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Keith of the Border by Randall Parrish

Part 2 out of 5

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"How dare you!" she exclaimed passionately, all fear leaving her in sudden
resentment. "You think me alone here and helpless; that you can insult me
at your pleasure. Don't go too far, Mr. Hawley. I know what you are now,
and it makes no difference what you may think of me, or call me; you 'll
find me perfectly able to defend myself."

"Oh, indeed!" sneeringly, "you are melodramatic; you should have been an
actress instead of a singer. But you waste your talent out here on me. Do
you imagine I fear either you, or your precious brother? Why, I could have
him hung to-morrow."

She was staring at him with wide open eyes, her face white.

"What--what do you mean? What has Fred done?"

He was cold and sarcastic.

"That makes no difference; it is what I could induce men to swear he had
done. It's easy enough to convict in this country, if you only know how. I
simply tell you this, so you won't press me too hard. Puritanism is out of
place west of the Missouri, especially among ladies of your profession.
Oh, come, now, Christie, don't try to put such airs on with me. I know who
you are, all right, and can guess why you are hunting after Fred
Willoughby. I pumped the boy, and got most of the truth out of him."

"You--you have seen him, then, since you left me," she faltered,
bewildered, "and didn't bring him here with you?"

"Why should I?" and the man stepped forward, his eyes on her, his hands
twitching with a desire to clasp her to him, yet restrained by some
undefinable power. "While I believed your brother story, I could have
played the good Samaritan most beautifully, but after I talked with
Willoughby I prefer him at a distance."

"My brother story! Do you mean to insinuate you doubt his being my
brother? He told you that?"

"He gave up the whole trick. You can't trust a kid like that, Christie. A
couple of drinks will loosen his tongue, and put you in wrong. Come, now,
I know it all; be reasonable."

Apparently the girl had lost her power of speech, staring blindly at the
face of the man before her, as a bird meets the slow approach of a snake.
Keith could see her lips move, but making no sound. Hawley evidently
interpreted her silence as hesitation, doubt as to his real meaning.

"You see where you are at now, Christie," he went on swiftly. "But you
don't need to be afraid. I'm going to be a friend to you, and you can be
mighty glad you got rid of Willoughby so easily. Why, I can buy you
diamonds where he couldn't give you a calico dress. Come on, let's stop
this foolishness. I took a liking to you back there in the stage, and the
more I've thought about you since the crazier I've got. When I succeeded
in pumping Willoughby dry, and discovered you wasn't his sister at all,
why that settled the matter. I came down here after you. I love you, do
you understand that? And, what's more, I intend to have you!"

He reached out, and actually grasped her, but, in some manner, she tore
loose, and sprang back around the end of the table, her cheeks flushed,
her eyes burning.

"Don't touch me! don't dare touch me!" she panted. "You lie; Fred
Willoughby never told you that. If you come one step nearer, I'll scream;
I'll call your men here; I'll tell them the kind of a cur you are."

He laughed, leaning over toward her, yet hesitating, his eyes full of
admiration. Her very fierceness appealed to him, urged him on.

"Oh, I wouldn't! In the first place they probably wouldn't hear, for they
are camped down in the corral. I suspected you might be something of a
tigress, and preferred to fight it out with you alone. Then, even if they
did hear, there would be no interference--I've got those fellows trained
too well for that. Come on, Christie; you're helpless here."

"Am I?"

"Yes, you are."

He took a step toward her, his hands flung out. With one quick movement
she sprang aside and extinguished the lamp, plunging the room into instant
darkness. A few red coals glowed dully in the fireplace, but all else was
dense blackness. Keith heard the movements of Hawley, as he felt his way
uncertainly along the table, swearing as he failed to find the girl. Then,
like a shadow, he glided through the partly open door into the room.

Chapter XI

The Fight in the Dark

Had the room been filled with men Keith could have restrained himself no
longer. Whatever her past might be, this woman appealed to him strangely;
he could not believe evil of her; he would have died if need be in her
defence. But as it was, the ugly boast of Hawley gave confidence in the
final outcome of this struggle in the dark, even a possibility of escape
for them all. The gambler, assured of being confronted merely by a frail
and not over-scrupulous woman, had ventured there alone; had stationed his
men beyond sound; had doubtless instructed them to ignore any noise of
struggle which they might overhear within. It was these very arrangements
for evil which now afforded opportunity, and Keith crept forward, alert
and ready, his teeth clenched, his hands bare for contest. Even although
he surprised his antagonist, it was going to be a fight for life; he knew
"Black Bart," broad-shouldered, quick as a cat, accustomed to every form
of physical exercise, desperate and tricky, using either knife or gun
recklessly. Yet it was now or never for all of them, and the plainsman
felt no mercy, experienced no reluctance. He reached the table, and
straightened up, silent, expectant. For an instant there was no further
sound; no evidence of movement in the room. Hawley, puzzled by the
silence, was listening intently in an endeavor to thus locate the girl
through some rustling, some slight motion. A knife, knocked from the
table, perhaps, as she slipped softly past, fell clattering to the floor,
and the gambler leaped instantly forward. Keith's grip closed like iron on
his groping arm, while he shot one fist out toward where the man's head
should be. The blow glanced, yet drove the fellow backward, stumbling
against the table, and Keith closed in, grappling for the throat. The
other, startled by the unexpected attack, and scarcely realizing even yet
the nature of his antagonist, struggled blindly to escape the fingers
clawing at him, and flung one hand down to the knife in his belt. Warned
by the movement, the assailant drove his head into the gambler's chest,
sending him crashing to the floor, falling himself heavily upon the
prostrate body. Hawley gave utterance to one cry, half throttled in his
throat, and then the two grappled fiercely, so interlocked together as to
make weapons useless. Whoever the assailant might be, the gambler was
fully aware by now that he was being crushed in the grasp of a fighting
man, and exerted every wrestler's trick, every ounce of strength, to break
free. Twice he struggled to his knees, only to be crowded backward by
relentless power; once he hurled Keith sideways, but the plainsman's
muscles stiffened into steel, and he gradually regained his position.
Neither dared release a grip in order to strike a blow: neither had
sufficient breath left with which to utter a sound. They were fighting for
life, silently, desperately, like wild beasts, with no thought but to
injure the other. The gambler's teeth sank into Keith's arm, and the
latter in return jammed the man's head back onto the puncheon floor
viciously. Perspiration streamed from their bodies, their fingers
clutching, their limbs wrapped together, their muscles strained to the
utmost. Keith had forgotten the girl, the negro, everything, dominated by
the one passion to conquer. He was swept by a storm of hatred, a desire to
kill. In their fierce struggle the two had rolled close to the fireplace,
and in the dull glow of the dying embers, he could perceive a faint
outline of the man's face. The sight added flame to his mad passion, yet
he could do nothing except to cling to him, jabbing his fingers into the
straining throat.

The negro ended the affair in his own way, clawing blindly at the
combatants in the darkness, and finally, determining which was the enemy,
he struck the gambler with the stock of his gun, laying him out
unconscious. Keith, grasping the table, hauled himself to his feet,
gasping for breath, certain only that Hawley was no longer struggling. For
an instant all was blank, a mist of black vapor; then a realization of
their situation came back in sudden flood of remembrance. Even yet he
could see nothing, but felt the motionless figure at his feet.

"Quick," he urged, the instant he could make himself speak. "The fellow is
only stunned; we must tie and gag him. Is that you, Neb? Where is the

"I am here, Captain Keith," and he heard the soft rustle of her dress
across the room. "What is it I may do?"

"A coil of rope, or some straps, with a piece of cloth; anything you can
lay hands on."

She was some moments at it, confused by the darkness, and Hawley moved
slightly, his labored breathing growing plainly perceptible. Keith heard
her groping toward him, and held out his hands. She started as he thus
unexpectedly touched her, yet made no effort to break away.

"You--you frightened me a little," she confessed. "This has all happened
so quickly I hardly realize yet just what has occurred."

"The action has only really begun," he assured her, still retaining his
hold upon her hand. "This was merely a preliminary skirmish, and you must
prepare to bear your part in what follows. We have settled Mr. Hawley for
the present, and now must deal with his gang."

"Oh, what would I have done if you had not been here?"

"Let us not think about that; we were here, and now have a busy night
before us if we get away safely. Give me the rope first. Good! Here, Neb,
you must know how to use this,--not too tight, but without leaving any
play to the arms; take the knife out of his belt. Now for the cloth, Miss

"Please do not call me that!"

"But you said it didn't make any difference what I called you."

"I thought it didn't then, but it does now."

"Oh, I see; we are already on a new footing. Yet I must call you

She hesitated just long enough for him to notice it. Either she had no
substitute ready at hand, or else doubted the advisability of confiding
her real name under present circumstances to one so nearly a stranger.

"You may call me Hope."

"A name certainly of good omen," he returned. "From this moment I shall
forget Christie Maclaire, and remember only Miss Hope. All right, Neb; now
turn over a chair, and sit your man up against it. He will rest all the
easier in that position until his gang arrive."

He thrust his head out of the door, peering cautiously forth into the
night, and listening. A single horse, probably the one Hawley had been
riding, was tied to a dwarfed cottonwood near the corner of the cabin.
Nothing else living was visible.

"I am going to round up our horses, and learn the condition of Hawley's
outfit," he announced in a low voice. "I may be gone for fifteen or twenty
minutes, and, meanwhile, Miss Hope, get ready for a long ride. Neb, stand
here close beside the door, and if any one tries to come in brain him with
your gun-stock. I'll rap three times when I return."

He slipped out into the silent night, and crept cautiously around the end
of the dark cabin. The distinct change in the girl's attitude of
friendship toward him, her very evident desire that he should think well
of her, together with the providential opportunity for escape, had left
him full of confidence. The gambler had played blindly into their hands,
and Keith was quick enough to accept the advantage. It was a risk to
himself, to be sure, thus turning again to the northward, yet the clear
duty he owed the girl left such a choice almost imperative. He certainly
could not drag her along with him on his flight into the wild Comanche
country extending beyond the Canadian. She must, at the very least, be
first returned to the protection of the semi-civilization along the
Arkansas. After that had been accomplished, he would consider his own
safety. He wondered if Hope really was her name, and whether it was the
family cognomen, or her given name. That she was Christie Maclaire he had
no question, yet that artistic embellishment was probably merely assumed
for the work of the concert hall. Both he and Hawley could scarcely be
mistaken as to her identity in this respect, and, indeed, she had never
openly denied the fact. Yet she did not at all seem to be that kind, and
Keith mentally contrasted her with numerous others whom he had somewhat
intimately known along the border circuit. It was difficult to associate
her with that class; she must have come originally from some excellent
family East, and been driven to the life by necessity; she was more to be
pitied than blamed. Keith held no puritanical views of life--his own
experiences had been too rough and democratic for that--yet he clung
tenaciously to an ideal of womanhood which could not be lowered. However
interested he might otherwise feel, no Christie Maclaire could ever find
entrance into the deeps of his heart, where dwelt alone the memory of his

He found the other horses turned into the corral, and was able, from their
restless movements, to decide they numbered eight. A fire, nearly
extinguished, glowed dully at the farther corner of the enclosure, and he
crawled close enough to distinguish the recumbent forms of men sleeping
about it on the ground. Apparently no guard had been set, the fellows
being worn out from their long ride, and confident of safety in this
isolated spot. Besides, Hawley had probably assumed that duty, and told
them to get whatever sleep they could. However, the gate of the corral
opened beside their fire, and Keith dare not venture upon roping any of
their ponies, or leading them out past where they slept. There might be
clippers in the cabin with which he could cut the wires, yet if one of the
gang awoke, and discovered the herd absent, it would result in an alarm,
and lead to early pursuit. It was far safer to use their own ponies. He
would lead Hawley's horse quietly through the water, and they could mount
on the other shore. This plan settled, he went at it swiftly, riding the
captured animal while rounding up the others, and fastening the three to
stunted trees on the opposite bank. Everything within the cabin remained
exactly as he had left it, and he briefly explained the situation,
examining Hawley's bonds again carefully while doing so.

"He'll remain there all right until his men find him," he declared,
positively, "and that ought to give us a good six hours' start. Come, Miss
Hope, every minute counts now."

He held her arm, not unconscious of its round shapeliness, as he helped
her down the rather steep bank through the dense gloom. Then the two men
joined hands, and carrying her easily between them, waded the shallow
stream. The horses, not yet sufficiently rested to be frisky, accepted
their burdens meekly enough, and, with scarcely a word spoken, the three
rode away silently into the gloom of the night.

Chapter XII

Through the Night Shadows

Keith had very little to guide him, as he could not determine whether this
mysterious cabin on the Salt Fork lay to east or west of the usual cattle
trail leading down to the Canadian. Yet he felt reasonably assured that
the general trend of the country lying between the smaller stream and the
valley of the Arkansas would be similar to that with which he was already
acquainted. It was merely a wild stretch of sandy desolation, across which
their horses would leave scarcely any trail, and even that little would be
quickly obliterated by the first puff of wind. As they drew in toward the
river valley this plain would change into sand dunes, baffling and
confusing, but no matter how hard they pressed forward, it must be
daylight long before they could hope to reach these, and this would give
him opportunity to spy out some familiar landmark which would guide them
to the ford. Meanwhile, he must head as directly north as possible,
trusting the horses to find footing.

It was plains instinct, or rather long training in the open, which enabled
him to retain any true sense of direction, for beyond the narrow fringe of
cotton-woods along the stream, nothing was visible, the eyes scarcely
able even to distinguish where earth and sky met. They advanced across a
bare level, without elevation or depression, yet the sand appeared
sufficiently solid, so that their horses were forced into a swinging lope,
and they seemed to fairly press aside the black curtain, which as
instantly swung shut once more, and closed them in. The pounding hoofs
made little noise, and they pressed steadily onward, closely bunched
together, so as not to lose each other, dim, spectral shadows flitting
through the night, a very part of that grim desolation surrounding them.
No one of the three felt like speaking; the gloomy, brooding desert
oppressed them, their vagrant thoughts assuming the tinge of their
surroundings; their hope centred on escape. Keith rode, grasping the rein
of the woman's horse in his left hand, and bending low in vain effort at
picking a path. He had nothing to aim toward, yet sturdy confidence in his
expert plainscraft yielded him sufficient sense of direction. He had noted
the bark of the cottonwoods, the direction of the wind, and steered a
course accordingly straight northward, alert to avert any variation.

The girl rode easily, although in a man's saddle, the stirrups much too
long. Keith glanced aside with swift approval at the erectness with which
she sat, the loosened rein in her hand, the slight swaying of her form. He
could appreciate horsemanship, and the easy manner in which she rode
relieved him of one anxiety. It even caused him to break the silence.

"You are evidently accustomed to riding, Miss Hope."

She glanced across at him through the darkness, as though suddenly
surprised from thought, her words not coming quickly.

"I cannot remember when I first mounted a horse; in earliest childhood,
surely, although I have not ridden much of late. This one is like a
rocking chair."

"He belonged to your friend, Mr. Hawley."

She drew a quick breath, her face again turned forward.

"Who--who is that man? Do you know?"

"I possess a passing acquaintance," he answered, uncertain yet how much to
tell her, but tempted to reveal all in test of her real character. "Few do
not who live along the Kansas border."

"Do you mean he is a notoriously bad character?"

"I have never heard of his being held up as a model to the young, Miss
Hope," he returned more soberly, convinced that she truly possessed no
real knowledge regarding the man, and was not merely pretending innocence.
"I had never heard him called Hawley before, and, therefore, failed to
recognize him under that respectable name. But I knew his voice the moment
he entered the cabin, and realized that some devilment was afoot. Every
town along this frontier has his record, and I've met him maybe a dozen
times in the past three years. He is known as 'Black Bart'; is a gambler
by profession, a desperado by reputation, and a cur by nature. Just now I
suspect him of being even deeper in the mire than this."

He could tell by the quick clasping of her hands on the pommel of the
saddle the effect of his words, but waited until the silence compelled her
to speak.

"Oh, I didn't know! You do not believe that I ever suspected such a thing?
That I ever met him there understanding who he was?"

"No, I do not," he answered. "What I overheard between you convinced me
you were the victim of deceit. But your going to that place alone was a
most reckless act."

She lifted her hand to her eyes, her head drooping forward.

"Wasn't it what he told me--the out-station of a ranch?"

"No; I have ridden this country for years, and there is no ranch pasturing
cattle along the Salt Fork. Miss Hope, I want you to comprehend what it is
you have escaped from; what you are now fleeing from. Within the last two
years an apparently organized body of outlaws have been operating
throughout this entire region. Oftentimes disguised as Indians, they have
terrorized the Santa Fe trail for two hundred miles, killing travellers in
small parties, and driving off stock. There are few ranches as far west as
this, but these have all suffered from raids. These fellows have done more
to precipitate the present Indian war than any act of the savages. They
have endeavored to make the authorities believe that Indians were guilty
of their deeds of murder and robbery. Both troops and volunteers have
tried to hold the gang up, but they scatter and disappear, as though
swallowed by the desert. I have been out twice, hard on their trail, only
to come back baffled. Now, I think accident has given me the clue."

She straightened up; glancing questioningly at him through the darkness.

"That is what I mean, Miss Hope. I suspect that cabin to be the rendezvous
of those fellows, and I half believe Hawley to be their leader."

"Then you will report all this to the authorities?"

He smiled grimly, his lips compressed.

"I hardly think so; at least, not for the present. I am not blood-thirsty,
or enamored of man-hunting, but I happen to have a personal interest in
this particular affair which I should prefer to settle alone." He paused,
swiftly reviewing the circumstances of their short acquaintance, and as
suddenly determining to trust her discretion. Deep down in his heart he
rather wanted her to know. "The fact of the matter is, that Neb and I here
were the ones that particular posse were trailing."

"You!" her voice faltered. "He said those men were under arrest for
murder, and had broken jail."

"He also said it was easy to convict men in this country if you only knew
how. It is true we broke jail, but only in order to save our lives; it was
the only way. Technically, we are outlaws, and now run the risk of
immediate re-arrest by returning north of the Arkansas. We came to you
fugitives; I was charged with murder, the negro with assault. So, you see,
Miss Hope, the desperate class of men you are now associating with."

The slight bitterness in his tone stung the girl into resentment. She was
looking straight at him, but in the gloom he could not discern the
expression of her eyes.

"I don't believe it," she exclaimed decisively, "you--you do not look
like that!"

"My appearance may be sufficient to convince you," he returned, rather
dryly, "but would weigh little before a Western court. Unfortunately, the
evidence was strong against me; or would have been had the case ever come
to a trial. The strange thing about it was that both warrants were sworn
out by the same complainant, and apparently for a similar purpose--'Black
Bart' Hawley."

"What purpose?"

"To keep us from telling what we knew regarding a certain crime, in which
either he, or some of his intimate friends, were deeply interested."

"But it would all come out at the trial, wouldn't it?"

"There was to be no trial; Judge Lynch settles the majority of such cases
out here at present. It is extremely simple. Listen, and I will tell you
the story."

He reviewed briefly those occurrences leading directly up to his arrest,
saying little regarding the horrors of that scene witnessed near the
Cimmaron Crossing, but making sufficiently clear his very slight
connection with it, and the reason those who were guilty of the crime were
so anxious to get him out of the way. She listened intently, asking few
questions, until he ended. Then they both looked up, conscious that dawn
was becoming gray in the east. Keith's first thought was one of relief--
the brightening sky showed him they were riding straight north.

Chapter XIII

The Ford of the Arkansas

They were still in the midst of the yellow featureless plain, but the
weary horses had slowed down to a walk, the heavy sand retarding progress.
It was a gloomy, depressing scene in the spectral gray light, a wide
circle of intense loneliness, unbroken by either dwarfed shrub or bunch of
grass, a barren expanse stretching to the sky. Vague cloud shadows seemed
to flit across the level surface, assuming fantastic shapes, but all of
the same dull coloring, imperfect and unfinished. Nothing seemed tangible
or real, but rather some grotesque picture of delirium, ever merging into
another yet more hideous. The very silence of those surrounding wastes
seemed burdensome, adding immeasurably to the horror. They were but specks
crawling underneath the sky--the only living, moving objects in all that
immense circle of desolation and death.

Keith turned in the saddle, looking back past Neb--who swayed in his seat,
with head lolling on his breast as though asleep, his horse plodding after
the others--along the slight trail they had made across the desert. So far
as eye could reach nothing moved, nothing apparently existed. Fronting
again to the north he looked upon the same grim barrenness, only that far
off, against the lighter background of distant sky, there was visible a
faint blur, a bluish haze, which he believed to be the distant sand dunes
bordering the Arkansas. The intense dreariness of it all left a feeling of
depression. His eyes turned and regarded the girl riding silently beside
him. The same look of depression was visible upon her face, and she was
gazing off into the dull distance with lack-lustre eyes, her slender form
leaning forward, her hands clasped across the pommel. The long weariness
of the night had left traces on her young face, robbing it of some of its
freshness, yet Keith found it more attractive in the growing daylight than
amid the lamp shadows of the evening before. He had not previously
realized the peculiar clearness of her complexion, the rose tint showing
through the olive skin, or the soft and silky fineness of her hair, which,
disarranged, was strangely becoming under the broad brim of the hat she
wore, drawn low until it shadowed her eyes. It was not a face to be easily
associated with frontier concert halls, or any surrender to evil; the chin
round and firm, the lips full, yet sufficiently compressed; the whole
expression that of pure and dignified womanhood. She puzzled him, and he
scarcely knew what to believe, or exactly how to act toward her.

"Our friends back yonder should be turning out from the corral by now," he
said finally, anxious to break the silence, for she had not spoken since
he ended his tale. "It will not be long until they discover Hawley's
predicament, and perhaps the welkin already rings with profanity. That may
even account for the blue haze out yonder."

She turned her eyes toward him, and the slightest trace of a smile
appeared from out the depths of their weariness.

"If they would only remain satisfied with that. Will they follow us, do
you think? And are we far enough away by this time to be safe?"

"It is hardly likely they will let us escape without a chase," he answered
slowly. "We possess too much information now that we have their rendezvous
located, and 'Black Bart' will have a private grudge to revenge. I wonder
if he suspects who attacked him! But don't worry, Miss Hope; we have miles
the start, and the wind has been strong enough to cover our trail. Do you
see that dark irregularity ahead?"

"Yes; is it a cloud?"

"No; the Arkansas sand dunes. I am going to try to keep the horses moving
until we arrive there. Then we will halt and eat whatever Neb has packed
behind him, and rest for an hour or two. You look very tired, but I hope
you can keep up for that distance. We shall be safely out of sight then."

"Indeed, I am tired; the strain of waiting alone in that cabin, and all
that happened last night, have tried me severely. But--but I can go

Her voice proved her weakness, although it was determined enough, and
Keith, yielding to sudden impulse, put out his hand, and permitted it to
rest upon hers, clasped across the pommel. Her eyes drooped, but there was
no change of posture.

"Your nerve is all right," he said, admiringly, "you have shown yourself a
brave girl."

"I could not be a coward, and be my father's daughter," she replied, with
an odd accent of pride in her choking voice, "but I have been afraid, and
--and I am still."

"Of what? Surely, not that those fellows will ever catch up with us?"

"No, I hardly know what, only there is a dread I cannot seem to shake off,
as if some evil impended, the coming of which I can feel, but not see.
Have you ever experienced any such premonition?"

He laughed, withdrawing his hand.

"I think not. I am far too prosaic a mortal to allow dreams to worry me.
So far I have discovered sufficient trouble in real life to keep my brain
active. Even now I cannot forget how hungry I am."

She did not answer, comprehending how useless it would be to explain, and
a little ashamed of her own ill-defined fears, and thus they rode on in
silence. He did not notice that she glanced aside at him shyly, marking
the outline of his clear-cut features, silhouetted against the far-off
sky. It was a manly face, strong, alive, full of character, the well-
shaped head firmly poised, the broad shoulders squared in spite of the
long night of weary exertion. The depths of her eyes brightened with

"I believe your story, Mr. Keith," she said at last softly.

"My story?" questioningly, and turning instantly toward her.

"Yes; all that you have told me about what happened."

"Oh; I had almost forgotten having told it, but I never felt any doubt but
what you would believe. I don't think I could lie to you."

It was no compliment, but spoken with such evident honesty that her eyes
met his with frankness.

"There could be no necessity; only I wanted you to know that I trust you,
and am grateful."

She extended her hand this time, and he took it within his own, holding it
firmly, yet without knowing what to answer. There was strong impulse
within him to question her, to learn then and there her own life story.
Yet, somehow, the reticence of the girl restrained him; he could not
deliberately probe beneath the veil she kept lowered between them. Until
she chose to lift it herself voluntarily, he possessed no right to
intrude. The gentlemanly instincts of younger years held him silent,
realizing clearly that whatever secret might dominate her life, it was
hers to conceal just so long as she pleased. Out of this swift struggle of
repression he managed to say:

"I appreciate your confidence, and mean to prove worthy. Perhaps some day
I can bring you the proofs."

"I need none other than your own word."

"Oh, but possibly you are too easily convinced; you believed in Hawley."

She looked at him searchingly, her eyes glowing, her cheeks flushed.

"Yes," she said slowly, convincingly. "I know I did; I--I was so anxious
to be helped, but--but this is different."

It was noon, the sun pitiless and hot above them, before they straggled
within the partial shelter of the sand dunes, and sank wearily down to
their meagre lunch. Their supply of water was limited, and the exhausted
ponies must wait until they reached the river to quench their thirst. Yet
this was not very far off now, and Keith had seen enough of their
surroundings to locate the position of the ford. Slow as they must
proceed, three hours more would surely bring them to the bank of the
stream. They discussed their plans briefly as the three sat together on
the warm sand, revived both by the food and the brief rest. There was not
a great deal to be determined, only where the girl should be left, and how
the two men had better proceed to escape observation.

Fort Larned was the nearest and safest place for their charge, none of the
party expressing any desire to adventure themselves within the immediate
neighborhood of Carson City. What her future plans might be were not
revealed, and Keith forebore any direct questioning. His duty plainly
ended with placing her in a safe environment, and he felt convinced that
Mrs. Murphy, of the Occidental Hotel, would furnish room, and, if
necessary, companionship. The sole problem remaining--after she had rather
listlessly agreed to such an arrangement--was to so plan the details as to
permit the negro and himself to slip through the small town clustered
about the post without attracting undue attention. No doubt, the story of
their escape had already reached there, embellished by telling, and
serious trouble might result from discovery. Keith was surprised at the
slight interest she exhibited in these arrangements, merely signifying her
acquiescence by a word, but he charged it to physical weariness, and the
reaction from her night of peril; yet he took pains to explain fully his
plan, and to gain her consent.

This finally settled, they mounted again and rode on through the lanes
traversing the sand dunes, keeping headed as straight as possible toward
the river. The ford sought was some miles down stream, but with the
horses' thirst mitigated, they made excellent progress, and arrived at the
spot early in the evening. Not in all the day had they encountered a
living object, or seen a moving thing amid the surrounding desolation.
Now, looking across to the north, a few gleaming lights told of Fort
Larned perched upon the opposite bluffs.

Chapter XIV

The Landlady of the Occidentals

Keith had crossed at this point so frequently with cattle that, once
having his bearings, the blackness of the night made very little
difference. Nevertheless, in fear lest her pony might stumble over some
irregularity, he gave his own rein to Neb, and went forward on foot,
grasping firmly the tired animal's bit. It was a long stretch of sand and
water extending from bank to bank, but the latter was shallow, the only
danger being that of straying off from the more solid bottom into
quicksand. With a towering cottonwood as guide, oddly misshapen and
standing out gauntly against the slightly lighter sky, the plainsman led
on unhesitatingly, until they began to climb the rather sharp uplift of
the north bank. Here there was a plain trail, pounded into smoothness by
the hoofs of cavalry horses ridden down to water, and at the summit they
emerged within fifty yards of the stables.

The few lights visible, some stationary, with others dancing about like
will-o'-the-wisps, revealed imperfectly the contour of various buildings,
but Keith turned sharply to the right, anxious to slip past without being
challenged by a sentry. Beyond the brow of the bluff other lights now
became visible, flickering here and there, marking where a straggling town
had sprung up under the protection of the post--a town garish enough in
the daylight, composed mostly of shacks and tents, but now with its
deficiencies mercifully concealed by the enveloping darkness. The trail,
easily followed, led directly along its single street, but Keith circled
the outskirts through a wilderness of tin-cans and heaps of other debris,
until he halted his charges beside the black shadow of the only two-story
edifice in the place. This was the Occidental, the hospitality of which he
had frequently tested.

A light streamed from out the front windows, but, uncertain who might be
harbored within, Keith tapped gently at the back door. It was not opened
immediately, and when it was finally shoved aside the merest crack, no
glow of light revealed the darkened interior. The voice which spoke,
however, was amply sufficient to identify its owner.

"Is that ye agin, Murphy, a playin' av yer dirthy thricks?"

"No, Mrs. Murphy," he hastened to explain, "this is Keith--Jack Keith, of
the 'Bar X.'"

"The Lord deliver us!" was the instant exclamation, the door opening wide.
"They do be afther tellin' me to-night av the throuble ye was in over at
Carson, an' Oi t'ought maybe ye moight turn up this way. It was a nate
thrick ye played on the loikes av 'em, Jack, but this is a dom poor place
fer ye ter hide in. Bedad, there's a half-dozen in the parly now talkin'
about it, wid a couple av officers from the fort. Is the nager wid ye?"

"Yes, but we have no intention of hiding here. I'd rather take my chance
in the open. The fact is, Kate, we started off for the 'Bar X.'"

"Av course, ye did; Oi was shure av it."

"But down on the Salt Fork we ran across a young girl whom Black Bart had
inveigled down that way on a lie. We had a bit of a fight, and got her
away from him. This is what brought us back here--to put the girl where
she will be safe out of his clutches."

The door was wide open now, and Mrs. Murphy outside, her interest at fever

"Ye had a foight wid Black Bart! Oh, ye divil! An' ye licked the dirthy
spalpane, an' got away wid his gyurl! Glory be! And would Oi take her?
Well, Oi would. Niver doubt that, me bye. She may be the quane av Shaba,
an' she may be a Digger Injun Squaw, but the loikes av him had betther
kape away from Kate Murphy. It's glad Oi am ter do it! Bring her in. Oi
don't want ter hear no more."

"Just a word, Kate; I don't know whether she has any money or not, but I
'll pay her bill, as soon as it is safe for me to come back."

"Oh, the divil take her bill. She'll have the best in the house, annyhow,
an' Oi'm only hopin' that fellow will turn up huntin' her. Oi'd loike ter
take one slap at the spalpane."

Fully convinced as to Mrs. Murphy's good-will, Keith slipped back into the
darkness, and returned with the girl. Introductions were superfluous, as
the mistress of the Occidental cared little regarding ceremony.

"An' is this you, my dear?" she burst out, endeavoring to curb her voice
to secretive softness. "Shure, Jack Keith has told me all about it, an'
it's safe it is yer goin' ter be here. Come on in; Oi'll give ye number
forty-two, thet's next behint me own room, an' we'll go up the back
sthairs. Hilp the young loidy, Jack, fer shure ye know the way."

She disappeared, evidently with some hospitable purpose in view, and
Keith, clasping the girl's hand, undertook the delicate task of safely
escorting her through the dark kitchen, and up the dimly remembered
stairs. Only a word or two passed between them, but as they neared the
second story a light suddenly streamed out through the opened door of a
room at their left. Mrs. Murphy greeted them at the landing, and for the
first time saw the girl's weary white face, her eyes filled with appeal,
and the warm Irish heart responded instantly.

"Ye poor little lamb; it's the bid ye want, an' a dhrap o' whiskey. Jack
Keith, why didn't ye till me she was done up wid the hard ride? Here,
honey, sit down in the rocker till Oi get ye a wee dhrink. It'll bring the
roses back to the cheeks av ye." She was gone, bustling down the dark
stairs, and the two were alone in the room, the girl looking up into his
face, her head resting against the cushioned back of the chair. He thought
he saw a glimmer of tears in the depths of her lash-shaded eyes, and her
round white throat seemed to choke.

"You will be perfectly secure here," he said, soothingly, "and can remain
as long as you please. Mrs. Murphy will guard you as though you were her
own daughter. She is a bit rough, maybe, but a big-hearted woman, and
despises Hawley. She nursed me once through a touch of typhoid--yes, by
Jove," glancing about in sudden recognition, "and in this very room, too."

The girl's glance wandered over the plain, neat furnishings, and the
rather pathetic attempts at decoration, yet with apparently no thought for

"You--you have not told me where you were going."

He laughed, a little uneasily, as though he preferred to make light of the
whole matter.

"Really, I have hardly decided, the world is so wide, and I had no reason
to suppose you interested."

"But I am interested," resenting his tone of assumed indifference. "I
would not want to feel that our acquaintance was to wholly end now."

"Do you really mean that?"

"Why should I not? You have been a real friend to me; I shall remember you
always with a gratitude beyond words. I want you to know this, and that--
that I shall ever wish to retain that friendship."

Keith struggled with himself, doubtful of what he had best say, swayed by
unfamiliar emotions.

"You may be sure I shall never forget," he blurted forth, desperately,
"and, if you really wish it, I'll certainly see you again."

"I do," earnestly.

"Then, I'll surely find a way. I don't know now which direction we will
ride, but I'm not going very far until I clear up that murder out yonder
on the trail; that is my particular job just now."

Before she could answer, Mrs. Murphy reentered, and forced her to drink
the concoction prepared, the girl accepting with smiling protest. The
landlady, empty glass in hand, swept her eyes about the room.

"Bedad, but the place looks betther than iver Oi'd belaved, wid the gyurl
Oi've got tindin' to it. She's that lazy she goes ter slape swapin' the
flure. Jack, would ye moind hilpin' me move the bid; shure, it's rale
mahogany, an' so heavy it breaks me back intoirely to push it 'round."

He took hold willingly enough, and the two together ran the heavy
contrivance across the room to the position selected. Once a leg caught in
the rag carpet, and Keith lifted it out, bending low to get a firmer grip.
Then he held out his hand to the girl.

"It is not going to be good-bye then, Miss Hope; I'll find you."

She smiled up into his eyes, much of the weariness gone from her face.

"I am going to believe that," she answered, gladly, "because I want to."

Mrs. Murphy lingered until his steps sounded on the stairs, as he slowly
felt his way down through the darkness.

"He do be a moighty foine bye, Jack Keith," she said, apparently
addressing the side wall. "Oi wish Oi'd a knowed him whin Oi was a gyurl;
shure, it's not Murphy me noime'd be now, Oi'm t'inkin'."

Left alone, the girl bowed her head on her hands, a hot tear stealing down
through her fingers. As she glanced up again, something that glittered on
the floor beside the bed caught her eyes. She stopped and picked it up,
holding the trinket to the light, staring at it as though fascinated. It
was the locket Keith had taken from the neck of the dead man at Cimmaron
Crossing. Her nerveless fingers pressed the spring, and the painted face
within looked up into her own, and still clasping it within her hand, she
sank upon her knees, burying her face on the bed.

"Where did he get that?" her lips kept repeating. "Where did he ever get

Chapter XV

Again Christie Maclaire

Keith possessed sufficient means for several months of idleness, and even
if he had not, his reputation as a plains scout would insure him
employment at any of the more important scattered army posts. Reliable men
for such service were in demand. The restlessness of the various Indian
tribes, made specially manifest by raids on the more advanced settlements,
and extending over a constantly widening territory, required continuous
interchange of communication between commanders of detachments. Bold and
reckless spirits had flocked to the frontier in those days following the
Civil War, yet all were not of the type to encourage confidence in
military authorities. Keith had already frequently served in this
capacity, and abundantly proved his worth under rigorous demands of both
endurance and intelligence, and he could feel assured of permanent
employment whenever desired. Not a few of the more prominent officers he
had met personally during the late war--including Sheridan, to whom he had
once borne a flag of truce,--yet the spirit of the Confederacy still
lingered in his heart: not in any feeling of either hatred or revenge, but
in an unwillingness to serve the blue uniform, and a memory of antagonism
which would not entirely disappear. He had surrendered at Appomattox,
conquered, yet he could not quite adjust himself to becoming companion-in-
arms with those against whom he had fought valiantly for four years. Some
of the wounds of that conflict still smarted. A natural soldier, anxious
to help the harassed settlers, eager enough to be actively employed, he
still held aloof from army connections except as a volunteer in case of

Just now other considerations caused him to desire freedom. He had been
accused of murder, imprisoned for it, and in order to escape, had been
compelled to steal horses, the most heinous crime of the frontier. Not
only for his own protection and safety must the truth of that occurrence
at the Cimmaron Crossing be made clear, but he also had now a personal
affair with "Black Bart" Hawley to be permanently settled. They had
already clashed twice, and Keith intended they should meet again.

Memory of the girl was still in his mind as he and Neb rode silently forth
on the black prairie, leading the extra horse behind them. He endeavored
to drive the recollection from his mind, so he might concentrate it upon
plans for the future, but somehow she mysteriously wove her own
personality into those plans, and he was ever seeing the pleading in her
eyes, and listening to the soft Southern accent of her voice. Of late
years he had been unaccustomed to association with women of high type, and
there was that touch of the gentlewoman about this girl which had awakened
deep interest. Of course he knew that in her case it was merely an
inheritance of her past, and could not truly represent the present
Christie Maclaire of the music halls. However fascinating she might be,
she could not be worthy any serious consideration. In spite of his rough
life the social spirit of the old South was implanted in his blood, and no
woman of that class could hold him captive. Yet, some way, she refused to
be banished or left behind. Even Neb must have been obsessed by a similar
spirit, for he suddenly observed:

"Dat am sutt'nly a mighty fine gal, Massa Jack. I ain't seen nothin' to
compare wid her since I quit ol' Virginia--'deed I ain't."

Keith glanced back at his black satellite, barely able to distinguish the
fellow's dim outlines.

"You think her a lady, then?" he questioned, giving thoughtless utterance
to his own imagination.

"'Deed I does!" the thick voice somewhat indignant. "I reck'n I knows de
real quality when I sees it. I'se 'sociated wid quality white folks

"But, Neb, she's a singer in dance halls."

"I don't believe it, Massa Jack."

"Well, I wouldn't if I could help it. She don't seem like that kind, but I
recognized her as soon as I got her face in the light. She was at the
Gaiety in Independence, the last time I was there. Hawley knew her too,
and called her by name."

Neb rubbed his eyes, and slapped his pony's flank, unable to answer, yet
still unconvinced.

"I reck'n both ob yer might be mistook," he insisted doggedly.

"Not likely," and Keith's brief laugh was not altogether devoid of
bitterness. "We both called her Christie Maclaire, and she didn't even
deny the name; she was evidently not proud of it, but there was no denial
that she was the girl."

"Dat wasn't like no name dat you called her when we was ridin'."

"No; she didn't approve of the other, and told me to call her Hope, but I
reckon she's Christie Maclaire all right."

They rode on through the black, silent night as rapidly as their tired
horses would consent to travel. Keith led directly across the open
prairie, guiding his course by the stars, and purposely avoiding the
trails, where some suspicious eye might mark their passage. His first
object was to get safely away from the scattered settlements lying east of
Carson City. Beyond their radius he could safely dispose of the horses
they rode, disappear from view, and find time to develop future plans. As
to the girl--well, he would keep his word with her, of course, and see her
again sometime. There would be no difficulty about that, but otherwise she
should retain no influence over him. She belonged rather to Hawley's class
than his.

It was a lonely, tiresome ride, during which Neb made various efforts to
talk, but finding his white companion uncommunicative, at last relapsed
into rather sullen silence. The horses plodded on steadily, and when
daylight finally dawned, the two men found themselves in a depression
leading down to the Smoky River. Here they came to a water hole, where
they could safely hide themselves and their stock. With both Indians and
white men to be guarded against, they took all the necessary precautions,
picketing the horses closely under the rock shadows, and not venturing
upon building any fire. Neb threw himself on the turf and was instantly
asleep, but Keith climbed the steep side of the gully, and made searching
survey of the horizon. The wide arc to south, east, and west revealed
nothing to his searching eyes, except the dull brown of the slightly
rolling plains, with no life apparent save some distant grazing antelope,
but to the north extended more broken country with a faint glimmer of
water between the hills. Satisfied they were unobserved, he slid back
again into the depression. As he turned to lie down he took hold of the
saddle belonging to Hawley's horse. In the unbuckled holster his eye
observed the glimmer of a bit of white paper. He drew it forth, and gazed
at it unthinkingly. It was an envelope, robbed of its contents, evidently
not sent through the mails as it had not been stamped, but across its face
was plainly written, "Miss Christie Maclaire." He stared at it, his lips
firm set, his gray eyes darkening. If he possessed any doubts before as to
her identity, they were all thoroughly dissipated now.

* * * * *

As he lay there, with head pillowed on the saddle, his body aching from
fatigue yet totally unable to sleep, staring open-eyed into the blue of
the sky, the girl they had left behind awoke from uneasy slumber, aroused
by the entrance of Mrs. Murphy. For an instant she failed to comprehend
her position, but the strong brogue of the energetic landlady broke in

"A bit av a cup av coffee fer ye, honey," she explained, crossing to the
bed. "Shure an' there's nuthin' loike it when ye first wake up. Howly
Mither, but it's toird 'nough ye do be lookin' yet."

"I haven't slept very well," the girl confessed, bringing her hand out
from beneath the coverlet, the locket still tightly clasped in her
fingers. "See, I found this on the floor last night after you had gone
down stairs."

"Ye did!" setting the coffee on a convenient chair, and reaching out for
the trinket. "Let's have a look at it once. Angels av Hiven, if it isn't
the same the ol' Gineral was showin' me in the parly."

The other sat up suddenly, her white shoulders and rounded throat

"The old General, you said? What General? When was he here?"

"Shure now, be aisy, honey, an' Oi 'll tell ye all there is to it. It's
not his name Oi know; maybe Oi niver heard till av it, but 'twas the
'Gineral' they called him, all right. He was here maybe three days
outfittin'--a noice spoken ol' gintlemin, wid a gray beard, an' onc't he
showed me the locket--be the powers, if it do be his, there's an openin'
to it, an' a picter inside."

The girl touched the spring, revealing the face within, but her eyes were
blinded with tears. The landlady looked at her in alarm.

"What is it, honey? What is it? Did you know him?"

The slender form swayed forward, shaken with sobs.

"He was my father, and--and this is my mother's picture which he always

"Then what is your name?"

"Hope Waite."

Kate Murphy looked, at the face half hidden in the bed-clothes. That was
not the name which Keith had given her, but she had lived on the border
too long to be inquisitive. The other lifted her head, flinging back her
loosened hair with one hand.

"Mr. Keith dropped it," she exclaimed. "Where do you suppose he got it?"
Then she gave a quick, startled cry, her eyes opening wide in horror. "The
Cimmaron Crossing, the murder at the Cimmaron Crossing! He--he told me
about that; but he never showed me this--this. Do you--do you think--"

Her voice failed, but Kate Murphy gathered her into her arms.

"Cry here, honey," she said, as if to a child. "Shure an' Oi don't know
who it was got kilt out yonder, but Oi'm tellin' ye it niver was Jack
Keith what did it--murther ain't his stoyle."

Chapter XVI

Introducing Doctor Fairbain

Headed as they were, and having no other special objective point in view,
it was only natural for the two fugitives to drift into Sheridan. This was
at that time the human cesspool of the plains country, a seething, boiling
maelstrom of all that was rough, evil, and brazen along the entire
frontier. Customarily quiet enough during the hours of daylight, the town
became a mad saturnalia with the approach of darkness, its ceaseless
orgies being noisily continued until dawn. But at this period all track
work on the Kansas Pacific being temporarily suspended by Indian
outbreaks, the graders made both night and day alike hideous, and the
single dirty street which composed Sheridan, lined with shacks, crowded
with saloons, the dull dead prairie stretching away on every side to the
horizon, was congested with humanity during every hour of the twenty-four.

It was a grim picture of depravity and desolation, the environment dull,
gloomy, forlorn; all that was worthy the eye or thought being the pulsing
human element. All about extended the barren plains, except where on one
side a ravine cut through an overhanging ridge. From the seething street
one could look up to the summit, and see there the graves of the many who
had died deaths of violence, and been borne thither in "their boots." Amid
all this surrounding desolation was Sheridan--the child of a few brief
months of existence, and destined to perish almost as quickly--the centre
of the grim picture, a mere cluster of rude, unpainted houses, poorly
erected shacks, grimy tents flapping in the never ceasing wind swirling
across the treeless waste, the ugly red station, the rough cow-pens filled
with lowing cattle, the huge, ungainly stores, their false fronts
decorated by amateur wielders of the paint brush, and the garish dens of
vice tucked in everywhere. The pendulum of life never ceased swinging.
Society was mixed; no man cared who his neighbor was, or dared to
question. Of women worthy the name there were few, yet there were flitting
female forms in plenty, the saloon lights revealing powdered cheeks and
painted eyebrows. It was a strange, restless populace, the majority here
to-day, disappearing to-morrow--cowboys, half-breeds, trackmen, graders,
desperadoes, gamblers, saloon-keepers, merchants, generally Jewish, petty
officials, and a riff-raff no one could account for, mere floating debris.
The town was an eddy catching odd bits of driftwood such as only the
frontier ever knew. Queer characters were everywhere, wrecks of
dissipation, derelicts of the East, seeking nothing save oblivion.

Everything was primitive--passion and pleasure ruled. To spend easily made
money noisily, brazenly, was the ideal. From dawn to dawn the search after
joy continued. The bagnios and dance halls were ablaze; the bar-rooms
crowded with hilarious or quarrelsome humanity, the gambling tables alive
with excitement. Men swaggered along the streets looking for trouble, and
generally finding it; cowboys rode into open saloon doors and drank in the
saddle; troops of congenial spirits, frenzied with liquor, spurred
recklessly through the street firing into the air, or the crowd, as their
whim led; bands played popular airs on balconies, and innumerable
"barkers" added their honeyed invitations to the perpetual din. From end
to end it was a saturnalia of vice, a babel of sound, a glimpse of the
inferno. Money flowed like water; every man was his own law, and the gun
the arbiter of destiny. The town marshal, with a few cool-headed deputies,
moved here and there amid the chaos, patient, tireless, undaunted, seeking
merely to exercise some slight restraint. This was Sheridan.

Into the one long street just at dusk rode Keith and Neb, the third horse
trailing behind. Already lights were beginning to gleam in the crowded
saloons, and they were obliged to proceed slowly. Leaving the negro at the
corral to find some purchaser for the animals, and such accommodations for
himself as he could achieve, Keith shouldered his way on foot through the
heterogeneous mass toward the only hotel, a long two-storied wooden
structure, unpainted, fronting the glitter of the Pioneer Dance Hall
opposite. A noisy band was splitting the air with discordant notes, a
loud-voiced "barker" yelling through the uproar, but Keith, accustomed to
similar scenes and sounds elsewhere, strode through the open door of the
hotel, and guided by the noisy, continuous clatter of dishes, easily found
his way to the dining-room. It was crowded with men, a few women scattered
here and there, most of the former in shirt-sleeves, all eating silently.
A few smaller tables at the back of the room were distinguished from the
others by white coverings in place of oil-cloth, evidently reserved for
the more distinguished guests. Disdaining ceremony, the newcomer wormed
his way through, finally discovering a vacant seat where his back would be
to the wall, thus enabling him to survey the entire apartment.

It was not of great interest, save for its constant change and the
primitive manner in which the majority attacked their food supply, which
was piled helter-skelter upon the long tables, yet he ran his eyes
searchingly over the numerous faces, seeking impartially for either friend
or enemy. No countenance present, as revealed in the dim light of the few
swinging lamps, appeared familiar, and satisfied that he remained unknown,
Keith began devoting his attention to the dishes before him, mentally
expressing his opinion as to their attractiveness. Chancing finally to
again lift his eyes, he met the gaze of a man sitting directly opposite, a
man who somehow did not seem exactly in harmony with his surroundings. He
was short and stockily built, with round rosy face, and a perfect shock of
wiry hair brushed back from a broad forehead; his nose wide but stubby,
and chin massive. Apparently he was between forty and fifty years of age,
exceedingly well dressed, his gray eyes shrewd and full of a grim humor.
Keith observed all this in a glance, becoming aware at the same time that
his neighbor was apparently studying him also. The latter broke silence
with a quick, jerky utterance, which seemed to peculiarly fit his personal

"Damn it all--know you, sir--sure I do--but for life of me can't tell

Keith stared across at him more searchingly, and replied, rather

"Probably a mistake then, as I have no recollection of your face."

"Never make a mistake, sir--never forget a face," the other snapped with
some show of indignation, his hands now clasped on the table, one stubby
forefinger pointed, as he leaned forward. "Don't tell me--I've seen you
somewhere--no, not a word--don't even tell me your name--I'm going to
think of it."

Keith smiled, not unwilling to humor the man's eccentricity, and returned
to his meal, with only an occasional inquiring glance across the table.
The other sat and stared at him, his heavy eyebrows wrinkled, as he
struggled to awaken memory. The younger man had begun on his pie when the
face opposite suddenly cleared.

"Damn me, I've got it--hell, yes; hospital tent--Shenandoah--bullet
imbedded under third rib--ordinary case--that's why I forgot--clear as mud
now--get the name in a minute--Captain--Captain Keith--that's it--shake

Puzzled at the unexpected recognition, yet realizing the friendliness of
the man, Keith grasped the pudgy fingers extended with some cordiality.

"Don't remember me I s'pose--don't think you ever saw me--delirious when I
came--hate to tell you what you was talking about--gave you hypodermic
first thing--behaved well enough though when I dug out the lead--Minie
bullet, badly blunted hitting the rib--thought you might die with blood
poison--couldn't stay to see--too damn much to do--evidently didn't
though--remember me now?"

"No, only from what you say. You must have been at General Waite's

"That's it--charge of Stonewall's field hospital--just happened to ride
into Waite's camp that night--damn lucky for you I did--young snip there
wanted to saw the bone--I stopped that--liked your face--imagined you
might be worth saving--ain't so sure of it now, or you wouldn't be out in
this God forsaken country, eating such grub--my name's Fairbain--Joseph
Wright Fairbain, M.D.--contract surgeon for the railroad--working on the

Keith shook his head, feeling awakening interest in his peculiar

"No; just drifted in here from down on the Arkansas," he explained,
briefly. "Did you know General Waite was dead?"

The doctor's ruddy face whitened.

"Dead?--Willis Waite dead?" he repeated. "What do you mean, sir? Are you
sure? When?"

"I ought to be sure; I buried him just this side the Cimmaron Crossing out
on the Santa Fe trail."

"But do you know it was General Waite?" the man's insistent tone full of

"I have no question about it," returned Keith, conclusively. "The man was
Waite's size and general appearance, with gray beard, similar to the one I
remember he wore during the war. He had been scalped, and his face beaten
beyond recognition, but papers in his pockets were sufficient to prove his
identity. Besides, he and his companion--a young fellow named Sibley--were
known to have pulled out two days before from Carson City."

"When was this?"

"Ten days ago."

Fairbain's lips smiled, the ruddy coloring sweeping back into his cheeks.

"Damn me, Keith, you came near giving me a shock," he said, jerkily.
"Shouldn't be so careless--not sure my heart's just right--tendency to
apoplexy, too--got to be guarded against. Now, let me tell you something--
maybe you buried some poor devil out at Cimmaron Crossing--but it wasn't
Willis Waite. How do I know? Because I saw him, and talked with him
yesterday--damn me, if I didn't, right here in this town."

Chapter XVII

In the Next Room

Keith, his eyes filled with undisguised doubt, studied the face of the man
opposite, almost convinced that he was, in some way, connected with the
puzzling mystery. But the honesty of the rugged face only added to his

"Are you certain you are not mistaken?"

"Of course I am, Keith. I've known Waite for fifteen years a bit
intimately--have met him frequently since the war--and I certainly talked
with him. He told me enough to partially confirm your story. He said he
had started for Santa Fe light, because he couldn't get enough men to run
a caravan--afraid of Indians, you know. So, he determined to take money--
buy Mexican goods--and risk it himself. Old fighting cock wouldn't turn
back for all the Indians on the plains once he got an idea in his head--he
was that kind--Lord, you ought to seen the fight he put up at
Spottsylvania! He got to Carson City with two wagons, a driver and a cook
--had eight thousand dollars with him, too, the damn fool. Cook got into
row, gambling, cut a man, and was jugged. Old Waite wouldn't leave even a
nigger in that sort of fix--natural fighter--likes any kind of row. So, he
hung on there at Carson, but had sense enough--Lord knows where he got it
--to put all but a few hundred dollars in Ben Levy's safe. Then, he went
out one night to play poker with his driver and a friend--had a drink or
two--doped, probably, and never woke up for forty-eight hours--lost
clothes, money, papers, and whole outfit--was just naturally cleaned out--
couldn't get a trace worth following after. You ought to have heard him
cuss when he told me--it seemed to be the papers that bothered him most--
them, and the mules."

"You say there was no trace?"

"Nothing to travel on after forty-eight hours--a posse started out next
morning, soon as they found him--when they got back they reported having
run the fellows as far as Cimmaron Crossing--there they got across into
the sand hills, and escaped."

"Who led the posse?"

"A man called Black, I think," he said.

"Black Bart?"

"Yes, that's the name; so, I reckon you didn't bury Willis Waite this
time, Captain. You wouldn't have thought he was a dead one if you had
heard him swear while he was telling the story--it did him proud; never
heard him do better since the second day at Gettysburg--had his ear shot
off then, and I had to fix him up--Lord, but he called me a few things."

Keith sat silent, fully convinced now that the doctor was telling the
truth, yet more puzzled than ever over the peculiar situation in which he
found himself involved.

"What brought the General up here?" he questioned, finally.

"I haven't much idea," was the reply. "I don't think I asked him directly.
I wasn't much interested. There was a hint dropped, however, now you speak
about it. He's keen after those papers, and doesn't feel satisfied
regarding the report of the posse. It's my opinion he's trailing after
Black Bart."

The dining-room was thinning out, and they were about the only ones left
at the tables. Keith stretched himself, looking around.

"Well, Doctor, I am very glad to have met you again, and to learn Waite is
actually alive. This is a rather queer affair, but will have to work
itself out. Anyway, I am too dead tired to-night to hunt after clues in
midst of this babel. I've been in the saddle most of the time for a week,
and have got to find a bed."

"I reckon you won't discover such a thing here," dryly. "Got seven in a
room upstairs, and others corded along the hall. Better share my cell--
only thing to do."

"That would be asking too much--I can turn in at the corral with Neb; I've
slept in worse places."

"Couldn't think of it, Keith," and the doctor got up. "Besides, you sleep
at night, don't you?"

"Usually, yes," the other admitted.

"Then you won't bother me any--no doctor sleeps at night in Sheridan;
that's our harvest time. Come on, and I'll show you the way. When morning
comes I'll rout you out and take my turn."

Keith had enjoyed considerable experience in frontier hotels, but nothing
before had ever quite equalled this, the pride of Sheridan. The product of
a mushroom town, which merely existed by grace of the temporary railway
terminus, it had been hastily and flimsily constructed, so it could be
transported elsewhere at a moment's notice. Every creak of a bed echoed
from wall to wall. The thin partitions often failed to reach the ceiling
by a foot or two, and the slightest noise aroused the entire floor. And
there was noise of every conceivable kind, in plenty, from the blare of a
band at the Pioneer Dance Hall opposite, to the energetic cursing of the
cook in the rear. A discordant din of voices surged up from the street
below--laughter, shouts, the shrieks of women, a rattle of dice, an
occasional pistol shot, and the continuous yelling of industrious
"barkers." There was no safety anywhere. An exploding revolver in No. 47
was quite likely to disturb the peaceful slumbers of the innocent occupant
of No. 15, and every sound of quarrel in the thronged bar-room below
caused the lodger to curl up in momentary expectation of a stray bullet
coursing toward him through the floor. With this to trouble him, he could
lie there and hear everything that occurred within and without. Every
creak, stamp, and snore was faithfully reported; every curse, blow, snarl
reechoed to his ears. Inside was hell; outside was Sheridan.

Wearied, and half dead, as Keith was, sleep was simply impossible. He
heard heavy feet tramping up and down the hall; once a drunken man
endeavored vainly to open his door; not far away there was a scuffle, and
the sound of a body falling down stairs. In some distant apartment a
fellow was struggling to draw off his tight boots, skipping about on one
foot amid much profanity. That the boot conquered was evident when the man
crawled into the creaking bed, announcing defiantly, "If the landlord
wants them boots off, let him come an' pull 'em off." Across the hall was
a rattle of chips, and the voices of several men, occasionally raised in
anger. Now and then they would stamp on the floor as an order for liquid
refreshments from below. From somewhere beyond, the long-drawn melancholy
howl of a distressed dog greeted the rising moon.

Out from all this pandemonium Keith began to unconsciously detect the
sound of voices talking in the room to his left. In the lull of
obstructing sound a few words reached him through the slight open space
between wall and ceiling.

"Hell, Bill, what's the use goin' out again when we haven't the price?"

"Oh, we might find Bart somewhere, and he'd stake us. I guess I know
enough to make him loosen up. Come on; I'm goin'."

"Not me; this town is too near Fort Hays; I'm liable to run into some of
the fellows."

A chair scraped across the floor as Bill arose to his feet; evidently from
the noise he had been drinking, but Keith heard him lift the latch of the

"All right, Willoughby," he said, thickly, "I'll try my luck, an' if I see
Bart I'll tell him yer here. So long."

He shuffled along the hall and went, half sliding, down stairs, and Keith
distinguished the click of glass and bottle in the next room. He was
sitting up in bed now, wide awake, obsessed with a desire to investigate.
The reference overheard must have been to Hawley, and if so, this
Willoughby, who was afraid of meeting soldiers from the fort, would be the
deserter Miss Hope was seeking. There could be no harm in making sure, and
he slipped into his clothes, and as silently as possible, unlatched his
door. There was a noisy crowd at the farther end of the hall, and the
sound of some one laboriously mounting the stairs. Not desiring to be
seen, Keith slipped swiftly toward the door of the other room, and tried
the latch. It was unfastened, and he stepped quietly within, closing it
behind him.

A small lamp was on the washstand, a half-emptied bottle and two glasses
beside it, while a pack of cards lay scattered on the floor. Fully
dressed, except for a coat, the sole occupant lay on the bed, but started
up at Keith's unceremonious entrance, reaching for his revolver, which had
slipped to the wrong side of his belt.

"What the hell!" he exclaimed, startled and confused.

The intruder took one glance at him through the dingy light--a boy of
eighteen, dark hair, dark eyes, his face, already exhibiting signs of
dissipation, yet manly enough in chin and mouth--and smiled.

"I could draw while you were thinking about it," he said, easily, "but I
am not here on the fight. Are you Fred Willoughby?"

The lad stared at him, his uncertain hand now closed on the butt of his
revolver, yet held inactive by the other's quiet assurance.

"What do you want to know for?"

"Curiosity largely; thought I'd like to ask you a question or two."

"You--you're not from the fort?"

"Nothing to do with the army; this is a private affair."

The boy was sullen from drink, his eyes heavy.

"Then who the devil are you? I never saw you before."

"That's very true, and my name wouldn't help any. Nevertheless, you're
perfectly welcome to it. I am Jack Keith." No expression of recognition
came into the face of the other, and Keith added curtly, "Shall we talk?"

There was a moment's silence, and then Willoughby swung his feet over the
edge of the bed onto the floor.

"Fire away," he said shortly, "until I see what the game is about."

Chapter XVIII

Interviewing Willoughby

Cooly, yet without in the least comprehending how best to proceed, Keith
drew toward him the only chair in the room, and sat down. Miss Hope--more
widely known as Christie Maclaire--had claimed this drunken lad as her
brother, but, according to Hawley, he had vehemently denied any such
relationship. Yet there must be some previous association between the two,
and what this was the plainsman proposed to discover. The problem was how
best to cause the fellow to talk frankly--could he be reached more easily
by reference to the girl or the gambler? Keith studying the sullen,
obstinate face confronting him, with instinctive antagonism over his
intrusion, swiftly determined on the girl.

"It was not very nice of me to come in on you this way," he began,
apologetically, "but you see I happen to know your sister."

"My sister? Oh, I guess not!"

"Yes, but I do," throwing a confidence into his tone he was far from
feeling, "Miss Hope and I are friends."

The boy sprang to his feet, his face flushed.

"Oh, you mean Hope? Do you know her? Say, I thought you were giving me
that old gag about Christie Maclaire."

"Certainly not; who is she?"

"That's more than I know; fellow came to me at Carson, and said he'd met
my sister on a stage west of Topeka. I knew he was lyin', because she's
home over in Missouri. Finally, I got it out of him that she claimed to be
my sister, but her name was Maclaire. Why, I don't even know her, and what
do you suppose she ever picked me out for her brother for?"

He was plainly puzzled, and perfectly convinced it was all a mistake. That
his sister might have left home since he did, and drifted West under an
assumed name, apparently never occurred to him as possible. To Keith this
was the explanation, and nothing could be more natural, considering her
work, yet he did not feel like shattering the lad's loyalty. Faith in the
sister might yet save him.

"Perhaps the fellow who told you," he hazarded blindly, speaking the first
thought which came to his mind, "had some reason to desire to make you
think this Maclaire girl was your sister."

The suggestion caused him to laugh at first; then his face suddenly
sobered, as though a new thought had occurred to him.

"Damn me, no, it couldn't be that," he exclaimed, one hand pressing his
head. "He couldn't be workin' no trick of that kind on me."

"Whom do you mean?"

"A fellow named Hawley," evasively. "The man who claimed to have met my

"'Black Bart' Hawley?"

The boy lifted his head again, his eyes filled with suspicion.

"Yes, if you must know; he's a gambler all right, but he's stuck to me
when I was down and out. You know him?"

"Just a little," carelessly; "but what sort of a trick could he be working
trying to make you acknowledge Christie Maclaire as your sister?"

Willoughby did not answer, shifting uneasily about on the bed. Keith
waited, and at last the boy blurted out:

"Oh, it wasn't nothing much. I told him something when I was drunk once,
that I thought maybe might have stuck to him. Odd he should make that
mistake, too, for I showed him Hope's picture. Bart's a schemer, and I
didn't know but what he might have figured out a trick, though I don't see
how he could. It wasn't no more than a pipe dream, I reckon. Where did you
meet Hope? Back in Missouri?"

One thing was clearly evident--the boy's faith in his sister. If he was to
be rightly influenced, and led back to her, he must have no suspicion
aroused that her life was any different from what it had been before he
left home. Besides if Keith hoped to gain any inkling of what Hawley's
purpose could be, he must win the confidence of Willoughby. This could not
be done by telling him of Hope's present life. These considerations
flashed through his mind, and as swiftly determined his answer.

"Oh, I've known her some time. Not long ago I did her a service for which
she is grateful. Did you know she was out in this country searching for

"Out here? In Kansas?"

"Sure; that isn't much of a trip for a spirited girl. She got it in her
head from your letters that you were in trouble, and set out to find you
and bring you home. She didn't tell me this, but that is the way I heard
it. It was for her sake I came in here. Why not go to her, Willoughby, and
then both of you return to Missouri?"

The sullenness had gone out of the boy's face: he looked tired,

"Where is Hope?" he asked.

"Fort Larned, I suppose. She went to Carson City first."

"Well, that settles it," shaking his head. "You don't suppose I could go
browsin' 'round Larned, and not get snapped up, do you? They don't chase
deserters very far out here, but that's the post I skipped from, and
they'd jug me all right. Besides, I'm damned if I'll go back until I get a
stake. I want to see a fellow first."

"What fellow?"

"Well, it's Hawley, if you want to know so bad. He said if I would come
here and wait for him he'd put me on to a good thing."

The boy fidgetted along the edge of the bed, evidently half ashamed of
himself, yet obstinate and unyielding. Keith sat watching his face, unable
to evolve any means of changing his decision. Hawley's influence just at
present was greater than Hope's, because the lad naturally felt ashamed to
go slinking home penniless and defeated. His pride held him to Hawley, and
his faith that the man would redeem his promise. Keith understood all this
readily enough, and comprehended also that if "Black Bart" had any use for
the boy it would be for some criminal purpose. What was it? Was there a
deeply laid plot back of all these preparations involving both Willoughby
and his sister? What was it Hawley was scheming about so carefully,
holding this boy deserter in one hand, while he reached out the other
after Christie Maclaire? Surely, the man was not working blindly; he must
have a purpose in view. Willoughby had acknowledged he had told the fellow
something once when he was drunk--about his family history, no doubt, for
he had shown him Hope's picture. What that family secret was Keith had no
means of guessing, but Hawley, the moment he saw the face on the
cardboard, had evidently recognized Christie Maclaire--had thought of some
way in which what he now knew could be turned to advantage. The few
scattered facts which Keith had collected all seemed to point to such a
conclusion--Hawley had sent the boy to Sheridan, where he would be out of
sight, with orders to wait for him there, and the promise of a "stake" to
keep him quiet. Then he had gone to Independence and Topeka seeking after
Christie Maclaire. Evidently he meant to keep the two apart until he had
gained from each whatever it was he sought. But what could that be? What
family secret could Willoughby have blurted out in his cups, which had so
stimulated the gambler's wits?

Two things combined to cause Keith to determine he would uncover this
rascality,--his desire to repay Hawley, and his interest in the girl
rescued on the Salt Fork. This gossamer web of intrigue into which he had
stumbled unwittingly was nothing to him personally; had it not involved
both Hawley and Miss Hope, he would have left it unsolved without another
thought. But under the circumstances it became his own battle. There was a
crime here--hidden as yet, and probably not consummated--involving wrong,
perhaps disgrace, to the young girl. He had rescued her once from out the
clutches of this man, and he had no intention of deserting her now.
Whatever her life might be, she was certainly an innocent victim in this
case, deserving his protection. The memory came to him of her face
upturned toward him in that little room of the Occidental, her eyes
tear-dimmed, her lips asking him to come back to her again. He could not
believe her a bad woman, and his lips compressed, his eyes darkened, with
fixed determination. He would dig into this until he uncovered the truth;
he would find out what dirty trick "Black Bart" was up to.

As he thought this out, not swiftly as recorded, but slowly, deliberately,
piecing the bits together within his mind, blindly feeling his way to a
final conclusion, the boy had sunk back upon the bed, overcome with
liquor, and fallen asleep. Keith stepped over, and looked down upon him in
the dim light. He could recognize something of her features in the
upturned face, and his eyes softened. There was no use seeking again to
arouse him; even had he been sober, he would not have talked freely. Keith
lifted the dangling feet into a more comfortable position, turned the lamp
lower, went out, and latched the door. Two men were tramping heavily up
the stairs, and they turned into the hall at the very moment he
disappeared within his own room. He still retained his grasp upon the
latch, when a voice outside asked:

"What number did you say, Bill--29?"

Keith straightened up as though suddenly pricked by a knife; he could
never forget that voice--it was Hawley's.

Chapter XIX

A Glimpse at Conspiracy

Leaning against the inside of his own door, startled by the rapid sequence
of events, Keith was able, from different sounds reaching him, to mentally
picture most of what occurred in the next room. He heard Bill sink down
into the convenient chair, and drink from the bottle, while the gambler
apparently advanced toward the bed, where he stood looking down on its
unconscious occupant.

"The fool is dead drunk," he declared disgustedly. "We can't do anything
with him to-night."

"I say--throw bucket water over him," hiccoughed the other genially,
"allers sobers me off."

Hawley made no response, evidently finding a seat on one end of the

"Hardly worth while, Scott," he returned finally. "Perhaps I better have
some understanding with Christie, anyhow, before I pump the boy any
further. If we can once get her working with us, Willoughby won't have
much hand in the play--we shan't need him. Thought I told you to keep

"Am sober," solemnly, "ain't had but six drinks; just nat'rly tired out."

"Oh, indeed; well, such a room as this would drive any man to drink. Did
you get what I sent you here after?"

"I sure did, Bart," and Keith heard the fellow get to his feet unsteadily.
"Here's the picture, an' some letters. I didn't take only what he had in
the grip."

Hawley shuffled the letters over in his hands, apparently hastily reading
them with some difficulty in the dim light.

"Nothing there to give us any help," he acknowledged reluctantly, "mostly
advice as far as I can see. Damn the light; a glow worm would be better."
There was a pause; then he slapped his leg. "However, it's clear they live
in Springfield, Missouri, and this photograph is a peach. Just look here,
Bill! What did I tell you? Ain't Christie a dead ringer for this girl?"

"You bet she is, Bart," admitted the other in maudlin admiration, "only, I
reckon, maybe some older."

"Well, she ought to be accordin' to Willoughby's story, an' them papers
bear him out all right, so I reckon he's told it straight--this Phyllis
would be twenty-six now, and that's just about what Christie is. It
wouldn't have fit better if we had made it on purpose. If the girl will
only play up to the part we won't need any other evidence--her face would
be enough."

Keith could hear the beating of his own heart in the silence that
followed. Here was a new thought, a new understanding, a complete new turn
to affairs. Christie Maclaire, then, was not Willoughby's sister Hope. The
girl he rescued on the desert--the girl with the pleading brown eyes, and
the soft blur of the South on her lips--was not the music hall singer. He
could hardly grasp the truth at first, it antagonized so sharply with all
he had previously believed. Yet, if this were true his own duty became
clearer than ever; aye, and would be more willingly performed. But what
did Hawley know? Did he already realize that the girl he had first met on
the stage coach, and later inveigled into the desert, was Hope, and not
the music hall artist? He, of course, fully believed her to be Christie
Maclaire at that time, but something might have occurred since to change
that belief. Anyhow, the man was not now seeking Hope, but the other.
Apparently the latter was either already here in Sheridan or expected
soon. And exactly what was it the gambler desired this Maclaire woman to
do? This was the important matter, and for its solution Keith possessed
merely a few hints, a few vague suggestions. She was expected to represent
herself as Phyllis--Phyllis who? Some Phyllis surely whose physical
resemblance to Hope must be sufficiently marked to be at once noticeable.
Willoughby had evidently revealed to Hawley some hidden family secret,
having money involved, no doubt, and in which the discovery of this
mysterious Phyllis figured. She might, perhaps, be a sister, or half-
sister, who had disappeared, and remained ignorant as to any inheritance.
Hope's picture shown by the boy, and reminding Hawley at once of Christie
Maclaire, had been the basis of the whole plot. Exactly what the details
of that plot might be Keith could not figure out, but one thing was
reasonably certain--it was proposed to defraud Hope. And who in the very
truth was Hope? It suddenly occurred to him as a remarkably strange fact
that he possessed not the slightest inkling as to the girl's name. Her
brother had assumed to be called Willoughby when he enlisted in the army,
and his companions continued to call him this. If he could interview the
girl now for only five minutes he should be able probably to straighten
out the whole intricate tangle. But where was she? Would she have remained
until this time at Fort Larned with Kate Murphy?

There was a noise of movement in the next room. Apparently as Hawley arose
carelessly from his edge of the washstand he had dislodged the glass,
which fell shivering on the floor. Scott swore audibly at the loss.

"Shut up, Bill," snapped the gambler, irritated, "you've got the bottle
left. I'm going; there's nothing for any of us to do now, until after I
see Christie. You remain here! Do you understand?--remain here. Damn me,
if that drunken fool isn't waking up." There was a rattling of the rickety
bed, and then the sound of Willoughby's voice, thick from liquor.

"Almighty glad see you, Bart--am, indeed. Want money--Bill an' I both want
money--can't drink without money--can't eat without money--shay, when you
goin' stake us?"

"I'll see you again in the morning, Fred," returned the other briefly. "Go
on back to sleep."

"Will when I git good an' ready--go sleep, stay wake, just as I please--
don't care damn what yer do--got new frien' now."

"A new friend? Who?" Hawley spoke with aroused interest.

"Oh, he's all right--he's mighty fine fellow--come in wisout in--
invitation--ol' friend my sister--called--called her Hope--you fool, Bart
Hawley, think my sister Christie--Christie--damfino the name--my sister,
Hope--don't want yer money--my--my new friend, he 'll stake me--he knows
my sister--Hope."

The gambler grasped the speaker, shaking him into some slight semblance of

"Now, look here, Willoughby, I want the truth, and mean to have it," he
insisted. "Has some one been in here while Scott was gone?"

"Sure--didn't I just tell yer?--friend o' Hope's."

"Who was he? Speak up! I want the name!"

There was a faint gurgling sound, as though the gambler's vise-like
fingers were at the boy's throat; a slight struggle, and then the choked
voice gasped out:

"Let up! damn yer! He called himself Jack Keith."

The dead silence which ensued was broken only by heavy breathing. Then
Scott swore, bringing his fist down with a crash on the washstand.

"That rather stumps yer, don't it, Bart? Well, it don't me. I tell yer
it's just as I said from the first. It was Keith an' that nigger what
jumped ye in the cabin. They was hidin' there when we rode in. He just
nat'rly pumped the gal, an' now he's up here trailin' you. Blame it all,
it makes me laugh."

"I don't see what you see to laugh at. This Keith isn't an easy man to
play with, let me tell you. He may have got on to our game."

"Oh, hell, Bart, don't lose your nerve. He can't do anything, because
we've got the under holt. He's a fugitive; all we got to do is locate him,
an' have him flung back inter jail--there's murder an' hoss-stealing agin

Hawley seemed to be thinking swiftly, while his companion took another

"Well, pard, ain't that so?"

"No, that trick won't work, Scott. We could do it easily enough if we were
down in Carson, where the boys would help us out. The trouble up here is
that 'Wild Bill' Hickock is Marshal of Sheridan, and he and I never did
hitch. Besides, Keith was one of his deputies down at Dodge two years ago
--you remember when Dutch Charlie's place was cleaned out? Well, Hickock
and Keith did that job all alone, and 'Wild Bill' isn't going back on that
kind of a pal, is he? I tell you we've got to fight this affair alone, and
on the quiet. Maybe the fellow don't know much yet, but he's sure on the
trail, or else he wouldn't have been in here talking to Willoughby. We've
got to get him, Scott, somehow. Lord, man, there's a clean million dollars
waiting for us in this deal, and I'm ready to fight for it. But I'm damned
sleepy, and I'm going to bed. You locate Keith to-morrow, and then, when
you're sober, we'll figure out how we can get to him best; I've got to set
Christie right. Good-night, Bill."

He went out into the hall and down the creaking stairs, the man he wanted
so badly listening to his descending footsteps, half tempted to follow.
Scott did not move, perhaps had already fallen drunkenly asleep on his
chair, and finally Keith crossed his own room, and lay down. The din
outside continued unabated, but the man's intense weariness overcame it
all, and he fell asleep, his last conscious thought a memory of Hope.

Chapter XX

Hope Goes to Sheridan

The discovery of the locket which had fallen from about Keith's neck made
it impossible for Hope to remain quietly for very long in the hotel at
Fort Larned. The more carefully she thought over the story of that murder
at the Cimmaron Crossing, and Keith's tale of how he had discovered and
buried the mutilated bodies, the more assured she became that that was
where this locket came from, and that the slain freighter must have been
her own father. She never once questioned the truth of Keith's report;
there was that about the man which would not permit of her doubting him.
He had simply failed to mention what he removed from the bodies, supposing
this would be of no special interest.

Mrs. Murphy, hoping thus to quiet the apprehensions of her charge, set
herself diligently at work to discover the facts. As her house was filled
with transients, including occasional visitors from Carson City, and was
also lounging headquarters for many of the officers from the near-by fort,
she experienced no difficulty in picking up all the floating rumors. Out
of these, with Irish shrewdness, she soon managed to patch together a
consistent fabric of fact.

"Shure, honey, it's not so bad the way they tell it now," she explained,
consolingly. "Nobody belaves now it was yer father that got kilt. It was
two fellers what stole his outfit, clothes an' all, an' was drivin' off
wid 'em inter the sand hills. Divil a wan does know who kilt 'em, but
there's some ugly stories travellin' about. Some says Injuns; some says
the posse run 'em down; an' Black Bart an' his dirthy outfit, they swear
it was Keith. Oi've got me own notion. Annyhow, there's 'bout three
hundred dollars, some mules, an' a lot o' valyble papers missin'."

"But if it wasn't father, where is he now?"

"That's what Oi've been tryin' ter foind out. First off he went out to the
Cimmaron Crossing, gyarded by a squad o' cavalry from the fort here. Tommy
Caine wint along, an' told me all about it. They dug up the bodies, but
niver a thing did they find on 'em--not a paper, nor a dollar. They'd bin
robbed all roight. The owld Gineral swore loike a wild mon all the way
back, Tommy said, an' the first thing he did at Carson City was to start
huntin' fer 'Black Bart.' He was two days gittin' on the trail av him;
then he heard the feller was gone away trapsing after a singin' or dancin'
gyurl called Christie Maclaire. She was supposed to be ayther at Topeky or
Sheridan. A freighter told the owld man she was at Sheridan, an' so he
started there overland, hopin' ter head off 'Black Bart.' Oi reckon we
could a towld mor 'n that."

"What do you mean?"

"Why shure, honey, what's the use tryin' ter decave me? Didn't Jack Keith,
wid his own lips, tell me ye was Christie Maclaire?"

"But I'm not! I'm not, Mrs. Murphy. I don't even know the woman. It is
such a strange thing; I cannot account for it--both those men mistook me
for her, and--and I let them. I didn't care who the man Hawley supposed me
to be, but I intended to have told Mr. Keith he was mistaken. I don't know
why I didn't, only I supposed he finally understood. But I want you to
believe, Mrs. Murphy--I am Hope Waite, and not Christie Maclaire."

"It's little the loss to ye not ter be her, an' Oi'm thinkin' loikely Jack
Keith will be moighty well plased ter know the truth. What's 'Black Bart'
so ayger ter git hold av this Maclaire gyurl fer?"

"I do not in the least know. He must have induced me to go to that place
in the desert believing me to be the other woman. Yet he said nothing of
any purpose; indeed, he found no opportunity."

Mrs. Murphy shook her head disparagingly.

"It was shure some divilment," she asserted, stoutly. "He'll be up to some
thrick wid the poor gyurl; Oi know the loikes av him. Shure, the two av
yez must look as much aloike as two payes in a pod. Loikely now, it's a
twin sister ye've got?"

Hope smiled, although her eyes were misty.

"Oh, no; Fred and I were the only children; but what shall I do? What
ought I to do?"

The Irish mouth of Kate Murphy set firmly, her blue eyes burning.

"It's not sthrong Oi am on advisin'," she said, shortly, "but if it was me
Oi'd be fer foindin' out what all this mix-up was about. There's somethin'
moighty quare in it. It's my notion that Hawley's got hold av thim papers
av yer father's. The owld gint thinks so, too, an' that's why he's so hot
afther catchin' him. May the divil admoire me av Oi know where this
Maclaire gyurl comes in, but Oi'll bet the black divil has get her marked
fer some part in the play. What would Oi do? Be goory, Oi'd go to
Sheridan, an' foind the Gineral, an' till him all I knew. Maybe he could
piece it together, an' guess what Hawley was up ter."

Hope was already upon her feet, her puzzled face brightening.

"Oh, that is what I wanted to do, but I was not sure it would be best. How
can I get there from here?"

"Ye'd have ter take the stage back to Topeky; loikely they'd be runnin'
thrains out from there on the new road. It'll be aisy fer me ter foind out
from some av the lads down below."

The only equipment operating into Sheridan was a construction train, with
an old battered passenger coach coupled to the rear. A squad of heavily
armed infantrymen rode along, as protection against possible Indian
raiders, but there was no crowd aboard on this special trip, as all
construction work had been suspended on the line indefinitely, and most of
the travel, therefore, had changed to the eastward. The coach used had a
partition run through it, and, as soon as the busy trainmen discovered
ladies on board, they unceremoniously drove the more bibulous passengers,
protesting, into the forward compartment. This left Hope in comparative
peace, her remaining neighbors quiet, taciturn men, whom she looked at
through the folds of her veil during the long, slow, exasperating journey,
mentally guessing at their various occupations. It was an exceedingly
tedious, monotonous trip, the train slackening up, and jerking forward,
apparently without slightest reason; then occasionally achieving a full
stop, while men, always under guard, went ahead to fix up some bit of
damaged track, across which the engineer dared not advance. At each bridge
spanning the numerous small streams, trainmen examined the structure
before venturing forward, and at each stop the wearied passengers grew
more impatient and sarcastic, a perfect stream of fluent profanity being
wafted back whenever the door between the two sections chanced to be left

Hope was not the only woman on board, yet a glance at the others was
sufficient to decide their status, even had their freedom of manner and
loud talking not made it equally obvious. Fearful lest she might be
mistaken for one of the same class, she remained in silence, her veil
merely lifted enough to enable her to peer out through the grimy window at
the barren view slipping slowly past. This consisted of the bare prairie,
brown and desolate, occasionally intersected by some small watercourse,
the low hills rising and falling like waves to the far horizon. Few
incidents broke the dead monotony; occasionally a herd of antelope
appeared in the distance silhouetted against the sky-line, and once they
fairly crept for an hour through a mass of buffalo, grazing so close that
a fusillade of guns sounded from the front end of the train. A little
farther along she caught a glimpse of a troop of wild horses dashing
recklessly down into a sheltering ravine. Yet principally all that met her
straining eyes was sterile desolation. Here and there a great ugly water
tank reared its hideous shape beside the track, the engine always pausing
for a fresh supply. Beside it was invariably a pile of coal, a few
construction cars, a hut half buried under earth, loop-holed and
barricaded, with several rough men loafing about, heavily armed and
inquisitive. A few of these points had once been terminal, the surrounding
scenery evidencing past glories by piles of tin cans, and all manner of
debris, with occasionally a vacant shack, left deserted and forlorn.

Wearied and heartsick, Hope turned away from this outside dreariness to
contemplate more closely her neighbors on board, but found them scarcely
more interesting. Several were playing cards, others moodily staring out
of the windows, while a few wefe laughing and talking with the girls,
their conversation inane and punctuated with profanity. One man was
figuring on a scratch pad, and Hope decided he must be an engineer
employed on the line; others she classed as small merchants, saloon-
keepers, and frontier riff-raff. They would glance curiously at her as
they marched up and down the narrow aisle, but her veil, and averted face,
prevented even the boldest from speaking, Once she addressed the
conductor, and the man who was figuring turned and looked back at her,
evidently attracted by the soft note of her voice. But he made no effort
at advances, returning immediately to his pad, oblivious to all else.

It was growing dusk, the outside world, now consisting of level plains,
fading into darkness, with a few great stars burning overhead. Trainsmen
lit the few smoking oil lamps screwed against the sides of the car, and
its occupants became little more than dim shadows. All by this time were
fatigued into silence, and several were asleep, finding such small comfort
as was possible on the cramped seats. Hope glanced toward the heretofore
noisy group at the rear--the girl nearest her rested with unconscious head
pillowed upon the shoulder of her man friend, and both were sleeping. How
haggard and ghastly the woman's powdered face looked, with the light just
above it, and all semblance of joy gone. It was as though a mask had been
taken off. Out in the darkness the engine whistled sharply and then came
to a bumping stop at some desert station. Through the black window a few
lanterns could be seen flickering about, and there arose the sound of
gruff voices speaking. The sleepers inside, aroused by the sharp stop,
rolled over and swore, seeking easier postures. Then the front door
opened, and slammed shut, and a new passenger entered. He came down the
aisle, glancing carelessly at the upturned faces, and finally sank into
the seat directly opposite Hope. He was a broad shouldered man, his coat
buttoned to the throat, with strong face showing clearly beneath the broad
hat brim and lighted up with a pair of shrewd, kindly eyes. The conductor
came through, nodded at him, and passed on. Hope thought he must be some
official of the road, and ventured to break the prolonged silence with a

"Could you tell me how long it will be before we reach Sheridan?"

She had partially pushed aside her veil in order to speak more clearly,
and the man, turning at sound of her voice, took off his hat, his
searching eyes quizzical.

"Well, no, I can't, madam," the words coming with a jerk. "For I'm not at
all sure we'll keep the track. Ought to make it in an hour, however, if
everything goes right. Live in Sheridan?"

She shook her head, uncertain how frankly to answer.

"No loss to you--worst place to live in on earth--no exceptions--I know--
been there myself three months--got friends there likely?"

"I hardly know," she acknowledged doubtfully. "I think so, but I shall
have to hunt some place in which to stay to-night. Can you tell me of
some--some respectable hotel, or boarding house?"

The man wheeled about, until he could look at her more clearly.

"That's a pretty hard commission, Miss," he returned uneasily: "There may
be such a place in Sheridan, but I have never found it. Old Mother
Shattuck keeps roomers, but she won't have a woman in the house. I reckon
you 'll have to try it at the hotel--I'll get you in there if I have to
mesmerize the clerk--you'll find it a bit noisy though."

"Oh, I thank you so much. I don't mind the noise, so it is respectable."

He laughed, good humoredly.

"Well I don't propose to vouch for that--the proprietor ain't out there
for his health--but, I reckon, you won't have no serious trouble--the boys
mostly know a good woman when they see one--which isn't often--anyhow,
they're liable to be decent enough as long as I vouch for you."

"But you know nothing of me."

"Don't need to--your face is enough--I'll get you the room all right."

She hesitated, then asked:

"Are you--are you connected with the railroad??'

"In a way, yes--I'm the contract surgeon--had to dig a bullet out of a
water-tank tender back yonder--fellow howled as though I was killing him

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