He did not answer for a moment, and the girl, watching him in sidelong fashion, saw the grim restraint in his face, which grew almost grey in patches.
"It is no use, Hetty," he said very quietly. "Chris would tell them nothing. There is no meanness in his father or him; but that wouldn't stop him thinking. Now, you will know I was right to-morrow. Take him back his pistol."
"Larry," said the girl, with a little quiver in her voice, "you are right again—I don't quite know why you were friends with me."
Grant smiled at her. "I haven't yet seen the man who was fit to brush the dust off your little shoes; but you don't look at these things quite as we do. Now Chris will be getting impatient. You must go."
Hetty turned away from him, and while the man felt his heart throbbing painfully and wondered whether his resolution would support him much longer, stood very still with one hand clenched. Then she moved back towards him swiftly, with a little smile.
"There is a window above the beams, where they pitch the grain-bags through," she said. "Chris will go away in an hour or so, and the other man will only watch the door. There are horses in the corral behind the barn, and I've seen you ride the wickedest broncho without a saddle."
She whisked away before the man, who felt a little, almost caressing, touch upon his arm; and heard something drop close beside him with a rattle, could answer, and in less than a minute later smiling at Chris Allonby gave him back his pistol.
"Do you know I was 'most afraid you were going to make trouble for me?" he said.
"But if I had you wouldn't have told."
The lad coloured. "You have known me quite a long time, Hetty."
Hetty laughed, but there was a thrill in her voice as she turned to Miss Schuyler. "Now," she said, "you know the kind of men we raise on the prairie."
As they moved away together, Flora Schuyler cast a steady, scrutinizing glance at her companion. "I could have told you, Hetty," she said.
"Yes," said Hetty, with a little nod. "He wouldn't go, and I feel so mean that I'm not fit to talk to you or anybody. But wait. You'll hear something before to-morrow."
It was not quite daylight when Miss Schuyler was awakened by a murmur of voices and a tramp of feet on the frozen sod. Almost at the same moment the door of her room opened, and a slim, white figure glided towards the window. Flora Schuyler stood beside it in another second or two, and felt that the girl whose arm she touched was trembling. The voices below grew louder, and they could see two men come running from the stable, while one or two others were flinging saddles upon the horses brought out in haste.
"He must have got away an hour ago," said somebody. "The best horse Allonby had in the corral isn't there now."
Then Hetty sat down laughing excitedly, and let her head fall back on Flora Schuyler's shoulder when she felt the warm girdling of her arm. In another moment she was crying and gasping painfully.
"He has got away. The best horse in the corral! Ten times as many of them couldn't bring him back," she said.
"Hetty," said Miss Schuyler decisively, "you are shivering all through. Go back at once. He is all right now."
The girl gasped again, and clung closer to her companion. "Of course," she said. "You don't know Larry. If they had all the Cedar boys, too, he would ride straight through them."
ON THE TRAIL
Grant and Breckenridge sat together over their evening meal. Outside the frost was almost arctic, but there was wood in plenty round Fremont ranch, and the great stove diffused a stuffy heat. The two men had made the round of the small homesteads that were springing up, with difficulty, for the snow was too loose and powdery to bear a sleigh, and now they were content to lounge in the tranquil enjoyment of the rest and warmth that followed exposure to the stinging frost.
At last Breckenridge pushed his plate aside, and took out his pipe.
"You must have put a good many dollars into your ploughing, Larry, and the few I had have gone in the same way," he said. "You see, it's a long while until harvest comes round, and a good many unexpected things seem to happen in this country. To be quite straight, is there much probability of our getting any of those dollars back?"
Grant smiled. "I think there is, though I can't be sure. The legislature must do something for us sooner or later, while the fact that the cattle-men and the Sheriff have left us alone of late shows that they don't feel too secure. Still, there may be trouble. A good many hard cases have been coming in."
"The cattle-men would get them. It's dollars they're wanting, and the other men have a good many more than we have. By the way, shouldn't the man with the money you are waiting for turn up to-night?"
Grant nodded. A number of almost indigent men—small farmers ruined by frost in Dakota, and axe-men from Michigan with growing families—had settled on the land in his neighbourhood, and as every hand and voice might be wanted, levies had been made on the richer homesteaders, and subscribed to here and there in the cities, for the purpose of enabling them to continue the struggle.
"We want the dollars badly," he said. "The cattle-men have cut off our credit at the railroad stores, and there are two or three of the Englishmen who have very little left to eat at the hollow. You have seen what we have sent out from Fremont, and Muller has been feeding quite a few of the Dutchmen."
He stopped abruptly, and Breckenridge drew back his chair. "Hallo!" he said. "You heard it, Larry?"
Grant had heard the windows jar, and a sound that resembled a faint tap. "Yes," he said quietly. "I may have been mistaken, but it was quite like a rifle shot."
They were at the door in another moment, shivering as the bitter cold met them in the face; but there was now no sound from the prairie, which rolled away before them white and silent under the moonlight. Then, Breckenridge flung the door to, and crossed over to the rack where a Marlin rifle and two Winchesters hung. He pressed back the magazine slide of one of them, and smiled somewhat grimly at Grant.
"Well," he said, "we can only hope you're wrong. Where did you put the book I was reading?"
Grant, who told him, took out some accounts, and they lounged in big hide chairs beside the stove for at least half an hour, though it was significant that every now and then one of them would turn his head as though listening, and become suddenly intent upon his task again when he fancied his companion noticed him. At last Breckenridge laughed.
"It's all right, Larry. There—is—somebody coming. It will be the man with dollars, and I don't mind admitting that I'll be glad to see him."
Five minutes later the door opened and Muller came in. He looked round him inquiringly.
"Quilter is not come? I his horse in der stable have not seen," he said.
"No," said Grant sharply. "He would pass your place."
Muller nodded. "He come in und der supper take. Why is he not here? I, who ride by der hollow, one hour after him start make."
Breckenridge glanced at Grant, and both sat silent for a second or two. Then the former said, "I'm half afraid we'll have to do without those dollars, Mr. Muller. Shall I go round and roll the boys up, Larry?"
Grant only nodded, and, while Breckenridge, dragging on his fur coat, made for the stable, took down two of the rifles and handed one to Muller.
"So!" said the Teuton quietly. "We der trail pick up?"
In less than five minutes the two were riding across the prairie towards Muller's homestead at the fastest pace attainable in the loose, dusty snow, while Breckenridge rode from shanty to shanty to call out the men of the little community which had grown up not far away. It was some time later when he and those who followed him came up with his comrade and Muller. The moon still hung in the western sky and showed the blue-grey smear where horse-hoofs had scattered the snow. It led straight towards a birch bluff across the whitened prairie, and Breckenridge stooped in his saddle and looked at it.
"Larry," he said sharply, "there were two of them."
"Yes," said Grant. "Only one left Muller's."
Breckenridge asked nothing further, but it was not the first time that night he felt a shiver run through him. He fell behind, but he heard one of the rest answer a question Grant put to him.
"Yes," he said. "The last man was riding a good deal harder than the other fellow."
Then there was silence, save for the soft trampling of hoofs, and Breckenridge fancied the others were gazing expectantly towards the shadowy blurr of the bluff, which rose a trifle clearer now against the skyline. He felt, with instinctive shrinking, that their search would be rewarded there in the blackness beneath the trees. The pace grew faster. Men glanced at their neighbours now and then as well as ahead, and Breckenridge felt the silence grow oppressive as the bluff rose higher. The snow dulled the beat of hoofs, and the flitting figures that rode with him passed on almost as noiselessly as the long black shadows that followed them. His heart beat faster than usual when, as they reached the birches, Grant raised his hand.
"Ride wide and behind me," he said. "We're going to find one of them inside of five minutes."
There was an occasional crackle as a rotten twig or branch snapped beneath the hoofs. Slender trees slid athwart the moonlight, closed on one another, and opened out, and still, though the snow was scanty and in places swept away, Grant and a big Michigan bushman rode straight on. Breckenridge, who was young, felt the tension grow almost unendurable. At last, when even the horses seemed to feel their masters' uneasiness, the leader pulled up, and with a floundering of hoofs and jingle of bridles the line of shadowy figures came to a standstill.
"Get down, boys, and light the lantern. Quilter's here," he said.
Breckenridge dismounting, looped his bridle round a bough, and by and by stood peering over the shoulders of the clustering men in front of him. The moonlight shone in between the birches, and something dusky and rigid lay athwart it in the snow. One man was lighting a lantern, and though his hands were mittened he seemed singularly clumsy. At last, however, a pale light blinked out, and under it Breckenridge saw a white face and shadowy head, from which the fur cap had fallen.
"Yes," said somebody, with a suspicion of hoarseness, "that's Quilter. It's not going to be much use; but you had better go through his pockets, Larry!"
Grant knelt down, and his face also showed colourless in the lantern light as, with the help of another man, he gently moved the rigid form. Then, opening the big fur-coat he laid his hand on a brown smear on the deerskin jacket under it.
"One shot," he said. "Couldn't have been more than two or three yards off."
"Get through," said the bushman grimly. "The man who did it can't have more than an hour's start of us, any way, and from the trail he left his horse is played out."
In a minute or two Grant stood up with a little shiver. "You have got to bring out a sledge for him somehow, Muller," he said. "Boys, the man who shot him has left nothing, and the instructions from our other executives would be worth more to the cattle-men than a good many dollars."
"Well," said the big bushman, "we're going to get that man if we have to pull down Cedar Range or Clavering's place before we do it. Here's his trail. That one was made by Quilter's horse."
It scarcely seemed appropriate, and the whole scene was singularly undramatic, and in a curious fashion almost unimpressive; but Breckenridge, who came of a reticent stock, understood. Unlike the Americans of the cities, these men were not addicted to improving the occasion, and only a slight hardening of their grim faces suggested what they felt. They were almost as immobile in the faint moonlight as that frozen one with the lantern flickering beside it in the snow. Yet Breckenridge long afterwards remembered them.
Two men went back with Muller and the rest swung themselves into the saddle, and reckless of the risk to beast and man brushed through the bluff. Dry twigs crackled beneath them, rotten bough and withered bush went down, and a murmur went up when they rode out into the snow again. It sounded more ominous to Breckenridge than any clamorous shout. Then, bridles were shaken and heels went home as somebody found the trail, and the line tailed out farther and farther as blood and weight began to tell. The men were riding so fiercely now, that a squadron of United States cavalry would scarcely have turned them from the trail. Breckenridge laughed harshly as he and Grant floundered down into a hollow, stirrup by stirrup and neck to neck.
"I should be very sorry for any of the cattle-boys we came upon to-night," he said.
Grant only nodded, and just then a shout went up from the head of the straggling line, and a man waved his hand.
"Heading for the river!" he said. "We'll find him in the timber. He can't cross the ice."
The line divided, and Grant and Breckenridge rode on with the smaller portion, while the rest swung wide to the right. In front of them the Cedar flowed through its birch-lined gully as yet but lightly bound with ice, and Breckenridge guessed that the men who had left them purposed cutting off the fugitive from the bridge. It was long before the first dim birches rose up against the sky, and the white wilderness was very still and the frost intense when they floundered into the gloom of the bluff at the hour that man's vitality sinks to its lowest. Every crackle of a brittle branch rang with horrible distinctness, and now and then a man turned in his saddle and glanced at his neighbour when from the shadowy hollow beneath them rose the sound of rending ice. The stream ran fast just there, and there had been but a few days' frost.
They rode at a venture, looking about them with strained intentness, for they had left the guiding trail behind them now. Suddenly a faint cry came out of the silence followed by a beat of hoofs that grew louder every second, until it seemed to swell into a roar. Either there was clearer ground in the bluff, or the rider took his chances blindly so long as he made haste.
The men spread out at a low command, and Breckenridge smiled mirthlessly as he remembered the restrained eagerness with which he had waited outside English covers when the quarry was a fox. He could feel his heart thumping furiously, and his mittened hands would tremble on the bridle. It seemed that the fugitive kept them waiting a horribly long while.
Then, there was a shout close by him, Grant's horse shot forward and he saw a shadowy object flash by amidst the trees. Hand and heel moved together, and the former grew steady again as he felt the spring of the beast under him and the bitter draught upon his cheek. His horse had rested, and the fugitive's was spent. Where he was going he scarcely noticed, save that it was down hill, for the birches seemed flying up to him, and the beast stumbled now and then. He was only sure that he was closing with the flying form in front of him.
The trees grew blurred together; he had to lean forward to evade the thrashing branches. His horse was blundering horribly, the slope grew steeper still, the ground beneath the dusty snow and fallen leaves was granite hard; but he was scarcely a length away, a few paces more would bring him level, and his right hand was stretched out for a grip of the stranger's bridle.
A hoarse shout came ringing after him, and Breckenridge fancied it was a warning. The river was close in front and only thinly frozen yet, but he drove his heels home again. If the fugitive could risk the passage of the ice, he could risk it, too. There was another sound that jarred across the hammering of the hoofs, a crash, and Breckenridge was alone, struggling with his horse. They reeled, smashing through withered bushes and striking slender trees, but at last he gained the mastery, and swung himself down from the saddle. Already several mounted men were clustered about something, while just before he joined them there was another crash, and a little thin smoke drifted among the trees. Then, he saw one of them snap a cartridge out of his rifle, and that a horse lay quivering at his feet. A man stood beside it, and Grant was speaking to him, but Breckenridge scarcely recognized his voice.
"We want everything you took from Quilter, the papers first," he said. "Light that lantern, Jake, and then the rest stand round. I want you to notice what he gives me."
The man, saying nothing, handed him a crumpled packet, and Grant, tearing it open, passed the cover to the rest.
"You know that writing?" he said.
There was a murmur of assent, and Grant took a paper from those in his hand, and gave it to a man who held it up in the blinking light of the lantern. "Now," he said, "we want to make sure the dollars he took from Quilter agree with it. Hand them over."
The prisoner took a wallet from his pocket and passed it across. "I guess there's no use in me objecting. You'll find them there," he said.
"Count them," said Grant to the other man. "Two of you look over his shoulder and tell me if he's right."
It took some little time, for the man passed the roll of bills to a comrade, who, after turning them over, replaced them in the wallet.
"Yes, that's right, boys; it's quite plain, even if we hadn't followed up his trail. Those dollars and documents were handed Quilter."
Grant touched Breckenridge. "Get up and ride," he said. "They'll send us six men from each of the two committees. We'll be waiting for them at Boston's when they get there. Now, there's just another thing. Look at the magazine of that fellow's rifle."
A man took up the rifle, and snapped out the cartridges into his hand. "Usual 44 Winchester. One of them gone," he said. "He wouldn't have started out after Quilter without his magazine full."
The man rubbed the fringe of his deerskin jacket upon the muzzle, and then held it up by the lantern where the rest could see the smear of the fouling upon it.
"I guess that's convincing, but we'll bring the rifle along," he said.
Grant nodded and turned to the prisoner as a man led up a horse. "Get up," he said. "You'll have a fair trial, but if you have any defence to make you had better think it over. You'll walk back to Hanson's, Jake."
The prisoner mounted, and they slowly rode away into the darkness which, now the moon had sunk, preceded the coming day.
It was two days later when Breckenridge, who had ridden a long way in the meanwhile, rejoined them at a lonely ranch within a day's journey of the railroad. Twelve men, whose bronzed faces showed very intent and grave under the light of the big lamp, sat round the long bare room, and the prisoner at the foot of a table. Grant stood at the head of it, with a roll of dollar bills and a rifle in front of him.
"Now," he said, "you have heard the testimony. Have you anything to tell us?"
"Well," said the prisoner, "I guess it wouldn't be much use. Hadn't you better get through with it? I don't like a fuss."
Grant signed to the men, who silently filed out, and returned within a minute. "The thing's quite plain," said one of them. "He killed Quilter."
Grant turned to the prisoner. "There's nothing that would warrant our showing any mercy, but if you have anything to urge we'll listen now. It's your last opportunity. You were heading for one of the cattle-men's homesteads?"
The man smiled sardonically. "I'm not going to talk," he said. "I guess I can see your faces, and that's enough for me."
Grant stood up and signed to a man, who led the prisoner away. Then, he looked at the others questioningly, and a Michigan axe-man nodded.
"Only one thing," he said. "It has to be done."
There was an approving murmur, and Grant glanced along the row of stern faces. "Yes," he said, "the law will do nothing for us—the cattle-men have bought it up; but this work must be stopped. Well, I guess you like what lies before us as little as I do, but if it warns off the others—and there are more of his kind coming in—it's the most merciful thing."
Once more the low murmur ran through the silence of the room; Grant raised his hand and a man brought in the prisoner. He looked at the set faces, and made a little gesture of comprehension.
"I guess you needn't tell me," he said. "When is it to be?"
"To-morrow," said Grant, and it seemed to Breckenridge that his voice came from far away. "At the town—as soon as there is light enough to see by."
The prisoner turned without a word, and when he had gone the men, as if prompted by one impulse, hastened out of the room, leaving Grant and Breckenridge alone. The former sat very still at the head of the table, until Breckenridge laid his hand on his shoulder.
"Shake it off, Larry. You couldn't have done anything else," he said.
"No," said Grant, with a groan. "Still, I could have wished this duty had not been laid on me."
When they next stood side by side the early daylight was creeping across the little railroad town, and Breckenridge, whose young face was white, shivered with more than the bitter cold. He never wished to recall it, but the details of that scene would return to him—the square frame houses under the driving snow-cloud, the white waste they rose from, the grim, silent horsemen with the rifles across their saddles, and the intent faces beyond them in the close-packed street. He saw the prisoner standing rigidly erect in a wagon drawn up beside a towering telegraph-pole, and heard a voice reading hoarsely.
A man raised his hand, somebody lashed the horses, the wagon lurched away, a dusky object cut against the sky, and Breckenridge turned his eyes away. A sound that might have been a groan or murmur broke from the crowd and the momentary silence that followed it was rent by the crackle of riflery. After that, Breckenridge only recollected riding across the prairie amidst a group of silent men, and feeling very cold.
In the meanwhile the citizens were gazing at a board nailed to the telegraph-pole: "For murder and robbery. Take warning! Anyone offending in the same way will be treated similarly!"
A warm wind from the Pacific, which had swept down through the Rockies' passes, had mitigated the Arctic cold, and the snow lay no more than thinly sprinkled upon the prairie. Hetty Torrance and Miss Schuyler were riding up through the birch bluff from the bridge of the Cedar. It was dim among the trees, for dusk was closing in, the trail was rough and steep, and Hetty drew bridle at a turn of it.
"I quite fancied we would have been home before it was dark, and my father would be just savage if he knew we were out alone," she said. "Of course, he wouldn't have let us go if he had been at Cedar."
Flora Schuyler looked about her with a shiver. The wind that shook the birches had grown perceptibly colder: the gloom beneath them deepened rapidly, and there was a doleful wailing amidst the swinging boughs. Beyond the bluff the white wilderness, sinking into dimness now, ran back, waste and empty, to the horizon. Miss Schuyler was from the cities, and the loneliness of the prairie is most impressive when night is closing down.
"Then one could have wished he had been at home," she said.
Perhaps Hetty did not hear her plainly, for the branches thrashed above them just then. "Oh, that's quite right. Folks are not apt to worry much over the things they don't know about," she said.
"It was not your father I was sorry for," Flora Schuyler said sharply. "The sod is too hard for fast riding, and it will be 'most an hour yet before we get home. I wish we were not alone, Hetty."
Hetty sighed. "It was so convenient once!" she said. "Whenever I wanted to ride out I had only to send for Larry. It's quite different now."
"I have no doubt Mr. Clavering would have come," said Miss Schuyler.
"Oh, yes," Hetty agreed. "Still, I'm beginning to fancy you were right about that man. Like a good many more of them, he's quite nice at a distance; but there are men who should never let anyone get too close to them."
"You have had quite a few opportunities of observing him at a short distance lately."
Hetty laughed, but there was a trace of uneasiness in her voice. "I could wish my father didn't seem quite so fond of him. Oh—there's somebody coming!"
Instinctively she wheeled her horse into the deeper shadow of the birches and Miss Schuyler followed. There was no habitation within a league of them, and though the frost, which put a period to the homesteaders' activities, lessened the necessity for the cattle-barons' watchfulness, unpleasant results had once or twice attended a chance encounter between their partisans. It was also certain that somebody was coming, and Hetty felt her heart beat as she made out the tramp of three horses. The vultures the struggle had attracted had, she knew, much less consideration for women than the homesteaders or cattle-boys.
"Hadn't we better ride on?" asked Miss Schuyler.
"No," said Hetty; "they would most certainly see us out on the prairie. Back your horse quite close to mine. If we keep quiet they might pass us here."
Her voice betrayed what she was feeling, and Flora Schuyler felt unpleasantly apprehensive as she urged her horse farther into the gloom. The trampling came nearer, and by and by a man's voice reached her.
"Hadn't you better pull up and get down?" it said. "I'm not much use at tracking, but somebody has been along here a little while ago. You see, there are only three of us!"
"They're homesteaders, and they've found our trail," exclaimed Hetty, with a little gasp of dismay.
There was scarcely an opening one could ride through between the birches behind them, and it was evident that the horsemen could scarcely fail to see them the moment they left their shelter. One of them had already dismounted, and was apparently stooping beside the prints the horse-hoofs had left where a little snow had sifted down upon the trail. Hetty heard his laugh, and it brought her a great relief.
"I don't think you need worry, Breckenridge. There were only two of them."
Hetty wheeled her horse. "It's Larry," she said.
A minute later he saw them, and, pulling up, took off his hat; but Flora Schuyler noticed that he ventured on no more than this.
"It is late for you to be out alone. You are riding home?" he said.
"Of course!" said Hetty with, Miss Schuyler fancied, a chilliness which contrasted curiously with the relief she had shown a minute or two earlier.
"Well," said Grant quietly, "I'm afraid you will have to put up with our company. There are one or two men I have no great opinion of somewhere about this prairie. This is Mr. Breckenridge, and as the trail is rough and narrow, he will follow with Miss Schuyler. I presume you don't mind riding with him, although, like the rest of us, he is under the displeasure of your friends the cattle-barons?"
Miss Schuyler looked at him steadily. "I don't know enough of this trouble to make sure who is right," she said. "But I should never be prejudiced against any American who was trying to do what he felt was the work meant for him."
"Well," said Grant, with a little laugh, "Breckenridge will feel sorry that he's an Englishman."
Miss Schuyler turned to the young man graciously, and the dim light showed there was a twinkle in her eyes.
"That," she said, "is the next best thing. Since you are with Mr. Grant you no doubt came out to this country because you thought we needed reforming, Mr. Breckenridge?"
The lad laughed as they rode on up the trail with Grant and Hetty in front of them, and Muller following.
"No," he said. "To be frank, I came out because my friends in the old one seemed to fancy the same thing of me. When they have no great use for a young man yonder, they generally send him to America. In fact, they send some of them quite a nice cheque quarterly so long as they stay there. You see, we are like the hedgehogs, or your porcupines, if you grow them here, Miss Schuyler."
Flora Schuyler smiled. "You are young, or you wouldn't empty the magazine all at once in answer to a single shot."
"Well," said Breckenridge, "so are you. It is getting dark, but I have a notion that you are something else too. The fact I mentioned explains the liberty."
Flora shook her head. "The dusk is kind. Any way, I know I am years older than you. There are no little girls in this country like the ones you have been accustomed to."
"Now," said Breckenridge, "my sisters and cousins are, I firmly believe, a good deal nicer than those belonging to most other men; but, you see, I have quite a lot of them, and any one so favoured loses a good many illusions."
In the meantime Hetty, who, when she fancied he would not observe it, glanced at him now and then, rode silently beside Grant until he turned to her.
"I have a good deal to thank you for, Hetty, and—for you know I was never clever at saying the right thing—I don't quite know how to begin. Still, in the old times we understood just what each other meant so well that talking wasn't necessary. You know I'm grateful for my liberty and would sooner take it from you than anybody else, don't you?"
Hetty laid a restraint upon herself, for there was a thrill in the man's voice, which awakened a response within her. "Wouldn't it be better to forget those days?" she said. "It is very different now."
"It isn't easy," said Grant, checking a sigh. "I 'most fancied they had come back the night you told me how to get away."
Hetty's horse plunged as she tightened its bridle in a fashion there was no apparent necessity for. "That," she said chillingly, "was quite foolish of you, and it isn't kind to remind folks of the things they had better not have done. Now, you told us the prairie wasn't safe because of some of your friends."
"No," said Grant drily, "I don't think I did. I told you there were some men around I would sooner you didn't fall in with."
"Then they must be your partisans. There isn't a cattle-boy in this country who would be uncivil to a woman."
"I wish I was quite sure. Still, there are men coming in who don't care who is right, and only want to stand in with the men who will give them the most dollars or let them take what they can. We have none to give away."
"Larry," the girl said hotly, "do you mean that we would be glad to pay them?"
"No. But they will most of them quite naturally go over to you, which will make it harder for us to get rid of them. We have no use for men of that kind in this country."
"No?" said the girl scornfully. "Well, I fancied they would have come in quite handy—there was a thing you did."
"You heard of that?"
"Yes," very coldly. "It was a horrible thing."
Grant's voice changed to a curious low tone. "Did you ever see me hurt anything when I could help it in the old days, Hetty?"
"No. One has to be honest; I remember how you once hurt your hand taking a jack-rabbit out of a trap."
"And how you bound it up?"
"Well," said Hetty, "I don't know, after the work you have done with it, that I should care to do that now."
"There are affairs you should never hear of and I don't care to talk about with you," Grant said, very quietly, "but since you have mentioned this one you must listen to me. Just as it is one's duty to give no needless pain to anything, so there is an obligation on him to stop any other man who would do it. Is it wrong to kill a grizzly or a rattlesnake, or merciful to leave them with their meanness to destroy whatever they want? Now, if you had known a quiet American who did a tolerably dangerous thing because he fancied it was right, and found him shot in the back, and the trail of the man who crept up behind him and killed him for a few dollars, would you have let that man go?"
Hetty ignored the question. "The man was your friend."
"Well," said Grant slowly, "he had done a good deal for me, but that would not have counted for very much with any one when we made our decision."
"No?" And Hetty glanced at him with a little astonishment.
Grant shook his head. "No," he said. "We had to do the square thing—that and nothing more; but if we had let that man go, he would, when the chance was given him, have done what he did again. Well, it was—horrible; but there was no law that would do the work for us in this country then."
Hetty shivered, but had there been light enough Grant would have seen the relief in her face, and as it was his pulse responded to the little quiver in her voice. Why it was she did not know, but the belief in him which she had once cherished suddenly returned to her. In the old days the man she had never thought of as a lover could, at least, do no wrong.
"I understand." Her voice was very gentle. "There must be a good deal of meanness in me, or I should have known you only did it because you are a white man, and felt you had to. Oh, of course, I know—only it's so much easier to go round another way so you can't see what you don't want to. Larry, I'm sorry."
Grant's voice quivered. "The only thing you ever do wrong, Hetty, is to forget to think now and then; and by and by you will find somebody who is good enough to think for you."
The girl smiled. "He would have to be very patient, and the trouble is that if he was clever enough to do the thinking he wouldn't have the least belief in me. You are the only man, Larry, who could see people's meannesses and still have faith in them."
"I am a blunderer who has taken up a contract that's too big for him," Grant said gravely. "I have never told anyone else, Hetty, but there are times now and then when, knowing the kind of man I am, I get 'most sick with fear. All the poor men in this district are looking to me, and, though I lie awake at night, I can't see how I'm going to help them when one trace of passion would let loose anarchy. It's only right they're wanting, that is, most of the Dutchmen and the Americans—but there's the mad red rabble behind them, and the bitter rage of hard men who have been trampled on, to hold in. It's a crushing weight we who hold the reins have got to carry. Still, we were made only plain farmer men, and I guess we're not going to be saddled with more than we can bear."
He had spoken solemnly from the depths of his nature, and all that was good in the girl responded.
"Larry," she said softly, "while you feel just that I think you can't go wrong. It is what is right we are both wanting, and—though I don't know how—I feel we will get it by and by, and then it will be the best thing for homestead-boys and cattle-barons. When that time comes we will be glad there were white men who took up their load and worried through, and when this trouble's worked out and over there will be nothing to stop us being good friends again."
"Is that quite out of the question now?"
"Yes," said Hetty simply. "I am sorry, but, Larry, can't you understand? You are leading the homestead-boys, and my father the cattle-barons. First of all I've got to be a dutiful daughter."
"Of course," he agreed. "Well, it can't last for ever, and we can only do the best we can. Other folks had the same trouble when the boys in Sumter fired the starting gun—North and South at each other's throats, and both Americans!"
Hetty decided that she had gone sufficiently far, and turned in her saddle. "What is the Englishman telling you, Flo?" she asked.
Miss Schuyler laughed. "He was almost admitting that the girls in this country are as pretty as those they raise in the one he came from."
"Well," said Breckenridge, "if it was daylight I'd be sure."
Grant fancied that it was not without a purpose his companion checked her horse to let the others come up, and, though it cost him an effort, acquiesced. His laugh was almost as ready as that of the rest as they rode on four abreast, until at last the lights of Cedar Range blinked beside the bluff. Then, they grew suddenly silent again as Muller, who it seemed remembered that he had been taught by the franc tireurs, rode past them with his rifle across his saddle. They pulled up when his figure cut blackly against the sky on the crest of a rise, and Hetty's laugh was scarcely light-hearted.
"You have been very good, and I am sorry I can't ask you to come in," she said. "Still, I don't know that it's all our fault; we are under martial law just now."
Grant took off his hat and wheeled his horse, and when the girls rode forward sat rigid and motionless, watching them until he saw the ray from the open door of Cedar Range. Then, Muller trotted up, and with a little sigh he turned homewards across the prairie.
About the same time Richard Clavering lay smoking, in a big chair in the room where he kept his business books and papers. He wore, among other somewhat unusual things, a velvet jacket, very fine linen, and on one of his long, slim fingers a ring of curious Eastern workmanship. Clavering was a man of somewhat expensive tastes, and his occasional visits to the cities had cost him a good deal, which was partly why an accountant, famous for his knowledge of ranching property, now sat busy at a table. He was a shrewd, direct American, and had already spent several days endeavouring to ascertain the state of Clavering's finances.
"Nearly through?" the rancher asked, with a languidness which the accountant fancied was assumed.
"I can give you a notion of how you stand, right now," he answered. "You want me to be quite candid?"
"Oh, yes," said Clavering, with a smile of indifference. "I'm in a tight place, Hopkins?"
"I guess you are—any way, if you go on as you're doing. You see what I consider it prudent to write off the value of your property?"
Clavering examined the paper handed him with visible astonishment. "Why have you whittled so much off the face value?"
"Just because you're going to have that much taken away from you by and by."
Clavering's laugh was quietly scornful. "By the homestead-boys?"
"By the legislature of this State. The law is against you holding what you're doing now."
"We make what law there is out here."
"Well," said Hopkins, coolly, "I guess you're not going to do it long. You know the maxim about fooling the people. It can't be done."
"Aren't you talking like one of those German socialists?"
"On the contrary. I quite fancy I'm talking like a business man. Now, you want to realize on those cattle before the winter takes the flesh off them, and extinguish the bank loan with what you get for them."
Clavering's face darkened. "That would strip the place, and I'd have to borrow to stock again."
"You'd have to run a light stock for a year or two."
"It wouldn't suit me to do anything that would proclaim my poverty just now," said Clavering.
"Then you'll have to do it by and by. The interest on the bond is crippling you."
"Well." Clavering lighted another cigar. "I told you to be straight. Go right on. Tell me just what you would do if the place was in your hands."
"Sell out those cattle and take the big loan up. Clear off the imported horses and pedigree brood mares. You have been losing more dollars than many a small rancher makes over them the last few years."
"I like good horses round the place," Clavering said languidly.
"The trouble," said Hopkins, "is that you can't afford to have them. Then, I would cut down my personal expenses by at least two-thirds. The ranch can't stand them. Do you know what you have been spending in the cities?"
"No. I gave you a bundle of bills so you could find it out."
Hopkins' smile was almost contemptuous. "I guess you had better burn them when I am through. I'll mention one or two items. One hundred dollars for flowers; one thousand in several bills from Chicago jewellers! The articles would count as an asset. Have you got them?"
"I haven't," said Clavering. "They were for a lady."
"Well," said Hopkins, "you know best; but one would have fancied there was more than one of them from the bills. Here's another somewhat curious item: hats—I guess they came from Paris—and millinery, two hundred dollars' worth of them!"
A little angry light crept into Clavering's eyes. "If I hadn't been so abominably careless you wouldn't have seen those bills. I meant to put them down as miscellaneous and destroy the papers. Well, I've done with that extravagance, any way, and it's to hear the truth I'm paying you quite a big fee. If I go on just as I'm doing, how long would you give me?"
"Two years. Then the bank will put the screw on you. The legislature may pull you up earlier, but I can tell you more when I've squared up to-morrow."
There was a curious look in Clavering's dark eyes, but he laughed again.
"I guess that's about enough. But I'll leave you to it now," he said. "It's quite likely I'll have got out of the difficulty before one of those years is over."
He went out, and a few minutes later stopped as he passed the one big mirror in the ranch, and surveyed himself critically for a moment with a dispassionate interest that was removed from vanity. Then he nodded as if contented.
"With Torrance to back me it might be done," he said. "Liberty is sweet, but I don't know that it's worth at least fifty thousand dollars!"
THE SPROUTING OF THE SEED
Late in the afternoon of a bitter day Grant drove into sight of the last of the homesteaders' dwellings that lay within his round. It rose, a shapeless mound of white, from the wilderness that rolled away in billowy rises, shining under the sunlight that had no warmth in it. The snow that lay deep about its sod walls and upon the birch-branch roof hid its squalidness, and covered the pile of refuse and empty cans, but Grant knew what he would find within it, and when he pulled up his team his face grew anxious. It was graver than it had been a year ago, for Larry Grant had lost a good deal of his hopefulness since he heard those footsteps at the depot.
The iron winter, that was but lightly felt in the homes of the cattle-barons, had borne hardly on the men huddled in sod-hovel, and birch-log shanty, swept by the winds of heaven at fifty degrees below. They had no thick furs to shelter them, and many had very little food, while on those who came from the cities the cold of the Northwest set its mark, numbing the half-fed body and unhinging the mind. The lean farmers from the Dakotas who had fought with adverse seasons, and the sinewy axe-men from Michigan clearings, bore it with grim patience, but there were here and there a few who failed to stand the strain, and, listening to the outcasts from the East, let passion drive out fortitude and dreamed of anarchy. They had come in with a pitiful handful of dollars to build new homes and farm, but the rich men, and in some cases their own supineness, had been too strong for them; and while they waited their scanty capital melted away. Now, with most of them it had almost gone, and they were left without the means to commence the fight in spring.
Breckenridge saw the shadow in Grant's face, and touched his arm. "I'll go in and give the man his dollars, Larry," he said. "You have had about as much worry as is good for you to-day."
Grant shook his head. "I've no use for shutting my eyes so I can't see a thing when I know it's there."
He stepped out of the sleigh and went into the shanty. The place had one room, and, though a stove stood in the midst of it and the snow that kept some of the frost out was piled to the windows, it was dank and chill. Only a little dim light crept in, and it was a moment or two before Grant saw the man who sat idle by the stove with a clotted bandage round his leg. He was gaunt, and clad in jean patched with flour-bags, and his face showed haggard under his bronze. Behind him on a rude birch-branch couch covered with prairie hay a woman lay apparently asleep beneath a tattered fur coat.
"What's the matter with her?" Grant asked.
"I don't quite know. She got sick 'most two weeks ago, and talks of a pain that only leaves her when she's sleeping. One of the boys drove in to the railroad for the doctor, but he's busy down there. Any way, it would have taken him 'most a week to get here and back, and I guess he knew I hadn't the dollars to pay him with."
Grant recognized the hopeless evenness of the tone, but Breckenridge, who was younger, did not.
"But you can't let her lie here without help of any kind," he said.
"Well," said the man slowly, "what else can I do?"
Breckenridge could not tell him, and appealed to his comrade. "We have got to take this up, Larry. She looks ill."
Grant nodded. "I have friends down yonder who will send that doctor out," he said. "Here are your dollars from the fund. Ten of them this time."
The man handed him one of the bills back. "If you want me to take more than five you'll have to show your book," he said. "I've been finding out how you work these affairs, Larry."
Grant only laughed, but Breckenridge turned to the speaker with an assumption of severity that was almost ludicrous in his young face.
"Now, don't you make yourself a consumed ass," he said. "You want those dollars considerably more than we do, and we've got quite a few of them doing nothing in the bank. That is, Larry has."
Grant's eyes twinkled. "It's no use, Breckenridge. I know the kind of man he is. I'm going to send Miss Muller here, and we'll come round and pound the foolishness out of you if you try to send back anything she brings with her. This place is as cold as an ice-store. What's the matter with your stove?"
"The stove's all right," and the man pointed to his leg. "The trouble is that I've very little wood. Axe slipped the last time I went chopping in the bluff, and the frost got into the cut. I couldn't make three miles on one leg, and pack a load of billets on my back."
"But you'd freeze when those ran out, and they couldn't last you two days," said Breckenridge, glancing at the little pile of fuel.
"Yes," said the man grimly. "I guess I would, unless one of the boys came along."
"Anything wrong with your oxen?" asked Grant.
"Well," said the man drily, "we've been living for 'most two months on one of them. I salted a piece of him; the rest's frozen. I had to sell the other to a Dutchman. Since the cattle-boys stopped me ploughing I hadn't much use for them, any way."
"Then," said Breckenridge, "why the devil did you bring a woman out to this forsaken country?"
Perhaps the man understood what prompted the question, for he did not resent it. "Where was I to take her to? I'm a farmer without dollars, and I had to go somewhere when I'd lost three wheat crops in Dakota. Somebody told me you had room for small farmers, and when I heard the land was to be opened for homesteading, I sold out everything, and came on here to begin again. Never saw a richer soil, and there's only one thing wrong with the country."
"The men in it?" asked Breckenridge.
The farmer nodded, and a little glow crept into his eyes. "Yes," he said fiercely. "The cattle-barons—and there'll be no room for anyone until we've done away with them. We've no patience for more fooling. It has got to be done."
"That's the executive's business," said Grant.
The man rose, with a little quiver of his lean frame and a big hand clenched. "No," he said, "it's our business, and the business of every honest citizen. If you don't tackle it right off, other men will put the contract through."
"You'll have to talk plainer," said Grant.
"Well," said the farmer, "that's easy. It was you and some of the others brought us in, and now we're here we're starving. There's land to feed a host of us, and every citizen is entitled to enough to make a living on. But while the cattle-men keep hold, how's he going to get it? Oh, yes, we've cut their fences and broken a few acres here and there; but how are we going to put through our ploughing when every man who drives a furrow has to whip up six of his neighbours to keep the cow-boys off him? Well, there's just one answer. We're going to pull those men down."
"You're going to sit tight until your leaders tell you to move," Grant informed him.
The man laughed harshly. "No," he said. "Unless they keep ahead of us we're going to trail them along. You're a straight man, Larry, but you don't see all you've done. You set this thing going, and now you can't step out if it goes too far for you. No, sir, you've got to keep the pace and come along, and it's going to be quite lively now some of the Chicago anarchy boys are chipping in."
Grant's face was very stern. "When they're wanted, your leaders will be there," he said. "They've got hold, and they'll keep it, if they have to whip the sense into some of you. Now give me that axe of yours, and we'll get some wood. I don't want to hear any more wild talking."
He went out, taking Breckenridge with him, and an hour later returned with a sleigh-load of birch branches, which he flung down before the shanty. Then, he turned the team towards Fremont ranch, and his face was grave as he stared over the horses' heads at the smear of trail that wound away, a blue-grey riband, before the gliding sleigh.
"I wonder if that fellow meant to give us a hint," said Breckenridge.
Grant nodded. "I think he did—and he was right about the rest. Two years ago I was a prosperous rancher, proud of the prairie I belonged to, and without a care; but I could see what this country was meant to be, and when the others started talking about the homestead movement I did my share. Folks seemed keen to listen; we got letters from everywhere, and we told the men who wrote them just what the land could do. It was sowing blindfold, and now the crop's above the sod it 'most frightens me. No man can tell what it will grow to be before it's ready for the binder, and while we've got the wheat we've got the weeds as well."
"Wasn't it always like that? At least, it seems so from reading a little history. I don't know that I envy you, Larry. In the tongue of this country, it's a hard row you have to hoe. Of course, there are folks who would consider they had done enough in planting it."
"Yes," Grant agreed, "we have quite a few of them over here; but, if more than we've planted has come up, I'm going right through."
Breckenridge said nothing further, and there was silence until the lights of Fremont rose out of the snowy wilderness. When they reached it they found a weary man lying in a big chair; he pointed to the litter of plates on the table as he handed Grant a letter.
"I haven't eaten since sun up, and drove most of sixty miles, so I didn't wait," he said. "Our executive boss, who told me to lose no time, seemed kind of worried about something."
Grant opened the letter, which was terse. "Look out," he read. "We had to put the screw on a crazy Pole who has been making wild speeches here, and as he lit out I have a notion he means to see what he can do with the discontented in your district. We couldn't have him raising trouble round this place, any way. It's taking us both hands to hold the boys in already."
"Bad news?" said Breckenridge sympathetically.
"Yes," Grant said wearily. "Get your supper and sleep when you can. You'll be driving from sun up until after it's dark to-morrow."
They ate almost in silence, but, though the messenger and Breckenridge retired shortly after the meal, Grant sat writing until late in the night. Then, he stretched his arms wearily above his head, and his face showed worn and almost haggard in the flickering lamplight.
"It has put Hetty further from me than ever, and cost me the goodwill of every friend I had; while the five thousand dollars I've lost as well don't count for very much after that," he said.
Early next morning Breckenridge and the messenger drove away, and rather more than a week later Fraeulein Muller, whom the former had taken to attend on the homesteader's wife, arrived one night at Fremont ranch. She came in, red-cheeked, unconcerned, and shapeless, in Muller's fur coat, and quietly brushed the dusty snow from her dress before she sat down as far as possible from the stove.
"I a message from Mrs. Harper bring," she said. "Last night two men to Harper's house have come, and one now and then will to the other talk in our tongue. He is one, I think, who will destroy everything. Then they talk with Harper long in the stable, and to-day Harper with his rifle rides away. Mrs. Harper, who has fears for her husband, would have you know that to-night, or to-morrow he will go with other men to the Cedar Ranch."
Grant was on his feet in a moment, and nodded to Breckenridge, who rose almost as quickly and glanced at him as he moved towards the door.
"Yes," he said, "there's some tough hoeing to be done now. You'll drive Miss Muller back to Harper's, and then turn out the boys. They're to come on to Cedar as fast as they can."
"And you?" said Breckenridge quietly.
"I'm going there now."
"You know the cattle-men would do almost anything to get their hands on you."
"Oh, yes," Grant said wearily. "Aren't you wasting time?"
Breckenridge was outside the next moment, but before he had the sleigh ready Grant lead a saddled horse out of the stable, and vanished at a gallop down the beaten trail. It rang dully beneath the hoofs, but the frost that had turned its surface dusty lessened the chance of stumbling, and it was not until the first league had been left behind and he turned at the forking beneath a big birch bluff that he tightened his grip on the bridle. There it was different, for the trail no longer led wide and trampled hard across the level prairie, but wound, an almost invisible riband, through tortuous hollow and over swelling rise, so narrow that in places the hoofs broke with a sharp crackling through the frozen crust of snow. That, Larry knew, might, by crippling the beast he rode, stop him then and there, and he pushed on warily, dazzled at times by the light of the sinking moon which the glistening white plain flung back into his eyes.
It was bitter cold, and utterly still for the birds had gone south long ago, and there was no beast that ventured from his lair to face the frost that night. Dulled as the trample of hoofs was, it rang about him stridently, and now and then he could hear it roll repeated along the slope of a rise. The hand upon the bridle had lost all sense of feeling, his moccasined feet tingled painfully, and a white fringe crackled under his hand when, warned by the nipping of his ears, he drew the big fur cap down further over them. It is not difficult to lose the use of one's members for life by incautiously exposing them to the cold of the prairie, while a frost that may be borne by the man covered to the chin with great sleigh robes, is not infrequently insupportable to the one on horseback.
Grant, however, took precautions, as it were mechanically, for his mind was too busy to feel in its full keenness the sting of the frost, and while his eyes were fixed on the blur of the trail his thoughts were far away, and it was by an almost unconscious effort he restrained the impatient horse. Because speed was essential, he dare risk no undue haste. He was not the only rider out on the waste that night, and the shiver that went through him was not due to the cold as he pictured the other horsemen pressing on towards Cedar Ranch. Of the native-born he had little fear, and he fancied but few of them would be there. There was even less to dread from any of English birth, but he feared the insensate alien, and still more the human vultures that had gathered about the scene of strife. They had neither race, nor creed, nor aspirations, but only an unhallowed lust for the fruits of rapine.
He could also picture Hetty, sitting slight and dark-eyed at the piano, as he had often seen her, and Torrance listening with a curious softening of his lean face to the voice that had long ago wiled Larry's heart away from him. That led him back to the days when, loose-tressed and flushed in face, Hetty had ridden beside him in the track of the flying coyote, and he had seen her eyes glisten at his praise. There were other times when, sitting far apart from any of their kind, with the horses tethered beside them in the shadow of a bluff, she had told him of her hopes and ambitions, but half-formed then, and to silence his doubts sung him some simple song. Larry had travelled through Europe, to look about him, as he naively said, but it was what reminded him of that voice he had found most pleasure in when he listened to famous sopranos and great cathedral choirs.
Still, he had expected little, realizing, as he had early done, that Hetty was not for him. It was enough to be with her when she had any need of him and to dream of her when absent, while it was only when he heard she had found her hopes were vain that he clutched at the very faint but alluring possibility that now her heart might turn to him. Then, had come the summons of duty, and when he had to choose which side he would take, Larry, knowing what it would cost him, had with the simple loyalty which had bound him as Hetty's servant without hope of reward, decided on what he felt was right. He was merely one of the many quiet, steadfast men whom the ostentatious sometimes mistake for fools, until the nation they form the backbone of rises to grapple with disaster or emergency. They are not confined to any one country; for his comrade, Muller, the placid, unemphatic Teuton, had been at Worth and Sedan.
Though none of these memories delayed him a second, he brushed them from him when the moon dipped. Darkness swooped down on the prairie, and it is the darkness that suits rapine best; now, that he could see the trail no longer, he shook the bridle, and the pace grew faster. The powdery snow whirled behind him, the long, dim levels flitted past, until at last, with heart thumping, he rode up a rise from whose crest he could see Cedar Range. A great weight lifted from him—the row of windows were blinking beside the dusky bluff! But even as he checked the horse the ringing of a rifle came portentously out of the stillness. With a gasp he drove in his heels and swept at a furious gallop down the slope.
It was getting late and Torrance evidently becoming impatient, when Clavering, who had ignored the latter fact as long as he considered it advisable, glanced at Hetty with a smile. He stood by the piano in the big hall at Cedar Range, and she sat on the music-stool turning over one of the new songs he had brought her from Chicago.
"I am afraid I will have to go," he said. "Your father is not fond of waiting."
Though Hetty was not looking at him directly, she saw his face, which expressed reluctance still more plainly than his voice did; but just then Torrance turned to them.
"Aren't you through with those songs yet, Clavering?" he said.
"I'm afraid I have made Miss Torrance tired," said Clavering. "Still, we have music enough left us for another hour or two."
"Then why can't you stay on over to-morrow and get a whole night at it? I want you just now."
Clavering glanced at Hetty, and, though she made no sign, fancied that she was not quite pleased with her father.
"Am I to tell him I will?" he asked.
Hetty understood what prompted him, but she would not commit herself. "You will do what suits you," she said. "When my father asks any one to Cedar I really don't often make myself unpleasant to him."
Clavering's eyes twinkled as he walked towards the older man, while Hetty crossed the room to where Miss Schuyler sat. Both apparently became absorbed in the books Clavering had brought, but they could hear the conversation of the men, and it became evident later that one of them listened. Torrance had questions to ask, and Clavering answered them.
"Well," he said, "I had a talk with Purbeck which cost us fifty dollars. His notion was that the Bureau hadn't a great deal to go upon if they meant to do anything further about dispossessing us. In fact, he quite seemed to think that as the legislature had a good many other worries just now, it would suit them to let us slide. He couldn't recommend anything better than getting our friends in the lobbies to keep the screw on them until the election."
Torrance looked thoughtful. "That means holding out for another six months, any way. Did you hear anything at the settlement?"
"Yes. Fleming wouldn't sell the homestead-boys anything after they broke in his store. Steele's our man, and it was Carter they got their provisions from. Now, Carter had given Jackson a bond for two thousand dollars when he first came in, and as he hadn't made his payments lately, and we have our thumb on Jackson, the Sheriff has closed down on his store. He'll be glad to light out with the clothes he stands in when we're through with him."
Torrance nodded grim approval. "Larry wouldn't sit tight."
"No," said Clavering. "He wired right through to Chicago for most of a carload of flour and eatables, but that car got billed wrong somehow, and now they're looking for her up and down the side-tracks of the Pacific slope. Larry's men will be getting savage. It is not nice to be hungry when there's forty degrees of frost."
Torrance laughed softly. "You have fixed the thing just as I would."
Then his daughter stood up with a little flush in her face. "You could not have meant that, father?" she said.
"Well," said Torrance, drily, "I quite think I did, but there's a good deal you can't get the hang of, Hetty—and it's getting very late."
He looked at his daughter steadily, and Flora Schuyler looked at all of them, and remembered the picture—Torrance sitting lean and sardonic with the lamplight on his face, Clavering watching the girl with a curious little smile, and Hetty standing very slim and straight, with something in the poise of her shapely head that had its meaning to Miss Schuyler. Then with a "Good-night" to Torrance, and a half-ironical bend of the head to Clavering, she turned to her companion, and they went out together before he could open the door for them.
Five minutes later Hetty tapped at Miss Schuyler's door. The pink tinge still showed in her cheeks, and her eyes had a suspicious brightness in them.
"Flo," she said, "you'll go back to New York right off. I'm sorry I brought you here. This place isn't fit for you."
"I am quite willing, so long as you are coming too."
"I can't. Isn't that plain? This thing is getting horrible—but I have to see it through. It was Clavering fixed it, any way."
"Put it away until to-morrow," Flora Schuyler advised. "It will be easier to see whether you have any cause to be angry then."
Hetty turned towards her with a flash in her eyes. "I know just what you mean, and it would be nicer just to look as if I never felt anything, as some of those English folks you were fond of did; but I can't. I wasn't made that way. Still, I'm not going to apologize for my father. He is Torrance of Cedar, and I'm standing in with him—but if I were a man I'd go down and whip Clavering. I could almost have shaken him when he wanted to stay here and tried to make me ask him."
"Well," said Flora Schuyler, quietly, "I am going to stay with you; but I don't quite see what Clavering has done."
"No?" said Hetty. "Aren't you just a little stupid, Flo? Now, he has made me ashamed—horribly—and I was proud of the men we had in this country. He's starving the women and the little children; there are quite a few of them lying in freezing shanties and sod-huts out there in the snow. It's just awful to be hungry with the temperature at fifty below."
Miss Schuyler shivered. It was very warm and cosy sitting there, behind double casements, beside a glowing stove; but there had been times when, wrapped in costly furs and great sleigh-robes and generously fed, she had felt her flesh shrink from the cold of the prairie.
"But they have Mr. Grant to help them," she said.
Even in her agitation Hetty was struck by something which suggested unquestioning faith in her companion's tone.
"You believe he could do something," she said.
"Of course! You know him better than I do, Hetty."
"Well," said Hetty, "though he has made me vexed with him, I am proud of Larry; and there's just one thing he can't do. That is, to see women and children hungry while he has a dollar to buy them food with. Oh, I know who was going to pay for the provisions that came from Chicago that Clavering got the railroad men to send the wrong way, and if Larry had only been with us he would have been splendid. As it is, if he feeds them in spite of Clavering, I could 'most forgive him everything."
"Are you quite sure that you have a great deal to forgive?"
Hetty, instead of resenting the question, stretched out her hand appealingly. "Don't be clever, Flo. Come here quite close, and be nice to me. This thing is worrying me horribly; and I'm ashamed of myself and—of everybody. Oh, I know I'm a failure. I couldn't sing to please folks and I sent Jake Cheyne away, while now, when the trouble's come, I'm too mean even to stand behind my father as I meant to do. Flo, you'll stay with me. I want you."
Miss Schuyler, who had not seen Hetty in this mood before, petted her, though she said very little, for she felt that the somewhat unusual abasement might, on the whole, be beneficial to her companion. So there was silence in the room, broken only by the snapping of the stove and the faint moaning of the bitter wind about the lonely building, while Miss Schuyler sat somewhat uncomfortably on the arm of Hetty's chair with the little dusky head pressed against her shoulder. Hetty could not see her face or its gravity might have astonished her. Miss Schuyler had not spoken quite the truth when, though she had only met him three times, she admitted that Hetty knew Larry Grant better than she did. In various places and different guises Flora Schuyler had seen the type of manhood he stood for, but had never felt the same curious stirring of sympathy this grave, brown-faced man had aroused in her.
A hound bayed savagely, and Hetty lifted her head. "Strangers!" she said. "Bowie knows all the cattle-boys. Who can be coming at this hour?"
The question was not unwarranted, for it was close on midnight, but Flora Schuyler did not answer. She could hear nothing but the moan of the wind, the ranch was very still, until once more there came an angry growl. Then, out of the icy darkness followed the sound of running feet, a hoarse cry, and a loud pounding at the outer door.
Hetty stood up, trembling and white in the face, but very straight. "Don't be frightened, Flo," she said. "We'll whip them back to the place they came from."
"Who is it?" asked Miss Schuyler.
Again the building rang to the blows upon the outer door; but Hetty's voice was even, and a little contemptuous.
"The rustlers!" she said.
There was a trampling below, and a corridor beneath the girls vibrated with the footsteps of hurrying men, while Torrance's voice rose faintly through the din; a very unpleasant silence, until somebody rapped upon the door. Flora Schuyler felt her heart throbbing painfully, and gasped when Torrance looked in. His lean face was very stern.
"Put the lamp out, and sit well away from the window," he said.
"No," said Hetty in a voice Miss Schuyler had not heard before; "we are coming down."
Torrance considered for a second, and then smiled significantly as he glanced at his daughter's face. "Well, you would be 'most as safe down there—and I guess it was born in you," he said.
The girls followed him down the cedar stairway and into the hall. A lamp burning very low stood on a table in one corner, but the big room was dim and shadowy, and the girls could scarcely see the five or six men standing near, not in front of, one open window. Framed by its log casing the white prairie faded into the dimness under a smear of indigo sky. Here and there a star shone in it with intense brilliancy, and though the great stove roared in the draught it seemed to Miss Schuyler that a destroying cold came in. Already she felt her hands grow numb.
"Where are the boys, Hetty?" she asked.
"In at the railroad, most of them. One or two at the back. Now, I'll show you how to load a rifle, Flo."
Miss Schuyler followed her to the table, where several rifles were lying beside a big box of cartridges, and Hetty took one of them up.
"You push this slide back, and drop the cartridge in," she said. "Now it has gone into this pipe here, and you drop in another. Get hold, and push them in until you can't get in any more. Why—it can't hurt you—your hands are shaking!"
There was a rattle, and the venomous, conical-headed cartridge slipped from Miss Schuyler's fingers. She had never handled one before, and it seemed to her that a horrible, evil potency was bound up in that insignificant roll of metal. Then, while the rifle click-clacked in Hetty's hands, Torrance stood by the window holding up a handkerchief. He called out sharply, and there was a murmur of derision in the darkness outside.
"Come out!" said a hoarse voice. "We'll give you a minute. Then you can have a sleigh to drive to perdition in."
The laughter that followed frightened Miss Schuyler more than any threats would have done. It seemed wholly horrible, and there was a hint in it of the fierce exultation of men driven to desperation.
"That wouldn't suit me," said Torrance. "What do you want here, any way?"
"Food," somebody answered. "You wanted to starve us, Torrance, and rode us out when we went chopping stove wood in the bluff. Well, you don't often miss your supper at the Range, and there's quite enough of it to make a decent blaze. You haven't much of that minute left. Are you coming out?"
"No," said Torrance briefly, and, dropping the handkerchief, moved from the window.
The next moment there was a flash in the darkness, and something came whirring into the room. The girls could not see it, but they heard the thud it struck with and saw a chip start from the cedar panelling. Then, there was a rush of feet, and twice a red streak blazed from the window. A man jerked a cartridge, which fell with a rattle from his rifle, and a little blue smoke blew across the room. Flora Schuyler shivered as the acrid fumes of it drifted about her, but Hetty stood very straight, with one hand on the rim of the table.
"Got nobody, and they're into the shadow now," said a man disgustedly, and Flora Schuyler, seeing his face, which showed a moment fierce and brutish as he turned, felt that she could not forget it, and most illogically hated him.
For almost a minute there was silence. Nobody moved in the big room, where the shadows wavered as the faint flickering lamplight rose and fell, and there was no sound but the doleful wail of the night wind from the prairie. It was broken by a dull crash that was repeated a moment later, and the men looked at one another.
"They've brought their axes along," said somebody. "If there's any of the Michigan boys around they'll drive that door in."
"Watch it, two of you," said Torrance. "Jake, can't you get a shot at them?"
A man crouched by the open window, which was some little height from the ground, his arms upon the sill, and his head showing against the darkness just above them. He was, it seemed to Miss Schuyler, horribly deliberate, and she held her breath while she watched, as if fascinated, the long barrel move a little. Then its muzzle tilted suddenly, a train of red sparks blew out, and something that hummed through the smoke struck the wall. The man dropped below the sill, and called hoarsely through the crash of the falling axes.
"Got the pillar instead of him. There's a streak of light behind me. Well, I'll try for him again."
Hetty emptied the box of cartridges, and, with hands that did not seem to tremble, stood it up before the lamp. Once more the man crouched by the window, a blurred, huddled object with head down on the rifle stock, and there was another streak of flame. Then, the thud of the axes suddenly ceased, and he laughed a little discordant laugh.
"Got him this time. The other one's lit out," he said.
Miss Schuyler shuddered, and clutched at the table, while, though Hetty was very still, she fancied she heard a stifled gasp. The silence was even more disconcerting than the pounding of the axes or the crash of the firing. Flora Schuyler could see the shadowy figures about the window, and just distinguish some of them. The one standing close in front of it, as though disdainful of the risk he ran, was Torrance; the other, who now and then moved lithely, and once rested a rifle on the sill, was Clavering; another, the man who had fired the last shot; but the rest were blurred, formless objects, a little darker than the cedar panelling. Now and then the streak of radiance widened behind the box, and the cold grew numbing as the icy wind flowed in.
Suddenly a voice rose up outside. "You can't keep us out, Torrance. We're bound to get in; but I'll try to hold the boys now if you'll let us have our wounded man, and light out quietly."
Torrance laughed. "You are not making much of a show, and I'm quite ready to do the best I can," he said. "If there's any life in him we want your man for the Sheriff."
Then he turned to the others. "I was 'most forgetting the fellow outside there. We'll hold them off from the window while you bring him in."
It appeared horribly risky, but Torrance spoke with a curious unconcernedness, and Clavering laughed as, signing to two men, he prepared to do his bidding. There was a creaking and rattling, and the great door at one end of the hall swung open, and Flora Schuyler, staring at the darkness, expected to see a rush of shadowy figures out of it. But she saw only the blurred outline of two men who stooped and dragged something in, and then the door swung to again.
They lifted their burden higher. Torrance, approaching the table, took up the lamp, and Miss Schuyler had a passing glimpse of a hanging head and a drawn grey face as they tramped past her heavily. She opened her blue lips and closed them again, for she was dazed with cold, and the cry that would have been a relief to her never came. It was several minutes later when Torrance's voice rose from by the stove.
"We'll leave him here in the meanwhile, where he can't freeze," he said. "Shot right through the shoulder, but there's no great bleeding. The cold would stop it."
Hetty was at her father's side the next moment. "Flo," she said, "we have to do something now."
Torrance waved them back. "The longer that man stops as he is, the better chances he's going to have." He glanced towards the window. "Boys, can you see what they're doing now?"
"Hauling out prairie hay," said Clavering. "They've broken into the store, and from what one fellow shouted they've found the kerosene."
Torrance said nothing whatever, and his silence was significant. Listening with strained attention, Flora Schuyler could hear a faint hum of voices, and now and then vague sounds amidst a patter of hurrying steps. They told her very little, but the tension in the attitude of the half-seen men had its meaning. It was evident that their assailants purposed to burn them out.
Ten minutes passed, as it were interminably, and still nobody moved. The voices had grown a little louder, and there was a rattle as though men unseen behind the buildings were dragging up a wagon. Suddenly a rhythmic drumming came softly through it, and Clavering glanced at Torrance.
"Somebody riding this way at a gallop," he said.
The beat of hoofs grew louder. The men without seemed to be running to and fro, and shouting to one another, while those in the hall clustered about the window, reckless of the risk they ran. Standing a little behind them Hetty saw a dim mounted figure sweep out of the waste of snow, and a hoarse shout went up. "Hold on! Throw down that rifle! It's Larry Grant."
In another moment the horseman pulled up, and sat motionless in his saddle with his head turned towards the house. Hetty could see him silhouetted, shapeless and shadowy in his big fur-coat, against the whiteness of the snow, and the relief she felt betrayed itself in her voice as she turned to Miss Schuyler.
"Yes," she said, "it's Larry. There will be no more trouble now."
Flora Schuyler laughed a little breathless laugh, for though she also felt the confidence her companion evinced, the strain had told on her.
"Of course," she said, "he knew you wanted him. There are men like that."
It was a simple tribute, but Hetty thrilled with pride. Larry was at least consistent, and now, as it had been in the days both looked back upon, he had come when she needed him. She also recognized even then that the fact that he is generally to be found where he is wanted implies a good deal in the favour of any man.
And now half-seen objects moved out from behind barn and stable, and the horseman turned towards them. His voice rose sharply and commandingly.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded.
There was no answer for several moments, and then a man stepped forward gesticulating fiercely as he commenced a tirade that was less than half intelligible. Larry checked him with a lifted hand.
"There's a good deal of that I can't quite understand, and the rest doesn't seem to fit this case," he said, with a laugh that had more effect upon some of those who heard it than a flow of eloquence would have had. "Boys, we have no use for worrying about the meanness of European kings and folks of that kind. If you have brought any along I'd sooner listen to sensible Americans."
Another man stepped forward, and there was no doubt about his accent, though his tone was deprecatory.
"Well, it just comes to this," he said. "Torrance and the cattle-men have done their best to starve us and freeze us out, and, since he has made it plain that there's no room for both of us, somebody has got to go. Now, we have come a long way and we mean to stay. We're not looking for trouble, but we want our rights."
There was a murmur of encouragement from the rest, but again Larry's laugh had its effect. "Then you're taking a kind of curious way of getting them," he said. "I don't know that trying to burn folks' houses ever did anybody much good, and it's quite likely to bring a regiment of United States cavalry down on you. Mr. Torrance, I fancied I heard firing. Have you anybody hurt inside?"
"One of your men," said Torrance drily. "We hope to pull him round, and let the Sheriff have him."
It was not a conciliatory answer, and came near undoing what Grant had accomplished; but the grim old cattle-baron was not the man to propitiate an enemy. A murmur followed it, and somebody said, "Boys, you hear him! Bring along that wagon. We're going in."
The form of speech was Western, but the voice was guttural, and when there was a rattle of wheels Grant suddenly changed his tone.
"Stop right there," he said. "Throw every truss of hay down. The man who holds off when I tell him what to do is going to have trouble with the executive."
It was a bold venture, and any sign of effort or unevenness of inflection would have rendered it futile, but the voice was sharp and ringing, and the fashion in which the horseman flung up his arm commanding. It was, also, tactful, for some of those who heard it had been drilled into unreflecting obedience, and there is in the native American the respect for a duly accredited leader, which discipline has further impressed upon the Teuton. Still, those who watched from the window felt that this was the crisis, and tightened their numbed fingers on the rifles, knowing that if the horseman failed they would shortly need them again. None of them, however, made any other movement, and Miss Schuyler, who, grasping Hetty's hand, saw the dim figures standing rigid and intent, could only hear the snapping of the stove.
"Hetty," she gasped, "I shall do something silly in another moment."
The tension only lasted a moment or two. A man sprang up on the pole of the wagon, and a truss of hay went down. Another followed, and then, men who had also felt the strain and now felt it a relief to do anything, clustered about the wagon. In a few minutes it was empty, and the men who had been a mob turned to the one who had changed them into an organized body.
"What do you want now?" asked one of them.
"Run that wagon back where you got it from," said Larry.
It was done, and when the clustering figures vanished amidst a rattle of wheels Torrance laid aside his rifle and sat down on the table.
"I guess there'll be no more trouble, boys. That's a thing there's not many men could have done," he added.
His daughter also sat down in the nearest chair, with Flora Schuyler's hand still within her own. She had been very still while the suspense lasted, but she was trembling now, and her voice had a little quiver in it as she said, "Wasn't he splendid, Flo?"
It was some minutes before Grant and the other men came back again, and fragments of what he said were audible. "Then, you can pick out four men, and we'll hear them at the committee. I have two or three questions to ask you by and by. Half a dozen of you keep a look-out. The rest can get into the stable out of the frost."
The men dispersed, and Grant turned towards the house. "I don't think you need have any further anxiety, and you can shut that window if you want to, Mr. Torrance."
Torrance laughed. "I don't know that I've shown any yet."
"I hope you haven't felt it," said Grant. "It is cold out here, and I'm willing to come in and talk to you."
Somebody had moved the box away from the lamp, and Clavering's face showed up against the wavering shadow as he turned towards his leader. Flora Schuyler saw a little unpleasant smile on his lips as he pointed suggestively to the men with rifles he had sent towards the door.
"That would suit us, sir," he said.
Torrance understood him, for he shook his head impatiently. "It wouldn't pay. There would be too many of his friends wondering what had become of him. Get the door open and tell him to come in. Light the big lamps, somebody."
The door was opened, and, as if in confirmation of Torrance's warning, a voice rose up outside. "We have let him go, but if you try any meanness, or he isn't ready when we want him, we'll pull the place down," it said.
Larry walked out of the darkness into the blaze of light, and only smiled a little when the great door swung to behind him and somebody brought the window banging down. Two men with rifles stepped between him and the former; but if Torrance had intended to impress him, he had apparently failed, for he moved forward with quiet confidence. The fur cap he held in his hand was white, and the great fur coat stood out from his body stiff with frost, while Hetty winced when she saw the pallor of his face. It was evident that it was not without a strenuous effort he had made the mob subservient to him.
But his eyes were grave and steady, in spite of the weariness in them, and as he passed the girls he made a little formal inclination with his head. He stopped in front of Torrance, who rose from his seat on the table, and for a moment the two men looked at one another. Both stood very straight, one lean, and dark, and commanding, with half-contemptuous anger in his black eyes; the other of heavier frame and brown of skin and hair save where what he had done had left its stamp of pallor. Yet, different as they were in complexion and feature, it seemed to Miss Schuyler, who watched them intently, that there was a curious, indefinite resemblance between them. They were of the same stock and equally resolute, each ready, it seemed, to stake all he had on what he held the right.
Flora Schuyler, who had trained her observation, also read what they felt in their faces, and saw in that of Torrance grudging approval tempered by scorn of the man who had trampled on the traditions of those he sprang from. She fancied that Larry recognized this and that it stung him, though he would not show that it did, and his attitude pleased her most. It was unyielding, but there was a deference that became him in it.
"I am sorry I did not arrive soon enough to save you this inconvenience, sir," he said.
Torrance smiled grimly, and there was a hardness in his voice. "You have been here a good many times, Larry, and we did our best for you. None of us fancied that you would repay us by coming back with a mob of rabble to pull the place down."
Grant winced perceptibly. "Nobody is more sorry than I am, sir."
"Aren't you a trifle late?"
"I came as soon as I got word."
Torrance made a little gesture of impatience. "That's not what I mean. There is very little use in being sorry now. Before the other fools you joined started there talking there was quietness and prosperity in this country. The men who had made it what it is got all, but nothing more than they were entitled to, and one could enjoy what he had worked for and sleep at night. This was not good enough for you—and this is what you have made of it."
He stretched out his arm with a forceful gesture, pointing to the men with rifles, the two white-faced girls, and the splinters on the wall, then dropped his hand, and Larry's eyes rested on the huddled figure lying by the stove. He moved towards it, and bent down without a word, and it was at least five minutes before he came back again, his face dark and stern.
"You have done nothing for him?" he said.
"No," said Torrance, "we have not. I guess nature knows what's best for him, and I didn't see anything to be gained by rousing him with brandy to start the bleeding."
"Well, first of all, I want that man."
"You can have him. We had meant him for the Sheriff, but what you did just now lays me in your debt, and I would not like to feel I owed you anything."
Grant made a little gesture. "I don't think I have quite deserved that, sir. I owe you a good deal, and it makes what I have to do harder still. Can't you remember that there was a time when you were kind to me?"
"No," said Torrance drily. "I don't want to be reminded when I have done foolish things. I tried to warn you, but you would not listen to me, that the trail you have started on will take you a good deal farther than you meant to go. If you have anything to tell me, I would sooner talk business. Are you going to bring your friends round here at night again?"
"They came without me, and, if I can help it, will not come back. This thing will be gone into, and the leaders punished by our committee. Now, are you willing to stop the intimidation of the storekeepers, which has brought about this trouble, and let us get provisions in the town? I can offer you something in exchange."
"No," said Torrance. "Do what suits you best. I can make no terms with you. If it hadn't been for my foolishness in sending the boys off with the cattle, very few of your friends would have got away from Cedar Range to-night."
"I'll take my man away. I can thank you for that at least," was Grant's answer.
He moved to the door and opened it, and three men came in. They did his bidding, and all made way for them when they tramped out unsteadily with their burden. Then, he turned once more to Torrance with his fur cap in his hand.
"I am going now, sir, and it is hard to tell what may happen before we meet again. We have each got a difficult row to hoe, and I want to leave you on the best terms I can."
Torrance looked at him steadily, and Grant returned it with a curious gravity, though there were fearless cattle-men at Cedar Range who did not care to meet its owner's gaze when he regarded them in that fashion. With a just perceptible gesture he directed the younger man's attention to the red splashes on the floor.
"That alone," he said quietly, "would stand between you and me. We made this land rich and peaceful, but that did not please you and the rest, who had not sense to see that while human nature's what it is, there's no use worrying about what you can't have when you have got enough. You went round sowing trouble, and by and by you'll have to reap it. You brought in the rabble, and were going to lead them, and make them farmers; but now they will lead you where you don't want to go, and when you have given them all you have, turn and trample on you. With the help of the men who are going back on their own kind, they may get us down, but when that time comes there will not be a head of cattle left, or a dollar in the treasury."
"I can only hope you are mistaken, sir," said Grant.
"I have lived quite a long while, but I have never seen the rabble keep faith with anyone longer than it suited them," the older man said. "Any way, that is not the question. You will be handed to the Sheriff if you come here again. I have nothing more to tell you, and this is, I hope, the last time I shall ever speak to you."
Miss Schuyler watched Grant closely, but though his face was drawn and set, she saw only a respect, which, if it was assumed, still became him in his bearing as he turned away. As he passed the girls he bent his head, and Hetty, whose cheeks were flushed, rose with a formal bow, though her eyes shone suspiciously, but Flora Schuyler stepped forward and held out her hand.
"Mr. Torrance can't object to two women thanking you for what you have done; and if he does, I don't greatly mind," she said.
Torrance only smiled, but the warm bronze seemed to have returned to Larry's face as he passed on. Flora Schuyler had thanked him, but he had seen what was worth far more to him in Hetty's eyes, and knew that it was only loyalty to one who had the stronger claim that held her still. After the door closed behind him there was once more a curious stillness in the hall until Torrance went out with his retainers. A little later Clavering found the girls in another room.
"You seem quite impressed, Miss Schuyler," he said.
"I am," said Flora Schuyler. "I have seen a man who commands one's approbation—and an American."
Clavering laughed. "Then, they're not always quite the same thing?"
"No," Flora Schuyler said coldly. "That was one of the pleasant fancies I had to give up a long time ago."
"I would like a definition of the perfected American," said Clavering.
Miss Schuyler yawned. "Can't you tell him, Hetty? I once heard you talk quite eloquently on that subject."
"I'll try," said Hetty. "It's the man who wants to give his country something, and not get the most he can out of it. The one who goes round planting seeds that will grow and bear fruit, even if it is long after he is there to eat it. No country has much use for the man who only wants to reap."
Clavering assented, but there was a sardonic gleam in his eyes. "Well," he said reflectively, "there was once a man who planted dragon's teeth, and you know what kind of crop they yielded him."
"He knew what he was doing," said Flora Schuyler. "The trouble is that now few men know a dragon's tooth when they see it."
Clavering laughed. "Then the ones who don't should be stopped right off when they go round planting anything."
It was a clear, cold afternoon, and Hetty, driving back from Allonby's ranch, sent the team at a gallop down the dip to the Cedar Bridge. The beaten trail rang beneath the steel shoes of the rocking sleigh, the birches streamed up blurred together out of the hollow, and Flora Schuyler felt the wind sting her cheeks like the lash of a whip. The coldness of it dimmed her eyes, and she had only a hazy and somewhat disconcerting vision of a streak of snow that rolled back to the horses' feet amidst the whirling trees. It was wonderfully exhilarating—the rush of the lurching sleigh, the hammering of the hoofs, and the scream of the wind—but Miss Schuyler realized that it was also unpleasantly risky as she remembered the difficult turn before one came to the bridge.
She decided, however, that there was nothing to be gained by pointing this out to her companion, for Hetty, who sat swaying a little in the driving seat, had been in a somewhat curious mood since the attack on Cedar Range, and unusually impatient of advice or remonstrance. Indeed, Flora Schuyler fancied that it was the restlessness she had manifested once or twice of late which impelled her to hurl the sleigh down into the hollow at that reckless pace. So she said nothing, until the streak of snow broke off close ahead, and there were only trees in front of them. Then, a wild lurch cut short the protest she made, and she gasped as they swung round the bend and flashed across the bridge. The trail, however, led steeply upwards now, and Hetty, laughing, dropped the reins upon the plodding horses' necks.
"Didn't that remind you of the Chicago Limited?" she said.
"I was wondering," said Miss Schuyler breathlessly, "if you had any reason for trying to break your neck."
"Well," said Hetty, with a twinkle in her eyes, "I felt I had to do something a little out of the usual, and it was really safe enough. Everybody feels that way now and then, and I couldn't well work it off by quarrelling with you, or going out and talking to the boys as my father does. I don't know a better cure than a gallop or a switchback in a sleigh."
"Some folks find it almost as soothing to tell their friends what is worrying them, and I scarcely think it's more risky," said Miss Schuyler.
Hetty's face became grave. "Well," she said, "one can talk to you, and I have been worried, Flo. I know that it is quite foolish, but I can't help it. I came back to see my father through the trouble, and I'm going to; but while I know that he's ever so much wiser than I am, some of the things he has to do hurt me. It's our land, and we're going to keep it; but it's not nice to think of the little children starving in the snow."