"Lady Jim has been poking you up and telling you it's your duty," she told him in derision.
"I daresay. I'm a lazy beggar. Always shirking when I can."
"Lady Jim isn't lazy."
"Di does her duty even when it isn't pleasant. Pity more of us don't."
"Meaning that it is my unpleasant duty to marry Mr. Verinder's money?"
"Hang Verinder and his money. I'm no end glad you can't stand him. Fact is, we didn't quite know how bad he was when we asked him to join us."
"Well, sure your money isn't on the wrong horse, Moya? Mind, I don't say it is. I ask."
"If you mean Mr. Kilmeny, there hasn't been a word between us you couldn't have heard yourself," the girl told him stiffly.
"If my memory serves it didn't use to be so much a matter of words. What about your feelings? Di fancies——"
"Of course she does. She's always fancying. That's the business of a chaperone. It's perfectly absurd," Moya flung back hotly.
"Glad you see it that way. It wouldn't do, of course."
She looked directly at him, a challenge in her stormy eyes. "The whole thing is ridiculous. The man hasn't given me a second thought. If you're going to warn anyone, it ought to be Joyce."
Lord Farquhar looked straight at her. "Joyce has her eyes wide open. She can look out for herself."
"And I can't?"
"No, you can't—not when your feelings are involved. You're too impulsive, too generous."
"It's all a storm in a teacup. I've only met him three times to talk with. He's been friendly—no more. But if he and I wanted to—not that there's the ghost of a chance of it, but if we did—I don't see why it wouldn't do."
"Any number of reasons why it wouldn't. Marriage nowadays isn't entirely a matter of sentiment. You're an Englishwoman. He's an American, and will be to the end of the chapter."
"I'm not English; I'm Irish—and the Irish make the best Americans," she told him sturdily.
Farquhar ignored her protest. "His ways of thinking are foreign to yours, so are his habits of life. You're a delightful rebel, my dear, but you've got to come to heel in the end. All girls do. It's a rule of the game, and you'll have to accept it. No matter how captivating your highwayman may be—and upon my word I admire him tremendously—he is not your kind. He makes his own laws, and yours are made for you."
"You're making one for me now, aren't you?" she demanded rebelliously.
"Let's not put it so strong as that. I'm trying to persuade you to something of which you are fully persuaded already."
"I'm not—not in the least. It's absurd to talk about it because the man hasn't the least idea of making love to me. But suppose he wanted to. Why shouldn't I listen to him? You tell me he doesn't have the same little conventions as we do. Thank heaven he hasn't. His mind is free. If that condemns him——"
She broke off from sheer passionate inadequacy to express herself.
"Those conventions are a part of your life, little girl. Can you imagine yourself sitting opposite him at breakfast for the rest of your natural days?"
"You mean because he is a workingman, I suppose."
"If you like. You would miss all the things to which you were used. Love in a cottage isn't practicable for young women brought up as you have been."
"Then I've been brought up wrong. If I were fond enough of the man—but that's absurd. We're discussing an impossible case. I'll just say this, though. I've never met a man who would be as little likely to bore one."
"Does his cousin bore you?"
"No. Captain Kilmeny is interesting in his way too, but——"
"His thoughts are all well regulated ones. He keeps to the proper beaten track." She flung up a hand impatiently. "Oh, I know he's perfect. I've never been allowed to forget that. He's too perfect. He would let me do anything I wanted to do. I would want a husband—if I ever have one—who would be strong enough to make me want to do whatever he said."
Farquhar smiled as he flung his cigar into the river. "That works out better in theory than in practice, my dear. It's the little things that count in married life. What we need is a love well under control and friction eliminated."
"That's not what I want. Give me my great moments, even if I have to pay for them."
He understood perfectly her eager desire for the best life has to offer. What he was proposing for her was a tame second best. But it was safe, and the first rule of the modern marriage mart is to play the game safe. Yet he had a boyish errant impulse to tell her to cut loose and win happiness if she could. What restrained him, in addition to what he owed Lady Jim in the matter, was his doubt as to this young man's character.
"There would be another thing to consider. Kilmeny is under a cloud—a pretty serious one. All the evidence connects him with this robbery. Grant that you believe him innocent. Still, a nice girl can't let her name be connected with that of a man suspected of a crime."
"I'm sure he isn't guilty. I don't care what the evidence is."
"'Fraid that's sentiment. It has a bad look for him."
"Do we desert our friends when things have a bad look for them?"
"I used that word," she told him stanchly.
"But you've only talked with the man three times," he answered with a gleam of friendly malice in his eyes.
"I've talked with Mr. Verinder forty times and I'm less his friend after each talk," she returned with energy.
"Well, I daresay I've exaggerated the whole matter, my dear. I was just to give you a hint—no more."
"You've done it, then."
"Strikes me that I've done my duty in the matter."
"You have—admirably," she scoffed.
"It's up to Di now—if you should take a fancy for entertaining your highwayman again while you're fishing."
"It's not likely that I'll ever see him again."
"I daresay not." He rose and looked across the rushing water. "There's just one thing I stick out for. Regardless of your interest in him—no matter what might happen—you wouldn't let things get on another footing until he has proved his innocence—absolutely and beyond question."
"Isn't that rather an unnecessary condition? I'm not in the habit of throwing myself at the heads of strangers who are merely casually polite to me."
He took in her sweet supple slimness, the fine throat line beneath the piquant lifted chin which mocked his caution, the little imps of raillery that flashed from the dark live eyes. In spite of a passionate craving for the adventure of life she had a good deal of reticence and an abundant self-respect. He felt that he had said more than enough already.
"Quite right, my dear. I withdraw my condition."
"It's one I would insist upon myself—if there were any likelihood of any need of it—which there isn't."
An easy-going man, he did not cross bridges till he came to them. His wife had persuaded him that Moya needed a talking to, but he was glad to be through with it.
"Hang the scamp, anyhow!" he laughed. "Maybe he'll break his neck on one of those outlaw bronchos he's so fond of riding. Maybe they'll put him safely away in prison, where there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage. Maybe, as you say, he'll have the bad taste to prefer Joyce to my little Irish wild rose, in which case he'll be put in his place at the proper time."
"It's even possible," she added with a murmur of half-embarrassed laughter, "that if he honored one with an offer—which it has never entered his head to do—one might regretfully decline with thanks."
"Amen! In the meantime God lead your grace by the hand, as old Bacon says." He brought his heels together, bowed over her fingers, and kissed them with exaggerated old-fashioned gallantry.
"Who's being romantic now?" she wanted to know gayly.
Dinner at the Lodge was just finished. It was the one hour of the day when anything like formality obtained. Each one dropped into breakfast when he or she pleased. Luncheon rarely found them together. But Lady Jim insisted that dinner should be a civilized function. Unless there was to be night fishing the whole party usually adjourned from the dining-room to the river-front porch, where such members of it as desired might smoke the postprandial cigar or cigarette. To-night nobody cared to get out rod and line. In an hour or so they would return to the living-room for bridge.
Voices drifted up the trail and presently riders came into sight. They halted among the trees, where one dismounted and came forward, his trailing spurs jingling as he walked.
He bowed to his audience in general, and again and more particularly to Lady Farquhar.
"Evening, ma'am. My name's Gill—sheriff of this county. I hate to trouble you, but my men haven't had a bite to eat since early this mo'ning. Think we could get a snack here? We'll not get to Gunnison till most eleven."
Lady Farquhar rose. "I'll have the cook make something for you. How many?"
"Six. Much obliged. Just anything that's handy."
Sheriff Gill beckoned to the men in the trees, who tied their horses and presently came forward. All but one of them were heavily armed. That one walked between a 30-30 and a 32 special carbine. It was observable that the men with the rifles did not lift their eyes from him.
Moya felt her heart flutter like that of a caged bird. The blood ebbed from her lips and she swayed in her seat. The prisoner was Jack Kilmeny. Farquhar, sitting beside the girl, let his hand fall upon hers with a comforting little pressure.
"Steady!" his voice murmured so that she alone heard.
Yet his own pulse stirred with the sheer melodrama of the scene. For as the man came forward it chanced that the luminous moonbeams haloed like a spotlight the blond head and splendid shoulders of the prisoner. Never in his gusty lifetime had he looked more the vagabond enthroned. He was coatless, and the strong muscles sloped beautifully from the brown throat. A sardonic smile was on the devil-may-care face, and those who saw that smile labeled it impudent, debonair, or whimsical, as fancy pleased.
"By Jove, the fellow's a natural-born aristocrat," thought Farquhar, the most democratic of men.
Jack Kilmeny nodded with cool equality toward Farquhar and the captain, ignored Verinder, and smiled genially at India. For Moya his look had a special meaning. It charged her with the duty of faith in him. Somehow too it poured courage into her sinking heart.
"Afraid an engagement at Gunnison with Sheriff Gill won't let me stop for any poker to-night," he told his host.
Farquhar was on the spot to meet him in the same spirit. "Verinder will be glad of that. I fancy my pocketbook too will be fatter to-morrow morning."
Biggs appeared to take the newly arrived party in charge. As they started to follow him the prisoner came face to face with Joyce, who was just coming out of the house. She looked at the young miner and at the rifles, and her eyes dilated. Under the lowered lights of evening she seemed to swim in a tide of beauty rich and mellow. The young man caught his breath at the sheer pagan loveliness of her.
"What is it?" she asked in a low, sweet, tremulous voice.
His assurance fled. The bravado was sponged from his face instantly. He stared at her in silence from fascinated eyes until he moved forward at the spur of an insistent arm at his elbow.
India wondered how Lady Jim would dispose of the party. Jack Kilmeny might be a criminal, but he happened to be their cousin. It would hardly do to send him to the servants' quarters to eat. And where he ate the sheriff and his posse would likewise have to dine.
The young woman need not have concerned herself. Lady Farquhar knew enough of the West and its ways not to make a mistake. Such food as could be prepared at short notice was served in the dining-room.
Having washed the dust of travel from himself, the sheriff returned to the porch to apologize once more for having made so much trouble.
Farquhar diverted him from his regrets by asking him how they had made the capture.
"I ain't claiming much credit for getting him," Gill admitted. "This here was the way of it. A kid had been lost from Lander's ranch—strayed away in the hills, y'understand. She was gone for forty-eight hours, and everybody in the district was on the hunt for her. Up there the mountains are full of pockets. Looked like they weren't going to git her. Soon it would be too late, even if they did find her. Besides, there are a heap of mountain lions up in that country. I tell you her folks were plumb worried."
Moya, listening to every word as she leaned forward, spoke vividly. "And Mr. Kilmeny found her."
The sheriff's surprised eyes turned to her. "That's right, ma'am. He did. I dunno how you guessed it, but you've rung the bell. He found her and brought her down to the ranch. It just happened we had drapped in there ten minutes before. So we gathered him in handy as the pocket in your shirt. Before he could move we had the crawl on him."
The sheriff retired to the dining-room, whence came presently snatches of cheerful talk between the prisoner and his captors. In their company Jack Kilmeny was frankly a Western frontiersman.
"You passed close to me Wednesday night at the fork of Rainbow above the J K ranch. I was lying on a ledge close to the trail. You discussed whether to try Deer Creek or follow Rainbow to its headwaters," the miner said.
"That was sure one on us. Hadn't been for the kid, I don't reckon we ever would have took you," a deputy confessed.
"What beats me is why you weren't a hundred miles away in Routt County over in yore old stamping ground," another submitted.
"I had my reasons. I wasn't looking to be caught anyhow. Now you've got me you want to watch me close," the prisoner advised.
"We're watching you. Don't make any mistake about that and try any fool break," Gill answered, quite undisturbed.
"He's the coolest hand I ever heard," Farquhar said to the party on the porch. "If I were a highwayman I'd like to have him for a partner."
"He's not a highwayman, I tell you," corrected Moya.
"I hope he isn't, but I'm afraid he is," India confided in a whisper. "For whatever else he is, Jack Kilmeny is a man."
"Very much so," the captain nodded, between troubled puffs of his pipe.
"And I'm going to stand by him," announced his sister with a determined toss of her pretty head.
Moya slipped an arm quickly around her waist. She was more grateful for this support than she could say. It meant that India at least had definitely accepted the American as a relative with the obligation that implied. Both girls waited for Ned Kilmeny to declare himself, for, after all, he was the head of the family. He smoked in silence for a minute, considering the facts in his stolid deliberate fashion.
The excitement of the girl he loved showed itself in the dusky eyes sparkling beneath the soft mass of blue-black hair, in the glow of underlying blood that swept into her cheeks. She hoped—oh, how she hoped!—that the officer would stand by his cousin. In her heart she knew that if he did not—no matter how right his choice might be in principle—she never would like him so well again. He was a man who carried in his face and in his bearing the note of fineness, of personal distinction, but if he were to prove a formalist at heart, if he were going to stickle for an assurance of his kinsman's innocence before he came to the prisoner's aid, Moya would have no further use for him.
When the sheriff presently came out Captain Kilmeny asked him if he might have a word with the prisoner.
"Sure. Anything you want to say to him."
The English officer drew his cousin aside and with some embarrassment tendered to his cousin the use of his purse in the event it might be needed for the defense.
Jack looked at him steadily with hard unflinching eyes. "Why are you offering this, captain?"
"I don't quite take you."
"I mean, what's your reason? Don't like it to get out that you have a cousin in the pen, is that it? Anxious to avoid a family scandal?" he asked, almost with a sneer.
The captain flushed, but before he could answer India flamed out. "You might have the decency to be ashamed of that, Jack Kilmeny."
Her cousin looked at the girl gravely, then back at her lean, clean-faced brother. "I am. Beg your pardon, captain. As for your offer, I would accept it if there were any need. But there isn't. The charges against me will fall flat."
"Deuced glad to hear it. Miss Dwight has just been telling us it would be all right."
India looked straight at Jack out of the steel-blue eyes that were so like his own. "I wasn't so sure of it myself, but Moya was. Nothing could shake her. She's a good friend."
"I had it sized up about that way," the miner replied. "But I've a notion Miss Kilmeny will stand the acid too. Anyhow, I'm much obliged to her."
The prisoner shook hands with both of his cousins, lifted a broad-brimmed gray felt hat from the rack, and delivered himself to the sheriff.
"All right, Gill."
India gave a little exclamation and moved toward the hatrack. Her hand fell upon a second hat, similar in appearance to the first, but much more worn and dust-stained. She opened her lips to speak and closed them without saying a word. For her eyes had met those of Moya and read there a warning.
Jack Kilmeny nodded a brisk farewell to Farquhar, smiled at Miss Dwight, and moved with his guards to the clump of trees where the horses had been left. His eyes had looked for Joyce, but she was not at that moment in sight.
The last faint beat of the retreating hoofs died away. An awkward constraint settled upon the party left at the Lodge. It was impossible to discuss the situation openly, yet it was embarrassing to ignore the subject in the thoughts of all. After a decent interval they began to drop away, one by one, from the group. India followed Moya, and found that young woman in her room.
"What are you hiding?" Miss Kilmeny asked quickly.
Moya produced from her hatbox a gray sombrero and put it on the table. "I didn't know it was you—thought it might be Lady Jim," she explained.
"Why wasn't I to tell Jack Kilmeny that he had taken Ned's hat by mistake?" India wanted to know.
"Because it wasn't by mistake."
"Not by mistake! What would he want with another man's hat?"
"I'm not sure about that. Perhaps he didn't want his own. You see, I had started myself to tell him about the mistake, but his eyes asked me plain as words not to speak."
"But why—why?" India frowned at the hat, her active brain busy. "It would be absurd for him to want Ned's hat. He must have had some reason, though."
"Don't they search prisoners before they lock them up?" Moya asked abruptly.
India shook her head. "I don't know. Do they?"
"Of course they do." Moya's eyes began to shine. "Now suppose there is something about that hat he didn't want them to see."
"How do you mean?" India picked up the hat and turned it round slowly. "It's worn and a bit disreputable, but he wouldn't care for that."
Moya found a pair of scissors in her work basket. With these she ripped off the outer ribbon. This told her nothing. Next she examined the inside. Under the sweat pad was a folded slip of paper. She waved it in excitement.
"What did I tell you?"
"But—if he is innocent—what could there be he wanted to hide?"
"I don't know." Moya unfolded the paper enough to see that there was writing in it. "Do you think we ought to read this?"
"I don't know," India repeated in her turn. "Perhaps it may be a message to you."
Moya's face lighted. "Of course that's it. He wanted to tell us something when the rest were not there, so he used this method."
Three cramped lines were penciled on the torn fragment of paper.
At wharf above camp. Twelve steps below big rock. In gunny sack three yards from shore.
Two pairs of puzzled eyes looked into each other.
"What can it mean?" India asked.
"I don't know, unless——"
"Can it be a direction for finding something?"
"But what? And why should it be hidden in his hat? Besides, he would have no chance to put it in there after he was captured."
"Then perhaps it isn't a message to me at all."
"That's what we must find out. 'At wharf above camp.' That probably means his fishing camp."
"What are you going to do, India?"
"I'm going to get Ned to help me find that gunny sack."
Moya found herself trembling. She did not know why. It was not doubt of her reckless friend, but none the less she was in a panic.
"Do you think we'd better?"
Miss Kilmeny looked at her in surprise. In general nobody came to decision more quickly than Moya.
"Of course. How else can we tell whether it is something he wants us to do for him?"
"When shall we look?"
"The sooner the better—to-night," answered the other girl immediately. "The wharf above the camp. It's not a quarter of an hour from here. I'll not sleep till I know what he means."
"Lady Jim," Moya reminded her.
"She needn't know. She can't object if we take Ned and go fishing for an hour."
Moya consulted her watch. "They'll be gathering for bridge pretty soon. Let's go now. We can be back in time for supper."
"Get into your fishing togs. I'll get Ned and we'll meet you on the west porch in a quarter of an hour."
Within the appointed time the three slipped away down the river bank trail as silently as conspirators. The captain was rather inclined to pooh-pooh the whole thing, but he was not at all sorry to share an adventure that brought him into a closer relationship with Moya Dwight.
"Must be this wharf," India said presently, as a bulky shadow loomed out of the darkness.
"Shouldn't wonder. Here's a big rock just below it. Didn't the paper say something about a rock?" asked the captain.
"Twelve steps below big rock, it says."
The soldier paced off the distance. "What now?"
"Three yards from the shore," called his sister. "There should be a gunny sack, whatever that is."
"Afraid he's spoofing us," Kilmeny said with a laugh as he moved out in his waders against the current. "Here I am. What's the next direction?"
India giggled. She was Irish enough to get the humorous side of things and could not help being frivolous even when she was greatly interested. "Now you look over your left shoulder at the moon and wish."
Her brother's high voice cut in. "I say. My foot's kicking something. Wait a jiff."
He braced his feet, dived suddenly down with one arm till his face touched the water, and grappled with his fingers for a hold on something lying between two rocks at the bottom. When he straightened again it was with an effort. He did not attempt to raise his burden from the stream, but waded ashore with it. Using both hands, he dragged his find to land.
"It's a sack," India cried excitedly.
The captain's eyes met those of Moya. His face was grave, but she was white to the lips. Both of them felt sure of what they would find in the sack.
"Open it," she told him tensely.
With his pocketknife Kilmeny cut the string that tied the sack. He drew out a heavy valise so full that it gaped. Silver and gold coins, as well as bills, filled it to the mouth. They had found the money stolen from the treasurer of the Gunnison County Fair association.
All three of them were sick at heart. Jack Kilmeny then was guilty, after all. The message in the hat had not been intended for them, but had been merely a note of identification of the spot. He had taken the captain's hat merely because he did not want the officers to find the directions under the sweat pad. He had in essence lied to Moya and to the cousins who had offered to stand shoulder to shoulder with him in his trouble.
To Moya the next hour was a nightmare. They returned to the Lodge and slipped into the house by way of a French window opening upon the deserted north porch. Kilmeny hid the sack of treasure in his trunk and divested himself of his fishing clothes. Presently he joined Moya and his sister on the front porch, where shortly they were discovered by Verinder in search of a fourth at bridge.
India, knowing how greatly her friend was shaken, volunteered to fill the table and maneuvered Verinder back into the living-room with her. The millionaire had vaguely the sense of a conspiracy against him and resented it, even though of late he had been veering from Moya to Joyce in his attentions.
Captain Kilmeny, left alone with the girl of his dreams, wisely said nothing. He was himself indignant, his family pride stung to the quick. His cousin was not only a thief but a liar. Born of a race of soldiers, with the traditions of family and of the army back of him for generations, the latter offense was the greater of the two. He understood something of how Miss Dwight felt. She had let herself become greatly interested in this vagabond cousin of his. Openly she had championed his cause. Now her feelings were wounded, her pride hurt, and her anger ablaze. The fellow's offense against her had been flagrant.
So far the captain had guessed correctly. Moya writhed like a bruised woodland creature. Her friendship had been abused. She had been as credulous as a simple country wench, while he no doubt had been laughing up his sleeve at her all the time. No longer had she any doubt as to his guilt. She visualized the hurried run for safety to camp, the swift disposal of the treasure in the river because of the close pursuit. When she lived over again that scene on Sunbeam the girl flogged her soul like a penitent. As one grinds defiantly on an ulcerated tooth, so she crushed her pride and dragged it in the dust.
But the wound was deeper even than this. To give herself in friendship impulsively was her temperament, though not many were judged worthy of such giving. This blue-eyed scamp had won her as no man ever had before. She had seen him through a glamour. Now his character stood stripped in its meanness. Her sweet trust was crushed. In the reaction that was upon her she craved rest and safety. No longer had she any confidence in her own judgment. Against the advice of her friends she had been wayward and headstrong, so sure that she knew best.
Kilmeny, sitting beside her in the deep shadows cast by the wild cucumber vines, became aware that she was weeping silently. His heart bled for her. He had known her always buoyant, gallant as Galahad, vibrant of joy to the finger tips.
"I say, don't," he pleaded. It was impossible for him to voice adequately his feelings. Greatly daring, he let an arm rest across the shoulders that were being racked by suppressed pianissimo sobs.
"You mustn't, you know. I can't stand it." And, again, "Please don't."
She gulped down the lump in her throat and turned upon him filmy eyes, the lashes of which were tangled with tears. This fine strong soldier represented the haven of rest toward which she was being driven. Had she never met his American cousin she knew that she would probably have accepted him in the end. The swift impulse swept her to anchor her craft for life in a safe harbor. She had tried rebellion, and that had left her spent and beaten. What she wanted now was safety, a rest from the turmoil of emotion.
"Do you still ... want me?" she asked lifelessly.
He could not on the instant take her meaning. Then, "Want you!" he cried in a low voice no words could have expressed fully. "Want you? Oh, my dear!"
"You know I don't love you ... not in one way," she told him naively. "Lady Jim says that will come. I don't know. Perhaps you won't want to take the risk."
She could see the desire of her leap to his honest eyes. "By God, I'll take my chance," he cried.
"You'll give me all the time I want—not push me too hard?"
"You shall set your own time."
Her dusky head was leaning wearily against the back of a wicker porch chair. From sheer fatigue her eyes fluttered shut. Her lover could see the round bird-like throat swell as she swallowed the lump that had gathered. Pity for her and love of her rose in him like a flood. He would have given anything to wrap her in his arms and fight away her troubles. But he knew it would be months before he could win the right to do this.
"Would you mind if ... if we didn't tell the others just yet?"
"It shall be as you say, Moya, dear."
She nodded languid thanks. "You're good. I ... I think I'll go to bed. I'm so tired."
He kissed the tips of her fingers and she vanished round the corner of the house.
Kilmeny sat down again and looked for long across the moonlit river. His sweetheart had promised to marry him, but in how strange a fashion. He was to be her husband some day, but he was not yet her lover by a good deal. His imagination fitted another man to that role, and there rose before him the strong brown face of his cousin with its mocking eyes and devil-may-care smile.
His promised wife! He had despaired of winning her, and she had crept to him as a hurt child does to its mother. There was no exultation in his heart. Poor child! How sad and tired her eyes had been.
THE BAD PENNY AGAIN
Verinder strolled down to the river bank, where Joyce was fishing from the shore in a tentative fashion.
"I say, Miss Seldon, aren't you breaking the Sabbath?" he asked from the bank above, smiling down upon her with an attempt at archness.
She flashed at him over her shoulder a smile that had all the allure of lovely youth. "I'm only bending it. I haven't caught a single fish."
"Bending it! Oh, I say, that's rather rippin', you know."
She nodded her golden head. "Thanks."
"Casting is a horrid bore. You should be a fisher of men," he told her fatuously.
"If I could be sure I wouldn't catch one. But if I happened to, what would I do with him?"
"Do with him! Why, it depends on who you catch. If he's undersize unhook him gently and throw him back into the river. What!"
The gay smile, flashed sideways at him, was a challenge. "But it isn't always so easy to unhook them, I'm told."
"Not if one doesn't want to."
"You're telling me that I'm a flirt, aren't you?" she said suspiciously.
"I can't tell you anything along that line you don't know already."
"I've a good mind to get angry," she flung back, laughing.
"Don't do that. If it would help I can tell you a lot of nice things I think about you. My word, yes!"
Joyce shot one swift glance at him and saw that he was on the verge of waxing sentimental. That would never do. It was on the cards that she might have to marry Dobyans Verinder but she did not want him making love to her.
"Please don't take the trouble. It's really a matter of no moment."
The young woman made another cast.
"I was thinking about me."
"You usually are, aren't you?"
She looked up with surprised amusement. Resentment had made him bold. This was the first spark of spirit she had shaken out of him and she had made him the victim of many moods.
"But I don't blame you for thinking about the most interesting person you know. I think about you a lot myself. You're really rippin', you know."
Joyce groaned in spirit. He did that sort of thing as gracefully as a bear danced. To create a diversion she whipped back her line for a cast so that the flies snapped close to his ear.
"I say, be a bit careful," Verinder suggested.
"Oh, did I hook you?" she asked carelessly.
"I've been on your line for weeks."
"You'd better whisper it. Moya might hear," she advised roguishly.
Verinder flushed. The transfer of his attentions was still a sore subject with him. He hoped it would be generally understood that he had given up Miss Dwight of his own choice. He did not want it to get out that he had been jilted.
"The whole world is welcome to hear it. I'd advertise it in the Times if it would do any good."
"I believe you are impudent," laughed the beauty.
"I know I'm imprudent."
"Oh!" She carefully dropped her leader in the riffles. "There's no law keeping you in this neighborhood, you know. Try India for a change."
"There's nothing to keep the trout on the line—except the hook."
Her smile told of lazy but amiable derision. "It's a great pity about you."
"Awf'ly glad you feel so. Some poet chap said that pity is akin to love."
"I think it would do you good to take a long walk, Mr. Verinder."
"With Miss Seldon?" he wanted to know cautiously.
"Alone," she told him severely. "It would be a rest."
"A rest for me—or for you?"
The dimples flashed into her soft cheeks again. "For both of us, perhaps."
"Thanks. It's rather jolly here." He put his hands in his trousers pockets and leaned against a tree.
"Hope you'll enjoy it. I'm going to find Moya." Miss Seldon reeled up, put her rod against the tree, and sauntered off with the lissom grace that was hers.
Verinder woke up. "Let me come too. On second thoughts I find I do need a walk."
She looked back at him saucily over her shoulder. "You may come if you won't talk until you're spoken to."
"Done, by Jove!"
They followed the trail a stone's throw in silence.
"Miss Dwight's always going off by herself. Seems to me she's a bit off her feed," Verinder suggested.
Joyce was amused. For a man who wanted it understood that only one girl in the world mattered to him he still appeared to take a good deal of interest in Moya.
"Seems dreamy and—er—depressed. What!" he continued.
"Perhaps she is in love," Joyce let herself suggest wickedly.
"I've thought of that, but 'pon my word! I can't think of a man."
"Why not Mr. Verinder?"
His eyeglass ogled her to make sure he was not being made game of, but the lovely face was very innocent.
"Can't be," he demurred with conventional denial.
"Captain Kilmeny, then."
"Hardly. I don't think he's quite her style of man."
"Perhaps with his cousin, the highwayman."
"Good heavens, no!"
She took on a look of horrified suspicion. "You don't think—surely it couldn't be—Oh, I do hope it isn't Lord Farquhar."
He stared at her through his monocle with his mouth open, then discovered that he had been sold as the laughter rippled into her face.
"Oh, I say! Jolly good one, that. Lord Farquhar, by Jove!" Yet his laughter rang flat. It always made him angry to find that they were "spoofing" him. He didn't like to be "got" in the beastly traps these girls were always laying for him.
"There's Moya now—and there's a man with her," Joyce announced.
"By Gad, it's the highwayman!" Verinder gasped.
It was, though strictly speaking Jack Kilmeny was not yet with her, since she was still unaware of his presence. Moya was sitting on a mossy rock with a magazine in her hand, but she was not reading. By the look of her she was daydreaming, perhaps of the man who was moving noiselessly toward her over the bowlders.
Before she heard him he was close upon her. She looked around, and with a little cry got to her feet and stared at him, her hand on her fast beating heart.
Joyce waited to see no more.
"No business of ours," she announced to Verinder, and, without regard to his curiosity or her own, turned heel and marshaled him from the field.
"You!" Moya cried.
Kilmeny bowed. "The bad penny turned up again, Miss Dwight."
Scorn of him flashed in her dark eyes. She stood straight and rigid, but in spite of herself she breathed fast.
"You've forgotten your promise. You've lost faith again," he charged.
His impudence stirred contemptuous anger. "I know you now, sir," she told him with fine contempt.
"And you promised to believe in me." He said it quietly, with just a touch of bitterness in the reproach of his wistful voice.
The first hint of startled doubt came into her eyes. It was as if he had breathed into a marble statue the pulse of life. He had known her vivid as a thrush in song, a dainty creature of fire and dew. She stood now poised as it were on the edge of hope.
"How could I believe when I found your guilt on you? What right have you to ask it?"
"So you found the paper in the hat, did you?"
"Certain about my guilt this time, are you?"
He said it almost with a sneer, but nothing could crush the resurgent glow in her heart. Against the perilous and emotional climax which was growing on her she set her will in vain. Why was it that the mere presence of this man called to her so potently and shook her confidence in his guilt?
"We found the money," she explained, thinking to confound him.
"I guessed that. It was gone when I went to look for it this morning. I've come for it now."
His assurance amazed her. "Come for it!" she repeated. "It isn't here."
"No, I didn't expect to find it in your purse. But it is at the Lodge."
"I shan't tell you. The money will be returned to those from whom it was stolen."
He looked at her with hard, narrowed eyes. "It will be returned, will it? When?"
"To-day. Within a few hours."
"Who is going to return it?"
Moya had it on the tip of her tongue to tell, but pulled up in time. "I think we'll not go into that."
The American looked at his watch. The hands showed the hour to be 2:30. If the money was to be returned that day someone must already be on the way with it. He had seen his cousin, Captain Kilmeny, take the Gunnison road in a trap not half an hour earlier.
"So the captain is taking it back to-day?" he mused aloud, wary eyes on Moya's face.
A startled expression leaped to her countenance. She had told more than she had intended. "I didn't say so."
"I say so."
Beneath his steady gaze her lashes fell. He nodded, sure that he had guessed correctly.
"I intended to have a talk with you and straighten out some things," he went on. "But I find I haven't time now. We'll postpone it till to-morrow. I'll meet you here at ten o'clock in the morning."
"No," she told him.
The wave of hope had ebbed in her. Given the opportunity to explain the evidence against him, he had cared more to find out what they were doing with the stolen money. He had no time to save his good name.
"Ten in the morning. Remember. It's important. I want to see you alone. If I'm not on time wait for me."
That was his last word. He bowed, turned away almost at a run, and was lost in the small willows. Presently she heard the sound of a galloping horse. A minute later she caught a glimpse of it disappearing up Red Rock canon. He was following the cutoff trail that led to Gunnison.
She wondered what was taking him away so abruptly. He had meant to stop, then had changed his mind. He had told her calmly she must meet him here to-morrow, and if he were late for the appointment she must wait. His impudence was enough to stagger belief. She would show him about that. If he wanted to see her he must come to the Lodge and face Lady Jim. Even then she would not see him. Why should she, since he was what he was?
Ah, but that was the crux of the whole matter! To look at him was to feel that whatever his faults they were not despicable ones. He was alive, so very much alive, and the look of him was that which an honest man should have. Had he proved his innocence and been released? Or had he broken prison, an alternative of which he was quite capable? And, guilty or innocent, what could be the explanation of his extraordinary demand that she should turn over to him the stolen money?
He had found her dumb and stricken with many hours of brooding over his guilt. At least he left her quick with questionings. She divined again the hint of a mystery. Something deeper than reason told her that the unraveling of it would prove him no villain.
One immediate duty alone confronted her. She must confess to Lady Farquhar that she had met and talked with him again. It was likely that she would be well scolded, but it was characteristic of her that she preferred to walk straight to punishment and get it over with. No doubt she had been too free with this engaging scamp. The rules of her set prescribed a straight and narrow road in which she must walk. The open fields beyond the hedges might blossom with flowers, but there could be no dalliance in them for her. She was to know only such people as had the password, only those trimmed and trained till there was no individuality left in them. From birth she had been a rebel, but an impotent one. Each revolt had ended in submission to the silken chains of her environment. Fret as she might, none the less she was as much a caged creature as Lady Jim's canary.
"AN OUT AND OUT ROTTER"
Jack strode through the young alders to his horse, swung to the saddle without touching the stirrups, and was off instantly at a canter. He rode fast, evidently with a direct driving purpose to reach a particular destination. The trail was a rough and rocky one, but he took it recklessly. His surefooted broncho scrambled catlike up steep inclines and slid in clouds of dust down breakneck hillsides of loose rubble. In and out he wound, across gulches and over passes, following always as nearly a bee line as was possible.
An hour of rapid travel brought him to the Gunnison road. He swung to the ground and examined the dusty roadbed. Apparently he was satisfied, for he took his sweat-stained horse back into the brush and tied it to a cottonwood. From its case beside the saddle he drew a rifle. He retraced his own steps and selected carefully a place among the thick bushes by the roadside. With his pocketknife he cut eye-holes in the bandanna handkerchief that had been round his neck and tied it over his face in such a way as to conceal his features entirely. Then he carefully emptied from the rifle all the cartridges it contained and dropped them into his pocket.
These preparations made, he sat down and waited. There came to him very soon the rumble of wheels. Presently a one-horse trap appeared at a curve of the road. Captain Kilmeny was the driver.
Jack rose noiselessly and thrust the barrel of his rifle through the bushes. He was within six feet of the road and he waited until his cousin was almost abreast of him.
"Throw up your hands!"
The captain knew in an instant what he was up against. A masked man with a rifle in his hands could mean only one thing. Ned Kilmeny was no fool. He knew when to fight and when to surrender. His hands went into the air.
"Kick that rifle into the road—with your foot, not with your hands."
The Englishman did as he was told.
"What do you want?" he demanded, looking sharply at the masked bandit.
"I want that satchel beside you. Drop it out."
Again the officer obeyed orders. He asked no questions and made no comment.
"There's room to turn here by backing. Hit the grit for the Lodge."
After he had faced about, Ned Kilmeny had one word to say before leaving.
"I know who you are, and there's just one name for your kind—you're an out and out rotter."
"It's a difference of opinion that makes horse races, captain," answered the masked man promptly.
Ned Kilmeny, as he drove back to the Lodge, was sick at heart. He came of a family of clean, honest gentlemen. Most of them had been soldiers. Occasionally one had gone to the devil as this young cousin of his had done. But there was something in this whole affair so contemptible that it hurt his pride. The theft itself was not the worst thing. The miner had traded on their faith in him. He had lied to them, had made a mock of their friendly offers to help him. Even the elements of decency seemed to be lacking in him.
India and Moya were on the veranda when the captain drove up. One glance at his grim face told them something had gone wrong.
"I've been held up," he said simply.
"Robbed—with a rifle within reach of my hand all the time."
"But—how?" gasped India.
Moya, white to the lips, said nothing. A premonition of the truth clutched icily at her heart.
"A masked man stopped me just as I swung round a bend about three miles from Gunnison. He ordered me to throw out the satchel with the money. I did as I was told."
"He had you covered with a weapon?" asked India.
"With a rifle—yes."
"Did you—recognize him?" Moya's throat was dry, so that her question came almost in a whisper.
The captain's eyes met hers steadily. "He stayed in the bushes, so that I didn't see his body well. He was masked."
"But you know who it was. Tell me."
Ned Kilmeny was morally certain of the identity of the robber. He could all but swear to the voice, and surely there were not two men in the county with such a free and gallant poise of the head.
"I couldn't take oath to the man."
"It was your cousin." Moya was pale to the lips.
The officer hesitated. "I'm not prepared to say who the man was."
The pulse in her throat beat fast. Her hand was clutching the arm of a chair so tightly that the knuckles stood out white and bloodless.
"You know better. It was Jack Kilmeny," she charged.
"I could tell you only my opinion," he insisted.
"And I know all about it." Moya came to time with her confession promptly, in the fearless fashion characteristic of her. "It was I that sent him to you. It was I that betrayed you to him."
India set her lips to a soundless whistle. Her brother could not keep out of his brown face the amazement he felt.
"I don't wonder you look like that," Moya nodded, gulping down her distress. "You can't think any worse of me than I do of myself."
"Nonsense! If you told him you had a reason. What was it?" India asked, a little sharply.
"No reason that justifies me. He took me by surprise. He had come to get the stolen money and I told him we were returning it to the Fair association. He guessed the rest. Almost at once he left. I saw him take the canon road for Gunnison."
"You weren't to blame at all," the captain assured her, adding with a rueful smile: "He didn't take you any more by surprise than he did me. I hadn't time to reach for the rifle."
India's Irish eyes glowed with contemptuous indignation. She used the same expression that Ned had. "He must be an out and out rotter. To think he'd rob Ned after what he offered to do for him. I'm through with him."
Her brother said nothing, but in his heart he agreed. There was nothing to be done for a fellow whose sense of decency was as far gone as that.
Moya too kept silence. Her heart was seething with scorn for this handsome scamp who had put this outrage upon them all. It was bad enough to be a thief, but to this he had added deception, falsehood, and gross ingratitude. Nor did the girl's contempt spare herself. Neither warning nor advice—and Lady Jim had been prodigal of both—had availed to open her eyes about the Westerner. She had been as foolish over him as a schoolgirl in the matter of a matinee idol. That she would have to lash herself for her folly through many sleepless hours of the night was a certainty.
Meanwhile she went through the part required of her. At dinner she tossed the conversational ball back and forth as deftly as usual, and afterward she played her accustomed game of bridge. Fortunately, Kilmeny was her partner. Sometimes when her thoughts wandered the game suffered, but the captain covered her mistakes without comment. She could almost have loved him for the gentle consideration he showed. Why must she needs be so willful? Why couldn't she have given her heart to this gallant gentleman instead of to the reckless young scoundrel whom she hardly knew?
Before the party broke up a ride was arranged for next morning to the Devil's Slide, a great slab of rock some miles away. The young people were to have an early breakfast and get started before the sun was hot. For this reason the sitting at auction was short.
But though Moya reached her room before midnight, it was not until day was beginning to break that she fell into a troubled sleep. She tossed through the long hours and lived over every scene that had passed between her and Jack Kilmeny. It was at an end. She would never see him again. She would ride with the others to the Devil's Slide and he would come to the appointment he had made to find her not there. He would go away, and next day she would leave with the rest of her party for the Big Bend mining country, where Verinder and Lord Farquhar were heavily interested in some large gold producers. That chapter of her life would be closed. She told herself that it was best so. Her love for a man of this stamp could bring no happiness to her. Moreover, she had taken an irretrievable step in betrothing herself to Captain Kilmeny. Over and over again she went over the arguments that marshaled themselves so strongly in favor of the loyal lover who had waited years to win her. Some day she would be glad of the course she had chosen. She persuaded herself of this while she sobbed softly into the hot pillows.
When Fisher wakened her to dress in time for the early breakfast Moya felt very reluctant to join the others. She would have to laugh and talk and make merry, and all the time she would be miserably unhappy. It would be impossible for her to stand Verinder to-day without screaming. A sheer physical lassitude weighted her limbs. In the end she went back to bed and sent for India.
"I'm not feeling fit, dear. Would you mind if I beg off?" she asked with a wan smile.
Her friend took in keenly the big deep-pupiled eyes ringed with weariness. "I don't believe you've slept a wink, Moya. Of course you needn't go. Shall I stay with you? I don't really care about going. I'm about fed up with Dobyans Verinder."
But Moya would not hear of this. She protested so much that India saw it would be a greater kindness to leave her alone.
"You must try to sleep again, dear." India moved about, darkening the windows and shaking up the pillows.
"Yes, I will. I'm all right, you know."
Left to herself, Moya tried to sleep. It was no use. She was wide awake, beyond hope of another nap. No sooner had the voices of the riders died in the distance than she was dressing feverishly. She told herself that she would go outdoors somewhere with a book and rest. Otherwise Lady Farquhar would be asking questions.
Fisher brought her some fruit, a cup of coffee, and a roll. Moya drank the coffee and ate the fruit, after which she went out into the crisp Colorado sunlight. By her watch it was now 9:50.
She made an elaborate pretense with herself of hesitating which way to go. Her thoughts, her eyes, and at last her footsteps turned toward the grove where yesterday Jack Kilmeny had surprised her. But she was too used to being honest with herself to keep up the farce. Stopping on the trail, she brought herself to time.
"You're going to meet that outlaw, Moya Dwight. You said you wouldn't, but you are going. That's why you got out of that ride. No use fibbing to yourself. You've no more will power than a moth buzzing around a candle flame."
So she put it to herself, frankly and contemptuously. But no matter how she scorned herself for it there was not in her the strength to turn her back on her temptation. She had always prided herself on knowing her own mind and following it, but the longing in her to hear this man's justification was more potent than pride. Slowly her reluctant steps moved toward the grove.
Long slants of morning sunlight filtered through the leaves of the cottonwoods so that her figure was flaked with a shifting checkerboard of shadow and shine. She sauntered forward, looking neither to the right nor the left, expecting every instant to hear his cheery impudent greeting.
It did not come. She stole sidelong looks here and there through the dappled woods. They were empty of life save for the chipmunk sitting on its hind legs and watching her light approach. A breeze swept across the river, caught her filmy skirts, and blew them about her ankles. She frowned, brushing down the wind-swept draperies with that instinct for modesty all women share. Shy and supple, elastic-heeled, in that diaphanous half light her slim long body might have been taken for that of a wood nymph had there been eyes to follow her through the umbrageous glade.
Of human eyes there were none. She reached her flat rock and sank upon its moss ungreeted. Her disappointment was keen, even though reason had told her he dared not show himself here after adding a second crime to the first, and this time against her friend, the man who had offered to stand by him in his trouble. An instinct deeper than logic—some sure understanding of the man's reckless courage—had made her feel certain that he would be on the spot.
Mingled with her disappointment was a sharp sense of shame. He had told her to come here and wait for him, as if she had been a country milk-maid—and here she was meekly waiting. Could degradation take her lower than this, that she should slip out alone to keep an assignation with a thief and a liar who had not taken the trouble to come? At any rate, she was spared one humiliation. He would never know she had gone to meet him.
Into the depths of her scorching self-contempt came his blithe "Good-morning, neighbor."
Her heart leaped, but before she looked around Moya made sure no tales could be read in her face. Her eyes met his with quiet scorn.
"I was wondering if you would dare come." The young woman's voice came cool and aloof as the splash of a mountain rivulet.
"Why shouldn't I come, since I wanted to?"
"You can ask me that—now."
Her manner told him that judgment had been passed, but it did not shake the cheerful good humor of the man.
"I reckon I can."
"Of course you can. I might have known you could. You will probably have the effrontery to deny that you are the man who robbed Captain Kilmeny."
"Did he say I was the man?" There was amusement and a touch of interest in his voice.
"He didn't deny it. I knew it must be you. I told him everything—how you found out from me that he was going to Gunnison with the money and hurried away to rob him of it. Because you are his cousin he wouldn't accuse you. But I did. I do now. You stole the money a second time." Her words were low, but in them was an extraordinary vehemence, the tenseness of repressed feeling.
"So he wouldn't accuse me, nor yet wouldn't deny that I was the man. Well, I'll not deny it either, since you're so sure."
"You are wise, sir. You can't delude me a second time. Your denial would count for nothing. And now I think there is nothing more to be said."
She had risen and was about to turn away. A gesture of his hand stopped her.
"If you were so sure about me why didn't you have the officers here to arrest me?"
"Because—because you are a relative of my friends."
"That was the only reason, was it?"
"What other reason could there be?" she asked, a flash of warning in her eyes.
"There might be this reason—that at the bottom of your heart you know I didn't do it."
"Can you tell me you didn't hold up Captain Kilmeny? Dare you tell me that?"
He shrugged his broad shoulders. "No, I held him up."
"And robbed him."
"If you like to put it that way. I had to do it."
"Had to rob your friend, the man who had offered to stand by you. Oh, I don't want to hear any of your excuses."
"Yes, you do," he told her quietly. "What's more, you are going to hear them—and right now. You're entitled to an explanation, and it's my right to make you listen."
"Can you talk away facts? You robbed your cousin when he was trying to be your friend. That may mean nothing to you. It means a great deal to me," she cried passionately.
"Sho! An opera bouffe hold-up. I'll make it right with him when I see Captain Kilmeny."
"You admit you took the money?"
"Sure I took it. Had to have it in my business. If you'll sit down again and listen, neighbor, I'll tell you the whole story."
The amused assurance in his manner stirred resentment.
The clash of battle was in the meeting of their eyes. She had courage, just as he had, but she was fighting against her own desire.
"I have listened too often already," she protested.
"It hasn't hurt you any, has it?"
"Lady Farquhar thinks it has." The words slipped out before she could stop them, but as their import came home to her the girl's face flamed. "I mean that—that——"
"I know what you mean," he told her easily, a smile in his shrewd eyes. "You're a young woman—and I'm an ineligible man. So Lady Farquhar thinks we oughtn't to meet. That's all bosh. I'm not intending to make love to you, even though I think you're a mighty nice girl. But say I was. What then? Your friends can't shut you up in a glass cage if you're going to keep on growing. Life was made to be lived."
"Yes.... Yes.... That's what I think," she cried eagerly. "But it isn't arranged for girls that way—not if they belong to the class I do. We're shut in—chaperoned from everything that's natural. You don't know how I hate it."
"Of course you do. You're a live wire. That's why you're going to sit down and listen to me."
She looked him straight between the eyes. "But I don't think morality is only a convention, Mr. Kilmeny. 'Thou shalt not steal,' for instance."
"Depends what you steal. If you take from a man what doesn't belong to him you're doing the community a service. But we won't go into that now, though I'll just say this. What is right for me wouldn't be for Captain Kilmeny. As I told you before, our standards are different."
"Yes, you explained that to me just after you—while you were hiding from the officers after the first robbery," she assented dryly.
He looked at her and laughed. "You're prosecuting attorney and judge and jury all in one, aren't you?"
She held her little head uncompromisingly erect. Not again was she going to let her sympathy for him warp her judgment.
"I'm ready to hear what you have to say, Mr. Kilmeny."
"Not guilty, ma'am."
His jaunty insouciance struck a spark from her. "That is what you told us before, and within half an hour we found out that you knew where the booty was hidden. Before that discrepancy was cleared up you convinced us of your innocence by stealing the money a second time."
"What did I do with it?" he asked.
"How should I know?"
From his pocket he drew a note book. Between two of its leaves was a slip of paper which he handed to Moya. It was a receipt in full from the treasurer of the Gunnison County Fair association to John Kilmeny for the sum previously taken from him by parties unknown.
The girl looked at him with shining eyes. "You repented and took the money back?"
"No. I didn't repent, but I took it back."
"That's a long tale. It's tied up with the story of my life—goes back thirty-one years, before I was born, in fact. Want to hear it?"
"My father was a young man when he came to this country. The West wasn't very civilized then. My father was fearless and outspoken. This made him enemies among the gang of cattle thieves operating in the country where his ranch lay. He lost calves. One day he caught a brand blotter at work. The fellow refused to surrender. There was a fight, and my father killed him."
"Oh!" cried the girl softly in fascinated horror.
"Such things had to be in those days. Any man that was a man had sometimes to fight or else go to the wall."
"I can see that. I wasn't blaming your father. Only ... it must have been horrible to have to do."
"The fellow thieves of the man swore vengeance. One night they caught the chief—that's what I used to call my father—caught him alone in a gambling hell in the cow town where the stockmen came to buy provisions. My father had gone there by appointment to meet a man—lured to his death by a forged note. He knew he had probably come to the end of the passage as soon as he had stepped into the place. His one chance was to turn and run. He wouldn't do that."
"I love him for it," the girl cried impetuously.
"The story goes that he looked them over contemptuously, the whole half dozen of them, and laughed in a slow irritating way that must have got under their hides."
Moya, looking at the son, could believe easily this story of the father. "Go on," she nodded tensely.
"The quarrel came, as of course it would. Just before the guns flashed a stranger rose from a corner and told the rustlers they would have to count him in the scrap, that he wouldn't stand for a six to one row."
"Wasn't that fine? I suppose he was a friend of your father he had helped some time."
"No. He had never seen him before. But he happened to be a man."
The eyes of the girl were shining. For the moment she was almost beautiful. A flame seemed to run over her dusky face, the glow of her generous heart finding expression externally. It was a part of her charm that her delight in life bubbled out in little spasms of laughter, in impetuous movements wholly unpremeditated.
"I'm glad there are such men," she cried softly.
"The story of that fight is a classic to-day in the hills. When it ended two of the rustlers were dead, two badly wounded, and the others galloping away for their lives. The chief and his unknown friend were lying on the floor shot to pieces."
"But they lived—surely they didn't die?"
"Yes, they lived and became close friends. A few years later they were partners. Both of them are dead now. Sam Lundy—that was the name of my father's rescuer—left two children, a boy and a girl. We call the boy Curly. He was down at the camp fishing with me."
She saw the truth then—knew in a flash that the man beside her had run the risk of prison to save his friend. And her heart went out to him in such a rush of feeling that she had to turn her face away.
"You paid back the debt to the son that your father owed his. Oh, I'm glad—so glad."
"Guessed it, have you?"
"Your friend was the thief."
"He took the money, but he's no thief—not in his heart. In England only a criminal would do such a thing, but it's different here. A hold-up may be a decent fellow gone wrong through drink and bad company. That's how it was this time. My friend is a range rider. His heart is as open and clean as the plains. But he's young yet—just turned twenty—and he's easily led. This thing was sprung on him by an older man with whom he had been drinking. Before they were sober he and Mosby had taken the money."
"I am sorry," the girl said, almost under her breath.
There was still some hint of the child in the naive nobility of her youth. Joyce Seldon would have had no doubts about what to think of this alien society where an honest man could be a thief and his friend stand ready to excuse him. Moya found it fresh and stimulating.
He explained more fully. "Colter by chance got a line on what the kid and Mosby were planning to pull off. Knowing I had some influence with Curly, he came straight to me. That was just after the finals in the riding."
"I remember seeing him with you. We all thought you should have come up for a few words with us."
"I intended to, but there wasn't any time. We hurried out to find Curly. Well, we were too late. Our horses were gone by the time we had reached the corral where we were stabling, but those of the other boys were waiting in the stalls already saddled. We guessed the hold-up would be close to the bank, because the treasurer of the association might take any one of three streets to drive in from the fair grounds. That's where we went wrong. The boys were just drunk enough not to remember this. Well, while we were looking for our friends so as to stop this crazy play they were going to pull off, Colter and I met the president of the bank. We had known him in the mining country and he held us there talking. While we were still there news comes of the robbery."
"We struck straight back to the corral. Our horses were there. The boys had ridden back, swapped them for their own, and hit the trail. Mosby's idea had been to throw suspicion on us for an hour or two until they could make their getaway. We rode back to the crowd, learned the particulars, and followed the boys. My thought was that if we could get the money from them we might make terms with the association."
"That's why you were in a hurry when you passed us."
"And of course the sheriff thought you were running away from him."
"He couldn't think anything else, could he?"
"How blind I was—how lacking in faith! And all the time I knew in my heart you couldn't have done it," she reproached herself.
His masterful eyes fastened on her. "Did your friends know it? Did Miss Joyce think I couldn't have done it?"
"You'll have to ask her what she thought. I didn't hear Joyce give an opinion."
"Is she going to marry that fellow Verinder?"
"I don't know."
"He'll ask her, won't he?"
She smiled at his blunt question a little wanly. "You'll have to ask Mr. Verinder that. I'm not in his confidence."
"You're quibbling. You know well enough."
"I think he will."
"Will she take him?"
"It's hard to tell what Joyce will do. I'd rather not discuss the subject, please. Tell me, did you find your friends?"
"We ran them down in the hills at last. I knew pretty well about where they would be and one morning I dropped in on them. We talked it all over and I put it up to them that if they would turn the loot over to me I'd try to call off the officers. Curly was sick and ashamed of the whole business and was willing to do whatever I thought best. Mosby had different notions, but I persuaded him to see the light. They told me where they had hidden the money in the river. I was on my way back to get it when I found little Bess Landor lost in the hills. Gill nabbed me as I took her to the ranch."
"And after you were taken back to Gunnison—Did you break prison?"
"I proved an alibi—one the sheriff couldn't get away from. We had gilt-edged proof we weren't near the scene of the robbery. The president of the bank had been talking to us about ten minutes when the treasurer of the association drove up at a gallop to say he had just been robbed."
"So they freed you."
"I made a proposition to the district attorney and the directors of the association—that if I got the money back all prosecutions would be dropped. They agreed. I came back for the money and found it gone."
"If you had only told me that then."
"I had no time. My first thought was to tell my cousin the truth, but I was afraid to take a chance on him. The only way to save Curly was to take back the money myself. I couldn't be sure that Captain Kilmeny would believe my story. So I played it safe and helped myself."
"You must think a lot of your friend to go so far for him."
"His mother turned him over to me to make a man of him, and if she hadn't I owed it to his father's son."
Her eyes poured upon him their warm approving light. "Yes, you would have to help him, no matter what it cost."
He protested against heroics with a face crinkled to humor. "It wasn't costing me a cent."
"It might have cost you a great deal. Suppose that Captain Kilmeny had picked up his gun. You couldn't have shot him."
"I'd have told him who I was and why I must have the money. No, Miss Dwight, I don't fit the specifications of a hero."
Moya's lips curved to the sweet little derisive twist that was a smile in embryo. "I know about you, sir."
Kilmeny took his eyes from her to let them rest upon a man and a woman walking the river trail below. The man bowed and the Westerner answered the greeting by lifting his hat. When he looked back at his companion he was smiling impishly. For the two by the river bank were Lord and Lady Farquhar.
"Caught! You naughty little baggage! I wonder whether you'll be smacked this time."
Her eyes met his in a quick surprise that was on the verge of hauteur.
"Yes, I think you'll be smacked. You know you've been told time and again not to take up with strange boys—and Americans, at that. Mith Lupton warned you on the Victorian—and Lady Farquhar has warned you aplenty."
Her lips parted to speak, but no sound came from them. She was on the verge of a discovery, and he knew it.
"Hope you won't mind the smacking much. Besides, it would be somefing else if it wasn't this," he continued, mimicking a childish lisp he had never forgotten.
A fugitive memory flashed across her mind. What she saw was this: a glassy sea after sunset, the cheerful life on the deck of an ocean liner, a little girl playing at—at—why, at selling stars of her own manufacture. The picture began to take form. A boy came into it, and vaguely other figures. She recalled impending punishment, intervention, two children snuggled beneath a steamer rug, and last the impulsive kiss of a little girl determined to exact the last morsel of joy before retribution fell.
"Are you that boy?" she asked, eyes wide open and burning.
"It's harder to believe you're that long-legged little fairy in white socks."
"So you knew me ... all the time ... and I didn't know you at all."
Her voice trembled. The look she flung toward him was shy and diffident. She had loved him then. She loved him now. Somehow he was infinitely nearer to her than he had been.
"Yes, I knew you. I've always known you. That's because you're a dream friend of mine. In the daytime I've had other things to think about, but at night you're a great pal of mine."
"You mean ... before ... we met again?"
"That's what I mean."
The pink surged into her cheeks. "I've dreamed about you too," she confessed with an adorable shyness. "How strange it is—to meet again after all these years."
"Not strange to me. Somehow I expected to meet you. Wasn't that in your dreams too—that some day we should meet again?"
"I was always meeting you. But—why didn't I know you?"
"I'll confess that I wouldn't have known you if it hadn't been for your name."
"You think I've changed, then?"
"No, you haven't changed. You've only grown up. You're still a little rebel. Sometimes you still think it's howwid to be a dirl."
"Only when they won't let me do things," she smiled. "And you really remember even my lisp."
"You have a faint hint of it yet sometimes when you are excited."
"I'm excited now—tremendously." She laughed to belie her words, but the note of agitation was not to be concealed. Her mouth was strangely dry and her heart had a queer uncertain beat. "Why shouldn't I be—with my baby days popping out at me like this when I thought they were dead and buried? It's ... it's the strangest thing...."
His blood too responded to a quickened beat. He could not understand the reason for it. Since he had no intention of being sentimental he was distinctly annoyed at himself. If it had been Joyce Seldon now—well, that would have been another tale.
Over the brow of a hillock appeared Lord and Lady Farquhar walking toward them. One glance told Moya that her chaperone had made up her mind to drive Jack Kilmeny from the field. The girl ran forward quickly.
"We've just found out the oddest thing, Lady Farquhar. Mr. Kilmeny and I are old friends. We met when we were children," she cried quickly.
Lady Jim looked at her husband. He cleared his throat in some embarrassment.
"Mornin', Mr. Kilmeny. If you have time I'd like to have you look over some ore samples sent from our mine."
The American smiled. He understood perfectly. "I've got all the time there is."
Moya intervened again. "First let me tell you the news. Mr. Kilmeny has been freed of all suspicion in connection with the robbery. The money has been returned and the whole thing dropped."
Farquhar's face cleared. "Glad to hear it." He emphasized his words, by adding a moment later: "By Jove, I am glad. Congratulations, Mr. Kilmeny."
His wife added hers, but there was a note of reserve in her manner. Plainly she was not fully satisfied.
Eagerly Moya turned to the young man. "May I tell all about it?"
He hesitated, then nodded shortly. "If you like."
Her voice vibrant with sympathy, Moya told the story in her ardent way. Kilmeny said nothing, but the corners of his mouth suggested amusement. Something of humorous derision in his blue eyes told Farquhar that the Coloradoan did not take the girl's admiration as his due. Rather, he seemed to regard it merely as an evidence of her young enthusiasm.
Lord Farquhar shook hands frankly with Kilmeny. "We've done you an injustice. If I had a son I would want him to have played the part you did under the same circumstances."
His wife backed him up loyally but with misgivings. The character of this young man might be cleared but that did not make him any more eligible. Her smile had in it some suggestion of the reserve of the chaperone.
"I'm glad to know the truth, Mr. Kilmeny. It does you credit. Your cousins won't be back to lunch but if you can stay——"
"I can't, Lady Farquhar. Thanks just the same. I've got to ride up into the hills to let the boys know it's all right. We'll be leaving to-morrow to go back to work."
"We go to-morrow too. I suppose this will be good-by, then." Lady Farquhar offered her hand.
Kilmeny turned last to Moya. "Good-by, neighbor."
Her eyes did not shrink as the small hand was buried for an instant in his brown palm, but the youth in her face was quenched.
"Good-by," she repeated in a colorless voice.
"Sorry I wasn't able to say good-by to my cousins and Miss Seldon. I understand you're all going up to the mines. Tell Captain Kilmeny I'll try to see him at Goldbanks and make all proper apologies for my bad manners yesterday."
Moya's face lit up. "Do you live at Goldbanks?"
He bowed and turned away.
The girl was left wondering. There had been a note of reservation in his manner when she had spoken of Goldbanks. Was there after all some mystery about him or his occupation, something he did not want them to know? Her interest was incredibly aroused.
Moya found in Goldbanks much to interest her. Its helter-skelter streets following the line of least resistance, its slapdash buildings, the scarred hillsides dotted with red shaft-houses beneath which straggled slate-colored dumps like long beards, were all indigenous to a life the manner of which she could only guess. Judged by her Bret Harte, the place ought to be picturesque. Perhaps it was, but Moya was given little chance to find out. At least it was interesting. Even from an outside point of view she could see that existence was reduced to the elemental. Men fought for gold against danger and privation and toil. No doubt if she could have seen their hearts they fought too for love.
Miss Seldon was frankly bored by the crude rawness of the place. One phase of it alone interested her. Of all this turbid activity Dobyans Verinder was the chief profiter. Other capitalists had an interest in the camp. Lord Farquhar held stock in the Mollie Gibson and Moya's small inheritance was invested mostly in the mine. The Kilmenys owned shares in two or three paying companies. But Verinder was far and away the largest single owner. His holdings were scattered all over the camp. In the Mollie Gibson and the Never Quit, the two biggest properties at Goldbanks, he held a controlling vote.
It was impossible for Joyce to put her nose out of the hotel without being confronted with the wealth of her suitor. This made a tremendous appeal to the imagination of the young woman. All these thousands of men were toiling to make him richer. If Verinder could have known it, the environment was a potent ally for him. In London he was a social climber, in spite of his gold; here he was a sole autocrat of the camp. As the weeks passed he began to look more possible. His wealth would give an amplitude, a spaciousness that would make the relationship tolerable. As a man of moderate means he would not have done at all, but every added million would help to reduce the intimacy of the marital tie. To a certain extent she would go her way and he his. Meanwhile, she kept him guessing. Sometimes her smiles brought him on the run. Again he was made to understand that it would be better to keep his distance.
The days grew shorter and the mornings colder. As the weeks passed the approach of winter began to push autumn back. Once or twice there was an inch of snow in the night that melted within a few hours. The Farquhar party began to talk of getting back to London, but there was an impending consolidation of properties that held the men at Goldbanks. For a month it had been understood that they would be leaving in a few days now, but the deal on hand was of such importance that it was felt best to stay until it was effected.
One afternoon Moya and Joyce rode out from the canon where the ugly little town lay huddled and followed the road down into the foothills. It was a day of sunshine, but back of the mountains hung a cloud that had been pushing slowly forward. In it the peaks were already lost. The great hills looked as if the knife of a Titan had sheered off their summits.
The young women came to a bit of level and cantered across the mesa in a race. They had left the road to find wild flowers for Lady Jim.
Joyce, in a flush of physical well-being, drew up from the gallop and called back in gay derision to her friend.
"Oh, you slow-pokes! We win. Don't we, Two Step?" And she patted the neck of her pony with a little gloved hand.
Moya halted beside the dainty beauty and laughed slowly, showing in two even rows the tips of small strong teeth.
"Of course you win. You're always off with a hurrah before one knows what's on. Nobody else has a chance."
The victor flashed a saucy glance at her. "I like to win. It's more fun."
"Yes, it's more fun, but——"
"I was thinking that it's no fun for the loser."
"That's his lookout," came the swift retort. "Nobody makes him play."
Moya did not answer. She was thinking how Joyce charged the batteries of men's emotions by the slow look of her deep eyes, by the languorous turn of her head, by the enthralment of her grace.
"I wouldn't have your conscience for worlds, Moya. I don't want to be so dreadfully proper until I'm old and ugly," Joyce continued, pouting.
"Lady Jim is always complaining because I'm not proper enough," laughed Moya. "She's forever holding you up to me as an example."
"So I am. Of course I flirt. I always shall. But I'll not come a cropper. I'll never let my flirtations interfere with business. Lady Jim knows that."
Moya looked straight at her. "Were you ever in love in your life?"
Her friend laughed to cover a faint blush. "What an enfant terrible you are, my dear! Of course I've been—hundreds of times."
"If you mean the way they are in novels, a desperate follow-to-the-end-of-the-world, love-in-a-cottage kind—no. My emotions are quite under control, thank you. What is it you're driving at?"
"I just wondered. Look how cloudy the sky is getting. It's going to storm. We'd better be going home."
"Let's get our flowers first."
They wandered among the hills, searching for the gorgeous blossoms of fall. Not for half an hour did they remount.
"Which way for home?" Joyce asked briskly, smoothing her skirt.
Moya looked around before she answered. "I don't know. Must be over that way, don't you think?"
Joyce answered with a laugh, using a bit of American slang she had heard the day before. "Search me! Wouldn't it be jolly if we were lost?"
"How dark the sky is getting. I believe a flake of snow fell on my hand."
"Yes. There's one on my face. The road must be just around this hill."
"I daresay you're right. These hills are like peas in a pod. I can't tell one from another."
They rode around the base of the hill into a little valley formed by other hills. No sign of the road appeared.
"We're lost, Moya, They'll have to send out search parties for us. We'll get in the dreadful Sunday papers again," Joyce laughed.
An anxious little frown showed on Moya's forehead. She was not frightened, but she was beginning to get worried. A rising wind and a falling temperature were not good omens. Moreover, one of those swift changes common to the Rockies had come over the country. Out of a leaden sky snow was falling fast. Banked clouds were driving the wintry sunshine toward the horizon. It would soon be night, and if the signs were true a bitter one of storm.
"It's getting cold. We must find the road and hurry home," Joyce said.
"Yes." Moya's voice was cheerful, but her heart had sunk. An icy hand seemed to have clutched it and tightened. She had heard the dreadful things that happened during Rocky Mountain blizzards. They must find the road. They must find it.
She set herself searching for it, conscious all the time that they might be going in the wrong direction. For this unfeatured roll of hills offered no guide, no landmark that stood out from the surrounding country.
Moya covered her anxiety with laughter and small jokes, but there came a time when these did not avail, when Joyce faced the truth too—that they were lost in the desert, two helpless girls, with night upon them and a storm driving up. Somewhere, not many miles from them, lay Goldbanks. There were safety, snug electric-lighted rooms with great fires blazing from open chimneys, a thousand men who would gladly have gone into the night to look for them. But all of these might as well be a hundred leagues away, since they did not know the way home.
The big deep eyes of Joyce shone with fear. Never before in her sheltered life had she been brought close to Nature in one of her terrible moods.
From her soft round throat sobbing words leaped. "We're lost, Moya. We're going to die."
"Nonsense. Don't be a goosie," her downright friend answered sharply.
"But—what shall we do?"
Scudding clouds had leaped across the sky and wiped out the last narrow line of sunlight along the eastern horizon. Every minute it was getting colder. The wind had a bitter sting to it.
"We must find the trail," Moya replied.
"And if we don't?"
"But we shall," the Irish girl assured with a finality that lacked conviction. "You wait here. Don't move from the spot. I'm going to ride round you at a little distance. There must be a trail here somewhere."
Moya gave her pony the quirt and cantered off. Swiftly she circled, but before she had completed the circumference the snow, now falling heavily, had covered the ground and obliterated any path there might be. With a heavy heart she started to return to her friend.
Owing both to the lie of the ground and the increasing density she could not see Joyce. Thrice she called before a faint answer reached her ears. Moya rode toward the voice, stopping now and again to call and wait for a reply. Her horizon was now just beyond the nose of her pony, so that it was not until they were only a few yards apart that she saw Two Step and its rider. Both broncho and girl were sheeted with snow.
"Oh, I thought you were gone. I thought you were never coming," Joyce reproached in a wail of despair. "Did you find the road?"
"No, but I've thought of something. They say horses will find their own way home if you let them. Loosen the reins, dear."
Moya spoke with a business-like cheerfulness meant to deceive her friend. She knew it must be her part to lead. Joyce was as soft and about as competent as a kitten to face a crisis like this. She was a creature all curves and dimples, sparkling with the sunshine of life like the wavelets of a glassy sea. But there was in her an instinctive shrinking from all pain and harshness. When her little world refused to smile, as very rarely it did for her, she shut her eyes, stopped her ears, and pouted. Against the implacable condition that confronted them now she could only whimper her despair.
They waited with loose reins for the ponies to move. The storm beat upon them, confining their vision to a space within reach of their outstretched arms. Only the frightened wails of Joyce and the comforting words of her friend could be heard in the shriek of the wind. The ponies, feeling themselves free, stirred restlessly. Moya clucked to her roan and patted his neck encouragingly.
"Good old Billy. Take us home, old fellow," she urged.
Presently the horse began to move, aimlessly at first, but soon with a steadiness that suggested purpose. Moya unloosed with her chill fingers the rope coiled to her saddle, and threw one end to her friend.
"Tie it tight to the saddle horn, Joyce—with a double knot," she ordered. "And keep your hand on it to see that it doesn't come undone."
"I can't tie it. My hands are frozen ... I'm freezing to death."
Moya made fast one end of the rope and then slipped from the saddle. The other end she tied securely to the saddle horn of her friend. She stripped from her hands the heavy riding gauntlets she wore and gave them to Joyce.
"Pull these on and your hands will be warmer. Don't give up. Sit tight and buck up. If you do we'll be all right."
"But I can't.... It's awful.... How far do we have to go?"
"We'll soon hit the road. Then we can go faster."
Moya swung to her saddle again stiffly, and Billy took up the march in the driving storm, which was growing every minute more fierce and bitter. The girl did not dare give way to her own terror, for she felt if she should become panic-stricken all would be lost. She tried to remember how long people could live in a blizzard. Had she not read of some men who had been out two days in one and yet reached safety?
The icy blast bit into her, searched through to her bones and sapped her strength. More than once she drew up the rope with her icy hands to make sure that Joyce was still in the saddle. She found her there blue from exposure, almost helpless, but still faintly responsive to the call of life.
The horses moved faster, with more certainty, so that Moya felt they had struck a familiar trail. But in her heart she doubted whether either of the riders would come to shelter alive. The ponies traveled upward into the hills.
Joyce, lying forward helpless across the saddle horn, slid gently to the ground. Her friend stopped. What could she do? Once she had descended, it would be impossible to get back into the saddle.
Searching the hillside, the girl's glance was arrested by a light. She could not at first believe her good fortune. From the saddle she slipped to the ground in a huddle, stiffly found her feet again, and began to clamber up the stiff incline. Presently she made out a hut. Stumblingly, she staggered up till she reached the door and fell heavily against it, clutching at the latch so that it gave to her hand and sent her lurching into the room. Her knees doubled under her and she sank at the feet of one of two men who sat beside a table playing cards.
The man leaped up as if he had seen a ghost. "Goddlemighty, it's a woman!"
"My friend ... she's outside ... at the foot of the hill ... save her," the girl's white lips framed.
They slipped on mackinaw coats and disappeared into the white swirling night. Moya crouched beside the red-hot stove, and life slowly tingled through her frozen veins, filling her with sharp pain. To keep back the groans she had to set her teeth. It seemed to her that she had never endured such agony.
After a time the men returned, carrying Joyce between them. They put her on the bed at the far corner of the room, and one of the men poured from a bottle on the table some whisky. This they forced between her unconscious lips. With a shivering sigh she came back to her surroundings.
Moya moved across to the group by the bed.
"I'll take care of her if you'll look after the horses," she told the men.
One of them answered roughly. "The horses will have to rough it. This ain't any night for humans to be hunting horses."
"They can't be far," Moya pleaded.
Grudgingly the second man spoke. "Guess we better get them, Dave. They were down where we found the girl. We can stable them in the tunnel."
Left to herself, Moya unlaced the shoes of Miss Seldon. Vigorously she rubbed the feet and limbs till the circulation began to be restored. Joyce cried and writhed with the pain, while the other young woman massaged and cuddled her in turn. The worst of the suffering was past before the men returned, stamping snow from their feet and shaking it from their garments over the floor.
"A hell of a night to be out in," the one called Dave growled to his fellow.
"Did you get the horses?" Moya asked timidly.
"They're in the tunnel." The ungracious answer was given without a glance in her direction.
They were a black-a-vised, ill-favored pair, these miners upon whose hospitality fate had thrown them. Foreigners of some sort they were, Cornishmen, Moya guessed. But whatever their nationality they were primeval savages untouched by the fourteen centuries of civilizing influences since their forbears ravaged England. To the super-nervous minds of these exhausted young women there was a suggestion of apes in the huge musclebound shoulders and the great rough hands at the ends of long gnarled arms. Small shifty black eyes, rimmed with red from drink, suggested cunning, while the loose-lipped heavy mouths added more than a hint of bestiality. It lent no comfort to the study of them that the large whisky bottle was two-thirds empty.
They slouched back to their cards and their bottle. It had been bad enough to find them sullen and inhospitable, but as the liquor stimulated their unhealthy imaginations it was worse to feel the covert looks stealing now and again toward them. Joyce, sleeping fitfully in the arms of Moya, woke with a start to see them drinking together at the table.