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Keith of the Border by Randall Parrish

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--no nerve--mighty poor stuff most of the riff-raff out here--ball wasn't
in much below the skin--Indian must have plugged him from the top of the
bluff--blame good shot too--ragged looking slug--like to see it?"

She shook her head energetically.

"Don't blame you--nothing very uncommon--get a dozen cases like it a day
sometimes--stay in Sheridan, show you something worth while--very pretty
surgical operation to-morrow--come round and get you if you care to see
it--got to open the stomach--don't know what I'll find--like to go?"

"Oh, no! I'm sure you mean it all kindly, but--but I would rather not."

"Hardly supposed you would--only knew one woman who cared for that sort of
thing much--she was nursing for me during the war--had a hare lip and an
eye like a dagger--good nurse though--rather have your kind round me--ever
nurse any? Could get you a dozen jobs in Sheridan--new prospects every
night--fifty dollars a week--what do you say?"

"But I'm not seeking work, Doctor," smiling in spite of her bewilderment.
"I have money enough with me."

"Well, I didn't know--thought maybe you wanted a job, and didn't like to
ask for it--have known 'em like that--no harm done--if you ever do want
anything like that, just come to me--my name's Fairbain--everybody knows
me here--operated on most of 'em--rest expect to be--Damn that engineer. I
don't believe he knows whether he's going ahead or backing up." He peered
out of the window, pressing his face hard against the glass. "I reckon
that's Sheridan he's whistling for now--don't be nervous--I'll see you
make the hotel all right."

Chapter XXI

The Marshal of Sheridan

It was called a depot merely through courtesy, consisting of a layer of
cinders, scattered promiscuously so as to partially conceal the underlying
mud, and a dismantled box car, in which presided ticket agent and
telegrapher. A hundred yards below was the big shack where the railroad
officials lodged. Across the tracks blazed invitingly the "First Chance"
saloon. All intervening space was crowded with men, surging aimlessly
about in the glare of a locomotive head light, and greeting the alighting
passengers with free and easy badinage. Stranger or acquaintance made no
difference, the welcome to Sheridan was noisily extended, while rough play
and hoarse laughter characterized the mass.

Hope paused on the step, even as Dr. Fairbain grasped her hand, dinned by
the medley of discordant sounds, and confused by the vociferous jam of
humanity. A band came tooting down the street in a hack, a fellow, with a
voice like a fog horn, howling on the front seat. The fellows at the side
of the car surged aside to get a glimpse of this new attraction, and
Fairbain, taking quick advantage of the opportunity thus presented, swung
his charge to the cinders below. Bending before her, and butting his great
shoulders into the surging crowd, he succeeded in pushing a passage
through, thus finally bringing her forth to the edge of the street.

"Hey, there," he said shortly, grabbing a shirt-sleeved individual by the
arm. "Where's Charlie?"

The fellow looked at him wonderingly.

"Charlie? Oh, you mean the 'Kid'? Well, he ain't here ter-night; had a
weddin', an' is totin' the bridal couple 'round."

Fairbain swore discreetly under his breath, and cast an uncertain glance
at the slender figure shrinking beside him. The streets of Sheridan were
not over pleasant at night.

"Only hack in town is somewhere else, Miss," he explained briefly. "I
reckon you and I will have to hoof it."

He felt the grip of her fingers on his sleeve.

"The boys are a little noisy, but it's just their way--don't mean
anything--you hang on to me, an' keep the veil down--we 'll be there in
the shake of a dog's tail."

He helped her over the muddy crossing, and as they reached a stretch of
board walk, began expatiating on the various places lining the way.

"That's the 'Mammoth' over there,--dance hall back of it--biggest thing
west of the Missouri--three men killed there last week--what for? Oh, they
got too fresh--that's the 'Casino,' and the one beyond is 'Pony Joe's
Place'--cut his leg off since I've been here--fight over a girl. Ain't
there any stores?--sure; they're farther back--you see the saloons got in
first--that's 'Sheeny Mike's' gambling joint you're looking at--like to go
over and see 'em play? All right, just thought I'd ask you--it's early
anyhow, and things wouldn't be goin' very lively yet. Say, there, you red
head, what are you trying to do?"

The fellow had lurched out of the crowd in such a manner as to brush
partially aside the girl's veil, permitting the glare of "Sheeny Mike's"
lights to fall full upon her revealed face. It was accomplished so openly
as to appear planned, but before he could reel away again, Fairbain struck
out, and the man went down. With an oath he was on his feet, and Hope
cowered back against her protector. Each man had weapons drawn, the crowd
scurrying madly to keep out of the line of fire, when, with a stride, a
new figure stepped quietly in between them. Straight as an arrow, broad
shouldered, yet small waisted as a woman, his hair hanging low over his
coat-collar, his face smooth shaven except for a long moustache, and
emotionless, the revolvers in his belt untouched, he simply looked at the
two, and then struck the revolver out of the drunken man's hand. It fell
harmless to the ground.

"And don't you pick it up until I tell you, Scott," he said quietly. "If
you do you've got to fight me."

Without apparently giving the fellow another thought, he wheeled and faced
the others.

"Oh, it's you, is it, Doctor? The drunken fool won't make any more
trouble. Where were you taking the lady?"

"To the hotel, Bill."

"I'll walk along with you. I reckon the boys will give us plenty of room."
He glanced over the crowd, and then more directly at Scott.

"Pick up your gun!" the brief words snapping out. "This is the second time
I've caught you hunting trouble. The next time you are going to find it. I
saw you run into the lady--what did you do it for?"

"I only wanted to see who she was, Bill."

"You needn't call me Bill. I don't trot in your class. My name is Hickock
to you. Was it any of your affair who she was?"

"I reckoned I know'd her, and I did."

The marshal turned his eyes toward Hope, and then back upon Scott,
evidently slightly interested.

"So? Recognized an old friend, I suppose?"

The slight sneer in "Wild Bill's" soft voice caused Scott to flame up in
sudden passion.

"No, I didn't! but I called the turn just the same--she's Christie

The marshal smiled.

"All right, little boy," he said soberly. "Now you trot straight along to
bed. Don't let me catch you on the street again to-night, and I'd advise
you not to pull another gun--you're too slow on the trigger for this town.
Come along, Doctor, and we'll get Miss Maclaire to her hotel."

He shouldered his way through the collected crowd, the others following.
Hope endeavored to speak, to explain to Fairbain who she actually was,
realizing then, for the first time, that she had not previously given him
her name. Amidst the incessant noise and confusion, the blaring of brass,
and the jangle of voices, she found it impossible to make the man
comprehend. She pressed closer to him, holding more tightly to his arm,
stunned and confused by the fierce uproar. The stranger steadily pushing
ahead of them, and opening a path for their passage, fascinated her, and
her eyes watched him curiously. His name was an oddly familiar one,
associated in vague memory with some of the most desperate deeds ever
witnessed in the West, yet always found on the side of law and order; it
was difficult to conceive that this quiet-spoken, mild-eyed, gently
smiling man could indeed be the most famous gun fighter on the border,
hated, feared, yet thoroughly respected, by every desperado between the
Platte and the Canadian. Beyond the glare and glitter of the Metropolitan
Dance Hall the noisy crowd thinned away somewhat, and the marshal ventured
to drop back beside Fairbain, yet vigilantly watched every approaching

"Town appears unusually lively to-night, Bill," observed the latter
gravely, "and the boys have got an early start."

"West end graders just paid off," was the reply. "They have been whoopin'
it up ever since noon, and are beginning to get ugly. Now the rest of the
outfit are showing up, and there will probably be something interesting
happening before morning. Wouldn't mind it so much if I had a single
deputy worth his salt."

"What's the matter with Bain?"

"Nothing, while he was on the job, but 'Red' Haggerty got him in 'Pony
Joe's' shebang two hours ago; shot him in the back across the bar. Ned
never even pulled his gun."

"I'm sorry to hear that; what became of Haggerty?"

The marshal let his eyes rest questioningly on the doctor's face for an

"Well, I happened to be just behind Ned when he went in," he said gently,
"and 'Red' will be buried on 'Boots Hill' to-morrow. I'm afraid I don't
give you much chance to show your skill, Doc," with a smile.

"If they all shot like you do, my profession would be useless. What's the
matter with your other deputies?"

"Lack of nerve, principally, I reckon; ain't one of 'em worth the powder
to blow him up. I'd give something just now for a fellow I had down at
Dodge--he was a man. Never had to tell him when to go in; good judgment
too; wasn't out hunting for trouble, but always ready enough to take his
share. Old soldier in our army, Captain I heard, though he never talked
much about himself; maybe you knew him--Jack Keith."

"Well, I reckon," in quick surprise, "and what's more to the point, he's
here--slept in my room last night."

"Keith here? In Sheridan? And hasn't even hunted me up yet? That's like
him, all right, but I honestly want to see the boy. Here's your hotel.
Shall you need me any longer?"

"Better step in with us, Bill," the doctor advised, "your moral influence
might aid in procuring the lady a decent room."

"I reckon it might."

They passed together up the three rickety steps leading into the front
hall, which latter opened directly into the cramped office; to the left
was the wide-open barroom, clamorous and throbbing with life. A narrow
bench stood against the wall, with a couple of half drunken men lounging
upon it. The marshal routed them out with a single, expressive gesture.

"Wait here with the lady, Fairbain," he said shortly, "and I'll arrange
for the room."

They watched him glance in at the bar, vigilant and cautious, and then
move directly across to the desk.

"Tommy," he said genially to the clerk. "I've just escorted a lady here
from the train--Miss Maclaire--and want you to give her the very best room
in your old shebang."

The other looked at him doubtfully.

"Hell, Bill, I don't know how I'm goin' to do that," acknowledged. "She
wrote in here to the boss for a room; said she'd be along yesterday. Well,
she didn't show up, an' so to-night we let a fellow have it. He's up there

"Well, he'll have to vamose--who is he?"

"Englishman--'Walter Spotteswood Montgomery,'" consulting his book. "Hell
of a pompous duck; the boys call him 'Juke Montgomery.'"

"All right; send some one up to rout his lordship out lively."

Tommy shuffled his feet, and looked again at the marshal; he had received
positive orders about that room, and was fully convinced that Montgomery
would not take kindly to eviction. But Hickock's quiet gray eyes were

"Here, 'Red,'" he finally called to the burly porter, "hustle up to '15,'
an' tell that fellow Montgomery he's got to get out; tell him we want the
room for a lady."

Hickock watched the man disappear up the stairs, helped himself carefully
to a cigar out of the stand, tossing a coin to the clerk and then
deliberately lighting up.

"Think Montgomery will be pleased?" he asked shortly.

"No; he'll probably throw 'Red' down stairs."

The marshal smiled, his glance turning expectantly in that direction.

"Then perhaps I had better remain, Tommy." And he strolled nonchalantly
over to the open window, and stood there looking quietly out, a spiral of
blue smoke rising from his cigar.

They could distinctly hear the pounding on the door above, and
occasionally the sound of the porter's voice, but the straight, erect
figure at the window remained motionless. Finally "Red" came down, nursing
his knuckles.

"Says he'll be damned if he will--says he's gone to bed, an' that there
ain't a cussed female in this blasted country he'd git up for," he
reported circumstantially to the clerk. "He told me to tell you to go
plumb to hell, an' that if any one else come poundin' 'round thar
to-night, he'd take a pot shot at 'em through the door. 'Fifteen' seemed a
bit peevish, sir, an' I reckoned if he was riled up much more, he might
git rambunctious; his language was sure fierce."

"Wild Bill" turned slowly around, still calmly smoking, his eyes
exhibiting mild amusement.

"Did you clearly inform Mr.--ah--Montgomery that we desired the room for
the use of a lady?" he questioned gently, apparently both pained and

"I did, sir."

"It surprises me to find one in our city with so little regard for the
ordinary courtesies of life, Tommy. Perhaps I can persuade the gentleman."

He disappeared up the stairs, taking them deliberately step by step, the
cigar still smoking between his lips. "Red" called after him.

"Keep away from in front of the door, Bill; he'll shoot sure, for he
cocked his gun when I was up there."

Hickock glanced back, and waved his hand.

"Don't worry--the room occupied by Mr.--ah--Montgomery was '15,' I believe
you said?"

Whatever occurred above, it was over with very shortly. Those listening at
the foot of the stairs heard the first gentle rap on the door, an outburst
of profanity, followed almost instantly by a sharp snap, as if a lock had
given way, then brief scuffling mingled with the loud creaking of a bed.
Scarcely a minute later the marshal appeared on the landing above, one
hand firmly gripped in the neck-band of an undershirt, thus securely
holding the writhing, helpless figure of a man, who swore violently every
time he could catch his breath.

"Any other room you could conveniently assign Mr.--ah--Montgomery to,
Tommy?" he asked pleasantly. "If he doesn't like it in the morning, he
could be changed, you know."

"Give--give him '47.'"

"All right. I'm the bell-boy temporarily, Montgomery; easy now, my man,
easy, or I'll be compelled to use both hands. 'Red,' carry the gentleman's
luggage to '47'--he has kindly consented to give up his old room to a
lady--come along, Montgomery."

It was possibly five minutes later when he came down, still smoking, his
face not even flushed.

"Montgomery is feeling so badly we were obliged to lock him in," he
reported to the clerk. "Seems to be of a somewhat nervous disposition.
Well, good-night, Doctor," he lifted his hat. "And to you, Miss, pleasant

Hope watched him as he stepped outside, pausing a moment in the shadows to
glance keenly up and down the long street before venturing down the steps.
This quiet man had enemies, hundreds of them, desperate and reckless;
ceaseless vigilance alone protected him. Yet her eyes only, and not her
thoughts, were riveted on the disappearing marshal. She turned to
Fairbain, who had risen to his feet.

"I wish I might see him, also," she said, as though continuing an
interrupted conversation.

"See him? Who?"

"Mr. Keith. I--I knew him once, and--and, Doctor, won't you tell him I
should like to have him come and see me just--just as soon as he can."

Chapter XXII

An Interrupted Interview

Miss Christie Maclaire, attired in a soft lounging robe, her luxuriant
hair wound simply about her head, forming a decidedly attractive picture,
gazed with manifest dissatisfaction on the bare walls of her room, and
then out through the open window into the comparatively quiet street
below. The bar-tender at the "Palace," directly opposite, business being
slack, was leaning negligently in the doorway. His roving eyes caught the
fair face framed in the window, and he waved his hand encouragingly. Miss
Christie's big brown eyes stared across at him in silent disgust, and then
wandered again about the room, her foot tapping nervously on the rag

"It's my very last trip to this town," she said decisively, her red lips
pressed tightly together.

Miss Maclaire had indeed ample reason to feel aggrieved over her
reception. She had written to have the best apartment in the house
reserved for her, and then, merely because she had later been invited out
to Fort Hays, and was consequently a day behind in arrival, had discovered
that another woman--a base imposter, actually masquerading under her name
--had been duly installed in the coveted apartment. Driving in from the
fort that morning, accompanied by two of the more susceptible junior
officers, conscious that she had performed most artistic work the evening
before in the spacious mess-hall, and feeling confident of comfortable
quarters awaiting her, it had been something of a shock to be informed by
the perturbed clerk that "15" was already occupied by another. "A lady
what come in last night, and I naturally supposed it was you."

In vain Miss Maclaire protested, ably backed by the worshipful officers
who still gallantly attended her; the management was obdurate. Then she
would go up herself, and throw the hussy out. Indeed, too angry for
bantering further words, Christie had actually started for the stairs,
intending to execute her threat, when the perspiring Tommy succeeded in
stopping her, by plainly blurting out the exact truth.

"Don't you ever do it," he insisted. "The marshal brought her in here, and
fired a fellow out o' the room so as to give it to her. He'd clean out
this house if we ran in a cold deck on a friend o' his."

"What do I care for what your marshal does?"

"But he's Bill Hickock, Miss, 'Wild Bill.'"

Miss Maclaire leaned back against the stair-rail, her eyes turning from
Tommy to her speechless supporters. Slowly the truth seemed to penetrate
her brain.

"Oh," she gasped at last. "Then--then what else can you give me?"

The officers had long since departed, promising, however, to remain over
in town and hear her again that night at the Trocadero, with hints as to a
late supper; she had received a call from the manager of that most popular
resort, and had rendered his life miserable by numerous demands; had
passed half an hour practising with the leader of the orchestra; but now
was at last alone, tired, decidedly irritable, and still tempted to invade
"15," and give that other woman a piece of her mind. Then someone rapped
on the door. There was a decided accent of vexation in the voice which
bade the one outside enter, but the lady's mood changed swiftly as her
brown eyes perceived standing in the doorway the erect form of Keith, the
light from the window revealing clearly his strong face. The man stood hat
in hand, bowing slightly, unable to comprehend why he should have been
sent for, yet marvelling again at the remarkable resemblance between this
woman and that other whom he had left at Fort Larned. As Miss Maclaire
stood with back toward the window, she presented the same youthful
appearance, the same slenderness of figure, the same contour of face.

"Miss Christie Maclaire?" he asked, as though in doubt.

"Yes," graciously, won instantly by the man's appearance and manner, "you
wished to see me? Will you be seated?"

He crossed the narrow room to the stiff-backed chair indicated, and the
lady sank negligently down into her own, resting her head against a
pillow, and regarding him expectantly. He could view her now much more
distinctly, observing the slight difference in age, the fuller lips, the
darker shade of the hair, and the varied expression of the eyes. It was as
if a different soul looked forth from the same face. He had never before
realized how little, apparently trifling, details marked the human
countenance, and, embarrassed by her own scrutiny, his glance swept about
the room. Misunderstanding this shifting of eyes, Miss Christie sought to
place the man more at ease.

"The room is a perfect fright," she observed briskly, "but what can one
expect in these mushroom towns? Really I had never been here before, or I
shouldn't have come. They pay good money though for talent, and we all
have to live, you know. Are--are you in professional work?"

He shook his head, smiling, somewhat perplexed at his reception.

"Really I didn't suppose you were," she went on, "you don't look it. But
there are so many who come to me to help them, that I have grown
suspicious of every stranger. May I ask why you desired to see me?"

Another suspicion had taken possession of her mind, for the men of that
section were never backward in exhibiting admiration, yet somehow this man
did not seem exactly of that kind.

"I came merely because I was sent for, Miss Maclaire," he replied, his
gray eyes once again upon her face. "Doctor Fairbain gave me your message;
I am Jack Keith."

She looked the complete astonishment she felt, sitting up in the chair,
her eyes filled with questioning doubt.

"Doctor Fairbain! My message! Surely you are mistaken? I know no one of
that name, and have sent no message."

"You did not express a desire to see me?"

She laughed, exhibiting a row of white teeth.

"Certainly not; not until this moment was I even of the existence of Mr.
Jack Keith."

His own eyes smiled in response to the challenge of hers.

"I can assure you the surprise was mine also," he hastened to inform her,
now more at ease, as he grasped the situation. "I could not understand how
I had become known to you, yet I pledge you my word the message was
actually brought. Of course you may suspicion otherwise, for I have seen
you on the stage, and being a normal man, have wished that I could devise
some excuse for meeting you."

"Indeed!" her eye-brows slightly uplifted.

"Yes, I make that confession frankly, yet this call comes from no such
desire. I had no question when I came, but what I had been sent for--you
will believe this?"

"I suppose I must, yet it seems very peculiar," she replied, feeling
convinced that he was a gentleman, and troubled as to what she had best
do. "Yet now that you have discovered your mistake--"

"I hope to take advantage of the opportunity," he broke in firmly, leaning
slightly forward. "May I ask you a question?"

"I could hardly prevent it, and really I do not know that I have anything
to conceal."

"Then I will risk the effort--do you know a man named Hawley?--Bartlett

Her eyes did not falter, although a red spot shot into her cheeks, and her
lips pressed together.

"No; that is I have never met him," she acknowledged, just a trifle
confused. "But I have received two letters signed by that name, and rather
expected the gentleman would call upon me here in Sheridan during my
engagement. Is that your mission? Were you sent by him? or are you Mr.

"I disclaim all relation, Miss Maclaire, even friendship. You, of course,
know who this individual is?"

"No," the short monosyllable was not encouraging. "His messages were of a
business character."

"So I presumed, yet one likes to know something even of the person he does
business with. I have been acquainted with Hawley for several years, and
have never been aware of any honorable business he has ever engaged in. He
is a professional gambler, known on the frontier as 'Black Bart'; last
night he was running a faro game across there in the 'Palace.' I cannot
help wondering what kind of business such a fellow could possibly have
with you, Miss Maclaire."

The woman's eyes flashed, hardening in their brown depths.

"What right have you to ask?" she began indigently. "I am capable of
deciding my own affairs. As I have told you I have never met Mr. Hawley,
but I am not to be influenced against him merely by the denunciation of an
avowed enemy. He has written me of something he has discovered which is of
deep personal interest to me, and has promised to tell me the details, as
well as place within my hands certain necessary papers."

"I appreciate your feelings," he said gently, as she paused, "but would
you mind telling me the nature of those papers?"

There was something in Keith's face which told of honesty, and inspired
confidence. Miss Maclaire's worldly experience had given her deep insight
into the character of men, and somehow, as she looked into the clear gray
eyes, she felt impelled to answer, a vague doubt of the unknown Hawley in
her mind.

"They--they were papers to establish identity. He had discovered them by
accident; they have to do with an inheritance. Really that is all I know,
for he wrote very briefly, stating it would be safer to confer with me
personally--only I imagine there is a large sum involved."

"From whose estate?"

"My grandfather's."

"And his name was?"

"Why--why, Mr. Keith, actually I do not know. It may seem strange, but--
but I cannot even tell the names of my parents; I cannot remember either
my father or mother. Oh, I do not know why I should tell you all this! Who
are you, really? Why do you ask me such questions?"

He leaned forward, touched by the woman's emotion. "Miss Maclaire," he
said gravely. "I am not prying into your life needlessly, but am
endeavoring to serve you as well as others. Hawley may indeed possess
papers of great value, but if so they were not found by accident, but
stolen from the body of a murdered man. These papers may possibly refer to
you, but if so Hawley himself does not believe it--he has simply chosen
you to impersonate the right party because of physical resemblance."

"Resemblance to whom?"

"To a young woman, a Miss Hope."

"But how do you know this? Why should you be interested? Are you a

"No, I am not a detective, but I cannot explain to you my interest. I am
trying to serve you, to keep you from being drawn into a plot--"

"Rather to keep me from learning the truth, Mr. Jack Keith," she burst
forth, rising to her feet indignantly. "You are here trying to prejudice
me against Mr. Hawley. He is your enemy, and you have come to me stabbing
him in the back for revenge. That is your interest. Well, I am going to
see the man, and consider what he has to say. I don't care half so much
about the money as I do to find out who I am. If he can throw any light on
my early life, on my parentage, I shall be the happiest woman in the
world. I am sorry I told you anything--but I am going to see him just the
same. Perhaps he might tell me something about you."

They were both standing, the woman's eyes flashing angrily, defiantly, her
hands clinched. Keith, realizing the false position into which he had
drifted, hesitated to answer. He meant to tell her the whole story and
urge her to cooperate with him in learning the gambler's purpose. The
woman impressed him as honest at heart, in spite of her life and
environment; she was not one whom a swindler could easily dupe into
becoming a tool.

"Miss Maclaire," he began, determined on his course, "listen to me for
just a moment. I am--"

There was a rap at the door. The eyes of both turned that way, and then
Keith backed slowly into the darkened corner beyond the window, his right
hand thrust into the pocket of his coat. Miss Maclaire observed the
movement, her lips smiling, a red flush on either cheek. Then she stepped
across the root, and opened the door. Framed against the black background
of the hall, his dark, rather handsome face clearly revealed as he fronted
the window, his black, audacious eyes fixed appreciatingly upon the lady,
stood "Black Bart" Hawley. He saw no one but her, realized no other
presence, had no thought except to make a good impression. He was facing a
beautiful woman, whom he sought to use, and he bowed low, hat in hand.

"Miss Maclaire," he said, pleasantly, "I trust you will pardon all that
has occurred between us, and permit me to explain."

"I--I do not understand," she replied, puzzled by these unexpected words.
"There has nothing occurred between us, I am sure, which requires
explanation. Have we met before?"

The man smiled. Seeing the woman's face in the shadows he was still
convinced she was the same he had last parted with on the Salt Fork.
However, if she preferred to ignore all that, and begin their relations
anew, it was greatly to his liking. It gave him insight into her
character, and fresh confidence that he could gain her assistance. Anyhow,
he was ready enough to play her game.

"Let us assume not," just the slightest trace of mockery in the tone, "and
begin anew. At least, you will confess the receipt of my letters--I am
Bartlett Hawley."

She cast a half-frightened glance toward Keith, and the man, following the
direction of her eyes, perceived the presence of the other. His right leg
went backward, his hand dropping to the belt, his form stiffening erect.
Keith's voice, low but clear in the silence, seemed to cut the air.

"Not a motion, Hawley! I have you covered."

"Oh, gentlemen, please don't!"

"Have no fear, Miss Maclaire; this man and I will settle our differences
elsewhere, and not in your presence." He stepped forth into the middle of
the room, revolver drawn, but held low at the hip, his watchful eyes never
deserting the gambler's face.

"Back up against the wall, Hawley," he commanded. "I hardly need to tell
you how I shoot, for we, at least, have met before. Now, I'm going out,
and leave you to your interview with Miss Maclaire, and I wish you
happiness and success."

He moved across to the opening, keeping his face toward his adversary;
then backed out slowly, closed the door with a snap, and sprang aside to
avoid any possibility of a bullet crashing after him. No sound of movement
from within reached his ears, however, and he walked silently to the head
of the stairs.

Chapter XXIII

An Unexpected Meeting

Keith paused at the landing, looking down into the deserted office,
almost tempted to return and force Hawley into a confession of his
purpose. It was easy for him to conceive what would be the final result of
this interview between the artistic gambler and Miss Maclaire. In spite of
the vague suspicion of evil which the plainsman had implanted within the
woman's mind, the other possessed the advantage, and would certainly
improve it. All conditions were decidedly in his favor. He merely needed
to convince the girl that she was actually the party sought, and she would
go forward, playing the game he desired, believing herself right, totally
unconscious of any fraud. The very simplicity of it rendered the plot the
more dangerous, the more difficult to expose. Hawley had surely been
favored by fortune in discovering this singer who chanced to resemble Hope
so remarkably, and who, at the same time, was in such ignorance as to her
own parentage. She would be ready to grasp at a straw, and, once persuaded
as to her identity and legal rights, could henceforth be trusted
implicitly as an ally.

Realizing all this, and comprehending also how easily Hawley would win her
confidence and overcome his warning by denouncing him as a fugitive from
justice charged with murder, the temptation to return and fight it out
then and there became almost overpowering. He had no fear of Hawley;
indeed, physical fear had scarcely a place in his composition, but he was
not as yet sufficiently fortified with facts for the seeking of such an
encounter. He could merely guess at the truth, unable to produce any proof
with which to meet the gambler's certain denial.

A man came in through the office, and began climbing the stairs. He was
almost at the landing before Keith recognized him or the other glanced up.

"Ah--seen her, I suppose?"

"Yes," returned Keith, not thinking it worth while to mention the lady's
denial of having sent for him, "I have just come from there."

"Hum--thought you'd be through by this time--fine looking girl, ain't
she?--believe I'll run in and chat with her myself."

"I would advise you to select some other time, Doctor," said the younger,
drily, "as the lady has a visitor at present."

"A visitor?" his face rosy, his shrewd eyes darkening. "Ah, indeed! Of the
male sex?"

"I judge so--'Black Bart' Hawley."

"Good Lord!" so startled his voice broke. "Did he see you?"

"Rather; I backed him up against the wall with a gun while I made my

"But what brought him there? Are they acquainted?"

"Don't ask conundrums, Doctor. He may be your rival with the fair lady for
all I know. If he is, my sympathies are all with you. Only I wouldn't try
to see Miss Christie just now; I'd wait for a clearer field. Hawley is
probably not in the best of humor."

Fairbain stared into the face of the speaker, uncertain whether or not he
was being laughed at.

"Reckon you're right," he acknowledged at last. "Tired, anyhow--been out
all night--thought I'd like to see her again, though--finest looking woman
I've met since I came West--remarkable eyes--well, I'll go along to bed--
see you again to-morrow, Jack."

Keith watched the sturdy figure stomp heavily down the hall-way, loose
boards creaking under his positive tread, and smiled to himself at the
thought that he might have, indeed, become truly interested in the music
hall singer. Somehow, the doctor did not harmonize with the conception of
love, or fit graciously into the picture. Still, stranger matings had
occurred, and Cupid does not ask permission before he plays pranks with
hearts. Keith turned again toward the stairs, only to observe a woman
slowly cross the office and commence the ascent. She was in the shadow,
her face even more deeply shaded by her hat, yet he stared at her in
amazement--surely, it was Miss Maclaire! Yet how could it be? He had left
that person scarcely five minutes before in "26," and this stairway was
the only exit. His hand grasped the rail, his heart throbbing strangely,
as a suspicion of the truth crossed his brain. Could this be Hope? Could
it be that she was here also? As her foot touched the landing, she saw
him, her eyes lighting up suddenly in recognition, a wave of color
flooding her cheeks.

"Why, Captain Keith," she exclaimed, extending her gloved hand frankly,
"you have been to my room, and were going away. I am so glad I came in

"I hardly thought to meet you," he replied, retaining her fingers in his
grasp. "When did you reach Sheridan?"

"Only last night. I had no idea you were here, until Doctor Fairbain
chanced to mention your name. Then I at once begged him to tell you how
exceedingly anxious I was to see you. You see, I was sure you would come
if you only knew. I really thought you would be here this morning, and
remained in my room waiting, but there were some things I actually had to
have. I wasn't out ten minutes, so you mustn't think I sent you a message
and then forgot."

The nature of the mistake was becoming apparent, and Keith's gray eyes
smiled as they looked into the depths of the brown.

"Your message had rather an amusing result," he said, "as the doctor
informed me that Miss Christie Maclaire was the one who desired my

"Miss Maclaire!" her voice exhibiting startled surprise. "Why--why--oh, I
did forget; I never told him differently. Why, it was most ridiculous."
She laughed, white teeth gleaming between the parted red lips, yet not
altogether happily. "Let me explain, Captain Keith, for really I have not
been masquerading. Doctor Fairbain and I arrived upon the same train last
evening. He is such a funny man, but was very nice, and offered to escort
me to the hotel. I remember now that although he introduced himself, I
never once thought to mention to him my name. The town was very rough last
night--the company had paid off the graders I was told--and there was no
carriage, so we were compelled to walk. I--I never saw such a mob of
drunken men. One came reeling against me, and brushed aside my veil so as
to see my face. The doctor struck him, and then the marshal came up--you
know him, Bill Hickock--and the impudent fellow actually declared he knew
me, that I was Christie Maclaire. I tried to explain, but they hurried me
on through the crowd to the hotel, and I became confused, and forgot. Do
you suppose they registered me by that name?"

"Quite likely; at least Fairbain still believes it was the fair Christie
whom he so gallantly escorted last night."

"How provoking," her foot tapping the floor, a little wrinkle between her
eyes. "It seems as though I couldn't escape that woman--does she--does she
really look like me?"

"At a little distance, yes," he admitted, "her form and face resemble
yours very closely, but her hair is darker, her eyes have a different
expression, and she must be five or six years older."

"Do--do you know her well?"

"No, indeed; I have seen her several times on the stage, but never met her
until a few moments ago."

"A few moments ago! Do you mean she is here in this hotel?"

"Yes, Miss Hope, and that was what made the mistake in names so laughable.
Fairbain gave me your message, but as coming from Christie. I was, of
course, greatly surprised, yet responded. The lady very promptly denied
having sent for me, but as I was anxious to interview her myself, we
managed to drift into conversation, and I must have passed a half hour
there. I might have been there still, but for an interruption."

"Oh, indeed!" with rising inflection.

He glanced quickly about, reminded of the situation.

"Yes, Hawley came in, and I would prefer not to meet him here, or have him
discover you were in Sheridan. Could we not go to your room? I have much
to tell you."

Her questioning eyes left his face, and stared down over the rail. A
heavily built man, with red moustache, leaned against the clerk's desk,
his face toward them.

"Do you know that man?" she asked quickly. "He followed me all the time I
was shopping. I--I believe he is the same one who jostled me in the crowd
last night."

Keith leaned past her to get a better view, but the fellow turned, and
slouched away.

"I only had a glimpse, but have no recollection of ever seeing him before.
You heard no name?"

"'Wild Bill' called him either Scott, or Scotty--if this is the same man."

Keith's jaw set, the fighting light burning in his eyes. That was the name
of the fellow rooming with Willoughby, the one who seemed to be Hawley's
special assistant. Was he here as a spy? His hands clinched on the rail.
He was anxious to go down and wring the truth out of him, but instead, he
compelled his eyes to smile, turning back to the girl.

"A mere accident probably; but about my request? May I talk with you a few
moments alone?"

She bowed, apparently still dissatisfied regarding his lengthy
conversation with Christie, yet permitted him to follow down the hall. She
held open the door of "15," and he entered silently, not wholly
understanding the change in her manner. She stood before the dresser,
drawing off her gloves and removing her hat.

"Will you be seated, Captain; the arm-chair by the window is the more
comfortable." She turned toward him, almost shyly, yet with womanly
curiosity which would not be stilled. "Was your call upon Miss Maclaire
very interesting? Did you admire her very much?"

Keith's eyes lifted to her face, his ears quick to detect the undertone in
her voice.

"Interesting? yes, for I was seeking after information, and met with some
success. As to the other question, I am not sure whether I admire the lady
or not. She is bright, pretty, and companionable, and in spite of her
profession, at heart, I believe, a good woman. But really, Miss Hope, I
was too deeply immersed in my purpose to give her personality much
consideration. Among other things we spoke of you."

"Of me? Why?"

"I told her something of our adventures together; of how both Hawley and I
had been confused. She was anxious to learn who you were, but
unfortunately, I have never, even yet, heard your name."

"You have not?"

"No; I left you at Fort Larned believing you Christie Maclaire--supposing
it your stage name, of course--and was confirmed in this belief by finding
in the holster of the saddle you had been riding an envelope bearing that

"I remember; it contained the note the man brought to me from Hawley; he
had written it that way." She crossed the room, sinking down into a chair
facing him. "And you have actually confused me with Christie Maclaire all
this while? Have never known who I was?"

He shook his head.

"I told you to call me Hope; that is my name--I am Hope Waite."

"Waite!" he leaned forward, startled by the possibility--"not--not--"

"Yes," she burst in, holding out her hands, clasping the locket, "and this
was my father's; where did you get it?"

He took the trinket from her, turning it over in his fingers. Little by
little the threads of mystery were being unravelled, yet, even now, he
could not see very far. He looked up from the locket into her questioning

"Did I not tell you? No; then it was an oversight. This was about the
throat of one of the men I buried at Cimmaron Crossing, but--but, Hope, it
was not your father."

"I know," her voice choking slightly. "Mrs. Murphy found that out; that is
why I am here. I heard my father came to Sheridan, and I wanted you to
help me find him."

He was thinking, and did not answer at once, and she went on in some

"Do you know anything about him, Captain Keith? Where is he? Why is he
here? Don't be afraid to tell me."

He pressed the locket back into her hand, retaining the latter,
unresisted, within his own.

"I have not seen your father, Hope, but he was certainly here a few days
ago, for Fairbain met him. They were together in the army. I am going to
tell you all I know--it seems to be a tangled web, but the ends must be
somewhere, although, I confess, I am all at sea."

He told it slowly and simply, bringing forth his earlier suspicion, and
how he had stumbled upon facts apparently confirming them. He related her
father's robbery, his loss of valuable papers, and the conversation
between Hawley and Scott which led to the suspicion that these same papers
had fallen into the hands of the former, and were the basis of his plot.
Hope listened, breathless with interest, her widely opened eyes filled
with wonder. As he concluded speaking she burst forth:

"But I don't understand in the least, Captain Keith. Why did this man
Hawley send me to the Salt Fork?"

"He thought he was dealing with Christie Maclaire. He had some reason for
getting her away; getting her where he could exercise influence over her."

"Yes--yes; but who is she?"

"That is what makes the matter so hard to unravel. She doesn't even know
herself. Hawley is going to take advantage of her ignorance in this
respect, and convince her that she is the person he wishes her to
represent--but who is the person? If we knew that we might block the

Both sat silent, striving to figure out some reasonable explanation.

"Do you know of any special papers your father carried?" he asked.

"No; none outside his business agreements."

"Has anyone ever disappeared connected with your family? Did you have an
older sister?"

"Fred and I were the only children. Why should you ask that question?"

"Because something of that nature would seem to be the only rational
explanation. Your brother must have told Hawley something--some family
secret--which he felt could be utilized to his own advantage. Then he saw
your picture, and was immediately reminded of the remarkable resemblance
between you and Christie Maclaire. Evidently this discovery fitted into
his plan, and made it possible for him to proceed. He has been trying ever
since to get an interview with the woman, to sound her, and find out what
he can do with her. He has written letters, sufficiently explicit to make
it clear his scheme is based upon a will drawn, as he claims, by
Christie's grandfather. No doubt by this time he has fully convinced the
girl that she is the rightful heiress to property--as he stated to Scott--
valued at over a million dollars. That's a stake worth fighting for, and
these two will make a hard combination. He's got the papers, or claims to
have, and they must be the ones stolen from your father. I have been
trusting you might know something in your family history which would make
it all plain."

"But I do not," decisively. "You must believe me; not so much as a hint of
any secret has ever reached me. There are only the four of us, Father,
Mother, Fred, and I. I am sure there can be no secret; nothing which I
would not know. Perhaps, if I could see Miss Maclaire--"

"I am convinced that would be useless," he interrupted, rising, and pacing
across the floor. "If Hawley has convinced her of the justice of the
claim, he will also have pledged her to secrecy. He is working out of
sight like a mole, for he knows the fraud, and will never come to the
surface until everything is in readiness. I know a better way; I'll find
Fred, and bring him here. He would tell you whatever it was he told
Hawley, and that will give us the clue."

He picked up his hat from the table, but she rose to her feet, holding
forth her hands.

"I cannot thank you enough. Captain Keith," she exclaimed frankly. "You
are doing so much, and with no personal interest--"

"Oh, but I have."

The long lashes dropped over the brown eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"That I have a personal interest--in you, Hope."

She stood silent, her bosom rising and falling to rapid breathing.

"You don't mind my calling you Hope? I haven't got used to Miss Waite

Her eyes met his swiftly.

"Of course, not. Such ceremony would be foolish after all you have done
for me. Do--do you call her Christie?"

He laughed, clasping her hands closer.

"I assure you no--she is strictly Miss Maclaire, and," solemnly, "shall be
to the end of the chapter."

"Oh, well, I didn't care, only that was what you called her when you were
telling me what she said. Are you going?"

"Yes, to find Fred; the sooner we can get this straightened out, the

Chapter XXIV

A Mistake in Assassination

Let his future be what it might, Jack Keith would never again forget the
girl who held the door open for his passage with one hand, her other
clasped in his. Interested before, yet forcing himself into indifference
now that he knew who she really was, the man made full surrender. It was a
struggle that kept him from clasping the slender figure in his arms, and
pouring forth the words of tenderness which he sternly choked back. This
was neither the time, nor the place, yet his eyes must have spoken, for
Hope's glance fell, and her cheeks grew crimson.

"I do not need to pledge you to return this time, do I?" she questioned,
her voice trembling.

"No," he answered, "nor any time again."

The hall was deserted, but a few men loitered in the office. Keith
recognized none of the faces, and did not stop to make any inquiries of
the clerk. It was growing dark, the lights already burning, and from the
plashing of drops on the window, it must be raining outside. Hawley would
surely have ended his call upon Miss Maclaire long before this, and left
the hotel. However interesting his communication might have proven, she
must fill her evening engagement at the Trocadero, and would require time
for supper and rest. As to the result of that interview there could be
little doubt. Providing the gambler possessed the proper papers he would
have small difficulty in convincing the girl that she was indeed the one
sought. Keith had probed sufficiently into her mind to feel assured that
her inclination was to side with Hawley. Under all the circumstances this
was natural enough, and he did not blame her.

He glanced into the bar-room as he passed, not in any anticipation, but
merely from the vigilance which becomes second nature upon the frontier.
Hawley stood leaning against the bar, where he could see anyone passing
through the hall. The eyes of the two men met, but the gambler never
moved, never changed his attitude, although Keith noted that his right
hand was hidden beneath the skirts of his long coat. The plainsman drew
back, facing his enemy, until he reached the outer door. There was a sneer
on Hawley's dark sinister face like an invitation, but a memory of the
girl he had just left, and her dependence upon him, caused Keith to avoid
an encounter. He would fight this affair out in a different way. As the
door opened and he slipped forth into the gloom, he brushed against a man
apparently just entering. The gleam of light fell for an instant upon the
face of the other--it was Scotty with the red moustache.

They had been watching for him then--what for? Hawley on the inside, and
this man Scott without, were waiting to determine when he left the hotel;
would probably dog his footsteps to discover where he went. Keith loosened
his revolver, so as to be assured he could draw quickly, and slipped back
into the shadow of the steps, his eyes on the door of the hotel. There was
a cold, drizzly rain falling, the streets almost deserted, appearing
sodden and miserable where the lights shone forth through saloon windows.
One or two men, seeking supper, coat collars turned up and hats drawn low
over their eyes, climbed the rickety steps and went in, but no one came
out. Perhaps he was mistaken as to the purpose of those fellows; they may
have desired merely to know when he left, or Scott's return just at that
moment might have been an accident. To be sure, the hotel possessed a back
exit, but he could not cover both ends of the building, and must take his
chances. It was too wet and disagreeable to remain crouched there, now
that it was evident there was no intention of following him. With hand on
the butt of his gun, suspicious and watchful, yet with scarcely a faster
beat to his heart, Keith straightened up, and began splashing his way
through the mud down the street. He knew where Willoughby would be most
likely found at this hour--with cronies at the "Tenderfoot"--and he meant
to discover the boy, and make him confess to Hope the truth. Matters had
now reached a point where longer delay was dangerous.

Sheridan was seemingly dead, the long street silent, gloomy, black, except
for those streams of saloon light shining across pools of water. He
stumbled over the irregular ground, occasionally striking patches of
wooden sidewalk or a strip of cinders. Here and there a tent flapped in
the wind, which drove the drizzle into his face; somewhere ahead a
swinging sign moaned as if in agony. A few wanderers ploughed through the
muck, dim uncertain shapes appearing and vanishing in the gloom. He had
gone a block and over, the struggle against the elements leaving him
forgetful of all else, when a man reeled out of some dimly lit shack to
his right, and staggered drunkenly forward a few feet in advance. He could
barely distinguish the fellow's outlines, giving little thought to the
occurrence, for the way was unusually black along there, the saloon
opposite having shades drawn. Suddenly a flash of red fire spurted into
the night, with a sharp report. It was so close at hand it blinded him,
and he flung up one arm over his eyes, and yet, in that single instant, he
perceived the whole picture as revealed by the red flame. He saw the man
in front go down in a heap, the projection of the building from behind
which the shot came, the end of a wagon sticking forth into the street
which had concealed the assassin. The blinding flash, the shock of that
sudden discharge, for a moment held him motionless; then he leaped
forward, revolver in hand, sprang around the end of the wagon, and rushed
down the dark alley between two buildings. He could see nothing, but
someone was running recklessly ahead of him, and he fired in the direction
of the sound, the leaping spurt of flame yielding a dim outline of the
fugitive. Three times he pressed the trigger; then there was nothing to
shoot at--the fellow had faded away into the black void of prairie. Keith
stood there baffled, staring about into the gloom, the smoking revolver in
his hand. The sound of men's voices behind was all that reached him, and
feeling the uselessness of further pursuit, he retraced his way back
through the narrow passage.

A group was gathered about the body in the rain, a single lantern
glimmering. Two or three men had started down the passageway, and Keith
met them, revolvers drawn and suspicious.

"Who are you?" snapped one sharply. "Were you doing all that shooting

Keith recognized the voice, thankful that he did so.

"I fired at the fellow, but he got away onto the prairie. I reckon you
couldn't have done any better, Bill."

"Jack Keith!" and Hickock's voice had a new tone, his hand dropping on the
other's shoulder. "Never was gladder to meet a fellow in my life. Boys,
this is an old deputy of mine down in Dodge. When he gives up chasin' a
murderer there isn't much use our tryin'. Let's go back, and find out how
bad the fellow is hurt. While we're feelin' our way, Jack, you might tell
us what you know about this affair."

"It was just the flash of a gun, and the man dropped," Keith explained,
briefly. "I was ten or a dozen feet behind, and the fellow fired from
under the wagon there. He must have been laying for some one--I reckon,
maybe, it was me."

"You? Then it's likely you have some notion who he was?"

"Well, if I have, Bill," and Keith's lips were set tight, "I'm not liable
to tell you. If it's the lad I think likely, I'll attend to the case
myself. You understand--this is my personal affair."

Hickock nodded, his hand again pressing the other's shoulder

"Sure, Jack, if you feel that way. There's enough in Sheridan to keep a
marshal reasonably busy, without dippin' into private matters. I rather
reckon you can take care of yourself, but if you need me, old boy I'm
always right here on the job. You know that."

"I do, Bill, and appreciate it."

The group about the motionless body fell away, and made room for the
marshal, the last man to rise saying soberly:

"He's dead all right, Hickock. I guess he never knew what hit him. Good
shootin', too, dark as it is here."

"Had the range fixed, likely," returned the marshal. "That's what makes it
look like it was arranged for."

He bent down, striving to distinguish the dead man's features turned up to
the drizzle, but the night revealed the faintest outline.

"Anybody know him?" There was no response, only a shuffling of feet in the
mud. "Here you man with the lantern, hold it over where I can see. There,
that is better. Now, you fellows take a look, and see if some of you can't
name the poor devil."

They glanced down, one after the other, over Bill's shoulder, shading
their eyes from the rain so as to see clearer. The light of the flickering
lantern streamed full on the ghastly face, but each man shook his head,
and passed on. Keith hung back, hoping some one would identify the body,
and not make it necessary for him to take part in the grewsome task. It
was not likely to be any one he knew, and besides, he felt the man had
died in his stead, and he dreaded to look upon the stricken face. When the
last of the group had drifted back out of the radius of light, Hickock
looked up, and saw him.

"Here, Jack," he said, gravely, "you better try--you might know him."

Keith bent over, and looked down. As he did so his heart seemed to rise
choking into his throat, and a blur obscured his sight. He swept a hand
over his eyes and dropped on his knees into the mud beside the body,
staring speechless into the white face, the sightless eyes. Hickock
watching him closely, and gripped his arm.

"What is it? Do you know him?"

"My God, yes; Fred Willoughby!"

Chapter XXV

A Reappearance of the General

Keith did not inform Hope of her brother's death until the following
morning, but had the body properly prepared for burial, and devoted the
remainder of the night to searching for General Waite and, incidentally,
for both Hawley and Scott. Both Hickock and Fairbain assisted in this
effort to learn the whereabouts of the dead boy's father, but without the
slightest result, nor did Keith's investigations reveal the gambler at any
of his accustomed resorts, while Scott had apparently made a complete get-
away. These disappearances merely served to convince him as to the truth
of his first suspicions; Scott might have departed for good, but Hawley
would certainly reappear just so soon as assured his name had not been
mentioned in connection with the tragedy. To Neb alone did the plainsman
candidly confide his belief in the guilt of these two, and when other
duties called him elsewhere, he left the negro scouring the town for any
possible reappearance of either.

Heavy-eyed from lack of sleep, heavy-hearted with his message, yet fully
decided as to what advice he should offer, Keith returned to the hotel,
and requested an interview with Hope. Although still comparatively early,
some premonition of evil had awakened the girl, and in a very few moments
she was prepared to receive her visitor. A questioning glance into his
face was sufficient to assure her of unpleasant news, but, with one quick
breath, she grasped his arm as though his very presence afforded her

"How tired you look! Something has occurred to keep you out all night--
and--and I know you have brought me bad news. Don't be afraid to tell me;
I can bear anything better than suspense. Is it about father?"

"No, Hope," and he took her hand, and led her to a chair. Bending above
her he gave her the whole story of the night, and she scarcely interrupted
with a question, sitting there dry-eyed, with only an occasional sob
shaking her slender form. As he ended, she looked up into his face, and
now he could see a mist of unshed tears in her eyes.

"What shall I do, Captain Keith? I am all alone with this, except for

"I have considered that, Hope," he answered, gravely, "and it seems to me
your present duty is more to the living than the dead. You should remain
here until we learn something definite regarding your father, and discover
the truth of this conspiracy formed against him. If Fred could know the
trouble his chance words have caused, he would wish you to do this. With
him gone, we are going to find the unravelling harder than ever. It is my
judgment, Hope, your brother should be buried here."

She shuddered, her hands pressed to her eyes.

"Oh, on that horrible 'Boots Hill'?"

"Only temporarily, little girl," his voice full of deepest sympathy. "In a
few weeks, perhaps, it could be removed East."

She was silent for what seemed to him a long while; then she looked up
into his face, clinging to his arm.

"Yes," she said, "that will be best."

That same afternoon, the sun low in the west, they placed the dead boy in
his shallow grave on "Boots Hill." It was a strange funeral, in a strange
environment--all about the barren, deserted plains; far away to the east
and west, the darker line marking the railroad grade, and just below,
nestled close in against the foot of the hill, the squalid town of tents
and shacks. There were not many to stand beside the open grave, for few in
Sheridan knew the lad, and funerals were not uncommon--some cronies, half-
drunk and maudlin, awed somewhat by the presence of the marshal, Doctor
Fairbain, Keith, and Hope. That was all excepting the post chaplain from
Fort Hays, who, inspired by a glimpse of the girl's unveiled face, spoke
simple words of comfort. It was all over with quickly, and with the red
sun still lingering on the horizon, the little party slowly wended their
way back, down the steep trail into the one long street of Sheridan.

At the hotel Neb was waiting, the whites of his eyes shining with
excitement, his pantomime indicating important news. As soon as he could
leave Hope, Keith hurried down to interview his dusky satellite, who
appeared about to burst with restrained information. As soon as uncorked
that individual began to flow volubly:

"I sho' done seed 'em, Massa Jack; I done seed 'em both."

"Both? Both who?"

"Massa Waite, sah, an' dat black debble dat we was huntin' fo'. It was a
mos' surprisin' circumstance, sah--a mos' surprisin' circumstance."

"Well, go on; where did you see them? Do you mean they were together?"

The negro took a long breath, evidently overcome by the importance of his
message, and unable to conjure up words wholly satisfactory to his ideas.

"It sho' am de strangest t'ing, Massa Jack, ebber I prognosticated. I was
jest comin' roun' de corner ob Sheeny Joe's shebang, back dar by de
blacksmith shop, when--de Lawd save me!--yere come ol' Massa Waite, a
ridin' 'long on a cream colo'd pinto just as much alibe as ebber he was.
Yas, sah; he's whiskers was blowin' round, an' I could eben yeah him
cussin' de hoss, when he done shy at a man what got up sudden like from a
cart-wheel he was settin' on. I done took one look at dat secon' fellar,
and seed it was dat black debble from down Carson way. Den I ducked inter
de blacksmith shop out 'er sight. I sho' didn't want Mister Hawley to git
no chance at dis nigger--I sho' didn't."

"Did they speak to one another?" Keith asked, anxiously. "Did you hear
what was said?"

"Sho' dey talked, Massa Jack. I sorter reckon dey was dar for dat special
purpose. Sutt'nly, sah, dey went right at talkin' like dey hed som't'ing
on dey minds. Ol' Massa Waite was a sittin' straight up on de hoss, an'
dat black debble was a standin' dar in front ob him. Ol' Massa Waite he
was mad from de first jump off, an' I could heah most eberyt'ing he said,
but Mr. Hawley he grin de same way he do when he deal faro, an' speaks
kinder low. De ol' man he swear fine at him, he call him eberyt'ing--a
damn liar, a damn scoundrel--but Mr. Hawley he jest grin, and say ober de
same ting."

"What was that, Neb?"

"Som't'ing 'bout a gal, Massa Jack--an' a law suit--an' how de ol' man
better settle up widout no fightin'. I jest didn't git de whole ob it, he
talked so low like."

"What did Waite say?"

"Well, mostly he jest cussed. He sho' told dat black debble 'bout what he
thought ob him, but he didn't nebber once call him Hawley--no, sah, not
once; he done call him Bartlett, or somet'ing or odder like dat. But he
sutt'nly read dat man's pedigree from way back to de time ob de flood, I
reck'n. An' he done swore he'd fight for whatebber it was, papers or no
papers. Den Hawley, he got plumb tired ob de ol' man swearin' at him, an'
he grabbed a picter out ob he's pocket, an' says, 'Damn you; look at dat!
What kind ob a fight can yo' make against dat face?' De ol' man stared at
it a while, sorter chokin' up; den he say softer like: 'It's Hope; where
did yo' ebber get dat?' and de black debble he laughed, an' shoved de
picter back into he's pocket. 'Hope, hell!' he say, 'it's Phyllis, an'
I'll put her before any jury yo're mind to get--oh, I've got yo' nailed,
Waite, dis time.'"

"Was that all?"

"De ol' gin'ral he didn't seem ter know what ter say; he done set dar
lookin' off ober de prairie like he was clar flumegasted. He sho' did look
like dat black debble hed hit him mighty hard. Den he says slow like,
turnin' his hoss 'round: 'Bartlett, yo' am puttin' up a good bluff, but,
by Gawd, I'm goin' ter call yo'. Yo' don't get a cent ob dat money 'less
yo' put up de proof. I'll meet yo' whar yo' say, but ef I can git hol' ob
some papers dat's missin' I'll take dat grin off yo' face.' De odder one
laughed, an' de ol' gin'ral started fo' ter ride away, den he pull up he's
hoss, an' look back. 'Yo' sorter herd wid dat kind ob cattle, Bartlett,'
he say, sharp like, 'maybe yo' know a gambler roun' yere called Hawley?'
De black debble nebber eben lose he's grin. 'Do yo' mean Black Bart
Hawley?' 'Dat's the man, where is he?' 'Dealin' faro fo' Mike Kenna in
Topeka a week ago--friend ob yours?' 'Dat's none ob yo' damned business,'
snorted de ol' gin'ral, givin' his hoss de spur. Sho', Massa Jack, he
nebber knowed he was talkin' ter dat same Hawley, an' dat black debble
jest laughed as he rode off."

"When was all this, Neb?"

"'Bout de time yo' all went up on de hill, I reck'n. I done come right
yere, and waited."

Keith walked across the room, selected a cigar, and came back, his mind
busy with the problem. Hawley had in some manner, then, got into
communication with Waite, and was threatening him. But Waite evidently
knew the man under another name--his given name--and the gambler had sent
him off on a false trail. The lost papers apparently contained the
solution to all this mystery. Waite believed Hawley possessed them, but
did not suspect that Bartlett and Hawley were the same person. What would
he most naturally do now? Seek Hawley in Topeka probably; seize the first
opportunity of getting there. Keith turned impatiently to the clerk.

"Any train running east?"

"Well, they generally start one out every day,", with a glance toward the
clock, "'long 'bout this time. Maybe it's gone, and maybe it hasn't."

It was already nearly dark outside as the two men hastened toward the
depot. They arrived there barely in time to see the red lights on the last
car disappear. No inquiries made of those lounging about brought results--
they had been interested in a lot of drunken graders loaded on the flat
cars by force, and sent out under guard--and not one could tell whether
any man answering Waite's description was in the single passenger coach.
Convinced, however, that the General would waste no time in prosecuting
his search, Keith believed him already on his way east, and after
dismissing Neb, with instructions to watch out closely for Hawley, he made
his own way back to the hotel.

It seemed strange enough how completely he was blocked each time, just as
he thought the whole baffling mystery was about to be made clear. Hawley
was playing in rare luck, all the cards running easily to his hand, thus,
at least, gaining time, and strengthening his position. There could no
longer be any doubt that the gambler possessed some knowledge which made
him a formidable adversary. From Waite's statement it was the loss of the
papers which left him helpless to openly resist the claim being made upon
him on behalf of the mysterious Phyllis. His only hope, therefore, lay in
recovering these; but, with time limited, he had been sent back on a wild
goose chase, while Keith alone knew, with any degree of positiveness,
where those documents really were. Hawley certainly had them in his
possession the day before, for he had taken them to Miss Maclaire to thus
convince her as to the truth of his statements. And Hawley was still in
Sheridan. However, it was not likely the man would risk carrying documents
of such value, and documents connecting him so closely with that murder on
the Santa Fe Trail, about upon his person. At best, life was cheap in that
community, and Black Bart must possess enemies in plenty. Yet if not on
his person--where? Scott was only a tool, a mere ignorant desperado, not
to be trusted to such a degree--yet apparently he was the only one working
with the gambler in this deal, the only one cognizant as to his plans.
Christie--Keith came to a stop in the street at the recurrence of the
woman's name. Why not? If she had been convinced, if she really believed
that these papers proved her right to both property and parentage, then
she would guard them as a tigress does her young. And Hawley would know
that, and must realize they would be far safer in her hands than in his
pocket. She could not use them without his aid and guidance, and yet,
whatever happened to him, they would still be safely beyond reach. True,
this might not have been done; the gambler might not yet have felt that he
had sufficient hold upon the woman to trust her thus far, but it was, at
least, a possibility to be considered, and acted upon.

Still wrestling with the intricate problem, Keith entered the dining-room,
and weaved his way, as usual, through the miscellaneous crowd, toward the
more exclusive tables at the rear. A woman sat alone at one of these, her
back toward the door. His first thought was that it must be Hope, and he
advanced toward her, his heart throbbing. She glanced up, a slight frown
wrinkling her forehead, and he bowed, recognizing Christie Maclaire.

Chapter XXVI

A Chance Conversation

The opportunity thus so unexpectedly afforded was not one to be wasted,
and Keith accepted it with swift determination. The expression in the
woman's face was scarcely one of welcome, yet his purpose was sufficiently
serious to cause him to ignore this with easy confidence in himself.

"I am, indeed, most fortunate to discover you alone, Miss Maclaire," he
said, avoiding her eyes by a swift glance over the table, "and evidently
at a time when you are only beginning your meal. May I join you?"

She hesitated for an instant, debating with herself, and as quickly
deciding on disagreeable tactics.

"I presume this is a public table, and I consequently have little choice
in the matter, if you insist," she replied, her voice more civil than her
words. "Still, Mr. Keith, I am not accustomed to associating with

He smiled, holding his temper in check, more than ever determined to win.

"Then, possibly, you may rather welcome a new diversion. I can assure you
our criminals out here are the most interesting portion of our population.
I wish I might have your permission."

Standing there before her, bare-headed, his slightly tanned face strong
and manly, his gray eyes filled with humor, Miss Maclaire recognized again
that he was not of the common herd, and the innate coquetry of her nature
obtained mastery. What harm could it do for her to chat with him for half
an hour? It was better than eating a lonely meal, and, besides, she might
learn something of value to report to Hawley. Her own eyes brightened, the
slight frown disappearing.

"You are certainly an illustration of your theory," she said pleasantly.
"I shall have to say yes, but, really, I did not suppose you would enjoy
being ranked among that class."

He drew out a chair, and sat down facing her, leaning slightly forward
upon the intervening table.

"Nor would I, only I recognize you do not comprehend. The source of your
information is a bit polluted, Miss Maclaire. There are those whose good
opinion I do not seek, and you should not form your decisions on the
unsupported testimony of a personal enemy."

"Oh, indeed," rather resenting the words, and already regretful of her
compliance. "Surely I have as much reason to trust my informant as I have
you. He, at least, has proven himself a friend."

"I wish I could feel as fully assured of that as you do," he returned
honestly. "I would then have every temptation to meddle further taken away
from me. Do you realize that my interest is very largely upon your

"Oh, no," laughing, "I couldn't believe that. I--I have heard it whispered
it might be because of the other girl."

"The other girl!" in complete surprise at this swift return.

"Yes, sir," conscious of having attained the upper hand. "Miss Hope

"Some more of Mr. Hawley's fancies," he retorted, perplexed that so much
should be suspected. "Have you seen her?"

"Why, of course. I am a woman, Mr. Keith, with all the natural curiosity
of my sex. In this case I had special reason to be interested. One does
not meet her counterpart every day."

"The resemblance between you is certainly most striking."

"Sufficiently so," she said slowly, her eyes on his face, "to abundantly
confirm in my mind the truth of all that has been told me."

The waiter approached with the orders, and the two remained in silence
until he had deposited his load upon the table, and departed. She was
watching the face opposite through lowered lashes that veiled her eyes,
but Keith was first to break the stillness.

"I wish I might be told what that was."

"To what do you refer?" apparently forgetful as to where their
conversation had been broken.

"To Hawley's proposition."

"No doubt," her lips smiling, "but you have come to the wrong market, Mr.
Jack Keith."

"Yet," he insisted earnestly, "if this is all straight, with no fraud
concealed anywhere, if you have the proofs in your hands, why are you
afraid to talk openly? The very manner in which Hawley works should
convince you he is himself afraid to face the truth."

"No, you are wrong. There are perfectly satisfactory reasons why we should
for the present keep our plans secret. There are details yet to be decided
upon, and Mr. Hawley's present objection to publicity is only ordinary

She leaned toward him, her fingers playing nervously with a knife.

"Mr. Keith, I cannot help but like you, and I also feel most kindly
disposed toward Mr. Hawley. I wish in this I was no longer compelled to
consider you an enemy to us both. There is no reason why I should, except
for your blind prejudice against this other man who is my friend. I know
you have some cause, for he has told me the entire story, yet I am sure he
did no more than his actual duty. He let me realize how very sorry he was
that the marshal at Carson City had called upon him for assistance."

"Who? Hawley?" Keith questioned, hardly trusting his own ears.

"Yes; indeed he is a very different man from what you have been led to
believe. I know he is a gambler, and all that, but really it is not
altogether his fault. He told me about his life, and it was very sad. He
was driven from home when only a boy, and naturally drifted into evil
company. His one ambition is, to break away, and redeem himself. I am so
anxious to help him, and wish you could realize his purpose, as I do, and
become his friend. Won't you, for my sake? Why, even in this affair he has
not the slightest mercenary purpose--he has only thought of what was
rightfully mine."

Keith listened, feeling to the full the woman's earnestness, the
impossibility of changing her fixed conviction. Hawley had planted his
seed deep and well in fruitful soil.

"You make a strong and charming advocate, Miss Maclaire," he returned,
feeling the necessity of saying something. "I should like to have you
equally earnest on my side. Yet it will be hard to convince me that 'Black
Bart' is the paragon of virtue you describe. I wish I might believe for
your sake. Did he also explain how he came into possession of these

"Oh, yes, indeed; there is no secret about that. They were entrusted to
him by an old man whom he discovered sick in Independence, and who died in
his rooms three years ago. Mr. Hawley has been searching ever since for
the old man's grand-daughter. It is remarkable how he was finally
convinced that I was the one."

"A photograph, was it not?"

A gleam of sudden suspicion appeared in the brown eyes, a slight change in
facial expression.

"That was a clue, yes, but far from being all. But why should I tell you
this?--you believe nothing I say."

"I believe that you believe; that you are fully convinced of the justice
of your claim. Perhaps it is just, but I am suspicious of anything which
Bart Hawley has a hand in. Miss Christie, you really make me wish to
retain your friendship, but I cannot do so if the cost includes faith in
Hawley. Do you know that is not even his name--that he lives under an

"Is there anything strange in that out here?" she asked stoutly. "I told
you how deeply he regretted his life; that alone would be sufficient cause
for him to drop his family name. Did you ever learn his true name?"

He was not sure--only as Neb had reported what Waite had called the man,
yet ventured a direct reply.

"Bartlett, I believe--he uses it now as a prefix."

"Bartlett!--Bartlett!" her hands clasping, and unclasping nervously. "Why,
what a strange coincidence!"

"How? What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing--nothing," biting her lips in vexation. "The name merely
recalled something. But really I must go, Mr. Keith, or I shall be late at
the theatre. You have not attended since I came?"

"No," arising from the table with her. "However, I have heard you sing
before, and hope I may again."

"How tenderly you dwell on that word 'hope,'" she said banteringly, "it
almost makes me envious."

"Your resemblance almost makes me forget."

"But not quite?"

"No, not quite," he confessed, smiling back into her quizzing eyes.

They went out into the hall together, only to meet with Doctor Fairbain at
the door. The latter stared at the two with some embarrassment, for a
moment forgetful of his purpose. His gaze settled on the face of the lady.

"Always getting you two mixed," he blurted forth. "Never saw such
resemblance--positively uncanny--same hotel too means trouble--this Miss

"No, Doctor; I am Miss Maclaire."

"Ought to have known it--if I knew as much about faces as I do about
anatomy never would make such mistake--very sorry--what fooled me was
seeing you with Keith--thought he was after the other one--gay dog though
--never satisfied--was hunting after you."

"After me?" evidently amused.

"Certainly--you--went to the room--then to the clerk--said you were in at
supper--just occurred to me streets here bad at night--thought I'd ask you
to let me escort you to theatre and back--a bit of lunch later--" he
glanced suspiciously at Keith--"probably got here too late."

"Well really you have, Doctor," she replied sweetly, veiling her eyes to
hide their laughter. "But I can assure you it is not Mr. Keith,"
courtesying slightly to the latter, "for he has not honored me; we merely
met by chance at the table. I am sure I should enjoy your company
exceedingly, but to-night I must plead a previous engagement."

"Ah--ah, some other night?"

"With pleasure, yes."

The doctor faded away into the office, not wholly satisfied because Keith
still lingered. Miss Christie extended her hand.

"Isn't he a funny man? But I do like him--someway I like so many people
whom perhaps I ought not, including you, Mr. Jack Keith. Please think over
what I told you about Mr. Hawley, won't you?"

"Certainly; you have given me food for thought. I presume he is to be your

She bowed, evidently resenting the question.

"Yes, and it may interest you to know that he has something of the utmost
importance to tell me to-night--he has actually seen my guardian. Don't
you wish you could be there?"

She gave him a tantalizing smile, withdrawing her hand, and running up the
stairs before he could answer. Over the railing of the landing she glanced
down, and then disappeared.

Chapter XXVII

Miss Hope Suggests

No sooner had Miss Maclaire vanished than Keith's thoughts turned toward
Hope Waite. She would need someone in her loneliness to take her mind from
off her brother's death, and, besides, much had occurred of interest since
the funeral, which he desired to talk over with her. Beyond even these
considerations he was becoming aware of a pleasure in the girl's company
altogether foreign to this mystery which they were endeavoring together to
solve. He yearned to be with her, to look into her face, to mark how
clearly the differing soul changed her from Christie Maclaire. He could
not help but like the latter, yet somehow was conscious of totally
different atmospheres surrounding the two. With one he could be flippant,
careless, even deceitful, but the other aroused only the best that was in
him, her own sincerity making him sincere.

Yet there was reluctance in his steps as he approached the door of "15," a
laggardness he could not explain, but which vanished swiftly enough at
Hope's greeting, and the sudden smile with which she recognized him.

"I was sure you would come," she declared frankly, "and I took an early
lunch so as to be certain and be here. It has seemed a long time since."

"And you might have even thought I had forgotten," he answered, releasing
her hand reluctantly, "if you could have looked into the dining-room
since, instead of staring out of these windows."

"Why? How forgotten?" her eyes opening wide in surprise.

"I had the pleasure of taking supper with Miss Maclaire."

"Oh!" the exclamation decidedly expressive.

"Yes, I come at once to you with the confession. However, our meeting was
purely accidental, and so I hope for pardon."

"Pardon from me? Why, what difference can it possibly make to me?"

"Would you have me consort with the enemy?" he asked, scarcely daring to
press his deeper meaning.

"Oh, no, of course not. What did you talk about? Do you mind telling?"

"Not in the least; our conversation was entirely impersonal. She was
telling me about Hawley; what a wonderfully good man he is. I have begun
to suspect the fellow has fascinated the poor girl--he is a good looking
devil, possessed of a tongue dripping with honey."

"Surely you do not mean she has fallen in love with him," and Hope
shuddered at the thought. "Why--why that would be impossible for--for a
good woman."

"Standards of morality are not always the same," he defended gravely.
"Miss Maclaire's environment has been vastly different from yours, Hope.
She is a variety hall singer; probably, from her own account, a waif since
childhood; and Hawley has come to her in the character of a friend,
appealing both to her interest and sympathy. I do not know she is in love
with him, I merely suspect she may be; certainly she is ready to do battle
on his behalf at the slightest opportunity. She believes in him, defends
him, and resents the slightest insinuation directed against him. He even
escorts her back and forth from her work."

"You know this?"

"I certainly do," and he laughed at the recollection. "Fairbain met us
coming out of the dining-room,--you know what a delightful, blunt,
blundering old fellow he is! Well, Miss Christie must have made an
impression even on his bachelor heart, for he actually requested the
privilege of escorting her to the Trocadero, and back to the hotel after
the performance to-night--hinted at a lunch, the gay old dog, and pranced
about like a stage-door Johnnie. It was a treat to watch her face when he
blurted it all out, snapping his sentences as if he swung a whip-lash. She
excused herself on the score of a previous engagement."

"But that was not necessarily with Hawley."

"I asked her directly, after the doctor had disappeared."

"You must have become very familiar," questioning once again in her voice.

"So Miss Maclaire evidently thought, judging from her manner. However she
answered frankly enough, and, even defiantly, added the information that
the gentleman had something to impart to her of the utmost importance,
sarcastically asking me if I didn't wish I could be there and overhear.
But sit down, Hope, until I tell you all that has occurred."

He went over the various events in detail, watching eagerly the expression
upon her face as she listened intently, only occasionally interrupting
with some pertinent inquiry. The light fell so that she sat partially in
the shadow, where her eyes could not be read, yet he experienced no
difficulty in comprehending the various moods with which she met his
narrative, the color changing in her cheeks, her supple form bending
toward him, or leaning backward in the chair, her fingers clasping or
unclasping in nervous attention. He began with Neb's report, repeating,
word by word, as nearly as he could recollect, what had passed between
Hawley and her father. He paused to inquire if she had ever heard the name
Bartlett, but her reply was merely a negative shake of the head. When he
described their missing the train, she was, apparently, not convinced as
to the General's departure upon it, although finally agreeing that, if he
really believed the report that the man sought was elsewhere, it would be
characteristic of him to accept the first means of getting there. "If he
only knew I was here," she exclaimed wearily, "it might be so different,
but, oh, we are all of us just groping in the dark." Then Keith turned to
his chance meeting with Miss Maclaire, and repeated carefully their
conversation, dwelling particularly upon the few admissions which had
slipped through her lips. These did not seem important to either, although
they treasured them up and talked them over. Then, having exhausted the
topic, silence fell between them, Keith asking the privilege of lighting a
cigar. Hope, after watching him apply the match, thinking what a fine face
he had as the ruddy flame brought it forth with the clearness of a cameo,
leaned back, drawing aside the semblance to a lace curtain, and staring
forth, without seeing, into the street.

Somehow it was hard for her to fully realize the situation, and how
closely it affected her. The swiftly passing events, the complication
arising so suddenly, apparently out of nothing, left her feeling as though
she must surely awake from a dream. She could not comprehend what it was
all about; the names Bartlett and Phyllis had no clear meaning, they
represented nothing but shadows; and this other woman--this music hall
singer--what could there be in common between them? Yet there must be
something--something of vital importance to her father--something which
had already cost her brother's life. That was the one thing which made it
seem an actuality--which brought it home to her as a rugged fact. But for
that--and Keith--Keith sitting there before her--she would have doubted it
all. And yet even Keith had come into her life so suddenly, so
unexpectedly, as to leave her dazed and uncertain. So strongly did this
feeling grip her in the silence, that she extended her hand and touched
him, as though to make sure of his actual presence.

"What is it, Hope?"

"Oh, nothing--nothing," her voice breaking in a little sob. "It is so
silly, but I was just wondering if you were real--everything seems so
impossible. I cannot bring my mind to grasp the situation."

He did not smile, but only took the groping hand into both of his own.

"I think I understand, little girl," he said gravely. "You are totally
unused to such life. Almost without a moment's warning you have been
plunged into a maelstrom of adventure, and are all confused. It is
different with me--since the first shot at Sumter my life has been one of
action, and adventure has grown to be the stimulus I need, and upon which
I thrive. But I assure you," pressing the soft hand warmly, "I am real."

"Of course I know that; it makes me glad to know it. If I could only do
something myself, and not just sit here, it would all become real enough
to me."

She rose suddenly to her feet, clasping her hands together, her face
changing with new animation.

"Why couldn't I? I am sure I could. Oh, Mr. Keith, it has just come to me
how I can help."

He looked at her questioningly, thinking of her beauty rather than of what
she said.

"Do--do I really appear so much like--like that woman?" she asked

"Very much, indeed, excepting for the slight difference in age."

"That would never be noticed in the dark, or a poor light. Am I the same

"Practically, yes."

"And my voice?--could you distinguish me from her by my voice?"

"I might; yet probably not, unless my suspicions were aroused. What is it
you are thinking about?"

She took a deep breath, standing now directly facing him in the light.

"Of playing Miss Maclaire to-night," she said quickly. "Of taking her
place, and learning what it is of so much importance Hawley has to report.
Don't you think it might be done?"

The sheer audacity of this unexpected proposal left him speechless. He
arose to his feet, gripping the back of the chair, almost doubting if he
could have heard aright, his eyes searching the girl's face which was
glowing with excitement. Of course he could not permit of her exposure to
such a risk; the scheme was impracticable, absurd. But was it? Did it not
offer a fair chance of success? And was not the possible result worthy the
risk assumed? He choked back the earlier words of protest unuttered,
puzzled as to what he had best say. A quick-witted resourceful woman might
accomplish all she proposed.

"It looks so simple," she broke in impulsively, moving nearer him. "Don't
you think I could do it? Would it be unwomanly?"

"The result, if accomplished, would abundantly justify the means, Hope,"
he acknowledged at last. "I was not hesitating on that account, but
considering the risk you would incur."

"That would be so small--merely the short walk alone with him from the
theatre to the hotel," she pleaded. "Once here it could make no difference
if he did discover my identity, for there would be plenty of men near at
hand to come to my defence. Oh, please say yes."

"If I do, then we must make the illusion perfect, and take as few chances
of discovery as possible. I must learn exactly how the other dresses, and
when she leaves the theatre. Fortunately for the success of your plan the
Trocadero permits no one but performers to come behind the scenes, so that
Hawley will be compelled to wait for the lady outside the stage door. I
had better go at once, and see to these details."

"Yes," she said, her eyes sparkling with anticipation, "and I am so glad
you are willing. I will be most discreet. You are not sorry I made the

"Certainly not. At first it struck me as altogether wrong, but the more I
think of it the stronger it appeals to me. It may reveal to us the whole
conspiracy, and I cannot believe Hawley would venture upon any gross
familiarity likely to cost him the good opinion of his ally. There is too
much at stake. Wait here, Hope, and I will be back the very moment I learn
all that is necessary."

A glance at the office clock convinced Keith that, in all probability,
Miss Maclaire had not, as yet, departed for the scene of her evening
triumph. Still, it could not be long before she would, and he lit a cigar,
sitting down in a corner partially concealed by the clerk's desk to wait
her appearance. This required longer than anticipated, and fearing lest he
might have missed the departure entirely, he was about to question the
busy Thomas, when he beheld Hawley enter hurriedly from the street and run
up the stairs. He then had been the laggard. All the better, as he would
now have no opportunity to unfold his tale to the lady, as it would be
necessary for them to hurry to the theatre. Whatever the nature of the
revelation it would have to wait until the walk home. The excitement of
the adventure was already creeping into Keith's blood, his pulse

The two returned almost immediately, conclusively proving that Miss
Maclaire, fully dressed for the street, had been awaiting the arrival of
her gallant with some impatience. Hawley was busily explaining his delay
as they came down the stairs, and paid little attention to the seemingly
deserted office. Indeed, Miss Christie monopolized all his thoughts. With
quick scrutiny the watcher noted the more conspicuous articles of apparel
constituting her costume--the white mantilla thrown over her head, the
neatly fitting blue dress, the light cape covering the shoulders--surely
it would not be difficult to duplicate these, so as to pass muster under
the dim light of the streets. Far enough in their rear to feel safe from
observation he followed, noting with increased pleasure the rapidity with
which they covered the required distance. Clearly Miss Christie was
already nervous lest she have not sufficient time remaining in which to
properly dress for her act, and there would be no exchange of confidences
on the outward journey. Hawley left her, as Keith anticipated, at the
stage entrance, the lady hastening within. Her escort strolled leisurely
back to the front of the house, and finally, purchasing a ticket, entered,
the performance already having begun.

Keith knew perfectly the arrangement of the theatre--the seats in front;
tables all through the centre; a gallery filled with benches; a noisy
orchestra beneath the stage; a crowded audience of men, with only here and
there a scattered representative of the gentler sex; busy waiters dodging
in and out among the tables, and down the aisles, filling orders for
liquids from the nearby saloon. The air would be pungent with the odor of
drink, thick with the fumes of tobacco, and noisy with voices, except as
some special favorite on the stage won temporary attention. The Trocadero
possessed but one redeeming feature--no doorway connected stage and
auditorium, and the management brooked no interference with his artists.
It had required some nerve to originally enforce this rule, together with
a smart fight or two, but at this period it was acknowledged and
respected. No sooner had Hawley vanished than Keith found occasion to
enter into casual conversation with the door-keeper, asking a number of
questions, and leaving impressed upon the mind of that astute individual
the idea that he was dealing with a "gent" enamored of one of the stage
beauties. A coin slipped quietly into the man's hand served to deepen this
impression, and unlocked discreet lips otherwise sworn to secrecy. Out of
much general information a little of real value was thus extracted--Miss
Maclaire's act began at 9:45 and was over promptly at 10:10. It required
about twenty minutes more for her to change again into street clothes, and
she usually left the theatre immediately after, which would be about
10:30. Yes, there was a vestibule outside the stage door, and on bad
nights, those waiting for the ladies could slip in there. But on such a
night as this they generally hung around outside. No, there was no
watchman, but the manager was frequently prowling around. He'd be busy,
however, at 10:30, getting the stage ready for the "Flying Hermanns."
Abundantly satisfied and resisting the door-keeper's professional
suggestion that he'd better buy a ticket and take a look at the show,
Keith slipped away, and hastened back to the hotel. The more he
investigated the more feasible appeared the girl's plan, and he was now
fully committed to it.

Chapter XXVIII

The Stage Door of the Trocadero

Hope discovered very little difficulty in duplicating the outer garments
Keith reported Miss Maclaire as wearing. The colors, indeed, were not
exactly the same, yet this difference was not sufficient to be noticeable
at night by the eyes of a man who had no reason to suspect deceit. The
girl was in a flutter of nervous excitement as she hastened about the
room, donning her few requirements of masquerade, yet Keith noted with
appreciation that she became perceptibly cooler as the moment of departure
approached. With cheeks aflame and eyes sparkling, yet speaking with a
voice revealing no falter, she pressed his arm and declared herself
prepared for the ordeal. The face under the shadow of the mantilla was so
arch and piquant, Keith could not disguise his admiration.

"Am I Christie Maclaire?" she asked laughingly.

"Sufficiently so to fool our friend," he returned, "but I am ready to
swear that lady never looked so charming."

"A compliment, and spoken as though you really meant it."

"Have I not been honest enough with you in the past, to be credited with
honesty now?" he protested, a little hurt by the bantering tone.

"Of course you have; I merely talk lightly to keep my courage up. You can
have no idea how afraid I am."

"Then you are truly an actress, for you appear the picture of enjoyment.
But we must go, or Hawley will be there before us, and thus spoil all our

They passed out through the office together, seeing no one familiar to
either, Hope keeping her face partially concealed. The east side of the
street was less frequented than the other, having fewer saloons along its
way, and they chose its darkness. As they advanced, the long habit of
frontier life caused Keith to glance behind before they had progressed a
block, and he was thus made aware that they were being followed.

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