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Ronicky Doone by Max Brand

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Chapter One

_A Horse in Need_

He came into the town as a solid, swiftly moving dust cloud. The wind
from behind had kept the dust moving forward at a pace just equal to
the gallop of his horse. Not until he had brought his mount to a halt
in front of the hotel and swung down to the ground did either he or
his horse become distinctly visible. Then it was seen that the animal
was in the last stages of exhaustion, with dull eyes and hanging head
and forelegs braced widely apart, while the sweat dripped steadily
from his flanks into the white dust on the street. Plainly he had been
pushed to the last limit of his strength.

The rider was almost as far spent as his mount, for he went up the
steps of the hotel with his shoulders sagging with weariness, a
wide-shouldered, gaunt-ribbed man. Thick layers of dust had turned his
red kerchief and his blue shirt to a common gray. Dust, too, made
a mask of his face, and through that mask the eyes peered out,
surrounded by pink skin. Even at its best the long, solemn face could
never have been called handsome. But, on this particular day, he
seemed a haunted man, or one fleeing from an inescapable danger.

The two loungers at the door of the hotel instinctively stepped aside
and made room for him to pass, but apparently he had no desire to
enter the building. Suddenly he became doubly imposing, as he stood on
the veranda and stared up and down at the idlers. Certainly his throat
must be thick and hot with dust, but an overmastering purpose made him
oblivious of thirst.

"Gents," he said huskily, while a gust of wind fanned a cloud of dust
from his clothes, "is there anybody in this town can gimme a hoss to
get to Stillwater, inside three hours' riding?"

He waited a moment, his hungry eyes traveling eagerly from face to
face. Naturally the oldest man spoke first, since this was a matter of
life and death.

"Any hoss in town can get you there in that time, if you know the
short way across the mountain."

"How do you take it? That's the way for me."

But the old fellow shook his head and smiled in pity. "Not if you
ain't rode it before. I used to go that way when I was a kid, but
nowadays nobody rides that way except Doone. That trail is as tricky
as the ways of a coyote; you'd sure get lost without a guide."

The stranger turned and followed the gesture of the speaker. The
mountain rose from the very verge of the town, a ragged mass of sand
and rock, with miserable sagebrush clinging here and there, as dull
and uninteresting as the dust itself. Then he lowered the hand from
beneath which he had peered and faced about with a sigh. "I guess it
ain't much good trying that way. But I got to get to Stillwater inside
of three hours."

"They's one hoss in town can get you there," said the old man. "But
you can't get that hoss today."

The stranger groaned. "Then I'll make another hoss stretch out and

"Can't be done. Doone's hoss is a marvel. Nothing else about here can
touch him, and he's the only one that can make the trip around the
mountain, inside of three hours. You'd kill another hoss trying to do
it, what with your weight."

The stranger groaned again and struck his knuckles against his
forehead. "But why can't I get the hoss? Is Doone out of town with

"The hoss ain't out of town, but Doone is."

The traveler clenched his fists. This delay and waste of priceless
time was maddening him. "Gents," he called desperately, "I got to
get to Martindale today. It's more than life or death to me. Where's
Doone's hoss?"

"Right across the road," said the old man who had spoken first. "Over
yonder in the corral--the bay."

The traveler turned and saw, beyond the road, a beautiful mare, not
very tall, but a mare whose every inch of her fifteen three proclaimed
strength and speed. At that moment she raised her head and looked
across to him, and the heart of the rider jumped into his throat. The
very sight of her was an omen of victory, and he made a long stride in
her direction, but two men came before him. The old fellow jumped from
the chair and tapped his arm.

"You ain't going to take the bay without getting leave from Doone?"

"Gents, I got to," said the stranger. "Listen! My name's Gregg, Bill
Gregg. Up in my country they know I'm straight; down here you ain't
heard of me. I ain't going to keep that hoss, and I'll pay a hundred
dollars for the use of her for one day. I'll bring or send her back
safe and sound, tomorrow. Here's the money. One of you gents, that's a
friend of Doone, take it for him."

Not a hand was stretched out; every head shook in negation.

"I'm too fond of the little life that's left to me," said the old
fellow. "I won't rent out that hoss for him. Why, he loves that mare
like she was his sister. He'd fight like a flash rather than see
another man ride her."

But Bill Gregg had his eyes on the bay, and the sight of her was
stealing his reason. He knew, as well as he knew that he was a man,
that, once in the saddle on her, he would be sure to win. Nothing
could stop him. And straight through the restraining circle he broke
with a groan of anxiety.

Only the old man who had been the spokesman called after him: "Gregg,
don't be a fool. Maybe you don't recognize the name of Doone, but the
whole name is Ronicky Doone. Does that mean anything to you?"

Into the back of Gregg's mind came several faint memories, but they
were obscure and uncertain. "Blast your Ronicky Doone!" he replied. "I
got to have that hoss, and, if none of you'll take money for her rent,
I'll take her free and pay her rent when I come through this way
tomorrow, maybe. S'long!"

While he spoke he had been undoing the cinches of his own horse. Now
he whipped the saddle and bridle off, shouted to the hotel keeper
brief instructions for the care of the weary animal and ran across the
road with the saddle on his arm.

In the corral he had no difficulty with the mare. She came straight to
him in spite of all the flopping trappings. With prickly ears and eyes
lighted with kindly curiosity she looked the dusty fellow over.

He slipped the bridle over her head. When he swung the saddle over her
back she merely turned her head and carelessly watched it fall. And
when he drew up the cinches hard, she only stamped in mock anger. The
moment he was in the saddle she tossed her head eagerly, ready to be

He looked across the street to the veranda of the hotel, as he passed
through the gate of the corral. The men were standing in a long and
awe-stricken line, their eyes wide, their mouths agape. Whoever
Ronicky Doone might be, he was certainly a man who had won the respect
of this town. The men on the veranda looked at Bill Gregg as though
he were already a ghost. He waved his hand defiantly at them and the
mare, at a word from him, sprang into a long-striding gallop that
whirled them rapidly down the street and out of the village.

The bay mare carried him with amazing speed over the ground. They
rounded the base of the big mountain, and, glancing up at the ragged
canyons which chopped the face of the peak, he was glad that he had
not attempted that short cut. If Ronicky Doone could make that trail
he was a skillful horseman.

Bill Gregg swung up over the left shoulder of the mountain and found
himself looking down on the wide plain which held Stillwater. The air
was crystal-clear and dry; the shoulder of the mountain was high above
it; Gregg saw a breathless stretch of the cattle country at one sweep
of his eyes.

Stillwater was still a long way off, and far away across the plain he
saw a tiny moving dot that grew slowly. It was the train heading for
Stillwater, and that train he must beat to the station. For a moment
his heart stood still; then he saw that the train was distant indeed,
and, by the slightest use of the mare's speed, he would be able to
reach the town, two or three minutes ahead of it.

But, just as he was beginning to exult in the victory, after all the
hard riding of the past three days, the mare tossed up her head and
shortened her stride. The heart of Gregg stopped, and he went cold. It
was not only the fear that his journey might be ruined, but the fear
that something had happened to this magnificent creature beneath him.
He swung to the side in the saddle and watched her gallop. Certain she
went laboring, very much as though she were trying to run against a
mighty pull on the reins.

He looked at her head. It was thrown high, with pricking ears. Perhaps
she was frightened by some foolish thing near the road. He touched her
with the spurs, and she increased her pace to the old length and
ease of stride; but, just as he had begun to be reassured, her step
shortened and fell to laboring again, and this time she threw her head
higher than before. It was amazing to Bill Gregg; and then it seemed
to him that he heard a faint, far whistling, floating down from high
above his head.

Again that thin, long-drawn sound, and this time, glancing over his
right shoulder, he saw a horseman plunging down the slope of the
mountain. He knew instantly that it was Ronicky Doone. The man had
come to recapture his horse and had taken the short cut across the
mountain to come up with her. Just by a fraction of a minute Doone
would be too late, for, by the time he came down onto the trail,
the bay would be well ahead, and certainly no horse lived in those
mountains capable of overtaking her when she felt like running. Gregg
touched her again with the spurs, but this time she reared straight up
and, whirling to the side, faced steadily toward her onrushing master.

Chapter Two

_Friendly Enemies_

Again and again Gregg spurred the bay cruelly.

She winced from the pain and snorted, but, apparently having not the
slightest knowledge of bucking, she could only shake her head and send
a ringing whinny of appeal up the slope of the mountain, toward the
approaching rider.

In spite of the approaching danger, in spite of this delay which was
ruining his chances of getting to Stillwater before the train, Bill
Gregg watched in marvel and delight the horsemanship of the stranger.
Ronicky Doone, if this were he, was certainly the prince of all wild

Even as the mare stopped in answer to the signal of her owner, Ronicky
Doone sent his mount over the edge of a veritable cliff, flung him
back on his haunches and slid down the gravelly slope, careening
from side to side. With a rush of pebbles about him and a dust cloud
whirling after, Ronicky Doone broke out into the road ahead of the
mare, and she whinnied softly again to greet him.

Bill Gregg found himself looking not into the savage face of such
a gunfighter as he had been led to expect, but a handsome fellow,
several years younger than he, a high-headed, straight-eyed, buoyant
type. In his seat in the saddle, in the poise of his head and the play
of his hand on the reins Bill Gregg recognized a boundless nervous
force. There was nothing ponderous about Ronicky Doone. Indeed he was
not more than middle size, but, as he reined his horse in the middle
of the road and looked with flashing eyes at Bill Gregg, he appeared
very large indeed.

Gregg was used to fighting or paying his way, or doing both at the
same time, as occasion offered. He decided that this was certainly an
occasion for much money and few words.

"You're Doone, I guess," he said, "and you know that I've played a
pretty bad trick on you, taking your hoss this way. But I wanted to
pay for it, Doone, and I'll pay now. I've got to get to Stillwater
before that train. Look at her! I haven't hurt her any. Her wind isn't
touched. She's pretty wet, but sweat never hurt nothing on four feet,

"I dunno," returned Ronicky Doone. "I'd as soon run off with a man's
wife as his hoss."

"Partner," said Bill Gregg desperately, "I have to get there!"

"Then get there on your own feet, not the feet of another gent's

Gregg controlled his rising anger. Beyond him the train was looming
larger and larger in the plain, and Stillwater seemed more and more
distant. He writhed in the saddle.

"I tell you I'll pay--I'll pay the whole value of the hoss, if you

He was about to say more when he saw the eyes of Ronicky Doone widen
and fix.

"Look," said the other suddenly, "you've been cutting her up with the

Gregg glanced down to the flank of the bay to discover that he had
used the spurs more recklessly than he thought. A sharp rowel had
picked through the skin, and, though it was probably only a slight
wound indeed, it had brought a smear of red to the surface.

Ronicky Doone trembled with anger.

"Confound you!" he said furiously. "Any fool would have known that you
didn't need a spur on that hoss! What part d'you come from where they
teach you to kill a hoss when you ride it? Can you tell me that?"

"I'll tell you after I get to Stillwater."

"I'll see you hung before I see you in Stillwater."

"You've talked too much, Doone," Gregg said huskily.

"I've just begun," said Doone.

"Then take this and shut up," exclaimed Bill Gregg.

Ordinarily he was the straightest and the squarest man in the world in
a fight. But a sudden anger had flared up in him. He had an impulse to
kill; to get rid of this obstacle between him and everything he wanted
most in life. Without more warning than that he snatched out his
revolver and fired point blank at Ronicky Doone. Certainly all the
approaches to a fight had been made, and Doone might have been
expecting the attack. At any rate, as the gun shot out of Gregg's
holster, the other swung himself sidewise in his own saddle and,
snapping out his revolver, fired from the hip.

That swerve to the side saved him, doubtless, from the shot of Gregg;
his own bullet plowed cleanly through the thigh of the other rider.
The whole leg of Gregg went numb, and he found himself slumping
helplessly to one side. He dropped his gun, and he had to cling with
both hands to lower himself out of the saddle. Now he sat in the dust
of the trail and stared stupidly, not at his conqueror, but at the
train that was flashing into the little town of Stillwater, just below

He hardly heeded Ronicky Doone, as the latter started forward with an
oath, knelt beside him and examined the wound. "It's clean," Doone
said, as he started ripping up his undershirt to make bandages. "I'll
have you fixed so you can be gotten into Stillwater."

He began to work rapidly, twisting the clothes around Gregg's thigh,
which he had first laid bare by some dexterous use of a hunting knife.

Then Gregg turned his eyes to those of Doone. The train had pulled out
of Stillwater. The sound of the coughing of the engine, as it started
up, came faintly to them after a moment.

"Of all the darned fools!" said the two men in one voice.

And then they grinned at each other. Certainly it was not the first
fight or the first wound for either of them.

"I'm sorry," they began again, speaking together in chorus.

"Matter of fact," said Ronicky Doone, "that bay means a pile to me.
When I seen the red on her side--"

"Can't be more than a chance prick."

"I know," said Ronicky, "but I didn't stop to think."

"And I should of give you fair warning before I went for the gat."

"Look here," said Ronicky, "you talk like a straight sort of a gent to

"And you thought I was a cross between a hoss thief and a gunfighter?"

"I dunno what I thought, except that I wanted the mare back. Stranger,
I'm no end sorry this has happened. Maybe you'd lemme know why you was
in such a hurry to get to Stillwater. If they's any trouble coming
down the road behind you, maybe I can help take care of it for you."
And he smiled coldly and significantly at Bill Gregg.

The latter eyed with some wonder the man who had just shot him down
and was now offering to fight for his safety. "Nothing like that,"
said Bill. "I was going to Stillwater to meet a girl."

"As much of a rush as all that to see a girl?"

"On that train."

Ronicky Doone whistled softly. "And I messed it up! But why didn't you
tell me what you wanted?"

"I didn't have a chance. Besides I could not waste time in talking and
explaining to everybody along the road."

"Sure you couldn't, but the girl'll forgive you when she finds out
what happened."

"No, she won't, because she'll never find out."


"I don't know where she is."

"Riding all that way just to see a girl--"

"It's a long story, partner, and this leg is beginning to act up. Tell
you the best thing would be for you to jump on your mare and jog into
Stillwater for a buckboard and then come back and get me. What d'you

Twenty minutes after Ronicky Doone had swung into the saddle and raced
down the road, the buckboard arrived and the wounded man was helped on
to a pile of blankets in the body of the wagon.

The shooting, of course, was explained by the inevitable gun accident.
Ronicky Doone happened to be passing along that way and saw Bill Gregg
looking over his revolver as he rode along. At that moment the gun
exploded and--

The two men who had come out in the buckboard listened to the tale
with expressionless faces. As a matter of fact they had already heard
in Stillwater that no less a person than Ronicky Doone was on his way
toward that village in pursuit of a man who had ridden off on the
famous bay mare, Lou. But they accepted Ronicky's bland version of the
accident with perfect calm and with many expressions of sympathy. They
would have other things to say after they had deposited the wounded
man in Stillwater.

The trip in was a painful one for Bill Gregg. For one thing the
exhaustion of the long three days' trip was now causing a wave of
weariness to sweep over him. The numbness, which had come through the
leg immediately after the shooting, was now replaced by a steady and
continued aching. And more than all he was unnerved by the sense of
utter failure, utter loss. Never in his life had he fought so bitterly
and steadily for a thing, and yet he had lost at the very verge of

Chapter Three

_At Stillwater_

The true story was, of course, known almost at once, but, since
Ronicky Doone swore that he would tackle the first man who accused him
of having shot down Bill Gregg, the talk was confined to whispers. In
the meantime Stillwater rejoiced in its possession of Ronicky Doone.
Beyond one limited section of the mountain desert he was not as
yet known, but he had one of those personalities which are called
electric. Whatever he did seemed greater because he, Ronicky Doone,
had done it.

Not that he had done a great many things as yet. But there was a
peculiar feeling in the air that Ronicky Doone was capable of great
and strange performances. Men older than he were willing to accept him
as their leader; men younger than he idolized him.

Ronicky Doone, then, the admired of all beholders, is leaning in the
doorway of Stillwater's second and best hotel. His bandanna today is
a terrific yellow, set off with crimson half-moon and stars strewn
liberally on it. His shirt is merely white, but it is given some
significance by having nearly half of a red silk handkerchief falling
out of the breast pocket. His sombrero is one of those works of art
which Mexican families pass from father to son, only his was new and
had not yet received that limp effect of age. And, like the gaudiest
Mexican head piece, the band of this sombrero was of purest gold,
beaten into the forms of various saints. Ronicky Doone knew nothing at
all about saints, but he approved very much of the animation of the
martyrdom scenes and felt reasonably sure that his hatband could not
be improved upon in the entire length and breadth of Stillwater, and
the young men of the town agreed with him, to say nothing of the

They also admired his riding gloves which, a strange affectation in a
country of buckskin, were always the softest and the smoothest and the
most comfortable kid that could be obtained.

Truth to tell, he did not handle a rope. He could not tell the noose
end of a lariat from the straight end, hardly. Neither did Ronicky
Doone know the slightest thing about barbed wire, except how to cut
it when he wished to ride through. Let us look closely at the hands
themselves, as Ronicky stands in the door of the hotel and stares at
the people walking by. For he has taken off his gloves and he now
rolls a cigarette.

They are very long hands. The fingers are extremely slender and
tapering. The wrists are round and almost as innocent of sinews as the
wrists of a woman, save when he grips something, and then how they
stand out. But, most remarkable of all, the skin of the palms of those
hands is amazingly soft. It is truly as soft as the skin of the hand
of a girl.

There were some who shook their heads when they saw those hands. There
were some who inferred that Ronicky Doone was little better than a
scapegrace, and that, in reality, he had never done a better or more
useful thing than handle cards and swing a revolver. In both of which
arts it was admitted that he was incredibly dexterous. As a matter
of fact, since there was no estate from which he drew an income, and
since he had never been known in the entire history of his young life
to do a single stroke of productive work of any kind, the bitter
truth was that Ronicky Doone was no better and no worse than a common

Indeed, if to play a game of chance is to commit a sin, Ronicky Doone
was a very great sinner. Yet it should be remarked that he lacked the
fine art of taking the money of other less clever fellows when they
were intoxicated, and he also lacked the fine hardness of mind which
enables many gamblers to enjoy taking the last cent from an opponent.
Also, though he knew the entire list of tricks in the repertoire of
a crooked gambler, he had never been known to employ tricking.
He trusted in a calm head, a quick judgment, an ability to read
character. And, though he occasionally met with crooked professionals
who were wolves in the guise of sheep, no one had ever been known to
play more than one crooked trick at cards when playing against Ronicky
Doone. So, on the whole, he made a very good living.

What he had he gave or threw away in wild spending or loaned to
friends, of whom he had a vast number. All of which goes to explain
the soft hands of Ronicky Doone and his nervous, swift-moving fingers,
as he stood at the door of the hotel. For he who plays long with cards
or dice begins to have a special sense developed in the tips of his
fingers, so that they seem to be independent intelligences.

He crossed his feet. His boots were the finest leather, bench-made by
the best of bootmakers, and they fitted the high-arched instep with
the elastic smoothness of gloves. The man of the mountain desert
dresses the extremities and cares not at all for the mid sections.
The moment Doone was off his horse those boots had to be dressed and
rubbed and polished to softness and brightness before this luxurious
gambler would walk about town. From the heels of the boots extended a
long pair of spurs--surely a very great vanity, for never in her life
had his beautiful mare, Lou, needed even the touch of a spur.

But Ronicky Doone could not give up this touch of luxury. The spurs
were plated heavily with gold, and they swept up and out in a long,
exquisite curve, the hub of the rowel set with diamonds.

In a word Ronicky Doone was a dandy, but he had this peculiarity,
that he seemed to dress to please himself rather than the rest of the
world. His glances never roved about taking account of the admiration
of others. As he leaned there in the door of the hotel he was the type
of the young, happy, genuine and carefree fellow, whose mind is no
heavier with a thousand dollars or a thousand cents in his pocket.

Suddenly he started from his lounging place, caught his hat more
firmly over his eyes, threw away his unlighted cigarette and hurried
across the veranda of the hotel. Had he seen an enemy to chastise,
or an old friend to greet, or a pretty girl? No, it was only old Jud
Harding, the blacksmith, whose hand had lost its strength, but who
still worked iron as others mold putty, simply because he had the
genius for his craft. He was staggering now under a load of boards
which he had shouldered to carry to his shop. In a moment that load
was shifted to the shoulder of Ronicky Doone, and they went on down
the street, laughing and talking together until the load was dropped
on the floor of Harding's shop.

"And how's the sick feller coming?" asked Harding.

"Coming fine," answered Ronicky. "Couple of days and I'll have him out
for a little exercise. Lucky thing it was a clean wound and didn't
nick the bone. Soon as it's healed over he'll never know he was

Harding considered his young friend with twinkling eyes. "Queer thing
to me," he said, "is how you and this gent Gregg have hit it off so
well together. Might almost say it was like you'd shot Gregg and now
was trying to make up for it. But, of course, that ain't the truth."

"Of course not," said Ronicky gravely and met the eye of Harding
without faltering.

"Another queer thing," went on the cunning old smith. "He was fooling
with that gun while he was in the saddle, which just means that the
muzzle must of been pretty close to his skin. But there wasn't any
sign of a powder burn, the doc says."

"But his trousers was pretty bad burned, I guess," said Ronicky.

"H-m," said the blacksmith, "that's the first time I've heard about
it." He went on more seriously: "I got something to tell you, Ronicky.
Ever hear the story about the gent that took pity on the snake that
was stiff with cold and brought the snake in to warm him up beside the
fire? The minute the snake come to life he sunk his fangs in the gent
that had saved him."

"Meaning," said Ronicky, "that, because I've done a good turn for
Gregg, I'd better look out for him?"

"Meaning nothing," said Harding, "except that the reason the snake bit
the gent was because he'd had a stone heaved at him by the same man
one day and hadn't forgot it."

But Ronicky Doone merely laughed and turned back toward the hotel.

Chapter Four

_His Victim's Trouble_

Yet he could not help pondering on the words of old Harding. Bill
Gregg had been a strange patient. He had never repeated his first
offer to tell his story. He remained sullen and silent, with his
brooding eyes fixed on the blank wall before him, and nothing could
permanently cheer him. Some inward gloom seemed to possess the man.

The first day after the shooting he had insisted on scrawling a
painfully written letter, while Ronicky propped a writing board in
front of him, as he lay flat on his back in the bed, but that was his
only act. Thereafter he remained silent and brooding. Perhaps it
was hatred for Ronicky that was growing in him, as the sense of
disappointment increased, for Ronicky, after all, had kept him from
reaching that girl when the train passed through Stillwater. Perhaps,
for all Ronicky knew, his bullet had ruined the happiness of two
lives. He shrugged that disagreeable thought away, and, reaching the
hotel, he went straight up to the room of the sick man.

"Bill," he said gently, "have you been spending all your time hating
me? Is that what keeps you thin and glum? Is it because you sit here
all day blaming me for all the things that have happened to you?"

The dark flush and the uneasy flicker of Gregg's glance gave a
sufficient answer. Ronicky Doone sighed and shook his head, but not in

"You don't have to talk," he said. "I see that I'm right. And I don't
blame you, Bill, because, maybe, I've spoiled things pretty generally
for you."

At first the silence of Bill Gregg admitted that he felt the same way
about the matter, yet he finally said aloud: "I don't blame you. Maybe
you thought I was a hoss thief. But the thing is done, Ronicky, and it
won't never be undone!"

"Gregg," said Ronicky, "d'you know what you're going to do now?"

"I dunno."

"You're going to sit there and roll a cigarette and tell me the whole
yarn. You ain't through with this little chase. Not if I have to drag
you along with me. But first just figure that I'm your older brother
or something like that and get rid of the whole yarn. Got to have the
ore specimens before you can assay 'em. Besides, it'll help you a pile
to get the poison out of your system. If you feel like cussing me
hearty when the time comes go ahead and cuss, but I got to hear that

"Maybe it would help," said Gregg, "but it's a fool story to tell."

"Leave that to me to say whether it's a fool story or not. You start
the talking."

Gregg shifted himself to a more comfortable position, as is the
immemorial custom of story tellers, and his glance misted a little
with the flood of recollections.

"Started along back about a year ago," he said. "I was up to the
Sullivan Mountains working a claim. There wasn't much to it, just
enough to keep me going sort of comfortable. I pegged away at it
pretty steady, leading a lonely life and hoping every day that I'd cut
my way down to a good lead. Well, the fine ore never showed up.

"Meantime I got pretty weary of them same mountains, staring me in the
face all the time. I didn't have even a dog with me for conversation,
so I got to thinking. Thinking is a bad thing, mostly, don't you
agree, Ronicky?"

"It sure is," replied Ronicky Doone instantly. "Not a bit of a doubt
about it."

"It starts you doubting things," went on Gregg bitterly, "and pretty
soon you're even doubting yourself." Here he cast an envious glance at
the smooth brow of his companion. "But I guess that never happened to
you, Ronicky?"

"You'd be surprised if I told you," said Ronicky.

"Well," went on Bill Gregg, "I got so darned tired of my own thoughts
and of myself that I decided something had ought to be done; something
to give me new things to think about. So I sat down and went over the
whole deal.

"I had to get new ideas. Then I thought of what a gent had told me
once. He'd got pretty interested in mining and figured he wanted to
know all about how the fancy things was done. So he sent off to some
correspondence schools. Well, they're a great bunch. They say: 'Write
us a lot of letters and ask us your questions. Before you're through
you'll know something you want to know.' See?"

"I see."

"I didn't have anything special I wanted to learn except how to use
myself for company when I got tired of solitaire. So I sat down and
wrote to this here correspondence school and says: 'I want to do
something interesting. How d'you figure that I had better begin?' And
what d'you think they answered back?"

"I dunno," said Ronicky, his interest steadily increasing.

"Well, sir, the first thing they wrote back was: 'We have your letter
and think that in the first place you had better learn how to write.'
That was a queer answer, wasn't it?"

"It sure was." Ronicky swallowed a smile.

"Every time I looked at that letter it sure made me plumb mad. And I
looked at it a hundred times a day and come near tearing it up every
time. But I didn't," continued Bill.

"Why not?"

"Because it was a woman that wrote it. I told by the hand, after a

"A woman? Go on, Bill. This story sure sounds different from most."

"It ain't even started to get different yet," said Bill gloomily.
"Well, that letter made me so plumb mad that I sat down and wrote
everything I could think of that a gent would say to a girl to let her
know what I thought about her. And what d'you think happened?"

"She wrote you back the prettiest letter you ever seen," suggested
Ronicky, "saying as how she'd never meant to make you mad and that if

"Say," broke in Bill Gregg, "did I show that letter to you?"

"Nope; I just was guessing at what a lot of women would do. You see?"

"No, I don't. I could never figure them as close as that. Anyway
that's the thing she done, right enough. She writes me a letter that
was smooth as oil and suggests that I go on with a composition course
to learn how to write."

"Going to have you do books, Bill?"

"I ain't a plumb fool, Ronicky. But I thought it wouldn't do me no
harm to unlimber my pen and fire out a few words a day. So I done it.
I started writing what they told me to write about, the things that
was around me, with a lot of lessons about how you can't use the same
word twice on one page, and how terrible bad it is to use too many
passive verbs."

"What's a passive verb, Bill?"

"I didn't never figure it out, exactly. However, it seems like they're
something that slows you up the way a muddy road slows up a hoss.
And then she begun talking about the mountains, and then she begun

"About you!" suggested Ronicky with a grin.

"Confound you," said Bill Gregg. "How come you guessed that?"

"I dunno. I just sort of scented what was coming."

"Well, anyways, that's what she done. And pretty soon she sent me a
snapshot of herself. Well--"

"Lemme see it," said Ronicky Doone calmly.

"I dunno just where it is, maybe," replied Bill Gregg.

"Ill tell you. It's right around your neck, in that nugget locket you
wear there."

For a moment Bill Gregg hated the other with his eyes, and then he
submitted with a sheepish grin, took off the locket, which was made of
one big nugget rudely beaten into shape, and opened it for the benefit
of Ronicky Doone. It showed the latter not a beautiful face, but a
pretty one with a touch of honesty and pride that made her charming.

"Well, as soon as I got that picture," said Bill Gregg, as he took
back the locket, "I sure got excited. Looked to me like that girl was
made for me. A lot finer than I could ever be, you see, but simple; no
fancy frills, no raving beauty, maybe, but darned easy to look at.

"First thing I done I went in and got a copy of my face made and
rushed it right back at her and then--" He stopped dolefully. "What
d'you think, Ronicky?"

"I dunno," said Ronicky; "what happened then?"

"Nothing, not a thing. Not a word came back from her to answer that
letter I'd sent along."

"Maybe you didn't look rich enough to suit her, Bill."

"I thought that, and I thought it was my ugly face that might of made
her change her mind. I thought of pretty near everything else that was
bad about me and that she might of read in my face. Sure made me sick
for a long time. Somebody else was correcting my lessons, and that
made me sicker than ever.

"So I sat down and wrote a letter to the head of the school and told
him I'd like to get the address of that first girl. You see, I didn't
even know her name. But I didn't get no answer."

Ronicky groaned. "It don't look like the best detective in the world
could help you to find a girl when you don't know her name." He added
gently: "But maybe she don't want you to find her?"

"I thought that for a long time. Then, a while back, I got a letter
from San Francisco, saying that she was coming on a train through
these parts and could I be in Stillwater because the train stopped
there a couple of minutes. Most like she thought Stillwater was just
sort of across the street from me. Matter of fact, I jumped on a hoss,
and it took me three days of breaking my neck to get near Stillwater
and then--" He stopped and cast a gloomy look on his companion.

"I know," said Ronicky. "Then I come and spoiled the whole party. Sure
makes me sick to think about it."

"And now she's plumb gone," muttered Bill Gregg. "I thought maybe the
reason I didn't have her correcting my lessons any more was because
she'd had to leave the schools and go West. So, right after I got this
drilling through the leg, you remember, I wrote a letter?"


"It was to her at the schools, but I didn't get no answer. I guess she
didn't go back there after all. She's plumb gone, Ronicky."

The other was silent for a moment. "How much would you give to find
her?" he asked suddenly.

"Half my life," said Bill Gregg solemnly.

"Then," said Ronicky, "we'll make a try at it. I got an idea how we
can start on the trail. I'm going to go with you, partner. I've messed
up considerable, this little game of yours; now I'm going to do what
I can to straighten it out. Sometimes two are better than one. Anyway
I'm going to stick with you till you've found her or lost her for
good. You see?"

Bill Gregg sighed. "You're pretty straight, Ronicky," he said, "but
what good does it do for two gents to look for a needle in a haystack?
How could we start to hit the trail?"

"This way. We know the train that she took. Maybe we could find the
Pullman conductor that was on it, and he might remember her. They got
good memories, some of those gents. We'll start to find him, which had
ought to be pretty easy."

"Ronicky, I'd never of thought of that in a million years!"

"It ain't thinking that we want now, it's acting. When can you start
with me?"

"I'll be fit tomorrow."

"Then tomorrow we start."

Chapter Five

_Macklin's Library_

Robert Macklin, Pullman conductor, had risen to that eminent position
so early in life that the glamour of it had not yet passed away. He
was large enough to have passed for a champion wrestler or a burly
pugilist, and he was small enough to glory in the smallest details of
his work. Having at the age of thirty, through a great deal of luck
and a touch of accident, secured his place, he possessed, at least,
sufficient dignity to fill it.

He was one of those rare men who carry their dignity with them past
the doors of their homes. Robert Macklin's home, during the short
intervals when he was off the trains, was in a tiny apartment. It was
really one not overly large room, with a little alcove adjoining; but
Robert Macklin had seized the opportunity to hang a curtain across
the alcove, and, since it was large enough to contain a chair and a
bookshelf, he referred to it always as his "library."

He was this morning seated in his library, with his feet protruding
through the curtains and resting on the foot of his bed, when the
doorbell rang. He surveyed himself in his mirror before he answered
it. Having decided that, in his long dressing gown, he was imposing
enough, he advanced to the door and slowly opened it.

He saw before him two sun-darkened men whose soft gray hats proclaimed
that they were newly come out of the West. The one was a fellow whose
face had been made stern by hard work and few pleasures in life. The
other was one who, apparently, had never worked at all. There was
something about him that impressed Robert Macklin. He might be a young
Western millionaire, for instance. Aside from his hat he was dressed
with elaborate care. He wore gray spats, and his clothes were
obviously well tailored, and his necktie was done in a bow. On the
whole he was a very cool, comfortable looking chap. The handkerchief,
which protruded from his breast pocket and showed an edging of red,
was a trifle noisy; and the soft gray hat was hardly in keeping, but,
on the whole, he was a dashing-looking chap. The bagging trousers
and the blunt-toed shoes of his companion were to Robert Macklin a
distinct shock. He centered all of his attention instantly on the
younger of his two visitors.

"You're Mr. Macklin, I guess," said the handsome man.

"I am," said Macklin, and, stepping back from his door, he invited
them in with a sweeping gesture.

There were only two chairs, but the younger of the strangers
immediately made himself comfortable on the bed.

"My name's Doone," he said, "and this is Mr. William Gregg. We think
that you have some information which we can use. Mind if we fire a few

"Certainly not," said Robert Macklin. At the same time he began to arm
himself with caution. One could never tell.

"Matter of fact," went on Ronicky smoothly, lighting a tailor-made
cigarette, while his companion rolled one of his own making, "we are
looking for a lady who was on one of your trains. We think you may
possibly remember her. Here's the picture."

And, as he passed the snapshot to the Pullman conductor, he went on
with the details of the date and the number of the train.

Robert Macklin in the meantime studied the picture carefully. He had a
keen eye for faces, but when it came to pretty faces his memory was a
veritable lion. He had talked a few moments with this very girl, and
she had smiled at him. The memory made Robert Macklin's lips twitch
just a trifle, and Ronicky Doone saw it.

Presently the dignitary returned the picture and raised his head from
thought. "It is vaguely behind my mind, something about this lady," he
said. "But I'm sorry to say, gentlemen, I really don't know you and--"

"Why, don't you know us!" broke in Bill Gregg. "Ain't my partner here
just introduced us?"

"Exactly," said Robert Macklin. And his opinion of the two sank a full
hundred points. Such grammar proclaimed a ruffian.

"You don't get his drift," Ronicky was explaining to his companion. "I
introduced us, but he doesn't know who I am. We should have brought
along a letter of introduction." He turned to Macklin. "I am mighty
sorry I didn't get one," he said.

It came to Macklin for the fraction of a second that he was being
mocked, but he instantly dismissed the foolish thought. Even the rough
fellows must be able to recognize a man when they saw one.

"The point is," went on Ronicky gently, "that my friend is very eager
for important reasons to see this lady, to find her. And he doesn't
even know her name." Here his careful grammar gave out with a crash.
"You can't beat a deal like that, eh, Macklin? If you can remember
anything about her, her name first, then, where she was bound, who was
with her, how tall she is, the color of her eyes, we'd be glad to know
anything you know. What can you do for us?"

Macklin cleared his throat thoughtfully. "Gentlemen," he said gravely,
"if I knew the purpose for which you are seeking the lady I--"

"The purpose ain't to kidnap her, if that's your drift," said Ronicky.
"We ain't going to treat her wrong, partner. Out in our part of
the land they don't do it. Just shake up your thoughts and see if
something about that girl doesn't pop right into your head."

Robert Macklin smiled and carefully shook his head. "It seems to be
impossible for me to remember a thing," he asserted.

"Not even the color of her eyes?" asked Ronicky, as he grinned. He
went on more gravely: "I'm pretty dead sure that you do remember
something about her."

There was just the shade of a threat in the voice of this slender
youngster, and Robert Macklin had been an amateur pugilist of much
brawn and a good deal of boxing skill. He cast a wary eye on Ronicky;
one punch would settle that fellow. The man Gregg might be a harder
nut to crack, but it would not take long to finish them both. Robert
Macklin thrust his shoulders forward.

"Friends," he said gruffly, "I don't have much time off. This is my
day for rest. I have to say good-by."

Ronicky Doone stood up with a yawn. "I thought so," he said to his
companion. "Mind the door, Gregg, and see that nobody steps in and
busts up my little party."

"What are you going to do?"

"Going to argue with this gent in a way he'll understand a pile better
than the chatter we've been making so far." He stepped a long light
pace forward. "Macklin, you know what we want to find out. Will you

A cloud of red gathered before the eyes of Macklin. It was impossible
that he must believe his ears, and yet the words still rang there.

"Why, curse your little rat-face!" burst out Robert Macklin, and,
stepping in, he leaned forward with a perfect straight left.

Certainly his long vacation from boxing had not ruined his eye or
stiffened his muscles. With delight he felt all the big sinews about
his shoulders come into play. Straight and true the big fist drove
into the face of the smaller man, but Robert Macklin found that he had
punched a hole in thin air. It was as if the very wind of the blow had
brushed the head of Ronicky Doone to one side, and at the same time he
seemed to sway and stagger forward.

A hard lean fist struck Robert Macklin's body. As he gasped and
doubled up, clubbing his right fist to land the blow behind the ear
of Ronicky Doone, the latter bent back, stepped in and, rising on the
toes of both feet, whipped a perfect uppercut that, in ring parlance,
rang the bell.

The result was that Robert Macklin, his mouth agape and his eyes dull,
stood wobbling slowly from side to side.

"Here!" called Ronicky to his companion at the door. "Grab him on one
side, and I'll take the other. He's out on his feet. Get him to that
chair." With Gregg's assistance he dragged the bulk of the man there.
Macklin was still stunned.

Presently the dull eyes cleared and filled immediately with horror.
Big Robert Macklin sank limply back in the chair.

"I've no money," he said. "I swear I haven't a cent in the place. It's
in the bank, but if a check will--"

"We don't want your money this trip," said Ronicky. "We want talk,
Macklin. A lot of talk and a lot of true talk. Understand? It's about
that girl. I saw you grin when you saw the picture; you remember her
well enough. Now start talking, and remember this, if you lie, I'll
come back here and find out and use this on you."

The eyes of Robert Macklin started from his head, as his gaze
concentrated on the black muzzle of the gun. He moistened his white
lips and managed to gasp: "Everything I know, of course. Ill tell you
everything, word for word. She--she--her name I mean--"

"You're doing fine," said Ronicky. "Keep it up, and you keep away,
Bill. When you come at him with that hungry look he thinks you're
going to eat him up. Fire away, Macklin."

"What first?"

"What's she look like?"

"Soft brown hair, blue eyes, her mouth--"

"Is a little big. That's all right. You don't have to be polite and
lie. We want the truth. How big is she?"

"About five feet and five inches, must weigh around a hundred and
thirty pounds."

"You sure are an expert on the ladies, Macklin, and I'll bet you
didn't miss her name?"

"Her name?"

"Don't tell me you missed out on that!"

"No. It was--Just a minute!"

"Take your time."


"Take your time now, Macklin, you're doing fine. Don't get confused.
Get the last name right. It's the most important to us."

"I have it, I'm sure. The whole name is Caroline Smith."

There was a groan from Ronicky Doone and another from Bill Gregg.

"That's a fine name to use for trailing a person. Did she say anything
more, anything about where she expected to be living in New York?"

"I don't remember any more," said Macklin sullenly, for the spot where
Ronicky's fist landed on his jaw was beginning to ache. "I didn't sit
down and have any chats with her. She just spoke to me once in a while
when I did something for her. I suppose you fellows have some crooked
work on hand for her?"

"We're bringing her good news," said Ronicky calmly. "Now see if you
can't remember where she said she lived in New York." And he gave
added point to his question by pressing the muzzle of the revolver
a little closer to the throat of the Pullman conductor. The latter
blinked and swallowed hard.

"The only thing I remember her saying was that she could see the East
River from her window, I think."

"And that's all you know?"

"Yes, not a thing more about her to save my life."

"Maybe what you know has saved it," said Ronicky darkly.

His victim eyed him with sullen malevolence. "Maybe there'll be a new
trick or two in this game before it's finished. I'll never forget you,
Doone, and you, Gregg."

"You haven't a thing in the world on us," replied Ronicky.

"I have the fact that you carry concealed weapons."

"Only this time."

"Always! Fellows like you are as lonesome without a gun as they are
without a skin."

Ronicky turned at the door and laughed back at the gloomy face, and
then they were gone down the steps and into the street.

Chapter Six

_The New York Trail_

On the train to New York that night they carefully summed up their
prospects and what they had gained.

"We started at pretty near nothing," said Ronicky. He was a
professional optimist. "We had a picture of a girl, and we knew she
was on a certain train bound East, three or four weeks ago. That's all
we knew. Now we know her name is Caroline Smith, and that she lives
where she can see the East River out of her back window. I guess that
narrows it down pretty close, doesn't it, Bill?"

"Close?" asked Bill. "Close, did you say?" "Well, we know the trail,"
said Ronicky cheerily. "All we've got to do is to locate the shack
that stands beside that trail. For old mountain men like us that ought
to be nothing. What sort of a stream is this East River, though?"

Bill Gregg looked at his companion in disgust. He had become so
used to regarding Doone as entirely infallible that it amazed and
disheartened him to find that there was one topic so large about which
Ronicky knew nothing. Perhaps the whole base for the good cheer of
Ronicky was his ignorance of everything except the mountain desert.

"A river's a river," went on Ronicky blandly. "And it's got a town
beside it, and in the town there's a house that looks over the water.
Why, Bill, she's as good as found!"

"New York runs about a dozen miles along the shore of that river,"
groaned Bill Gregg.

"A dozen miles!" gasped Ronicky. He turned in his seat and stared at
his companion. "Bill, you sure are making a man-sized joke. There
ain't that much city in the world. A dozen miles of houses, one right
next to the other?"

"Yep, and one on top of the other. And that ain't all. Start about the
center of that town and swing a twenty-mile line around it, and the
end of the line will be passing through houses most of the way."

Ronicky Doone glared at him in positive alarm. "Well," he said,
"that's different."

"It sure is. I guess we've come on a wild-goose chase, Ronicky,
hunting for a girl named Smith that lives on the bank of the East
River!" He laughed bitterly.

"How come you know so much about New York?" asked Ronicky, eager to
turn the subject of conversation until he could think of something to
cheer his friend.

"Books," said Bill Gregg.

After that there was a long lull in the conversation. That night
neither of them slept long, for every rattle and sway of the train was
telling them that they were rocking along toward an impossible task.
Even the cheer of Ronicky had broken down the next morning, and,
though breakfast in the diner restored some of his confidence, he was
not the man of the day before.

"Bill," he confided, on the way back to their seats from the diner,
"there must be something wrong with me. What is it?"

"I dunno," said Bill. "Why?"

"People been looking at me."

"Ain't they got a right to do that?"

"Sure they have, in a way. But, when they don't seem to see you when
you see them, and when they begin looking at you out of the corner
of their eyes the minute you turn away, why then it seems to me that
they're laughing at you, Bill."

"What they got to laugh about? I'd punch a gent in the face that
laughed at me!"

But Ronicky fell into a philosophical brooding. "It can't be done,
Bill. You can punch a gent for cussing you, or stepping on your foot,
or crowding you, or sneering at you, or talking behind your back, or
for a thousand things. But back here in a crowd you can't fight a gent
for laughing at you. Laughing is outside the law most anywheres, Bill.
It's the one thing you can't answer back except with more laughing.
Even a dog gets sort of sick inside when you laugh at him, and a man
is a pile worse. He wants to kill the gent that's laughing, and he
wants to kill himself for being laughed at. Well, Bill, that's a good
deal stronger than the way they been laughing at me, but they
done enough to make me think a bit. They been looking at three
things--these here spats, the red rim of my handkerchief sticking out
of my pocket, and that soft gray hat, when I got it on."

"Derned if I see anything wrong with your outfit. Didn't they tell you
that that was the style back East, to have spats like that on?"

"Sure," said Ronicky, "but maybe they didn't know, or maybe they go
with some, but not with me. Maybe I'm kind of too brown and outdoors
looking to fit with spats and handkerchiefs like this."

"Ronicky," said Bill Gregg in admiration, "maybe you ain't read a
pile, but you figure things out just like a book."

Their conversation was cut short by the appearance of a drift of
houses, and then more and more. From the elevated line on which they
ran presently they could look down on block after block of roofs
packed close together, or big business structures, as they reached the
uptown business sections, and finally Ronicky gasped, as they plunged
into utter darkness that roared past the window.

"We go underground to the station," Bill Gregg explained. He was
a little startled himself, but his reading had fortified him to a
certain extent.

"But is there still some more of New York?" asked Ronicky humbly.

"More? We ain't seen a corner of it!" Bill's superior information made
him swell like a frog in the sun. "This is kinder near One Hundredth
Street where we dived down. New York keeps right on to First Street,
and then it has a lot more streets below that. But that's just the
Island of Manhattan. All around there's a lot more. Manhattan is
mostly where they work. They live other places."

It was not very long before the train slowed down to make Grand
Central Station. On the long platform Ronicky surrendered his suit
case to the first porter. Bill Gregg was much alarmed. "What'd you do
that for?" he asked, securing a stronger hold on his own valise and
brushing aside two or three red caps.

"He asked me for it," explained Ronicky. "I wasn't none too set on
giving it to him to carry, but I hated to hurt his feelings. Besides,
they're all done up in uniforms. Maybe this is their job."

"But suppose that feller got away out of sight, what would you do?
Your brand-new pair of Colts is lying away in it!"

"He won't get out of sight none," Ronicky assured his friend grimly.
"I got another Colt with me, and, no matter how fast he runs, a
forty-five slug can run a pile faster. But come on, Bill. The word in
this town seems to be to keep right on moving."

They passed under an immense, brightly lighted vault and then wriggled
through the crowds in pursuit of the astonishingly agile porter. So
they came out of the big station to Forty-second Street, where they
found themselves confronted by a taxi driver and the question:

"I dunno," said Ronicky to Bill. "Your reading tell you anything about
the hotels in this here town?"

"Not a thing," said Bill, "because I never figured that I'd be fool
enough to come this far away from my home diggings. But here I am, and
we don't know nothing."

"Listen, partner," said Ronicky to the driver. "Where's a
fair-to-medium place to stop at?"

The taxi driver swallowed a smile that left a twinkle about his eyes
which nothing could remove. "What kind of a place? Anywhere from fifty
cents to fifty bucks a night."

"Fifty dollars!" exclaimed Bill Gregg. "Can you lay over that,
Ronicky? Our wad won't last a week."

"Say, pal," said the taxi driver, becoming suddenly friendly, "I can
fix you up. I know a neat little joint where you'll be as snug as you
want. They'll stick you about one-fifty per, but you can't beat that
price in this town and keep clean."

"Take us there," said Bill Gregg, and they climbed into the machine.

The taxi turned around, shot down Park Avenue, darted aside into the
darker streets to the east of the district and came suddenly to a

"Did you foller that trail?" asked Bill Gregg in a chuckling whisper.

"Sure! Twice to the left, then to the right, and then to the left
again. I know the number of blocks, too. Ain't no reason for getting
rattled just because a joint is strange to us. New York may be
tolerable big, but it's got men in it just like we are, and maybe a
lot worse kinds."

As they got out of the little car they saw that the taxi driver had
preceded them, carrying their suit cases. They followed up a steep
pitch of stairs to the first floor of the hotel, where the landing had
been widened to form a little office.

"Hello, Bert," said their driver. "I picked up these gentlemen at
Grand Central. They ain't wise to the town, so I put 'em next to you.
Fix 'em up here?"

"Sure," said Bert, lifting a huge bulk of manhood from behind the
desk. He placed his fat hands on the top of it and observed his guests
with a smile. "Ill make you right to home here, friends. Thank you,

Joe grinned, nodded and, receiving his money from Bill Gregg, departed
down the stairs, humming. Their host, in the meantime, had picked up
their suit cases and led the way down a hall dimly lighted by two
flickering gas jets. Finally he reached a door and led them into a
room where the gas had to be lighted. It showed them a cheerless
apartment in spite of the red of wall paper and carpet.

"Only three bucks," said the proprietor with the air of one bestowing
charity out of the fullness of his heart. "Bathroom only two doors
down. I guess you can't beat this layout, gents?"

Bill Gregg glanced once about him and nodded.

"You come up from the South, maybe?" asked the proprietor, lingering
at the door.

"West," said Bill Gregg curtly.

"You don't say! Then you boys must be used to your toddy at night,

"It's a tolerable dry country out there," said Ronicky without

"All the more reason you need some liquor to moisten it up. Wait till
I get you a bottle of rye I got handy." And he disappeared in spite of
their protests.

"I ain't a drinking man," said Gregg, "and I know you ain't, but it's
sure insulting to turn down a drink in these days!"

Ronicky nodded, and presently the host returned with two glasses,
rattling against a tall bottle on a tray.

"Say, when," he said, filling the glasses and keeping on, in spite of
their protests, until each glass was full.

"I guess it looks pretty good to you to see the stuff again," he
said, stepping back and rubbing his hands like one warmed by the
consciousness of a good deed. "It ain't very plentiful around here."

"Well," said Gregg, swinging up his glass, "here's in your eye,
Ronicky, and here's to you, sir!"

"Wait," replied Ronicky Doone. "Hold on a minute, Bill. Looks to me
like you ain't drinking," he said to the proprietor.

The fat man waved the suggestion aside. "Never touch it," he assured
them. "Used to indulge a little in light wines and beers when the
country was wet, but when it went dry the stuff didn't mean enough to
me to make it worth while dodging the law. I just manage to keep a
little of it around for old friends and men out of a dry country."

"But we got a funny habit out in our country. We can't no ways drink
unless the gent that's setting them out takes something himself. It
ain't done that way in our part of the land," said Ronicky.

"It ain't?"


"Come, come! That's a good joke. But, even if I can't be with you,
boys, drink hearty."

Ronicky Doone shook his head. "No joke at all," he said firmly.
"Matter of politeness that a lot of gents are terrible hard set on out
where we come from."

"Why, Ronicky," protested Bill Gregg, "ain't you making it a little
strong? For my part I've drunk twenty times without having the gent
that set 'em up touch a thing. I reckon I can do it again. Here's

"Wait!" declared Ronicky Doone. And there was a little jarring ring
in his voice that arrested the hand of Bill Gregg in the very act of
raising the glass.

Ronicky crossed the room quickly, took a glass from the washstand and,
returning to the center table, poured a liberal drink of the whisky
into it.

"I dunno about my friend," he went on, almost sternly, to the
bewildered hotel keeper. "I dunno about him, but some gents feel so
strong about not drinking alone that they'd sooner fight. Well, sir,
I'm one of that kind. So I say, there's your liquor. Get rid of it!"

The fat man reached the center table and propped himself against it,
gasping. His whole big body seemed to be wilting, as though in a
terrific heat. "I dunno!" he murmured. "I dunno what's got into you
fellers. I tell you, I never drink."

"You lie, you fat fool!" retorted Ronicky. "Didn't I smell your

Bill Gregg dropped his own glass on the table and hurriedly came to
confront his host by the side of Ronicky.

"Breath?" asked the fat man hurriedly, still gasping more and more
heavily for air. "I--I may have taken a small tonic after dinner. In
fact, think I did. That's all. Nothing more, I assure you. I--I have
to be a sober man in my work."

"You got to make an exception this evening," said Ronicky, more
fiercely than ever. "I ought to make you drink all three drinks for
being so slow about drinking one!"

"Three drinks!" exclaimed the fat man, trembling violently. "It--it
would kill me!"

"I think it would," said Ronicky. "I swear I think it would. And maybe
even one will be a sort of a shock, eh?"

He commanded suddenly: "Drink! Drink that glass and clean out the last
drop of it, or we'll tie you and pry your mouth open and pour the
whole bottle down your throat. You understand?"

A feeble moan came from the throat of the hotel keeper. He cast
one frantic glance toward the door and a still more frantic appeal
centered on Ronicky Doone, but the face of the latter was as cold as

"Then take your own glasses, boys," he said, striving to smile, as he
picked up his own drink.

"You drink first, and you drink alone," declared Ronicky. "Now!"

The movement of his hand was as ominous as if he had whipped out a
revolver. The fat man tossed off the glass of whisky and then stood
with a pudgy hand pressed against his breast and the upward glance of
one who awaits a calamity. Under the astonished eyes of Bill Gregg he
turned pale, a sickly greenish pallor. His eyes rolled, and his hand
on the table shook, and the arm that supported him sagged.

"Open the window," he said. "The air--there ain't no air. I'm

"Get him some water," cried Bill Gregg, "while I open the window."

"Stay where you are, Bill."

"But he looks like he's dying!"

"Then he's killed himself."

"Gents," began the fat man feebly and made a short step toward them.
The step was uncompleted. In the middle of it he wavered, put out his
arms and slumped upon his side on the floor.

Bill Gregg cried out softly in astonishment and horror, but Ronicky
Doone knelt calmly beside the fallen bulk and felt the beating of his

"He ain't dead," he said quietly, "but he'll be tolerably sick for a
while. Now come along with me."

"But what's all this mean?" asked Bill Gregg in a whisper, as he
picked up his suit case and hurried after Ronicky.

"Doped booze," said Ronicky curtly.

They hurried down the stairs and came out onto the dark street. There
Ronicky Doone dropped his suit case and dived into a dark nook beside
the entrance. There was a brief struggle. He came out again, pushing
a skulking figure before him, with the man's arm twisted behind his

"Take off this gent's hat, will you?" asked Ronicky.

Bill Gregg obeyed, too dumb with astonishment to think. "It's the taxi
driver!" he exclaimed.

"I thought so!" muttered Ronicky. "The skunk came back here to wait
till we were fixed right now. What'll we do with him?"

"I begin to see what's come off" said Bill Gregg, frowning into the
white, scowling face of the taxi driver. The man was like a rat, but,
in spite of his fear, he did not make a sound.

"Over there!" said Bill Gregg, nodding toward a flight of cellar

They caught the man between them, rushed him to the steps and flung
him headlong down. There was a crashing fall, groans and then silence.

"He'll have a broken bone or two, maybe," said Ronicky, peering calmly
into the darkness, "but he'll live to trap somebody else, curse him!"
And, picking up their suit cases again, they started to retrace their

Chapter Seven

_The First Clue_

They did not refer to the incidents of that odd reception in New York
until they had located a small hotel for themselves, not three blocks
away. It was no cheaper, but they found a pleasant room, clean and
with electric lights. It was not until they had bathed and were
propped up in their beds for a good-night smoke, which cow-punchers
love, that Bill Gregg asked: "And what gave you the tip, Ronicky?"

"I dunno. In my business you got to learn to watch faces, Bill.
Suppose you sit in at a five-handed game of poker. One gent says
everything with his face, while he's picking up his cards. Another
gent don't say a thing, but he shows what he's got by the way he moves
in his chair, or the way he opens and shuts his hands. When you said
something about our wad I seen the taxi driver blink. Right after that
he got terrible friendly and said he could steer us to a friend of his
that could put us up for the night pretty comfortable. Well, it wasn't
hard to put two and two together. Not that I figured anything out.
Just was walking on my toes, ready to jump in any direction."

As for Bill Gregg, he brooded for a time on what he had heard, then he
shook his head and sighed. "I'd be a mighty helpless kid in this here
town if I didn't have you along, Ronicky," he said.

"Nope," insisted Ronicky. "Long as you use another gent for a sort of
guide you feel kind of helpless. But, when you step off for yourself,
everything is pretty easy. You just were waiting for me to take the
lead, or you'd have done just as much by yourself."

Again Bill Gregg sighed, as he shook his head. "If this is what New
York is like," he said, "we're in for a pretty bad time. And this is
what they call a civilized town? Great guns, they need martial law and
a thousand policemen to the block to keep a gent's life and pocketbook
safe in this town! First gent we meet tries to bump us off or get our
wad. Don't look like we're going to have much luck, Ronicky."

"We saved our hides, I guess."

"That's about all."

"And we learned something."


"Then I figure it was a pretty good night.

"Another thing, Bill. I got an idea from that taxi gent. I figure that
whole gang of taxi men are pretty sharp in the eye. What I mean is
that we can tramp up and down along this here East River, and now
and then we'll talk to some taxi men that do most of their work from
stands in them parts of the town. Maybe we can get on her trail that
way. Anyways, it's an opening."

"Maybe," said Bill Gregg dubiously. He reached under his pillow. "But
I'm sure going to sleep with a gun under my head in this town!" With
this remark he settled himself for repose and presently was snoring

Ronicky presented a brave face to the morning and at once started
with Bill Gregg to tour along the East River. That first day Ronicky
insisted that they simply walk over the whole ground, so as to become
fairly familiar with the scale of their task. They managed to make the
trip before night and returned to the hotel, footsore from the hard,
hot pavements. There was something unkindly and ungenerous in those
pavements, it seemed to Ronicky. He was discovering to his great
amazement that the loneliness of the mountain desert is nothing at all
compared to the loneliness of the Manhattan crowd.

Two very gloomy and silent cow-punchers ate their dinner that night
and went to bed early. But in the morning they began the actual work
of their campaign. It was an arduous labor. It meant interviewing in
every district one or two storekeepers, and asking the mail carriers
for "Caroline Smith," and showing the picture to taxi drivers. These
latter were the men, insisted Ronicky, who would eventually bring them
to Caroline Smith. "Because, if they've ever drove a girl as pretty as
that, they'll remember for quite a while."

"But half of these gents ain't going to talk to us, even if they
know," Bill Gregg protested, after he had been gruffly refused an
answer a dozen times in the first morning.

"Some of 'em won't talk," admitted Ronicky, "but that's probably
because they don't know. Take 'em by and large, most gents like to
tell everything they know, and then some!"

As a matter of fact they met with rather more help than they wanted.
In spite of all their efforts to appear casual there was something
too romantic in this search for a girl to remain entirely unnoticed.
People whom they asked became excited and offered them a thousand
suggestions. Everybody, it seemed, had, somewhere, somehow, heard of a
Caroline Smith living in his own block, and every one remembered dimly
having passed a girl on the street who looked exactly like Caroline
Smith. But they went resolutely on, running down a thousand false
clues and finding at the end of each something more ludicrous than
what had gone before. Maiden ladies with many teeth and big glasses
they found; and they discovered, at the ends of the trails on which
they were advised to go, young women and old, ugly girls and pretty
ones, but never any one who in the slightest degree resembled Caroline

In the meantime they were working back and forth, in their progress
along the East River, from the slums to the better residence
districts. They bought newspapers at little stationery stores and
worked up chance conversations with the clerks, particularly girl
clerks, whenever they could find them.

"Because women have the eye for faces," Ronicky would say, "and, if a
girl like Caroline Smith came into the shop, she'd be remembered for a

But for ten days they labored without a ghost of a success. Then
they noticed the taxi stands along the East Side and worked them as
carefully as they could, and it was on the evening of the eleventh day
of the search that they reached the first clue.

They had found a taxi drawn up before a saloon, converted into an
eating place, and when they went inside they found the driver alone in
the restaurant. They worked up the conversation, as they had done a
hundred times before. Gregg produced the picture and began showing it
to Ronicky.

"Maybe the lady's around here," said Ronicky, "but I'm new in this
part of town." He took the picture and turned to the taxi driver.
"Maybe you've been around this part of town and know the folks here.
Ever see this girl around?" And he passed the picture to the other.

The taxi driver bowed his head over it in a close scrutiny. When he
looked up his face was a blank.

"I don't know. Lemme see. I think I seen a girl like her the other
day, waiting for the traffic to pass at Seventy-second and Broadway.
Yep, she sure was a ringer for this picture." He passed the picture
back, and a moment later he finished his meal, paid his check and went
sauntering through the door.

"Quick!" said Ronicky, the moment the chauffeur had disappeared. "Pay
the check and come along. That fellow knows something."

Bill Gregg, greatly excited, obeyed, and they hurried to the door of
the place. They were in time to see the taxicab lurch away from the
curb and go humming down the street, while the driver leaned out to
the side and looked back.

"He didn't see us," said Ronicky confidently.

"But what did he leave for?"

"He's gone to tell somebody, somewhere, that we're looking for
Caroline Smith. Come on!" He stepped out to the curb and stopped a
passing taxi. "Follow that machine and keep a block away from it," he

"Bootlegger?" asked the taxi driver cheerily.

"I don't know, but just drift along behind him till he stops. Can you
do that?"

"Watch me!"

And, with Ronicky and Bill Gregg installed in his machine, he started
smoothly on the trail.

Straight down the cross street, under the roaring elevated tracks of
Second and Third Avenues, they passed, and on First Avenue they turned
and darted sharply south for a round dozen blocks, then went due east
and came, to a halt after a brief run.

"He's stopped in Beekman Place," said the driver, jerking open the
door. "If I run in there he'll see me."

Ronicky stepped from the machine, paid him and dismissed him with
a word of praise for his fine trailing. Then he stepped around the

What he saw was a little street closed at both ends and only two or
three blocks long. It had the serene, detached air of a village a
thousand miles from any great city, with its grave rows of homely
houses standing solemnly face to face. Well to the left, the
Fifty-ninth Street Bridge swung its great arch across the river, and
it led, Ronicky knew, to Long Island City beyond, but here everything
was cupped in the village quiet.

The machine which they had been pursuing was drawn up on the
right-hand side of the street, looking south, and, even as Ronicky
glanced around the corner, he saw the driver leave his seat, dart up a
flight of steps and ring the bell.

Ronicky could not see who opened the door, but, after a moment of
talk, the chauffeur from the car they had pursued was allowed to
enter. And, as he stepped across the threshold, he drew off his cap
with a touch of reverence which seemed totally out of keeping with his
character as Ronicky had seen it.

"Bill," he said to Gregg, "we've got something. You seen him go up
those steps to that house?"


Bill Gregg's eyes were flashing with the excitement. "That house has
somebody in it who knows Caroline Smith, and that somebody is excited
because we're hunting for her," said Bill. "Maybe it holds Caroline
herself. Who can tell that? Let's go see."

"Wait till that taxi driver goes. If he'd wanted us to know about
Caroline he'd of told us. He doesn't want us to know and he'd maybe
take it pretty much to heart if he knew we'd followed him."

"What he thinks don't worry me none. I can tend to three like him."

"Maybe, but you couldn't handle thirty, and coyotes like him hunt in
packs, always. The best fighting pair of coyotes that ever stepped
wouldn't have no chance against a lofer wolf, but no lofer wolf could
stand off a dozen or so of the little devils. So keep clear of these
little rat-faced gents, Bill. They hunt in crowds."

Presently they saw the chauffeur coming down the steps. Even at that
distance it could be seen that he was smiling broadly, and that he was
intensely pleased with himself and the rest of the world.

Starting up his machine, he swung it around dexterously, as only New
York taxi drivers can, and sped down the street by the way he had
come, passing Gregg and Ronicky, who had flattened themselves against
the fence to keep from being seen. They observed that, while he
controlled the car with one hand, with the other he was examining the
contents of his wallet.

"Money for him!" exclaimed Ronicky, as soon as the car was out of
sight around the corner. "This begins to look pretty thick, Bill.
Because he goes and tells them that he's taken us off the trail they
not only thank him, but they pay him for it. And, by the face of him,
as he went by, they pay him pretty high. Bill, it's easy to figure
that they don't want any friend near Caroline Smith, and most like
they don't even want us near that house."

"I only want to go near once," said Bill Gregg. "I just want to find
out if the girl is there."

"Go break in on 'em?"

"Break in! Ronicky, that's burglary!"

"Sure it is."

"Ill just ask for Caroline Smith at the door."

"Try it."

The irony made Bill Gregg stop in the very act of leaving and glance
back. But he went on again resolutely and stamped up the steps to the
front door of the house.

It was opened to him almost at once by a woman, for Bill's hat come
off. For a moment he was explaining. Then there was a pause in his
gestures, as she made the reply. Finally he spoke again, but was cut
short by the loud banging of the door.

Bill Gregg drew himself up rigidly and slowly replaced the hat on his
head. If a man had turned that trick on him, a .45-caliber slug would
have gone crashing through the door in search of him to teach him a
Westerner's opinion of such manners.

Ronicky Doone could not help smiling to himself, as he saw Bill Gregg
stump stiffly down the stairs, limping a little on his wounded leg,
and come back with a grave dignity to the starting point. He was still
crimson to the roots of his hair.

"Let's start," he said. "If that happens again I'll be doing a couple
of murders in this here little town and getting myself hung."

"What happened?"

"An old hag jerked open the door after I rang the bell. I asked her
nice and polite if a lady named Caroline Smith was in the house? 'No,'
says she, 'and if she was, what's that to you?' I told her I'd come a
long ways to see Caroline. 'Then go a long ways back without seeing
Caroline,' says this withered old witch, and she banged the door right
in my face. Man, I'm still seeing red. Them words of the old woman
were whips, and every one of them sure took off the hide. I used to
think that old lady Moore in Martindale was a pretty nasty talker, but
this one laid over her a mile. But we're beat, Ronicky. You couldn't
get by that old woman with a thousand men."

"Maybe not," said Ronicky Doone, "but we're going to try. Did you look
across the street and see a sign a while ago?"

"Which side?"

"Side right opposite Caroline's house."

"Sure. 'Room To Rent.'"

"I thought so. Then that's our room."


"That's our room, partner, and right at the front window over the
street one of us is going to keep watch day and night, till we make
sure that Caroline Smith don't live in that house. Is that right?"

"That's a great idea!" He started away from the fence.

"Wait!" Ronicky caught him by the shoulder and held him back. "We'll
wait till night and then go and get that room. If Caroline is in the
house yonder, and they know we're looking for her, it's easy that she
won't be allowed to come out the front of the house so long as we're
perched up at the window, waiting to see her. We'll come back tonight
and start waiting."

Chapter Eight

_Two Apparitions_

They found that the room in the house on Beekman Place, opposite that
which they felt covered their quarry, could be secured, and they were
shown to it by a quiet old gentlewoman, found a big double room that
ran across the whole length of the house. From the back it looked down
on the lights glimmering on the black East River and across to the
flare of Brooklyn; to the left the whole arc of the Fifty-ninth Street
Bridge was exposed. In front the windows overlooked Beekman Place
and were directly opposite, the front of the house to which the taxi
driver had gone that afternoon.

Here they took up the vigil. For four hours one of the two sat with
eyes never moving from the street and the windows of the house across
the street; and then he left the post, and the other took it.

It was vastly wearying work. Very few vehicles came into the light of
the street lamp beneath them, and every person who dismounted from one
of them had to be scrutinized with painful diligence.

Once a girl, young and slender and sprightly, stepped out of a taxi,
about ten o'clock at night, and ran lightly up the steps of the house.
Ronicky caught his friend by the shoulders and dragged him to the
window. "There she is now!" he exclaimed.

But the eye of the lover, even though the girl was in a dim light,
could not he deceived. The moment he caught her profile, as she turned
in opening the door, Bill Gregg shook his head. "That's not the one.
She's all different, a pile different, Ronicky."

Ronicky sighed. "I thought we had her," he said. "Go on back to sleep.
I'll call you again if anything happens."

But nothing more happened that night, though even in the dull, ghost
hours of the early morning they did not relax their vigil. But all the
next day there was still no sign of Caroline Smith in the house across
the street; no face like hers ever appeared at the windows. Apparently
the place was a harmless rooming house of fairly good quality. Not a
sign of Caroline Smith appeared even during the second day. By this
time the nerves of the two watchers were shattered by the constant
strain, and the monotonous view from the front window was beginning to
madden them.

"It's proof that she ain't yonder," said Bill Gregg. "Here's two days
gone, and not a sign of her yet. It sure means that she ain't in that
house, unless she's sick in bed." And he grew pale at the thought.

"Partner," said Ronicky Doone, "if they are trying to keep her away
from us they sure have the sense to keep her under cover for as long
as two days. Ain't that right? It looks pretty bad for us, but I'm
staying here for one solid week, anyway. It's just about our last
chance, Bill. We've done our hunting pretty near as well as we could.
If we don't land her this trip, I'm about ready to give up."

Bill Gregg sadly agreed that this was their last chance and they must
play it to the limit. One week was decided on as a fair test. If, at
the end of that time, Caroline Smith did not come out of the house
across the street they could conclude that she did not stay there. And
then there would be nothing for it but to take the first train back

The third day passed and the fourth, dreary, dreary days of
unfaltering vigilance on the part of the two watchers. And on the
fifth morning even Ronicky Doone sat with his head in his hands at
the window, peering through the slit between the drawn curtains which
sheltered him from being observed at his spying. When he called out
softly, the sound brought Gregg, with one long leap out of the chair
where he was sleeping, to the window. There could be no shadow of a
doubt about it. There stood Caroline Smith in the door of the house!

She closed the door behind her and, walking to the top of the steps,
paused there and looked up and down the street.

Bill Gregg groaned, snatched his hat and plunged through the door, and
Ronicky heard the brief thunder of his feet down the first flight of
stairs, then the heavy thumps, as he raced around the landing. He was
able to trace him down all the three flights of steps to the bottom.

And so swift was that descent that, when the girl, idling down the
steps across the street, came onto the sidewalk, Bill Gregg rushed out
from the other side and ran toward her.

They made a strange picture as they came to a halt at the same
instant, the girl shrinking back in apparent fear of the man, and Bill
Gregg stopping by that same show of fear, as though by a blow in the
face. There was such a contrast between the two figures that Ronicky
Doone might have laughed, had he not been shaking his head with
sympathy for Bill Gregg.

For never had the miner seemed so clumsily big and gaunt, never had
his clothes seemed so unpressed and shapeless, while his soft gray
hat, to which he still clung religiously, appeared hopelessly out of
place in contrast with the slim prettiness of the girl. She wore a
black straw hat, turned back from her face, with a single big red
flower at the side of it; her dress was a tailored gray tweed. The
same distinction between their clothes was in their faces, the finely
modeled prettiness of her features and the big, careless chiseling of
the features of Bill Gregg.

Ronicky Doone did not wonder that, after her first fear, her gesture
was one of disdain and surprise.

Bill Gregg had dragged the hat from his head, and the wind lifted his
long black hair and made it wild. He went a long, slow step closer to
her, with both his hands outstretched.

A strange scene for a street, and Ronicky Doone saw the girl flash a
glance over her shoulder and back to the house from which she had just
come. Ronicky Doone followed that glance, and he saw, all hidden save
the profile of the face, a man standing at an opposite window and
smiling scornfully down at that picture in the street.

What a face it was! Never in his life had Ronicky Doone seen a man
who, in one instant, filled him with such fear and hatred, such
loathing and such dread, such scorn and such terror. The nose was
hooked like the nose of a bird of prey; the eyes were long and
slanting like those of an Oriental. The face was thin, almost
fleshless, so that the bony jaw stood out like the jaw of a

As for the girl, the sight of that onlooker seemed to fill her with a
new terror. She shrank back from Bill Gregg until her shoulders were
almost pressed against the wall of the house. And Ronicky saw her head
shake, as she denied Bill the right of advancing farther. Still he
pleaded, and still she ordered him away. Finally Bill Gregg drew
himself up and bowed to her and turned on his heel.

The girl hesitated a moment. It seemed to Ronicky, in spite of the
fact that she had just driven Bill Gregg away, as if she were on
the verge of following him to bring him back. For she made a slight
outward gesture with one hand.

If this were in her mind, however, it vanished instantly. She turned
with a shudder and hurried away down the street.

As for Bill Gregg he bore himself straight as a soldier and came back
across the pavement, but it was the erectness of a soldier who has met
with a crushing defeat and only preserves an outward resolution, while
all the spirit within is crushed.

Ronicky Doone turned gloomily away from the window and listened to the
progress of Gregg up the stairs. What a contrast between the ascent
and the descent! He had literally flown down. Now his heels clumped
out a slow and regular death march, as he came back to the room.

When Gregg opened the door Ronicky Doone blinked and drew in a deep
breath at the sight of the poor fellow's face. Gregg had known before
that he truly loved this girl whom he had never seen, but he had never
dreamed what the strength of that love was. Now, in the very moment of
seeing his dream of the girl turned into flesh and blood, he had lost
her, and there was something like death in the face of the big miner
as he dropped his hat on the floor and sank into a chair.

After that he did not move so much as a finger from the position into
which he had fallen limply. His legs were twisted awkwardly, sprawling
across the floor in front of him; one long arm dragged down toward the
floor, as if there was no strength in it to support the weight of the
labor-hardened hands; his chin was fallen against his breast.

When Ronicky Doone crossed to him and laid a kind hand on his shoulder
he did not look up. "It's ended," said Bill Gregg faintly. "Now we
hit the back trail and forget all about this." He added with a faint
attempt at cynicism: "I've just wasted a pile of good money-making
time from the mine, that's all."

"H'm!" said Ronicky Doone. "Bill, look me in the eye and tell me, man
to man, that you're a liar!" He added: "Can you ever be happy without
her, man?"

The cruelty of that speech made Gregg flush and look up sharply. This
was exactly what Ronicky Doone wanted.

"I guess they ain't any use talking about that part of it," said Gregg

"Ain't there? That's where you and me don't agree! Why, Bill, look at
the way things have gone! You start out with a photograph of a girl.
Now you've followed her, found her name, tracked her clear across the
continent and know her street address, and you've given her a chance
to see your own face. Ain't that something done? After you've done all
that are you going to give up now? Not you, Bill! You're going to buck
up and go ahead full steam. Eh?"

Bill Gregg smiled sourly. "D'you know what she said when I come
rushing up and saying: 'I'm Bill Gregg!' D'you know what she said?"


"'Bill Gregg?' she says. 'I don't remember any such name!'

"That took the wind out of me. I only had enough left to say: 'The
gent that was writing those papers to the correspondence school to you
from the West, the one you sent your picture to and--'

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