No, no, it was my own fault," she declared. "Absolutely and entirely my own. I—I——Oh, don't look at me, please!"
"I won't," he promised, but his voice shook slightly.
"You're laughing!" she accused him tragically.
"Indeed I'm not," he denied; but with the words came an involuntary sound strongly resembling a chuckle.
"Shame!" she cried.
"Yes, yes!" he gasped. "I know it. It's too bad. Ha-ha! I really beg your pardon. I——Oh, good Lord!"
But Clyde gathered up her skirts and fled, whirling up the veranda steps and into the house like a small cyclone, never pausing until a locked door lay between her and a ribald, unfeeling world.
It was after midnight when Clyde awoke. She passed from slumber to wakefulness instantly, without the usual intervening stages of drowsiness.
Outside a gale was blowing, and volleys of rain pattered like spent shot on windows and roof. Thunder rumbled ceaselessly. A vivid flash rent the outer darkness, illuminating the room, and the succeeding crack shook the house. It was a storm, rare in the dry belt, of which there were not more than one or two in the year. For Casey's sake she hoped that there would be no hail with it. Better continued drought than a ruinous bombardment of frozen pellets from the heavens which would beat the crops to the ground, utterly destroying them.
As she lay listening she seemed to hear sounds not of the storm, as of some one moving on the veranda. Then came a loud, insistent knocking. She heard the door of Wade's room open, and a long crack of light beneath her own showed that he had lit a lamp.
"Hello! Who's there?" he asked.
The reply was indistinguishable. A violent blow on the door followed it. She sprang out of bed, threw on a dressing gown, thrust her feet into slippers, opened her door, and peered out.
A single hand lamp on the table showed Wade, clad in pajamas and slippers, standing before the door. His attitude expressed uncertainty. He glanced back and saw Clyde.
"What is it?" she asked. "Who is there?"
"I don't know," he replied. "There are men out there. They want me to open the door. Do you know where there's a gun in the house? I haven't——"
The impact of a heavy body cut him short. The lock gave way, and the door swung inward. Wade sprang back and caught up a chair. Framed in the door, silhouetted against the outer blackness, appeared a man. His hat was pulled low over his eyes. A handkerchief cut with eyeholes concealed his face. His right hand held a six-shooter, with which he covered Wade. Back of him, pressing forward, were other armed men.
"Put that chair down!" he ordered. "Nobody's goin' to hurt you."
"Glad to hear it!" snapped Wade, who was the fortunate owner of unlimited sand. "What do you mean by breaking into a house in the middle of the night and frightening women? If you want money I've got about fifty dollars, and that's all. You're welcome to it if you'll clear out."
"Keep it," the intruder returned contemptuously. He stepped into the room, followed by four others. "I guess your name is Wade. We don't want you. We want McHale."
"Well, I haven't got him," said Wade.
"Where is he?"
"What do you want with him?"
"That's none of your business."
"All right. If that's so it's none of my business where he is."
"You'd better make it your business," said the other suggestively.
"Well, I won't," Wade retorted. "He isn't here, and that'll have to do you."
"On general principles it don't do to believe a lawyer. Where's Dunne?"
"He isn't here, either."
"I reckon we'll make sure of that." He took a step in the direction of Clyde's room. Wade stepped in front of him.
"No, you don't, my friend," said he. "That room belongs to a lady. You keep out of it."
The leader stopped. "Well," he said, "I don't want to scare no women; but all the same I'm goin' to see the inside of every room in this house. S'pose you knock and tell that lady to fix herself up so's she won't mind my takin' a look in. I'm goin' to make mighty sure her name ain't McHale."
Clyde opened the door, and walked into the room. She was surprised to find that she was not in the least frightened. Said she:
"Good evening, gentlemen. Do you think I resemble Mr. McHale?"
"No, ma'am," said the leader; "I don't reckon you favour him much."
Admiration was apparent in his voice. Clyde smiled at him.
"Then perhaps you'll take a look at my room now, and allow me to retire again."
"I don't need to look there, ma'am," the man replied. "I'm awful sorry we troubled you."
"That's the way to talk," said a quiet voice from the door.
The leader whirled instantly to look into the ominous muzzle of a heavy automatic held by Casey Dunne.
"Put that gun down, and your hands up!" snapped Casey. "Quick! No nonsense! I'll kill the first man that tries anything."
The quiet had gone from his voice; it bit like acid. Strange, hard lights danced in his eyes. The hand that held the gun had not a tremor. Clyde, looking at him, saw and recognized in his face the cold deadliness which she had once seen in McHale's.
Without an instant's hesitation the leader put his weapon on the table. "You win once," he observed.
"That's sensible," Casey commented. "Now, perhaps you'll tell me what this means?"
"No objection in the world," the other replied coolly. "We wanted to interview McHale."
"Is that so? Well, Tom isn't here to-night Mr. Dade. By the way, unless you really like it you needn't wear that transformation scheme across your face. Same remark applies to the other gentlemen. I like to know my visitors."
Dade laughed, removing the handkerchief. "Take a good look. You may see me again."
"Any time you like, Mr. Dade. And what did you want with McHale?"
"Well," Dade answered calmly, "we figured that he'd help us take the stretch out of a new rope."
"Nobody else would do?" queried Casey.
"We wanted him."
"I see. And had our mutual friend, Mr. Cross, anything to do with your desire? By the way, how is Mr. Cross? Or should I say the late Mr. Cross?"
"Not yet," Dade replied. "He's got a chance."
"Then aren't you too previous?"
"McHale laid for him, and plugged him as he came out of Shiller's," Dade declared.
"Cross came out of Shiller's with his gun in his hand to get McHale," said Casey. "McHale was entitled to shoot. It was an even break."
"That's not how I heard it."
"That's what McHale says, and it goes with me."
"It don't go with me," Dade declared. "Me and Cross is partners—has been for years. I'm out to get McHale, and you can send him word. I reckon he ain't here, or he'd be obvious."
"He'd be mighty obvious," Casey agreed. "I may as well tell you, Mr. Dade, that this feud business makes me tired. It's sinful, and, worse than that, it's out of date. You take notice, now, that we won't stand for it. You've pretty well played out your string here, anyway."
Dade stared at him. "I reckon you'll have to talk a little plainer, Dunne."
"Isn't that plain enough? This shooting was square. You let it go as it lies. Otherwise we'll clean up your whole bunch."
Dade laughed. "That's sure plain," he admitted. "I like nerve, and you've got it a-plenty, but you ain't got me buffaloed at all. You heard what I said. It goes."
"Suit yourself," said Casey. "I'll send McHale word. Anything else I can do for you to-night?"
"Not a thing," Dade replied. "We'll be going—unless you want us to stay. I'm sorry we disturbed the lady, but I sure thought McHale was in here."
"She'll forgive you," said Casey. "That part of it's all right. Better think over what I said. I mean it."
"So do I," said Dade grimly. "You can send McHale word."
As Casey closed the door and set a chair against it in place of the damaged fastenings, Kitty Wade peeped from her room.
"Are the outlaws g-gone?" she asked.
"They have went," her husband replied. "You are saved, m'dear. Your little heart may now palpitate in normal palps."
His wife, looking altogether charming and girlish, emerged.
"Well, I was frightened," she admitted. "I'd give worlds to be as brave as Clyde."
Clyde, feeling Casey's eyes upon her, flushed and gathered her dressing gown closer, conscious for the first time of her attire. "Oh, nonsense, Kitty!" she responded. "I was really shaking in my shoes."
"You didn't show it," Casey commented. "There isn't one girl in a thousand who would have been as cool."
"I agree with you," said Wade. He put his arm around his wife. "Better go back to roost, little girl."
"Not until I hear all about it," said Kitty. "Go and get a bath robe or something, like a good boy. Pajamas are very becoming, and all the best people wear 'em, but——"
"I beg everybody's pardon!" Wade exclaimed in confusion. "I thought I had on my—er—that is, it never struck me that I wasn't clad in orthodox garments." He was back in a moment, swathed in a bath robe. "Now, Casey, tell us how you happened to make that stage entrance?"
"Not much to tell about it," Casey replied. "I had an old Indian bedded down in the hay in the stable, and he saw or heard this outfit riding in and woke me up. As a matter of fact, the old boy was just outside with a shotgun all the time. We had that much moral support. He came to tell me that this outfit meant to get Tom."
"This McHale business is serious," said Wade.
"Very serious. I don't mean so far as Tom is concerned; he can take care of himself. But you can see that we can't allow these men to bulldoze us. It's McHale now. To-morrow it may be some one else."
"Yes, I see. But what can you do about it? The law——"
"It's outside the law," said Casey. "The law is too slow. We'll make our own law. Hello! What's that?"
He jumped to his feet, gun in hand, as the chair set against the door scraped back from it. Out of the darkness staggered Sheila McCrae.
Water dripped from her old pony hat and ran in little rivulets from a long, yellow slicker. From head to foot she was spattered with mud. Her face was pale, drawn, and dirt-smeared, and blood oozed slowly from a jagged cut above her left eye. She swayed from side to side as she walked.
Kitty Wade cried out; Clyde rose swiftly in quick sympathy. But Casey was before her.
"Sheila—girl—what's the matter?" he exclaimed.
She stretched out her arms to him gropingly.
"Where's Tom, Casey? They're after him. Maybe they're after you. Father's hurt. Sandy——I can't talk, Casey. I guess—I'm—all in."
He caught her as she fell forward, lifting her in his arms as easily as if she had been a child, and laid her on a couch.
"No, no," he said, as Clyde would have put cushions beneath her head. "Let her lie flat." He unbuttoned the slicker, and opened her dress halfway from throat to waist, stripping it away with ruthless hand. A bare shoulder and arm showed bruised and discoloured. "She's been in some mix-up—had a fall or something. Wade, get me some whiskey and water!" His long fingers closed on her wrist. "She'll be all right in five minutes, unless something's broken. Mrs. Wade, get in here and loosen her corsets. Give her a chance."
Kitty stooped obediently, and straightened up in amazement. "Why—she——"
"Well, how did I know?" snapped Casey. He ran his hand down her side. "No ribs broken; arms all right. Good!"
Sheila's long lashes fluttered against her cheeks, she sighed and opened her eyes.
"Casey," she said, "never mind me. Look out for yourself. Where's Tom? There are men coming to-night. I was afraid——"
"All right, Sheila," he interrupted. "Tom is safe. The men have gone. No trouble at all. Just lie quiet till things steady a little. Have a drink of this."
Clyde brought water, sponge, and towels. She cleansed Sheila's face and hands, and deftly dressed the cut in her forehead.
"You make me feel like a baby," said Sheila. "I never fainted before in my life. I didn't think I could faint. I'm all right now. May I sit up, please?"
"You may lie up, if you like," Casey replied. "Let me put some pillows under you. You've had a bad shake-up, old girl."
"Beaver Boy fell," she explained, "and threw me. I must have struck my head. I don't know how I caught him again. I don't remember very clearly. I had to hang on to the horn sometimes—dizzy, you know. I never had to pull leather before. He was afraid of the lightning, and I wasn't strong enough to handle him afterward. The fall took it out of me. I just had to let him go. He knew it, and acted mean. I'll show him whose horse he is next time."
"You rode on your nerve," said Casey. "Tell us all about it. Tell us about your father and Sandy. You were going to say something when you keeled over."
The girl's keen face clouded. "Oh, heavens! Casey, my head can't be right yet. I'd clean forgotten my own people. There's been nothing but trouble in bunches all day. The drivers ran away this morning, smashed the rig, threw father out, and broke his leg. This afternoon this man Glass, whom we all took for a harmless nuisance, arrested Sandy."
"What?" Casey exclaimed.
"Yes, he did. Glass is a railway detective. He worked quietly, nosing around the ranches talking to everybody, while the other detective attracted all the attention. Nobody suspected Glass. Who would? Anyway, he and another man arrested Sandy for blowing up the dam."
Casey whistled softly, casting a side glance at Wade.
"Where's Sandy now? Where did they take him?"
Sheila laughed, but there was little mirth in it.
"They didn't take him anywhere, but I don't know where he is. I saw him with the two men down by the stable. I thought they were talking about land. Half an hour afterward he came to the house with his parfleches, and asked me to put him up a couple of weeks' grubstake. He had the men locked up in the harness room, but he didn't tell me how he had done it. He took his pack horse and his blankets and hunting outfit, and pulled out. I didn't know what to do. I didn't tell the folks. The ranch hands know, but they won't let the men out. And then it must have been after ten o'clock when one of our men told me of the shooting. He had heard it from somebody on the road. He said that Cross' friends were talking of lynching McHale, and perhaps you. I didn't believe it at first, but after a while I got nervous. Everybody was asleep, and anyway there was nobody I could ask to go; so I came myself."
"And Tom and I will never forget it, Sheila," said Casey. "I don't know another girl who could have made it after a fall like that in this storm."
"It was perfectly splendid of you!" cried Kitty Wade, with hearty admiration.
Clyde, obeying a sudden impulse, leaned forward and kissed the bruised forehead. Sheila was unused to such endearments. She had no intimates of her own sex; with the women she was courteously distant, repelling and rather despising them. She had felt Clyde's instinctive hostility, and had returned it. Surprised and touched by her action, the tears started to her eyes. Clyde put her arms around the slender, pliant waist.
"Come with me, dear, and get some sleep. You're badly shaken up. We'll sleep in, in the morning."
"But I have to go back," Sheila objected. "Nobody knows I've gone. I have to be back by morning. And then there's Beaver Boy! My heavens! I left him standing outside. Oh, I've got to——"
Casey gently pressed her back as she would have risen.
"I'll stable the horse, old girl; and I'll be at Talapus by daylight to tell them where you are. Don't you worry, now, about anything—not even Sandy. If he's gone back to the hills I'll bet he finds Tom. They'll be all right."
"Do you think so, Casey? And will you do that much for me? I'm awfully sore and tired. Every bone and muscle of me aches."
"You poor little girl." He raised her in his arms. "Come on, girls, and put her to bed. I'll carry her in."
With the first streaks of dawn Casey and Simon mounted and rode for Talapus. But before they had ridden five hundred yards Casey discovered an extraordinary thing. In his ears sounded a sustained, musical murmur, nothing less than the happy laugh of running water.
"By the Lord Harry!" he ejaculated. "There's water in the ditches."
Simon nodded. "Ya-as. Hiyu chuck stop, all same skookum chuck," he observed, signifying that there was a full head of it, like a rapid.
The ditches were running to the brim. After the soaking rain of the night the water was not immediately needed, but it showed that the irrigation company's works no longer controlled the supply. When they reached the river they found a swirling, yellow torrent running yeasty-topped, speckled with debris.
"S'pose cloud kokshut!" Simon observed.
"Cloudburst, eh!" said Casey. "Looks like it. Then either the company's dam has gone, or it can't take care of the head."
The former supposition seemed the more likely. Somewhere up in the heart of the hills the black storm cloud had broken, and its contents, collected by nameless creeks and gulches, had swooped down on the Coldstream, raising it bank high, booming down to the lower reaches, practically a wall of water, against which only the strongest structures might stand. Temporary ones would go out before it, washed away like a child's sand castle in a Fundy tide.
Ignoring trails, they struck straight across country. The land had been washed clean. Beneath the brown grasses the earth lay dark and moist. A hundred fresh, elusive odours struck the nostrils, called forth from the soil by the rare moisture, a silent token of its latent fertility. On the way there were no houses, no fences, no cleared fields. The land lay in the dawn as empty as when the keels of restless white men first split the Western ocean; and more lifeless, for the great buffalo herds that of old gave the men of the plains and foothills food and raiment were gone forever.
The sun was up when they reached Talapus. Mrs. McCrae had just discovered her daughter's absence; and her husband was cursing the leg that held him helpless. Casey told them the events of the night, and Donald McCrae was proud of his daughter, and but little worried about his son.
"Show me another girl would have ridden in that storm!" he exclaimed. "She's the old stock—the old frontier stock! And Sandy, locking the detective in the harness room!" He chuckled. "Go down and let them out, Casey, and give them breakfast. A fine pair of children we've got, mother."
"Sandy can take care of himself," said Mrs. McCrae practically. "He always did, since he could walk, and he took his own ways, asking nobody. And Sheila, for a girl, is the same. They take after you, Donald, not me. But now, Casey, Mrs. Wade is at Chakchak, isn't she?"
"Mrs. Wade and Miss Burnaby," Casey replied. "It's all right, Mrs. McCrae."
"Sheila needs no chaperon," said her father.
"Not with Casey," said her mother. "But there's the gossip, Donald, and the dirty tongues. It's not like the old days."
"True enough, maybe," McCrae admitted. And he added, when his wife had left the room: "What have they got hold of to arrest the boy, Casey?"
"I don't know," Casey replied. "But we'll face the music, Donald."
When Casey entered the harness room Glass and another man, a stranger, lay in one corner on a heap of sacks. Sandy had done a most workmanlike job, and he had put a neat finish to it by strapping each man to a stanchion with a pair of driving reins.
"Good morning, gentlemen," said Casey.
"Is it?" said Glass, sourly. His old hesitating manner had quite vanished.
"Beautiful," Casey replied. "Sun shining, birds singing, crops growing. 'God's in His heaven; all's well with the world.' Like to take a look at it? Or are you too much attached to your present surroundings?"
"You can cut out the funny stuff," said Glass. "I don't ever laugh before breakfast."
"Quite right, too," Casey replied. "Just roll over a little till I get at those knots. There you are, Mr. Glass. Now your friend here. Don't think I know him."
"Jack Pugh, sheriff's officer," said Glass, rising stiffly, with considerable difficulty.
"I'll have him in shape to shake hands in a minute," said Casey, as he worried at the knots. "And so, Mr. Glass, instead of an innocent landlooker you are a real live, mysterious detective. You don't look the part. Or perhaps you are still disguised."
"I can stand a josh better now," said Glass. "Maybe I'm not such a live proposition as I might be. When two grown men let a kid hogtie them it sort of starts them thinking."
"It sure does," Pugh agreed. He was a saturnine gentleman, with a humorous eye. "I been wantin' to scratch my nose for eight solid hours," he affirmed irrelevantly, rubbing that organ violently with his free hand.
"He's some kid," said Glass. "Where is he?"
"I haven't seen him. He left word where to find you."
"Beat it somewhere, I suppose," Glass commented. "He fooled us up in great style, I'll say that much. At first he acted about the way you'd expect a country kid to act—scared to death. He wanted to change his overalls for pants before we took him anywhere. Said they were hanging up in here. We fell for it. We came in, and there was a pair of pants hanging on a nail. He walked over to them, and the next thing we knew he had a gun on us. I hope I know when a man means business—and he did. He had half a notion to shoot anyway."
"That's right," Pugh confirmed. "He's one of them kids that makes gunmen. No bluff. I know the kind."
"So when he told me to tie Pugh I did it," Glass continued. "Then he dropped a loop over me, and that's all there is to tell. The joke's on us just now."
"So it is," said Casey. "Whatever made you think that kid had anything to do with blowing up the dam?"
Casey smiled genially. "Why, how should I know, Mr. Glass? I was just asking what you were going on."
"I'm not showing my hand. I don't say the kid did it alone."
"And so you thought you'd round him up and sweat some information out of him. That was it, wasn't it?"
"You're quite a guesser and you show a whole lot of interest in the answer," retorted Glass. "Keep on guessing."
"I don't need to. Come up to the house and have breakfast. And for Heaven's sake don't say anything to frighten the kid's mother."
"What do you take us for?" said Glass. "We'll treat the whole thing as a joke—to her."
Casey breakfasted with them, and after they had gone sought Simon. The old Indian, full to repletion, was squatting on the kitchen steps, smoking and blinking sleepily.
"No see um Sandy," he observed. "Where him stop?"
"No more Sandy stop this illahee," Casey replied. "Sandy klatawa kopa stone illahee, all same Tom." Meaning that Sandy had gone in the direction of the hills, as had McHale.
"Why him klatawa?" Simon asked.
Casey explained, and Simon listened gravely. His receptiveness was enormous. Information dropped into him as into a bottomless pit, vanishing without splash.
"Sandy hyas young fool," he commented. "Me tell him mamook huyhuy moccasin. S'pose moccasin stop, ikt man findum, then heltopay. Polisman mamook catchum, put um in skookum house, maybeso hang um kopa neck."
"What are you talking about, anyway?" Casey demanded. And Simon told him of the track of the patched moccasin and of his warning to Sandy.
Casey immediately fitted things together. He knew that Sandy's right moccasin was almost invariably worn through at the toe. Before they left he had seen him patching them, and because they wore through at the same place the patches were of nearly the same shape. So that if Glass had found a patched moccasin it was not necessarily the one which had made the track. But that would make little difference. Either Farwell or his assistant must have told Glass about this track. If he had found a pair of Sandy's moccasins to correspond with the footprint he had come very near getting Sandy with the goods. But Farwell or somebody must have directed Glass's suspicions to Sandy.
However that was, Sandy had made a clean get-away into a region where he would be hard to catch. He was familiar with the trails, the passes, the little basins and pockets nestling in the hills. He was well provisioned and well armed. And the last caused Casey some uneasiness, for having once resisted arrest Sandy would be very apt to do so again.
"Simon," he said, "I want you to take papah letter to Tom."
"Where Tom stop?" Simon asked naturally enough.
"Maybe at Sunk Springs," Casey replied. "Maybe not. You try Sunk Springs. S'pose no Tom stop there, you nanitch around till you find him."
"All right," said Simon. "Me nanitch, me find Tom." He considered a moment. "Halo grub stop me?"
"I'll tell them to grubstake you here," Casey reassured him. "I'll pay you, too, of course."
"You my tillikum," said Simon, with great dignity. "Tom my tillikum. Good! Me like you. How much you pay?"
"Two dollars a day," said Casey promptly.
Simon looked grieved and pained. "You my tillikum," he repeated. "S'pose my tillikum work for me, me pay him five dolla'."
But Casey was unmoved by this touching appeal to friendship. "I'll remember that if I ever work for you," he replied. "Two dollars and grub is plenty. You Siwashes are spoiled by people who don't know any better than to pay what you ask. That's all you'll get from me. Your time's worth nothing, and your cayuses rustle for themselves."
And Simon accepted this ultimatum with resignation.
"All right," said he. "You my tillikum; Tom my tillikum. S'pose you catch hiyu grubstake."
Having arranged for a message to McHale, it occurred to Casey that he should see whether the sudden rise of the river had swept the company's temporary dam. Accordingly he rode thither.
The storm had entirely passed, and the sun shone brightly. Great, white, billowy, fair-weather clouds rolled up in open order before the fresh west wind, and the shadows of them trailed across the face of the earth, moving swiftly, sharply defined, sweeping patches of shade against the green and gold of a clean-washed, sunny summer world. Off to the westward, where the ranges thrust gaunt, gray peaks against the sky line, the light shimmered against patches of white, the remnants of the last winter's snows. Far away, just to be discerned through a notch in the first range, was a vivid point of emerald or jade, the living green of a glacier.
It was a day when it was good to be alive, and Casey Dunne, hard, clean, in the full power of his manhood, the fresh west wind in his face, and a strong, willing horse beneath him, rejoiced in it.
As he rode his thoughts reverted to Clyde Burnaby. Indeed, she had never, since the preceding night, been entirely absent from them; but because his training had been to do one thing at a time, and think of what he was doing to the exclusion of all else, he had unconsciously pigeonholed her in the back of his mind. Now she emerged.
"Shiner, m'son," he apostrophized his horse, "if things break right you're going to have a missus. What d'ye think of that, hey, you yellow-hided old scoundrel? And, by the Great Tyee! you'll eat apples and sugar out of her hand, and if you so much as lay back your ears at her I'll frale your sinful heart out with a neck yoke. D'ye get that, you buzzard-head?"
Shiner in full stride made a swift grab for his rider's left leg, and his rider with equal swiftness kicked him joyously in the nose.
"You would, hey? Nice congratulations, you old man-eater. I'll make a lady's horse of you if you don't behave; I sure will. And we'll build a decent house and break two thousand acres, and keep every foot of it as fine and clean as a seed bed, and have it all under ditch, the show place of the whole dry belt. You bet we will. We won't sell an acre. Fancy prices won't tempt us. We'll keep the whole shootin' match till we cash in." His mood changed.
"Cash in! It's funny to think of that, old horse, isn't it? And yet ten years from now you'll be no good, and thirty years from now I'll be near the end of the deal. And Clyde! Why, Shiner, we can't think of her as an old lady, can we? With her smooth cheeks a little withered and the suppleness gone from her body, and her eyes dim and her glorious hair white. Lord, horse, we mustn't think of it! She'll always be the same dear Clyde to us, won't she? 'Sufficient unto the day,' my equine trial and friend. Others will come after us, and there will be evil-tempered buckskins loping this foothill country and maybe a Casey Dunne cursing them when you and I are ranging the happy hunting grounds!"
Out of the sunlit distances a horse and rider appeared, rapidly approaching. It was Farwell, and, recognizing Dunne, he pulled up.
"In case you don't know it," he said, without preliminary or greeting, "I'll tell you that our dam went out with the flood. You didn't need to use dynamite this time."
"Providence!" Casey suggested.
Farwell's comment consisted of but one word, which, unless by contrast, is not usually associated with providential happenings.
"Call it that if you like," he growled. "We'll get the men responsible for it one of these days."
"You made a beginning with young McCrae," Casey reminded him.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Don't you know that Glass tried to arrest him?"
"What?" cried Farwell.
His surprise was too genuine to be feigned. Thereupon Casey told him what had occurred in the last few hours both at Talapus and Chakchak.
Farwell listened, biting his lips and frowning. And his first words were an inquiry as to Sheila.
"Miss McCrae rode through that storm last night!" he exclaimed. "Good Lord! Is she badly hurt?"
"Only shaken up, I think."
"Thank God for that," said Farwell, with evident sincerity. He hesitated for a moment. "See here, Dunne, do you mind if I ask you an impertinent question?"
"Are you going to marry her?"
"Certainly not. What put that notion in your head?"
"It got there. You were pretty thick. And if she rode there in that storm—unless she thought a lot of you——"
"I'm mighty proud of it. We're good friends—like brother and sister. No more. She has the best brand of clean-strain pluck of any girl I know."
"So she has," Farwell agreed. "She's a girl in a million. She's——" He stopped, reddening.
"By George, Farwell," said Casey, "is it that way with you?"
"She doesn't care a tinker's dam for me," said Farwell bluntly. "That's not saying what I think of her. I'm no ladies' man—don't pretend to be. Let that go. I suppose I'll be blamed for young McCrae's arrest. Well, I didn't know a thing about it. I've tried to give the family a good deal—better than the rest of you, anyway. I don't like the boy, and he doesn't like me. Pulled a gun on me once—well, never mind that. Here, you've been straight with me, and I'll tell you: When the dam was blown up we found the track of a patched moccasin in soft earth. Keeler took an impression of it, or made a cast or something—I don't know just what, but I do know that he photographed it. Since then I've noticed young McCrae's foot, and I believe he made the track, though it didn't strike me at the time. That was about the only clew we found. Mind you, Dunne, I believe you were in it yourself, but I haven't a thing to go on. If Glass has found a patched moccasin of McCrae's he's pretty near got him to rights. I don't know what he's got, though. About Cross and McHale, I don't care a curse which shot the other. These men—Cross, Dade, Lewis, and some more—were protecting our property. And that's all."
"Not quite all. They blew up our dams."
"Just as man to man," said Farwell, "let me ask you if you expected to run a dynamite monopoly?"
"I'm not kicking," said Casey. "I'm merely stating facts. I can take my medicine."
"You're a good deal of a man," Farwell acknowledged grudgingly. "I hate a squealer. Anyway, it was no part of their job to break into your house. See here, Dunne, the last five minutes has got us better acquainted than the last two months. I'll fire these fellows to-morrow if you'll promise me that our ditches won't be interfered with again."
"As long as we have water there will be no trouble," said Casey. "I'll promise nothing more."
"That's good for some weeks, anyway," Farwell predicted. "I guess we'll have to fight it out in the end. Still, I'm glad to have had this talk. I like you better than I did. And I can tell you there was lots of room for it—is yet, for that matter. Good-bye."
Without waiting for a reply, he dug a heel into his horse and swept on. Casey watched him go, with a thoughtful smile.
"Odd devil!" he muttered. "Queer combination. I don't like him, but—well, he's a fighter, and I believe he's straight. To think of him being fond of Sheila! I wonder if he has a chance there? She never mentions him now. H'm!" Finding no answer to the question, he wheeled Shiner and headed for home.
Just before utter blackness shut down on the land, Sandy McCrae dismounted and stripped saddle and pack from his horses. He looked up at the sky, shook his head, and, taking a light axe, cut two picket pins; after which he staked the horses out in the abundant pasture at the bottom of the draw, driving the pins in solidly beyond the possibility of pulling. Then he set about making a hasty camp.
Beside him a little spring bubbled out of the bottom of the draw and seeped away under tangled roots and fallen brush. A thirst-parched stranger might have ridden past twenty times on the bench above without suspecting its presence. The faint cattle trail leading to it entered the draw a quarter of a mile away, and led along under low but almost perpendicular banks.
Sandy's camp preparations were simple, but much more elaborate than if the night had been clear. Then he would have made his fire, boiled coffee, spread his bed, and gone to sleep beneath the stars; but because of the ominous storm cloud he constructed a lean-to by driving two forked stakes and joining them with a crosspiece. From these he slanted two poles to the ground, and on the poles laid a tarp, lashing it in place. The mouth of the lean-to faced away from the cloud bank. In addition it had the partial shelter of cottonwoods in full leaf. In this lean-to be collected his outfit. Next he made a fire and cooked supper. Afterward he smoked, squatting in the mouth of his shelter, staring silently at the dying embers, listening to the rising wind sighing above him sweeping across the bare grasslands, but scarcely fanning the coals in his protected camp.
He felt no loneliness whatever. Solitary camps and the love of them were his by right of inheritance. He neither required nor desired companionship. Fire, food, tobacco, and solitude satisfied his inmost soul. This was the life he loved. The fact that he was a fugitive from the law did not trouble him at all; it merely gave an added zest to the situation. Just once he chuckled grimly as he recalled the faces of Glass and Pugh when he had whirled on them, gun in hand. Glass had interpreted his intentions very correctly; he would have shot either or both on the slightest provocation. He was of the breed of the wolf, accustomed from childhood to deadly weapons, brought up in tradition of their use, and, like many outlaws who have bulked large in the history of the West, young enough to act on impulse without counting the ultimate cost.
As his little fire burned down he stepped out and regarded the darkened heavens. A heavy drop of rain struck his face and a flash of lightning ripped the black curtain, outlining bare banks, trees, and grazing horses for a brief instant. Sandy shrugged his shoulders philosophically. His shelter was good enough. He unrolled his bed, and, by the simple process of removing moccasins and gun belt, was ready to retire. He got into his blankets, taking his gun with him, and rolled them around him, leaving his face exposed until the last.
"Now, darn you rain!" he muttered. With which "now-I-lay-me" he drew the blanket completely over his head as a protection against mosquitoes, and, heedless of the smothering effect of it, which would have been unsupportable to a city youth, was asleep in ten seconds.
He slept for, perhaps, an hour. At the end of that time he suddenly became wide awake. He could not have told what had aroused him, but he was sure something had. He threw back the smothering blanket from his head and lay listening.
Overhead the wind threshed the tops of the trees, and roared hollowly as it rebounded from the farther side of the gulch. Rain, driven by the wind, slashed through the foliage and pattered against his primitive shelter. Thunder rolled in an endless fusillade, punctuated by flashes of lightning. But Sandy, without considering the matter, was quite sure that none of these things had awakened him. In a momentary lull of the storm, as he lay with his ear close to the ground, he thought he could hear the sound of hoofs coming up the draw, along the hard-beaten cattle trail.
It was barely possible that some wandering stock, drifting with the storm, were seeking the shelter of it; but it was more likely that range stock would have found cover to suit them before dark, and would stay in it till morning. Now, there is a difference between the tread of ridden and riderless animals, and Sandy thought that he had heard the former. Also, they were coming as he had come.
His route led from the settlements back to the hills where there was nobody and nothing. There was no road, no trail. Few people went there, not even Indians, and they not until the fall hunt, after the first snow. Therefore, it was suspicious that, on such a night, a rider or riders should be in his vicinity. His mind leaped to the conclusion that Glass had been released, had secured the services of somebody who knew the country, and had somehow made a good guess at the location of his first night's camp, for which they were now searching in the darkness, hoping that the remains of his fire would betray him.
As he reached this conclusion, Sandy rolled out of his blankets, buckled his belt around his lean waist, slipped on his moccasins, and stepped out into the darkness.
Not a red spark showed where his fire had been, and Sandy smiled grimly. He would do all the surprising himself. He did not intend to be taken. Once more he heard the sound of hoofs, nearer. They seemed to approach a few yards, then to stop. He heard the sound of a breath blown from a horse's nostrils.
The storm, which had lulled momentarily, began again. The wind hit the draw viciously, with spatters of rain. Other sounds were indistinguishable. Sandy, crouching low to get any advancing object against what sky line there was, made out the shape of a mounted man. Horse and man stood like an equestrian statue, barely distinguishable, though but a few yards away.
The rider disappeared from the saddle. Sandy heard his feet crashing in the low bushes, heard him stumble and swear.
"Ought to be about here," words came faintly to Sandy's ears. "If ever I try to find ... on a night like this...."
"Looking for me, sure," thought Sandy. "Maybe it's Glass; maybe it isn't. Wonder how many there are. Anyway, I'll fix this one."
Soft-footed as a great cat, he crept toward the voice. The man loomed in front of him; his back was turned. Sandy rose soundlessly behind him. With a sudden vicious sweep his left arm shot across the stranger's left shoulder and around his throat. His right hand shoved the muzzle of his gun beneath the man's right ear.
"Don't move or let one yip out of you!" he hissed tensely.
After one convulsive start the stranger stood motionless. "Nary move nor yip," he whispered confidentially into the night. "And if that gun's a light pull, be mighty careful of the trigger!"
"Talk and talk quiet," said Sandy. "How many are there of you?"
"Be mighty careful of that gun if you're seein' double that way!" the stranger admonished again nervously. "Was you expectin' twins or somethin'?"
"What's your name?"
"What you doing here?"
"Lookin' for the spring to camp by."
"Where you heading for?"
"Into the hills, prospectin'."
"Where's Glass?" Sandy asked suddenly.
"Search me. I got nothin' to do with that durn fool."
The tone and the words gave Sandy the surprise of his life. His arm dropped away from the stranger's throat, and his gun ceased to threaten the base of his skull.
"Tom McHale!" he cried.
"You sound some like a cultus young devil named McCrae," said McHale, peering at him in the dark. "Say, what in the flarin' blazes you doin' here?"
"Take some yourself," Sandy responded. "Are they after you, too?"
McHale shook his head sadly. "Sonny," said he, "you're too young to be havin' them cute little visions of things bein' after you. I reckon maybe we're pullin' two ways on one rope. Also, we ain't gettin' no drier standin' here chewin' about it. Maybe you got a camp somewheres. S'pose you find the latchstring. Then we'll have a talk."
Thus admonished, Sandy led the way to his lean-to, rekindled the fire, helped picket McHale's horses, and set the coffee-pot to boil. They drank coffee and smoked, going into details of their experiences of the preceding day. McHale was amazed to hear of Sandy's arrest by Glass, whom he had held in contempt. Sandy was jubilant over the shooting of Cross, regretful that he had not had a hand in it.
"You won't be so durn stuck on a gun fight after you've been in one or two," said McHale grimly. "Now let's see how she stacks up. I'm goin' to hide out for a spell, but if I was you I'd go back and stand the racket."
"I guess not," said Sandy positively. "I don't want to do time if they've got me with the goods. And then some darn lawyer might make me give somebody else away by accident. You can't tell. I'll stay out with you. Where are you heading for?"
"I was aimin' to hit Bull's Pass, drop over the summit into the valley of the Klimminchuck, and camp somewheres. There was two trappers in there winter before last, and they told me they built them a right good cabin."
"That suits me."
"This will fix us up with water for the next two weeks," said McHale as he listened to the rain. "I'll bet Casey's got a grin on him a yard wide." He yawned. "Well, kid, we've got all that's comin' to us out of this one day. Let's hit them blankets. We better make an early start."
They were up in the early dawn, breakfasted, saddled, and packed, and headed for the hills. At noon they reached the foot of the pass. A narrow trail, often choked by fallen timber and small landslides, led them upward, winding in and out, sometimes near the bottom of an always ascending gorge, sometimes forsaking it for broad, flat benches parklike with stately trees, sometimes clinging precariously to shoulders of bare rock where a slip would have been fatal.
They camped that night near the summit, and next day dropped down into a valley, narrow, wooded, picturesque, where the Klimminchuck raced southward; and, following its course, camped at the edge of a beaver meadow, feasting on trout fresh caught from a deep pool beneath a short fall. And in the morning, still following the stream, they came to the trappers' cabin, set in a grove of young spruce.
It was built of small logs chinked with moss and clay, and most of the chinking had fallen out. Its roof was of poles covered with earth. A two-man bunk occupied much of the interior. The remainder was taken up by a rough table, a bench, and a rusty wreck of a little sheet-iron stove. There was room to get in and stay in, and that was all. And yet two men had lived in that pen all winter, and emerged healthy and fairly good-tempered in the spring.
The companions peered through the door at the uninviting interior. The floor was a litter of rubbish, old clothes in a state of decomposition, leaves, bones, and rusty cans and pans. Young McCrae wrinkled an outraged nose.
"Pfaugh!" he snorted. "The shack's filthy. We can't use it."
"The smell is some obvious," McHale agreed. "Which bein' so, I reckon we build us a wickiup several nose lengths off."
They found a suitable spot, and there they built an elaborate lean-to. Having established themselves, they rested, smoked, and slept. In the evening they caught trout for supper and breakfast. There was absolutely nothing to do unless they created employment for themselves.
At the end of another day Sandy became restless; his capacity for loafing was exhausted.
"Let's go get a bear," he proposed.
"Deer's better meat," said McHale; "also easier to get. I won't climb after no bear."
Nevertheless, he accompanied Sandy down the valley. They saw no bear; but they shot a young buck, and returned to camp with the carcass lashed behind Sandy's saddle. Although it was closed season, they needed the meat, and game wardens were not likely to intrude.
But when they came in sight of their camp they saw old Simon reclining in grandeur on their blankets, smoking.
"The nerve of that buck!" snorted McHale. "Get off of that bed, you old copperskin. Think I want to wash them blankets?"
Simon obeyed, but he drew a letter from his pocket.
"Papah," said he. "Casey."
McHale read Casey's warning as to Dade, and whistled softly, passing the letter to Sandy.
"So this here Dade makes it a feud, does he?" he said meditatively. "All right, he can have it that way. Same time, I'm goin' to keep out of trouble long as I can. I'll stay cached mighty close, and I'll run like blazes before I'll fight. Simon, how'd you find this camp?"
"Find um easy," said Simon scornfully. He pointed to the carcass of the deer. "S'pose you mamook cook um."
In the morning Sheila awoke stiff and sore, but rested. Her strong young body, hard and well conditioned by a life in the open and much healthy exercise, refused to indulge in the luxury of after effects of shock. Looking around, she found that her clothes were gone. But spread ready for her was a dainty morning costume, which she knew for Clyde Burnaby's. Dressing quickly, she entered the breakfast room.
Clyde, sitting by the window, rose, smiling, as she entered.
"I hope they fit," she said. "How do you feel, Miss McCrae?"
"They fit very well, and I feel first rate," said Sheila. "I'm sore in spots, but I'll limber up when I get moving. Where is Mrs. Wade? I suppose Casey has gone to Talapus."
"Kitty's busy cleaning your riding clothes," Clyde replied. "Casey has gone; I haven't seen him."
It was the first time she had used his given name to a third person. It slipped out naturally, and she coloured a trifle, but Sheila did not appear to notice. They breakfasted together, and later sat on the veranda enjoying the perfect morning after the storm. Naturally, they spoke of the events of the preceding day and night. Sheila took a practical view.
"It was lucky Tom McHale wasn't here," she said. "Somebody would have been hurt. That's what I was afraid of."
"It was very brave of you," said Clyde. "I admire you more than I can say. I want you to know it, Miss McCrae."
"Oh, that"—Sheila dismissed the warm praise with a wave of her brown hand—"why, it wasn't anything; only a wet ride in the dark. If my horse had kept his feet it would have been all right. I simply had to come. Don't try to make me think myself a heroine. You'd do the same thing yourself for a friend."
"I'm afraid I couldn't. I'm not much of a rider, and I couldn't have found my way in the dark."
"Well, that's no credit to me. I've been riding all my life, and I know every foot of this country. Of course, I'd do anything for Casey or Tom."
"Yes," said Clyde, "they both think a great deal of you, I know."
"No more than I think of them—especially Casey. Some day I suppose he'll get married, and then I'll have to call him 'Mr. Dunne.'"
"That won't be necessary."
"Oh, yes, it will. His wife wouldn't stand for 'Casey.'"
"Yes, she will," said Clyde. Sheila turned and looked at her keenly. "We are going to be married," Clyde added.
"You don't mean it!" Sheila exclaimed. "Well, you are a lucky girl, if you don't mind my saying so. Casey's white. I congratulate you with all my heart. And he's lucky, too; yes, he is."
"You—you don't mind?" Clyde ventured. She thought it quite possible that Sheila might care for Casey, although convinced that he did not love her.
"Mind? Why should I mind?"
"You know I thought once"—Clyde hesitated—"you see you were such great friends——"
"You thought I might be fond of him? Why, so I am. Not in that way, though. I might have been if he had tried to make love to me, but he never did. You see, Miss Burnaby——"
"I wish you'd call me Clyde."
"If you'll call me Sheila. You see, Clyde, Casey and I are too much two of a kind. We'd never get on. You'll idealize him; I'd call him down. He'll talk out of his heart to you; he'd talk irrigation, and crops, and horses to me. You'll accept his judgment in most things as final; I'd want him to take my opinion instead of his own. Oh, we'd make an awful mess of it! And so, my dear, don't you think that I'd want his love, even if I could get it. But at that he's the whitest man I know, and the best friend I ever had. You're lucky. I don't wonder that he fell in love with you, either. I wish to goodness I were as pretty."
"I'm glad," said Clyde, "that you haven't said anything about money. Thank you."
"It's not because I didn't think of it," Sheila admitted frankly. "But I know it makes no difference to Casey. Fact is, I wonder, knowing him as I do, that he hadn't some absurd scruples on that point."
"He had. He says we can't be married if he loses this ranch and the other lands."
"Nonsense," said Sheila practically. "He won't stay with that if you coax him; he couldn't."
Clyde laughed happily. "That's the nicest compliment I ever had. You're absolutely the first person I've told."
"Well, I'm much flattered," said Sheila. "When did it happen?"
"Everything happened last night. Was he—er—convincing in the part?"
But Clyde, laughing and blushing, refused details. Sheila wished to go home at once, but Clyde prevailed on her to wait for Casey. It was his wish.
"And that settles it from your point of view, of course," said Sheila. "Well, I'll wait."
Casey returned at noon. Clyde met him halfway between the stable and the house, bareheaded, the fresh wind fluttering her skirts and spinning little tendrils of coppery gold across her forehead. He would have taken both her hands, but she put them behind her, laughing.
"Not here, sir!"
"It's my ranch and my girl."
"In order of merit?"
"My girl and my ranch, then. But tell me: How is Sheila?"
"Quite well, except for her bruises. What a plucky girl she is, Casey!"
"I should say she is," he agreed heartily. "You must be friends. Somehow you never seemed to like her."
"I understand her better now. I've told her about—us."
"Fine! And Kitty Wade?"
"Yes. Come in and face the music yourself."
But Casey got off lightly. They lunched without Wade, who had gone to town for mail; but as they were finishing the meal he entered.
"Casey," he cried, "I hope to Heaven I haven't foundered your horse, but I have all kinds of news for you!"
Casey's mouth tightened a little. "Let it go, Wade. Maybe it's all for the best."
"Part of this is, anyway. Don't look so glum; it's all right, I tell you. Now, this was the way of it: When I got my papers at the post office I saw that Western Air stock, which had been playing antics before, had gone clean crazy. It's been boosted sky high. All sorts of rumours, the chief being that the Hess System people were responsible. So I wired for the latest. Got a reply that it was impossible to confirm rumours. Then, just as I was leaving, in comes a wire for Clyde which I herewith produce and put in as Exhibit A, and which, I strongly suspect, throws light on the situation. Open it, Clyde, for Heaven's sake, and put us out of our misery!"
Clyde tore the envelope with fingers which trembled slightly. She read the message and handed it to Casey.
"Aloud?" he asked, and she nodded. He read:
Sending you power of attorney and proxy to vote shares recently purchased by your brokers. We now control corporation. Advise friends to drop lawsuit. They will get a square deal.
Casey looked up. He did not understand. Wade struck him a violent blow on the back.
"Hooray!" he shouted. "It's blamed unprofessional, but I was never so glad to discontinue an action in my life. Clyde, you're a darling!" He caught her in his arms and whirled her around the room.
"Harrison!" Kitty cried, "have you gone crazy?"
Wade released Clyde, breathless, and sank into a chair.
"Bring me an expensive drink!" he commanded. "This needs celebrating."
"Will somebody tell me what's the matter with him?" Casey asked.
"What!" exclaimed the lawyer. "Don't you see it?"
"Not yet," Casey admitted.
"Why, you old dub," cried Wade, "the wire is from Jim Hess, Clyde's uncle. His interests control Western Air. He promises you a square deal."
"Eh!" Casey ejaculated, staring at him.
"You blamed idiot!" snapped the lawyer, "why don't you thank Clyde? She started the old chief on the warpath after York's scalp."
Casey turned to her. "Tell me he isn't raving mad! Is it so?"
"It's so," she said, "but I——" He interrupted by catching her in his arms.
"Here, hold on, old man!" Wade protested. "Gratitude's a fine thing, but you're too——"
His wife took him by the arm. "Come on, Harrison, you stupid! You're worse than he is. Can't you understand anything?" Sheila's skirts were already fluttering through the door.
"Great Scott!" Wade exclaimed, "you don't mean——"
"You—you bonehead!" she cried, exasperated, and hustled him outside.
Careless of them, Casey held Clyde, looking down into her eyes. "Sweetheart," he said, "you never told me!"
"I was afraid."
"Of raising false hopes?"
"Not that, so much. But you wouldn't let me help you with money. And I was afraid that if you knew, you'd consider yourself under an obligation and wouldn't—wouldn't——"
"Wouldn't be sensible and tell me you loved me," she said softly. "You're so funny about such things, Casey. You aren't angry now, are you?"
"Angry?" he said. "Dear, I'd put the savings of years into this land—years when I'd worked like a very slave to get enough cash together to swing some good deal when I should see it. That was my stake. And the others! Why, girl, you've saved Talapus to the McCraes, and their ranches for the men who made them. We can't repay you; we won't try."
"Excuse me," said Wade, who had anticipated his entrance by many preliminary noises, "excuse me, my dear young friends, and, incidentally, accept my sincerest congratulations, felicitations, and—er—jubilations. Kindly listen to the following observations. Ahem! Far be it from me to horn in where I am as welcome as a wet dog. Nothing is farther from my desire than to short circuit two hearts——"
"Come right in, old man," said Casey. "What's the trouble?"
"I want my dinner," said Wade plaintively. "I Paul Revered on a shoestring. I Sheridaned without a commissariat. I brought the good news to Ghent on an empty tummy. Is thy servant a dog, that he should eat with a Chinaman? And I'd do that willingly; but, Casey, you know as well as I do that the only thing fit to drink Clyde's health in is in this room, and I warn you that if there is much more delay in doing so nothing which may occur hereafter will be either lucky or legal. While it is possibly true that a dinner of herbs where love is has a porterhouse, rare, and hashed brown spuds backed clean off the board, I submit, not being in love myself——"
"What's that?" cried Kitty Wade from the door.
"Why, it's a shame!" said Clyde. "He must be starving. It's all Casey's fault, too."
"Wouldn't he break away?" asked Wade. "I remember——?"
"Harrison!" cried Kitty, warningly.
"Well, then, do I eat?" he demanded.
"Yes. Anything to keep you quiet. I'll get your dinner myself."
Half an hour later Wade pushed back his chair with a sigh of satisfaction, lit a cigar, and joined the others.
"I feel better," he announced. "A child could play with me in comparative safety. Now let me tell you what else I discovered. In the first place, Cross is dead. I was talking to Shiller. He says that Tom wasn't to blame—corroborates his story, in fact, in every material particular. So Tom's all right on that score. My advice to him would be to come in and have his trial over."
"That isn't what's bothering him so much. It's these friends of Cross's. I don't blame him. Some sheriffs are mighty weak-kneed about such things."
"Well, I'm told that officers will be after him. Now as to your brother, Miss McCrae: Glass and Pugh are starting out to find him as soon as they get an outfit. Likely they've got started now."
"But they don't know where he is. That Glass—I should think he'd get lost if he left a trail."
"Pugh is different. They may get another man or two."
"I hope they don't find him," said Sheila gravely.
"So do I," Wade concurred. "I don't suppose a prosecution would be pushed now; but he resisted an officer, and anyway I wouldn't like to see him under arrest."
"You don't understand. Sandy wouldn't submit quietly."
"You think he'd try to bluff them again?"
"He isn't a bluff," said Casey. "The kid is serious-minded. That's the trouble. However, I've sent Tom word about Dade. Sandy may be with him; and Tom is cool. When Simon comes in we'll know more, and send him out again if he knows where the boy is."
Sheila declared that she must be going home. She refused Casey's offer to drive her over. She wanted to take the edge off Beaver Boy. His actions rankled in her mind. He needed a lesson, and she was going to give him one. And she refused absolutely to allow Casey to ride with her.
He had her horse saddled, and was giving a final pull at the latigos when she came out in her riding clothes.
"Cinch him up tight," she commanded. "Take a good pull at it; he's getting too foxy."
Beaver Boy grunted as Casey put his strength on the strap and the broad cinch bit into his glossy skin.
"And that's loose a-plenty," said his mistress. "He blows himself up like a turkey gobbler. I need a block and tackle to cinch him right." She shaded her eyes with her hand. "Somebody coming. I'll wait and see who it is."
Much to their surprise, it was none other than Farwell. He rode briskly, head up, shoulders back, with the air of a man whose mind is made up. But he refused to get off his horse, asking Sheila's permission to ride with her.
"I wanted to tell you," he said, "that you'll have water for the summer anyway. I've just had a wire from headquarters to shut down, and to turn the normal flow of the river back into its old channel." He smiled grimly. "They didn't know that the elements had attended to that. Thought you'd like to know. Might save you worry. Don't know the company's reason, and it's none of my business. I'm paying off the whole outfit to-night, including the men we were speaking of. To-morrow I'll pull out myself. Glad to do it."
"Sorry to have you go," said Casey.
"You say it all right, but I know better," said Farwell bluntly. "I don't want to keep Miss McCrae waiting. Will you shake hands?"
Casey put out his hand. It was caught, thumb crotch to thumb crotch, in a grip of steel. He laughed as he threw every ounce of strength into his own fingers.
"Good man," said Farwell. "I like a man with a handgrip, and you've got it. Any time you're ready, Miss McCrae?"
Sheila went up as lightly as a boy. Beaver Boy was off as she touched the saddle. Farwell followed. They melted into the distance, galloping side by side, the dust, in spite of the night's rain, puffing up from the flying hoofs.
At the end of a mile Beaver Boy's exuberance had not subsided. He thrashed out with his heels, and gave a tentative pitch. Farwell, who had been riding slightly behind, ranged up alongside.
"I should think you'd get a quiet horse," he said.
"I'll make this one quiet!" snapped Sheila, for she was still sore, and the hard pace had told on her temper through her bruises. "He's actually beginning to think he can do as he likes with me." Beaver Boy shied to show his independence, and she slashed him mercilessly with the quirt, setting her teeth as he plunged. "You would, would you, you brute? I'll show you!"
Farwell, riding in, grabbed for the headstall.
"Get away!" she flamed. "I'll fight this out with him now."
The question of supremacy took five minutes to settle. At the end of that time Beaver Boy relapsed ignominiously into servitude, smarting from the quirt and dripping sweat. Sheila put all her strength into a final cut. The big bay took it meekly with what was almost a sigh and a trembling quiver.
Farwell had watched the struggle with anxiety. "You won't have any more trouble with him for a while. He's afraid of you now."
"He'd better be. He's been obstinate for months, getting worse all the time. He had some notion in his head that he was merely allowing me to ride him. He did what he liked for a while last night when I was shaken up, and he had to have his lesson. No use letting any one else give it to him. He had to be shown that I was able to do it."
"That's so," said Farwell, "that's sense. The idea of you going out in the storm last night on that brute. No other girl would have done it. It was fine, but it was foolish."
"Nonsense! I'm not afraid of rain or a horse. Could I do anything else? It was up to me."
"Maybe. Well, you heard what I told Dunne about the water. That ought to be satisfactory to all you people."
"Naturally I'm glad."
"I'm going away," he continued. "Also, I'm chucking up my job. I'm sorry I ever took it. It was sheer waste of time. I'm going to work for myself now. I hoped I would catch you at Dunne's place. I wanted to say good-bye."
"I am sorry you are going."
"That's what Dunne said—and he didn't mean it. Do you?"
"I usually mean what I say."
"Well, I didn't know. I wouldn't blame you if you were glad. I behaved like a—well, like a blackguard once."
"We needn't talk about that," said Sheila quietly. "That's over; I don't think of it."
"But I do. I'm rough, but I'm not that kind—usually. You let me down easy. If I could undo it I would; but I can't."
"No, it can't be undone. Why talk about it?"
"Because I keep thinking about it. I've kept away, as you wanted me to—and because I was ashamed of myself. Honestly, I've tried to do the best I could for your people—for your father. I tried my best to be a friend. And the end of it was that I started gossip, and you told me to keep away. That was pretty hard lines. It made me angry. And then I was jealous of Dunne."
"He is going to marry Miss Burnaby."
"Lucky devil!" growled Farwell dejectedly. "Things run smooth for him. I'll bet he doesn't think half as much of her as I do of you."
Sheila smiled for the first time. "You wouldn't tell her that."
"I'd tell it to anybody. It's a fact. Why, look here: I'm a practical man; I've no more imagination than a stump. And yet I've lain awake nights pretending to myself that you had let me kiss you willingly. How's that?"
Sheila laughed softly. "That's certainly going some, Mr. Farwell!"
"Well, it's what I do, anyway. It's about all the consolation I've got."
"Is it? Couldn't you get something better than that?"
"I could if you'd give me half a chance," he declared. "You turned me down hard and cold. There's a fine show for consolation, isn't there?"
"Perhaps some other girl——?" she suggested demurely.
"No!" Farwell rapped out bluntly. "I don't want any other girl. I don't like other girls. They make me tired. I'd rather work than fuss with them. It's easier. If I can't have you I don't want anybody."
Sheila laughed again. The colour was high in her cheeks, and a strange light was shining in her clear eyes. She shot a glance at him, half amused, half serious.
"And if you had me you'd be tired of me in no time. I'm just plain girl."
"Plain girl nothing! You're the prettiest——"
"I'm not; I'm not even average."
"And the best and the most sensible and the pluckiest one I ever saw," he pursued, unheeding. "Don't tell me; I know. I've seen whole rafts of women. Dolls! Flirts! Gigglers! Fainters! Talking slush and thinking slop! Soft, too, like dough. Eating filthy coloured and flavoured glucose by the pound. Yah! Not a sane idea, or a sound digestion, or a healthy body in the bunch. And as for dress, the average woman piles a lot of truck on her like a klootch at a potlatch, and cinches herself up in a——"
"Hush!" said Sheila.
"Huh!" said Farwell. "Why shouldn't I call things by their names? I never could see——"
"You aren't supposed to see. That's plenty. I won't be lectured on the follies of my sex."
"You're different from the others," said Farwell. "That's just it. You've got ideas apart from dress and gossip, the same as a man has. You're in good hard condition physically. You don't giggle, and titter, and make eyes, and expect a man to talk like a da—er—ah—that is, you don't expect a lot of silly compliments. I've never seen anybody like you. Talk of another girl! Bah! I couldn't stand one in the same house. It's you or no one."
"I don't think I'd wear well, Mr. Farwell. You'd get tired of me."
"No, I wouldn't; no, I wouldn't. I know what I'm talking about. I tell you, I love you, Sheila. Do you think it's easy to say good-bye and leave you? It's the hardest job I ever had. It's—it's—oh, it's hell, that's what it is. I used to love work just for the work's sake. But now, to think of grubbing away year after year, to get money that I can't use, that I don't want—that can't get me what I want! Oh, Lord! the hopeless years ahead! What's the good of them? What's the use? I wish I'd never seen this place—or you."
His deep voice rose, and fell, and rumbled uncertainly, shaken by feeling. He slouched dejectedly in his saddle, looking straight ahead as if his eyes beheld the emptiness of the years to come.
"Then why do you say good-bye?" said Sheila.
Farwell started, half turning in the saddle. "Why? Because it's best. What's the use of hanging around? I have to take my medicine, don't I? I can take it easier away from here."
"I'm not so sure," she said hesitatingly, "that there will be any medicine to take."
Farwell's eyes opened wide as he stared at her.
"What do you mean by that? Don't fool with me, Sheila, for Heaven's sake. It's too serious a matter."
"Yes, it's serious," she agreed. She faced him frankly, the rich blood mounting beneath the tan of her cheeks. "What's the use of beating around the bush? When you kissed me I hated you. I struck you. But when Sandy came—and afterward—you seemed a good deal of a man. And so—I don't know—but it need not be good-bye for good."
In the evening a stranger drove up to Chakchak. He was long and lean, and his hair was flecked with gray. His eyes were blue and clear, set rather wide apart, holding a calm, disconcerting stare. His clothes were much worn, frayed, and dusty. His movements were quiet and deliberate, and so was his speech.
"I am lookin'," he said, "for Mr. Dunne."
"That's my name," said Casey.
"Then I'd like a little private talk with you. My name is Dove; I'm actin' sheriff of this county while Fuller's sick." Evidently Acting Sheriff Dove was a man of direct speech.
"Glad to meet you, sheriff," said Casey. "Come right into my quarters. I've guests at the house, and I'm bunking here. Have a cigar, and tell me what I can do for you."
The sheriff lit a cigar very deliberately, and carefully pinched out the flame of the match with his fingers, surest of signs of one accustomed to the plains and woods. He removed the cigar, eyed it with approval, replaced it, and turned to his host.
"That's a right good smoke. I come to see you about this killin'. This here McHale worked for you, I'm told."
"He's my foreman."
"Where is he now?"
"I don't know."
"He come back here after the killin', collected up his outfit, got a pack horse, and made his get-away?"
"Told you about it, maybe?"
"But not where he was goin'?"
"Still, you can make a tol'able guess."
"I'm not guessing," Casey replied. "That killing was square, sheriff."
"I don't say it wasn't," Dove admitted. "I got nothing to do with that. My rule is, when there's a killin', to bring in the man who done it, and let the law 'tend to his case."
"Good rule, theoretically."
"And so," Sheriff Dove continued, with calm finality, "I'm out to bring in this here McHale."
Casey thereupon gave Tom's reasons for leaving, and expressed his opinion that he would come in and give himself up within a short time. The sheriff listened, smoking impassively.
"I dunno but what McHale acted pretty sensible," he commented. "He needn't worry about my not protectin' him. I've give a prisoner a gun and let him help stand off a mob before now. Likewise, I've got lead in my system doin' it. However, that ain't the point. I can't wait 'round for him to come in. I got to get him. There's been quite a bunch of things happenin' down in this country, far as I can hear, that ain't none too law-abidin'."
Casey merely smiled genially.
"Mind you, I ain't no busybody," said the sheriff. "I get trouble enough in a regular way without huntin' for it. I've been hearin' things, but there bein' no complaint I've sat tight. Up to this Cross killin' nobody's been hurt. But that's serious and brings me in to take a hand. One of my deputies, Jack Pugh, is after a young feller named McCrae. There's lots of things don't speak well for respect for the law down here. I represent the law, and what hits it hits me."
"I understand. You've been straight with me, sheriff, and I appreciate it. I don't know exactly where McHale is, but I think if you found him and gave him a straight, decent talk he'd come in without any trouble. He doesn't want any. And I think you'll find him somewhere in the hills. That's all I can tell you now."
"Him and this young McCrae is tillikums, they tell me," the sheriff suggested. "You think maybe they've met up?"
"They may. There's a chance of it."
The sheriff considered. "This McCrae is a leetle mite headstrong, I'm told. Sorter apt to act rash."
"I'm afraid so."
The sheriff shook his head regretfully. "I'd ruther deal with a sure 'nough bad man than with a young feller like that," he observed, "They lack judgment, as a rule. I'm told he savvies a gun right well?"
"He's a centre shot and quick," said Casey. "And, remember this, sheriff, if you run across him: he doesn't bluff. When he goes after a gun he goes after it to shoot with. I tell you this because I don't want to see anybody hurt. There's no harm in him, handled right, but he's a kid, and you want to make allowances."
"I'm obliged to you, and I'll do it. Jack Pugh and Glass have started out after him already. They allow to prospect 'round in the hills till they find him. That's what I'll do with McHale."
Casey considered, and suddenly came to a decision.
"Anybody going with you?"
"Don't you want a deputy?"
"Any time I got to pack a deputy 'round with me to bring in one man there'll be a job open," the sheriff returned grimly. "I don't keep no corral full of deputies. I got Pugh and another, and they're both busy. I allow not to get lost. I've been out by myself before now."
"The reason I ask," said Casey, "is that I'd like to go with you myself. The boys might listen to me, and not to you. Mind, I'm not offering to guide you to them. You find your own trail. But I'll make all the peace talk I can if you do find them. Besides, there's this Dade. If he goes after Tom, there will be trouble. It's a feud. I declare myself in on it."
"I hate trouble and I love peace," said the sheriff. "No feuds is goin' to flourish around where I am. But you come along. You're actin' right. I'm glad to have you. Can you start in the mornin'?"
"Make it afternoon; I've things to see to first. How are you fixed for a horse?"
"I've got my own hoss back yander in town. I hated to use him till I had to. That's why I hired a team."
"I have a pack horse. That's all we'll need. Bring your own outfit. I've plenty of grub here."
"That's mighty kind," said the sheriff. "The county will pay for your hoss and the grub."
"I don't want pay. This is my shout. I'm doing it for my friends."
"Well, your friends ought to be right obliged. I'll remember it. You won't find me makin' things harder. And now I'll pike along back to town."
They shook hands and the sheriff climbed back into the sagging buckboard and departed. Casey returned to his quarters and began to gather an outfit by the only practical method; that is to say, by piling everything he wanted in a heap. He was engaged in this occupation when Clyde knocked and entered.
"Why, Casey, whatever are you doing?"
He told her, and she approved his plan. She began to examine the heap he had thrown together on the table—knife, cartridges, fishhooks and line, compass, matches, sweater, poncho—with a girl's interest in such masculine possessions. But she exclaimed at the lack of toilet articles. Where were his razors, his hairbrushes?
"I'll get along without them."
"My goodness, boy, you'll be scrubby. Aren't you going to take even a—a toothbrush?"
"Yes, I'll do that," he laughed. "There, that's enough for to-night. Feng will put up grub in the morning. What have you done with Kitty Wade and her husband? Hadn't we better look them up? They may be making love on the sly."
"Do you need a chaperon so badly?" She slipped her arm in his. "Come on, then. They've gone for a walk up the ditch. We'll meet them and come back together. Only I want to impress upon you, Casey, that they must walk ahead of us—unless it gets very dark, indeed."
"I think I get you," he laughed. "We'll arrange that detail. Kitty Wade is a most sympathetic young matron."
They found the Wades, and their evening stroll became an inspection of the ranch. The effects of the rain were already visible in the colour of the grain. It was darker, more vigorous, sending forth new shoots. The grass lands, where the network of roots had retained the earlier moisture, were lush and knee deep. Soon it would be ready to cut.
The beauty of the evening held them out of doors. It was good to idle in the twilight with the scent of clover in the nostrils, to walk among the growing things. It was sweet to exchange confidences, to plan for the future as man and woman have from the beginning, painting it brightly, draping it in rose and gold, a perfect picture wherein all the colours harmonized.
It was the time of dreams. They gazed into the future as children might look across an unknown sea, seeing in fancy its stately galleons, its tall treasure ships, its white-winged pleasure craft, its wondrous, palm-fringed islands, where summer abode always; but they had no eyes for leaden skies and sullen shouldering swells spouting on hidden reefs, the great, gray bergs fog-hidden in the ship track, the drifting derelicts whose hopes were once as fair as their own. For God has mercifully arranged that these things shall be hidden from our eyes until the proper time.
Even when they reached the house they were not inclined to go indoors. They sat in the darkness, in pairs, apart, conversing in low tones, and so another hour slipped away. Back of them the house was dark; not a lamp was lighted. Only from Feng's kitchen a path of light streamed from the door. But as they were about to leave the veranda they heard the sound of hoofs approaching.
"Who on earth is coming at this time of night?" Wade asked.
"Sit quiet and we'll see," said Casey. His hand closed on the butt of a gun in his pocket, which he now carried constantly.
The hoofs slowed to a walk, and a shadowy horse and rider halted a few yards away. In the darkness of the veranda, with the deeper background of the building, they were invisible.
"Be th' mortal! but they've all gone to bed," muttered a disgusted voice. "An' what do yez know about that? 'Airly to bed an' airly to rise,' as the kids' dope books has it. Maybe ut makes a man healthy, but all the wealthy wise guys iver I knowed wint on th' well-known principle that home was the last place to close up. Faix, a man'll go home whin he's in no state f'r anny other place. Whoa! Howld still, there's a good harrse, till I see what's best to do. Don't be so onaisy. Whoa, darlin'! Bad cess to ye, ye roachbacked Prodestan' baste, kape off iv thim flower beds! Have yez no manners at all, at all? Be all th' saints in glory I'll larrup th' head off iv yez—or I w'u'd if I wasn't afraid ye'd buck me onto the roof. Yez have me crippled intirely as ut is."
"Not a word, for your life!" Wade whispered. "That's a star monologue!"
Feng, attracted by the voice, came to the door.
"Hallo! What wanchee?" he demanded.
"The country's overrun wid them yelly divils!" Mr. Quilty muttered. "What wanchee? Th' nerve iv him! Ye weathered-ivory monkey face, I've business wid yer betters!"