But Bud kept his eye on him, for he was distrustful of him, and believed that he was up to some trick.
At the end of the living room, between two massive deer heads, hung a big clock, and, while they were still cracking nuts and jokes it began to toll the hour of midnight.
Instantly every one was on his or her feet shouting "Merry Christmas!" and shaking hands all around. Farnsworth was not neglected because he was a stranger, and Stella was the very first to wish him happiness on this Christmas Day.
Ted was the last to press forward and with all sincerity wished him happiness, and, as he did so, he noticed that the young fellow was very pale, and that his eyes were filled with unshed tears as he looked from Ted to the major, who was fairly beaming with happiness and joy at the great success of his Christmas Eve party, which, he said, was the finest ever held in Arizona.
Then Clay sat down to the piano and began to play a march, and Bud, with a great flourish, unlocked and threw open the door of the guest room.
Every one started back in surprise, while a shout went up that shook the roof; but the old major hadn't a word to say. He simply stared, growing pale and red by turns. He was deeply affected, and Farnsworth had retired to a far corner, with his face buried in his hands. What memories stirred him that this desperate young man should be so shaken?
Inside the room all was aglow with myriads of candles which sparkled from a small pine tree, which was hung with numerous packages and strings of popcorn. Now every one understood the mysterious movements of Bud and Stella.
But the most marvelous thing of all was the enormous figure of Santa Claus, dressed in a coat of red, liberally trimmed with fur, and a long beard sweeping his breast, sitting on the back of a splendid little bay pony that was none too quiet in the midst of the light and noise.
"Where did it all come from?" asked Ted of Stella, as they were standing together admiring the tree.
"Oh, Bud and I thought it out for a surprise for you and the boys before we left Phoenix, and one afternoon, when you were busy, we went shopping and brought all these things. If we hadn't come here, we were going to have the tree in the dining room of the hotel," she answered.
"It was a great idea, and just like you, Stella. It has made this like Christmas, indeed. We couldn't have had a better one at Moon Valley."
"But look at Major Caruthers," said Stella, pulling Ted by the sleeve.
The old major was actually on the verge of tears.
"I have never been so near the dear home of my boyhood as this evening, with all you happy, generous young people around me," he said.
"Who in the world is Santa Claus?" asked Ted.
"Why, just Santa Claus, you goose," said Stella, laughing.
But now Santa Claus got down from the pony's back and stepped to the front of the tree. Every one gathered around and kept silent.
"Good evening, children," he said, in a gruff and husky voice.
"Ach, it iss Kris Krinkle!" shouted Carl Schwartz, in glee. "Py Chiminy, ain't he noble? How you vas, Kris?"
"Children, I have a few seasonable gifts for you which I will give you before I hurry away, for I have many more young friends whom I must visit before the dawn. But first I will turn over to my young friend Ted Strong this beautiful pony, which has been intrusted to me by Major Caruthers." He led the pony forward and thrust the bridle into Ted's hand.
Ted was so astonished that he did not know what to say, but managed at last to mumble his thanks to his host.
For Stella there was a beautiful necklace of New Mexican turquoises from the major, who also had not forgotten one of the boys.
Then mysterious packages, well wrapped, were handed off the tree, and as they were opened, shouts of laughter greeted them, for nearly every one of them contained something meant as a joke on the recipient.
Carl got a noble-looking parcel, and when he opened it, found a nice red bologna sausage. Every one screamed with laughter, but Carl promptly turned the joke by taking out his knife and cutting up and devouring the sausage.
There was a lemon for Kit from Ben, and a Joe Miller joke book, full of antiquated chestnuts, for Bud, who proceeded to get square by reading all the most ancient ones, such as the chicken crossing the road, and similar gems.
While the laughter and fun were at their height there was a sound on the veranda, and they all stopped to listen.
Ted instinctively turned to where Farnsworth was sitting alone in the corner, for there had been no presents for him, and saw him sitting up, listening intently.
Being a guilty man, or, at least, aware that he was being pursued, he was alert.
"What's the row out there?" asked the major, who was loath to have the evening's fun disturbed by outsiders.
"Don't know," said Ted. "Sounded like some one walking on the veranda and trying the door."
He had no sooner spoken when the door was thrust open and four men sprang into the room and looked around.
At the same instant, Farnsworth leaped to his feet, drawing his revolver and backing into the center of the room.
Farnsworth was as pale as paper, but his eyes flashed fire as he glanced swiftly around.
Apparently there was no way of escape, for the intruders barred the only outside door.
The sudden entrance into the brilliant light had temporarily blinded the men, so that they stood uncertainly for a few moments, looking from one to the other of the figures that almost filled the room.
Major Caruthers now stepped in front of them, his face red with anger.
"What do you mean by intruding on me like this?" he thundered.
For answer, one of the men threw back his coat and displayed the star of a deputy United States marshal.
"We're officers," he said gruffly, "an' we want Fancy Farnsworth."
"You've come to the wrong place," said the major.
"Oh, no, we haven't. We traced him right here, an' he's in this house."
"What crime has he committed?"
"He killed a woman over at Rodeo last night."
An exclamation of horror arose from all parts of the room.
"There he is! Get him!" almost screamed one of the men, pointing to the pale but resolute figure standing under the chandelier.
There was a rush, and confusion indescribable followed.
Crash went the chandelier, shattered into a thousand pieces by a dozen bullets.
Rushing, struggling forms turned the smoke-filled room into a perfect bedlam.
Two of the intruders went to the floor, sent there by swift and powerful right-handers from Ted.
But they were up and rushing through the room in the direction of the Christmas tree.
There Santa Claus met them, and again they were bowled over.
Ted saw the slender, black-clothed figure of Farnsworth slip past him in the smoke.
Then followed the sharp hoofbeats of a pony on the wooden floor, a crash of glass, and the swift patter on the earth outside, and all was still.
Farnsworth had leaped upon the back of Ted's Christmas-gift pony and escaped.
THE THUGGEE CORD.
Several moments following the dramatic and sensational escape of the Christmas guest passed in silence, to be broken at last by Kit.
"That was about the smoothest get-away I ever saw," he said, with a grin, for he had assisted in it by deftly tripping the chief deputy while he was on the way to intercept the pony.
"What in thunder did they want to stop my star performance for?" asked Santa Claus, pulling off his beard and revealing the rubicund face of Ben Tremont, who was slowly baking beneath the heavy robes and hairy disguise.
"Well, he's gone, and only taken a pony and a window with him," said the major, "and he's welcome to both. And now, you men, we'll try to dispense with your company. You see, this is a private party, and had I known that you were in this part of the country, I probably would have invited you to be present. But I regret to say that the guest list is full."
The leader of the posse of deputy marshals looked up with a scowl. Apparently, he was mad clear through at the sudden and unexpected loss of his prospective prisoner.
As he looked about his eye encountered that of Ted Strong, in which he saw laughter, which did not tend to lessen his anger.
"I've a good mind to arrest the whole bunch of you for conspiring at the escape of a United States prisoner," he growled.
"You'd stand a fine show to do that," said Ted quietly. "On the other hand, I've a mind to arrest you for the forcible entry of this house."
"You have, have you?" sneered the other. "You make me laugh, young feller. You couldn't arrest a fly!"
Ted threw open his coat and showed that he, too, wore a star.
The leader of the posse leaned forward to read the authority on it.
"Who are you?" he asked huskily.
"I am Ted Strong."
"Then why didn't you stop Fancy Farnsworth?"
"What for? I have no knowledge of his having committed a crime, and, besides, I have no warrant for him. Have you?"
"No. Didn't have time to get one. But that makes no difference. He killed a woman, and as soon as I heard of it I got my posse together an' hit his trail. If it hadn't been for you fellows I'd have got him."
"I don't think you would."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because he'd have killed two or three of you first."
"What about this crime, and why are you so sure he committed it?" asked Major Caruthers. "I thought him a fine, gentlemanly, quiet young fellow, and I'm somewhat of a judge of men myself. I can hardly believe that a man of that stamp could commit so terrible a crime as woman murder. That is the lowest degree of killing."
"He done it, just the same," said the deputy marshal positively.
"Why are you so sure?" asked Ted, taking up the interrogation.
"Well, in the first place, he skipped the town just before the body of the woman was found. He was seen to ride out of town along the road on which her house stood."
"Is that all the evidence you have against him?"
"No; he was seen coming out of the house about three hours before he was seen leaving town."
"H'm! Is that all?"
"It comes pretty near enough. But, besides that, it was known that the woman, who was young and beautiful, had recently received a lot of money as her share in a mine, and that the money had been taken to her that morning by one of her partners."
"And it is believed that the young fellow you call Fancy Farnsworth killed the woman for her money?"
"In what shape was the money? Currency, gold dust, ingots, or gold coins?"
"It was in ingots."
"Anybody know how much of it there was?"
"Yes; her partner, Billy Slocum, was at the hotel, intendin' to go back to the mine to-day, and I went to see him."
"And did he give you any idea of how much the gold weighed?"
"Yes, it weighed about thirty pounds. Billy brought it in on his saddle, and he said it weighed quite considerable."
"But Farnsworth, as you call him, had nothing of the sort when he arrived here."
"That may be. He'd be too foxy to do that. He's cached it somewhere in the mountains, most likely."
"How was the woman killed?"
"She was strangled by a cord."
"What was her name?"
"What sort of a woman was she?"
"She was a mystery to most the folks at Rodeo, an' all over the mountains, for that matter. Nobody knew where she came from. She didn't mix much with the folks, but lived in a swell house, what she had built for herself, with only two servants, a Japanese man and woman."
"Was she rich?"
"Said to be. Had interests in a good many mines, an' owned the Cristobal Turquoise Mine."
"Anybody ever learn where her mail came from?"
"Yes, she frequently got letters from England, and occasionally sent large drafts to a bank in London to her credit."
"How do you know this?"
"Early this morning, when the crime was discovered, and every one was talking about it, Mr. Rossington, the banker, told that much to a crowd at the hotel."
"Had she any particular friend in Rodeo?"
"Only Farnsworth, who came to the town at intervals and put up at the hotel. When he was in town he generally spent an hour or two at her house in the afternoon or evening, and then faded away as mysteriously as he came."
"Did he appear to be in love with her?"
"All I know about that is what I have heard since Miss Mowbray's death."
"There has been gossip, then?"
"Not what you would call gossip, exactly. Only folks who had seen them riding and driving together a few times seemed to think that, while she was very much in love with him, he never made any fuss over her."
"How long have you known Farnsworth?"
"About three years. Ever since he has been traveling through this part of Arizona."
"Don't you know that he is a very undemonstrative man, and that if he really cared for any one he is not the sort to exhibit it?"
"Yes, I reckon Fancy is a cold sort of a proposition."
"How have you got him sized up?"
"I'd hardly know how to tell it. He's some of a mystery to me, and he ain't never let no one as I know of snuggle beneath his jacket."
"But, as an officer, you must have kept some sort of tab on him."
"Sure. I know Fancy as well as most. I always looked upon him as a crook, and a very dangerous man with a gun."
"Has he ever been convicted of a crime?"
"Ain't never been able to land him. Generally he gets away by some slick trick, just as he did to-night, or he bluffs off the fellows who go after him with his guns."
"Has any crime ever been fastened on him so positively that there was no doubt that he committed it?"
"Can't say there was; but that don't cut no ice, for he's been in several killings where no gun got busy but his, an' we've been able to track him right up to crimes, but there we lose him. He's too slick to get caught."
"Something like the murder of Miss Mowbray? He is seen leaving the vicinity of the murder, and is immediately suspected of the crime, although probably fifty other men in the town were near the house or on the road before the murder was discovered, eh?"
"That's true enough. I passed the house myself on my way home, just before midnight."
"Why don't you arrest yourself as a suspect? But how was the murder discovered?"
"Some one passing saw a flame at the corner of the house, and, looking through a window, saw that the house was afire. He gave the alarm, and the blaze, which was in a corner of the library, was put out before much damage was done."
"Then the body was discovered, I suppose?"
"Yes; a fireman found it in the bedroom on the floor."
"In what condition?"
"She was dressed for bed, and around her neck a cord was tied so tightly, in a peculiar slipknot, that she could not breathe, and her face was black and her tongue protruding."
"Simply strangled to death, eh?"
"That's about it, I reckon."
"What became of the two Japanese?"
"Where are the ingots of gold?"
"What became of the cord by which she was strangled?"
"I have it."
"How does it happen that you have it?"
"At the alarm of fire I left my home and ran to the scene. As I entered the house by the front door, one of the firemen came running out of the bedroom, crying that he had found a dead woman. I ran into the room, and saw Miss Mowbray lying on her face on the floor, at the foot of the bed."
"She was dead then, I suppose?"
"I thought so. I placed my hand on her bare shoulder, and it was cold."
"She had been dead several hours, then?"
"Two or three hours, perhaps, but maybe less, for the room in which she lay was cold, there being no fire in it or in the adjoining rooms."
"What did you do when you found that she was dead?"
"I turned the body over, and saw by the discoloration of her face and the protruding tongue that she had been strangled. Then I discovered the cord, which was sunken deeply into the flesh of her throat, and so hidden that I would not have discovered it had I not seen the end of it."
"What did you do with it?"
"In the hope that she might not be dead, and that something might be done to revive her, I managed, with great difficulty, to get the cord untied and off her neck."
"What authority did you have for that? I suppose you know that it is the coroner's duty to do things of that sort?"
"Yes; but, besides being a deputy marshal, I am also deputy coroner."
"I see. What did you do with the cord?"
"I don't remember. Oh, yes. I think I put it in my pocket. Yes, here it is."
"Let me see it. Why, this is very peculiar. Do you know what sort of a cord this is?"
"I don't. I never saw one like it before."
"I have. Notice its thickness, and how closely it is woven, and that it is strong as a piece of wire."
"Yes, I noticed that when I found it. What sort of cord is it?"
"Yes, and a very rare sort of Japanese cord, too, fortunately."
"This is the cord that is used by the Japanese and East Indian secret societies known as the Thugs or Thuggees."
"How do you know?"
"I have seen cords like this before in the Orient, where they were used by Japanese murderers."
The cord passed from hand to hand as the major and the boys examined it with curiosity and some degree of horror, while Stella positively refused to handle it, or even look at it.
"Tell me more about Miss Mowbray's servants," said Ted, again taking up his line of interrogation. "What were the names of the two Japanese?"
"The man was called Ban Joy, but generally was known as Joy."
"Was he pretty well known in the town?"
"No, he was uncommunicative, and spoke very little English. The only persons who had much to do with him were the storekeepers of whom he bought supplies for the house."
"And the woman?"
"Her name was Itsu San, I believe. I only saw her once, and that was in the yard back of the house. She appeared young, and was very pretty for a Jap, I guess. She is the first Jap woman I ever saw."
"What were her duties?"
"She was Miss Mowbray's maid, while Joy was the cook."
"And you say they are gone?"
"Yes. I saw Joy about eight o'clock, but when I searched the house after the discovery of the body they were not there, and I could find nothing that belonged to them."
"What are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to hit Farnsworth's trail, and I won't leave it till I run him down and send him to the gallows."
"I don't think you will."
"I won't, eh? Why shouldn't I?"
"Because Farnsworth did not murder Miss Mowbray."
"Then who did?"
"I don't know; probably the Japanese, but I'm not too sure of that. I believe you will pick up a surprise at the end of the string you are following. At any rate, me for Farnsworth, and I give you fair warning that I'm going to help him all I can until I am persuaded of his guilt."
"That's a fine way for a deputy United States marshal to talk."
"A better way than you are talking, for it is as much our duty to protect men from injustice as it is to bring them to justice."
"That's enough of you for me then. I'll say good night. Come on, boys."
The four deputy United States marshals marched in single file from the house, mounted their horses, and rode away into the west just as the sun poked its head above the eastern horizon.
A LETTER FROM THE DEAD.
Ted was brooding over the appearance of Farnsworth, and the startling events which followed, and particularly the crime at Rodeo, of which the young fellow had fallen under suspicion.
Ted believed that Farnsworth was innocent of the crime.
But his flight from the town, and the question he had put to Ted when they met in the road, as to whether Ted had heard the news from Rodeo, were enough to convict him in the mind of any person prone to suspicion.
But Ted looked at matters of this sort differently than most people. In the first place, his experience had taught him that actions which seemed most suspicious often proved most innocent.
That Farnsworth knew of the murder of Helen Mowbray before he quitted Rodeo his question to Ted left no doubt, and the shadow of suspicion under which he had lived was reason enough for him to leave the town before its discovery. He knew the dangerous temper of the people, and that it would take very little to arouse them against him, and precipitate them into a lynching, with himself as the central figure.
Ted had heard that Fancy Farnsworth was the worst man in Arizona, and that he had the most ungovernable temper, the quickest eye, and swiftest "draw" of a gun in the Territory.
He was a gambler against whom nobody seemed to be able to cope, for he invariably won. It had been said that he was not a straight gambler, but those who said it did so only once, as they were incapable of saying it twice, for by that time they had been shot full of holes by the card sharper.
Why it was that Farnsworth always escaped punishment at the hands of the authorities no one knew, except that they lacked the nerve to force prosecution against him, and that he invariably had a good excuse for killing a man; at least, one that made good in that rough country, where every man was of a size because all carried revolvers.
But even while Ted believed that Farnsworth was innocent of the murder of Miss Mowbray, he felt that some day he and the dashing young fellow would meet on the battlefield as enemies.
But it was the strange resemblance between him and Major Caruthers that affected Ted more than anything else, and he often wondered that the major had not noticed it himself.
Major Caruthers found Ted on the veranda turning these things over in his mind after breakfast. Coming to his side, the old gentleman threw his arm around Ted's shoulder and said:
"Ted, I'm rather worried about that young chap Dickson, or Farnsworth, whichever he is. I was greatly attracted to him, and intended to invite him to stay with us several days, when those deputy marshals entered and accused him of a crime that horrifies me. Somehow, I feel that he is guilty, although I want to believe in his innocence, as you so bravely advocated when we all were too cowardly to do so. But if he was innocent, why did he not stay and face his accusers, and go back to Rodeo with the marshals and prove himself innocent?"
"He never would have got as far as Rodeo," said Ted quietly.
"Why not? He was under arrest and in the guard and custody of four deputy marshals, officers of the United States."
"They would have prevailed no more than if they had been dummies, which I strongly suspect they were."
"Um, how is that?"
"They were sent out from Rodeo as marshals, but the mob that would have met Farnsworth at the outskirts of the town, to hang him, was the real boss. Those marshals would no more dare defy that mob than they would fly. In the first place, they were not of the real stuff, as was proved by their conduct when they entered your house and saw Farnsworth in the middle of the floor and dared not go to him."
"Well, I'm glad he got away, but I am sorry he had to steal your pony to do it."
"That's all right about the pony. I'm betting I'll get it back one of these days. And, besides, there was nothing else for him to do."
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the major. "That was the neatest thing I ever saw, the way he got into that saddle and deliberately put that pony at the window."
"It sure was nervy," said Ted, with a reminiscent smile.
"Wasn't it the most dramatic thing you ever saw? I can see it yet. Farnsworth dodging those deputies and their bullets, and before any one knew what his plan was, leaping upon the pony and jumping through the glass. By Jove, it was fine. I never was so excited in my life."
"It certainly was very dramatic. Almost like a thing one would see in the theater."
"Yes, but a lot more exciting, because it was the real thing. By the way, Ted, there was something about that young fellow that I cannot explain to myself. I was quite strangely affected when he took me by the hand. And every time I looked at him it gave me a feeling as if he was somehow mixed up in my life, or would be in the future."
"That is strange. I wonder who he is. His name is not Dickson, nor is it Farnsworth. Of course, there is a mystery behind him somewhere, and he has a name which he is concealing. Suppose we take a look through his effects. He had a saddlebag in which there may be something by which we can identify him."
"Very well. I don't believe it would be unfair to him to do so. You know, we might be able to help him if we know his real name and address."
They went into the room which had been assigned to Farnsworth, but which he had had no opportunity to occupy.
In one corner they found his saddle, a very ornamental and expensive piece of horse furniture, trimmed with silver and made of the most expensive leather.
Beside it lay a bag which could be fastened to the cantle of the saddle.
It fastened with a snap lock, which was easily opened, and then Ted, at a nod from the major, began to turn out its contents.
First came a pair of silver-mounted hairbrushes and several toilet articles, showing that even in the desert young Farnsworth did not neglect his personal appearance. There were some clean shirts and handkerchiefs, and in the bottom of the bag another leather case.
"If he has anything by which he may be identified, it is in here," said Ted. "But this is locked. Shall I force it?"
"I believe you'd better," answered the major.
"I don't care much about doing it," said Ted, "but as it is to help him I suppose I might as well."
The major nodded, and with the blade of his knife Ted soon had the bag open.
The first thing he came to was a photograph of a beautiful woman, at which he looked intently for a few moments.
It seemed to him that he had seen her, or some one very like her, somewhere before.
Then he passed it over to the major, and reached his hand into the bag once more.
Suddenly he was interrupted by a startled cry, in which there was a tone of pain and surprise, from the major.
Looking up, he saw that the major was as white as a sheet, and that his hand trembled violently.
"What is it?" Ted asked, striding to the major's side.
But Major Caruthers was too shaken by emotion to reply at once.
He continued to stare at the picture with devouring eyes, his face alternately flushing and paling. He was gasping as if he would speak, but the words would not come.
"Do you know her?" asked Ted gently.
The major nodded his head for reply.
"What else do you find?" he managed to ask finally.
Ted emptied the contents of the bag upon the bed.
Among them was a package of old letters carefully tied.
"Look at those letters," commanded the major hoarsely.
Ted untied the string, and took one letter from the pack and opened it. It had been opened and folded so many times that it was with difficulty that Ted could open it now without having it fall to pieces.
"You read it before I do," said the major, who was suffering from a great, nervous strain, and showed it in his face and trembling hand.
Ted spread it on the bed and bent over it.
In the upper left-hand corner was a faded crest of a tower, over which was a coronet.
"My dear, wandering boy," the letter began, "I do not know where you are, or if you are well and alive, or are in trouble, for I have not heard from you for many months. I am sending this at random into that great America in the hope that it may reach you some day to tell you that your mother is constantly thinking of you. Your brother Jack is still in India with his regiment, but will soon retire and come home. Your sister Helen and her husband are I know not where. Mowbray turned out very badly, as your father believed he would, and he had to run from his creditors, and the enemies he had made through his dishonest practices. I don't know where they are, but it is my belief that they have gone to America. I wonder if you will ever run across them? If you do, tell Helen to leave the beast and come home, and both her father and I will forgive, and she can take her place here as if she had never met him. And this leads me to tell you that your father has greatly changed since you left us, and has even said that he was sorry for his harshness, and wished you had stayed with us. We are very lonely with all of our children away from us. Come back to your mother, and all will be different."
There were many expressions of mother love in the letter, which was signed and dated from The Towers, Huntingdon, several years before.
After reading the letter Ted passed it to the major without comment, and walked to the window, that he might not be a witness to his emotion.
He was now very sure that by the strangest of circumstances Major Caruthers had come across a bit of personal history, and that it was giving him a heart-tearing experience.
In a moment he heard the sound of a sob behind him, followed by others, which, however, subsided gradually, and he heard his name called.
Ted came to where the major sat on the side of the bed, holding the photograph in his hand.
"It is the picture of my sister," he said quietly, for he was now the master of his emotions.
"Then Farnsworth is your brother," said Ted.
"Yes, my brother, poor chap," answered the major, gulping down a sob.
"It is strange, very strange," muttered Ted, almost to himself. "I felt sure you were related, there was such a strong resemblance between you."
"I didn't notice it. Why didn't you speak of it?"
"Farnsworth knew that you were his brother, and I have no doubt he would have made himself known to you had he not been compelled to flee before the deputy marshals. I know that he was deeply affected at meeting you, and saw that he hesitated to make himself known."
"I didn't know him. I had not seen Fred since he was a little boy, when I went into the service. Then he went away to school, and I to India. I am much older than he, so we did not meet. When I returned to England from India he had disappeared on account of a foolish row with our father. Our only sister, Helen, had married a scamp against the wishes of the family, and had left England also. Shortly after that both our parents died, and I came to America with the intention of finding both my sister and brother, and this is how it has turned out."
Tears were coursing down the major's pale cheeks.
"Don't you see how it is?" he asked, holding out the photograph to Ted.
Suddenly it dawned upon Ted, and he took the photograph and gazed at it eagerly.
It was Helen Mowbray, the sister of the major and of Farnsworth, or Fred Caruthers, to give him his real name—the woman who had been strangled to death in her house at Rodeo.
This was a shock indeed.
The complications which had arisen in these few hours were sufficient to shatter the strongest nerves, and Ted himself trembled a little at the possibilities unfolded by this unforeseen and unexpected knowledge, while it entirely unnerved the major, and left him as weak as a child.
What was to be done? It was not likely that Fred Caruthers could be found at once. That he knew that it was his sister who had been murdered, and that he was charged with the crime, would be sufficient to spur him on and on, his brain and heart filled with horror. And that he had just found his brother, who might have given him all the moral support he needed at such a time, only to be driven from him by the fear of mob law, which he knew would give him no chance whatever for his life, was an additional sting.
The major sat on the edge of the bed with drooping head, holding in one hand the letter from his dead mother, and in the other the photograph of his murdered sister.
He was too dazed with the suddenness of the shock with which the revelation had come to him to stir.
Ted saw that he must be roused from this immediately.
"Come," he said, placing his hand gently, on the major's shoulder, "we must do something at once."
"What can we do?" asked the major, in a stifled voice.
"In the first place, we must ride to Rodeo with all speed. Do not forget that your sister lies there dead, and that it is your duty to care for her."
"Of course. I had forgotten. All the ghosts of the past crowded in upon me until I forgot my duty to the dead. We will go at once. Will you take charge of things? I am not able yet to do so."
"Certainly. Leave it all to me."
Ted left the major with his relics of the dead and the revelations of the present to compose himself, while he went out to make arrangements for the ride to Rodeo.
Ted knew the difficulties and prejudices they would meet when they got to Rodeo, and feared that before the unpleasant details attending the burial of the dead woman were finished they might clash with the authorities or the townspeople.
Therefore, he decided that they should go well able to defend their rights, and, calling the boys together, he told them as briefly as possible the story of the major and his newly found brother and sister, as the reader knows it.
"Now, fellows, we must help the major straighten out this tangle, bury the dead, defend the innocent, and punish the guilty," he said gravely. "Arm yourselves and saddle, ready to take the road to Rodeo as quickly as you can."
The broncho boys galloped into the town of Rodeo early in the afternoon, having put their horses to full speed, only stopping now and then to give them a blow.
Ted had done his best to restore the major to whatever cheerfulness was possible under the circumstances, and the sturdy Englishman had regained his courage and forcefulness.
As they were riding up the main street, Ted in the lead, flanked by Stella and Major Caruthers, they saw one of the deputy marshals who had so unceremoniously entered the ranch house at Bubbly Well to arrest Farnsworth look hard at them, then set off on a run down a side street.
"That fellow has gone to give warning of our approach," said Ted.
"Well, let him. What difference does it make to us?" asked the major.
"It may mean something to us before we get through here," said Ted.
"I imagine they will be suspicious of us," said Stella. "At least, they know that we are not their friends, since we went to such trouble to defend their favorite victim."
"True," said the major. "But we are strong enough to meet them, and we feel that we have the right on our side."
"What shall we do first?" said Ted, deferring to the major's wishes in the matter.
"Who has charge of the body of my sister, do you suppose?" he asked.
"Probably the coroner."
"Very well, let's look him up at once. That, of course, will be my first care."
It did not take them long to find the coroner, who told them that the deputy marshals had taken possession of the house, the property, and the remains of the dead woman, to be held for the appearance of some friend of hers, who had notified them to do so.
"Who is this friend?" asked the major stiffly.
"I'm sure I don't know. You'll have to see the deputy marshals. The inquest has been held, and I have nothing more to do with the affair."
"Now for the deputy marshals," said the major, who had recovered possession of himself, and was now all decision.
They went immediately to the chief deputy, who was also deputy coroner, and whose name, they learned, was Jack Burk.
But they could not find him, neither were any of his men to be found, although Ted was convinced that he was in town.
"There is only one thing to do," said Ted.
"What is that?" asked the major.
"Go to the house, and take possession of it yourself."
"But suppose we find it in the hands of the authorities?"
"That makes no difference to me. The remains of your sister belong to you, and you have the first right to her and her possessions."
"But her husband? I do not know where he is, or whether he is dead or alive."
"As long as he is not here, it is up to you, major, to assume whatever authority is necessary."
"Perhaps you are right. But we cannot gain our point without some show of force."
"I know it, and have come prepared for it. The broncho boys will back you to the limit. Do whatever you think best, major, and you will find the boys and myself right behind you."
"Then we will go to the house," said the major firmly.
In a few minutes Ted and the major dismounted before a handsome house on the outskirts of the town. It was surrounded by a high stone wall, and the gate, which was of iron, was locked.
Ted shook the gate vigorously, and called out for admittance.
Presently the door of the house was opened a crack, and a voice demanded to know what was wanted.
"Come and unlock the gate," demanded Ted.
After a moment's hesitation the door slammed, and there was silence.
"Evidently whoever is in charge of the house does not intend to open to us," said Ted, "and I suppose this will have to be the first act of aggression on our part. Shall I smash our way in?"
"By all means," responded the major. "I don't propose to stay out here and cool my heels in front of my sister's house at the behest of a stranger."
"That's enough for me."
Ted picked up a big stone from the road, and with a vigorous blow or two shattered the massive iron lock, and the gate swung open.
Ted and the major entered the garden in front of the house and walked up the path.
As they were about to ascend the steps to the veranda they were stopped by a voice.
"Halt! What do you want?"
"We want entrance to the house," said the major.
"You can't get in without an order from Deputy Marshal Burk," said the voice behind the door.
"The deuce I can't!" growled the major, whose fighting blood was coming up at this opposition. "Do you know who I am?"
"No, and it don't make no difference who you are. Them's my orders from the chief."
"I am the brother of Miss Mowbray."
A silence followed this.
"Can't help it," said the voice again. "I can't let you in."
"Open that door instantly, or we'll break it in."
"If you try that you'll be sorry. I warn you, I am armed, and have orders to shoot."
"Shoot, and be jiggered!" shouted the major, who was thoroughly angry by this time, for he was not used to having his orders disobeyed.
"I will if you attempt to break into this house. If you get an order I'll let you in. Without an order you get in only after I am down and out."
"Stay here, major. I'll be back in a few minutes."
Ted Strong was angry also at the delay, and at once suspected that Burk, the deputy marshal, had some sinister reason for putting the house in charge of one of his men, but he could not imagine what it was unless his purpose was not honest.
Ted's experience had taught him that all men in authority as deputy United States marshals were not honest, and that they often used their office to graft.
He had no faith in Burk, whose looks and actions he had distrusted at their first meeting. If Burk knew that the broncho boys were in town it would be sufficient excuse for him to annoy and impede their movements all he could.
No doubt Burk knew that they would come to Rodeo in the interests of Farnsworth, but he did not believe that the deputy marshal knew anything of the newly discovered relationship between Major Caruthers, the dead woman, and the so-called Farnsworth.
What, then, was his reason for holding the house and the remains of the murdered woman against all comers?
There were two inferences: Loot of the woman's house, unprotected by friends and relatives, and the awaiting of the woman's husband.
Ted had thought out these two possibilities thoroughly. He had no doubt that there were many valuables in the house, for the woman was reputed rich, secretive, and probably kept her personal property about her. From what the major had said the husband, Mowbray, evidently had been cast off by Helen Mowbray on account of his rascalities, and, being a bird of prey, would swoop down upon her property as soon as he learned of her death.
Could it be that Burk was holding the house awaiting Mowbray's arrival?
With these thoughts running through his mind Ted had gone around to the back of the house to find, if possible, something with which to smash in the door.
In a shed he found a sledge, and returned to where the major was still arguing with the guard inside.
"Open or we'll break in the door," called Ted, in a stern voice.
"Take the advice of a fool, and leave the door alone," answered the guard.
"Then, for the last time, will you open?"
Ted swung the sledge and brought it down with all his strength on the lock of the door.
There followed a crash, and the door flew open suddenly.
Then came another crash; this time from a revolver, and a ball whistled past Ted, penetrating the brim of his hat and burying itself in the door casing.
But it was not repeated, for before the guard could wink twice a tan-colored figure shot through the opening, and he fell to the floor with a smash that shook the house, and looked up to find a stalwart youth astride of him, slowly shutting off his wind with strong and inexorable fingers.
Then he was relieved of his revolver, and before he could indicate that he was willing to surrender he found himself trussed like a fowl, with his arms behind his back, and the hall full of young fellows.
"Why didn't you let me know that you had brought a regiment with you?" he said sullenly. "Maybe I'd have let you in."
"You had your chance to open, and was a fool not to take it," said Ted.
"I believe you."
The major had left the party and walked into a room on the left, and in a moment they heard sobs issuing from it. He had found the remains of his sister, and, at a signal from Ted, the boys hustled the deputy marshal into the back part of the house and retired, leaving the major alone with his dead sister.
In a few minutes Ted heard his name called, and went into the room where the major was standing beside a bed, on which was a form covered with a sheet.
"We must get ready to remove her to my house," said the major, in a hushed voice.
"Leave it to me," said Ted. "I will take charge of everything."
"And I want you to help me search the house, for I intend to remove all the valuables she left to Bubbly Well until such time as the courts can handle her property. I don't propose that it shall fall into alien hands."
In the room at the foot of the bed was a small steel safe, which Ted found was fastened with a combination lock. He knelt before it with his ear to the lock, turning the handle of the combination, listening to the click of the tumblers, while the major searched the drawers of the handsome dressing case and other articles of furniture in the room.
Everywhere were evidences that Helen Mowbray had been very wealthy.
On top of the dressing case were sets of gold and silver toilet articles, and ornaments, boxes, and bottles handsomely chased in silver and gold, and set with jewels.
In one of the drawers the major found a bunch of keys, probably to open other drawers in the console and other articles of furniture.
"I have it, major," said Ted quietly, as he flung open the door of the safe.
"See what is in it, Ted," said the major.
In the bottom of the safe lay a pile of gold ingots representing a value of many thousands of dollars. A drawer was filled with bank notes of large denomination. Other drawers were crowded full of the stocks of mines and other enterprises.
"Whew!" said Ted, as he revealed the dead woman's possessions. "Did you know she was so rich?"
"I had no idea of it," answered the major. "Helen was always a capable woman, and when she left England my father gave her her patrimony outright, that he might never be compelled to see or communicate with her husband again, and this looks as if she had increased it many times."
"This would have made fine plunder for the thieving fellows who had taken possession of the place if fate, in the hands of your younger brother, had not turned up to put you in command."
"What else do you find?"
"Here is a package addressed 'To be sent to The Towers, Huntingdon, England, to Robert Caruthers, Esquire, or Major John Stairs Caruthers, upon my death, unopened.'"
"Give it to me," said the major huskily, thrusting the package into his pocket.
"And here's a bank book," said Ted. "It bears the name of the Bank of London."
He handed it to the major, who put it also into his pocket.
"Anything else?" he asked.
"That is all."
"Then take this bunch of keys and examine the contents of the drawers."
The first drawer of the console which Ted unlocked and opened was full of jewels, rich and beautiful, a fortune in themselves.
"Poor girl," said the major, in a low voice. "Why did she risk murder by keeping such a fortune about her?"
"Probably she didn't want some particular person to know that she was so rich," suggested Ted.
Drawer after drawer revealed other valuables, such as priceless laces and articles of gold and silver.
"We must get all this away as soon as possible, and guard it carefully," said the major.
"Yes, it is a great temptation, I sup——"
As Ted was speaking he chanced to look up.
Framed in the window was a face.
But as Ted met the blazing eyes in the face it vanished, and he ran into the hall and out onto the veranda, but could see no one in the garden.
At that moment, however, he was brought back into the house with a jump by the sudden slamming of the back door of the house and a cry of warning from Bud, followed by shouts from the other boys. Then a shot outside, and a crash of glass.
The house was being besieged.
He heard a rush in the garden, and turned to see several men race around the corner of the house toward the front door.
They had almost reached it when he slammed it in their faces, putting his shoulder to it, and calling for help.
In the lead of the besiegers he recognized the face he had seen at the window.
As he was still holding the door against those who were striving to push it in from without there was a shot through one of the panels, and Strong sank to the floor insensible.
TED SAVES THE HOUSE.
But as Ted Strong fell to the floor there was a rush through the hall, and in a moment he was surrounded by the broncho boys, who held the door while Bud and Ben picked Ted up and laid him on a sofa.
As he was laid down Ted opened his eyes.
"Barricade that door with the furniture," he commanded. "Never mind me. I'm all right. Defend the house first. We must not let the thieves get Helen Mowbray's property."
While several of the fellows held their shoulders to the door, which was bulging with the power without to force it in, Bud and Ben carried a heavy sideboard across the room and placed it against the door.
This held it for a while until other heavy articles made it secure.
They had no more than finished their work when a shot crashed through a pane of glass in the dining room in which Ted lay, attended by Stella, who was trying to stanch the blood from a wound in his side.
Kit gave a muffled groan, and put his hand to his arm. The blood was trickling through his fingers.
"Keep out of range of the windows everybody," shouted Ted, from the lounge.
"Them fellers is quick an' peevish!" shouted Bud. "I'm goin' ter git one er two, shore's my name ain't John Henry Thomas Quackenbush."
There was a stairway in the hall, and Bud went up the steps three at a time.
They heard his step overhead, then his voice in a roar of angry surprise.
"Jumpin' sand-hill fleas!" he yelled. "So that's yer game, is it?"
Outside there was a crash, and through the window they saw a falling ladder; then two men hurtling through the air.
In a moment there was a thud on the earth, and yells of agony.
"They were trying to surprise us from above, but good old Bud got there in time to fool them," said Ted. "Bully for him. Ben, go up and help him. He may need it."
Several shots outside broke the silence that followed the fall of the ladder, and the breaking of glass in the upper windows.
Then came a fusillade in the upper rooms.
"Bud and Ben are giving them as good as they send," muttered Ted.
From the yells that came from the garden the shots from above had evidently done some execution, for they were followed by a rush of feet, then silence.
"Look out, Kit," said Ted, "and see what's doing. But be careful; do not expose yourself."
"No one in sight," said Kit, peering around the corner of the window casing, having first put his hat in an exposed position to draw fire if there were any sharpshooters on guard outside.
"Wait! Great Scott, they're going to set fire to the house!" yelled Kit, running from the room.
In spite of the protestations of Stella, Ted staggered to his feet and followed Kit.
He swayed from weakness as he ran, but appeared to grow stronger with the excitement.
Two men had rushed to the shelter of the side of the house, and were now safe from shots from the windows.
One of them had trundled before him a tar barrel, while the other had his arms full of shavings.
This was the sight that had caused Kit's exclamation.
"Gee whiz, this is bad," said Kit. "In a minute they'll have the stuff blazing, and the house will go in this wind as if it was made of oiled paper. What are we to do?"
Ted, who was holding himself up against a table to keep from falling, thought a moment.
"They're watching for us to stick our heads out of a window to take a shot at those fire bugs, and, if we do, that's the end," said Ted to himself. "But we must get them before the house catches."
Suddenly he straightened up. A spasm of pain crossed his face, and he clutched his side.
"Ted, you must not exert yourself," said Stella, springing toward him. "Ted, remember you are wounded; you do not know how badly."
"I'm all right," answered Ted, with a grim smile. "Let me alone for a while, Stella. Then you can fuss over me all you like. I've got to think of some way to circumvent those devils."
Suddenly he drew his revolver from its holster.
"I have it," he said briskly. "It's taking a risk, but it must be done. If they set the house afire it's all off with us. Kit, stand ready to throw open the door when I give the word. Then shield me from shots from the shrubbery on the opposite side of the garden. The gang is hiding behind those bushes."
"What are you going to do?" asked Stella breathlessly.
"I'm going out to stop those fellows with the tar barrel."
"You are not. I will not let you," cried Stella.
Ted gave Stella a peculiar look that she had never seen in his face before, and she rather quailed from it, it was so full of authority and force.
"Sorry, Stella, to do anything against your wishes," he said quietly. "But some one must do it, and Kit is wounded in his pistol arm, and the other boys are busy."
"Oh, fiddle!" cried Stella. "You are wounded yourself."
"But I'm going, just the same. Stand ready, Kit."
Kit sprang to the door.
Already they could smell the burning tar.
"Hi, deir der puilding firing up alretty," shouted Carl, bursting into the room, pale with apprehension.
"All right, Carl. Stand back from the door, and do as Kit tells you," said Ted. Then, with a look at Stella, which seemed to ask her forgiveness for acting against her wishes, he got ready for a rush.
"Open!" he yelled.
Kit threw the door wide, and Ted Strong sprang out into the garden, and ran swiftly along toward the rear, keeping close to the wall.
He was firing toward the shrubbery as he ran, and those on guard inside heard yells of agony.
Evidently Ted was making good with his bullets.
There came a return fire from the shrubbery, directed not at the open door, but at the flying figure of Ted.
Stella, Kit, and Carl poured a hot fusillade into the bushes, but did not seem able to silence the fire from them.
Then Stella did a foolhardy thing. Without a word of warning she leaped through the doorway, and stood on the step outside, looking after Ted.
She saw him running weakly toward the corner of the house, where two men were bending over the tar barrel, into which they had put the shavings.
They had set fire to the shavings, and were lifting the barrel to place it against the side of the house.
And now the barrel was blazing like a gasoline torch, and the flame was licking the side of the house.
But Ted was upon them. They did not see him, as their backs were toward him, and in a minute both had gone sprawling over the barrel, falling in a heap on the ground.
In a flash Ted had sent the barrel rolling down the yard, and with a piece of canvas, which he had picked up from the ground, was beating out the flames which were creeping up the side of the house.
But the men were on their feet now, and, seeing the cause of their discomfiture, they ran toward Ted with howls of rage, and reached his side as Stella, who had started toward Ted when she saw that the men were about to attack him, was still some distance off.
Ted was not aware of the presence of the men until they were directly behind him. Then he turned, only to be met with a blow on the head with the butt of a pistol, and he sank to the ground with a groan.
Meanwhile, Kit, whose duty it was to cover Ted's attack on the house burners from the doorway, was not able to get a shot because Stella's body was between him and the corner of the house.
As Ted went down with a groan Stella drew her revolver and blazed away.
At her first shot one of the men ran off, limping and yelping like a kicked cur.
The other, conscious that the bullets from her revolver were singing unpleasantly near to his head, made a dash for the shrubbery.
Bending over Ted, Stella tried to see how badly he was hurt.
"You reckless boy," she was saying. "See how you run into danger. Now you have two wounds for me to nurse, if you are not killed."
She was trying to lift him to a sitting posture when she felt herself grasped around the waist, and before she could make a motion in her own defense, was borne swiftly across the yard, and into the shrubbery.
Her scream rang out piercingly, and the boys ran in a body into the garden.
But by the time they got there Stella was out of sight, and they were met with a fusillade of bullets from the shrubbery, causing them to retreat into the house again and close the door.
None of them had noticed Ted lying unconscious at the corner of the house.
They were no sooner out of sight than three men sped from the shrubbery across the yard, and, seizing Ted by the heels and shoulders, ran back with him into the place of concealment.
As they threw Ted down on the grass none too gently, the pain brought him back to life and wrung a groan from him.
When he opened his eyes he saw Stella sitting beside him trying to hold his head from the ground.
Several men were there, too, lying flat, peering underneath the shrubbery toward the house.
Every man was armed either with a rifle or a revolver, and occasionally one or the other of them would fire a shot at the house, which would be answered by the boys.
"They fire too high," muttered Ted to himself, "because they do not know that these rascals are lying flat. Every ball goes a foot too high. Wish I could let them know, but then they would probably hit Stella or me."
Lying beside him was Burk, the deputy marshal, his greenish-gray eyes looking coldly at the house, and whenever he saw a chance for a shot his rifle flew to his shoulder.
He became conscious that Ted was looking at him, and turned with a grin on his face.
"So we got you at last, eh?" he said to Ted, with a sneer. "You thought you could put this thing through because you are a deputy United States marshal, did you? Well, you won't be a marshal much longer."
"I think I'll be longer at the job than you will," Ted replied slowly.
"Not after your attempt to loot a dead woman's house while her body still lies there under guard of a United States officer."
This caused Ted to think of the situation in a different light. True, he believed that Burk was a crook, and that it was he who was conspiring to rob the house, but he had authority on his side, while Ted's belief, after all, was based on surmise, and he would have difficulty in proving anything criminal against the marshal. At the same time, he did not fear for his own part in the affair, because behind him was the brother of the dead woman.
"I say, Burk, I'm tired of this nonsense, lying here and potting away at the house," said a drawling voice, the owner of which could not be seen, being hidden behind the shrubbery.
"Can't help it," answered Burk. "We've got to take our time. The house is full of them, and they can shoot some."
"Rot! So can we. I propose that we rush them. But first I want the pleasure of putting my revolver against the head of that young bully there and the girl, and getting rid of them. Think what's at stake. We must get away from here soon."
"Don't talk nonsense," growled Burk, in reply.
"I'm getting tired of it, I tell you. Three of our men are wounded now, and that red-headed beggar is going to die, and he was such a good cook."
The speaker laughed unpleasantly at his gruesome joke.
"Well, we can't do it now, because we don't know how they're situated. We'd have had them when they all rushed out a few minutes ago if you hadn't shot at them so soon, and driven them indoors again. Why didn't you let them get into the open, where we could have shot them down?"
Stella shuddered at the cold-blooded tone in which these men discussed the killing of the boys, but Ted only smiled, for he knew that Burk was at heart a coward, and that he did not care to rush, nor would he stand a rush should one come.
He wished he was back in the house and knew the enemy's situation as well as he did now. He would not give them time to run very far.
If he could communicate to the boys in some manner the exact situation, he felt confident that the thing would be over in a very short time.
"I say, Strong, I've a proposition to make to you," said Burk, after a silence.
"Well, out with it," said Ted coldly.
"There's no use of any more of us being hurt or killed," said Burk, looking at Ted out of the corner of his eye.
"Then why don't you quit shooting and vamose?"
"That's not for me to do," said Burk hotly.
"Oh, I see. You want us to quit, eh?"
"Sure. You're the fellows who broke in there over our guard. But if you'll call your fellows off and get out of the house, I'll agree to turn you and the young lady loose. But nothing must be taken from the house."
"That seems right generous of you," said Ted, with a sarcastic smile, which Burk didn't see because his head was turned the other way.
"It's a darned more than you deserve, but I don't want any more of my fellows shot up."
"What do you want me to do?"
"Just step out there and holler to your boys to quit firing, and tell them that you're going to quit, and then——"
Ted just laughed, and Burk turned upon him with a scowl.
At that moment there was a cheer from the direction of the house; then a few scattering shots from the men in the shrubbery.
Ted heard the doors of the house open, and the swift patter of running feet. The old Moon Valley yell was in his ears. All the men in the shrubbery had sprung to their feet, and were running wildly about. A man crawled through the bushes—the man with the face he had seen at the window.
As he crawled close to Ted the expression of his face was awful to contemplate.
Such fiendish, murderous hatred he had never seen in a human countenance before.
When he was so close to Ted that he could hear his feverish breathing, the man suddenly thrust forward a pistol until the muzzle was within an inch of Ted's head.
Ted struggled to grapple with him, but he had grown so stiff from his wound that he could hardly stir. He was looking death close in the face.
The man was just about to pull the trigger when close at hand the major's voice rang out in an exclamation of amazement:
"Mowbray! You here?"
The man with the pistol sprang to his feet and faced Major Caruthers for a second. Then, with a wild cry of fear, he sprang away through the shrubbery and escaped.
HELEN MOWBRAY'S WILL.
By the time one could have counted ten there was not a man of Burk's force in sight, but, on looking down the road where it led to the plain that lay before the mountains, the dust of their retreat hung in the air.
"We've got 'em on ther run," said Bud, throwing his hat into the air with a joyous yawp. "Sufferin' tomcats, but them fellers has their nerve, aber nit."
Ben and the major had carried Ted into the house, and the major, who was a good surgeon, had Ted's coat off and was examining his wound.
When the shot had been fired through the door at him the ball had been deflected by a piece of iron, and, instead of penetrating his heart, as it surely would have done otherwise, it struck a rib and ran around toward the back, coming out near the spine, and, although an extremely painful wound, it was not at all serious.
A ball had passed through the fleshy part of Kit's forearm, but when the major had washed it in warm water and dressed it, it ceased to pain, and he could use it handily. But Ted's wound was different, and the impact of the ball on the rib had made him so sore that he could not breathe without suffering agony.
Stella had one of the boys make a fire for her, and, having found the house well stored with provisions, she began to cook supper for them, for they were all tired and hungry.
It was evening before they knew it, and it was decided to stay at the house all night, keeping a careful guard against the return of Burk and Mowbray.
"I never was so surprised in my life as when I saw Mowbray in the bushes out there just in the act of murdering you," said the major after supper, as he sat on the sofa beside Ted.
"It was a surprising meeting," said Ted. "I had no idea he was in this part of the country. His was the face I saw at the window when we had all that money and gold and jewels out."
"Then he knows we have found it?"
"Sure. He knows we have it, and if he is the chap I think he is, he'll not rest until he gets it, or—something else."
"Death or imprisonment."
"He richly deserves either, or both. He made the life of my sister most unpleasant."
"By the way, major, what do you know about him? It might be handy to know something in the future if he tries to make trouble."
"Oh, by the way, have you looked into that packet I took from the safe and handed you? The one addressed to your father, I take it, or to yourself."
"Haven't thought of it until now. Must take a look at it, by Jove. It may tell us a lot we want to know."
The major pulled the envelope from his pocket, and after examining the writing on it closely for a moment tore off the end of it and drew out several business-like documents.
"You'll excuse me, Strong, while I look these over, won't you?" he said.
"Certainly. Don't mind me," replied Ted, sinking back comfortably among the cushions.
As the major's eyes traveled over the documents they began to light up with a new intelligence. Then a look of pain followed, and the tears ran slowly down his cheeks.
Finally he turned to Ted:
"It is her will, and some history of her adventures in this country since she left home, and an account of the abuse and indignities heaped upon her by her husband, Mowbray, from whom she was divorced some months ago."
"Then Mowbray has no right to her property?"
"Not a penny's worth. I shall not bore you by reading all she says on the subject. She tells how he beat her after stealing from her all he could. Then she goes on to tell of his crimes."
"He is a bad egg, then," said Ted, as the major paused.
"You would scarcely believe how bad he was if I were to read the story of his career."
"I suppose he had been bothering her since in order to get more money from her."
"Yes, she says that he made her life miserable, and that he often threatened to kill her if she didn't give him all she had."
"Hearing of her death, he came here to steal everything he could lay his hands on; is that it? But I don't quite see why the authorities here, knowing of her divorce from him, would permit him to take possession of her effects, from any ownership in which the courts had barred him."
"I don't suppose the people here knew anything about it, for she says in this paper that she got her divorce secretly, and that there was no publicity about it. She simply had her lawyers notify Mowbray to that effect, at which time she sent him ten thousand dollars in settlement of all claims against her, which he agreed to accept with that understanding. But later he wrote her a letter in which he said that the agreement meant nothing to him, and that he would expect more."
"But why didn't she make the fact that he was no longer her husband public? It would have saved this trouble."
"She didn't want the news of it to travel to our parents in England. That was her pride."
"I see. Does she leave him anything in her will?"
"Yes. Her will is a curious document. It was evidently made immediately after her divorce from Mowbray, and leaves all her property to our mother, and, after her death, to my brother and myself, with a small bequest to silence Mowbray. But there is a codicil which leads me to believe that she had heard of mother's death, in which event she leaves almost everything to her brother, Frederic Caruthers. He is the one known as Fancy Farnsworth."
"Nothing to you?"
"Oh, yes, but not so much as to Fred, whom she puts in my care, asking me to see that he is properly treated and that he gets the justice which is his due."
"Evidently she knew, then, that he has many enemies who were trying to put him within the clutches of the law."
"Evidently. But there is a section which I do not understand."
"Read it. Perhaps we can figure it out between us."
"All right, I will. The paragraph is as follows: 'I desire that my elder brother, John Stairs Caruthers, shall take charge of my property in the event that the said Frederic Caruthers shall not be present when my will is opened, and that he shall be found as speedily as possible. For several years Frederic Caruthers has been my only protector, defending me from the abuse and greed of my former husband, and, further, sustaining my credit and honor by assuming the misdeeds of Mowbray, to his own discredit and danger. Had it not been for his watchful care, I would long ago have been stripped of all I have been able to accumulate, and have been in my grave at the hands of Mowbray. But of this latter I am in constant dread, and I feel such will yet be my fate. If my dead body is found with marks of violence on it, and my house robbed, it will have been the work of said Mowbray. Therefore, in the way of a tardy reward for the loyalty, care, protection, and love given me by my brother, Frederic Caruthers, I leave to him the bulk of my property, personal and real, in mining stocks, jewels, money, and the turquoise beds in New Mexico, as well as the San Fernando Ranch. I especially charge my brother John Stairs Caruthers to find his brother, and to defend him and clear his name, should it be necessary, and to put him in full possession of his property.'"
As the major finished reading he looked at Ted inquiringly.
"Well, what do you make of it?" he asked. "I confess it puzzles me."
"I can see through it. But you have your work cut out for you, major."
"In what way?"
"You will find this fellow Mowbray a hard customer."
"Pshaw! I am not afraid of him."
"Neither am I, for that matter; but it is not he alone that is to be feared in this matter."
"What do you mean?"
"Just this: Mowbray evidently is an archvillain, but he could not do all his dirty work alone."
"You think he has accomplices, then?"
"Exactly. And of the most dangerous sort."
"I have been thinking the matter over, and I am convinced that Mowbray has got about him the most dangerous sort of a gang to carry on his work for him. Do you know if he is a man of any particular force and cleverness?"
"When I knew him, which was before I went to India, he was already beginning to practice his shady transactions in England, but he had never been directly caught at it. This led to the greatest opposition on the part of my family to his marriage to my sister."
"But, in spite of it, she married him?"
"Yes; she had an idea that he was abused and misrepresented, and flew to his defense by secretly marrying him. After that he got worse and bolder until he was caught not only cheating at cards, but actually stealing by means of forgery and in other ways, and they had to flee from England."
"Then, of course, he is a master in crime by this time."
"It would not surprise me to learn it. But you spoke of his being especially dangerous because of the men he had gathered about him?"
"Yes, and I mean it. I am sure now that in his gang are several men who are especially dangerous, because they can defy the law without much risk of running counter to it."
"I don't see how one man can break the law with less danger of punishment than another."
"It is this way: Mowbray has in his gang several deputy United States marshals. These men have advance information of any action to be taken by the law against the suspected perpetrators of crime. This information is at once at the disposal of Mowbray, and he can escape the consequences of his crimes without difficulty. He is protected, also, by his partners rigging up accusations against innocent persons, and convicting them by manufacturing evidence against them."
"What a villainous system!"
"It is. And it is just this thing that has enabled Mowbray to prey on his wife for so long a time."
The major uttered an exclamation of anger.
"Another thing," continued Ted: "I am sure now that it was these very pals of Mowbray that made the accusations against your brother, known as Farnsworth, at the instance of Mowbray. They nursed public resentment against the young fellow until every hand was against him, and he was forced to become an outlaw, or fall into the hands of the authorities and be forced into prison, or to the gallows, through the perjury of these same deputy marshals. It is an infamous thing, and I am going to try to sift it to the bottom and clear your brother, and see that Mowbray gets what's coming to him."
"You are very good, and I shall never forget what you have done for me already."
"That's all right. It's my duty as an officer of the United States in this Territory of Arizona to do it. Never fear; there will be more to this than the beginning, and a race is not won until it is ended."
All night one or the other of the boys patrolled the grounds, hiding in the shrubbery, ready to give the alarm should any of Mowbray's party return to attack the house and capture the treasure.
But dawn broke without an alarm, and the boys were astir, making ready for the abandonment of the house and the return to the Bubbly Well Ranch.
Ted was feeling so much better after a good night's rest that he was able to climb into his saddle and go into the town.
His object was to get a wagon and a span of mules in which to transport the remains of Helen Mowbray and the valuables she had left behind to her brother's house.
At a livery stable he met the proprietor, a garrulous old man, whom, when he had explained his mission, looked at him strangely before speaking.
"What's doin' at the Mowbray house?" he asked. "We all uptown was some curious last evenin' when we heard so much shootin'."
"Nothing much," said Ted. "Just a little pistol practice."
The old man grinned.
"Yuh musta kep' ther targets warm some from ther way ther poppin' sounded up yere," he said dryly.
"Yes, it was rather warm for a while. Well, can I have the wagon, and a driver to bring it back?"
"I don't know whether I can spare one or not. Yuh see, it's some dangerous ter take sides in this town."
"I don't want you to take my side. All I want is to complete a business transaction with you. I want you to hire me a wagon and team for a day. You understand what I want?"
"Yes, but, yuh see, that would be considered as givin' succor ter ther enemy."
"I don't understand why."
"It's this way: Judge Harris owns this stable an' rents it to me by ther month. He could kick me out to-morrow if he wanted to. He's a queer dick, an' him an' Burk, what, I understand, was at ther Mowbray house yesterday, and what had ter run away, is as close as two sheets o' sticky fly paper."
"He is, eh?"
"Yes; an' the coroner, the jailer, the mayor, the sheriff, an' everybody else what has any power er authority, is in the same boat. They all hang together, an' they're all friends o' Mr. Mowbray. Lord Mowbray they calls him."
"Ah, ha!" thought Ted. "If that is the case, it behooves us to get out of town and to Bubbly Well with our property as soon as we can."
After some further talk Ted was still unable to get the old man to rent him a wagon. Then he changed his tactics.
"Well," he said, in a firm voice, "if you won't rent me the wagon and team I'll be obliged to confiscate it for the United States."
"Eh, how is that?"
"I said I would take it for the uses of the United States. Come, roll it out and hitch up before I have to resort to violence."
"I don't know you, bub. I'm from Missouri. You'll have to show me."
Ted exposed his star of authority.
"Does that go?" he asked. "Because if it don't, this will."
His revolver was out of its holster like a flash, much to the surprise of the liveryman, who had been somewhat of a bad man himself in his day, and gun plays were not uncommon at Rodeo.
He gazed mildly into the bore of the big, silver-mounted forty-five, and then murmured:
"It goes, pal."
KNIFE AND FANG.
Several days had passed since the fight at Helen Mowbray's house, and Ted Strong and the broncho boys were again at the Bubbly Well Ranch.
The remains of Helen Mowbray had been laid to rest near the major's ranch house in a little lot surrounded by a low fence, and her treasure was safely stored away in the safe in the major's bedroom.
The period of their visit to the ranch house was past, but still they stayed to help the major to get word of his brother Frederic Caruthers, alias Fancy Farnsworth, alleged to be the worst man in Arizona.
Where he might be none knew, of course, but Ted was of the opinion that he was still somewhere in Arizona, and not far away, either.
He could not have told why he believed so, but he had one of his "hunches" to that effect, and believed it as surely as if he knew it for a fact.
Ted had seen his hunches turn out true so often that he did not attempt now to distrust them.
Somehow, he felt that everything was to come out all right some day, and that he would find Farnsworth, or Frederic Caruthers, to be more exact, and Ted always reproached himself when he thought of the young fellow by his false name.
One morning Ted awoke before the dawn, sitting upright in bed, listening for a sound, but heard nothing unusual.
This was one of Ted's habits—to be aroused by some unknown sense in the night when danger threatened.
Hearing nothing, he got out of bed, and sat on its edge and listened again.
"Wonder what waked me?" he muttered to himself. He was not in the least sleepy, as he would have been if he had wakened naturally.
"I don't think I was dreaming," he continued to mumble to himself. "And it wasn't a noise. Must have been a hunch. Guess I'll get up and see if there's anything wrong about here."
He slipped swiftly into his clothes, and sauntered through the living room.
It was just beginning to get light outside, and the windows were gray, while all else in the room was still dark.
He opened the door and stepped out into the chill morning.
Then he heard a noise, but so faint that it couldn't have been that which had disturbed him from his sound sleep, he thought.
But as the sound came nearer on the clear, thin morning air, and he recognized it and realized its significance, he knew that it was this fine, almost indistinguishable sound that had penetrated in some mysterious manner to his inner ear and called him from his sleep.
It was the cry of a hungry and angry wolf.
At last he located the sound off to the east, but as yet he could see nothing, for it was not yet light enough, and a thin mist, like a mirage, hung over the surface of the sandy prairie and obscured the view.
For a long time he stood listening to the long-drawn and savage howl, thinned out by the distance and mist, but he knew that it was coming nearer, and that the animal that was making it was not only hungry, but that it was a master wolf. It was none of the gaunt, half-starved, cowardly brutes that follow in the pack and take what the master wolf leaves of the scraps of the murdered calf or sick cow or sheep which the leaders of the pack have pulled down.
He had heard before the yells of these kings of the packs of savage prairie wolves, and they were masterful indeed, and could easily be distinguished above the feebler pipings of the wolf rabble.
Suddenly the sun came up and the mists disappeared as by magic, and it was light.
Ted looked steadily toward the place from which the howls had come when it was dark, and saw a spot against the earth.
It was either a pony or a cow, and it was in trouble, for it came on very uncertainly, running sideways, stopping for a moment to kick, then running on again.
Ted immediately saw what was the matter. It was being pursued by the wolves he had heard.
The wolves were running with it, perhaps had been chasing it all night, and were snapping it its heels, trying to hamstring it.
He thought it was a small, lean cow from this distance, and wondered at its courage, and if it would last until it got close enough to where there were human beings to be safe from further pursuit.
At first he thought of going inside and putting on his coat and boots and getting his arms and starting out toward it on his pony. But this was too much trouble, and he stood watching the tragedy of the plain, hoping for the plucky animal that was doing its best to outrun and outwit the wolves, for they were close enough now for him to see that there were four of the gray devils of the prairie.
But only one of them was worthy of a second look—a great, gray brute much larger than his mates and twice as courageous.
Ted thought it strange that the wolf king was not doing as the others did; that is, running up behind their victim and making a slash at his legs with their razorlike fangs, then retreating with a whining howl when they felt the heels of the poor brute they were tormenting.
No, the big wolf was leaping high into the air from the side, evidently trying to reach something that was fastened to the pony's back—for now Ted was able to distinguish what it was.
It was a bay pony, rather small, and almost all in with fatigue.
Something baggy was tied to its back, which resembled a bundle of old clothes.
Once, as he watched, Ted saw the pony go to its knees, actually tired out and weak.
But it was up again, and struggling bravely on again.
"Plucky little beggar," muttered Ted, in admiration. "Wish I had taken my first hunch and ridden out to help it. By Jove, it's not too late yet!"
Without going into the house Ted jumped to the ground and ran out to meet the pony and its enemies.
It did not occur to him that he was not armed until he was halfway to them. Then he felt in his pocket and found his big-bladed knife.
Taking this out, he sprang open the big blade and carried it loosely.
He had stooped and picked up a large stone, which he carried in his hand.
When he came close enough he hurled the stone at the wolves, and a dull thud, followed by a shrill, dog-like howl of pain, told him that he had countered on the rib plate of one of the nasty brutes. Then he let out a wild yell, and three of the wolves turned and fled.
Not so the king of the pack.
He stopped for a moment and stared at Ted with his pale-green eyes. Then, with a long howl of defiance, he sprang again at the pony, which had picked up courage at hearing a human voice and was coming on more briskly.
Suddenly Ted recognized the pony.
It was the major's Christmas gift, and Ted once more gave voice to an exultant yell, which only served to increase the fury of the wolf's attack at whatever was fastened to the pony's back.
Ted knew that Fred Caruthers, as he tried always to call the young brother of the major, would send the pony back some day, and now his faith had been rewarded.
When he became aware of the identity of the pony he ran faster, and was soon within a few feet of it.
He naturally expected that the wolf would now beat a retreat, as wolves met singly and in this fashion generally turn tail and split the wind for home when attacked by man.
But the big wolf simply turned his attention from the pony to the boy, and stood as if carved out of gray granite, his head held high in the air, and his eyes blazing like two pale-green lights.
"By Jove, I think the brute is going to stand and fight!" said Ted to himself.
Taking advantage of the situation, the pony trotted past Ted, who scarcely gave it a look, and went on to the corral back of the house.
"So it's going to be a fight," said Ted, advancing cautiously toward the wolf. "All right, old chap; I'll give you something to think about, if I do not leave you on the ground entirely incapable of thinking. I wish I'd gone after my Winchester now. That would have made it too short, though. Come on, now. All I have is a short knife blade against four sharp fangs, and you are as brave as the devil himself."
The wolf had not stirred except that his nose was constantly working as he sniffed the air for Ted.
Ted knew that a wolf that will stand and fight a man by himself is possessed of more than ordinary courage and brains, and, therefore, he was on the lookout for the tricks of the fight.
It was well that he was so versed, for before he was quite ready for it the wolf, without a sound, leaped straight through the air at his throat. He had just time to dodge aside, and make a vicious swipe with his knife.
But his blade did not touch the wolf, whose leap carried him several feet past Ted. Had the wolf succeeded in striking Ted, they would inevitably have gone down together, and Ted would have had none the best of it.
But the battle between Ted, the skilled huntsman and wolf exterminator, and the wily wolf, whose scarred hide told of many battles with bull and dog, wild cat and man, serpent of the desert, and the eagles of the mountains, when, in his dire hunger, he had raided their families.
The wolf slid a few feet, then swung himself around like a top and came at Ted again.
Ted was wiser this time, and dodged just out of the way. At the same time he gave a vicious side lunge with the knife, and he felt it enter the wolf's hide. There was a ripping sound, and he knew he had added a scar to the brute's large collection.
The wolf was now thoroughly angry, and snarled its fury as it wheeled once more to the attack.
Ted turned to meet it as it rushed toward him, but as he did so he heard a shout from the ranch house and turned his head in that direction for an instant.
But that instant was the critical one, and before he could get around again to face the wolf it was upon him.
Ted felt it strike his chest a mighty blow with its head, and staggered backward.
It suddenly came to him that if he got under the wolf its teeth surely would get to his throat, and that one snap of those saber-sharp teeth would settle the business for him.
He tried to protect his throat with his left arm as he felt himself toppling, but could not get it up far enough because the wolf's body and head interposed.
But he was slashing away with his knife in a frenzy of despair, and, apparently, was doing some execution, for every time he struck the wolf let out a little whine of angry pain.
But the wolf had all the best of it now, and as Ted's foot slipped on some pieces of dry grass he went down with the heavy brute on top of him.
He could feel it nuzzling at his neck for a toothhold on his throat, but he kept his chin pressed close to his neck, and, although the wolf chewed his shirt to pieces, it had found no room to get its teeth into the boy's flesh.
Ted had no time now to play with the knife. It was not up to him to conquer the wolf now, but to keep it from taking his life.
Had his revolver been with him he could have ended the fight with a couple of shots, even if the brute seemed to have a dozen lives, for he knew that had any one of the knife thrusts which he had planted in the wolf's body been given to an ordinary specimen of the species the fight would have been over long since.
The wolf was standing on him, and its weight crushed him.
All he could do in self-defense was to try to get the wolf by the throat with his bare hands and to choke it.
But the hair about its throat was a thick, almost impenetrable mass of heavy, thick-growing bristles, on which Ted's hands had apparently no effect at all.
Ted was in a pretty tight place, and he fully realized it.
The wolf was working hard to get at his windpipe, and the teeth were getting closer and closer to the vital spot.
Ted's arm, where he tried in vain to get it between himself and the wolf, was gashed in a dozen places, and the blood was all over him. His clothes had long since been torn into shreds.
The wolf was getting tired also, as well it might, for, probably it had been running all night, and had been long without food, so that it was no discredit to its enormous strength that it was weak and weary.
But neither was Ted as strong as usual, for the ball which had creased his rib had cost him lots of blood.
In the hearts of both of them, however, there was strength enough, and it was that which kept them fighting long after both of them were tired and winded.
The wolf knew, as well as did Ted, that if it ever got to his throat there would be strength enough for it; the strength that comes from blood.
Ted was wishing that some one would come.
He had heard a cry. Why didn't whoever had called out come at once?
He couldn't last more than a minute longer, and the strong, murky smell of the beast was turning him faint, as the wolf seemed to be gaining in strength and savagery.
Presently he knew the reason. He felt that his side was wet.
His wound had opened again, and he was bleeding.
The wolf had smelled his blood, and it had renewed its strength and courage, while it weakened and took the life out of Ted.
Suddenly there was a crash of hoofs on the sod. Stella's clear voice rang out, and the swish of a quirt came through the air.
That was all Ted remembered, except that he felt relieved of the weight of the wolf, which was running like a streak of gray lightning toward the hills.
His eyes opened, and he saw Stella bending over him, and managed to stagger to his feet, congratulating himself as his hand went to his throat that he had at least saved it from the white fangs of his enemy.
'WARE THE GRAY WOLVES.
As Ted and Stella were walking slowly back toward the house they heard a series of shouts from the direction of the corral.
They then saw Kit at the corral gate waving frantically to them.
"Something wrong there," said Ted. "I'll get up behind you, and we'll hurry to the corral."
He jumped upon the pony's back, and Stella rode as fast as possible to where Kit stood holding the gate of the corral.
Inside the corral was a scene of confusion.
The ponies were running around and leaping in the air, snorting and edging away from the little bay pony which had come across the plain chased by the wolves.
As Ted rode up to the corral fence he looked through the bars, then started back in surprise with an exclamation.
"What is it?" asked Stella.
"A man tied to the back of the pony," replied Ted.
"I cannot tell. I cannot see his face."
"Open the gate, Kit, and let me in," said Stella, gathering up her reins.
"What are you going to do?" asked Ted.
"I'm going to catch that pony and bring him out. That man will be smashed to death in there by the other ponies if he isn't gotten out soon."
"Go ahead, but be careful."
Kit swung the gate open, and Stella dashed into the corral.
The ponies were running around the corral, following the line of the fence, and in the center of the bunch was the little bay pony with the inert, and probably dead, body of a man hanging head downward on the pony's flank, rolling horribly, and in constant danger of being hit by the flying heels of the other ponies, who were frantic at the smell of blood.
Stella rode among the ponies, following the circle with them, all the while edging in more and more until she was close to the little bay.
Then she was able to see the face of the man tied to its back.
"It's Farnsworth," she shouted to Ted, who was standing on the fence watching her movements.
"Get him out as soon as you can," Ted answered.
Stella rode to the pony's side, and managed to get hold of the bridle close to the bit.
Then she maneuvered for an opening by which she could lead the frightened animal out of the bunch.
"Get ready to open the gate," she called at last, and Kit stood with his hand on it.
As she came around again she began pushing the bay pony outward.
"Now!" she cried, swinging her own pony against the other with a prick of the spur, and breaking through the galloping bunch.
The next moment she and a half dozen of the frightened ponies swept through the gate, and as Kit closed it again Ted ran forward and caught the bay pony.
"Hurry him to the house," he said, running beside the bay.
His long yell brought the boys and the major to the veranda, and when they saw Ted running beside the bay pony, with Stella and Kit following, they rushed out to help.
"What is it?" asked the major, as Ted drew up to the veranda.
"Your brother," answered Ted gently, indicating the inert body tied to the pony's back.
"Get him off and into the house," said the major brusquely, his face white with apprehension.
Bud and Ben were working as for their lives at the rope by which the body of Frederic Caruthers was bound to the pony's back.
Soon they had him released, and between them bore the limp form into the living room and laid it on a lounge.
The clothes on the body were torn into strips, and the flesh was gashed in numerous places. This was the work of the wolf's teeth, which, during the chase, had repeatedly leaped at the unconscious man, trying to drag him from the pony's back.
"These wounds are not the worst," said Ted, looking down at Caruthers. "Off with his clothes, boys, and let us see where his real hurt is."
It did not take long for the boys to get Caruthers' rags stripped from his body, and Ted bent over him, examining him closely.
"Ah, here it is," he said, as he turned Caruthers over.
"What?" asked the major, crowding in.
"Here in the back," said Ted, pointing to a small, round, bluish hole just under Caruthers' right shoulder blade.
"By Jove, he's been shot through the body. That's what brought him to this."
"But how did it happen, I wonder, that he was tied to the back of the pony?" asked Ted.
"We'll never know until he tells us, probably," said the major. "If, indeed, he ever is able to do that," he continued, after a slight pause, looking sorrowfully at the young fellow, who seemed to have breathed his last.
But Ted's ear was pressed close to his heart, and his fingers sought the wounded man's pulse.
In a moment he straightened up.
"He's alive—only alive, and no more. But perhaps we can save him yet," he said. "Hustle, fellows! Stella, get me some hot water as soon as possible. Bud, arrange a cot in my room near the window. Major, if you have any brandy, let me have some. Kit, get the bandages ready and prepare some carbolated water. All alive now."
Ted's vigorous action was followed by the others, and in a few minutes Caruthers was stretched out on the cot in Ted's room.
At the movement the wound began to bleed, which was a good sign, and Ted proceeded to wash it with warm water, and began to probe for the ball, to ascertain, if possible, how deep it had gone.
As he was engaged in probing a slight groan came from between the blue lips of the victim.
"All right, I've found it," said Ted, in a low voice to the major, who was bending anxiously over the body of his brother.
"It's all right," continued Ted reassuringly. "It didn't go in very deep, and if he can hold out for a moment or two I think I can get it out. I've taken out worse ones than this."
Ted continued to work with the probe, and occasionally Caruthers stirred and groaned.
Then came a gentle tug, and the bullet rolled out of the wound upon the sheet.
It was followed by a spurt of blood, which Ted looked at closely.
"No danger," he said. "It is not arterial blood. Give me the water, and then the bandages."
With deft and practiced fingers Ted bound up the wound as well as a surgeon might.
"Now for a sip of the brandy, and we'll have him around all right," said the young amateur surgeon.
He forced a teaspoonful of the ardent spirits between the pale lips of the wounded man, which was followed by a spluttering cough, then a long sigh, and Caruthers opened his eyes.
For a moment he glanced around, and with a faint smile closed his eyes again, and sank into a gentle sleep.
"Bully!" exclaimed Ted, with satisfaction. "He'll get well now, I think, but he had a close call. A little longer on the back of that pony, jostled and being tossed around, would have finished him in spite of his splendid physique."
"What shall we do now?" asked the major.
"There is nothing we can do except care for him faithfully, and nurse him. Some one will have to watch him, and give him his medicine, which I shall prepare from your medicine chest, major."
"Let me nurse him," exclaimed Stella, who had come into the room in time to hear this.
"The very thing, if you don't mind," said Ted.
"Mind! I should like to. And you know that I can nurse some," said Stella proudly.
"I know it from experience. Keep him quiet. Don't let him talk, and whenever he gets restless give him a spoonful of his medicine. He mustn't be allowed to toss around, for that would start internal bleeding. He is not out of the woods by a long shot. When he is well will be time enough for him to do his talking, and tell us what happened to him. Now, fellows, we'll clear out and give nurse and patient a fair show."
For several days Caruthers hung between life and death. Most of the time he was in a state of delirium, during which he continually muttered something about "joy." When Stella told Ted about this he was greatly puzzled. What had the poor chap to do with joy?
Then it suddenly occurred to him that Caruthers meant Ban Joy, Helen Mowbray's Japanese servant, who was called Joy for short.
"He wants to tell us about that Jap," said Ted. "Evidently he knows something about the murder of his sister, and wants us to find the Jap."
"Thar's nothin' doin' until he gets over his fever an' is strong ernough ter talk," said Bud, "So ther best thing ter do is not ter mind what he says, but ter git him over his fever."
Stella was well-nigh worn out, but she would not consent to leave the bedside of the sick man, except at short intervals, when Ted or Bud, who were the best nurses among the boys, took her place that she might get some much-needed sleep.
That night Caruthers awoke from a long sleep and looked up at Stella.
"Where am I?" he asked, in a low voice.
"You are with friends," she replied gently. "Hush, you are not strong enough to talk."
"Yes, I am. I am all right now. Whose house am I in?" he asked.
"You are in Major Caruthers' house."
"I am glad. Is Ted Strong here?"
"Send him to me. I must talk to him. How long have I been here?"
"About a week."
"Hurry. It may be too late."
Stella saw that Caruthers' head was clear, and that he had something important to communicate, and that it would not be well with him if he were permitted to worry, so she went out, and presently Ted entered the room.
"Well, old chap, you look fit," he said, giving Caruthers' hand a gentle pressure.
"I'll be all right in a day or two. But I must talk with you. Tell me, have the Gray Wolves been here yet, and have you driven them off?" said Caruthers excitedly.
Ted was sure now that the patient had relapsed back into his delirious talk, and tried to soothe him.
"I'm all right," said Caruthers impatiently. "I know what I'm saying. I don't mean the pack that chased me."
"No, we have not been attacked by wolves," Ted answered.
"Then you will be. Have you seen Joy—Ban Joy, the Jap, I mean?"
"That is strange. He should have been here if he got away."
"I'm up in the air as to what you mean. If you are strong enough, perhaps you'd better tell what you mean, beginning at the time you left us, and telling it as briefly as possible."