Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Jean of the Lazy A by B. M. Bower

Part 5 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"Well--" Jean still had some trouble with her
breath and to keep her quiet, smooth drawl, "let's make
it a woman's reason. Because."

Art's face settled to a certain hardness that still was
not hostile. "Becauses don't go," he said. "Not with
a girl like you; they might with some. What do you
want me to go back for?"

"Well, I want you to go because I want to clear
things up, about Johnny Croft. It's time--it was
cleared up."

Art regarded her fixedly. "Well, I don't see yet
what's back of that first BECAUSE," he sparred.
"There's nothing I can do to clear up anything."

"Art, don't lie to me about it. I know--"

"What do you know?" Art's eyes never left her
face, now. They seemed to be boring into her brain.
Jean began to feel a certain confusion. To be sure,
she had never had any experience whatever with fugitive
murderers; but no one would ever expect one to act
like this. A little more, she thought resentfully, and
he would be making her feel as if she were the guilty
person. She straightened herself and stared back at

"I know you left because you--you didn't want to
stay and face-things. I--I have felt as if I could
kill you, almost, for what you have done. I--I don't
see how you can SIT there and--and look at me that
way." She stopped and braced herself. "I don't want
to argue about it. I came here to make you go back
and face things. It's--horrible--" She was thinking
of her father then, and she could not go on.

"Jean, you're all wrong. I don't know what idea
you've got, but you may as well get one or two things
straight. Maybe you do feel like killing me; but I
don't know what for. I haven't the slightest notion of
going back; there's nothing I could clear up, if I did

Jean looked at him dumbly. She supposed she
should have to force him to go, after all. Of course,
you couldn't expect that a man who had committed a
crime will admit it to the first questioner; you couldn't
expect him to go back willingly and face the penalty.
She would have to use her gun; perhaps even call on
Lite, since Lite had followed her. She might have felt
easier in her mind had she seen how Lite was standing
just within the glass-paneled door behind the dimity
curtain, listening to every word, and watching every
expression on Art Osgood's face. Lite's hand, also, was
close to his gun, to be perfectly sure of Jean's safety.
But he had no intention of spoiling her feeling of
independence if he could help it. He had lots of faith in

"What has cropped up, anyway?" Art asked her
curiously, as if he had been puzzling over her reasons for
being there. "I thought that affair was settled long
ago, when it happened. I thought it was all straight

"To send an innocent man to prison for it? Do
you call that straight sailing?" Jean's eyes had in
them now a flash of anger that steadied her.

"What innocent man?" Art threw away the stub
of the splinter and sat up straight. "I never knew any
innocent man--"

"Oh! You didn't know?"

"All I know," said Art, with a certain swiftness of
speech that was a new element in his manner, "I'm
dead willing to tell you. I knew Johnny had been
around knocking the outfit, and making some threats,
and saying things he had no business to say. I never
did have any use for him, just because he was so
mouthy. I wasn't surprised to hear--how it ended

"To hear! You weren't there, when it
happened?" Jean was watching him for some betraying
emotion, some sign that she had struck home. She got
a quick, sharp glance from him, as if he were trying to
guess just how much she knew.

"Why should I have been there? The last time I
was ever at the Lazy A," he stated distinctly, "was the
day before I left. I didn't go any farther than the gate
then. I had a letter for your father, and I met him at
the gate and gave it to him."

"A letter for dad?" It was not much, but it was
better than nothing. Jean thought she might lead him
on to something more.

"Yes! A note, or a letter. Carl sent me over with

"Carl? What was it about? I never heard--"

"I never read it. Ask your dad what it was about,
why don't you? I don't reckon it was anything particular."

"Maybe it was, though." Jean was turning crafty.
She would pretend to be interested in the letter, and trip
Art somehow when he was off his guard. "Are you
sure that it was the day before--you left?"

"Yes." Some high talk in the street caught his
attention, and Art turned and looked down. Jean caught
at the chance to study his averted face, but she could not
read innocence or guilt there. Art, she decided, was
not as transparent as she had always believed him to be.
He turned back and met her look. "I know it was the
day before. Why?"

"Oh, I wondered. Dad didn't say-- What did he
do with it--the letter?"

"He opened it and read it." A smile of amused
understanding of her finesse curled Art's lips. "And
he stuck it in the pocket of his chaps and went on to
wherever he was going." His eyes challenged her impishly.

"And it was from Uncle Carl, you say?"

Art hesitated, and the smile left his lips. "It--it
was from Carl, yes. Why?"

"Oh, I just wondered." Jean was wondering why
he had stopped smiling, all at once, and why he hesitated.
Was he afraid he was going to contradict himself
about the day or the errand? Or was he afraid she
would ask her Uncle Carl, and find that there was no

"Why don't you ask your dad, if you are so
anxious to know all about it?" Art demanded abruptly.
"Anyway, that's the last time I was ever over

"Ask dad!" Jean's anger flamed out suddenly.
"Art Osgood, when I think of dad, I wonder why I
don't shoot you! I wonder how you dare sit there and
look me in the face. Ask dad! Dad, who is paying
with his life and all that's worth while in life, for that
murder that you deny--"

"What's that? Paying how?" Art leaned toward
her; and now his face was hard and hostile, and so
were his eyes.

"Paying! You know how he is paying! Paying
in Deer Lodge penitentiary--"

"Who? YOUR FATHER?" Had Art been ready to
spring at her and catch her by the throat, he would not
have looked much different.

"My father!" Jean's voice broke upon the word.
"And you--" She did not attempt to finish the

Art sat looking at her with a queer intensity. "Your
father!" he repeated. "Aleck! I never knew that,
Jean. Take my word, I never knew that!" He
seemed to be thinking pretty fast. "Where's Carl at?"
he asked irrelevantly.

"Uncle Carl? He's home, running both ranches. I
--I never could make Uncle Carl see that you must
have been the one."

"Been the one that shot Crofty, you mean?" Art
gave a short laugh. He got up and stood in front of
her. "Thanks, awfully. Good reason why he
couldn't see it! He knows well enough I didn't do it.
He knows--who did." He bit his lips then, as if he
feared that he had said too much.

"Uncle Carl knows? Then why doesn't he tell? It
wasn't dad!" Jean took a defiant step toward him.
"Art Osgood, if you dare say it was dad, I--I'll kill

Art smiled at her with a brief lightening of his eyes.
"I believe you would, at that," he said soberly. "But
it wasn't your dad, Jean."

"Who was it?"


"You do! You do know, Art Osgood! And you
ran off; and they gave dad eight years--"

Art spoke one word under his breath, and that word
was profane. "I don't see how that could be," he said
after a minute.

Jean did not answer. She was biting her lips to keep
back the tears. She felt that somehow she had failed;
that Art Osgood was slipping through her fingers, in
spite of the fact that he did not seem to fear her or to
oppose her except in the final accusation. It was the
lack of opposition, that lack of fear, that baffled her so.
Art, she felt dimly, must be very sure of his own position;
was it because he was so close to the Mexican line?
Jean glanced desperately that way. It was very close.
She could see the features of the Mexican soldiers
lounging before the cantina over there; through the
lighted window of the customhouse she could see a dark-
faced officer bending over a littered desk. The guard
over there spoke to a friend, and she could hear the
words he said.

Jean thought swiftly. She must not let Art Osgood
go back across that street. She could cover him with
her gun--Art knew how well she could use it!--and
she would call for an American officer and have him
arrested. Or, Lite was somewhere below; she would
call for Lite, and he could go and get an officer and a

"How soon you going back?" Art asked abruptly,
as though he had been pondering a problem and had
reached the solution. "I'll have to get a leave of
absence, or go down on the books as a deserter; and I
wouldn't want that. I can get it, all right. I'll go
back with you and straighten this thing out, if it's the
way you say it is. I sure didn't know they'd pulled
your dad for it, Jean."

This, coming so close upon the heels of her own
decision, set Jean all at sea again. She looked at him

"I thought you said you didn't know, and you
wouldn't go back."

Art grinned sardonically. "I'll lie any time to help
a friend," he admitted frankly. "What I do draw the
line at is lying to help some cowardly cuss double-cross
a man. Your father got the double-cross; I don't stand
for anything like that. Not a-tall!" He heaved a sigh
of nervous relaxation, for the last half hour had been
keyed rather high for them both, and pulled his hat
down on his head.

"Say, Jean! Want to go across with me and meet
the general? You can make my talk a whole lot
stronger by telling what you came for. I'll get leave,
all right, then. And you'll know for sure that I'm
playing straight. You see that two-story 'dobe about
half-way down the block,--the one with the Mexican
flag over it?" He pointed. "There's where he is.
Want to go over?"

"Any objections to taking me along with you?"
This was Lite, coming nonchalantly toward them from
the doorway. Lite was still perfectly willing to let
Jean manage this affair in her own way, but that did
not mean that he would not continue to watch over her.
Lite was much like a man who lets a small boy believe
he is driving a skittish team all alone. Jean believed
that she was acting alone in this, as in everything else.
She had yet to learn that Lite had for three years been
always at hand, ready to take the lines if the team
proved too fractious for her.

Art turned and put out his hand. "Why, hello,
Lite! Sure, you can come along; glad to have you."
He eyed Lite questioningly. "I'll gamble you've heard
all we've been talking about," he said. "That would
be you, all right! So you don't need any wising up.
Come on; I want to catch the chief before he goes off

To see the three of them go down the stairs and out
upon the street and across it into Mexico,--which to
Jean seemed very queer,--you would never dream of
the quest that had brought them together down here on
the border. Even Jean was smiling, in a tired, anxious
way. She walked close to Lite and never once asked
him how he came to be there, or why. She was glad
that he was there. She was glad to shift the whole
matter to his broad shoulders now, and let him take the

They had a real Mexican dinner in a queer little
adobe place where Art advised them quite seriously
never to come alone. They had thick soup with a
strange flavor, and Art talked with the waiter in Mexican
dialect that made Jean glad indeed to feel Lite's
elbow touching hers, and to know that although Lite's
hand rested idly on his knee, it was only one second
from his weapon. She had no definite suspicion of Art
Osgood, but all the same she was thankful that she was
not there alone with him among all these dark, sharp-
eyed Mexicans with their atmosphere of latent treachery.

Lite ate mostly with his left hand. Jean noticed
that. It was the only sign of watchfulness that he
betrayed, unless one added the fact that he had chosen
a seat which brought his back against an adobe wall
and his face toward Art and the room, with Jean
beside him. That might have been pure chance,
and it might not. But Art was evidently playing

A little later they came back to the Casa del Sonora,
and Jean went up to her room feeling that a great burden
had been lifted from her shoulders. Lite and Art
Osgood were out on the veranda, gossiping of the
range, and in Art's pocket was a month's leave of
absence from his duties. Once she heard Lite laugh, and
she stood with one hand full of hairpins and the other
holding the brush and listened, and smiled a little. It
all sounded very companionable, very care-free,--not
in the least as though they were about to clear up an old

She got into bed and thumped the hard pillow into
a little nest for her tired head, and listened languidly
to the familiar voices that came to her mingled with
confused noises of the street. Lite was on guard; he
would not lose his caution just because Art seemed
friendly and helpfully inclined, and had meant no
treachery over in that queer restaurant. Lite would not
be easily tricked. So she presently fell asleep.



Sometime in the night Jean awoke to hear footsteps
in the corridor outside her room. She sat up
with a start, and her right hand went groping for her
gun. Just for the moment she thought that she was
in her room at the Lazy A, and that the night-prowler
had come and was beginning his stealthy search of the

Then she heard some one down in the street call out
a swift sentence in Spanish, and get a laugh for an
answer. She remembered that she was in Nogales,
within talking distance of Mexico, and that she had
found Art Osgood, and that he did not behave like a
fugitive murderer, but like a friend who was anxious
to help free her father.

The footsteps went on down the hall,--the footsteps
of Lite, who had come and stood for a minute outside
her door to make sure that all was quiet and that she
slept. But Jean, now that she knew where she was,
lay wide awake and thinking. Suddenly she sat up
again, staring straight before her.

That letter,--the letter Art had taken to her father,
the letter he had read and put in the pocket of his
chaps! Was that what the man had been hunting for,
those nights when he had come searching in that secret,
stealthy way? She did not remember ever having
looked into the pocket of her father's chaps, though they
had hung in her room all those three years since the
tragedy. Pockets in chaps were not, as a general thing,
much used. Men carried matches in them sometimes,
or money. The flap over her dad's chap-pocket was
buttoned down, and the leather was stiff; perhaps the letter
was there yet.

She got up and turned on the light, and looked at her
watch. She wanted to start then, that instant, for Los
Angeles. She wanted to take her dad's chaps out of
her trunk where she had packed them just for the comfort
of having them with her, and she wanted to look
and see if the letter was there still. There was no particular
reason for believing that this was of any particular
importance, or had any bearing whatever upon the
crime. But the idea was there, and it nagged at her.

Her watch said that it was twenty-five minutes after
two o'clock. The train, Lite had told her, would leave
for Tucson at seven-forty-five in the morning. She told
herself that, since it was too far to walk, and since she
could not start any sooner by staying up and freezing,
she might just as well get back into bed and try to

But she could not sleep. She kept thinking of the
letter, and trying to imagine what clue it could possibly
give if she found it still in the pocket. Carl had sent
it, Art said. A thought came to Jean which she tried
to ignore; and because she tried to ignore it, it returned
with a dogged insistence, and took clearer shape in her
mind, and formed itself into questions which she was
compelled at last to face and try to answer.

Was it her Uncle Carl who had come and searched
the house at night, trying to find that letter? If it were
her uncle, why was he so anxious to find it, after three
years had passed? What was in the letter? If it had
any bearing whatever upon the death of Johnny Croft,
why hadn't her dad mentioned it? Why hadn't her
Uncle Carl said something about it? Was the letter
just a note about some ranch business? Then why else
should any one come at night and prowl all through the
house, and never take anything? Why had he come
that first night?

Jean drew in her breath sharply. All at once, like
a flashlight turned upon a dark corner of her mind, she
remembered something about that night. She remembered
how she had told her Uncle Carl that she meant
to prove that her dad was innocent; that she meant to
investigate the devious process by which the Lazy A
ranch and all the stock had ceased to belong to her or
her father; that she meant to adopt sly, sleuth-like
methods; she remembered the very words which she
had used. She remembered how bitter her uncle had
become. Had she frightened him, somehow, with her
bold declaration that she would not "let sleeping dogs
lie" any longer? Had he remembered the letter, and
been uneasy because of what was in it? But what
COULD be in it, if it were written at least a day before
the terrible thing had happened?

She remembered her uncle's uncontrolled fury that
evening when she had ridden over to see Lite. What
had she said to cause it? She tried to recall her words,
and finally she did remember saying something about
proving that her own money had been paying for her
"keep" for three years. Then he had gone into that
rage, and she had not at the time seen any connection
between her words and his raving anger. But perhaps
there was a connection. Perhaps--

"Oh, my goodness!" she exclaimed aloud. She was
remembering the telegram which she had sent him just
before she left Los Angeles for Nogales. "He'll just
simply go WILD when he gets that wire!" She recalled
now how he had insisted all along that Art Osgood
knew absolutely nothing about the murder; she recalled
also, with an uncanny sort of vividness, Art's manner
when he had admitted for the second time that the letter
had been from Carl. She remembered how he had
changed when he found that her father was being punished
for the crime.

She did not know, just yet, how all these tangled
facts were going to work out. She had not yet come to
the final question that she would presently be asking
herself. She felt sure that her uncle knew more,--
a great deal more,--about Johnny Croft's death than
he had appeared to know; but she had not yet reached
the point to which her reasonings inevitably would
bring her; perhaps her mind was subconsciously delaying
the ultimate conclusion.

She got up and dressed; unfastening her window,
she stepped out on the veranda. The street was quiet
at that time in the morning. A sentry stood on guard
at the corner, and here and there a light flared in some
window where others were wakeful. But for the most
part the town lay asleep. Over in what was really the
Mexican quarter, three or four roosters were crowing
as if they would never leave off. The sound of them
depressed Jean, and made her feel how heavy was the
weight of her great undertaking,--heavier now, when
the end was almost in sight, than it had seemed on that
moonlight night when she had ridden over to the Lazy
A and had not the faintest idea of how she was going
to accomplish any part of her task which she had set
herself. She shivered, and turned back to get the gay
serape which she had bought from an old Mexican
woman when they were coming out of that queer
restaurant last evening.

When she came out again, Lite was standing there,
smoking a cigarette and leaning against a post.

"You'd better get some sleep, Jean," he reproved her
when she came and stood beside him. "You had a
pretty hard day yesterday; and to-day won't be any
easier. Better go back and lie down."

Jean merely pulled the serape snugger about her
shoulders and sat down sidewise upon the railing. "I
couldn't sleep," she said. "If I could, I wouldn't be
out here; I'd be asleep, wouldn't I? Why don't you
go to bed yourself?"

"Ah-h, Art's learned to talk Spanish," he said drily.
"I got myself all worked up trying to make out what
he was trying to say in his sleep, and then I found out
it wasn't my kinda talk, anyway. So I quit. What's
the matter that you can't sleep?"

Jean stared down at the shadowy street. A dog ran
out from somewhere, sniffed at a doorstep, and trotted
over into Mexico and up to the sentry. The sentry
patted it on the head and muttered a friendly word or
two. Jean watched him absently. It was all so peaceful!
Not at all what one would expect, after seeing
pictures of all those refugees and all those soldiers
fighting, and the dead lying in the street in some little
town whose name she could not pronounce correctly.

"Did you hear Art tell about taking a letter to dad
the day before?" she asked abruptly. "He wasn't
telling the truth, not all the time. But somehow I believe
that was the truth. He said dad stuck it in the
pocket of his chaps. I believe it's there yet, Lite. I
don't remember ever looking into that pocket. And I
believe--Lite, I never said anything about it, but somebody
kept coming to the house in the night and hunting
around through all the rooms. He never came into my
room, so I--I didn't bother him; but I've wondered
what he was after. It just occurred to me that

"I never could figure out what he was after, either,"
Lite observed quietly.

"You?" Jean turned her head, so that her eyes
shone in the light of a street lamp while she looked up
at him. "How in the world did you know about him?"

Lite laughed drily. "I don't think there's much
concerns you that I don't know," he confessed. "I saw
him, I guess, every time he came around. He couldn't
have made a crooked move,--and got away with it.
But I never could figure him out exactly."

Jean looked at him, touched by the care of her that
he had betrayed in those few words. Always she had
accepted him as the one friend who never failed her,
but lately,--since the advent of the motion-picture people,
to be exact,--a new note had crept into his friendship;
a new meaning into his watching over her. She
had sensed it, but she had never faced it openly. She
pulled her thoughts away from it now.

"Did you know who he was?"

It was like Jean to come straight to the point. Lite
smiled faintly; he knew that question would come, and
he knew that he would have to answer it.

"Sure. I made it my business to know who he was."

"Who was it, Lite?"

Lite did not say. He knew that question was coming
also, but he did not know whether he ought to answer it.

"It was Uncle Carl, wasn't it?"

Lite glanced down at her quickly. "You're a good
little guesser."

"Then it was that letter he was after." She was
silent for a minute, and then she looked at her watch.
"And I can't get at those chaps before to-morrow!"
She sighed and leaned back against the post.

"Lite, if it was worth all that hunting for, it must
mean something to us. I wonder what it can be; don't
you know?"

"No," said Lite slowly, "I don't. And it's something
a man don't want to do any guessing about."

This, Jean felt, was a gentle reproof for her own
speculations upon the subject. She said no more about
the letter.

"I sent him a telegram," she informed Lite irrelevantly,
"saying I'd located Art and was going to take
him back there. I wonder what he thought when he
got that!"

Lite turned half around and stared down at her. He
opened his lips to speak, hesitated, and closed them
without making a sound. He turned away and stared
down into the street that was so empty. After a little
he glanced at his own watch, with the same impulse Jean
had felt. The hours and minutes were beginning to
drag their feet as they passed.

"You go in," he ordered gently, "and lie down.
You'll be all worn out when the time comes for you to
get busy. We don't know what's ahead of us on this
trail, Jean. Right now, it's peaceful as Sunday morning
down in Maine; so you go in and get some sleep,
while you have a chance, and stop thinking about things.
Go on, Jean. I'll call you plenty early; you needn't
be afraid of missing the train."

Jean smiled a little at the tender, protective note of
authority in his voice and manner. Whether she permitted
it or not, Lite would go right on watching over
her and taking care of her. With a sudden desire to
please him, she rose obediently. When she passed him,
she reached out and gave his arm a little squeeze.

"You cantankerous old tyrant," she drawled in a
whisper, "you do love to haze me around, don't you?
Just to spite you, I'll do it!" She went in and left
him standing there, smoking and leaning against the
post, calm as the stars above. But under that surface
calm, the heart of Lite Avery was thumping violently.
His arm quivered still under the thrill of Jean's fingers.
Your bottled-up souls are quick to sense the meaning
in a tone or a touch; Jean, whether she herself knew it
or not, had betrayed an emotion that set Lite's thoughts
racing out into a golden future. He stood there a long
while, staring out upon the darkness, his eyes shining.



Though hours may drag themselves into the past
so sluggishly that one is fairly maddened by the
snail's pace of them, into the past they must go
eventually. Jean had sat and listened to the wheels of the
Golden State Limited clank over the cryptic phrase that
meant so much. "Letter-in-the-chaps! Letter-in-the
chaps!" was what they had said while the train
pounded across the desert and slid through arroyas and
deep cuts which leveled hills for its passing. "Letter-
in-the-chaps! Letter-in-the-chaps!" And then a silence
while they stood by some desolate station where
the people were swarthy of skin and black of hair and
eyes, and moved languidly if they moved at all. Then
they would go on; and when the wheels had clicked over
the switches of the various side tracks, they would take
up again the refrain: "Letter-in-the-chaps! Letter-
in-the-chaps!" until Jean thought she would go crazy
if they kept it up much longer.

Little by little they drew near to Los Angeles. And
then they were there, sliding slowly through the yards
in a drab drizzle of one of California's fall rains. Then
they were in a taxicab, making for the Third Street
tunnel. Then Jean stared heavy-eyed at the dripping
palms along the boulevard which led away from the
smoke of the city and into Hollywood, snuggled against
the misty hills. "Letter-in-the-chaps!" her tired brain
repeated it still.

Then she was in the apartment shared with Muriel
Gay and her mother. These two were over at the
studio, the landlady told her when she let them in, and
Jean was glad that they were gone.

She knelt, still in her hat and coat and with her
gloves on, and fitted her trunk key into the lock. And
there she stopped. What if the letter were not in
the chaps, after all? What if it were but a trivial note,
concerning a matter long since forgotten; a trivial note
that had not the remotest bearing upon the murder?
"Letter-in-the-chaps!" The phrase returned with a
mocking note and beat insistently through her brain.
She sat back on the floor and shivered with the chill of a
fireless room in California, when a fall rain is at its
drizzling worst.

In the next room one of the men coughed; afterwards
she heard Lite's voice, saying something in an
undertone to Art Osgood. She heard Art's voice mutter
a reply. She raised herself again to her knees,
turned the key in the lock, and lifted the trunk-lid with
an air of determination.

Down next the bottom of her big trunk they lay, just
as she had packed them away, with her dad's six-shooter
and belt carefully disposed between the leathern folds.
She groped with her hands under a couple of riding-
skirts and her high, laced boots, got a firm grip on the
fringed leather, and dragged them out. She had forgotten
all about the gun and belt until they fell with a
thump on the floor. She pulled out the belt, left the
gun lying there by the trunk, and hurried out with the
chaps dangling over her arm.

She was pale when she stood before the two who sat
there waiting with their hats in their hands and their
faces full of repressed eagerness. Her fingers trembled
while she pulled at the stiff, leather flap of the pocket,
to free it from the button.

"Maybe it ain't there yet," Art hazarded nervously,
while they watched her. "But that's where he put it,
all right. I saw him."

Jean's fingers went groping into the pocket, stayed
there for a second or two, and came out holding a folded

"That's it!" Art leaned toward her eagerly.
"That's the one, all right."

Jean sat down suddenly because her knees seemed
to bend under her weight. Three years--and that letter
within her reach all the time!

"Let's see, Jean." Lite reached out and took it from
her nerveless fingers. "Maybe it won't amount to anything
at all."

Jean tried to hold herself calm. "Read it--out
loud," she said. "Then we'll know." She tried to
smile, and made so great a failure of it that she came
very near crying. The faint crackle of the cheap paper
when Lite unfolded the letter made her start nervously.
"Read it--no matter--what it is," she repeated,
when she saw Lite's eyes go rapidly over the lines.

Lite glanced at her sharply, then leaned and took
her hand and held it close. His firm clasp steadied her
more than any words could have done. Without further
delay or attempt to palliate its grim significance,
he read the note:


If Johnny Croft comes to you with anything about me,
kick him off the ranch. He claims he knows a whole lot
about me branding too many calves. Don't believe anything
he tells you. He's just trying to make trouble because he
claims I underpaid him. He was telling Art a lot of stuff
that he claimed he could prove on me, but it's all a lie.
Send him to me if he comes looking for trouble. I'll give
him all he wants.

Art found a heifer down in the breaks that looks like
she might have blackleg. I'm going down there to see about
it. Maybe you better ride over and see what you think
about it; we don't want to let anything like that get a start
on us.

Don't pay any attention to Johnny. I'll fix him if he
don't keep his face shut.

"Carl!" Jean repeated the name mechanically. "Carl."

"I kinda thought it was something like that," Art
Osgood interrupted her to say. "Now you know that
much, and I'll tell you just what I know about it. It
was Carl shot Crofty, all right. I rode over with him to
the Lazy A; I was on my way to town and we went that
far together. I rode that way to tell you good-by." He
looked at Jean with a certain diffidence. "I kinda
wanted to see you before I went clear outa the country,
but you weren't at home.

"Johnny Croft's horse was standing outside the
house when we rode up. I guess he must have just
got there ahead of us. Carl got off and went in ahead
of me. Johnny was eating a snack when I went in.
He said something to Carl, and Carl flared up. I saw
there wasn't anybody at home, and I didn't want to get
mixed up in the argument, so I turned and went on out.
And I hadn't more than got to my horse when I heard
a shot, and Carl came running out with his gun in his

"Well, Johnny was dead, and there wasn't anything
I could do about it. Carl told me to beat it outa the
country, just like I'd been planning; he said it would
be a whole lot better for him, seeing I wasn't an eye-
witness. He said Johnny started to draw his gun, and
he shot in self-defense; and he said I better go while
the going was good, or I might get pulled into it some

"Well, I thought it over for a minute, and I didn't
see where it would get me anything to stay. I couldn't
help Carl any by staying, because I wasn't in the house
when it happened. So I hit the trail for town, and
never said anything to anybody." He looked at the two
contritely. "I never knew, till you folks came to Nogales
looking for me, that things panned out the way
they did. I thought Carl was going to give himself up,
and would be cleared. I never once dreamed he was
the kinda mark that would let his own brother take the
blame that way."

"I guess nobody did." Lite folded the letter and
pushed it back into the envelope. "I can look back
now, though, and see how it come about. He hung
back till Aleck found the body and was arrested; and
after that he just simply didn't have the nerve to step
out and say that he was the one that did it. He tried
hard to save Aleck, but he wouldn't--"

"The coward! The low, mean coward!" Jean
stood up and looked from one to the other, and spoke
through her clinched teeth. "To let dad suffer all this
while! Lite, when did you say that train left for Salt
Lake? We can take the taxi back down town, and save
time." She was at the door when she turned toward
the two again. "Hurry up! Don't you know we've
got to hurry? Dad's in prison all this while! And
Uncle Carl,--there's no telling where Uncle Carl is!
That wire I sent him was the worst thing I could have

"Or the best," suggested Lite laconically, as he led
the way down the hall and out to the rain-drenched,
waiting taxicab.



For hours Jean had sat staring out at the drear
stretches of desert dripping under the dismal rain
that streaked the car windows. The clouds hung leaden
and gray close over the earth; the smoke from the engine
trailed a funereal plume across the grease-wood covered
plain. Away in the distance a low line of hills
stretched vaguely, as though they were placed there to
hold up the sky that was so heavy and dank. Alongside
the track every ditch ran full of clay-colored water
that wrapped little, ragged wreaths of dirty foam around
every obstruction, like the tawdry finery of the slums.

From the smoking-room where he had been for the
past two hours with Art Osgood, Lite came unsteadily
down the aisle, heralded as it were by the muffled
scream of the whistle at a country crossing. Jean
turned toward him a face as depressed as the desert out
there under the rain. Lite, looking at her keenly, saw
on her cheeks the traces of tears. He let himself down
wearily into the seat beside her, reached over calmly,
and took her hand from off her lap and held it snugly
in his own.

"This is likely a snowstorm, up home," he said in
his quiet, matter-of-fact way. "I guess we'll have to
make our headquarters in town till I get things hauled
out to the ranch. That's it, when you can't look ahead
and see what's coming. I could have had everything
ready to go right on out, only I thought there wouldn't
be any use, before spring, anyway. But if this storm
ain't a blizzard up there, a couple of days will straighten
things out."

Jean turned her head and regarded him attentively.
"Out where?" she asked him bluntly. "What are you
talking about? Have you and Art been celebrating?"
She knew better than that. Lite never indulged in
liquid celebrations, and Jean knew it.

Lite reached into his pocket with the hand that was
free, and drew forth a telegram envelope. He released
her hand while he drew out the message, but he did not
hand it to her immediately. "I wired Rossman from
Los Angeles," he informed her, "and told him what
was up, and asked him to put me up to date on that end
of the line. So he did. I got this back there at that
last town." He laid his hand over hers again, and
looked down at her sidelong.

"Ever since the trouble," he began abruptly, but
still in that quiet, matter-of-fact way, "I've been playing
a lone hand and kinda holding back and waiting for
something to drop. I had that idea all along that
you've had this summer: getting hold of the Lazy A and
fixing it up so your dad would have a place to come
back to. I never said anything, because talking don't
come natural to me like it does to some, and I'd rather
do a thing first and then talk about it afterwards if I
have to.

"So I hung on to what money I had saved up along;
I was going to get me a bunch of cattle and fix up that
homestead of mine some day, and maybe have a little
home." His eyes went surreptitiously to her face, and
lingered there wistfully. "So after the trouble I
buckled down to work and saved a little faster, if
anything. It looked to me like there wasn't much hope of
doing anything for your dad till his sentence ran out,
so I never said anything about it. Long as Carl didn't
try to sell it to anybody else, I just waited and got
together all the money I could. I didn't see as there was
anything else to do."

Jean was chewing a corner of her lip, and was staring
out of the window. "I didn't know I was stealing
your thunder, Lite," she said dispiritedly. "Why
didn't you tell me?"

`Wasn't anything to tell--till there was something
to tell. Now, this telegram here,--this is what I
started out to talk about. It'll be just as well if you
know it before we get to Helena. I showed it to Art,
and he thought the same as I did. You know,--or
I reckon you don't, because I never said anything,--
away last summer, along about the time you went to
work for Burns, I got to thinking things over, and I
wondered if Carl didn't have something on his mind
about that killing. So I wrote to Rossman. I didn't
much like the way he handled your dad's case, but he
knew all the ins and outs, so I could talk to him without
going away back at the beginning. He knew Carl,
too, so that made it easier.

"I wrote and told him how Carl was prowling
around through the house nights, and the like of that,
and to look up the title to the Lazy A--"

"Why wouldn't you wait and let me buy it myself?"
Jean asked him with just a shade of sharpness in her
voice. "You knew I wanted to."

"So I got Rossman started, quite a while back. He
thought as I did, that Carl was acting mighty funny.
I was with Carl more than you was, and I could tell
he had something laying heavy on his mind. But then,
the rest of us had things laying pretty heavy on our
minds, too, that wasn't guilt; so there wasn't any way
to tell what was bothering Carl." Lite made no attempt
to answer the question she had asked.

"Now, here's this wire Rossman sent me. You don't
want to get the wrong idea, Jean, and feel too bad about
this. You don't want to think you had anything to do
with it. Carl was gradually building up to something
of this kind,--has been for a long time. His coming
over to the ranch nights, looking for that letter that
he had hunted all over for at first, shows he wasn't right
in his mind on the subject. But--"

"Well, heavens and earth, Lite!" Jean's tone was
exasperated more than it was worried. "Why don't
you say what you want to say? What's it all about?
Let me read that telegram and be done with it. I--I
should think you'd know I can stand things, by this
time. I haven't shown any weak knees, have I?"

"Well, I hate to pile on any more," Lite muttered
defensively. "But you've got to know this. I wish
you didn't, but--"

Jean did not say any more. She reached over and
with her free hand took the telegram from him. She
did not pull away the hand Lite was holding, however,
and the heart of him gave an exultant bound because
she let it lie there quiet under his own. She pinched
her brows together over the message, and let it drop
into her lap. Her head went back against the towel
covered head-rest, and for a minute her eyes closed as
if she could not look any longer upon trouble.

Lite waited a second, pulled her head over against
his shoulder, and picked up the telegram and read it
through slowly, though he could have repeated it word
for word with his eyes shut.

L Avery,
En Route Train 23, S. L. & D. R. R.

Carl Douglas suicided yesterday, leaving letter confessing
murder of Croft. Had just completed transfer of land and
cattle to your name. Am taking steps placing matter
before governor immediately expect him to act at once upon
pardon. Bring your man my office at once deposition may
be required.

"Now, I told you not to worry about this," Lite
reminded the girl firmly. "Looks to me like it takes a
load off our hands,--Carl's doing what he done. Saves
us dragging it all through court again; and, Jean, it'll
let your dad out a whole lot quicker. Sounds kinda
cold-blooded, maybe, but if you could look at it as good
news,--that's the way it strikes me."

Jean did not say a word, just then. She did what
you might not expect Jean to do, after all her strong-
mindedness and her independence: She made an
uncertain movement toward sitting up and facing things
calmly, man-fashion; then she leaned and dropped her
very independent brown head back upon Lite's shoulder,
and behind her handkerchief she cried quietly
while Lite held her close.

"Now, that's long enough to cry," he whispered to
her, after a season of mental intoxication such as he had
never before experienced. "I started out three years
ago to be the boss. I ain't been working at it regular,
as you might say, all the time. But I'm going to wind
up that way. I hate to turn you over to your dad without
some little show of making good at the job."

Jean gave a little gurgle that may have been related
to laughter, and Lite's lips quirked with humorous
embarrassment as he went on.

"I don't guess," he said slowly, "that I'm going to
turn you over at all, Jean. Not altogether. I guess
I've just about got to keep you. It--takes two to
make a home, and--I've got my heart set on us making
a home outa the Lazy A again; you and me, making a
home for us and your dad. How--how does that
sound to you, Jean?"

Jean was wiping her eyes as unobtrusively as she
might. She did not answer.

"How does it sound, you and me making a home
together?" Lite was growing pale, and his hands
trembled. "Tell me."

"It sounds--good," said Jean unsteadily.

For several minutes Lite did not say a word. They
sat there holding hands quite foolishly, and stared out
at the drenched desert.

"Soon as your dad comes," he said at last, very
simply, "we'll be married." He was silent another minute,
and added under his breath like a prayer, "And
we'll all go--home."



When Lite rapped with his knuckles on the door
of the room where she was waiting, Jean stood
with her hands pressed tightly over her face, every
muscle rigid with the restraint she was putting upon
herself. For Lite this three-day interval had been too
full of going here and there, attending to the manifold
details of untangling the various threads of their broken
life-pattern, for him to feel the suspense which Jean
had suffered. She had not done much. She had
waited. And now, with Lite and her dad standing
outside the door, she almost dreaded the meeting. But
she took a deep breath and walked to the door and
opened it.

"Hello, dad," she cried with a nervous gaiety.
"Give your dear daughter a kiss!" She had not
meant to say that at all.

Tall and gaunt and gray and old; lines etched deep
ground his bitter mouth; pale with the tragic prison
pallor; looking out at the world with the somber eyes
of one who has suffered most cruelly,--Aleck Douglas
put out his thin, shaking arms and held her close. He
did not say anything at all; and the kiss she asked for
he laid softly upon her hair.

Lite stood in the doorway and looked at the two of
them for a moment. "I'm going down to see about--
things. I'll be back in a little while. And, Jean, will
you be ready?"

Jean looked up at him understandingly, and with
a certain shyness in her eyes. "If it's all right with
dad," she told him, "I'll be ready."

"Lite's a man!" Aleck stated unsmilingly, with a
trace of that apathy which had hurt Jean so in the
warden's office. "I'm glad you'll have him to take care
of you, Jean."

So Lite closed the door softly and went away and
left those two alone.

In a very few words I can tell you the rest. There
were a few things to adjust, and a few arrangements to
make. The greatest adjustment, perhaps, was when
Jean begged off from that contract with the Great
Western Company. Dewitt did not want to let her go,
but he had read a marked article in a Montana paper
that Lite mailed to him in advance of their return, and
he realized that some things are greater even than the
needs of a motion-picture company. He was very nice,
therefore, to Jean. He told her by all means to consider
herself free to give her time wholly to her father
--and her husband. He also congratulated Lite in
terms that made Jean blush and beat a hurried retreat
from his office, and that made Lite grin all the way to
the hotel. So the public lost Jean of the Lazy A
almost as soon as it had learned to welcome her.

Then there was Pard, that had to leave the little
buckskin and take that nerve-racking trip back to the
Lazy A. Lite attended to that with perfect calm and
a good deal of inner elation. So that detail was soon

At the Lazy A there was a great deal to do before the
traces of its tragedy were wiped out. We'll have to
leave them doing that work, which was only a matter
of time, after all, and not nearly so hard to accomplish
as their attempts to wipe out from Aleck's soul the black
scar of those three years. I think, on the whole, we
shall leave them doing that work, too. As much as
human love and happiness could do toward wiping out
the bitterness they would accomplish, you may be sure,
--give them time enough.

Book of the day: