The Man of the Forest
Part 6 out of 9
that was told her, which habit she had found, after a few
weeks of trial, was going to be exceedingly valuable to her.
She did not intend always to be dependent upon the knowledge
of hired men, however faithful some of them might be.
This morning on her rounds she had expected developments; of
some kind, owing to the presence of Roy Beeman and two of
his brothers, who had arrived yesterday. And she was to
discover that Jeff Mulvey, accompanied by six of his
co-workers and associates, had deserted her without a word
or even sending for their pay. Carmichael had predicted
this. Helen had half doubted. It was a relief now to be
confronted with facts, however disturbing. She had fortified
herself to withstand a great deal more trouble than had
happened. At the gateway of the main corral, a huge
inclosure fenced high with peeled logs, she met Roy Beeman,
lasso in hand, the same tall, lean, limping figure she
remembered so well. Sight of him gave her an inexplicable
thrill -- a flashing memory of an unforgettable night ride.
Roy was to have charge of the horses on the ranch, of which
there were several hundred, not counting many lost on range
and mountain, or the unbranded colts.
Roy took off his sombrero and greeted her. This Mormon had a
courtesy for women that spoke well for him. Helen wished she
had more employees like him.
"It's jest as Las Vegas told us it 'd be," he said,
regretfully. "Mulvey an' his pards lit out this mornin'. I'm
sorry, Miss Helen. Reckon thet's all because I come over."
"I heard the news," replied Helen. "You needn't be sorry,
Roy, for I'm not. I'm glad. I want to know whom I can
"Las Vegas says we're shore in for it now."
"Roy, what do you think?"
"I reckon so. Still, Las Vegas is powerful cross these days
an' always lookin' on the dark side. With us boys, now, it's
sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. But, Miss
Helen, if Beasley forces the deal there will be serious
trouble. I've seen thet happen. Four or five years ago
Beasley rode some greasers off their farms an' no one ever
knowed if he had a just claim."
"Beasley has no claim on my property. My uncle solemnly
swore that on his death-bed. And I find nothing in his books
or papers of those years when he employed Beasley. In fact,
Beasley was never uncle's partner. The truth is that my
uncle took Beasley up when he was a poor, homeless boy."
"So my old dad says," replied Roy. "But what's right don't
always prevail in these parts."
"Roy, you're the keenest man I've met since I came West.
Tell me what you think will happen."
Beeman appeared flattered, but be hesitated to reply. Helen
had long been aware of the reticence of these outdoor men.
"I reckon you mean cause an' effect, as Milt Dale would
say," responded Roy, thoughtfully.
"Yes. If Beasley attempts to force me off my ranch what will
Roy looked up and met her gaze. Helen remembered that
singular stillness, intentness of his face.
"Wal, if Dale an' John get here in time I reckon we can
bluff thet Beasley outfit."
"You mean my friends -- my men would confront Beasley --
refuse his demands -- and if necessary fight him off?"
"I shore do," replied Roy.
"But suppose you're not all here? Beasley would be smart
enough to choose an opportune time. Suppose he did put me
off and take possession? What then?"
"Then it 'd only be a matter of how soon Dale or Carmichael
-- or I -- got to Beasley."
"Roy! I feared just that. It haunts me. Carmichael asked me
to let him go pick a fight with Beasley. Asked me, just as
he would ask me about his work! I was shocked. And now you
say Dale -- and you --"
Helen choked in her agitation.
"Miss Helen, what else could you look for? Las Vegas is in
love with Miss Bo. Shore he told me so. An' Dale's in love
with you! . . . Why, you couldn't stop them any more 'n you
could stop the wind from blowin' down a pine, when it got
ready. . . . Now, it's some different with me. I'm a Mormon
an' I'm married. But I'm Dale's pard, these many years. An'
I care a powerful sight for you an' Miss Bo. So I reckon I'd
draw on Beasley the first chance I got."
Helen strove for utterance, but it was denied her. Roy's
simple statement of Dale's love had magnified her emotion by
completely changing its direction. She forgot what she had
felt wretched about. She could not look at Roy.
"Miss Helen, don't feel bad," he said, kindly. "Shore you're
not to blame. Your comin' West hasn't made any difference in
Beasley's fate, except mebbe to hurry it a little. My dad is
old, an' when he talks it's like history. He looks back on
happenin's. Wal, it's the nature of happenin's that Beasley
passes away before his prime. Them of his breed don't live
old in the West. . . . So I reckon you needn't feel bad or
worry. you've got friends."
Helen incoherently thanked him, and, forgetting her usual
round of corrals and stables, she hurried back toward the
house, deeply stirred, throbbing and dim-eyed, with a
feeling she could not control. Roy Beeman had made a
statement that had upset her equilibrium. It seemed simple
and natural, yet momentous and staggering. To hear that Dale
loved her -- to hear it spoken frankly, earnestly, by Dale's
best friend, was strange, sweet, terrifying. But was it
true? Her own consciousness had admitted it. Yet that was
vastly different from a man's open statement. No longer was
it a dear dream, a secret that seemed hers alone. How she
had lived on that secret hidden deep in her breast!
Something burned the dimness from her eyes as she looked
toward the mountains and her sight became clear, telescopic
with its intensity. Magnificently the mountains loomed.
Black inroads and patches on the slopes showed where a few
days back all bad been white. The snow was melting fast.
Dale would soon be free to ride down to Pine. And that was
an event Helen prayed for, yet feared as she had never
The noonday dinner-bell startled Helen from a reverie that
was a pleasant aftermath of her unrestraint. How the hours
had flown! This morning at least must be credited to
Bo was not in the dining-room, nor in her own room, nor was
she in sight from window or door. This absence had occurred
before, but not particularly to disturb Helen. In this
instance, however, she grew worried. Her nerves presaged
strain. There was an overcharge of sensibility in her
feelings or a strange pressure in the very atmosphere. She
ate dinner alone, looking her apprehension, which was not
mitigated by the expressive fears of old Maria, the Mexican
woman who served her.
After dinner she sent word to Roy and Carmichael that they
had better ride out to look for Bo. Then Helen applied
herself resolutely to her books until a rapid clatter of
hoofs out in the court caused her to jump up and hurry to
the porch. Roy was riding in.
"Did you find her?" queried Helen, hurriedly.
"Wasn't no track or sign of her up the north range," replied
Roy, as he dismounted and threw his bridle. "An' I was
ridin' back to take up her tracks from the corral an' trail
her. But I seen Las Vegas comin' an' he waved his sombrero.
He was comin' up from the south. There he is now."
Carmichael appeared swinging into the lane. He was mounted
on Helen's big black Ranger, and he made the dust fly.
"Wal, he's seen her, thet's shore," vouchsafed Roy, with
relief, as Carmichael rode up.
"Miss Neil, she's comin'," said the cowboy, as he reined in
and slid down with his graceful single motion. Then in a
violent action, characteristic of him, he slammed his
sombrero down on the porch and threw up both arms. "I've a
hunch it's come off!"
"Oh, what?" exclaimed Helen.
"Now, Las Vegas, talk sense," expostulated Roy. "Miss Helen
is shore nervous to-day. Has anythin' happened?"
"I reckon, but I don't know what," replied Carmichael,
drawing a, long breath. "Folks, I must be gettin' old. For I
shore felt orful queer till I seen Bo. She was ridin' down
the ridge across the valley. Ridin' some fast, too, an'
she'll be here right off, if she doesn't stop in the
"Wal, I hear her comin' now," said Roy. "An' -- if you asked
me I'd say she WAS ridin' some fast."
Helen heard the light, swift, rhythmic beat of hoofs, and
then out on the curve of the road that led down to Pine she
saw Bo's mustang, white with lather, coming on a dead run.
"Las Vegas, do you see any Apaches?" asked Roy, quizzingly.
The cowboy made no reply, but he strode out from the porch,
directly in front of the mustang. Bo was pulling hard on the
bridle, and had him slowing down, but not controlled. When
he reached the house it could easily be seen that Bo had
pulled him to the limit of her strength, which was not
enough to halt him. Carmichael lunged for the bridle and,
seizing it, hauled him to a standstill.
At close sight of Bo Helen uttered a startled cry. Bo was
white; her sombrero was gone and her hair undone; there were
blood and dirt on her face, and her riding-suit was torn and
muddy. She had evidently sustained a fall. Roy gazed at her
in admiring consternation, but Carmichael never looked at
her at all. Apparently he was examining the horse. "Well,
help me off -- somebody," cried Bo, peremptorily. Her voice
was weak, but not her spirit.
Roy sprang to help her off, and when she was down it
developed that she was lame.
"Oh, Bo! You've had a tumble," exclaimed Helen, anxiously,
and she ran to assist Roy. They led her up the porch and to
the door. There she turned to look at Carmichael, who was
still examining the spent mustang.
"Tell him -- to come in," she whispered.
"Hey, there, Las Vegas!" called Roy. "Rustle hyar, will
When Bo had been led into the sitting-room and seated in a
chair Carmichael entered. His face was a study, as slowly he
walked up to Bo.
"Girl, you -- ain't hurt?" he asked, huskily.
"It's no fault of yours that I'm not crippled -- or dead or
worse," retorted Bo. "You said the south range was the only
safe ride for me. And there -- I -- it happened."
She panted a little and her bosom heaved. One of her
gauntlets was gone, and the bare band, that was bruised and
bloody, trembled as she held it out.
"Dear, tell us -- are you badly hurt?" queried Helen, with
"Not much. I've had a spill," replied Bo. "But oh! I'm mad
-- I'm boiling!"
She looked as if she might have exaggerated her doubt of
injuries, but certainly she had not overestimated her state
of mind. Any blaze Helen had heretofore seen in those quick
eyes was tame compared to this one. It actually leaped. Bo
was more than pretty then. Manifestly Roy was admiring her
looks, but Carmichael saw beyond her charm. And slowly he
was growing pale.
"I rode out the south range -- as I was told," began Bo,
breathing hard and trying to control her feelings. "That's
the ride you usually take, Nell, and you bet -- if you'd
taken it to-day -- you'd not be here now. . . . About three
miles out I climbed off the range up that cedar slope. I
always keep to high ground. When I got up I saw two horsemen
ride out of some broken rocks off to the east. They rode as
if to come between me and home. I didn't like that. I
circled south. About a mile farther on I spied another
horseman and he showed up directly in front of me and came
along slow. That I liked still less. It might have been
accident, but it looked to me as if those riders had some
intent. All I could do was head off to the southeast and
ride. You bet I did ride. But I got into rough ground where
I'd never been before. It was slow going. At last I made the
cedars and here I cut loose, believing I could circle ahead
of those strange riders and come round through Pine. I had
Here she hesitated, perhaps for breath, for she had spoken
rapidly, or perhaps to get better hold on her subject. Not
improbably the effect she was creating on her listeners
began to be significant. Roy sat absorbed, perfectly
motionless, eyes keen as steel, his mouth open. Carmichael
was gazing over Bo's head, out of the window, and it seemed
that he must know the rest of her narrative. Helen knew that
her own wide-eyed attention alone would have been
all-compelling inspiration to Bo Rayner.
"Sure I had it wrong," resumed Bo. "Pretty soon heard a
horse behind. I looked back. I saw a big bay riding down on
me. Oh, but he was running! He just tore through the cedars.
. . . I was scared half out of my senses. But I spurred and
beat my mustang. Then began a race! Rough going -- thick
cedars -- washes and gullies I had to make him run -- to
keep my saddle -- to pick my way. Oh-h-h! but it was
glorious! To race for fun -- that's one thing; to race for
your life is another! My heart was in my mouth -- choking
me. I couldn't have yelled. I was as cold as ice -- dizzy
sometimes -- blind others -- then my stomach turned -- and I
couldn't get my breath. Yet the wild thrills I had! . . .
But I stuck on and held my own for several miles -- to the
edge of the cedars. There the big horse gained on me. He
came pounding closer -- perhaps as close as a hundred yards
-- I could hear him plain enough. Then I had my spill. Oh,
my mustang tripped -- threw me 'way over his head. I hit
light, but slid far -- and that's what scraped me so. I know
my knee is raw. . . . When I got to my feet the big horse
dashed up, throwing gravel all over me -- and his rider
jumped off. . . . Now who do you think he was?"
Helen knew, but she did not voice her conviction. Carmichael
knew positively, yet he kept silent. Roy was smiling, as if
the narrative told did not seem so alarming to him.
"Wal, the fact of you bein' here, safe an' sound, sorta
makes no difference who thet son-of-a-gun was," he said.
"Riggs! Harve Riggs!" blazed Bo. "The instant I recognized
him I got over my scare. And so mad I burned all through
like fire. I don't know what I said, but it was wild -- and
it was a whole lot, you bet.
"You sure can ride,' he said.
"I demanded why he had dared to chase me, and he said he had
an important message for Nell. This was it: 'Tell your
sister that Beasley means to put her off an' take the ranch.
If she'll marry me I'll block his deal. If she won't marry
me, I'll go in with Beasley.' Then he told me to hurry home
and not to breathe a word to any one except Nell. Well, here
I am -- and I seem to have been breathing rather fast."
She looked from Helen to Roy and from Roy to Las Vegas. Her
smile was for the latter, and to any one not overexcited by
her story that smile would have told volumes.
"Wal, I'll be doggoned!" ejaculated Roy, feelingly.
"Indeed, the working of that man's mind is beyond me. . . .
Marry him to save my ranch? I wouldn't marry him to save my
Carmichael suddenly broke his silence.
"Bo, did you see the other men?"
"Yes. I was coming to that," she replied. "I caught a
glimpse of them back in the cedars. The three were together,
or, at least, three horsemen were there. They had halted
behind some trees. Then on the way home I began to think.
Even in my fury I had received impressions. Riggs was
SURPRISED when I got up. I'll bet he had not expected me to
be who I was. He thought I was NELL! . . . I look bigger in
this buckskin outfit. My hair was up till I lost my hat, and
that was when I had the tumble. He took me for Nell. Another
thing, I remember -- he made some sign -- some motion while
I was calling him names, and I believe that was to keep
those other men back. . . . I believe Riggs had a plan with
those other men to waylay Nell and make off with her. I
absolutely know it."
"Bo, you're so -- so -- you jump at wild ideas so,"
protested Helen, trying to believe in her own assurance. But
inwardly she was trembling.
"Miss Helen, that ain't a wild idee," said Roy, seriously.
"I reckon your sister is pretty close on the trail. Las
Vegas, don't you savvy it thet way?"
Carmichael's answer was to stalk out of the room.
"Call him back!" cried Helen, apprehensively.
"Hold on, boy!" called Roy, sharply.
Helen reached the door simultaneously with Roy. The cowboy
picked up his sombrero, jammed it on his head, gave his belt
a vicious hitch that made the gun-sheath jump, and then in
one giant step he was astride Ranger.
"Carmichael! Stay!" cried Helen.
The cowboy spurred the black, and the stones rang under
"Bo! Call him back! Please call him back!" importuned Helen,
"I won't," declared Bo Rayner. Her face shone whiter now and
her eyes were like fiery flint. That was her answer to a
loving, gentle-hearted sister; that was her answer to the
call of the West.
"No use," said Roy, quietly. "An' I reckon I'd better trail
He, too, strode out and, mounting his horse, galloped
It turned out that Bo, was more bruised and scraped and
shaken than she had imagined. One knee was rather badly cut,
which injury alone would have kept her from riding again
very soon. Helen, who was somewhat skilled at bandaging
wounds, worried a great deal over these sundry blotches on
Bo's fair skin, and it took considerable time to wash and
dress them. Long after this was done, and during the early
supper, and afterward, Bo's excitement remained unabated.
The whiteness stayed on her face and the blaze in her eyes.
Helen ordered and begged her to go to bed, for the fact was
Bo could not stand up and her hands shook.
"Go to bed? Not much," she said. "I want to know what he
does to Riggs."
It was that possibility which had Helen in dreadful
suspense. If Carmichael killed Riggs, it seemed to Helen
that the bottom would drop out of this structure of Western
life she had begun to build so earnestly and fearfully. She
did not believe that he would do so. But the uncertainty was
"Dear Bo," appealed Helen, "you don't want -- Oh! you do
want Carmichael to -- to kill Riggs?"
"No, I don't, but I wouldn't care if he did," replied Bo,
"Do you think -- he will?"
"Nell, if that cowboy really loves me he read my mind right
here before he left," declared Bo. "And he knew what I
thought he'd do."
"And what's -- that?" faltered Helen.
"I want him to round Riggs up down in the village --
somewhere in a crowd. I want Riggs shown up as the coward,
braggart, four-flush that he is. And insulted, slapped,
kicked -- driven out of Pine!"
Her passionate speech still rang throughout the room when
there came footsteps on the porch. Helen hurried to raise
the bar from the door and open it just as a tap sounded on
the door-post. Roy's face stood white out of the darkness.
His eyes were bright. And his smile made Helen's fearful
"How are you-all this evenin'?" he drawled, as he came in.
A fire blazed on the hearth and a lamp burned on the table.
By their light Bo looked white and eager-eyed as she
reclined in the big arm-chair.
"What 'd he do?" she asked, with all her amazing force.
"Wal, now, ain't you goin' to tell me how you are?"
"Roy, I'm all bunged up. I ought to be in bed, but I just
couldn't sleep till I hear what Las Vegas did. I'd forgive
anything except him getting drunk."
"Wal, I shore can ease your mind on thet," replied Roy. "He
never drank a drop."
Roy was distractingly slow about beginning the tale any
child could have guessed he was eager to tell. For once the
hard, intent quietness, the soul of labor, pain, and
endurance so plain in his face was softened by pleasurable
emotion. He poked at the burning logs with the toe of his
boot. Helen observed that he had changed his boots and now
wore no spurs. Then he had gone to his quarters after
whatever had happened down in Pine.
"Where IS he?" asked Bo.
"Who? Riggs? Wal, I don't know. But I reckon he's somewhere
out in the woods nursin' himself."
"Not Riggs. First tell me where HE is."
"Shore, then, you must mean Las Vegas. I just left him down
at the cabin. He was gettin' ready for bed, early as it is.
All tired out he was an' thet white you wouldn't have knowed
him. But he looked happy at thet, an' the last words he
said, more to himself than to me, I reckon, was, 'I'm some
locoed gent, but if she doesn't call me Tom now she's no
Bo actually clapped her hands, notwithstanding that one of
them was bandaged.
"Call him Tom? I should smile I will," she declared, in
delight. "Hurry now -- what 'd --"
"It's shore powerful strange how he hates thet handle Las
Vegas," went on Roy, imperturbably.
"Roy, tell me what he did -- what TOM did -- or I'll
scream," cried Bo.
"Miss Helen, did you ever see the likes of thet girl?" asked
Roy, appealing to Helen.
"No, Roy, I never did," agreed Helen. "But please -- please
tell us what has happened."
Roy grinned and rubbed his hands together in a dark delight,
almost fiendish in its sudden revelation of a gulf of
strange emotion deep within him. Whatever had happened to
Riggs had not been too much for Roy Beeman. Helen remembered
hearing her uncle say that a real Westerner hated nothing so
hard as the swaggering desperado, the make-believe gunman
who pretended to sail under the true, wild, and reckoning
colors of the West.
Roy leaned his lithe, tall form against the stone
mantelpiece and faced the girls.
"When I rode out after Las Vegas I seen him 'way down the
road," began Roy, rapidly. "An' I seen another man ridin'
down into Pine from the other side. Thet was Riggs, only I
didn't know it then. Las Vegas rode up to the store, where
some fellars was hangin' round, an' he spoke to them. When I
come up they was all headin' for Turner's saloon. I seen a
dozen hosses hitched to the rails. Las Vegas rode on. But I
got off at Turner's an' went in with the bunch. Whatever it
was Las Vegas said to them fellars, shore they didn't give
him away. Pretty soon more men strolled into Turner's an'
there got to be 'most twenty altogether, I reckon. Jeff
Mulvey was there with his pards. They had been drinkin'
sorta free. An' I didn't like the way Mulvey watched me. So
I went out an' into the store, but kept a-lookin' for Las
Vegas. He wasn't in sight. But I seen Riggs ridin' up. Now,
Turner's is where Riggs hangs out an' does his braggin'. He
looked powerful deep an' thoughtful, dismounted slow without
seein' the unusual number of hosses there, an' then he
slouches into Turner's. No more 'n a minute after Las Vegas
rode down there like a streak. An' just as quick he was off
an' through thet door."
Roy paused as if to gain force or to choose his words. His
tale now appeared all directed to Bo, who gazed at him,
spellbound, a fascinated listener.
"Before I got to Turner's door -- an' thet was only a little
ways -- I heard Las Vegas yell. Did you ever hear him? Wal,
he's got the wildest yell of any cow-puncher I ever beard.
Quicklike I opened the door an' slipped in. There was Riggs
an' Las Vegas alone in the center of the big saloon, with
the crowd edgin' to the walls an' slidin' back of the bar.
Riggs was whiter 'n a dead man. I didn't hear an' I don't
know what Las Vegas yelled at him. But Riggs knew an' so did
the gang. All of a sudden every man there shore seen in Las
Vegas what Riggs had always bragged HE was. Thet time comes
to every man like Riggs.
"'What 'd you call me?' he asked, his jaw shakin'.
"'I 'ain't called you yet,' answered Las Vegas. 'I just
"'What d'ye want?'
"'You scared my girl.'
"'The hell ye say! Who's she?' blustered Riggs, an' he began
to take quick looks 'round. But he never moved a hand. There
was somethin' tight about the way he stood. Las Vegas had
both arms half out, stretched as if he meant to leap. But he
wasn't. I never seen Las Vegas do thet, but when I seen him
then I understood it.
"'You know. An' you threatened her an' her sister. Go for
your gun,' called Las Vegas, low an' sharp.
"Thet put the crowd right an' nobody moved. Riggs turned
green then. I almost felt sorry for him. He began to shake
so he'd dropped a gun if he had pulled one.
"'Hyar, you're off -- some mistake -- I 'ain't seen no gurls
-- I --'
"'Shut up an' draw!' yelled Las Vegas. His voice just
pierced holes in the roof, an' it might have been a bullet
from the way Riggs collapsed. Every man seen in a second
more thet Riggs wouldn't an' couldn't draw. He was afraid
for his life. He was not what he had claimed to be. I don't
know if he had any friends there. But in the West good men
an' bad men, all alike, have no use for Riggs's kind. An'
thet stony quiet broke with haw -- haw. It shore was as
pitiful to see Riggs as it was fine to see Las Vegas.
"When he dropped his arms then I knowed there would be no
gun-play. An' then Las Vegas got red in the face. He slapped
Riggs with one hand, then with the other. An' he began to
cuss him. I shore never knowed thet nice-spoken Las Vegas
Carmichael could use such language. It was a stream of the
baddest names known out here, an' lots I never heard of. Now
an' then I caught somethin' like low-down an' sneak an'
four-flush an' long-haired skunk, but for the most part they
was just the cussedest kind of names. An' Las Vegas spouted
them till he was black in the face, an' foamin' at the
mouth, an' hoarser 'n a bawlin' cow.
"When he got out of breath from cussin' he punched Riggs all
about the saloon, threw him outdoors, knocked him down an'
kicked him till he got kickin' him down the road with the
whole haw-hawed gang behind. An' he drove him out of town!"
For two days Bo was confined to her bed, suffering
considerable pain, and subject to fever, during which she
talked irrationally. Some of this talk afforded Helen as
vast an amusement as she was certain it would have lifted
Tom Carmichael to a seventh heaven.
The third day, however, Bo was better, and, refusing to
remain in bed, she hobbled to the sitting-room, where she
divided her time between staring out of the window toward
the corrals and pestering Helen with questions she tried to
make appear casual. But Helen saw through her case and was
in a state of glee. What she hoped most for was that
Carmichael would suddenly develop a little less inclination
for Bo. It was that kind of treatment the young lady needed.
And now was the great opportunity. Helen almost felt tempted
to give the cowboy a hint.
Neither this day, nor the next, however, did he put in an
appearance at the house, though Helen saw him twice on her
rounds. He was busy, as usual, and greeted her as if nothing
particular had happened.
Roy called twice, once in the afternoon, and again during
the evening. He grew more likable upon longer acquaintance.
This last visit he rendered Bo speechless by teasing her
about another girl Carmichael was going to take to a dance.
Bo's face showed that her vanity could not believe this
statement, but that her intelligence of young men credited
it with being possible. Roy evidently was as penetrating as
he was kind. He made a dry, casual little remark about the
snow never melting on the mountains during the latter part
of March; and the look with which be accompanied this remark
brought a blush to Helen's cheek.
After Roy had departed Bo said to Helen: "Confound that
fellow! He sees right through me."
"My dear, you're rather transparent these days," murmured
"You needn't talk. He gave you a dig," retorted Bo. "He just
knows you're dying to see the snow melt."
"Gracious! I hope I'm not so bad as that. Of course I want
the snow melted and spring to come, and flowers --"
"Hal Ha! Ha!" taunted Bo. "Nell Rayner, do you see any green
in my eyes? Spring to come! Yes, the poet said in the spring
a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. But
that poet meant a young woman."
Helen gazed out of the window at the white stars.
"Nell, have you seen him -- since I was hurt?" continued Bo,
with an effort.
"Oh, whom do you suppose? I mean Tom!" she responded, and
the last word came with a burst.
"Tom? Who's he? Ah, you mean Las Vegas. Yes, I've seen him."
"Well, did he ask a-about me?"
"I believe he did ask how you were -- something like that."
"Humph! Nell, I don't always trust you." After that she
relapsed into silence, read awhile, and dreamed awhile,
looking into the fire, and then she limped over to kiss
Helen good night and left the room.
Next day she was rather quiet, seeming upon the verge of one
of the dispirited spells she got infrequently. Early in the
evening, just after the lights had been lit and she had
joined Helen in the sitting-room, a familiar step sounded on
the loose boards of the porch.
Helen went to the door to admit Carmichael. He was
clean-shaven, dressed in his dark suit, which presented such
marked contrast from his riding-garb, and he wore a flower
in his buttonhole. Nevertheless, despite all this style, he
seemed more than usually the cool, easy, careless cowboy.
"Evenin', Miss Helen," he said, as he stalked in. "Evenin',
Miss Bo. How are you-all?"
Helen returned his greeting with a welcoming smile.
"Good evening -- TOM," said Bo, demurely.
That assuredly was the first time she had ever called him
Tom. As she spoke she looked distractingly pretty and
tantalizing. But if she had calculated to floor Carmichael
with the initial, half-promising, wholly mocking use of his
name she had reckoned without cause. The cowboy received
that greeting as if he had heard her use it a thousand times
or had not heard it at all. Helen decided if he was acting a
part he was certainly a clever actor. He puzzled her
somewhat, but she liked his look, and his easy manner, and
the something about him that must have been his unconscious
sense of pride. He had gone far enough, perhaps too far, in
his overtures to Bo.
"How are you feelin'?" be asked.
"I'm better to-day," she replied, with downcast eyes. "But
I'm lame yet."
"Reckon that bronc piled you up. Miss Helen said there shore
wasn't any joke about the cut on your knee. Now, a fellar's
knee is a bad place to hurt, if he has to keep on ridin'."
"Oh, I'll be well soon. How's Sam? I hope he wasn't
"Thet Sam -- why, he's so tough he never knowed he had a
"Tom -- I -- I want to thank you for giving Riggs what he
She spoke it earnestly, eloquently, and for once she had no
sly little intonation or pert allurement, such as was her
wont to use on this infatuated young man.
"Aw, you heard about that," replied Carmichael, with a wave
of his hand to make light of it. "Nothin' much. It had to be
done. An' shore I was afraid of Roy. He'd been bad. An' so
would any of the other boys. I'm sorta lookin' out for all
of them, you know, actin' as Miss Helen's foreman now."
Helen was unutterably tickled. The effect of his speech upon
Bo was stupendous. He had disarmed her. He had, with the
finesse and tact and suavity of a diplomat, removed himself
from obligation, and the detachment of self, the casual
thing be apparently made out of his magnificent
championship, was bewildering and humiliating to Bo. She sat
silent for a moment or two while Helen tried to fit easily
into the conversation. It was not likely that Bo would long
be at a loss for words, and also it was immensely probable
that with a flash of her wonderful spirit she would turn the
tables on her perverse lover in a twinkling. Anyway, plain
it was that a lesson had sunk deep. She looked startled,
hurt, wistful, and finally sweetly defiant.
"But -- you told Riggs I was your girl!" Thus Bo unmasked
her battery. And Helen could not imagine how Carmichael
would ever resist that and the soft, arch glance which
Helen did not yet know the cowboy, any more than did Bo.
"Shore. I had to say thet. I had to make it strong before
thet gang. I reckon it was presumin' of me, an' I shore
Bo stared at him, and then, giving a little gasp, she
"Wal, I just run in to say howdy an' to inquire after
you-all," said Carmichael. "I'm goin' to the dance, an' as
Flo lives out of town a ways I'd shore better rustle. . . .
Good night, Miss Bo; I hope you'll be ridin' Sam soon. An'
good night, Miss Helen."
Bo roused to a very friendly and laconic little speech, much
overdone. Carmichael strode out, and Helen, bidding him
good-by, closed the door after him.
The instant he had departed Bo's transformation was tragic.
"Flo! He meant Flo Stubbs -- that ugly, cross-eyed, bold,
"Bo!" expostulated Helen. "The young lady is not beautiful,
I grant, but she's very nice and pleasant. I liked her."
"Nell Rayner, men are no good! And cowboys are the worst!"
declared Bo, terribly.
"Why didn't you appreciate Tom when you had him?" asked
Bo had been growing furious, but now the allusion, in past
tense, to the conquest she had suddenly and amazingly found
dear quite broke her spirit. It was a very pale, unsteady,
and miserable girl who avoided Helen's gaze and left the
Next day Bo was not approachable from any direction. Helen
found her a victim to a multiplicity of moods, ranging from
woe to dire, dark broodings, from them to' wistfulness, and
at last to a pride that sustained her.
Late in the afternoon, at Helen's leisure hour, when she and
Bo were in the sitting-room, horses tramped into the court
and footsteps mounted the porch. Opening to a loud knock,
Helen was surprised to see Beasley. And out in the court
were several mounted horsemen. Helen's heart sank. This
visit, indeed, had been foreshadowed.
"Afternoon, Miss Rayner," said Beasley, doffing his
sombrero. "I've called on a little business deal. Will you
Helen acknowledged his greeting while she thought rapidly.
She might just as well see him and have that inevitable
interview done with.
"Come in," she said, and when he had entered she closed the
door. "My sister, Mr. Beasley."
"How d' you do, Miss?" said the rancher, in bluff, loud
Bo acknowledged the introduction with a frigid little bow.
At close range Beasley seemed a forceful personality as well
as a rather handsome man of perhaps thirty-five, heavy of
build, swarthy of skin, and sloe-black of eye, like that of
the Mexicans whose blood was reported to be in him. He
looked crafty, confident, and self-centered. If Helen had
never heard of him before that visit she would have
"I'd called sooner, but I was waitin' for old Jose, the
Mexican who herded for me when I was pardner to your uncle,"
said Beasley, and he sat down to put his huge gloved hands
on his knees.
"Yes?" queried Helen, interrogatively.
"Jose rustled over from Magdalena, an' now I can back up my
claim. . . . Miss Rayner, this hyar ranch ought to be mine
an' is mine. It wasn't so big or so well stocked when Al
Auchincloss beat me out of it. I reckon I'll allow for thet.
I've papers, an' old Jose for witness. An' I calculate
you'll pay me eighty thousand dollars, or else I'll take
over the ranch."
Beasley spoke in an ordinary, matter-of-fact tone that
certainly seemed sincere, and his manner was blunt, but
"Mr. Beasley, your claim is no news to me," responded Helen,
quietly. "I've heard about it. And I questioned my uncle. He
swore on his death-bed that he did not owe you a dollar.
Indeed, he claimed the indebtedness was yours to him. I
could find nothing in his papers, so I must repudiate your
claim. I will not take it seriously."
"Miss Rayner, I can't blame you for takin' Al's word against
mine," said Beasley. "An' your stand is natural. But you're
a stranger here an' you know nothin' of stock deals in these
ranges. It ain't fair to speak bad of the dead, but the
truth is thet Al Auchincloss got his start by stealin' sheep
an' unbranded cattle. Thet was the start of every rancher I
know. It was mine. An' we none of us ever thought of it as
Helen could only stare her surprise and doubt at this
"Talk's cheap anywhere, an' in the West talk ain't much at
all," continued Beasley. "I'm no talker. I jest want to tell
my case an' make a deal if you'll have it. I can prove more
in black an' white, an' with witness, than you can. Thet's
my case. The deal I'd make is this. . . . Let's marry an'
settle a bad deal thet way."
The man's direct assumption, absolutely without a qualifying
consideration for her woman's attitude, was amazing,
ignorant, and base; but Helen was so well prepared for it
that she hid her disgust.
"Thank you, Mr. Beasley, but I can't accept your offer," she
"Would you take time an' consider?" he asked, spreading wide
his huge gloved hands.
Beasley rose to his feet. He showed no disappointment or
chagrin, but the bold pleasantness left his face, and,
slight as that change was, it stripped him of the only
redeeming quality he showed.
"Thet means I'll force you to pay me the eighty thousand or
put you off," he said.
"Mr. Beasley, even if I owed you that, how could I raise so
enormous a sum? I don't owe it. And I certainly won't be put
off my property. You can't put me off."
"An' why can't I' he demanded, with lowering, dark gaze.
"Because your claim is dishonest. And I can prove it,"
declared Helen, forcibly.
"Who 're you goin' to prove it to -- thet I'm dishonest?"
"To my men -- to your men -- to the people of Pine -- to
everybody. There's not a person who won't believe me."
He seemed curious, discomfited, surlily annoyed, and yet
fascinated by her statement or else by the quality and
appearance of her as she spiritedly defended her cause.
"An' how 're you goin' to prove all thet?" he growled.
"Mr. Beasley, do you remember last fall when you met Snake
Anson with his gang up in the woods -- and hired him to make
off with me?" asked Helen, in swift, ringing words.
The dark olive of Beasley's bold face shaded to a dirty
"Wha-at?" he jerked out, hoarsely.
"I see you remember. Well, Milt Dale was hidden in the loft
of that cabin where you met Anson. He heard every word of
your deal with the outlaw."
Beasley swung his arm in sudden violence, so hard that he
flung his glove to the floor. As he stooped to snatch it up
he uttered a sibilant hiss. Then, stalking to the door, he
jerked it open, and slammed it behind him. His loud voice,
hoarse with passion, preceded the scrape and crack of hoofs.
Shortly after supper that day, when Helen was just
recovering her composure, Carmichael presented himself at
the open door. Bo was not there. In the dimming twilight
Helen saw that the cowboy was pale, somber, grim.
"Oh, what's happened?" cried Helen.
"Roy's been shot. It come off in Turner's saloon But he
ain't dead. We packed him over to Widow Cass's. An' he said
for me to tell you he'd pull through."
"Shot! Pull through!" repeated Helen, in slow, unrealizing
exclamation. She was conscious of a deep internal tumult and
a cold checking of blood in all her external body.
"Yes, shot," replied Carmichael, fiercely.
"An', whatever he says, I reckon he won't pull through."
"0 Heaven, how terrible!" burst out Helen. "He was so good
-- such a man! What a pity! Oh, he must have met that in my
behalf. Tell me, what happened? Who shot him?"
"Wal, I don't know. An' thet's what's made me hoppin' mad. I
wasn't there when it come off. An' he won't tell me."
"I don't know thet, either. I reckoned first it was because
he wanted to get even. But, after thinkin' it over, I guess
he doesn't want me lookin' up any one right now for fear I
might get hurt. An' you're goin' to need your friends.
Thet's all I can make of Roy."
Then Helen hurriedly related the event of Beasley's call on
her that afternoon and all that had occurred.
"Wal, the half-breed son-of-a-greaser!" ejaculated
Carmichael, in utter confoundment. "He wanted you to marry
"He certainly did. I must say it was a -- a rather abrupt
Carmichael appeared to be laboring with speech that had to
be smothered behind his teeth. At last he let out an
"Miss Nell, I've shore felt in my bones thet I'm the boy
slated to brand thet big bull."
"Oh, he must have shot Roy. He left here in a rage."
"I reckon you can coax it out of Roy. Fact is, all I could
learn was thet Roy come in the saloon alone. Beasley was
there, an' Riggs --"
"Riggs!" interrupted Helen.
"Shore, Riggs. He come back again. But he'd better keep out
of my way. . . . An' Jeff Mulvey with his outfit. Turner
told me he heard an argument an' then a shot. The gang
cleared out, leavin' Roy on the floor. I come in a little
later. Roy was still layin' there. Nobody was doin' anythin'
for him. An' nobody had. I hold that against Turner. Wal, I
got help an' packed Roy over to Widow Cass's. Roy seemed all
right. But he was too bright an' talky to suit me. The
bullet hit his lung, thet's shore. An' he lost a sight of
blood before we stopped it. Thet skunk Turner might have
lent a hand. An' if Roy croaks I reckon I'll --"
"Tom, why must you always be reckoning to kill somebody?"
demanded Helen, angrily.
"'Cause somebody's got to be killed 'round here. Thet's
why!" he snapped back.
"Even so -- should you risk leaving Bo and me without a
friend?" asked Helen, reproachfully.
At that Carmichael wavered and lost something of his sullen
"Aw, Miss Nell, I'm only mad. If you'll just be patient with
me -- an' mebbe coax me. . . . But I can't see no other way
"Let's hope and pray," said Helen, earnestly. "You spoke of
my coaxing Roy to tell who shot him. When can I see him?"
"To-morrow, I reckon. I'll come for you. Fetch Bo along with
you. We've got to play safe from now on. An' what do you say
to me an' Hal sleepin' here at the ranch-house?"
"Indeed I'd feel safer," she replied. "There are rooms.
"Allright. An' now I'll be goin' to fetch Hal. Shore wish I
hadn't made you pale an' scared like this."
About ten o'clock next morning Carmichael drove Helen and Bo
into Pine, and tied up the team before Widow Cass's cottage.
The peach- and apple-trees were mingling blossoms of pink
and white; a drowsy hum of bees filled the fragrant air;
rich, dark-green alfalfa covered the small orchard flat; a
wood fire sent up a lazy column of blue smoke; and birds
were singing sweetly.
Helen could scarcely believe that amid all this tranquillity
a man lay perhaps fatally injured. Assuredly Carmichael had
been somber and reticent enough to rouse the gravest fears.
Widow Cass appeared on the little porch, a gray, bent, worn,
but cheerful old woman whom Helen had come to know as her
"My land! I'm thet glad to see you, Miss Helen," she said.
"An' you've fetched the little lass as I've not got
acquainted with yet."
"Good morning, Mrs. Cass. How -- how is Roy?" replied Helen,
anxiously scanning the wrinkled face.
"Roy? Now don't you look so scared. Roy's 'most ready to git
on his hoss an' ride home, if I let him. He knowed you was
a-comin'. An' he made me hold a lookin'-glass for him to
shave. How's thet fer a man with a bullet-hole through him!
You can't kill them Mormons, nohow."
She led them into a little sitting-room, where on a couch
underneath a window Roy Beeman lay. He was wide awake and
smiling, but haggard. He lay partly covered with a blanket.
His gray shirt was open at the neck, disclosing bandages.
"Mornin' -- girls," he drawled. "Shore is good of you, now,
Helen stood beside him, bent over him, in her earnestness,
as she greeted him. She saw a shade of pain in his eyes and
his immobility struck her, but he did not seem badly off. Bo
was pale, round-eyed, and apparently too agitated to speak.
Carmichael placed chairs beside the couch for the girls.
"Wal, what's ailin' you this nice mornin'?" asked Roy, eyes
on the cowboy.
"Huh! Would you expect me to be wearin' the smile of 'a
fellar goin' to be married?" retorted Carmichael.
"Shore you haven't made up with Bo yet," returned Roy.
Bo blushed rosy red, and the cowboy's face lost something of
its somber hue.
"I allow it's none of your d -- darn bizness if SHE ain't
made up with me," he said.
"Las Vegas, you're a wonder with a hoss an' a rope, an' I
reckon with a gun, but when it comes to girls you shore
"I'm no Mormon, by golly! Come, Ma Cass, let's get out of
here, so they can talk."
"Folks, I was jest a-goin' to say thet Roy's got fever an'
he oughtn't t' talk too much," said the old woman. Then she
and Carmichael went into the kitchen and closed, the door.
Roy looked up at Helen with his keen eyes, more kindly
piercing than ever.
"My brother John was here. He'd just left when you come. He
rode home to tell my folks I'm not so bad hurt, an' then
he's goin' to ride a bee-line into the mountains."
Helen's eyes asked what her lips refused to utter.
"He's goin' after Dale. I sent him. I reckoned we-all sorta
needed sight of thet doggone hunter."
Roy had averted his gaze quickly to Bo.
"Don't you agree with me, lass?"
"I sure do," replied Bo, heartily.
All within Helen had been stilled for the moment of her
realization; and then came swell and beat of heart, and
inconceivable chafing of a tide at its restraint.
"Can John -- fetch Dale out -- when the snow's so deep?" she
"Shore. He's takin' two hosses up to the snow-line. Then, if
necessary, he'll go over the pass on snow-shoes. But I bet
him Dale would ride out. Snow's about gone except on the
north slopes an' on the peaks."
"Then -- when may I -- we expect to see Dale?"
"Three or four days, I reckon. I wish he was here now. . . .
Miss Helen, there's trouble afoot."
"I realize that. I'm ready. Did Las Vegas tell you about
Beasley's visit to me?"
"No. You tell me," replied Roy.
Briefly Helen began to acquaint him with the circumstances
of that visit, and before she had finished she made sure Roy
was swearing to himself.
"He asked you to marry him! Jerusalem! . . . Thet I'd never
have reckoned. The -- low-down coyote of a greaser! . . .
Wal, Miss Helen, when I met up with Senuor Beasley last night
he was shore spoilin' from somethin'; now I see what thet
was. An' I reckon I picked out the bad time."
"For what? Roy, what did you do?"
"Wal, I'd made up my mind awhile back to talk to Beasley the
first chance I had. An' thet was it. I was in the store when
I seen him go into Turner's. So I followed. It was 'most
dark. Beasley an' Riggs an' Mulvey an' some more were
drinkin' an' powwowin'. So I just braced him right then."
"Roy! Oh, the way you boys court danger!"
"But, Miss Helen, thet's the only way. To be afraid MAKES
more danger. Beasley 'peared civil enough first off. Him an'
me kept edgin' off, an' his pards kept edgin' after us, till
we got over in a corner of the saloon. I don't know all I
said to him. Shore I talked a heap. I told him what my old
man thought. An' Beasley knowed as well as I thet my old
man's not only the oldest inhabitant hereabouts, but he's
the wisest, too. An' he wouldn't tell a lie. Wal, I used all
his sayin's in my argument to show Beasley thet if he didn't
haul up short he'd end almost as short. Beasley's
thick-headed, an' powerful conceited. Vain as a peacock! He
couldn't see, an' he got mad. I told him he was rich enough
without robbin' you of your ranch, an' -- wal, I shore put
up a big talk for your side. By this time he an' his gang
had me crowded in a corner, an' from their looks I begun to
get cold feet. But I was in it an' had to make the best of
it. The argument worked down to his pinnin' me to my word
that I'd fight for you when thet fight come off. An' I shore
told him for my own sake I wished it 'd come off quick. . .
. Then -- wal -- then somethin' did come off quick!"
"Roy, then he shot you!" exclaimed Helen, passionately.
"Now, Miss Helen, I didn't say who done it," replied Roy,
with his engaging smile.
"Tell me, then -- who did?"
"Wal, I reckon I sha'n't tell you unless you promise not to
tell Las Vegas. Thet cowboy is plumb off his head. He thinks
he knows who shot me an' I've been lyin' somethin'
scandalous. You see, if he learns -- then he'll go gunnin'.
An', Miss Helen, thet Texan is bad. He might get plugged as
I did -- an' there would be another man put off your side
when the big trouble comes."
"Roy, I promise you I will not tell Las Vegas," replied
"Wal, then -- it was Riggs!" Roy grew still paler as he
confessed this and his voice, almost a whisper, expressed
shame and hate. "Thet four-flush did it. Shot me from behind
Beasley! I had no chance. I couldn't even see him draw. But
when I fell an' lay there an' the others dropped back, then
I seen the smokin' gun in his hand. He looked powerful
important. An' Beasley began to cuss him an' was cussin' him
as they all run out."
"Oh, coward! the despicable coward!" cried Helen.
"No wonder Tom wants to find out!" exclaimed Bo, low and
deep. "I'll bet he suspects Riggs."
Shore he does, but I wouldn't give him no satisfaction."
"Roy, you know that Riggs can't last out here."
"Wal, I hope he lasts till I get on my feet again."
"There you go! Hopeless, all you boys! You must spill
blood!" murmured Helen, shudderingly.
"Dear Miss Helen, don't take on so. I'm like Dale -- no man
to hunt up trouble. But out here there's a sort of unwritten
law -- an eye for an eye -- a tooth for a tooth. I believe
in God Almighty, an' killin' is against my religion, but
Riggs shot me -- the same as shootin' me in the back."
"Roy, I'm only a woman -- I fear, faint-hearted and unequal
to this West."
"Wait till somethin' happens to you. 'Supposin' Beasley
comes an' grabs you with his own dirty big paws an', after
maulin' you some, throws you out of your home! Or supposin'
Riggs chases you into a corner!"
Helen felt the start of all her physical being -- a violent
leap of blood. But she could only judge of her looks from
the grim smile of the wounded man as he watched her with his
keen, intent eyes.
"My friend, anythin' can happen," he said. "But let's hope
it won't be the worst."
He had begun to show signs of weakness, and Helen, rising at
once, said that she and Bo had better leave him then, but
would come to see him the next day. At her call Carmichael
entered again with Mrs. Cass, and after a few remarks the
visit was terminated. Carmichael lingered in the doorway.
"Wal, Cheer up, you old Mormon!" he called.
"Cheer up yourself, you cross old bachelor!" retorted Roy,
quite unnecessarily loud. "Can't you raise enough nerve to
make up with Bo?"
Carmichael evacuated the doorway as if he had been spurred.
He was quite red in the face while he unhitched the team,
and silent during the ride up to the ranch-house. There he
got down and followed the girls into the sitting room. He
appeared still somber, though not sullen, and had fully
regained his composure.
"Did you find out who shot Roy?" he asked, abruptly, of
"Yes. But I promised Roy I would not tell," replied Helen,
nervously. She averted her eyes from his searching gaze,
intuitively fearing his next query.
"Was it thet -- Riggs?"
"Las Vegas, don't ask me. I will not break my promise."
He strode to the window and looked out a moment, and
presently, when he turned toward Bo, he seemed a stronger,
loftier, more impelling man, with all his emotions under
"Bo, will you listen to me -- if I swear to speak the truth
-- as I know it?"
"Why, certainly," replied Bo, with the color coming swiftly
to her face.
"Roy doesn't want me to know because he wants to meet thet
fellar himself. An' I want to know because I want to stop
him before he can do more dirt to us or our friends. Thet's
Roy's reason an' mine. An' I'm askin' YOU to tell me."
"But, Tom -- I oughtn't," replied Bo, haltingly.
"Did you promise Roy not to tell?"
"Or your sister?"
"No. I didn't promise either."
"Wal, then you tell me. I want you to trust me in this here
matter. But not because I love you an' once had a wild dream
you might care a little for me --"
"Oh -- Tom!" faltered Bo.
"Listen. I want you to trust me because I'm the one who
knows what's best. I wouldn't lie an' I wouldn't say so if I
didn't know shore. I swear Dale will back me up. But he
can't be here for some days. An' thet gang has got to be
bluffed. You ought to see this. I reckon you've been quick
in savvyin' Western ways. I couldn't pay you no higher
compliment, Bo Rayner. . . . Now will you tell me?"
"Yes, I will," replied Bo, with the blaze leaping to her
"Oh, Bo -- please don't -- please don't. Wait!" implored
"Bo -- it's between you an' me," said Carmichael.
"Tom, I'll tell you," whispered Bo. "It was a lowdown,
cowardly trick. . . . Roy was surrounded -- and shot from
behind Beasley -- by that four-flush Riggs!"
The memory of a woman had ruined Milt Dale's peace, had
confounded his philosophy of self-sufficient, lonely
happiness in the solitude of the wilds, had forced him to
come face to face with his soul and the fatal significance
When he realized his defeat, that things were not as they
seemed, that there was no joy for him in the coming of
spring, that he had been blind in his free, sensorial,
Indian relation to existence, he fell into an inexplicably
strange state, a despondency, a gloom as deep as the silence
of his home. Dale reflected that the stronger an animal, the
keener its nerves, the higher its intelligence, the greater
must be its suffering under restraint or injury. He thought
of himself as a high order of animal whose great physical
need was action, and now the incentive to action seemed
dead. He grew lax. He did not want to move. He performed his
diminishing duties under compulsion.
He watched for spring as a liberation, but not that he could
leave the valley. He hated the cold, he grew weary of wind
and snow; he imagined the warm sun, the park once more green
with grass and bright with daisies, the return of birds and
squirrels and deer to heir old haunts, would be the means
whereby he could break this spell upon him. Then he might
gradually return to past contentment, though it would never
be the same.
But spring, coming early to Paradise Park, brought a fever
to Dale's blood -- a fire of unutterable longing. It was
good, perhaps, that this was so, because he seemed driven to
work, climb, tramp, and keep ceaselessly on the move from
dawn till dark. Action strengthened his lax muscles and kept
him from those motionless, senseless hours of brooding. He
at least need not be ashamed of longing for that which could
never be his -- the sweetness of a woman -- a home full of
light, joy, hope, the meaning and beauty of children. But
those dark moods were sinkings into a pit of hell.
Dale had not kept track of days and weeks. He did not know
when the snow melted off three slopes of Paradise Park. All
he knew was that an age had dragged over his head and that
spring had come. During his restless waking hours, and even
when he was asleep, there seemed always in the back of his
mind a growing consciousness that soon he would emerge from
this trial, a changed man, ready to sacrifice his chosen
lot, to give up his lonely life of selfish indulgence in
lazy affinity with nature, and to go wherever his strong
hands might perform some real service to people.
Nevertheless, he wanted to linger in this mountain fastness
until his ordeal was over -- until he could meet her, and
the world, knowing himself more of a man than ever before.
One bright morning, while he was at his camp-fire, the tame
cougar gave a low, growling warning. Dale was startled. Tom
did not act like that because of a prowling grizzly or a
straying stag. Presently Dale espied a horseman riding
slowly out of the straggling spruces. And with that sight
Dale's heart gave a leap, recalling to him a divination of
his future relation to his kind. Never had he been so glad
to see a man!
This visitor resembled one of the Beemans, judging from the
way he sat his horse, and presently Dale recognized him to
At this juncture the jaded horse was spurred into a trot,
soon reaching the pines and the camp.
"Howdy, there, you ole b'ar-hunter!" called John, waving his
For all his hearty greeting his appearance checked a like
response from Dale. The horse was mud to his flanks and John
was mud to his knees, wet, bedraggled, worn, and white. This
hue of his face meant more than fatigue.
"Howdy, John?" replied Dale.
They shook hands. John wearily swung his leg over the
pommel, but did not at once dismount. His clear gray eyes
were wonderingly riveted upon the hunter.
"Milt -- what 'n hell's wrong?" he queried.
"Bust me if you ain't changed so I hardly knowed you. You've
been sick -- all alone here!"
"Do I look sick?"
"Wal, I should smile. Thin an' pale an' down in the mouth!
Milt, what ails you?"
"I've gone to seed."
"You've gone off your head, jest as Roy said, livin' alone
here. You overdid it, Milt. An' you look sick."
"John, my sickness is here," replied Dale, soberly, as he
laid a hand on his heart.
"Lung trouble!" ejaculated John. "With thet chest, an' up in
this air? . . . Get out!"
"No -- not lung trouble," said Dale.
"I savvy. Had a hunch from Roy, anyhow."
"What kind of a hunch?"
"Easy now, Dale, ole man. . . . Don't you reckon I'm ridin'
in on you pretty early? Look at thet hoss!" John slid off
and waved a hand at the drooping beast, then began to
unsaddle him. "Wal, he done great. We bogged some comin'
over. An' I climbed the pass at night on the frozen snow."
"You're welcome as the flowers in May. John, what month is
"By spades! are you as bad as thet? . . . Let's see. It's
the twenty-third of March."
"March! Well, I'm beat. I've lost my reckonin' -- an' a lot
"Thar!" declared John, slapping the mustang. "You can jest
hang up here till my next trip. Milt, how 're your hosses?"
"Wal, thet's good. We'll need two big, strong hosses right
"What for?" queried Dale, sharply. He dropped a stick of
wood and straightened up from the camp-fire.
"You're goin' to ride down to Pine with me -- thet's what
Familiarly then came back to Dale the quiet, intent
suggestiveness of the Beemans in moments foreboding trial.
At this certain assurance of John's, too significant to be
doubted, Dale's though of Pine gave slow birth to a strange
sensation, as if he had been dead and was vibrating back to
"Tell what you got to tell!" he broke out.
Quick as a flash the Mormon replied: "Roy's been shot. But
he won't die. He sent for you. Bad deal's afoot. Beasley
means to force Helen Rayner out an' steal her ranch."
A tremor ran all through Dale. It seemed another painful yet
thrilling connection between his past and this vaguely
calling future. His emotions had been broodings dreams,
longings. This thing his friend said had the sting of real
"Then old Al's dead?" he asked.
"Long ago -- I reckon around the middle of February. The
property went to Helen. She's been doin' fine. An' many
folks say it's a pity she'll lose it."
"She won't lose it," declared Dale. How strange his voice
sounded to his own ears! It was hoarse and unreal, as if
"Wal, we-all have our idees. I say she will. My father says
so. Carmichael says so."
"Reckon you remember thet cow-puncher who came up with Roy
an' Auchincloss after the girls -- last fall?"
"Yes. They called him Las -- Las Vegas. I liked his looks."
"Humph! You'll like him a heap when you know him. He's kept
the ranch goin' for Miss Helen all along. But the deal's
comin' to a head. Beasley's got thick with thet Riggs. You
"Wal, he's been hangin' out at Pine all winter, watchin' for
some chance to get at Miss Helen or Bo. Everybody's seen
thet. An' jest lately he chased Bo on hossback -- gave the
kid a nasty fall. Roy says Riggs was after Miss Helen. But I
think one or t'other of the girls would do thet varmint.
Wal, thet sorta started goin's-on. Carmichael beat Riggs an'
drove him out of town. But he come back. Beasley called on
Miss Helen an' offered to marry her so's not to take the
ranch from her, he said."
Dale awoke with a thundering curse.
"Shore!" exclaimed John. "I'd say the same -- only I'm
religious. Don't thet beady-eyed greaser's gall make you
want to spit all over yourself? My Gawd! but Roy was mad!
Roy's powerful fond of Miss Helen an' Bo. . . . Wal, then,
Roy, first chance he got, braced Beasley an' give him some
straight talk. Beasley was foamin' at the mouth, Roy said.
It was then Riggs shot Roy. Shot him from behind Beasley
when Roy wasn't lookin'! An' Riggs brags of bein' a
gun-fighter. Mebbe thet wasn't a bad shot for him!"
"I reckon," replied Dale, as he swallowed hard. "Now, just
what was Roy's message to me?"
"Wal, I can't remember all Roy said," answered John,
dubiously. "But Roy shore was excited an' dead in earnest.
He says: 'Tell Milt what's happened. Tell him Helen Rayner's
in more danger than she was last fall. Tell him I've seen
her look away acrost the mountains toward Paradise Park with
her heart in her eyes. Tell him she needs him most of all!'"
Dale shook all over as with an attack of ague. He was seized
by a whirlwind of passionate, terrible sweetness of
sensation, when what he wildly wanted was to curse Roy and
John for their simple-minded conclusions.
"Roy's -- crazy!" panted Dale.
"Wal, now, Milt -- thet's downright surprisin' of you. Roy's
the level-headest of any fellars I know."
"Man! if he MADE me believe him -- an' it turned out untrue
-- I'd -- I'd kill him," replied Dale.
"Untrue! Do you think Roy Beeman would lie?"
"But, John -- you fellows can't see my case. Nell Rayner
wants me -- needs me! . . . It can't be true!"
"Wal, my love-sick pard -- it jest IS true!" exclaimed John,
feelingly. "Thet's the hell of life -- never knowin'. But
here it's joy for you. You can believe Roy Beeman about
women as quick as you'd trust him to track your lost hoss.
Roy's married three girls. I reckon he'll marry some more.
Roy's only twenty-eight an' he has two big farms. He said
he'd seen Nell Rayner's heart in her eyes, lookin' for you
-- an' you can jest bet your life thet's true. An' he said
it because he means you to rustle down there an' fight for
"I'll -- go," said Dale, in a shaky whisper, as he sat down
on a pine log near the fire. He stared unseeingly at the
bluebells in the grass by his feet while storm after storm
possessed his breast. They were fierce and brief because
driven by his will. In those few moments of contending
strife Dale was immeasurably removed from that dark gulf of
self which had made his winter a nightmare. And when he
stood erect again it seemed that the old earth had a
stirring, electrifying impetus for his feet. Something
black, bitter, melancholy, and morbid, always unreal to him,
had passed away forever. The great moment had been forced
upon him. He did not believe Roy Beeman's preposterous hint
regarding Helen; but he had gone back or soared onward, as
if by magic, to his old true self.
Mounted on Dale's strongest horses, with only a light pack,
an ax, and their weapons, the two men had reached the
snow-line on the pass by noon that day. Tom, the tame
cougar, trotted along in the rear.
The crust of the snow, now half thawed by the sun, would not
hold the weight of a horse, though it upheld the men on
foot. They walked, leading the horses. Travel was not
difficult until the snow began to deepen; then progress
slackened materially. John had not been able to pick out the
line of the trail, so Dale did not follow his tracks. An old
blaze on the trees enabled Dale to keep fairly well to the
trail; and at length the height of the pass was reached,
where the snow was deep. Here the horses labored, plowing
through foot by foot. When, finally, they sank to their
flanks, they had to be dragged and goaded on, and helped by
thick flat bunches of spruce boughs placed under their
hoofs. It took three hours of breaking toil to do the few
hundred yards of deep snow on the height of the pass. The
cougar did not have great difficulty in following, though it
was evident he did not like such traveling.
That behind them, the horses gathered heart and worked on to
the edge of the steep descent, where they had all they could
do to hold back from sliding and rolling. Fast time was made
on this slope, at the bottom of which began a dense forest
with snow still deep in places and windfalls hard to locate.
The men here performed Herculean labors, but they got
through to a park where the snow was gone. The ground,
however, soft and boggy, in places was more treacherous than
the snow; and the travelers had to skirt the edge of the
park to a point opposite, and then go on through the forest.
When they reached bare and solid ground, just before dark
that night, it was high time, for the horses were ready to
drop, and the men likewise.
Camp was made in an open wood. Darkness fell and the men
were resting on bough beds, feet to the fire, with Tom
curled up close by, and the horses still drooping where they
had been unsaddled. Morning, however, discovered them
grazing on the long, bleached grass. John shook his head
when he looked at them.
"You reckoned to make Pine by nightfall. How far is it --
the way you'll go?"
"Fifty mile or thereabouts," replied Dale.
"Wal, we can't ride it on them critters."
"John, we'd do more than that if we had to."
They were saddled and on the move before sunrise, leaving
snow and bog behind. Level parks and level forests led one
after another to long slopes and steep descents, all growing
sunnier and greener as the altitude diminished. Squirrels
and grouse, turkeys and deer, and less tame denizens of the
forest grew more abundant as the travel advanced. In this
game zone, however, Dale had trouble with Tom. The cougar
had to be watched and called often to keep him off of
"Tom doesn't like a long trip," said Dale. "But I'm goin' to
take him. Some way or other he may come in handy."
"Sic him onto Beasley's gang," replied John. "Some men are
powerful scared of cougars. But I never was."
"Nor me. Though I've had cougars give me a darn uncanny
The men talked but little. Dale led the way, with Tom
trotting noiselessly beside his horse. John followed close
behind. They loped the horses across parks, trotted through
the forests, walked slow up what few inclines they met, and
slid down the soft, wet, pine-matted descents. So they
averaged from six to eight miles an hour. The horses held up
well under that steady travel, and this without any rest at
Dale seemed to feel himself in an emotional trance. Yet,
despite this, the same old sensorial perceptions crowded
thick and fast upon him, strangely sweet and vivid after the
past dead months when neither sun nor wind nor cloud nor
scent of pine nor anything in nature could stir him. His
mind, his heart, his soul seemed steeped in an intoxicating
wine of expectation, while his eyes and ears and nose had
never been keener to register the facts of the forest-land.
He saw the black thing far ahead that resembled a burned
stump, but he knew was a bear before it vanished; he saw
gray flash of deer and wolf and coyote, and the red of fox,
and the small, wary heads of old gobblers just sticking
above the grass; and he saw deep tracks of game as well as
the slow-rising blades of bluebells where some soft-footed
beast had just trod. And he heard the melancholy notes of
birds, the twitter of grouse, the sough of the wind, the
light dropping of pine-cones, the near and distant bark of
squirrels, the deep gobble of a turkey close at hand and the
challenge from a rival far away, the cracking of twigs in
the thickets, the murmur of running water, the scream of an
eagle and the shrill cry of a hawk, and always the soft,
dull, steady pads of the hoofs of the horses.
The smells, too, were the sweet, stinging ones of spring,
warm and pleasant -- the odor of the clean, fresh earth
cutting its way through that thick, strong fragrance of
pine, the smell of logs rotting in the sun, and of fresh new
grass and flowers along a brook of snow-water.
"I smell smoke," said Dale, suddenly, as he reined in, and
turned for corroboration from his companion.
John sniffed the warm air.
"Wal, you're more of an Injun than me," he replied, shaking
They traveled on, and presently came out upon the rim of the
last slope. A long league of green slanted below them,
breaking up into straggling lines of trees and groves that
joined the cedars, and these in turn stretched on and down
in gray-black patches to the desert, that glittering and
bare, with streaks of somber hue, faded in the obscurity of
The village of Pine appeared to nestle in a curve of the
edge of the great forest, and the cabins looked like tiny
white dots set in green.
"Look there," said Dale, pointing.
Some miles to the right a gray escarpment of rock cropped
out of the slope, forming a promontory; and from it a thin,
pale column of smoke curled upward to be lost from sight as
soon as it had no background of green.
"Thet's your smoke, shore enough," replied John,
thoughtfully. "Now, I jest wonder who's campin' there. No
water near or grass for hosses."
"John, that point's been used for smoke signals many a
"Was jest thinkin' of thet same. Shall we ride around there
an' take a peek?"
"No. But we'll remember that. If Beasley's got his deep
scheme goin', he'll have Snake Anson's gang somewhere
"Roy said thet same. Wal, it's some three hours till
sundown. The hosses keep up. I reckon I'm fooled, for we'll
make Pine all right. But old Tom there, he's tired or lazy."
The big cougar was lying down, panting, and his half-shut
eyes were on Dale.
"Tom's only lazy an' fat. He could travel at this gait for a
week. But let's rest a half-hour an' watch that smoke before
movin' on. We can make Pine before sundown."
When travel had been resumed, half-way down the slope Dale's
sharp eyes caught a broad track where shod horses had
passed, climbing in a long slant toward the promontory. He
dismounted to examine it, and John, coming up, proceeded
with alacrity to get off and do likewise. Dale made his
deductions, after which he stood in a brown study beside his
horse, waiting for John.
"Wal, what 'd you make of these here tracks?" asked that
"Some horses an' a pony went along here yesterday, an'
to-day a single horse made, that fresh track."
"Wal, Milt, for a hunter you ain't so bad at hoss tracks,"
observed John, "But how many hosses went yesterday ?"
"I couldn't make out -- several -- maybe four or five."
"Six hosses an' a colt or little mustang, unshod, to be
strict-correct. Wal, supposin' they did. What 's it mean to
"I don't know as I'd thought anythin' unusual, if it hadn't
been for that smoke we saw off the rim, an' then this here
fresh track made along to-day. Looks queer to me."
"Wish Roy was here," replied John, scratching his head.
"Milt, I've a hunch, if he was, he'd foller them tracks."
"Maybe. But we haven't time for that. We can backtrail them,
though, if they keep clear as they are here. An' we'll not
lose any time, either."
That broad track led straight toward Pine, down to the edge
of the cedars, where, amid some jagged rocks, evidences
showed that men had camped there for days. Here it ended as
a broad trail. But from the north came the single fresh
track made that very day, and from the east, more in a line
with Pine, came two tracks made the day before. And these
were imprints of big and little hoofs. Manifestly these
interested John more than they did Dale, who had to wait for
"Milt, it ain't a colt's -- thet little track," avowed John.
"Why not -- an' what if it isn't?" queried Dale.
"Wal, it ain't, because a colt always straggles back, an'
from one side to t'other. This little track keeps close to
the big one. An', by George! it was made by a led mustang."
John resembled Roy Beeman then with that leaping, intent
fire in his gray eyes. Dale's reply was to spur his horse
into a trot and call sharply to the lagging cougar.
When they turned into the broad, blossom-bordered road that
was the only thoroughfare of Pine the sun was setting red
and gold behind the mountains. The horses were too tired for
any more than a walk. Natives of the village, catching sight
of Dale and Beeman, and the huge gray cat following like a
dog, called excitedly to one another. A group of men in
front of Turner's gazed intently down the road, and soon
manifested signs of excitement. Dale and his comrade
dismounted in front of Widow Cass's cottage. And Dale called
as he strode up the little path. Mrs. Cass came out. She was
white and shaking, but appeared calm. At sight of her John
Beeman drew a sharp breath.
"Wal, now --" he began, hoarsely, and left off.
"How's Roy?" queried Dale.
"Lord knows I'm glad to see you, boys! Milt, you're thin an'
strange-lookin'. Roy's had a little setback. He got a shock
to-day an' it throwed him off. Fever -- an' now he's out of
his head. It won't do no good for you to waste time seein'
him. Take my word for it he's all right. But there's others
as -- For the land's sakes, Milt Dale, you fetched thet
cougar back! Don't let him near me!"
"Tom won't hurt you, mother," said Dale, as the cougar came
padding up the path. "You were sayin' somethin' -- about
others. Is Miss Helen safe? Hurry!"
"Ride up to see her -- an' waste no more time here."
Dale was quick in the saddle, followed by John, but the
horses had to be severely punished to force them even to a
trot. And that was a lagging trot, which now did not leave
The ride up to Auchincloss's ranch-house seemed endless to
Dale. Natives came out in the road to watch after he had
passed. Stern as Dale was in dominating his feelings, he
could not wholly subordinate his mounting joy to a waiting
terrible anticipation of catastrophe. But no matter what
awaited -- nor what fateful events might hinge upon this
nameless circumstance about to be disclosed, the wonderful
and glorious fact of the present was that in a moment he
would see Helen Rayner.
There were saddled horses in the courtyard, but no riders. A
Mexican boy sat on the porch bench, in the seat where Dale
remembered he had encountered Al Auchincloss. The door of
the big sitting-room was open. The scent of flowers, the
murmur of bees, the pounding of hoofs came vaguely to Dale.
His eyes dimmed, so that the ground, when he slid out of his
saddle, seemed far below him. He stepped upon the porch. His
sight suddenly cleared. A tight fullness at his throat made
incoherent the words he said to the Mexican boy. But they
were understood, as the boy ran back around the house. Dale
knocked sharply and stepped over the threshold.
Outside, John, true to his habits, was thinking, even in
that moment of suspense, about the faithful, exhausted
horses. As he unsaddled them he talked: "Fer soft an' fat
hosses, winterin' high up, wal, you've done somethin'!"
Then Dale heard a voice in another room, a step, a creak of
the door. It opened. A woman in white appeared. He
recognized Helen. But instead of the rich brown bloom and
dark-eyed beauty so hauntingly limned on his memory, he saw
a white, beautiful face, strained and quivering in anguish,
and eyes that pierced his heart. He could not speak.
"Oh! my friend -- you've come!" she whispered.
Dale put out a shaking hand. But she did not see it. She
clutched his shoulders, as if to feel whether or not he was
real, and then her arms went up round his neck.
"Oh, thank God! I knew you would come!" she said, and her
head sank to his shoulder.
Dale divined what he had suspected. Helen's sister had been
carried off. Yet, while his quick mind grasped Helen's
broken spirit -- the unbalance that was reason for this
marvelous and glorious act -- he did not take other meaning
of the embrace to himself. He just stood there, transported,
charged like a tree struck by lightning, making sure with
all his keen senses, so that he could feel forever, how she
was clinging round his neck, her face over his bursting
heart, her quivering form close pressed to his.
"It's -- Bo," he said, unsteadily.
"She went riding yesterday -- and -- never -- came -- back!"
replied Helen, brokenly.
"I've seen her trail. She's been taken into the woods. I'll
find her. I'll fetch her back," he replied, rapidly.
With a shock she seemed to absorb his meaning. With another
shock she raised her face -- leaned back a little to look at
"You'll find her -- fetch her back?"
"Yes," he answered, instantly.
With that ringing word it seemed to Dale she realized how
she was standing. He felt her shake as she dropped her arms
and stepped back, while the white anguish of her face was
flooded out by a wave of scarlet. But she was brave in her
confusion. Her eyes never fell, though they changed swiftly,
darkening with shame, amaze, and with feelings he could not
"I'm almost -- out of my head," she faltered.
"No wonder. I saw that. . . . But now you must get
clear-headed. I've no time to lose."
He led her to the door.
"John, it's Bo that's gone," he called. "Since yesterday. .
. . Send the boy to get me a bag of meat an' bread. You run
to the corral an' get me a fresh horse. My old horse Ranger
if you can find him quick. An' rustle."
Without a word John leaped bareback on one of the horses he
had just unsaddled and spurred him across the courtyard.
Then the big cougar, seeing Helen, got up from where he lay
on the porch and came to her.
"Oh, it's Tom!" cried Helen, and as he rubbed against her
knees she patted his head with trembling hand. "You big,
beautiful pet! Oh, how I remember! Oh, how Bo would love to
"Where's Carmichael?" interrupted Dale. "Out huntin' Bo?"
"Yes. It was he who missed her first. He rode everywhere
yesterday. Last night when he came back he was wild. I've
not seen him to-day. He made all the other men but Hal and
Joe stay home on the ranch."
"Right. An' John must stay, too, declared Dale. "But it's
strange. Carmichael ought to have found the girl's tracks.
She was ridin' a pony?"
"Bo rode Sam. He's a little bronc, very strong and fast."
"I come across his tracks. How'd Carmichael miss them?"
"He didn't. He found them -- trailed them all along the
north range. That's where he forbade Bo to go. You see,
they're in love with each other. They've been at odds.
Neither will give in. Bo disobeyed him. There's hard ground
off the north range, so he said. He was able to follow her
tracks only so far."
"Were there any other tracks along with hers?"
"Miss Helen, I found them 'way southeast of Pine up on the
slope of the mountain. There were seven other horses makin'
that trail -- when we run across it. On the way down we
found a camp where men had waited. An' Bo's pony, led by a
rider on a big horse, come into that camp from the east --
maybe north a little. An' that tells the story."
Back to Full Books