Part 1 out of 5
This etext was produced by Donald Lainson, firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Novel of To-day
by ROBERT STEAD
"Chuck at the Y.D. to-night, and a bed under the shingles," shouted
Transley, waving to the procession to be off.
Linder, foreman and head teamster, straightened up from the half
load of new hay in which he had been awaiting the final word,
tightened the lines, made an unique sound in his throat, and the
horses pressed their shoulders into the collars. Linder glanced
back to see each wagon or implement take up the slack with a jerk
like the cars of a freight train; the cushioned rumble of wagon
wheels on the soft earth, and the noisy chatter of the steel teeth
of the hay-rakes came up from the rear. Transley's "outfit" was
Transley was a contractor; a master of men and of circumstances.
Six weeks before, the suspension of a grading order had left him
high and dry, with a dozen men and as many teams on his hands and
hired for the season. Transley galloped all that night into the
foothills; when he returned next evening he had a contract with the
Y.D. to cut all the hay from the ranch buildings to The Forks. By
some deft touch of those financial strings on which he was one day
to become so skilled a player Transley converted his dump scrapers
into mowing machines, and three days later his outfit was at work
in the upper reaches of the Y.D.
The contract had been decidedly profitable. Not an hour of broken
weather had interrupted the operations, and to-day, with two
thousand tons of hay in stack, Transley was moving down to the
headquarters of the Y.D. The trail lay along a broad valley,
warded on either side by ranges of foothills; hills which in any
other country would have been dignified by the name of mountains.
From their summits the grey-green up-tilted limestone protruded,
whipped clean of soil by the chinooks of centuries. Here and there
on their northern slopes hung a beard of scrub timber; sharp
gulleys cut into their fastnesses to bring down the turbulent
waters of their snows.
Some miles to the left of the trail lay the bed of the Y.D.,
fringed with poplar and cottonwood and occasional dark green
splashes of spruce. Beyond the bed of the Y.D., beyond the
foothills that looked down upon it, hung the mountains themselves,
their giant crests pitched like mighty tents drowsing placidly
between earth and heaven. Now their four o'clock veil of blue-
purple mist lay filmed about their shoulders, but later they would
stand out in bold silhouette cutting into the twilight sky.
Everywhere was the soft smell of new-mown hay; everywhere the
silences of the eternal, broken only by the muffled noises of
Transley's outfit trailing down to the Y.D.
Linder, foreman and head teamster, cushioned his shoulders against
his half load of hay and contemplated the scene with amiable
satisfaction. The hay fields of the foothills had been a pleasant
change from the railway grades of the plains below. Men and horses
had fattened and grown content, and the foreman had reason to know
that Transley's bank account had profited by the sudden shift in
his operations. Linder felt in his pocket for pipe and matches;
then, with a frown, withdrew his fingers. He himself had laid down
the law that there must be no smoking in the hay fields. A
carelessly dropped match might in an hour nullify all their labor.
Linder's frown had scarce vanished when hoof-beats pounded by the
side of his wagon, and a rider, throwing himself lightly from his
horse, dropped beside him in the hay.
"Thought I'd ride with you a spell, Lin. That Pete-horse acts like
he was goin' sore on the off front foot. Chuck at the Y.D. to-night?"
"That's what Transley says, George, and he knows."
"Ever et at the Y.D?"
"Know old Y.D?"
"Only to know his name is good on a cheque, and they say he still
throws a good rope."
George wriggled to a more comfortable position in the hay. He had
a feeling that he was approaching a delicate subject with
consummate skill. After a considerable silence he continued--
"They say that's quite a girl old Y.D.'s got."
"Oh," said Linder, slowly. The occasion of the soreness in that
Pete-horse's off front foot was becoming apparent.
"You better stick to Pete," Linder continued. "Women is most
"Don't I know it?" chuckled George, poking the foreman's ribs
companionably with his elbow. "Don't I know it?" he repeated, as
his mind apparently ran back over some reminiscence that verified
Linder's remark. It was evident from the pleasant grimaces of
George's face that whatever he had suffered from the uncertain sex
"Say, Lin," he resumed after another pause, and this time in a more
confidential tone, "do you s'pose Transley's got a notion that
"Shouldn't wonder. Transley always knows what he's doing, and why.
Y.D. must be worth a million or so, and the girl is all he's got to
leave it to. Besides all that, no doubt she's well worth having on
her own account."
"Well, I'm sorry for the boss," George replied, with great
soberness. "I alus hate to disappoint the boss."
"Huh!" said Linder. He knew George Drazk too well for further
comment. After his unlimited pride in and devotion to his horse,
George gave his heart unreservedly to womankind. He suffered from
no cramping niceness in his devotions; that would have limited the
play of his passion; to him all women were alike--or nearly so.
And no number of rebuffs could convince George that he was
unpopular with the objects of his democratic affections. Such a
conclusion was, to him, too absurd to be entertained, no matter how
many experiences might support it. If opportunity offered he
doubtless would propose to Y.D.'s daughter that very night--and get
a boxed ear for his pains.
The Y.D. creek had crossed its valley, shouldering close against
the base of the foothills to the right. Here the current had
created a precipitous cutbank, and to avoid it and the stream the
trail wound over the side of the hill. As they crested a corner
the silver ribbon of the Y.D. was unravelled before them, and half
a dozen miles down its course the ranch buildings lay clustered in
a grove of cottonwoods and evergreens. All the great valley lay
warm and pulsating in a flood of yellow sunshine; the very earth
seemed amorous and content in the embrace of sun and sky. The
majesty of the view seized even the unpoetic souls of Linder and
Drazk, and because they had no other means of expression they swore
vaguely and relapsed into silence.
Hoof-beats again sounded by the wagon side. It was Transley.
"Oh, here you are, Drazk. How long do you reckon it would take you
to ride down to the Y.D. on that Pete-horse?" Transley was a
leader of men.
Drazk's eyes sparkled at the subtle compliment to his horse.
"I tell you, Boss," he said, "if there's any jackrabbits in the
road they'll get tramped on."
"I bet they will," said Transley, genially. "Well, you just slide
down and tell Y.D. we're coming in. She's going to be later than I
figured, but I can't hurry the work horses. You know that, Drazk."
"Sure I do, Boss," said Drazk, springing into his saddle. "Just
watch me lose myself in the dust." Then, to himself, "Here's where
I beat the boss to it."
The sun had fallen behind the mountains, the valley was filled with
shadow, the afterglow, mauve and purple and copper, was playing far
up the sky when Transley's outfit reached the Y.D. corrals. George
Drazk had opened the gate and waited beside it.
"Y.D. wants you an' Linder to eat with him at the house," he said
as Transley halted beside him. "The rest of us eat in the bunk-
house." There was something strangely modest in Drazk's manner.
"Had yours handed to you already?" Linder managed to banter in a
low voice as they swung through the gate.
"Hell!" protested Mr. Drazk. "A fellow that ain't a boss or a
foreman don't get a look-in. Never even seen her. . . . Come, you
Pete-horse!" It was evident George had gone back to his first
The wagons drew up in the yard, and there was a fine jingle of
harness as the teamsters quickly unhitched. Y.D. himself
approached through the dusk; his large frame and confident bearing
were unmistakable even in that group of confident, vigorous men.
"Glad to see you, Transley," he said cordially. "You done well out
there. 'So, Linder! You made a good job of it. Come up to the
house--I reckon the Missus has supper waitin'. We'll find a room
for you up there, too; it's different from bein' under canvas."
So saying, and turning the welfare of the men and the horses over
to his foreman, the rancher led Transley and Linder along a path
through a grove of cottonwoods, across a footbridge where from
underneath came the babble of water, to "the house," marked by a
yellow light which poured through the windows and lost itself in
the shadow of the trees.
The nucleus of the house was the log cabin where Y.D. and his wife
had lived in their first married years. With the passage of time
additions had been built to every side which offered a point of
contact, but the log cabin still remained the family centre, and
into it Transley and Linder were immediately admitted. The poplar
floor had long since worn thin, save at the knots, and had been
covered with edge-grained fir, but otherwise the cabin stood as it
had for twenty years, the white-washed logs glowing in the light of
two bracket lamps and the reflections from a wood fire which burned
merrily in the stove. The skins of a grizzly bear and a timber
wolf lay on the floor, and two moose heads looked down from
opposite ends of the room. On the walls hung other trophies won by
Y.D.'s rifle, along with hand-made bits of harness, lariats, and
other insignia of the ranchman's trade.
The rancher took his guests' hats, and motioned each to a seat.
"Mother," he said, directing his voice into an adjoining room,
"here's the boys."
In a moment "Mother" appeared drying her hands. In her appearance
were courage, resourcefulness, energy,--fit mate for the man who
had made the Y.D. known in every big cattle market of the country.
As Linder's eye caught her and her husband in the same glance his
mind involuntarily leapt to the suggestion of what the offspring of
such a pair must be. The men of the cattle country have a proper
appreciation of heredity. . . .
"My wife--Mr. Transley, Mr. Linder," said the rancher, with a
courtliness which sat strangely on his otherwise rough-and-ready
speech. "I been tellin' her the fine job you boys has made in the
hay fields, an' I reckon she's got a bite of supper waitin' you."
"Y.D. has been full of your praises," said the woman. There was a
touch of culture in her manner as she received them, which Y.D.'s
hospitality did not disclose.
She led them into another room, where a table was set for five.
Linder experienced a tang of happy excitement as he noted the
number. Linder allowed himself no foolishness about women, but, as
he sometimes sagely remarked to George Drazk, you never can tell
what might happen. He shot a quick glance at Transley, but the
contractor's face gave no sign. Even as he looked Linder thought
what an able face it was. Transley was not more than twenty-six,
but forcefulness, assertion, ability, stood in every line of his
clean-cut features. He was such a man as to capture at a blow the
heart of old Y.D., perhaps of Y.D.'s daughter.
"Where's Zen?" demanded the rancher.
"She'll be here presently," his wife replied. "We don't have Mr.
Transley and Mr. Linder every night, you know," she added, with a
"Dolling up," thought Linder. "Trust a woman never to miss a bet."
But at that moment a door opened, and the girl appeared. She did
not burst upon them, as Linder had half expected; she slipped
quietly and gracefully into their presence. She was dressed in
black, in a costume which did not too much conceal the charm of her
figure, and the nut-brown lustre of her face and hair played
against the sober background of her dress with an effect that was
"My daughter, Zen," said Y.D. "Mr. Transley, Mr. Linder."
She shook hands frankly, first with Transley, then with Linder, as
had been the order of the introduction. In her manner was neither
the shyness which sometimes marks the women of remote settlements,
nor the boldness so readily bred of outdoor life. She gave the
impression of one who has herself, and the situation, in hand.
"We're always glad to have guests at the Y.D." she was saying. "We
live so far from everywhere."
Linder thought that a strange peg on which to hang their welcome.
But she was continuing--
"And you have been so successful, haven't you? You have made quite
a hit with Dad."
"How about Dad's daughter?" asked Transley. Transley had a manner
of direct and forceful action. These were his first words to her.
Linder would not have dared be so precipitate.
"Perhaps," thought Linder to himself, as he turned the incident
over in his mind, "perhaps that is why Transley is boss, and I'm
just foreman." The young woman's behavior seemed to support that
conclusion. She did not answer Transley's question, but she gave
no evidence of displeasure.
"You boys must be hungry," Y.D. was saying. "Pile in."
The rancher and his wife sat at the ends of the table; Transley on
the side at Y.D.'s right; Linder at Transley's right. In the
better light Linder noted Y.D.'s face. It was the face of a man of
fifty, possibly sixty. Life in the open plays strange tricks with
the appearance. Some men it ages before their time; others seem to
tap a spring of perpetual youth. Save for the grey moustache and
the puckerings about the eyes Y.D.'s was still a young man's face.
Then, as the rancher turned his head, Linder noted a long scar, as
of a burn, almost grown over in the right cheek. . . . Across the
table from them sat the girl, impartially dividing her position
between the two.
A Chinese boy served soup, and the rancher set the example by
"piling in" without formality. Eight hours in the open air between
meals is a powerful deterrent of table small-talk. Then followed a
huge joint of beef, from which Y.D. cut generous slices with swift
and dexterous strokes of a great knife, and the Chinese boy added
the vegetables from a side table. As the meat disappeared the call
of appetite became less insistent.
"She's been a great summer, ain't she?" said the rancher, laying
down his knife and fork and lifting the carver. "Transley, some
more meat? Pshaw, you ain't et enough for a chicken. Linder?
That's right, pass up your plate. Powerful dry, though. That's
only a small bit; here's a better slice here. Dry summers
gen'rally mean open winters, but you can't never tell. Zen, how
'bout you? Old Y.D.'s been too long on the job to take chances.
Mother? How much did you say, Transley? About two thousand tons?
Not enough. Don't care if I do,"--helping himself to another piece
"I think you'll find two thousand tons, good hay and good
measurement," said Transley.
"I'm sure of it," rejoined his host, generously. "I'm carryin'
more steers than usual, and'll maybe run in a bunch of doggies from
Manitoba to boot. I got to have more hay."
So the meal progressed, the rancher furnishing both the hospitality
and the conversation. Transley occasionally broke in to give
assent to some remark, but his interruption was quite unnecessary.
It was Y.D.'s practice to take assent for granted. Once or twice
the women interjected a lead to a different subject of conversation
in which their words would have carried greater authority, but Y.D.
instantly swung it back to the all-absorbing topic of hay.
The Chinese boy served a pudding of some sort, and presently the
meal was ended.
"She's been a dry summer--powerful dry," said the rancher, with a
wink at his guests. "Zen, I think there's a bit of gopher poison
in there yet, ain't there?"
The girl left the room without remark, returning shortly with a jug
and glasses, which she placed before her father.
"I suppose you wear a man's size, Transley," he said, pouring out a
big drink of brown liquor, despite Transley's deprecating hand.
"Linder, how many fingers? Two? Well, we'll throw in the thumb.
Y.D? If you please, just a little snifter. All set?"
The rancher rose to his feet, and the company followed his example.
"Here's ho!--and more hay," he said, genially.
"Ho!" said Linder.
"The daughter of the Y.D!" said Transley, looking across the table
at the girl. She met his eyes full; then, with a gleam of white
teeth, she raised an empty glass and clinked it against his.
The men drained their glasses and re-seated themselves, but the
women remained standing.
"Perhaps you will excuse us now," said the rancher's wife. "You
will wish to talk over business. Y.D. will show you upstairs, and
we will expect you to be with us for breakfast."
With a bow she left the room, followed by her daughter. Linder had
a sense of being unsatisfied; it was as though a ravishing meal has
been placed before a hungry man, and only its aroma had reached his
senses when it had been taken away. Well, it provoked the appetite--
The rancher re-filled the glasses, but Transley left his untouched,
and Linder did the same. There were business matters to discuss,
and it was no fair contest to discuss business in the course of a
drinking bout with an old stager like Y.D.
"I got to have another thousand tons," the rancher was saying.
"Can't take chances on any less, and I want you boys to put it up
"Suits me," said Transley, "if you'll show me where to get the
"You know the South Y.D?"
"Never been on it."
"Well, it's a branch of the Y.D. which runs south-east from The
Forks. Guess it got its name from me, because I built my first
cabin at The Forks. That was about the time you was on a milk
diet, Transley, and us old-timers had all outdoors to play with.
You see, the Y.D. is a cantank'rous stream, like its godfather. At
The Forks you'd nat'rally suppose is where two branches joined, an'
jogged on henceforth in double harness. Well, that ain't it at
all. This crick has modern ideas, an' at The Forks it divides
itself into two, an' she hikes for the Gulf o' Mexico an' him for
Hudson's Bay. As I was sayin', I built my first cabin at The
Forks--a sort o' peek-a-boo cabin it was, where the wolves usta
come an' look in at nights. Well, I usta look out through the same
holes. I had the advantage o' usin' language, an' I reckon we was
about equal scared. There was no wife or kid in those days."
The rancher paused, took a long draw on his pipe, and his eyes
glowed with the light of old recollections.
"Well, as I was sayin'," he continued presently, "folks got to
callin' the stream the Y.D., after me. That's what you get for
bein' first on the ground--a monument for ever an ever. This bein'
the main stream got the name proper, an' the other branch bein'
smallest an' running kind o' south nat'rally got called the South
Y.D. I run stock in both valleys when I was at The Forks, but not
much since I came down here. Well, there's maybe a thousand tons
o' hay over in the South Y.D., an' you boys better trail over there
to-morrow an' pitch into it--that is, if you're satisfied with the
price I'm payin' you."
"The price is all right," said Transley, "and we'll hit the trail
at sun-up. There'll be no trouble--no confliction of interests, I
"Whose interests?" demanded the rancher, beligerently. "Ain't I
the father of the Y.D? Ain't the whole valley named for me? When
it comes to interests--"
"Of course," Transley agreed, "but I just wanted to know how things
stood in case we ran up against something. It's not like the old
days, when a rancher would rather lose twenty-five per cent. of his
stock over winter than bother putting up hay. Hay land is getting
to be worth money, and I just want to know where we stand."
"Quite proper," said Y.D., "quite proper. An' now the matter's
under discussion, I'll jus' show you my hand. There's a fellow
named Landson down the valley of the South Y.D. that's been
flirtin' with that hay meadow for years, but he ain't got no claim
to it. I was first on the ground an' I cut it whenever I feel like
it an' I'm goin' to go on cuttin' it. If anybody comes out raisin'
trouble, you just shoo 'em off, an' go on cuttin' that hay, spite
o' hell an' high water. Y.D.'ll stand behind you."
"Thanks," said Transley. "That's what I wanted to know."
The rancher had ridden into the Canadian plains country from below
"the line" long before barbed wire had become a menace in cattle-
land. From Pincher Creek to Maple Creek, and far beyond, the
plains lay unbroken save by the deep canyons where, through the
process of ages, mountain streams had worn their beds down to
gravel bottoms, and by the occasional trail which wandered through
the wilderness like some thousand-mile lariat carelessly dropped
from the hand of the Master Plainsman. Here and there, where the
cutbanks of the river Canyons widened out into sloping valleys,
affording possible access to the deep-lying streams, some ranchman
had established his headquarters, and his red-roofed, whitewashed
buildings flashed back the hot rays which fell from an opalescent
heaven. At some of the more important fords trading posts had come
into being, whither the ranchmen journeyed twice a year for
groceries, clothing, kerosene, and other liquids handled as
surreptitiously as the vigilance of the Mounted Police might
suggest. The virgin prairie, with her strange, subtle facility for
entangling the hearts of men, lay undefiled by the mercenary
plowshare; unprostituted by the commercialism of the days that were
Into such a country Y.D. had ridden from the South, trailing his
little bunch of scrub heifers, in search of grass and water and, it
may be, of a new environment. Up through the Milk River country;
across the Belly and the Old Man; up and down the valley of the
Little Bow, and across the plains as far as the Big Bow he rode in
search of the essentials of a ranch headquarters. The first of
these is water, the second grass, the third fuel, the fourth
shelter. Grass there was everywhere; a fine, short, hairy crop
which has the peculiar quality of self-curing in the autumn
sunshine and so furnishing a natural, uncut hay for the herds in
the winter months. Water there was only where the mountain streams
plowed their canyons through the deep subsoil, or at little lakes
of surface drainage, or, at rare intervals, at points where pure
springs broke forth from the hillsides. Along the river banks
dark, crumbling seams exposed coal resources which solved all
questions of fuel, and fringes of cottonwood and poplar afforded
rough but satisfactory building material. As the rancher sat on
his horse on a little knoll which overlooked a landscape leading
down on one side to a sheltering bluff by the river, and on the
other losing itself on the rim of the heavens, no fairer prospect
surely could have met his eye.
And yet he was not entirely satisfied. He was looking for no
temporary location, but for a spot where he might drive his claim-
stakes deep. That prairie, which stretched under the hot sunshine
unbroken to the rim of heaven; that brown grass glowing with an
almost phosphorescent light as it curled close to the mother sod;--
a careless match, a cigar stub, a bit of gun-wadding, and in an
afternoon a million acres of pasture land would carry not enough
foliage to feed a gopher.
Y.D. turned in his saddle. Along the far western sky hung the
purple draperies of the Rockies. For fifty miles eastward from the
mighty range lay the country of the foothills, its great valleys
lost to the vision which leapt only from summit to summit. In the
clear air the peaks themselves seemed not a dozen miles away, but
Y.D. had not ridden cactus, sagebrush and prairie from the Rio
Grande to the St. Mary's for twenty years to be deceived by a so
transparent illusion. Far over the plains his eye could trace the
dark outline of a trail leading mountainward.
The heifers drowsed lazily in the brown grass. Y.D., shading his
eyes the better with his hand, gazed long and thoughtfully at the
purple range. Then he spat decisively over his horse's shoulder
and made a strange "cluck" in his throat. The knowing animal at
once set out on a trot to stir the lazy heifers into movement, and
presently they were trailing slowly up into the foothill country.
Far up, where the trail ahead apparently dropped over the end of
the world, a horse and rider hove in view. They came on leisurely,
and half an hour elapsed before they met the rancher trailing west.
The stranger was a rancher of fifty, wind-whipped and weather-
beaten of countenance. The iron grey of his hair and moustache
suggested the iron of the man himself; iron of figure, of muscle,
"'Day," he said, affably, coming to a halt a few feet from Y.D.
"Trailing into the foothills?"
Y.D. lolled in his saddle. His attitude did not invite conversation,
and, on the other hand, intimated no desire to avoid it.
"Maybe," he said, noncommittally. Then, relaxing somewhat,--"Any
water farther up?"
"About eight miles. Sundown should see you there, and there's a
decent spot to camp. You're a stranger here?" The older man was
evidently puzzling over the big "Y.D." branded on the ribs of the
"It's a big country," Y.D. answered. "It's a plumb big country,
for sure, an' I guess a man can be a stranger in some corners of
it, can't he?"
Y.D. began to resent the other man's close scrutiny of his brand.
"Well, what's wrong with it?" he demanded.
"Oh, nothing. No offense. I just wondered what 'Y.D.' might stand
"Might stand for Yankee devil," said Y.D., with a none-of-your-
business curl of his lip. But he had carried his curtness too far,
and was not prepared for the quick retort.
"Might also stand for yellow dog, and be damned to you!" The
stranger's strong figure sat up stern and knit in his saddle.
Y.D.'s hand went to his hip, but the other man was unarmed. You
can't draw on a man who isn't armed.
"Listen!" the older man continued, in sharp, clear-cut notes. "You
are a stranger not only to our trails, but our customs. You are a
young man. Let me give you some advice. First--get rid of that
artillery. It will do you more harm than good. And second, when a
stranger speaks to you civilly, answer him the same. My name is
Wilson--Frank Wilson, and if you settle in the foothills you'll
find me a decent neighbor, as soon as you are able to appreciate
To his own great surprise, Y.D. took his dressing down in silence.
There was a poise in Wilson's manner that enforced respect. He
recognized in him the English rancher of good family; usually a man
of fine courtesy within reasonable bounds; always a hard hitter
when those bounds are exceeded. Y.D. knew that he had made at
least a tactical blunder; his sensitiveness about his brand would
arouse, rather than allay, suspicion. His cheeks burned with a
heat not of the afternoon sun as he submitted to this unaccustomed
discipline, but he could not bring himself to express regret for
"Well, now that the shower is over, we'll move on," he said,
turning his back on Wilson and "clucking" to his horse.
Y.D. followed the stream which afterwards bore his name as far as
the Upper Forks. As he entered the foothills he found all the
advantages of the plains below, with others peculiar to the
foothill country. The richer herbage, induced by a heavier
precipitation; the occasional belts of woodland; the rugged ravines
and limestone ridges affording good natural protection against
fire; abundant fuel and water everywhere--these seemed to
constitute the ideal ranch conditions. At the Upper Forks, through
some freak of formation, the stream divided into two. From this
point was easy access into the valleys of the Y.D. and the South
Y.D., as they were subsequently called. The stream rippled over
beds of grey gravel, and mountain trout darted from the rancher's
shadow as it fell across the water. Up the valley, now ruddy gold
with the changing colors of autumn, white-capped mountains looked
down from amid the infinite silences; and below, broad vistas of
brown prairie and silver ribbons of running water. Y.D. turned his
swarthy face to the sunlight and took in the scene slowly,
deliberately, but with a commercialized eye; blue and white and
ruddy gold were nothing to him; his heart was set on grass and
water and shelter. He had roved enough, and he had a reason for
seeking some secluded spot like this, where he could settle down
while his herds grew up, and, perhaps, forget some things that were
With sudden decision the cattle man threw himself from his horse,
unstrapped the little kit of supplies which he carried by the
saddle; drew off saddle and bridle and turned the animal free. The
die was cast; this was the spot. Within ten minutes his ax was
ringing in the grove of spruce trees close by, and the following
night he fried mountain trout under the shelter of his own
It was the next summer when Y.D. had another encounter with Wilson.
The Upper Forks turned out to be less secluded than he had
supposed; it was on the trail of trappers and prospectors working
into the mountains. Traders, too, in mysterious commodities, moved
mysteriously back and forth, and the log cabin at The Forks became
something of a centre of interest. Strange companies forgathered
within its rude walls.
It was at such a gathering, in which Y.D. and three companions sat
about the little square table, that one of the visitors facetiously
inquired of the rancher how his herd was progressing.
"Not so bad, not so bad," said Y.D., casually. "Some winter
losses, of course; snow's too deep this far up. Why?"
"Oh, some of your neighbors down the valley say your cows are
"They do?" said Y.D., laying down his cards. "Who says that?"
"Well, Wilson, for instance--"
Y.D. sprang to his feet. "I've had one run-in with that ----," he
shouted, "an' I let him talk to me like a Sunday School
super'ntendent. Here's where I talk to him!"
"Well, finish the game first," the others protested. "The night's
Y.D. was sufficiently drunk to be supersensitive about his honor,
and the inference from Wilson's remark was that he was too handy
with his branding-iron.
"No, boys, no!" he protested. "I'll make that Englishman eat his
words or choke on them."
"That's right," the company agreed. "The only thing to do. We'll
all go down with you."
"An' you won't do that, neither," Y.D. answered. "Think I need a
body-guard for a little chore like that? Huh!" There was
immeasurable contempt in that monosyllable.
But a fresh bottle was produced, and Y.D. was persuaded that his
honor would suffer no serious damage until the morning. Before
that time his company, with many demonstrations of affection and
admonitions to "make a good job of it," left for the mountains.
Y.D. saddled his horse early, buckled his gun on his hip, hung a
lariat from his saddle, and took the trail for the Wilson ranch.
During the drinking and gambling of the night he had been able to
keep the insult in the background, but, alone under the morning
sun, it swept over him and stung him to fury. There was just
enough truth in the report to demand its instant suppression.
Wilson was branding calves in his corral as Y.D. came up. He was
alone save for a girl of eighteen who tended the fire.
Wilson looked up with a hot iron in his hand, nodded, then turned
to apply the iron before it cooled. As he leaned over the calf
Y.D. swung his lariat. It fell true over the Englishman, catching
him about the arms and the middle of the body. Y.D. took a half-
hitch of the lariat about his saddle horn, and the well-trained
horse dragged his victim in the most matter-of-fact manner out of
the gate of the corral and into the open.
Y.D. shortened the line. After the first moment of confused
surprise Wilson tried to climb to his feet, but a quick jerk of the
lariat sent him prostrate again. In a moment Y.D. had taken up all
the line, and sat in his saddle looking down contemptuously upon
"Well," he said, "who's too handy with his branding-iron now?"
"You are!" cried Wilson. "Give me a man's chance and I'll thrash
you here and now to prove it."
For answer Y.D. clucked to his horse and dragged his enemy a few
yards farther. "How's the goin', Frank?" he said, in mock
cordiality. "Think you can stand it as far as the crick?"
But at that instant an unexpected scene flashed before Y.D. He
caught just a glimpse of it--just enough to indicate what might
happen. The girl who had been tending the fire was rushing upon
him with a red-hot iron extended before her. Quicker than he could
throw himself from the saddle she had struck him in the face with
"You brand our calves!" she cried in a fury of recklessness. "I'll
brand YOU--damn you!"
Y.D. threw himself from the saddle, but in the suddenness of her
onslaught he failed to clear it properly, and stumbled to the
ground. In a moment she was on him and had whipped his gun from
"Get up!" she said. And he got up.
"Walk to that post, put your arms around it with your back to me,
and stand there." He did so.
The girl kept him covered with the revolver while she released the
lariat that bound her father.
"Are you hurt, Dad?" she inquired solicitously.
"No, just shaken up," he answered, scrambling to his feet.
"All right. Now we'll fix him!"
The girl walked to the next post from Y.D.'s, climbed it leisurely
and seated herself on the top.
"Now, Mr. Y.D.," she said, "you are going to fight like a white
man, with your fists. I'll sit up here and see that there's no
dirty work. First, advance and shake hands."
"I'm damned if I will," said Y.D.
The revolver spoke, and the bullet cut dangerously close to him.
"Don't talk back to me again," she cried, "or you won't be able to
fight. Now shake hands."
He extended his hand and Wilson took it for a moment.
"Now when I count three," said the girl, "pile in. There's no time
limit. Fight 'til somebody's satisfied. One--two--three--"
At the sound of the last word Wilson caught his opponent a punch on
the chin which stretched him. He got up slowly, gathering his wits
about him. He was twenty years younger than Wilson, but a rancher
of fifty is occasionally a better man than he was at thirty. Any
disadvantages Wilson suffered from being shaken up in the lariat
were counterbalanced by Y.D.'s branding. His face was burning
painfully, and his vision was not the best. But he had not
followed the herds since childhood without learning to use his
fists. He steadied himself on his knee to bring his mind into tune
with this unusual warfare. Then he rushed upon Wilson.
He received another straight knock-out on the chin. It jarred the
joints of his neck and left him dazed. It was half a minute before
he could steady himself. He realized now that he had a fight on
his hands. He was too cool a head to get into a panic, but he
found he must take his time and do some brain work. Another chin
smash would put him out for good.
He advanced carefully. Wilson stood awaiting him, a picture of
poise and self-confidence. Y.D. led a quick left to Wilson's ribs,
but failed to land. Wilson parried skilfully and immediately
answered with a left swing to the chin. But Y.D. was learning, and
this time he was on guard. He dodged the blow, broke in and seized
Wilson about the body. The two men stood for a moment like bulls
with locked horns. Y.D. brought his weight to bear on his
antagonist to force him to the ground, but in some way the
Englishman got elbow room and began raining short jabs on his face,
already raw from the branding-iron. Y.D. jerked back from this
assault. Then came the third smash on the chin.
Y.D. gathered himself up very slowly. The world was swimming
around in circles. On a post sat a girl, covering him with a
revolver and laughing at him. Somewhere on the horizon Wilson's
figure whipped forward and back. Then his horse came into the
circle. Y.D. rose to his feet, strode with quick, uncertain steps
to his horse, threw himself into the saddle and without a word
started up the trail to The Forks.
"Seems to have gone with as little ceremony as he came," Wilson
remarked to his daughter. "Now, let us get along with the
calves." . . .
Y.D. rode the trail to The Forks in bitterness of spirit. He had
sallied forth that morning strong and daring to administer summary
punishment; he was retracing his steps thrashed, humiliated,
branded for life by a red iron thrust in his face by a slip of a
girl. He exhausted his by no means limited vocabulary of epithets,
but even his torrents of abuse brought no solace to him. The hot
sun beat down on his wounded face and hurt terribly, but he almost
forgot that pain in the agony of his humiliation. He had been
thrashed by an old man, with a wisp of a girl sitting on a post and
acting as referee. He turned in his saddle and through the empty
valley shouted an insulting name at her.
Then Y.D. slowly began to feel his face burn with a fire not of the
branding-iron nor of the afternoon sun. He knew that his word was
a lie. He knew that he would not have dared use it in her father's
hearing. He knew that he was a coward. No man had ever called
Y.D. a coward; no man had ever known him for a coward; he had never
known himself as such--until to-day. With all his roughness Y.D.
had a sense of honor as keen as any razor blade. If he allowed
himself wide latitude in some matters it was because he had lived
his life in an atmosphere where the wide latitude was the thing.
The prairie had been his bed, the sky his roof, himself his own
policeman, judge, and executioner since boyhood. When responsibility
is so centralized wide latitudes must be allowed. But the uttermost
borders of that latitude were fixed with iron rigidity, and when he
had thrown a vile epithet at a decent woman he knew he had broken
the law of honor. He was a cur--a cur who should be shot in his
tracks for the cur he was.
Y.D. did hard thinking all the way to The Forks. Again and again
the figure of the girl flashed before him; he would close his eyes
and jerk his head back to avoid the burning iron. Then he saw her
on the post, sitting, with apparent impartiality, on guard over the
fight. Yes, she had been impartial, in a way. Y.D. was willing to
admit that much, although he surmised that she knew more about her
father's prowess with his fists than he had known. She had had no
doubt about the outcome.
"Well, she's good backing for her old man, anyway," he admitted,
with returning generosity. He had reached his cabin, and was
dressing his face with salve and soda. "She sure played the game
into the old man's hand."
Y.D. could not sleep that night. He was busy sorting up his ideas
of life and revising them in the light of the day's experience.
The more he thought of his behavior the less defensible it
appeared. By midnight he was admitting that he had got just what
was coming to him.
Presently he began to feel lonely. It was a strange sensation to
Y.D., whose life had been loneliness from the first, so that he had
never known it. Of course, there was the hunger for companionship;
he had often known that. A drinking bout, a night at cards, a
whirl into excess, and that would pass away. But this loneliness
was different. The moan of the wind in the spruce trees communicated
itself to him with an eerie oppressiveness. He sat up and lit a
lamp. The light fell on the bare logs of his hut; he had never
known before how bare they were. He got up and shuffled about; took
a lid off the stove and put it back on again; moved aimlessly about
the room, and at last sat down on the bed.
"Y.D.," he said with a laugh, "I believe you've got nerves. You're
behavin' like a woman."
But he could not laugh it off. The mention of a woman brought
Wilson's daughter back vividly before him. "She's a man's girl,"
he found himself, saying.
He sat up with a shock at his own words. Then he rested his chin
on his hands and gazed long at the blank wall before him. That was
life--his life. That blank wall was his life. . . . If only it
had a window in it; a bright space through which the vision could
catch a glimpse of something broader and better. . . . Well, he
could put a window in it. He could put a window in his life.
The next noon Frank Wilson looked up with surprise to see Y.D.
riding into his yard. Wilson stiffened instantly, as though
setting himself against the shock of an attack, but there was
nothing belligerent in Y.D.'s greeting.
"Wilson," he said, "I pulled a dirty trick on you yesterday, an' I
got more than I reckoned on. The old Y.D. would have come back
with a gun for vengeance. Well, I ain't after vengeance. I reckon
you an' me has got to live in this valley, an' we might as well
live peaceful. Does that go with you?"
"Full weight and no shrinkage," said Wilson, heartily, extending
his hand. "Come up to the house for dinner."
Y.D. was nothing loth to accept the invitation, even though he had
his misgivings as to how he should meet the women folks. It turned
out that Mrs. Wilson had been at a neighboring ranch for some days,
and the girl was in charge of the home. The flash in her eyes did
not conceal a glint of triumph--or was it humor?
"Jessie," her father said, with conspicuous matter-of-factness,
"Y.D. has just dropped in for dinner."
Y.D. stood with his hat in his hand. This was harder than meeting
Wilson. He felt that he could manage better if Wilson would get
"Miss Wilson," he managed to say at length, "I just thought I'd run
in an' thank you for what you did yesterday."
"You're very welcome," she answered, and he could not tell whether
the note in her voice was of fun or sarcasm. "Any time I can be of
"That's what I wanted to talk about," he broke in. There was
something bewitching about the girl. She more than realized his
fantastic visions of the night. She had mastered him. Perhaps it
was a subtle masculine desire to turn her mastery into ultimate
surrender that led him on.
"That's just what I want to talk about. You started breakin' in an
outlaw yesterday, so to speak. How'd you like to finish the job?"
Y.D. was very red when this speech was finished. He had not known
that a wisp of a girl could so discomfit a man.
"Is that a proposal?" she asked, and this time he was sure the note
in her voice was one of banter. "I never had one, so I don't
"Well, yes, we'll call it that," he said, with returning courage.
"Well we won't, either," she flared back. "Just because I sat on a
post and superintended the--the ceremonies, is no reason that you
should want to marry me,--or I, you. You'll find water and a basin
on the bench at the end of the house, and dinner will be ready in
Y.D. had a feeling of a little boy being sent to wash himself.
But the next spring he built a larger cabin down the valley from
The Forks, and to that cabin one day in June came Jessie Wilson to
"finish the job."
Transley and Linder were so early about on the morning after their
conversation with Y.D. that there was no opportunity of another
meeting with the rancher's wife or daughter. They were slipping
quietly out of the house to take breakfast with the men when Y.D.
"Breakfast is waitin', boys," he said, and led them back into the
room where they had had supper the previous evening. Y.D. ate with
them, but the meal was served by the Chinese boy.
In the yard all was jingling excitement. The men of the Y.D. were
fraternally assisting Transley's gang in hitching up and getting
away, and there was much bustling activity to an accompaniment of
friendly profanity. It was not yet six o'clock, but the sun was
well up over the eastern ridges that fringed the valley, and to the
west the snow-capped summits of the mountains shone like polished
ivory. The exhilaration in the air was almost intoxicating.
Linder quickly converted the apparent chaos of horses, wagons and
implements into order; Transley had a last word with Y.D., and the
rancher, shouting "Good luck, boys! Make it a thousand tons or
more," waved them away.
Linder glanced back at the house. The bright sunshine had not
awakened it; it lay dreaming in its grove of cool, green trees.
The trail lay, not up the valley, but across the wedge of foothills
which divided the South Y.D. from the parent stream. The assent
was therefore much more rapid than the trails which followed the
general course of the stream. Huge hills, shouldering together,
left at times only wagon-track room between; at other places they
skirted dangerous cutbanks worn by spring freshets, and again
trekked for long distances over gently curving uplands. In an hour
the horses were showing the strain of it, and Linder halted them
for a momentary rest.
It was at that moment that Drazk rode up, his face a study in
"Danged if I ain't left that Pete-horse's blanket down at the
Y.D.," he exclaimed.
"Oh, well, you can easily ride back for it and catch up on us this
afternoon," said Linder, who was not in the least deceived.
"Thanks, Lin," said Drazk. "I'll beat it down an' catch up on you
this afternoon, sure," and he was off down the trail as fast as
"that Pete-horse" could carry him.
At the Y.D. George conducted the search for his horse blanket in
the strangest places. It took him mainly about the yard of the
house, and even to the kitchen door, where he interviewed the
"You catchee horse blanket around here?" he inquired, with
"You losee hoss blanket?"
"What kind hoss blanket?"
"Jus' a brown blanket for that Pete-horse."
"Where you catchee?"
"You no catchee horse blanket, hey?"
"No!" said the Chinaman, whose manner instantly changed. In this
brief conversation he had classified Drazk, and classified him
correctly. "You catchee him, though--some hell, too--you stickee
lound here. Beat it," and Drazk found the kitchen door closed in
Drazk wandered slowly around the side of the house, and was not
above a surreptitious glance through the windows. They revealed
nothing. He followed a path out by a little gate. His ruse had
proven a blind trail, and there was nothing to do but go down to
the stables, take the horse blanket from the peg where he had hung
it, and set out again for the South Y.D.
As he turned a corner of the fence the sight of a young woman burst
upon him. She was hatless and facing the sun. Drazk, for all his
admiration of the sex, had little eye for detail. "A sort of
chestnut, about sixteen hands high, and with the look of a
thoroughbred," he afterwards described her to Linder.
She turned at the sound of his footsteps, and Drazk instantly
summoned a smirk which set his homely face beaming with good humor.
"Pardon me, ma'am," he said, with an elaborate bow. "I am Mr.
Drazk--Mr. George Drazk--Mr. Transley's assistant. No doubt he
spoke of me."
She was inside the enclosure formed by the fence, and he outside.
She turned on him eyes which set Drazk's pulses strangely a-tingle,
and subjected him to a deliberate but not unfriendly inspection.
"No, I don't believe he did," she said at length. Drazk cautiously
approached, as though wondering how near he could come without
frightening her away. He reached the fence and leaned his elbows
on it. She showed no disposition to move. He cautiously raised
one foot and rested it on the lower rail.
"It's a fine morning, ma'am," he ventured.
"Rather," she replied. "Why aren't you with Mr. Transley's gang?"
The question gave George an opening. "Well, you see," he said,
"it's all on account of that Pete-horse. That's him down there. I
rode away this morning and plumb forgot his blanket. So when Mr.
Transley seen it he says, 'Drazk, take the day off an' go back for
your blanket,' he says. 'There's no hurry,' he says. 'Linder an'
me'll manage,' he says."
"So here I am." He glanced at her again. She was showing no
disposition to run away. She was about two yards from him, along
the fence. Drazk wondered how long it would take him to bridge
that distance. Even as he looked she leaned her elbows on the
fence and rested one of her feet on the lower rail. Drazk fancied
he saw the muscles about her mouth pulling her face into little,
laughing curves, but she was gazing soberly into the distance.
"He's some horse, that Pete-horse," he said, taking up the subject
which lay most ready to his tongue. "He's sure some horse."
"I have no doubt."
"Yep," Drazk continued. "Him an' me has seen some times. Whew!
Things I couldn't tell you about, at all."
"Well, aren't you going to?"
Drazk glanced at her curiously. This girl showed signs of leading
him out of his depth. But it was a very delightful sensation to
feel one's self being led out of his depth by such a girl. Her
face was motionless; her eyes fixed dreamily upon the brown
prairies that swept up the flanks of the foothills to the south.
Far and away on their curving crests the dark snake-line of
Transley's outfit could be seen apparently motionless on the rim of
Drazk changed his foot on the rail and the motion brought him six
inches nearer her.
"Well, f'r instance," he said, spurring his imagination into
action, "there was the fellow I run down an' shot in the Cypress
"Shot!" she exclaimed, and the note of admiration in her voice
stirred him to further flights.
"Yep," he continued, proudly. "Shot an' buried him there, right by
the road where he fell. Only me an' that Pete-horse knows the
George sighed sentimentally. "It's awful sad, havin' to kill a
man," he went on, "an' it makes you feel strange an' creepy,
'specially at nights. That is, the first one affects you that way,
but you soon get used to it. You see, he insulted--"
"The first one? Have you killed more than one?"
"Oh yes, lots of them. A man like me, what knocks around all over
with all sorts of people, has to do it.
"Then there's the police. After you kill a few men nat'rally the
police begins to worry you. I always hate to kill a policeman."
"It must be an interesting life."
"It is, but it's a hard one," he said, after a pause during which
he had changed feet again and taken up another six inches of the
distance which separated them. He was almost afraid to continue
the conversation. He was finding progress so much easier than he
had expected. It was evident that he had made a tremendous hit
with Y.D.'s daughter. What a story to tell Linder! What would
Transley say? He was shaking with excitement.
"It's an awful hard life," he went on, "an' there comes a time,
Miss, when a man wants to quit it. There comes a time when every
decent man wants to settle down. I been thinkin' about that a lot
lately. . . . What do YOU think about it?" Drazk had gone white.
He felt that he actually had proposed to her.
"Might be a good idea," she replied, demurely. He changed feet
again. He had gone too far to stop. He must strike the iron when
it was hot. Of course he had no desire to stop, but it was all so
wonderful. He could speak to her now in a whisper.
"How about you, Miss? How about you an' me jus' settlin' down?"
She did not answer for a moment. Then, in a low voice,
"It wouldn't be fair to accept you like this, Mr. Drazk. You don't
know anything about me."
"An' I don't want to--I mean, I don't care what about you."
"But it wouldn't be fair until you know," she continued. "There
are things I'd have to tell you, and I don't like to."
She was looking downwards now, and he fancied he could see the
color rising about her cheeks and her frame trembling. He turned
toward her and extended his arms. "Tell me--tell your own George,"
"No," she said, with sudden rigidity. "I can't confess."
"Come on," he pleaded. "Tell me. I've been a bad man, too."
She seemed to be weighing the matter. "If I tell you, you will
never, never mention it to anyone?"
"Never. I swear it to you," dramatically raising his hand.
"Well," she said, looking down bashfully and making little marks
with her finger-nail in the pole on which they were leaning, "I
never told anyone before, and nobody in the world knows it except
he and I, and he doesn't know it now either, because I killed
him. . . . I had to do it."
"Of course you did, dear," he murmured. It was wonderful to
receive a woman's confidence like this.
"Yes, I had to kill him," she repeated. "You see, he--he proposed
to me without being introduced!"
It was some seconds before Drazk felt the blow. It came to him
gradually, like returning consciousness to a man who has been
stunned. Then anger swept him.
"You're playin' with me," he cried. "You're makin' a fool of me!"
"Oh, George dear, how could I?" she protested. "Now perhaps you
better run along to that Pete-horse. He looks lonely."
"All right," he said, striding away angrily. As he walked his rage
deepened, and he turned and shook his fist at her, shouting, "All
right, but I'll get you yet, see? You think you're smart, and
Transley thinks he's smart, but George Drazk is smarter than both
of you, and he'll get you yet."
She waved her hand complacently, but her composure had already
maddened him. He jerked his horse up roughly, threw himself into
the saddle, and set out at a hard gallop along the trail to the
It was mid-afternoon when he overtook Transley's outfit, now
winding down the southern slope of the tongue of foothills which
divided the two valleys of the Y.D. Pete, wet over the flanks,
pulled up of his own accord beside Linder's wagon.
"'Lo, George," said Linder. "What's your hurry?" Then, glancing
at his saddle, "Where's your blanket?"
Drazk's jaw dropped, but he had a quick wit, although an unbalanced
"Well, Lin, I clean forgot all about it," he admitted, with a
laugh, "but when a fellow spends the morning chatting with old
Y.D.'s daughter I guess he's allowed to forget a few things."
"Reckon you don't believe it, eh, Lin? Reckon you don't believe I
stood an' talked with her over the fence for so long I just had to
pull myself away?"
"You reckon right."
George was thinking fast. Here was an opportunity to present the
incident in a light which had not before occurred to him.
"Guess you wouldn't believe she told me her secret--told me
somethin' she had never told anybody else, an' made me swear not to
mention. Guess you don't believe that, neither?"
"You guess right again." Linder was quite unperturbed. He knew
something of Drazk's gift for romancing.
Drazk leaned over in the saddle until he could reach Linder's ear
with a loud whisper. "And she called me 'dear'; 'George dear,' she
said, when I came away."
"The hell she did!" said Linder, at last prodded into interest. He
considered the "George dear" idea a daring flight, even for Drazk.
"Better not let old Y.D. hear you spinning anything like that,
George, or he'll be likely to spoil your youthful beauty."
"Oh, Y.D.'s all right," said George, knowingly. "Y.D.'s all right.
Well, I guess I'll let Pete feed a bit here, and then we'll go back
for his blanket. You'll have to excuse me a bit these days, Lin;
you know how it is when a fellow's in love."
"Huh!" said Linder.
George dropped behind, and an amused smile played on the foreman's
face. He had known Drazk too long to be much surprised at anything
he might do. It was Drazk's idea of gallantry to make love to
every girl on sight. Possibly Drazk had managed to exchange a word
with Zen, and his imagination would readily expand that into a love
scene. Zen! Even the placid, balanced Linder felt a slight leap
in the blood at the unusual name, which to him suggested the bright
girl who had come into his life the night before. Not exactly into
his life; it would be fairer to say she had touched the rim of his
life. Perhaps she would never penetrate it further; Linder rather
expected that would be the case. As for Drazk--she was in no
danger from him. Drazk's methods were so precipitous that they
could be counted upon to defeat themselves.
Below stretched the valley of the South Y.D., almost a duplicate of
its northern neighbor. The stream hugged the feet of the hills on
the north side of the valley; its ribbon of green and gold was like
a fringe gathered about the hem of their skirts. Beyond the stream
lay the level plains of the valley, and miles to the south rose the
next ridge of foothills. It was from these interlying plains that
Y.D. expected his thousand tons of hay. There is no sleugh hay in
the foothill country; the hay is cut on the uplands, a short, fine
grass of great nutritive value. This grass, if uncut, cures in its
natural state, and affords sustenance to the herds which graze over
it all winter long. But it occasionally happens that after a snow-
fall the Chinook wind will partially melt the snow, and then a
sudden drop in the temperature leaves the prairies and foothills
covered with a thin coating of ice. It is this ice covering,
rather than heavy snow-fall or severe weather, which is the
principal menace to winter grazing, and the foresighted rancher
aims to protect himself and his stock from such a contingency by
having a good reserve of hay in stack.
Here, then, was the valley in which Y.D. hoped to supplement the
crop of his own hay lands. Linder's appreciative eye took in the
scene: a scene of stupendous sizes and magnificent distances. As
he slowly turned his vision down the valley a speck in the distance
caught his sight and brought him to his feet. Shading his eyes
from the bright afternoon sun he surveyed it long and carefully.
There was no doubt about it: a haying outfit was already at work
down the valley.
Leaving his team to manage themselves Linder dropped from his wagon
and joined Transley. "Some one has beat us to it," he remarked.
"So I observed," said Transley. "Well, it's a big valley, and if
they're satisfied to stay where they are there should be enough for
both. If they're not--"
"If they're not, what?" demanded Linder.
"You heard what Y.D. said. He said, 'Cut it, spite o' hell an'
high water,' and I always obey orders."
They wound down the hillside until they came to the stream, the
horses quickening their pace with the smell of water in their eager
nostrils. It was a good ford, broad and shallow, with the typical
boulder bottom of the mountain stream. The horses crowded into it,
drinking greedily with a sort of droning noise caused by the bits
in their mouths. When they had satisfied their thirst they raised
their heads, stretched their noses far out and champed wide-mouthed
upon their bits.
After a pause in the stream they drew out on the farther bank,
where were open spaces among cottonwood trees, and Transley
indicated that this would be their camping ground. Already smoke
was issuing from the chuck wagon, and in a few minutes the men's
sleeping tent and the two stable tents were flashing back the
afternoon sun. They carried no eating tent; instead of that an
eating wagon was backed up against the chuck wagon, and the men
were served in it. They had not paused for a midday meal; the cook
had provided sandwiches of bread and roast beef to dull the edge of
their appetite, and now all were keen to fall to as soon as the
welcome clanging of the plow-colter which hung from the end of the
chuck wagon should give the signal.
Presently this clanging filled the evening air with sweet music,
and the men filed with long, slouchy tread into the eating wagon.
The table ran down the centre, with bench seats at either side.
The cook, properly gauging the men's appetites, had not taken time
to prepare meat and potatoes, but on the table were ample basins of
graniteware filled with beans and bread and stewed prunes and
canned tomatoes, pitchers of syrup and condensed milk, tins with
marmalade and jam, and plates with butter sadly suffering from the
summer heat. The cook filled their granite cups with hot tea from
a granite pitcher, and when the cups were empty filled them again
and again. And when the tables were partly cleared he brought out
deep pies filled with raisins and with evaporated apples and a
thick cake from which the men cut hunks as generous as their
appetite suggested. Transley had learned, what women are said to
have learned long ago, that the way to a man's heart is through his
stomach, and the cook had carte blanche. Not a man who ate at
Transley's table but would have spilt his blood for the boss or for
the honor of the gang.
The meal was nearing its end when through a window Linder's eye
caught sight of a man on horseback rapidly approaching. "Visitors,
Transley," he was able to say before the rider pulled up at the
open door of the covered wagon.
He was such a rider as may still be seen in those last depths of
the ranching country where wheels have not entirely crowded Romance
off of horseback. Spare and well-knit, his figure had a suggestion
of slightness which the scales would have belied. His face, keen
and clean-shaven, was brown as the August hills, and above it his
broad hat sat in the careless dignity affected by the gentlemen of
the plains. His leather coat afforded protection from the heat of
day and from the cold of night.
"Good evening, men," he said, courteously. "Don't let me disturb
your meal. Afterwards perhaps I can have a word with the boss."
"That's me," said Transley, rising.
"No, don't get up," the stranger protested, but Transley insisted
that he had finished, and, getting down from the wagon, led the way
a little distance from the eager ears of its occupants.
"My name is Grant," said the stranger; "Dennison Grant. I am
employed by Mr. Landson, who has a ranch down the valley. If I am
not mistaken you are Mr. Transley."
"You are not mistaken," Transley replied.
"And I am perhaps further correct," continued Grant, "in surmising
that you are here on behalf of the Y.D., and propose cutting hay in
"Your grasp of the situation does you credit." Transley's manner
was that of a man prepared to meet trouble somewhat more than half
"And I may further surmise," continued Grant, quite unruffled,
"that Y.D. neglected to give you one or two points of information
bearing upon the ownership of this land, which would doubtless have
been of interest to you?"
"Suppose you dismount," said Transley. "I like to look a man in
the face when I talk business to him."
"That's fair," returned Grant, swinging lightly from his horse. "I
have a preference that way myself." He advanced to within arm's
length of Transley and for a few moments the two men stood
measuring each other. It was steel boring steel; there was not a
flicker of an eyelid.
"We may as well get to business, Grant," said Transley at length.
"I also can do some surmising. I surmise that you were sent here
by Landson to forbid me to cut hay in this valley. On what
authority he acts I neither know nor care. I take my orders from
Y.D. Y.D. said cut the hay. I am going to cut it."
"YOU ARE NOT!"
Transley's muscles could be seen to go tense beneath his shirt.
"Who will stop me?" he demanded.
"You will be stopped."
"The Mounted Police?" There was contempt in his voice, but the
contempt was not for the Force. It was for the rancher who would
appeal to the police to settle a "friendly" dispute.
"No, I don't think it will be necessary to call in the police,"
returned Grant, dropping back to his pleasant, casual manner. "You
know Y.D., and doubtless you feel quite safe under his wing. But
you don't know Landson. Neither do you know the facts of the case--
the right and wrong of it. Under these handicaps you cannot reach
a decision which is fair to yourself and to your men."
"Further argument is simply waste of time," Transley interrupted.
"I have told you my instructions, and I have told you that I am
going to carry them out. Have you had your supper?"
"Yes, thanks. All right, we won't argue any more. I'm not arguing
now--I'm telling you, Y.D. has cut hay in this valley so long he
thinks he owns it, and the other ranchers began to think he owned
it. But Landson has been making a few inquiries. He finds that
these are not Crown lands, but are privately owned by speculators
in New York. He has contracted with the owners for the hay rights
of these lands for five years, beginning with the present season.
He is already cutting farther down the valley, and will be cutting
here within a day or two."
"The trout ought to bite on a fine evening like this," said
Transley. "I have an extra rod and some flies. Will you try a
throw or two with me?"
"I would be glad to, but I must get back to camp. I hope you land
a good string," and so saying Grant remounted, nodded to Transley
and again to the men now scattered about the camp, and started his
horse on an easy lope down the valley.
"Well, what is it to be?" said Linder, coming up with the rest of
the boys. "War?"
"War if they fight," Transley replied, unconcernedly. "Y.D. said
cut the hay; 'spite o' hell an' high water,' he said. That goes."
Slowly the great orb of the sun sank until the crest of the
mountains pierced its molten glory and sent it burnishing their
rugged heights. In the east the plains were already wrapped in
shadow. Up the valley crept the veil of night, hushing even the
limitless quiet of the day. The stream babbled louder in the
lowering gloom; the stamp and champing of horses grew less
insistent; the cloudlets overhead faded from crimson to mauve to
blue to grey.
Transley tapped the ashes from his pipe and went to bed.
"How about a ride over to the South Fork this afternoon, Zen?" said
Y.D. to his daughter the following morning. "I just want to make
sure them boys is hittin' the high spots. The grass is gettin'
powerful dry an' you can never tell what may happen."
"You're on," the girl replied across the breakfast table. Her
mother looked up sharply. She wondered if the prospect of another
meeting with Transley had anything to do with Zen's alacrity.
"I had hoped you would outgrow your slang, Zen," she remonstrated
gently. "Men like Mr. Transley are likely to judge your training
by your speech."
"I should worry. Slang is to language what feathers are to a hat--
they give it distinction, class. They lift it out of the drab
"Still, I would not care to be dressed entirely in feathers," her
mother thrust quietly.
"Good for you, Mother!" the girl exclaimed, throwing an arm about
her neck and planking a firm kiss on her forehead. "That was a
solar plexus. Now I'll try to be good and wear a feather only here
and there. But Mr. Transley has nothing to do with it."
"Of course not," said Y.D. "Still, Transley is a man with snap in
him. That's why he's boss. So many of these ornery good-for-
nothin's is always wishin' they was boss, but they ain't willin' to
pay the price. It costs somethin' to get to the head of the herd--
an' stay there."
"He seems firm on all fours," the girl agreed. "How do we travel,
"Better take a democrat, I guess," her father said. "We can throw
in a tent and some bedding for you, as we'll maybe stay over a
couple of nights."
"The blue sky is tent enough for me," Zen protested, "and I can
surely rustle a blanket or two around the camp. Besides, I'll want
a riding horse to get around with there."
"You can run him beside the democrat," said her father. "You're
gettin' too big to go campin' promisc'us like when you was a kid."
"That's the penalty for growing up," Zen sighed. "All right, Dad.
Say two o'clock?"
The girl spent the morning helping her mother about the house, and
casting over in her mind the probable developments of the near
future. She would not have confessed outwardly to even a casual
interest in Transley, but inwardly she admitted that the promise of
another meeting with him gave zest to the prospect. Transley was
interesting. At least he was out of the commonplace. His bold
directness had rather fascinated her. He had a will. Her father
had always admired men with a will, and Zen shared his admiration.
Then there was Linder. The fierce light of Transley's charms did
not blind her to the glow of quiet capability which she saw in
Linder. If one were looking for a husband, Linder had much to
recommend him. He was probably less capable than Transley, but he
would be easier to manage. . . . But who was looking for a
husband? Not Zen. No, no, certainly not Zen.
Then there was George Drazk, whose devotions fluctuated between
"that Pete-horse" and the latest female to cross his orbit. At the
thought of George Drazk Zen laughed outright. She had played with
him. She had made a monkey of him, and he deserved all he had got.
It was not the first occasion upon which Zen had let herself drift
with the tide, always sure of justifying herself and discomfiting
someone by the swift, strong strokes with which, at the right
moment, she reached the shore. Zen liked to think of herself as
careering through life in the same way as she rode the half-broken
horses of her father's range. How many such a horse had thought
that the lithe body on his back was something to race with, toy
with, and, when tired of that, fling precipitately to earth! And
not one of those horses but had found that while he might race and
toy with his rider within limitations, at the last that light body
was master, and not he. . . . Yet Zen loved best the horse that
raced wildest and was hardest to bring into subjection.
That was her philosophy of life so far as a girl of twenty may have
a philosophy of life. It was to go on and see what would happen,
supported always by a quiet confidence that in any pinch she could
take care of herself. She had learned to ride and shoot, to sleep
out and cook in the open, to ride the ranges after dark by instinct
and the stars--she had learned these things while other girls of
her age learned the rudiments of fancy-work and the scales of the
Her father and mother knew her disposition, loved it, and feared
for it. They knew that there was never a rider so brave, so
skilful, so strong, but some outlaw would throw him at last. So at
fourteen they sent her east to a boarding-school. In two months
she was back with a letter of expulsion, and the boast of having
blacked the eyes of the principal's daughter.
"They couldn't teach me any more, Mother," she said. "They
admitted it. So here I am."
Y.D. was plainly perplexed. "It's about time you was halter-
broke," he commented, "but who's goin' to do it?"
"If a girl has learned to read and think, what more can the schools
do for her?" she demanded.
And Y.D., never having been to school, could not answer.
The sun was capping the Rockies with molten gold when the rancher
and his daughter swung down the foothill slopes to the camp on the
South Y.D. Strings of men and horses returning from the upland
meadows could be seen from the hillside as they descended.
Y.D.'s sharp eyes measured the scale of operations.
"They're hittin' the high spots," he said, approvingly. "That boy
Transley is a hum-dinger."
Zen made no reply.
"I say he's a hum-dinger," her father repeated.
The girl looked up with a quick flush of surprise. Y.D. was no
puzzle to her, and if he went out of his way to commend Transley he
had a purpose.
"Mr. Transley seems to have made a hit with you, Dad," she
"Well, I do like to see a man who's got the goods in him. I like a
man that can get there, just as I like a horse that can get there.
I've often wondered, Zen, what kind you'd take up with, when it
came to that, an' hoped he'd be a live crittur. After I'm dead an'
buried I don't want no other dead one spendin' my simoleons."
"How about Mr. Linder?" said Zen, naively.
Her father looked up sharply. "Zen," he said, "you're not serious?"
Zen laughed. "I don't figure you're exactly serious, Dad, in your
talk about Transley. You're just feeling out. Well--let me do a
little feeling out. How about Linder?"
"Linder's all right," Y.D. replied. "Better than the average, I
admit. But he's not the man Transley is. If he was, he wouldn't
be workin' for Transley. You can't keep a man down, Zen, if he's
got the goods in him. Linder comes up over the average, so's you
can notice it, but not like Transley does."
Zen did not pursue the subject. She understood her father's
philosophy very well indeed, and, to a large degree, she accepted
it as her own. It was natural that a man of Y.D.'s experience, who
had begun life with no favors and had asked none since, and had
made of himself a big success--it was natural that such a man
should judge all others by their material achievements. The only
quality Y.D. took off his hat to was the ability to do things. And
Y.D.'s idea of things was very concrete; it had to do with steers
and land, with hay and money and men. It was by such things he
measured success. And Zen was disposed to agree with him. Why
not? It was the only success she knew.
Transley was greeting them as they drew into camp.
"Glad to see you, Y.D.; honored to have a visit from you, Ma'am,"
he said, as he helped them from the democrat, and gave instructions
for the care of their horses. "Supper is waiting, and the men
won't be ready for some time."
Y.D. shook hands with Transley cordially. "Zen an' me just thought
we'd run over and see how the wind blew," he said. "You got a good
spot here for a camp, Transley. But we won't go in to supper just
now. Let the men eat first; I always say the work horses should be
first at the barn. Well, how's she goin'?"
"Fine," said Transley, "fine," but it was evident his mind was
divided. He was glancing at Zen, who stood by during the
"I must try and make your daughter at home," he continued. "I
allow myself the luxury of a private tent, and as you will be
staying over night I will ask you to accept it for her."
"But I have my own tent with me, in the democrat," said Zen. "If
you will let the men pitch it under the trees where I can hear the
water murmuring in the night--"
"Who'd have thought it, from the daughter of the practical Y.D!"
Transley bantered. "All right, Ma'am, but in the meantime take my
tent. I'll get water, and there's a basin." He already was
leading the way. "Make yourself at home--Zen. May I call you
Zen?" he added, in a lower voice, as they left Y.D. at a distance.
"Everybody calls me Zen."
They were standing at the door of the tent, he holding back the
flap that she might enter. The valley was already in shadow, and
there was no sunlight to play on her hair, but her face and figure
in the mellow dusk seemed entirely winsome and adorable. There was
no taint of Y.D.'s millions in the admiration that Transley bent
upon her. . . . Of course, as an adjunct, the millions were not to
When the men had finished supper Transley summoned her. On the way
to the chuck-wagon she passed close to George Drazk. It was
evident that he had chosen a station with that result in view. She
had passed by when she turned, whimsically.
"Well, George, how's that Pete-horse?" she said.
"Up an comin' all the time, Zen," he answered.
She bit her lip over his familiarity, but she had no come-back.
She had given him the opening, by calling him "George."
"You see, I got quite well acquainted with Mr. Drazk when he came
back to hunt for a horse blanket which had mysteriously
disappeared," she explained to Transley.
They ascended the steps which led from the ground into the wagon.
The table had been reset for four, and as the shadows were now
heavy in the valley, candles had been lighted. Y.D. and his
daughter sat on one side, Transley on the other. In a moment
Linder entered. He had already had a talk with Y.D., but had not
met Zen since their supper together in the rancher's house.
"Glad to see you again, Mr. Linder," said the girl, rising and
extending her hand across the table. "You see we lost no time in
returning your call."
Linder took her hand in a frank grasp, but could think of nothing
in particular to say. "We're glad to have you," was all he could
Zen was rather sorry that Linder had not made more of the situation.
She wondered what quick repartee, shot, no doubt, with double
meaning, Transley would have returned. It was evident that, as
her father had said, Linder was second best. And yet there was
something about his shyness that appealed to her even more than did
Transley's superb self-confidence.
The meal was spent in small talk about horses and steers and the
merits of the different makes of mowing machines. When it was
finished Transley apologized for not offering his guests any
liquor. "I never keep it about the camp," he said.
"Quite right," Y.D. agreed, "quite right. Booze is like fire; a
valuable thing in careful hands, but mighty dangerous when
everybody gets playin' with it. I reckon the grass is gettin'
pretty dry, Transley?"
"Mighty dry, all right, but we're taking every precaution."
"I'm sure you are, but you can't take precautions for other people.
Has anybody been puttin' you up to any trouble here?"
"Well, no, I can't exactly say trouble," said Transley, "but we've
got notice it's coming. A chap named Grant, foreman, I think, for
Landson, down the valley, rode over last night, and invited us not
to cut any hay hereabouts. He was very courteous, and all that,
but he had the manner of a man who'd go quite a distance in a
"What did you tell him?"
"Told him I was working for Y.D., and then asked him to stay for
"Did he stay?" Zen asked.
"He did not. He cantered off back, courteous as he came. And this
morning we went out on the job, and have cut all day, and nothing
"I guess he found you were not to be bluffed," said Zen, and
Transley could not prevent a flush of pleasure at her compliment.
"Of course Landson has no real claim to the hay, has he, Dad?"
"Of course not. I reckon them'll be his stacks we saw down the
valley. Well, I'm not wantin' to rob him of the fruit of his
labor, an' if he keeps calm perhaps we'll let him have what he has
cut, but if he don't--" Y.D.'s face hardened with the set of a man
accustomed to fight, and win, his own battles. "I think we'll just
stick around a day or two in case he tries to start anythin'," he
"Well, five o'clock comes early," said Transley, "and you folks
must be tired with your long drive. We've had your tent pitched
down by the water, Zen, so that its murmurs may sing you to sleep.
You see, I have some of the poetic in me, too. Mr. Linder will
show you down, and I will see that your father is made comfortable.
And remember--five o'clock does not apply to visitors."
The camp now lay in complete darkness, save where a lantern threw
its light from a tent by the river. Zen walked by Linder's side.
Presently she reached out and took his arm.
"I beg your pardon," said Linder. "I should have offered--"
"Of course you should. Mr. Transley would not have waited to be
told. Dad thinks that anything that's worth having in this world
is worth going after, and going after hard. I guess I'm Dad's
daughter in more ways than one."
"I suppose he's right," Linder confessed, "but I've always been
shy. I get along all right with men."
"The truth is, Mr Linder, you're not shy--you're frightened. Now I
can well believe that no man could frighten you. Consequently you
get along all right with men. Do I need to tell you the rest?"
"I never thought of myself as being afraid of women," he replied.
"It has always seemed that they were, well, just out of my line."
They had reached the tent but the girl made no sign of going in.
In the silence the sibilant lisp of the stream rose loud about
"Mr. Linder," she said at length, "do you know why Mr. Transley
sent you down here with me?"
"I'm sure I don't, except to show you to your tent."
"That was the least of his purposes. He wanted to show you that he
wasn't afraid of you; and he wanted to show me that he wasn't
afraid of you. Mr. Transley is a very self-confident individual.
There is such a thing as being too self-confident, Mr. Linder, just
as there is such a thing as being too shy. Do you get me? Good
night!" And with a little rush she was in her tent.
Linder walked slowly down to the water's edge, and stood there,
thinking, until her light went out. His brain was in a whirl with
a sensation entirely strange to it. A light wind, laden with snow-
smell from the mountains, pressed gently against his features, and
presently Linder took deeper breaths than he had ever known before.
"By Jove!" he said. "Who'd have thought it possible?"
When Zen awoke next morning the mowing machines of Transley's
outfit were already singing their symphony in the meadows; she
could hear the metallic rhythm as it came borne on the early
breeze. She lay awake on her camp cot for a few minutes,
stretching her fingers to the canvas ceiling and feeling that it
was good to be alive. And it was. The ripple of water came from
almost underneath the walls of her tent; the smell of spruce trees
and balm-o'-Gilead and new-mown hay was in the air. She could feel
the warmth of the sunshine already pouring upon her white roof; she
could trace the gentle sway of the trees by the leafy patterns
gliding forward and back. A cheeky gopher, exploring about the
door of her tent, ventured in, and, sitting bolt upright, sent his
shrill whistle boldly forth. She watched his fine bravery for a
minute, then clapped her hands together, and laughed as he fled.
"Therein we have the figures of both Transley and Linder," she
mused to herself. "Upright, Transley; horizontal, Linder. I doubt
if the poor fellow slept last night after the fright I gave him."
Slowly and calmly she turned the incident over in her mind. She
wondered a little if she had been quite fair with Linder. Her
words and conduct were capable of very broad interpretations. She
was not at all in love with Linder; of that Zen was very sure. She
was equally sure that she was not at all in love with Transley.
She admitted that she admired Transley for his calm assumptions,
but they nettled her a little nevertheless. If this should develop
into a love affair--IF it should--she had no intention that it was
to be a pleasant afternoon's canter. It was to be a race--a race,
mind you--and may the best man win! She had a feeling, amounting
almost to a conviction, that Transley underrated his foreman's
possibilities in such a contest. She had seen many a dark horse,
less promising than Linder, gallop home with the stakes.
Then Zen smiled her own quiet, self-confident smile, the smile
which had come down to her from Y.D. and from the Wilsons--the only
family that had ever mastered him. The idea of either Transley or
Linder thinking he could gallop home with HER! For the moment she
forgot to do Linder the justice of remembering that nothing was
further from his thoughts. She would show them. She would make a
race of it--ALMOST to the wire. In the home stretch she would make
the leap, out and over the fence. She was in it for the race, not
for the finish.
Zen contemplated for some minutes the possibilities of that race;
then, as the imagination threatened to become involved, she sprang
from her cot and thrust a cautious head through the door of her
tent. The gang had long since gone to the fields, and friendly
bushes sheltered her from view from the cook-car. She drew on her
boots, shook out her hair, threw a towel across her shoulders, and,
soap in hand, walked boldly the few steps to the stream rippling
over its shiny gravel bed. She stopped and tested the water with
her fingers; then brought it in fresh, cool handfuls about her face
"Mornin', Zen!" said a familiar voice. "'Scuse me for happenin' to
be here. I was jus' waterin' that Pete-horse after a hard ride."
"Now look here, Mr. Drazk!" said the girl, whipping her scanty
clothing about her, "if I had a gun that Pete-horse would be
scheduled for his fastest travel in the next twenty seconds, and
he'd end it without a rider, too. I won't have you spying about!"
"Aw, don' be cross," Drazk protested. He was sitting on his horse
in the ford a dozen yards away. "I jus' happened along. I guess
the outside belongs to all of us. Say, Zen, if I was to get
properly interduced, what's the chances?"
"Not one in a million, and if that isn't odds enough I'll double
"You're not goin' to hitch up with Linder, are you?"
"Linder? Who said anything about Linder?"
"Gee, but ain't she innercent?" Drazk stepped his horse up a few
feet to facilitate conversation. "I alus take an interest in
innercent gals away from home, so I kinda kep' my angel eye on you
las' night. An' I see Linder stalkin' aroun' here an' sighin' out
over the water when he should 'ave been in bed. But, of course,
he's been interduced."
"George Drazk, if you speak to me again I'll horse-whip you out of
the camp at noon before all the men. Now, beat it!"
"Jus' as you say, Ma'am," he returned, with mock courtesy. "But I
could tell a strange story if I would. But you don't need to be
scared. That's one thing I never do--I never squeal on a friend."
She was burning with his insults, and if she had had a gun at hand
she undoubtedly would have made good her threat. But she had none.
Drazk very deliberately turned his horse and rode away toward the
"Oh, won't I fix him!" she said, as she continued her toilet in a
fury. She had not the faintest idea what revenge she would take,
but she promised herself that it would leave nothing to be desired.
Then, because she was young and healthy and an optimist, and did
not know what it meant to be afraid, she dismissed the incident
from her mind to consider the more urgent matter of breakfast.
Tompkins, the cook, had not needed Transley's suggestion to put his
best foot forward when catering to Y.D. and his daughter. Tompkins'
soul yearned for a cooking berth that could be occupied the year
round. Work in the railway camps had always left him high and dry
at the freeze-up--dry, particularly, and a few nights in Calgary or
Edmonton saw the end of his season's earnings. Then came a
precarious existence for Tompkins until the scrapers were back on
the dump the following spring. A steady job, cooking on a ranch
like the Y.D.; if Tompkins had written the Apocalypse that would
have been his picture of heaven. So he had left nothing undone,
even to despatching a courier over night to a railway station thirty
miles away for fresh fruit and other delicacies. Another of the gang
had been impressed into a trip up the river to a squatter who was
suspected of keeping one or two milch cows and sundry hens.
"This way, Ma'am," Tompkins was waving as Zen emerged from the
grove. "Another of our usual mornings. Hope you slep' well,
Ma'am." He stood deferentially aside while she ascended the three
steps that led into the covered wagon.
Zen gave a little shriek of delight, and Tompkins felt that all his
efforts had been well repaid. One end of the table--it was with a
sore heart Tompkins had realized that he could not cut down the big
table--one end of the table was set with a clean linen cloth and
granite dishware scoured until it shone. Beside Zen's plate were
grape fruit and sliced oranges and real cream.
"However did you manage it?" she gasped.
"Nothing's too good for Y.D.'s daughter," was the only explanation
Tompkins would offer, but, as Zen afterwards said, the smile on his
face was as good as another breakfast. After the fruit came
porridge, and more cream; then fresh boiled eggs with toast; then
fresh ripe strawberries with more cream.
"Tompkins, Ma'am; Cyrus Tompkins," he supplied.
"Well, Mr. Tompkins, you're a wonder, and when there's a new cook
to be engaged for the Y.D. I shall think of you."
"Indeed I wish you would, Ma'am," he said, earnestly. "This road
work's all right, and nobody ever cooked for a better boss than Mr.
Transley--savin' it would be your father, Ma'am--but I'm a man of
family, an' it's pretty hard--"
"Family, did you say, Mr. Tompkins? How many of a family have
"Well, it's seven years since I heard from them--I haven't
corresponded very reg'lar of late, but they WAS six--"
The story of Tompkins' family was cut short by the arrival of a
team and mowing machine.
"What's up, Fred?" called Tompkins through a window of his dining
car to the driver. "Breakfust is just over, an' dinner ain't
For answer the man addressed as Fred slowly produced an iron stake
about eighteen inches long and somewhat less than an inch in
"What kind of shrubbery do you call that, Tompkins?" he demanded.
"Well, it ain't buffalo grass, an' it ain't brome grass, an' I
don't figger it's alfalfa," said Tompkins, meditatively.
"No, and it ain't a grub-stake," Fred replied, with some sarcasm.
"It's a iron stake, growin' right in a nice little clump of grass,
and I run on to it and bust my cuttin'-bar all to--that is, all to
pieces," he completed rather lamely, taking Zen into his glance.
"I think I follow you," she said, with a smile. "Can you fix it
"Nope. Have to go to town for a new one. Two days' lost time,
when every hour counts. Hello! Here comes someone else."
Another of the teamsters was drawing into camp. "Hello, Fred!" he
said, upon coming up with his fellow workman, "you in too? I had a
bit of bad luck. I run smash on to an iron stake right there in
the ground and crumpled my knife like so much soap."
"I did worse," said Fred, with a grin. "I bust my cuttin'-bar."