Part 2 out of 3
another fellow save the life of a woman he loves, while he himself is
limping painfully up from the rear.
However, the woman he loved was very gracious to him that day, and for
many days, and Keith Cameron held himself aloof during the rest of the
trip, which should have contented Sir Redmond.
Dorman Plays Cupid.
Dorman toiled up the steps, his straw hat perilously near to slipping
down his back, his face like a large, red beet, and his hands vainly
trying to reach around a baking-powder can which the Chinaman cook had
He marched straight to where Beatrice was lying in the hammock. If she
had been older, or younger, or a plain young woman, one might say that
Beatrice was sulking in the hammock, for she had not spoken anything but
"yes" and "no" to her mother for an hour, and she had only spoken those
two words occasionally, when duty demanded it. For one thing, Sir
Redmond was absent, and had been for two weeks, and Beatrice was
beginning to miss him dreadfully. To beguile the time, she had ridden,
every day, long miles into the hills. Three times she had met Keith
Cameron, also riding alone in the hills, and she had endeavored to amuse
herself with him, after her own inimitable fashion, and with more or
less success. The trouble was, that sometimes Keith seemed to be
amusing himself with her, which was not pleasing to a girl like
Beatrice. At any rate, he proved himself quite able to play the game of
Give and Take, so that the conscience of Beatrice was at ease; no one
could call her pastime a slaughter of the innocents, surely, when the
fellow stood his ground like that. It was more a fencing-bout, and
Beatrice enjoyed it very much; she told herself that the reason she
enjoyed talking with Keith was because he was not always getting hurt,
like Sir Redmond--or, if he did, he kept his feelings to himself, and
went boldly on with the game. Item: Beatrice had reversed her decision
that Keith was vain, though she still felt tempted, at times, to resort
to "making faces"--when she was worsted, that was.
To return to this particular day of sulking; Rex had cast a shoe, and
lamed himself just enough to prevent her riding, and so Beatrice was
having a dull day of it in the house. Besides, her mother had just
finished talking to her for her good, which was enough to send an angel
into the sulks--and Beatrice lacked a good deal of being an angel.
Dorman laid his baking-powder can confidingly in his divinity's lap.
"Be'trice, I did get some grasshoppers; you said I couldn't. And you
wouldn't go fishin', 'cause you didn't like to take Uncle Dick's
make-m'lieve flies, so I got some really ones, Be'trice, that'll wiggle
dere own self."
"Oh, dear me! It's too hot, Dorman."
"'Tisn't, Be'trice It's dest as cool--and by de brook it's awf-lly cold.
Come, Be'trice!" He pulled at the smart little pink ruffles on her
"I'm too sleepy, hon."
"You can sleep by de brook, Be'trice. I'll let you," he promised
generously, "'cept when I need anudder grasshopper; nen I'll wake you
"Wait till to-morrow. I don't believe the fish are hungry to-day. Don't
tear my skirt to pieces, Dorman!"
Dorman began to whine. He had never found his divinity in so unlovely a
mood. "I want to go now! Dey are too hungry, Be'trice! Looey Sam is
goin' to fry my fishes for dinner, to s'prise auntie. Come, Be'trice!"
"Why don't you go with the child, Beatrice? You grow more selfish every
day." Mrs. Lansell could not endure selfishness--in others. "You know he
will not give us any peace until you do."
Dorman instantly proceeded to make good his grandmother's prophecy, and
wept so that one could hear him a mile.
"Oh, dear me! Be still, Dorman--your auntie has a headache. Well, get
your rod, if you know where it is--which I doubt." Beatrice flounced out
of the hammock and got her hat, one of those floppy white things,
fluffed with thin, white stuff, till they look like nothing so much as a
wisp of cloud, with ribbons to moor it to her head and keep it from
sailing off to join its brothers in the sky.
Down by the creek, where the willows nodded to their own reflections in
the still places, it was cool and sweet scented, and Beatrice forgot her
grievances, and was not sorry she had come.
(It was at about this time that a tall young fellow, two miles down the
coulee, put away his field glass and went off to saddle his horse.)
"Don't run ahead so, Dorman," Beatrice cautioned. To her had been given
the doubtful honor of carrying the baking-powder can of grasshoppers.
Even divinities must make themselves useful to man.
"Why, Be'trice?" Dorman swished his rod in unpleasant proximity to his
"Because, honey"--Beatrice dodged--"you might step on a snake, a
rattlesnake, that would bite you."
"How would it bite, Be'trice?"
"With its teeth, of course; long, wicked teeth, with poison on them."
"I saw one when I was ridin' on a horse wis Uncle Dick. It kept windin'
up till it was round, and it growled wis its tail, Be'trice. And Uncle
Dick chased it, and nen it unwinded itself and creeped under a big rock.
It didn't bite once--and I didn't see any teeth to it."
"Carry your rod still, Dorman. Are you trying to knock my hat off my
head? Rattlesnakes have teeth, hon, whether you saw them or not. I saw a
great, long one that day we thought you were lost. Mr. Cameron killed it
with his rope. I'm sure it had teeth."
"Did it growl, Be'trice? Tell me how it went."
"Like this, hon." Beatrice parted her lips ever so little, and a snake
buzzed at Dorman's feet. He gave a yell of terror, and backed
"You see, honey, if that had been really a snake, it would have bitten
you. Never mind, dear--it was only I."
Dorman was some time believing this astonishing statement. "How did you
growl by my feet, Be'trice? Show me again."
Beatrice, who had learned some things at school which were not included
in the curriculum, repeated the performance, while Dorman watched her
with eyes and mouth at their widest. Like some older members of his sex,
he was discovering new witcheries about his divinity every day.
"Well, Be'trice!" He gave a long gasp of ecstasy. "I don't see how can
you do it? Can't I do it, Be'trice?"
"I'm afraid not, honey--you'd have to learn. There was a queer French
girl at school, who could do the strangest things, Dorman--like fairy
tales, almost. And she taught me to throw my voice different places, and
mimic sounds, when we should have been at our lessons. Listen, hon. This
is how a little lamb cries, when he is lost. . . . And this is what a
hungry kittie says, when she is away up in a tree, and is afraid to come
Dorman danced all around his divinity, and forgot about the fish--until
Beatrice found it in her heart to regret her rash revelation of hitherto
undreamed-of powers of entertainment.
"Not another sound, Dorman," she declared at length, with the firmness
of despair. "No, I will not be a lost lamb another once. No, nor a
hungry kittie, either--nor a snake, or anything. If you are not going to
fish, I shall go straight back to the house."
Dorman sighed heavily, and permitted his divinity to fasten a small
grasshopper to his hook.
"We'll go a bit farther, dear, down under those great trees. And you
must not speak a word, remember, or the fish will all run away."
When she had settled him in a likely place, and the rapt patience of the
born angler had folded him close, she disposed herself comfortably in
the thick grass, her back against a tree, and took up the shuttle of
fancy to weave a wonderful daydream, as beautiful, intangible as the
lacy, summer clouds over her head.
A man rode quietly over the grass and stopped two rods away, that he
might fill his hungry eyes with the delicious loveliness of his Heart's
"Got a bite yet?"
Dorman turned and wrinkled his nose, by way of welcome, and shook his
head vaguely, as though he might tell of several unimportant nibbles, if
it were worth the effort.
Beatrice sat a bit straighter, and dexterously whisked some pink
ruffles down over two distracting ankles, and hoped Keith had not taken
notice of them. He had, though; trust a man for that!
Keith dismounted, dropped the reins to the ground, and came and laid
himself down in the grass beside his Heart's Desire, and Beatrice
noticed how tall he was, and slim and strong.
"How did you know we were here?" she wanted to know, with lifted
Keith wondered if there was a welcome behind that sweet, indifferent
face. He never could be sure of anything in Beatrice's face, because it
never was alike twice, it seemed to him--and if it spoke welcome for a
second, the next there was only raillery, or something equally
"I saw you from the trail," he answered promptly, evidently not
thinking it wise to mention the fieldglass. And then: "Is Dick at
home?" Not that he wanted Dick--but a fellow, even when he is in the
last stages of love, feels need of an excuse sometimes.
"No--we women are alone to-day. There isn't a man on the place, except
Looey Sam, and he doesn't count."
Dorman squirmed around till he could look at the two, and his eyebrows
were tied in a knot. "I wish, Be'trice, you wouldn't talk, 'less you
whisper. De fishes won't bite a bit."
"All right, honey--we won't."
Dorman turned back to his fishing with a long breath of relief. His
divinity never broke a promise, if she could help it.
If Dorman Hayes had been Cupid himself, he could not have hit upon a
more impish arrangement than that. To place a girl like Beatrice beside
a fellow like Keith--a fellow who is tall, and browned, and extremely
good-looking, and who has hazel eyes with a laugh in them always--a
fellow, moreover, who is very much in love and very much in earnest
about it--and condemn him to silence, or to whispers!
Keith took advantage of the edict, and moved closer, so that he could
whisper in comfort--and be nearer his Heart's Desire. He lay with his
head propped upon his hand, and his elbow digging into the sod and
getting grass-stains on his shirt sleeve, for the day was too warm for a
coat. Beatrice, looking down at him, observed that his forearm, between
his glove and wrist-band, was as white and smooth as her own. It is
characteristic of a cowboy to have a face brown as an Indian, and hands
girlishly white and soft.
"I haven't had a glimpse of you for a week--not since I met you down by
the river. Where have you been?" he whispered.
"Here. Rex went lame, and Dick wouldn't let me ride any other horse,
since that day Goldie bolted--and so the hills have called in vain. I've
stayed at home and made quantities of Duchesse lace--I almost finished a
love of a center piece--and mama thinks I have reformed. But Rex is
better, and tomorrow I'm going somewhere."
"Better help me hunt some horses that have been running down Lost
Canyon way. I'm going to look for them to-morrow," Keith suggested, as
calmly as was compatible with his eagerness and his method of speech. I
doubt if any man can whisper things to a girl he loves, and do it
calmly. I know Keith's heart was pounding.
"I shall probably ride in the opposite direction," Beatrice told him
wickedly. She wondered if he thought she would run at his beck.
"I never saw you in this dress before," Keith murmured, his eyes
"No? You may never again," she said. "I have so many things to wear out,
"I like it," he declared, as emphatically as he could, and whisper. "It
is just the color of your cheeks, after the wind has been kissing them a
"Fancy a cowboy saying pretty things like that!"
Beatrice's cheeks did not wait for the wind to kiss them pink.
"Ya-as, only fawncy, ye knaw." His eyes were daringly mocking.
"For shame, Mr. Cameron! Sir Redmond would not mimic your speech."
"Good reason why; he couldn't, not if he tried a thousand years."
Beatrice knew this was the truth, so she fell back upon dignity.
"We will not discuss that subject, I think."
"I don't want to, anyway. I know another subject a million times more
interesting than Sir Redmond."
"Indeed!" Beatrice's eyebrows were at their highest. "And what is it,
"You!" Keith caught her hand; his eyes compelled her.
"I think," said Beatrice, drawing her hand away, "we will not discuss
that subject, either."
"Why?" Keith's eyes continued to woo.
It occurred to Beatrice that an unsophisticated girl might easily think
Keith in earnest, with that look in his eyes.
Dorman, scowling at them over his shoulder, unconsciously did his
divinity a service. Beatrice pursed her lips in a way that drove Keith
nearly wild, and took up the weapon of silence.
"You said you women are alone--where is milord?" Keith began again,
after two minutes of lying there watching her.
"Sir Redmond is in Helena, on business. He's been making arrangements to
lease a lot of land."
"Ah-h!" Keith snapped a twig off a dead willow,
"We look for him home to-day, and Dick drove in to meet the train."
"So the Pool has gone to leasing land?" The laugh had gone out of
Keith's eyes; they were clear and keen.
"Yes--the plan is to lease the Pine Ridge country, and fence it. I
suppose you know where that is."
"I ought to," Keith said quietly. "It's funny Dick never mentioned it."
"It isn't Dick's idea," Beatrice told him. "It was Sir Redmond's. Dick
is rather angry, I think, and came near quarreling with Sir Redmond
about it. But English capital controls the Pool, you know, and Sir
Redmond controls the English capital, so he can adopt whatever policy he
chooses. The way he explained the thing to me, it seems a splendid
plan--don't you think so?"
"Yes." Keith's tone was not quite what he meant it to be; he did not
intend it to be ironical, as it was. "It's a snap for the Pool, all
right. It gives them a cinch on the best of the range, and all the
water. I didn't give milord credit for such business sagacity."
Beatrice leaned over that she might read his eyes, but Keith turned his
face away. In the shock of what he had just learned, he was, at the
moment, not the lover; he was the small cattleman who is being forced
out of the business by the octopus of combined capital. It was not less
bitter that the woman he loved was one of the tentacles reaching out to
crush him. And they could do it; they--the whole affair resolved itself
into a very simple scheme, to Keith. The gauntlet had been thrown
down--because of this girl beside him. It was not so much business
acumen as it was the antagonism of a rival that had prompted the move.
Keith squared his shoulders, and mentally took up the gauntlet. He might
lose in the range fight, but he would win the girl, if it were in the
power of love to do it.
"Why that tone? I hope it isn't--will it inconvenience you?"
"Oh, no. No, not at all. No--" Keith seemed to forget that a
superabundance of negatives breeds suspicion of sincerity.
"I'm afraid that means that it will. And I'm sure Sir Redmond never
"I believe that kid has got a bite at last," Keith interrupted, getting
up. "Let me take hold, there, Dorman; you'll be in the creek yourself in
a second." He landed a four-inch fish, carefully rebaited the hook, cast
the line into a promising eddy, gave the rod over to Dorman, and went
back to Beatrice, who had been watching him with troubled eyes.
"Mr. Cameron, if I had known--" Beatrice was good-hearted, if she was
fond of playing with a man's heart.
"I hope you're not letting that business worry you, Miss Lansell. You
remind me of a painting I saw once in Boston. It was called June."
"But this is August, so I don't apply. Isn't there some way you--"
"Did you hear about that train-robbery up the line last week?" Keith
settled himself luxuriously upon his back, with his hands clasped under
his head, and his hat tipped down over his eyes--but not enough to
prevent him from watching his Heart's Desire. And in his eyes
laughter--and something sweeter--lurked. If Sir Redmond had wealth to
fight with, Keith's weapon was far and away more dangerous, for it was
the irresistible love of a masterful man--the love that sweeps obstacles
away like straws.
"I am not interested in train-robberies," Beatrice told him, her eyes
still clouded with trouble. "I want to talk about this lease."
"They got one fellow the next day, and another got rattled and gave
himself up; but the leader of the gang, one of Montana's pet outlaws, is
still ranging somewhere in the hills. You want to be careful about
riding off alone; you ought to let some one--me, for instance--go along
to look after you."
"Pshaw!" said his Heart's Desire, smiling reluctantly. "I'm not afraid.
Do you suppose, if Sir Redmond had known--"
"Those fellows made quite a haul--almost enough to lease the whole
country, if they wanted to. Something over fifty thousand dollars--and a
strong box full of sand, that the messenger was going to fool them with.
He did, all right; but they weren't so slow. They hustled around and got
the money, and he lost his sand into the bargain."
"Was that meant for a pun?" Beatrice blinked her big eyes at him. "If
you're quite through with the train-robbers, perhaps you will tell me
"I'm glad old Mother Nature didn't give every woman an odd dimple
beside the mouth," Keith observed, reaching for her hat, and running a
ribbon caressingly through his fingers.
"Why?" Beatrice smoothed the dimple complacently with her finger-tips.
"Why? Oh, it would get kind of monotonous ,wouldn't it?"
"This from a man known chiefly for his pretty speeches!" Beatrice's
laugh had a faint tinge of chagrin.
"Wouldn't pretty speeches get monotonous, too?" Keith's eyes were
laughing at her.
"Yours wouldn't," she retorted, spitefully, and immediately bit her lip
and hoped he would not consider that a bid for more pretty speeches.
"Be'trice, dis hopper is awf-lly wilted!" came a sepulchral whisper from
Keith sighed, and went and baited the hook again. When he returned to
Beatrice, his mood had changed.
"I want you to promise--"
"I never make promises of any sort, Mr. Cameron." Beatrice had fallen
back upon her airy tone, which was her strongest weapon of
defense--unless one except her liquid-air smile.
"I wasn't thinking of asking much," Keith went on coolly. "I only
wanted to ask you not to worry about that leasing business."
"Are you worrying about it, Mr. Cameron?"
"That isn't the point. No, I can't say I expect to lose sleep over it. I
hope you will dismiss anything I may have said from your mind."
"But I don't understand. I feel that you blame Sir Redmond, when I'm
"I did not say I blamed anybody. I think we'll not discuss it."
"Yes, I think we shall. You'll tell me all about it, if I want to
know." Beatrice adopted her coaxing tone, which never had failed her.
"Oh, no!" Keith laughed a little. "A girl can't always have her own way
just because she wants it, even if she--"
"I've got a fish, Mr. Cam'ron!" Dorman squealed, and Keith was obliged
to devote another five minutes to diplomacy.
"I think you have fished long enough, honey," Beatrice told Dorman
decidedly. "It's nearly dinner time, and Looey Sam won't have time to
fry your fish if you don't hurry home. Shall I tell Dick you wished to
see him, Mr. Cameron?"
"It's nothing important, so I won't trouble you," Keith replied, in a
tone that matched hers for cool courtesy. "I'll see him to-morrow,
probably." He helped Dorman reel in his line, cut a willow-wand and
strung the three fish upon it by the gills, washed his hands leisurely
in the creek, and dried them on his handkerchief, just as if nothing
bothered him in the slightest degree. Then he went over and smoothed
Redcloud's mane and pulled a wisp of forelock from under the brow-band,
and commanded him to shake hands, which the horse did promptly.
"I want to shake hands wis your pony, too," Dorman cried, and dropped
pole and fish heedlessly into the grass.
"All right, kid."
Dorman went up gravely and clasped Redcloud's raised fetlock solemnly,
while the tall cow-puncher smiled down at him.
"Kiss him, Redcloud," he said softly; and then, when the horse's nose
was thrust in his face: "No, not me--kiss the kid." He lifted the child
up in his arms, and when Redcloud touched his soft nose to Dorman's
cheek and lifted his lip for a dainty, toothless nibble, Dorman was
speechless with fright and rapture thrillingly combined.
"Now run home with your fish; it lacks only two hours and forty minutes
to dinner time, and it will take at least twenty minutes for the fish to
fry--so you see you'll have to hike."
Beatrice flushed and looked at him sharply, but Keith was getting into
the saddle and did not appear to remember she was there. The fingers
that were tying her hat-ribbons under her chin fumbled awkwardly and
trembled. Beatrice would have given a good deal at that moment to know
just what Keith Cameron was thinking; and she was in a blind rage with
herself to think that it mattered to her what he thought.
When he lifted his hat she only nodded curtly. She mimicked every beast
and bird she could think of on the way home, to wipe him and his horse
from the memory of Dorman, whose capacity for telling things best left
untold was simply marvelous.
It is saying much for Beatrice's powers of entertainment that Dorman
quite forgot to say anything about Mr. Cameron and his pony, and
chattered to his auntie and grandmama about kitties up in a tree, and
lost lambs and sleepy birds, until he was tucked into bed that night. It
was not until then that Beatrice felt justified in drawing a long
breath. Not that she cared whether any one knew of her meeting Keith
Cameron, only that her mother would instantly take alarm and preach to
her about the wickedness of flirting; and Beatrice was not in the mood
What It Meant to Keith.
"Dick, I wish you'd tell me about this leasing business. There are
points which I don't understand." Beatrice leaned over and smoothed
Rex's sleek shoulder with her hand.
"What do you want to understand it for? The thing is done now. We've got
the fence-posts strung, and a crew hired to set them."
"You needn't snap your words like that, Dick. It doesn't matter--only I
was wondering why Mr. Cameron acted so queer yesterday when I told him
"You told Keith? What did he say?"
"He didn't say anything. He just looked things."
"Where did you see him?" Dick wanted to know.
"Well, dear me! I don't see that it matters where I saw him. You're
getting as inquisitive as mama. If you think it concerns you, why, I met
him accidentally when I was fishing with Dorman. He was coming to see
you, but you were gone, so he stopped and talked for a few minutes. Was
there anything so strange about that? And I told him you were leasing
the Pine Ridge country, and he looked--well, peculiar. But he wouldn't
"Well, he had good reason for looking peculiar. But you needn't have
told him I did it, Trix. Lay that at milord's door, where it belongs. I
don't want Keith to blame me."
"But why should he blame anybody? It isn't his land, is it?"
"No, it isn't. But--you see, Trix, it's this way: A man goes somewhere
and buys a ranch--or locates on a claim--and starts into the cattle
business. He may not own more than a few hundred acres of land, but if
he has much stock he needs miles of prairie country, with water, for
them to range on. It's an absolute necessity, you see. He takes care to
locate where there is plenty of public land that is free to anybody's
"Take the Pool outfit, for instance. We don't own land enough to feed
one-third of our cattle. We depend on government land for range for
them. The Cross outfit is the same, only Keith's is on a smaller scale.
He's got to have range outside his own land, which is mostly hay land.
This part of the State is getting pretty well settled up with small
ranchers, and then the sheep men keep crowding in wherever they can get
a show--and sheep will starve cattle to death; they leave a range as
bare as a prairie-dog town. So there's only one good bit of range left
around here, and that's the Pine Ridge country, as it's called. That's
our main dependence for winter range; and now when this drought has
struck us, and everything is drying up, we've had to turn all our cattle
down there on account of water.
"Ever since I took charge of the Pool, Keith and I threw in together and
used the same range, worked our crews together, and fought the sheepmen
together. There was a time when they tried to gobble the Pine Ridge
range, but it didn't go. Keith and I made up our minds that we needed it
worse than they did--and we got it. Our punchers had every sheep herder
bluffed out till there wasn't a mutton-chewer could keep a bunch of
sheep on that range over-night.
"Now, this lease law was made by stockmen, for stockmen. They can lease
land from the government, fence it--and they've got a cinch on it as
long as the lease lasts. A cow outfit can corral a heap of range that
way. There's the trick of leasing every other section or so, and then
running a fence around the whole chunk; and that's what the Pool has
done to the Pine Ridge. But you mustn't repeat that, Trix.
"Milord wasn't long getting on to the leasing graft; in fact, it turns
out the company got wind of it over in England, and sent him over here
to see what could be done in that line. He's done it, all right enough!
"And there's the Cross outfit, frozen out completely. The Lord only
knows what Keith will do with his cattle now, for we'll have every drop
of water under fence inside of a month. He's in a hole, for sure. I
expect he feels pretty sore with me, too, but I couldn't help it. I
explained how it was to milord, but--you can't persuade an Englishman,
any more than you can a--"
"I think," put in Beatrice firmly, "Sir Redmond did quite right. It
isn't his fault that Mr. Cameron owns more cattle than he can feed. If
he was sent over here to lease the land, it was his duty to do so.
Still, I really am sorry for Mr. Cameron."
"Keith won't sit down and take his medicine if he can help it," Dick
said moodily. "He could sell out, but I don't believe he will. He's more
apt to fight."
"I can't see how fighting will help him," Beatrice returned spiritedly.
"Well, there's one thing," retorted Dick. "If milord wants that fence to
stand he'd better stay and watch it. I'll bet money he won't more than
strike Liverpool till about forty miles, more or less, of Pool fence
will need repairs mighty bad--which it won't get, so far as I'm
"Do you mean that Keith Cameron would destroy our fencing?"
Dick grinned. "He'll be a fool if he don't, Trix. You can tell milord
he'd better send for all his traps, and camp right here till that lease
runs out. My punchers will have something to do beside ride fence."
"I shall certainly tell Sir Redmond," Beatrice threatened. "You and Mr.
Cameron hate him just because he's English. You won't see what a
splendid fellow he is. It's your duty to stand by him in this business,
instead of taking sides with Keith Cameron. Why didn't he lease that
land himself, if he wanted to?"
"Because he plays fair."
"Meaning, I suppose, that Sir Redmond doesn't. I didn't think you would
be so unjust. Sir Redmond is a perfect gentleman."
"Well, you've got a chance to marry your 'perfect gentleman," Dick
retorted, savagely. "It's a wonder you don't take him if you think so
highly of him."
"I probably shall. At any rate, he isn't a male flirt."
"You don't seem to fancy a fellow that can give you as good as you
send," Dick rejoined. "I thought you wouldn't find Keith such easy game,
even if he does live on a cattle ranch. You can't rope him into making a
fool of himself for your amusement, and I'm glad of it."
"Don't do your shouting too soon. If you could overhear some of the
things he says you wouldn't be so sure--"
"I suppose you take them all for their face value," grinned Dick
"No, I don't! I'm not a simple country girl, let me remind you. Since
you are so sure of him, I'll have the pleasure of saying, 'No, thank
you, sir,' to your Keith Cameron--just to convince you I can."
"Oh, you will! Well, you just tell me when you do, Trix, and I'll give
you your pick of all the saddle horses on the ranch."
"I'll take Rex, and you may as well consider him mine. Oh, you men! A
few smiles, judiciously dispensed, and--" Beatrice smiled most
exasperatingly at her brother, and Dick went moody and was very poor
company the rest of the way home.
Pine Ridge Range Ablaze.
At dusk that night a glow was in the southern sky, and the wind carried
the pungent odor of burning grass. Dick went out on the porch after
dinner, and sniffed the air uneasily.
"I don't much like the look of it," he admitted to Sir Redmond. "It
smells pretty strong, to be across the river. I sent a couple of the
boys out to look a while ago. If it's this side of the river we'll have
to get a move on."
"It will be the range land, I take it, if it's on this side," Sir
Just then a man thundered through the lane and up to the very steps of
the porch, and when he stopped the horse he was riding leaned forward
and his legs shook with exhaustion.
"The Pine Ridge Range is afire, Mr. Lansell," the man announced
Dick took a long pull at his cigar and threw it away. "Have the boys
throw some barrels and sacks into a wagon--and git!" He went inside and
grabbed his hat, and when he turned Sir Redmond was at his elbow.
"I'm going, too, Dick," cried Beatrice, who always seemed to hear
anything that promised excitement. "I never saw a prairie-fire in my
"It's ten miles off," said Dick shortly, taking the steps at a jump.
"I don't care if it's twenty--I'm going. Sir Redmond, wait for me!"
"Be-atrice!" cried her mother detainingly; but Beatrice was gone to get
ready. A quick job she made of it; she threw a dark skirt over her thin,
white one, slipped into the nearest jacket, snatched her
riding-gauntlets off a chair where she had thrown them, and then
couldn't find her hat. That, however, did not trouble her. Down in the
hall she appropriated one of Dick's, off the hall tree, and announced
herself ready. Sir Redmond laughed, caught her hand, and they raced
together down to the stables before her mother had fully grasped the
"Isn't Rex saddled, Dick?"
Dick, his foot in the stirrup, stopped long enough to glance over his
shoulder at her. "You ready so soon? Jim, saddle Rex for Miss Lansell."
He swung up into the saddle.
"Aren't you going to wait, Dick?"
"Can't. Milord can bring you." And Dick was away on the run.
Men were hurrying here and there, every move counting something done.
While she stood there a wagon rattled out from the shadow of a haystack,
with empty water-barrels dancing a mad jig behind the high seat, where
the driver perched with feet braced and a whip in his hand. After him
dashed four or five riders, silent and businesslike. In a moment they
were mere fantastic shadows galloping up the hill through the smothery
Then came Jim, leading Rex and a horse for himself; Sir Redmond had
saddled his gray and was waiting. Beatrice sprang into the saddle and
took the lead, with nerves a-tingle. The wind that rushed against her
face was hot and reeking with smoke. Her nostrils drank greedily the
tang it carried.
"You gipsy!" cried Sir Redmond, peering at her through the murky gloom.
"This--is living!" she laughed, and urged Rex faster.
So they raced recklessly over the hills, toward where the night was
aglow. Before them the wagon pounded over untrailed prairie sod, with
shadowy figures fleeing always before.
Here, wild cattle rushed off at either side, to stop and eye them
curiously as they whirled past. There, a coyote, squatting unseen upon a
distant pinnacle, howled, long-drawn and quavering, his weird protest
against the solitudes in which he wandered.
The dusk deepened to dark, and they could no longer see the racing
shadows. The rattle of the wagon came mysteriously back to them through
Once Rex stumbled over a rock and came near falling, but Beatrice only
laughed and urged him on, unheeding Sir Redmond's call to ride slower.
They splashed through a shallow creek, and came upon the wagon, halted
that the cowboys might fill the barrels with water. Then they passed by,
and when they heard them following the wagon no longer rattled glibly
along, but chuckled heavily under its load.
The dull, red glow brightened to orange. Then, breasting at last a long
hill, they came to the top, and Beatrice caught her breath at what lay
A jagged line of leaping flame cut clean through the dark of the
coulee. The smoke piled rosily above and before, and the sullen roar of
it clutched the senses--challenging, sinister. Creeping stealthily,
relentlessly, here a thin gash of yellow hugging close to the earth,
there a bold, bright wall of fire, it swept the coulee from rim to rim.
"The wind is carrying it from us," Sir Redmond was saying in her ear.
"Are you afraid to stop here alone? I ought to go down and lend a hand."
Beatrice drew a long gasp. "Oh, no, I'm not afraid. Go; there is Dick,
"You're sure you won't mind?" He hesitated, dreading to leave her.
"No, no! Go on--they need you."
Sir Redmond turned and rode down the ridge toward the flames. His
straight figure was silhouetted sharply against the glow.
Beatrice slipped off her horse and sat down upon a rock, dead to
everything but the fiendish beauty of the scene spread out below her.
Millions of sparks danced in and out among the smoke wreaths which
curled upward--now black, now red, now a dainty rose. Off to the left a
coyote yapped shrilly, ending with his mournful howl.
Beatrice shivered from sheer ecstasy. This was a world she had never
before seen--a world of hot, smoke-sodden wind, of dead-black shadows
and flame-bright light; of roar and hoarse bellowing and sharp crackles;
of calm, star-sprinkled sky above--and in the distance the uncanny
howling of a coyote.
Time had no reckoning there. She saw men running to and fro in the
glare, disappearing in a downward swirl of smoke, coming to view again
in the open beyond. Always their arms waved rhythmically downward,
beating the ragged line of yellow with water-soaked sacks. The trail
they left was a wavering, smoke-traced rim of sullen black, where before
had been gay, dancing, orange light. In places the smolder fanned to new
life behind them and licked greedily at the ripe grass like hungry, red
tongues. One of these Beatrice watched curiously. It crept slyly into an
unburned hollow, and the wind, veering suddenly, pushed it out of sight
from the fighters and sent it racing merrily to the south. The main line
of fire beat doggedly up against the wind that a minute before had been
friendly, and fought bravely two foes instead of one. It dodged, ducked,
and leaped high, and the men beat upon it mercilessly.
But the little, new flame broadened and stood on tiptoes defiantly,
proud of the wide, black trail that kept stretching away behind it; and
Beatrice watched it, fascinated by its miraculous growth. It began to
crackle and send up smoke wreaths of its own, with sparks dancing
through; then its voice deepened and coarsened, till it roared quite
like its mother around the hill.
The smoke from the larger fire rolled back with the wind, and Beatrice
felt her eyes sting. Flakes of blackened grass and ashes rained upon the
hilltop, and Rex moved uneasily and pawed at the dry sod. To him a
prairie-fire was not beautiful--it was an enemy to run from. He twitched
his reins from Beatrice's heedless fingers and decamped toward home,
paying no attention whatever to the command of his mistress to stop.
Still Beatrice sat and watched the new fire, and was glad she chanced to
be upon the south end of a sharp-nosed hill, so that she could see both
ways. The blaze dove into a deep hollow, climbed the slope beyond,
leaped exultantly and bellowed its challenge. And, of a sudden, dark
forms sprang upon it and beat it cruelly, and it went black where they
struck, and only thin streamers of smoke told where it had been. Still
they beat, and struck, and struck again, till the fire died ingloriously
and the hillside to the south lay dark and still, as it had been at the
Beatrice wondered who had done it. Then she came back to her
surroundings and realized that Rex had left her, and she was alone. She
shivered--this time not in ecstasy, but partly from loneliness--and went
down the hill toward where Dick and Sir Redmond and the others were
fighting steadily the larger fire, unconscious of the younger, new one
that had stolen away from them and was beaten to death around the hill.
Once in the coulee, she was compelled to take to the burnt ground, which
crisped hotly under her feet and sent up a rank, suffocating smell of
burned grass into her nostrils. The whole country was alight, and down
there the world seemed on fire. At times the smoke swooped blindingly,
and half strangled her. Her skirts, in passing, swept the black ashes
from grass roots which showed red in the night.
Picking her way carefully around the spots that glowed warningly,
shielding her face as well as she could from the smoke, she kept on
until she was close upon the fighters. Dick and Sir Redmond were working
side by side, the sacks they held rising and falling with the regularity
of a machine for minutes at a time. A group of strange horsemen galloped
up from the way she had come, followed by a wagon of water-barrels,
careering recklessly over the uneven ground. The horsemen stopped just
inside the burned rim, the horses sidestepping gingerly upon the hot
"I guess you want some help here. Where shall we start in?" Beatrice
recognized the voice. It was Keith Cameron.
"Sure, we do!" Dick answered, gratefully. "Start in any old place."
"I'm not sure we want your help," spoke the angry voice of Sir Redmond.
"I take it you've already done a devilish sight too much."
"What do you mean by that?" Keith demanded; and then, by the silence, it
seemed that every one knew. Beatrice caught her breath. Was this one of
the ways Dick meant that Keith could fight?
"Climb down, boys, and get busy," Keith called to his men, after a few
breaths. "This is for Dick. Wait a minute! Pete, drive the wagon ahead,
there. I guess we'd better begin on the other end and work this way.
Come on--there's too much hot air here." They clattered on across the
coulee, kicking hot ashes up for the wind to seize upon. Beatrice went
slowly up to Dick, feeling all at once very tired and out of heart with
"Dick," she called, in an anxious little voice, "Rex has run away from
me. What shall I do?"
Dick straightened stiffly, his hands upon his aching loins, and peered
through the smoke at her.
"I guess the only thing to do, then, is to get into the wagon over
there. You can drive, Trix, if you want to, and that will give us
another man here. I was just going to have some one take you home;
now--the Lord only knows!--you're liable to have to stay till morning.
Rex will go home, all right; you needn't worry about him."
He bent to the work again, and she could hear the wet sack thud, thud
upon the ground. Other sacks and blankets went thud, thud, and down here
at close range the fire was not so beautiful as it had been from the
hilltop. Down here the glamour was gone. She climbed up to the high
wagon seat and took the reins from the man, who immediately seized upon
a sack and went off to the fight. She felt that she was out of touch.
She was out on the prairie at night, miles away from any house, driving
a water-wagon for the men to put out a prairie fire. She had driven a
coaching-party once on a wager; but she had never driven a lumber-wagon
with barrels of water before. She could not think of any girl she knew
It was a new experience, certainly, but she found no pleasure in it; she
was tired and sleepy, and her eyes and throat smarted cruelly with the
smoke. She looked back to the hill she had just left, and it seemed a
long, long time since she sat upon a rock up there and watched the
little, new fire grow and grow, and the strange shadows spring up from
nowhere and beat it vindictively till it died.
Again she wondered vaguely who had done it; not Keith Cameron, surely,
for Sir Redmond had all but accused him openly of setting the range
afire. Would he stamp out a blaze that was just reaching a size to do
mischief, if left a little longer? No one would have seen it for hours,
probably. He would undoubtedly have let it run, unless--But who else
could have set the fire? Who else would ,want to see the Pine Ridge
country black and barren? Dick said Keith Cameron would not sit down and
take his medicine--perhaps Dick knew he would do this thing.
As the fighters moved on across the coulee she drove the wagon to keep
pace with them. Often a man would run up to the wagon, climb upon a
wheel and dip a frayed gunny sack into a barrel, lift it out and run
with it, all dripping, to the nearest point of the fire. Her part was to
keep the wagon at the most convenient place. She began to feel the
importance of her position, and to take pride in being always at the
right spot. From the calm appreciation of the picturesque side, she
drifted to the keen interest of the one who battles against heavy odds.
The wind had veered again, and the flames rushed up the long coulee like
an express train. But the path it left was growing narrower every
moment. Keith Cameron was doing grand work with his crew upon the other
side, and the space between them was shortening perceptibly.
Beatrice found herself watching the work of the Cross men. If they were
doing it for effect, they certainly were acting well their part. She
wondered what would happen when the two crews met, and the danger was
over. Would Sir Redmond call Keith Cameron to account for what he had
done? If he did, what would Keith say? And which side would Dick take?
Very likely, she thought, he would defend Keith Cameron, and shield him
if he could.
Beatrice found herself crying quietly, and shivering, though the air was
sultry with the fire. For the life of her, she could not tell why she
cried, but she tried to believe it was the smoke in her eyes. Perhaps it
The sky was growing gray when the two crews met. The orange lights were
gone, and Dick, with a spiteful flop of the black rag which had been a
good, new sack, stamped out the last tiny red tongue of the fire. The
men stood about in awkward silence, panting with heat and weariness. Sir
Redmond was ostentatiously filling his pipe. Beatrice knew him by his
straight, soldierly pose. In the drab half-light they were all mere
black outlines of men, and, for the most part, she could not distinguish
one from another. Keith Cameron she knew; instinctively by his slim
height, and by the way he carried his head. Unconsciously, she leaned
down from the high seat and listened for what would come next.
Keith seemed to be making a cigarette. A match flared and lighted his
face for an instant, then was pinched out, and he was again only a black
shape in the half-darkness.
"Well, I'm waiting for what you've got to say, Sir Redmond." His voice
cut sharply through the silence. If he had known Beatrice was out there
in the wagon he would have spoken lower, perhaps.
"I fancy I said all that is necessary just now," Sir Redmond answered
calmly. "You know what I think. From now on I shall act."
"And what are you going to do, then?" Keith's voice was clear and
unperturbed, as though he asked for the sake of being polite.
"That," retorted Sir Redmond, "is my own affair. However, since the
matter concerns you rather closely, I will say that when I have the
evidence I am confident I shall find, I shall seek the proper channels
for retribution. There are laws in this country, aimed to protect a
man's property, I take it. I warn you that I shall not spare--the
"Dick, it's up to you next. I want to know where you stand."
"At your back, Keith, right up to the finish. I know you; you fight
"All right, then. I didn't think you'd go back on a fellow. And I tell
you straight up, Sir Redmond Hayes, I'm not out touching matches to
range land--not if it belonged to the devil himself. I've got some
feeling for the dumb brutes that would have to suffer. You can get right
to work hunting evidence, and be damned! You're dead welcome to all you
can find; and in this part of the country you won't be able to buy much!
You know very well you deserve to get your rope crossed, or you wouldn't
be on the lookout for trouble. Come, boys; let's hit the trail. So long,
Beatrice watched them troop off to their horses, heard them mount and go
tearing off across the burned coulee bottom toward home. Dick came
slowly over to her.
"I expect you're good and tired, sis. You've made a hand, all right, and
helped us a whole lot, I can tell you. I'll drive now, and we'll hit the
Beatrice smiled wanly. Not one of her Eastern acquaintances would have
recognized Beatrice Lansell, the society beauty, in this
remarkable-looking young woman, attired in a most haphazard fashion,
with a face grimed like a chimney sweep, red eyelids drooping over
tired, smarting eyes, and disheveled, ash-filled hair topped by a man's
gray felt hat. When she smiled her teeth shone dead white, like a
Dick regarded her critically, one foot on the wheel hub. "Where did you
get hold of Keith Cameron's hat?" he inquired.
Beatrice snatched the hat from her head with childish petulance, and
looked as if she were going to throw it viciously upon the ground. If
her face had been clean Dick might have seen how the blood had rushed
into her cheeks; as it was, she was safe behind a mask of soot. She
placed the hat back upon her head, feeling, privately, a bit foolish.
"I supposed it was yours. I took it off the halltree." The dignity of
her tone was superb, but, unfortunately, it did not match her appearance
of rakish vagabondage.
Dick grinned through a deep layer of soot "Well, it happens to be
Keith's. He lost it in the wind the other day, and I found it and took
it home. It's too bad you've worn his hat all night and didn't know it.
You ought to see yourself. Your own mother won't know you, Trix."
"I can't look any worse than you do. A negro would be white by
comparison. Do get in, so we can start! I'm tired to death, and
half-starved." After these unamiable remarks, she refused to open her
They drove silently in the gray of early morning, and the empty barrels
danced monotonously their fantastic jig in the back of the wagon.
Sootyfaced cowboys galloped wearily over the prairie before them, and
Sir Redmond rode moodily alongside.
Of a truth, the glamour was gone.
Sir Redmond Waits His Answer.
Beatrice felt distinctly out of sorts the next day, and chose an hour
for her ride when she felt reasonably secure from unwelcome company. But
when she went out into the sunshine there was Sir Redmond waiting with
Rex and his big gray. Beatrice was not exactly elated at the sight, but
she saw nothing to do but smile and make the best of it. She wanted to
be alone, so that she could dream along through the hills she had
learned to love, and think out some things which troubled her, and
decide just how she had best go about winning Rex for herself; it had
become quite necessary to her peace of mind that she should teach Dick
and Keith Cameron a much-needed lesson.
"It has been so long since we rode together," he apologized. "I hope you
don't mind my coming along."
"Oh, no! Why should I mind?" Beatrice smiled upon him in friendly
fashion. She liked Sir Redmond very much--only she hoped he was not
going to make love. Somehow, she did not feel in the mood for
love-making just then.
"I don't know why, I'm sure. But you seem rather fond of riding about
these hills by yourself. One should never ask why women do things, I
fancy. It seems always to invite disaster."
"Does it?" Beatrice was not half-listening. They were passing, just
then, the suburbs of a "dog town," and she was never tired of watching
the prairie-dogs stand upon their burrows, chip-chip defiance until fear
overtook their impertinence, and then dive headlong deep into the earth.
"I do think a prairie-dog is the most impudent creature alive and the
most shrewish. I never pass but I am scolded by these little scoundrels
till my ears burn. What do you think they say?"
"They're probably inviting you to stop with them and be their queen, and
are scolding because your heart is hard and you only laugh and ride on."
"Queen of a prairie-dog town! Dear me! Why this plaintive mood?"
"Am I plaintive? I do not mean to be, I'm sure."
"You don't appear exactly hilarious," she told him. "I can't see what is
getting the matter with us all. Mama and your sister are poor company,
even for each other, and Dick is like a bear. One can't get a civil word
out of him. I'm not exactly amiable, myself, either; but I relied upon
you to keep the mental temperature up to normal, Sir Redmond."
"Perhaps it's a good thing we shall not stop here much longer. I must
confess I don't fancy the country--and Mary is downright homesick. She
wants to get back to her parish affairs; she's afraid some rheumatic old
woman needs coddling with jelly and wine, and that sort of thing. I've
promised to hurry through the business here, and take her home. But I
mean to see that Pine Ridge fence in place before I go; or, at least,
see it well under way."
"I'm sure Dick will attend to it properly," Beatrice remarked, with pink
cheeks. If she remembered what she had threatened to tell Sir Redmond,
she certainly could not have asked for a better opportunity. She was
reminding herself at that moment that she always detested a tale bearer.
"Your brother Dick is a fine fellow, and I have every confidence in him;
but you must see yourself that he is swayed, more or less, by his
friendship for--his neighbors. It is only a kindness to take the
responsibility off his shoulders till the thing is done. I'm sure he
will feel better to have it so."
"Yes," she agreed; "I think you're right. Dick always was very
soft-hearted, and, right or wrong, he clings to his friends." Then,
rather hastily, as though anxious to change the trend of the
conversation: "Of course, your sister will insist on keeping Dorman with
her. I shall miss that little scamp dreadfully, I'm afraid." The next
minute she saw that she had only opened a subject she dreaded even more.
"It is something to know that there is even one of us that you will
miss," Sir Redmond observed. Something in his tone hurt.
"I shall miss you all," she said hastily. "It has been a delightful
"I wish I might know just what element made it delightful. I wish--"
"I scarcely think it has been any particular element," she broke in,
trying desperately to stave off what she felt in his tone. "I love the
wild, where I can ride, and ride, and never meet a human being--where I
can dream and dally and feast my eyes on a landscape man has not
touched. I have lived most of my life in New York, and I love nature so
well that I'm inclined to be jealous of her. I want her left free to
work out all her whims in her own way. She has a keen sense of humor, I
think. The way she modeled some of these hills proves that she loves her
little jokes. I have seen where she cut deep, fearsome gashes, with
sides precipitous, as though she had some priceless treasure hidden away
in the deep, where man cannot despoil it. And if you plot and plan, and
try very hard, you may reach the bottom at last and find the
treasure--nothing. Or, perhaps, a tiny little stream, as jealously
guarded as though each drop were priceless."
Sir Richmond rode for a few minutes in silence. When he spoke, it was
"And is that all? Is there nothing to this delightful summer, after all,
but your hills?"
"Oh, of course, I--it has all been delightful. I shall hate to go back
home, I think." Beatrice was a bit startled to find just how much she
would hate to go back and wrap herself once more in the conventions of
society life. For the first time since she could remember, she wanted
her world to stand still.
Sir Redmond went doggedly to the point he had in mind and heart.
"I hoped, Beatrice, you would count me, too. I've tried to be patient.
You know, don't you, that I love you?"
"You've certainly told me often enough," she retorted, in a miserable
attempt at her old manner.
"And you've put me off, and laughed at me, and did everything under
heaven but answer me fairly. And I've acted the fool, no doubt. I know
it. I've no courage before a woman. A curl of your lip, and I was ready
to cut and run. But I can't go on this way forever--I've got to know. I
wish I could talk as easy as I can fight; I'd have settled the thing
long ago. Where other men can plead their cause, I can say just the one
thing--I love you, Beatrice. When I saw you first, in the carriage I
loved you then. You had some fur--brown fur--snuggled under your chin,
and the pink of your cheeks, and your dear, brown eyes shining and
smiling above--Good God! I've always loved you! From the beginning of
the world, I think! I'd be good to you, Beatrice, and I believe I could
make you happy--if you give me the chance."
Something in Beatrice's throat ached cruelly. It was the truth, and she
knew it. He did love her, and the love of a brave man is not a thing to
be thrust lightly aside. But it demanded such a lot in return! More,
perhaps, than she could give. A love like that--a love that gives
everything--demands everything in return. Anything less insults it.
She stole a glance at him. Sir Redmond was looking straight before him,
with the fixed gaze that sees nothing. There was the white line around
his mouth which Beatrice had seen once before. Again that griping ache
was in her throat, till she could have cried out with the pain of it.
She wanted to speak, to say something--anything--which would drive that
look from his face.
While her mind groped among the jumble of words that danced upon her
tongue, and that seemed, all of them, so pitifully weak and inadequate,
she heard the galloping hoofs of a horse pounding close behind. A
choking cloud of dust swept down upon them, and Keith, riding in the
midst, reined out to pass. He lifted his hat. His eyes challenged
Beatrice, swept coldly the face of her companion, and turned again to
the trail. He swung his heels backward, and Redcloud broke again into
the tireless lope that carried him far ahead, until there was only a
brown dot speeding over the prairie.
Sir Redmond waited until Keith was far beyond hearing, then he filled
his lungs deeply and looked at Beatrice. "Don't you feel you could trust
me--and love me a little?"
Beatrice was deadly afraid she was going to cry, and she hated weeping
women above all things. "A little wouldn't do," she said, with what
firmness she could muster. "I should want to love you as much--quite as
much as you deserve, Sir Redmond, or not at all. I'm afraid I can't. I
wish I could, though. I--I think I should like to love you; but perhaps
I haven't much heart. I like you very much--better than I ever liked any
one before; but oh, I wish you wouldn't insist on an answer! I don't
know, myself, how I feel. I wish you had not asked me--yet. I tried not
to let you."
"A man can keep his heart still for a certain time, Beatrice, but not
for always. Some time he will say what his heart commands, if the chance
is given him; the woman can't hold him back. I did wait and wait,
because I thought you weren't ready for me to speak. And--you don't care
for anybody else?"
"Of course I don't. But I hate to give up my freedom to any one, Sir
Redmond. I want to be free--free as the wind that blows here always, and
changes and changes, and blows from any point that suits its whim,
without being bound to any rule."
"Do you think I'm an ogre, that will lock you in a dungeon, Beatrice?
Can't you see that I am not threatening your freedom? I only want the
right to love you, and make you happy. I should not ask you to go or
stay where you did not please, and I'd be good to you, Beatrice!"
"I don't think it would matter," cried Beatrice, "if you weren't. I
should love you because I couldn't help myself. I hate doing things by
rule, I tell you. I couldn't care for you because you were good to me,
and I ought to care; it must be because I can't help myself. And I--"
She stopped and shut her teeth hard together; she felt sure she should
cry in another minute if this went on.
"I believe you do love me, Beatrice, and your rebellious young American
nature dreads surrender." He tried to look into her eyes and smile, but
she kept her eyes looking straight ahead. Then Sir Redmond made the
biggest blunder of his life, out of the goodness of his heart, and
because he hated to tease her into promising anything.
"I won't ask you to tell me now, Beatrice," he said gently. "I want you
to be sure; I never could forgive myself if you ever felt you had made a
mistake. A week from to-night I shall ask you once more--and it will be
for the last time. After that--But I won't think--I daren't think what
it would be like if you say no. Will you tell me then, Beatrice?"
The heart of Beatrice jumped into her throat. At that minute she was
very near to saying yes, and having done with it. She was quite sure she
knew, then, what her answer would be in a week. The smile she gave him
started Sir Redmond's blood to racing exultantly. Her lips parted a
little, as if a word were there, ready to be spoken; but she caught
herself back from the decision. Sir Redmond had voluntarily given her a
week; well, then, she would take it, to the last minute.
"Yes, I'll tell you a week from to-night, after dinner. I'll race you
home, Sir Redmond--the first one through the big gate by the stable
wins!" She struck Rex a blow that made him jump, and darted off down the
trail that led home, and her teasing laugh was the last Sir Redmond
heard of her that day; for she whipped into a narrow gulch when the
first turn hid her from him, and waited until he had thundered by. After
that she rode complacently, deep into the hills, wickedly pleased at the
trick she had played him.
Every day during the week that followed she slipped away from him and
rode away by herself, resolved to enjoy her freedom to the full while
she had it; for after that, she felt, things would never be quite the
Every day, when Dick had chance for a quiet word with her, he wanted to
know who owned Rex--till at last she lost her temper and told him
plainly that, in her opinion, Keith Cameron had left the country for two
reasons, instead of one. (For Keith, be it known, had not been seen
since the day he passed her and Sir Redmond on the trail.) Beatrice
averred that she had a poor opinion of a man who would not stay and face
whatever was coming.
There was just one day left in her week of freedom, and Dick still owned
Rex, with the chances all in his favor for continuing to do so. Still,
Beatrice was vindictively determined upon one point. Let Keith Cameron
cross her path, and she would do something she had never done before;
she would deliberately lead him on to propose--if the fellow had nerve
enough to do so, which, she told Dick, she doubted.
Held Up by Mr. Kelly.
"'Traveler, what lies over the hill?'" questioned a mischievous voice.
Keith, dreaming along a winding, rock-strewn trail in the canyon,
looked up quickly and beheld his Heart's Desire sitting calmly upon her
horse, ten feet before Redcloud's nose, watching him amusedly. Redcloud
must have been dreaming also, or he would have whinnied warning and
welcome, with the same breath.
"'Traveler, tell to me,'" she went on, seeing Keith only stared.
Keith, not to be outdone, searched his memory hurriedly for the reply
which should rightly follow; secretly he was amazed at her sudden
"'Child, there's a valley over there'--but it isn't 'pretty and wooded
and shy'--not what you can notice. And there isn't any 'little town,'
either, unless you go a long way. Why?" Keith rested his gloved hands,
one above the other, on the saddle horn, and let his eyes riot with the
love that was in him. He had not seen his Heart's Desire for a week. A
week? It seemed a thousand years! And here she was before him, unusually
"Why? I discovered that hill two hours ago, it seems to me, and it
wasn't more than a mile off. I want to see what lies on the other side.
I feel sure no man ever stood upon the top and looked down. It is my
hill--mine by the right of discovery. But I've been going, and going,
and I think it's rather farther away, if anything, than it was before."
"Good thing I met you'" Keith declared, and he looked as if he meant it.
"You're probably lost, right now, and don't know it. Which way is home?"
Beatrice smiled a superior smile, and pointed.
"I thought so," grinned Keith joyously. "You're pointing straight
"It doesn't matter," said Beatrice, "since you know, and you're here.
The important thing is to get to the top of that hill."
"What for?" Keith questioned.
"Why, to be there!" Beatrice opened her big eyes at him. "That," she
declared whimsically, "is the top of the world, and it is mine. I found
it. I want to go up there and look down."
"It's an unmerciful climb," Keith demurred hypocritically, to
strengthen her resolution.
"All the better. I don't value what comes easily."
"You won't see anything, except more hills."
"I love hills--and more hills."
"You're a long way from home, and it's after one o'clock."
"I have a lunch with me, and I often stay out until dinner time."
Keith gave a sigh that shook the saddle, making up, in volume, what it
lacked in sincerity. The blood in him was a-jump at the prospect of
leading his Heart's Desire up next the clouds--up where the world was
yet young. A man in love is fond of self-torture.
"I have not said you must go." Beatrice answered with the sigh.
"You don't have to," he retorted. "It is a self evident fact. Who wants
to go prowling around these hills by night, with a lantern that smokes
an' has an evil smell, losing sleep and yowling like a bunch of coyotes,
hunting a misguided young woman who thinks north is south, and can't
point straight up?"
"You draw a flattering picture, Mr. Cameron."
"It's realistic. Do you still insist upon getting up there, for the
doubtful pleasure of looking down?" Secretly, he hoped so.
"Then I shall go with you."
"You need not. I can go very well by myself, Mr. Cameron."
Beatrice was something of a hypocrite herself.
"I shall go where duty points the way."
"I hope it points toward home, then."
"It doesn't, though. It takes the trail you take."
"I never yet allowed my wishes to masquerade as Disagreeable Duty, with
two big D's," she told him tartly, and started off.
"Say! If you're going up that hill, this is the trail. You'll bump up
against a straight cliff if you follow that path."
Beatrice turned with seeming reluctance and allowed him to guide her,
just as she had intended he should do.
"Dick tells me you have been away," she began suavely.
"Yes. I've just got back from Fort Belknap," he explained quietly,
though he must have known his absence had been construed differently.
"I've rented pasturage on the reservation for every hoof I own. Great
grass over there--the whole prairie like a hay meadow, almost, and
little streams everywhere."
"You are very fortunate," Beatrice remarked politely.
"Luck ought to come my way once in a while. I don't seem to get more
than my share, though."
"Dick will be glad to know you have a good range for your cattle, Mr.
"I expect he will. You may tell him, for me, that Jim Worthington--he's
the agent over there, and was in college with us--says I can have my
cattle there as long as he's running the place."
"Why not tell him yourself?" Beatrice asked.
"I don't expect to be over to the Pool ranch for a while." Keith's tone
was significant, and Beatrice dropped the subject.
"Been fishing lately?" he asked easily, as though he had not left her
that day in a miff. "No. Dorman is fickle, like all male creatures.
Dick brought him two little brown puppies the other day, and now he can
hardly be dragged from the woodshed to his meals. I believe he would eat
and sleep with them if his auntie would allow him to."
The trail narrowed there, and they were obliged to ride single file,
which was not favorable to conversation. Thus far, Beatrice thought, she
was a long way from winning her wager; but she did not worry--she looked
up to where the hill towered above them, and smiled.
"We'll have to get off and lead our horses over this spur," he told her,
at last. "Once on the other side, we can begin to climb. Still in the
humor to tackle it?"
"To be sure I am. After all this trouble I shall not turn back."
"All right," said Keith, inwardly shouting. If his Heart's Desire
wished to take a climb that would last a good two hours, he was not
there to object. He led her up a steep, rock-strewn ridge and into a
hollow. From there the hill sloped smoothly upward.
"I'll just anchor these cayuses to a rock, to make dead-sure of them,"
Keith remarked. "It wouldn't be fun to be set afoot out here; now, would
it? How would you like the job of walking home, eh?"
"I don't think I'd enjoy it much," Beatrice said, showing her one
dimple conspicuously. "I'd rather ride."
"Throw up your hands!" growled a voice from somewhere.
Keith wheeled toward the sound, and a bullet spatted into the yellow
clay, two inches from the toe of his boot. Also, a rifle cracked
sharply. He took the hint, and put his hands immediately on a level with
his hat crown.
"No use," he called out ruefully. "I haven't anything to return the
"Well, I've got t' have the papers fur that, mister," retorted the
voice, and a man appeared from the shelter of a rock and came slowly
down to them--a man, long-legged and lank, with haggard, unshaven face
and eyes that had hunger and dogged endurance looking out. He picked his
way carefully with his feet, his eyes and the rifle fixed unswervingly
at the two. Beatrice was too astonished to make a sound.
"What sort of a hold-up do you call this?" demanded Keith hotly, his
hands itching to be down and busy. "We don't carry rolls of money around
in the hills, you fool!"
"Oh, damn your money!" the man said roughly. "I've got money t' burn. I
want t' trade horses with yuh. That roan, there, looks like a stayer.
I'll take him."
"Well, seeing you seem to be head push here, I guess it's a trade,"
Keith answered. "But I'll thank you for my own saddle."
Beatrice, whose hands were up beside her ears, and not an inch higher,
changed from amazed curiosity to concern. "Oh, you mustn't take Redcloud
away from Mr. Cameron!" she protested. "You don't know--he's so fond of
that horse! You may take mine; he's a good horse--he's a perfectly
splendid horse, but I--I'm not so attached to him."
The fellow stopped and looked at her--not, however, forgetting Keith,
who was growing restive. Beatrice's cheeks were very pink, and her eyes
were bright and big and earnest. He could not look into them without
letting some of the sternness drop out of his own.
"I wish you'd please take Rex--I'd rather trade than not," she coaxed.
When Beatrice coaxed, mere man must yield or run. The fellow was but
human, and he was not in a position to run, so he grinned and wavered.
"It's fair to say you'll get done," he remarked, his eyes upon the odd
little dimple at the corner of her mouth, as if he had never seen
anything quite so fetching.
"Your horse won't cr--buck, will he?" she ventured doubtfully. This was
her first horse trade, and it behooved her to be cautious, even at the
point of a rifle.
"Well, no," said the man laconically; "he won't. He's dead."
"Oh!" Beatrice gasped and blushed. She might have known, she thought,
that the fellow would not take all this trouble if his horse was in a
condition to buck. Then: "My elbows hurt. I--I think I should like to
"Sure," said the man politely. "Make yourself comfortable. I ain't used
t' dealin' with ladies. But you got t' set still, yuh know, and not try
any tricks. I can put up a mighty swift gun play when I need to--and
your bein' a lady wouldn't cut no ice in a case uh that kind."
"Thank you." Beatrice sat down upon the nearest rock, folded her hands
meekly and looked from him to Keith, who seethed to claim a good deal of
the man's attention. She observed that, at a long breath from Keith, his
captor was instantly alert.
"Maybe your elbows ache, too," he remarked dryly. "They'll git over it,
though; I've knowed a man t' grab at the clouds upwards of an hour, an'
no harm done."
"That's encouraging, I'm sure." Keith shifted to the other foot.
"How's that sorrel?" demanded the man. "Can he go?"
Keith hesitated a second.
"Indeed he can go!" put in Beatrice eagerly. "He's every bit as good as
"Is that sorrel yours?" The man's eyes shifted briefly to her face.
"No-o." Beatrice, thinking how she had meant to own him, blushed.
"That accounts for it." He laughed unpleasantly. "I wondered why you was
so dead anxious t' have me take him."
The eyes of Beatrice snapped sparks at him, but her manner was demure,
not to say meek. "He belongs to my brother," she explained, "and my
brother has dozens of good saddle-horses. Mr. Cameron's horse is a pet.
It's different when a horse follows you all over the place and fairly
talks to you. He'll shake hands, and--"
"Uh-huh, I see the point, I guess. What d'yuh say, kid?"
Keith might seem boyish, but he did not enjoy being addressed as "kid."
He was twenty-eight years old, whether he looked it or not.
"I say this: If you take my horse, I'll kill you. I'll have twenty-five
cow-punchers camping on your trail before sundown. If you take this
girl's horse, I'll do the same."
The man shut his lips in a thin line.
"No, he won't!" cried Beatrice, leaning forward. "Don't mind a thing he
says! You can't expect a man to keep his temper with his hands up in the
air like that. You take Rex, and I'll promise for Mr. Cameron "
"I promise you he won't do a thing," she went on firmly. "He--he isn't
half as fierce, really, as--as he looks."
Keith's face got red.
The man laughed a little. Evidently the situation amused him, whether
the others could see the humor of it or not. "So I'm to have your
Keith saw two big tears tipping over her lower lids, and gritted his
"Well, it ain't often I git a chance t' please a lady," the fellow
decided. "I guess Rex'll do, all right. Go over and change saddles,
youngster--and don't git gay. I've got the drop, and yuh notice I'm
"Are you going to take his saddle?" Beatrice stood up and clenched her
hands, looking very much as if she would like to pull his hair. Keith in
trouble appealed to her strangely.
"Sure thing. It's a peach, from the look of it. Mine's over the hill a
piece. Step along there, kid! I want t' be movin'."
"You'll need to go some!" flared Keith, over his shoulder.
"I expect t' go some," retorted the man. "A fellow with three sheriff's
posses campin' on his trail ain't apt t' loiter none."
"Oh!" Beatrice sat down and stared. "Then you must be--"
"Yep," the fellow laughed recklessly. "You ca, tell your maw yuh met up
with Kelly, the darin' train-robber. I wouldn't be s'prised if she close
herded yuh fer a spell till her scare wears off. Bu I've hung around
these parts long enough. I fooled them sheriffs a-plenty, stayin' here.
Gee! you'r' swift--I don't think!" This last sentence was directed at
Keith, who was putting a snail to shame, and making it appear he was in
"Git a move on!" commanded Kelly, threatening with his eyes.
Keith wisely made no reply--nor did he show any symptoms of haste,
despite the menacing tone Slowly he pulled his saddle off Redcloud, and
carefully he placed it upon the ground. When a fellow lives in his
saddle, almost, he comes to think a great deal of it, and he is
reluctant under any circumstances, to surrender it to another; to have a
man deliberately confiscate it with the authority which lies in a lump
of lead the size of a child thumb is not pleasant.
Through Keith's brain flashed a dozen impracticable plans, and one that
offered a slender--very slender--chance of success. If he could get a
little closer! He moved over beside Rex an unbuckling the cinch of
Beatrice's saddle, pulled it sullenly off.
"Now, put your saddle on that there Rex horse, and cinch it tight!"
Keith picked up the saddle--his saddle, and threw it across Rex's back,
raging inwardly at his helplessness. To lose his saddle worse, to let
Beatrice lose her horse. Lord! a pretty figure he must cut in her eyes!
"Dry weather we're havin'," Kelly remarked politely to Beatrice;
without, however, looking in her direction. "Prairie fires are gittin'
t' be the regular thing, I notice."
Beatrice studied his face, and found no ulterior purpose for the words.
"Yes," she agreed, as pleasantly as she could, in view of the
disquieting circumstances. "I helped fight a prairie-fire last week over
this way. We were out all night."
"Prairie-fires is mean things t' handle, oncet they git started. I
always hate t' see 'em git hold of the grass. What fire was that you
Beatrice glanced toward Keith, and was thankful his back was turned to
her. But a quick suspicion had come to her, and she went steadily on
with the subject.
"It was the Pine Ridge country. It started very mysteriously"
"It wasn't no mystery t' me." Kelly laughed grimly. "I started that
there blaze myself accidentally. I throwed a cigarette down, thinkin' it
had gone out. After a while I seen a blaze where I'd jest left, but I
didn't have no license t' go back an' put it out--my orders was to git
out uh that. I seen the sky all lit up that night. Kid, are yuh goin' t'
Keith started. He had been listening, and thanking his lucky star that
Beatrice was listening also. If she had suspected him of setting the
range afire, she knew better now. A weight lifted off Keith's shoulders,
and he stood a bit straighter; those chance words meant a great deal to
him, and he felt that he would not grudge his saddle in payment. But
Rex--that was another matter. Beatrice should not lose him if he could
prevent it; still, what could he do?
He might turn and spring upon Kelly, but in the meantime Kelly would not
be idle; he would probably be pumping bullets out of the rifle into
Keith's body--and he would still have the horse. He stole a glance at
Beatrice, and went hot all over at what he thought he read in her eyes.
For once he was not glad to be near his Heart's Desire; he wished her
elsewhere--anywhere but sitting on that rock, over there, with her
little, gloved hands folded quietly in her lap, and that adorable,
demure look on her face--the look which would have put her mother
instantly upon the defensive--and a gleam in her eyes Keith read for
Surely he might do something! Barely six feet now separated him from
Kelly. If one of those lumps of rock that strewed the ground was in his
hand--he stooped to reach under Rex's body for the cinch, and could
almost feel Kelly's eyes boring into his back. A false move--well, Keith
had heard of Kelly a good many times; if this fellow was really the man
he claimed to be, Keith did not need to guess what would follow a
suspicious move; he knew. He looked stealthily toward him, and Kelly's
eyes met his with a gleam sinister.
Kelly grinned. "I wouldn't, kid," he said softly.
Keith swore in a whisper, and his fingers closed upon the cinch. It was
no use to fight the devil with cunning, he thought, bitterly.
Just then Beatrice gave an unearthly screech, that made the horses'
knees bend under them. When Keith whirled to see what it was, she was
standing upon the rock, with her skirts held tightly around her, like
the pictures of women when a mouse gets into the room.
"Oh, Mr. Cameron! A sn-a-a-ke!"
Came a metallic br-r-r, the unmistakable war cry of the rattler. Into
Kelly's eyes came a look of fear, and he sidled gingerly. The buzz had
sounded unpleasantly close to his heels. For one brief instant the cold
eye of his rifle regarded harmlessly the hillside. During that instant a
goodly piece of sandstone whinged under his jaw, and he went down, with
Keith upon him like a mountain lion. The latter snatched the rifle and
got up hurriedly, for he had not forgotten the rattler. Kelly lay
looking up at him in a dazed way that might have been funny at any other
"I wondered if you were good at grasping opportunities," said Beatrice.
When he looked, there she was, sitting down on the rock, with her
little, gloved hands folded in her lap, and that adorable demure look on
her face; and a gleam in her eyes he knew was not scorn, though he could
not rightly tell what it really did mean.
Keith wondered at her vaguely, but a man can't have his mind on a dozen
things at once. It was important that he keep a sharp watch on Kelly,
and his eyes were searching for a gleaming, gray spotted coil which he
felt to be near.
"You needn't look, Mr. Cameron. There isn't any snake. It--it was I."
"You!" Keith's jaw dropped.
"Look out, Mr. Cameron. It wouldn't work a second time, I'm afraid."
Keith turned back before Kelly had more than got to his elbow; plainly
Kelly was not feeling well just then. He looked unhappy, and rather
"If you'll hand me the gun, Mr. Cameron, I think I can hold it steady
while you fix the saddles. And then we'll go home. I--I don't think I
really care to climb the hill."
What Keith wanted to do was to take her in his arms and kiss her till he
was tired. What he did do was back toward her, and let her take the
rifle quickly and deftly from his hands. She rested the gun upon her
knee, and brought it to bear upon Mr. Kelly with a composure not
assuring to that gentleman, and she tried to look as if she really and
truly would shoot a man--and managed to look only the more kissable.
"Don't squirm, Mr. Kelly. I won't bite, if I do buzz sometimes."
Kelly stared at her meditatively a minute, and said: "Well, I'll be
Keith looked at her also, but he did not say anything.
The way he slapped his saddle back upon Redcloud and cinched it, and
saddled Rex, was a pretty exhibition of precision and speed, learned in
roundup camps. Kelly watched him grimly.
"I knowed you wasn't as swift as yuh knew how 't be, a while back," he
commented. "I've got this t' say fur you two: You're a little the
toughest proposition I ever run up ag'inst--and I've been up ag'inst it
good and plenty."
"Thanks," Keith said cheerfully. "You'd better take Rex now and go
ahead, Miss Lansell. I'll take that gun and look after this fellow. Get
"What are you going to do with him?"
Kelly got unsteadily upon his feet. Beatrice looked at him, and then at
Keith. She asked a question.
"March him home, and send him in to the nearest sheriff." Keith was
businesslike, and his tone was crisp.
Beatrice's eyes turned again to Kelly. He did not whine, or beg, or even
curse. He stood looking straight before him, at something only his
memory could see, and in his face was weariness, and a deep loneliness,
and a certain, grim despair. There was an ugly bruise where the rock had
struck, but the rest of his face was drawn and white.
"If you do that," cried Beatrice, in a voice hardly more than a fierce
whisper, "I shall hate you always. You are not a man-hunter. Let him
stay here, and take his chance in the hills."
Keith was not a hard man to persuade into being merciful. "It's easy
enough to say yes, Miss Lansell. I always was chicken-hearted when a
fellow seemed down on his luck. You can stay here, Kelly--I don't want
you, anyway." He laughed boyishly and irresponsibly, for he felt that
Kelly had done him a service that day.
Beatrice flashed him a smile that went to his head and made him dizzy,
and took up Rex's bridle rein. She hesitated, looked doubtfully at
Kelly, who stood waiting stoically, and turned to her saddle. She untied
a bundle and went quickly over to him.
"You--I don't want my lunch, after all. I'm going home now. I--I want
you to take it, please. There are some sandwiches--with veal loaf, that
Looey Sam makes deliciously--and some cake. I--I wish it was more. I
know you'll like the veal loaf."
Kelly looked down at her, and God knows what thoughts were in his mind.
He did not answer her with words; he just swallowed hard.
"Poor devil!" was what Keith said to himself, and the gun he was
holding threatened, for a minute, to wing a cloud.
Beatrice laid the package in Kelly's unresisting hand, looked up into
his averted face and said simply: "Good-by, Mr. Kelly."
After that she hurried Rex up the steep ridge much faster than she had
gone down it, endangering his bones and putting herself very empty
At the top of the ridge Keith stopped and looked down.
Kelly showed that he heard.
"Here's your gun, on this rock. You can come up and get it, if you want
to. And--say! I've got a few broke horses ranging down here somewhere.
VN brand, on left shoulder. I won't scour the hills, very bad, if I
should happen to miss a cayuse. So long!"
Kelly waved his hand for farewell.
Keith's Masterful Wooing.
Keith faced toward home, with Redcloud following at his heels like a pet
dog. For some reason, which he did not try to analyze, he was feeling
light of heart--as though something very nice had happened to him. It
might have been the unexpected clearing up of the mystery of the
prairie-fire, though he was not dwelling particularly upon that. He was
thinking a great deal more of Beatrice's blue-brown eyes, which had
never been more baffling, so far as he knew. And his blood was still
dancing with the smile she had given him; it hardly seemed possible that
a girl could smile just like that and not mean anything.
When he reached the level, where she was waiting for him, he saw that
she had her arms around the neck of her horse, and that she was crying
dismally, heart-brokenly, with an abandon that took no thought of his
presence. Keith had never seen a girl cry like that before. He had seen
them dab at their eyes with their handkerchief, and smile the next
breath--but this was different. For a minute he didn't quite know what
to do; he could hear the blood hammering against his temples while he
stood dumbly watching her. He went hesitatingly up, and laid a gloved
hand deprecatingly upon her shoulder.
"Don't do that, Miss Lansell! The fellow isn't worth it. He's only
living the life he chose for himself, and he doesn't mind, not half as
much as you imagine. I know how you feel--I felt sorry for him
myself--but he doesn't deserve it, you know." He stopped; not being
able, just at the moment, to think of anything more to say about Kelly.
Beatrice, who had not been thinking of Kelly at all, but remorsefully of
a fellow she had persisted in misjudging, only cried the harder.
"Don't--don't cry like that! I--Miss Lansell--Trix--darling!" Keith's
self-control snapped suddenly, like a rope when the strain becomes too
great. He caught her fiercely in his arms, and crushed her close against
Beatrice stopped crying, and gasped.
"Trixie, if you must cry, I wish you'd cry for me. I'm about as
miserable a man--I want you so! God made you for me, and I'm starving
for the feel of your lips on mine." Then Keith, who was nothing if not
daring, once he was roused, bent and kissed her without waiting to see
if he might--and not only once, but several times.
Beatrice made a half-hearted attempt to get free of his arms, but Keith
was not a fool--he held her closer, and laughed from pure, primitive
"Mr. Cameron!" It was Beatrice's voice, but it had never been like that
"I think you might call me Keith," he cut in. "You've got to begin some
time, and now is as good a time as any."
"You--you're taking a good deal for granted," she said, wriggling
unavailingly in his arms.
"A man's got to, with a girl like you. You're so used to turning a
fellow down I believe you'd do it just from habit."
"Indeed?" She was trying to be sarcastic and got kissed for her pains.
"Yes, 'indeed.'" He mimicked her tone. "I want you. I want you! I
wanted you long before I ever saw you. And so I'm not taking any
chances--I didn't dare, you see. I just had to take you first, and ask
Beatrice laughed a little, with tears very close to her lashes, and gave
up. What was the use of trying to resist this masterful fellow, who
would not even give her a chance to refuse him? She did not know quite
how to say no to a man who did not ask her to say yes. But the queer
part, to her, was the feeling that she would have hated to say no,
anyway. It never occurred to her, till afterward, that she might have
stood upon a pedestal of offended dignity and cried, "Unhand me,
villain!"--and that, if she had, Keith would undoubtedly have complied
instantly. As it was, she just laughed softly, and blushed a good deal.
"I believe mama is right about you, after all," she said wickedly. "At
heart, you're a bold highwayman "
"Maybe. I know I'd not stand and see some other fellow walk off with my
Heart's Desire, without putting up a fight. It did look pretty blue for
me, though, and I was afraid--but it's all right now, isn't it?
Possession is nine points in law, they say, and I've got you now! I'm
going to keep you, too. When are you going to come over and take charge
of the Cross ranch?"
"Dear me!" said Beatrice, snuggling against his shoulder, and finding it
the best place in the world to be. "I never said I was going to take
charge at all!" Then the impulse of confession seized her. "Will you
hate me, if I tell you something?"
"I expect I will," Keith assented, his eyes positively idolatrous. "What
is it, girlie?"
"Well, I--it was Dick's fault; I never would have thought of such a
thing if he hadn't goaded me into it--but--well, I was going to make you
propose, on a wager--" The brown head of Beatrice went down out of
sight, on his arm. "I was going to refuse you--and get Rex--"
"I know." Keith held her closer than ever. "Dick rode over and told me
that day. And I wasn't going to give you a chance, missy. If you hadn't
started to cry, here-- Oh! what's the use? You didn't refuse me--and
you're not going to, either, are you, girlie?"
Beatrice intimated that there was no immediate danger of such a thing
"You see, Dick and I felt that you belonged to me, by rights. I fell in
love with a picture of you, that you sent him--that one taken in your
graduation gown--and I told Dick I was going to take the next train
East, and carry you off by force, if I couldn't get you any other way.
But Dick thought I'd stand a better show to wait till he'd coaxed you
out here. We had it all fixed, that you'd come and find a prairie knight
that was ready to fight for you, and he'd make you like him, whether you
wanted to or not; and then he'd keep you here, and we'd all be happy
ever after. And Dick would pull out of the Northern Pool--and of course
you would--and we'd have a company of our own. Oh! we had some great
castles built out here on the prairie, let me tell you! And then, when
you finally came here, you had milord tagging along--and you thinking
you were in love with him! Maybe you think I wasn't shaky, girlie! The
air castles got awfully wobbly, and it looked like they were going to
cave in on us. But I was bound to stay in the game if I could, and Dick
did all he could to get you to looking my way--and it's all right, isn't
it, Trixie?" Keith kept recurring to the ecstatic realization that it
was all right.
Beatrice meditated for a minute.
"I never dreamed--Dick never even mentioned you in any of his letters,"
she said, in a rather dazed tone. "And when I came he made me believe
you were a horrible flirt, and I never can resist the temptation to
measure lances "
"And take a fall out of a male flirt," Keith supplemented. "Dick," he
went on sententiously and slangily, "was dead onto his job." After that
he helped her into the saddle, and they rode blissfully homeward.
Near the ranch they met Dick, who pulled up and eyed them anxiously at
first, and then with a broad smile.
"Say, Trix," he queried slyly, "who does Rex belong to?"
Keith came to the rescue promptly, just as a brave knight should.
"You," he retorted. "But I tell you right now, he won't very long.
You're going to do the decent thing and give him to Trixie--for a
Dick looked as though Trix was welcome to any. thing he possessed.
Sir Redmond Gets His answer.
"Before long, dear, we shall get on the great ship, and ride across the
large, large ocean, and be at home. You will be delighted to see Peggy,
and Rupert, and the dogs, won't you, dear?" Miss Hayes, her cheeks
actually getting some color into them at the thought of going home,
buttered a fluffy biscuit for her idol.
Dorman took two bites while he considered. "Rupert'll want my little
wheels, for my feet, what Mr. Cam'ron gave me--but he can't have 'em,
dough. I 'spect he'll be mad. I wonder what'll Peggy say bout my two
puppies. I've got to take my two puppies wis me. Will dey get sick
riding on de water, auntie? Say, will dey?"
"I--I think not, dear," ventured his auntie cautiously. His auntie was a
conscientious woman, and she knew very little about puppies.
"Be'trice will help me take care of dem if dey're sick," he remarked
Then something in his divinity's face startled his assurance. "You's
going wis us, isn't you, Be'trice? I want you to help take care of my
two puppies. Martha can't, 'cause she slaps dere ears. Is you going wis
This, at the dinner table, was, to say the least,
embarrassing--especially on this especial evening, when Beatrice was
trying to muster courage to give Sir Redmond the only answer it was
possible to give him now. It was an open secret that, in case she had
accepted him, the home-going of Miss Hayes would be delayed a bit, when
they would all go together. Beatrice had overheard her mother and Miss
Hayes discussing this possibility only the day before. She undertook the
impossible, and attempted to head Dorman off.
"Perhaps you'll see a whale, honey. The puppies never saw a whale, I'm
sure. What do you suppose they'd think?"
"Is you going?"
"You'd have to hold them up high, you know, so they could see, and show
them just where to look, and--"
"Is you going, Be'trice?"
Beatrice sent a quick, despairing glance around the table. Four pairs of
eyes were fixed upon her with varying degrees of interest and anxiety.
The fifth pair--Dick's--were trying to hide their unrighteous glee by
glaring down at the chicken wing on his plate. Beatrice felt a strong
impulse to throw something at him. She gulped and faced the inevitable.
It must come some time, she thought, and it might as well be now--though
it did seem a pity to spoil a good dinner for every one but Dick, who
was eating his with relish.
"No, honey"--her voice was clear and had the note of finality--"I'm not
Sir Redmond's teeth went together with a click, and he picked up the
pepper shaker mechanically and peppered his salad until it was perfectly
black, and Beatrice wondered how he ever expected to eat it. Mrs.
Lansell dropped her fork on the floor, and had to have a clean one
brought. Miss Hayes sent a frightened glance at her brother. Dick sat
and ate fried chicken.
"Why, Be'trice? I wants you to--and de puppies'll need you--and auntie,
and--" Dorman gathered himself for the last, crushing argument--"and