Part 6 out of 7
The young man answered, "One of the company men saw Sibyl. He was coming
up with a load of supplies and she passed him a mile below the Power-House
just before dark. When he was opening the gate, the automobile went by. It
was too dark to see how many were in the machine. They heard the 'auto' go
down the canyon, again, later. No one noticed the man on horseback. Three
Company men will be up here at daybreak."
"Good boy," said Brian Oakley, again. And then, for a little, no sound
save the soft clinking of bit or bridle-chain in the darkness broke the
hush that fell over the little group. With faces turned toward their
leader, they waited his word. The Ranger stood still, the long official
envelope in his hand. When he spoke, there was a ring in his voice that
left in the minds of his companions no doubt as to his view of the
seriousness of the situation. "Milt," he said sharply.
The youngest of the Carleton sons stepped forward. "Yes, sir."
"You will ride to Fairlands. It's half past one, now. You should be back
between eight and nine in the morning. Give this letter to the Sheriff and
bring me his answer. Stop at Miss Willard's and tell her what you know.
You'll get something to eat there, while you're talking. If I'm not at
your house when you get back, feed your horse and wait."
"Yes, sir," came the answer, and an instant later the boy rider vanished
into the night.
While the sound of the messenger's going still came to them, the Ranger
spoke again. "Henry, you'll ride to Morton's. Tell him to be at your
place, with his crowd, by daylight. Then go home and be ready with
breakfast for the riders when they come in. We'll have to make your place
the center. It'll be hard on your wife and the girls, but Mrs. Morton will
likely go over to lend them a hand. I wish to God Mary was here."
"Never mind about my folks, Brian," returned the rancher as he mounted.
"You know they'll be on the job."
"You bet I know, Henry," came the answer as the mountaineer rode away.
Then--"Bill, you'll take every one between here and the head of the
canyon. If there's a man shows up at Carleton's later than an hour after
sunup, we'll run him out of the country. Tom, you take the trail over into
the Santa Ana, circle around to the mouth of the canyon, and back up
Clear Creek. Turn out everybody. Jack, you'll take the Galena Valley
neighborhood. Send in your men but don't come back yourself until you've
found that man who went down the canyon on horseback."
When the last rider was gone in the darkness, the Ranger said to the
artist, "Come, Aaron, you must get some rest. There's not a thing more
that can be done, until daylight."
Aaron King protested. But, strong as he was, the unusual exertion of his
hours in the saddle, together with his racking anxiety, had told upon
muscles and nerves. His face, pale and drawn, gave the lie to his words
that he was not tired.
"You must rest, man," said Brian Oakley, shortly. "There may be days of
this ahead of us. You've got to snatch every minute, when it's possible,
to conserve your strength. You've already had more than the rest of us.
Jerk off your boots and lie down until I call you, even if you can't
sleep. Do as I say--I'm boss here."
As the artist obeyed, the Ranger continued, "I wrote the Sheriff all I
knew--and some things that I suspect. It's that automobile that sticks in
my mind--that and some other things. The machine must have left Fairlands
before you did, unless it came over through the Galena Valley, from some
town on the railroad, up San Gorgonio Pass way--which isn't likely. If it
_did_ come from Fairlands, it must have waited somewhere along the road,
to enter the canyon after dark. Do you think that any one else besides
Myra Willard and Lagrange and you know that Sibyl started up here?"
"I don't think so. The neighbor where she borrowed the horse didn't know
where she was going."
"Who saw her last?"
"I think Mrs. Taine did."
The artist had already told the Ranger about the possible meeting of Mrs.
Taine and Sibyl in his studio.
"Hu-m-m," said the other.
"Mrs. Taine left for the East at four o'clock, you know," said the artist.
"Jim Rutlidge didn't go, you said." The Ranger spoke casually. Then, as if
dismissing the matter, he continued, "You get some rest now, Aaron. I'll
take care of your horse and saddle a fresh one for you. As soon as it's
light, we'll ride. I'm going to find out where that automobile went--and
Beginning the Search
Aaron King lay with closed eyes, but not asleep. He was thinking,
thinking, thinking In a weary circle, his tired brain went round and
round, finding no place to stop. The man on horseback, the automobile,
some accident that might have befallen the girl in her distraught state of
mind--he could find no place in the weary treadmill of conjecture to rest.
While it was still too dark to see, Brian Oakley called him. And the call
was a relief.
As the artist pulled on his boots, the Ranger said, "It'll be light enough
to see, by the time we get above Carleton's. We know the automobile went
that far anyway."
At the Carleton ranch, as they passed, they saw, by the lights, that the
mountaineer's family were already making ready for the gathering of the
riders. A little beyond, they met two men from the Company Head-Work, on
their way to the meeting place. Soon, in the gray, early morning light,
the tracks of the automobile were clearly seen. Eagerly, they followed to
the foot of the Oak Knoll trail, where the machine had stopped and,
turning around, had started back down the canyon. With experienced care,
Brian Oakley searched every inch of the ground in the vicinity.
Shaking his head, at last, as though forced to give up hope of finding
any positive signs pointing to the solution of the puzzle, the officer
remounted, slowly. "I can't make it out," he said. "The road is so dry and
cut up with tracks, and the trail is so gravelly, that there are no clear
signs at all. Come, we better get back to Carleton's, and start the boys
out. When Milt returns from Fairlands he may know something."
With the rising of the sun, the mountain folk, summoned in the night by
the Ranger's messengers, assembled at the ranch; every man armed and
mounted with the best his possessions afforded. Tied to the trees in the
yard, and along the fence in front, or standing with bridle-reins over
their heads, the horses waited. Lying on the porch, or squatting on their
heels, in unconscious picturesque attitudes, the mountain riders who had
arrived first and had finished their breakfast were ready for the Ranger's
word. In the ranch kitchen, the table was filled with the later ones; and
these, as fast as they finished their meal, made way for the new arrivals.
There was no loud talk; no boisterous laughter; no uneasy restlessness.
Calm-eyed, soft-voiced, deliberate in movement, these hardy mountaineers
had answered Brian Oakley's call; and they placed themselves, now, under
his command, with no idle comment, no wasteful excitement but with a
purpose and spirit that would, if need be, hold them in their saddles
until their horses dropped under them, and would, then, send them on,
afoot, as long as their iron nerves and muscles could be made to respond
to their wills.
There was scarce a man in that company, who did not know and love Sibyl
Andres, and who had not known and loved her parents. Many of them had
ridden with the Ranger at the time of Will Andres' death. When the officer
and his companion appeared, they gathered round their leader with simple
words of greeting, and stood silently ready for his word.
Briefly, Brian Oakley divided them into parties, and assigned the
territory to be covered by each. Three shots in quick succession, at
intervals of two minutes, would signal that the search was finished. Two
men, he held to go with him up Oak Knoll trail, after his messenger to the
Sheriff had returned. At sunset, they were all to reassemble at the ranch
for further orders. When the officer finished speaking, the little group
of men turned to the horses, and, without the loss of a moment, were out
of sight in the mountain wilderness.
A half hour before he was due, young Carleton appeared with the Sheriff's
answer to the Ranger's letter. "Well done, boy," said Brian Oakley,
heartily. "Take care of your horse, now, and then get some rest yourself,
and be ready for whatever comes next."
He turned to those he had held to go with him; "All right, boys, let's
ride. Sheriff will take care of the Fairlands end. Come, Aaron."
All the way up the Oak Knoll trail the Ranger rode in the lead, bending
low from his saddle, his gaze fixed on the little path. Twice he
dismounted and walked ahead, leaving the chestnut to follow or to wait, at
his word. When they came out on the pipe-line trail, he halted the party,
and, on foot, went carefully over the ground either way from the point
where they stood.
"Boys," he said at last, "I have a hunch that there was a horse on this
trail last night. It's been so blamed dry, and for so long, though, that I
can't be sure. I held you two men because I know you are good trailers.
Follow the pipe-line up the canyon, and see what you can find. It isn't
necessary to say stay with it if you strike anything that even looks like
it might be a lead. Aaron and I will take the other way, and up the Galena
trail to the fire-break."
While Brian Oakley had been searching for signs in the little path, and
the artist, with the others, was waiting, Aaron King's mind went back to
that day when he and Conrad Lagrange had sat there under the oaks and, in
a spirit of irresponsible fun, had committed themselves to the leadership
of Croesus. To the young man, now, that day, with its care-free leisure,
seemed long ago. Remembering the novelist's fanciful oration to the burro,
he thought grimly how unconscious they had been, in their merriment, of
the great issues that did actually rest upon the seemingly trivial
incident. He recalled, too, with startling vividness, the times that he
had climbed to that spot with Sibyl, or, reaching it from either way on
the pipe-line, had gone with her down the zigzag path to the road in the
canyon below. Had she, last night, alone, or with some unwelcome
companions, paused a moment under those oaks? Had she remembered the hours
that she had spent there with him?
As he followed the Ranger over the ground that he had walked with her,
that day of their last climb together, it seemed to him that every step
of the way was haunted by her sweet personality. The objects along the
trail--a point of rock, a pine, the barrel where they had filled their
canteen, a broken section of the concrete pipe left by the workmen, the
very rocks and cliffs, the flowers--dry and withered now--that grew along
the little path--a thousand things that met his eyes--recalled her to his
mind until he felt her presence so vividly that he almost expected to find
her waiting, with smiling, winsome face, just around the next turn. The
officer, who, moving ahead, scanned with careful eyes every foot of the
way, seemed to the artist, now, to be playing some fantastic game. He
could not, for the moment, believe that the girl he loved was--God! where
was she? Why did Brian Oakley move so slowly, on foot, while his horse,
leisurely cropping the grass, followed? He should be in the saddle! They
should be riding, riding riding--as he had ridden last night. Last night!
Was it only last night?
Where the Government trail crosses the fire-break on the crest of the
Galenas, Brian Oakley paused. "I don't think there's been anything over
this way," he said. "We'll follow the fire-break to that point up there,
for a look around."
At noon, they stood by the big rock, under the clump of pines, where Aaron
King and Sibyl Andres had eaten their lunch.
"We'll be here some time," said the Ranger. "Make yourself comfortable. I
want to see if there's anything stirring down yonder."
With his back to the rock, he searched the Galena Valley side of the
range, through his powerful glass; commenting, now and then, when some
object came in the field of his vision, to his companion who sat beside
They had risen to go and the officer was returning his glass to its case
on his saddle, when Aaron King--pointing toward Fairlands, lying dim and
hazy in the distant valley--said, "Look there!"
The other turned his head to see a flash of light that winked through the
dull, smoky veil, with startling clearness. He smiled and turned again to
his saddle. "You'll often see that," he said. "It's the sun striking some
bright object that happens to be at just the right angle to hit you with
the reflection. A bit of new tin on a roof, a window, an automobile
shield, anything bright enough, will do the trick. Come, we'll go back to
the trail and follow the break the other way."
In the dusk of the evening, at the close of the long, hard day, as Brian
Oakley and Aaron King were starting down the Oak Knoll trail on their
return to the ranch, the Ranger uttered an exclamation. His quick eyes had
caught the twinkling gleam of a light at Sibyl's old home, far below,
across the canyon. The next instant, the chestnut, followed by his
four-footed companion, was going down the steep trail at a pace that sent
the gravel flying and forced the artist, unaccustomed to such riding, to
cling desperately to the saddle. Up the canyon road, the Ranger sent the
chestnut at a run, nor did he draw rein as they crossed the rough
boulder-strewn wash. Plunging through the tumbling water of the creek,
the horses scrambled up the farther bank, and dashed along the old,
weed-grown road, into the little clearing They were met by Czar with a
bark of welcome. A moment later, they were greeted by Conrad Lagrange and
"But why don't you stay down at the ranch, Myra?" asked the Ranger, when
he had told them that his day's work was without results.
"Listen, Mr. Oakley," returned the woman with the disfigured face. "I know
Sibyl too well not to understand the possibilities of her temperament.
Natures, fine and sensitive as hers, though brave and cool and strong
under ordinary circumstances, under peculiar mental stress such as I
believe caused her to leave us, are easily thrown out of balance. We know
nothing. The child may be wandering, alone--dazed and helpless under the
shock of a cruel and malicious attempt to wreck her happiness. Only some
terrible stress of emotion could have caused her to leave me as she did.
If she _is_ alone, out here in the hills, there is a chance that--even in
her distracted state of mind--she will find her way to her old home." The
woman paused, and then, in the silence, added hesitatingly, "I--I may say
that I know from experience the possibilities of which I speak."
The three men bowed their heads. Brian Oakley said softly, "Myra, you've
got more heart and more sense than all of us put together." To Conrad
Lagrange, he added, "You will stay here with Miss Willard?"
"Yes," answered the novelist, "I would be little good in the hills, at
such work as you are doing, Brian. I will do what I can, here."
When the Ranger and the artist were riding down the canyon to the ranch,
the officer said, "There's a big chance that Myra is right, Aaron. After
all, she knows Sibyl better than any of us, and I can see that she's got a
fairly clear idea of what sent the child off like this. As it stands now,
the girl may be just wandering around. If she _is_, the boys will pick her
up before many hours. She may have met with some accident. If _that's_ it,
we'll know before long. She may have been--I tell you, Aaron, it's that
automobile acting the way it did that I can't get around."
The searchers were all at the ranch when the two men arrived. No one had a
word of encouragement to report. A messenger from the Sheriff brought no
light on the mystery of the automobile. The two men who had followed the
pipe-line trail had found nothing. A few times, they thought they had
signs that a horse had been over the trail the night before, but there was
no certainty; and after the pipe-line reached the floor of the canyon
there was absolutely nothing. Jack Carleton was back from the Galena
Valley neighborhood, and, with him, was the horseman who had gone down the
canyon the evening before. The man was known to all. He had been hunting,
and was on his way home when Henry Carleton and the Ranger had seen him.
He had come, now, to help in the search.
Picking a half dozen men from the party, Brian Oakley sent them to spend
the night riding the higher trails and fire-breaks, watching for
camp-fire lights. The others, he ordered to rest, in readiness to take up
the search at daylight, should the night riders come in without results.
Aaron King, exhausted, physically and mentally, sank into a stupor that
could scarcely be called sleep.
At daybreak, the riders who had been all night on the higher trails and
fire-breaks, searching the darkness for the possible gleam of a
camp-fire's light, came in.
All that day--Wednesday--the mountain horsemen rode, widening the area of
their search under the direction of the Ranger. From sundown until long
after dark, they came straggling wearily back; their horses nearly
exhausted, the riders beginning to fear that Sibyl would never be found
alive. There was no further word from the Sheriff at Fairlands.
Then suddenly, out of the blackness of the night, a rider from the other
side of the Galenas arrived with the word that the girl's horse had been
found. The animal was grazing in the neighborhood of Pine Glen. The saddle
and the horse's sides were stained with dirt, as if the animal had fallen.
The bridle-reins had been broken. The horse might have rolled on the
saddle; he might have stepped on the bridle-reins; he might have fallen
and left his rider lying senseless. In any case, they reasoned, the animal
would scarcely have found his way over the Galena range after he had been
left to wander at will.
Brian Oakley decided to send the main company of riders over into the Pine
Glen country, to continue the search there. He knew that the men who found
the horse would follow the animal's track back as far as possible. He
knew, also, that if the animal had been wandering several hours, as was
likely, it would be impossible to back-track far. Late as it was, Aaron
King rode up the canyon to tell Myra Willard and Conrad Lagrange the
result of the day's work.
The artist's voice trembled as he told the general opinion of the
mountaineers; but Myra Willard said, "Mr. King, they are wrong. My baby
will come back. There's harm come to her no doubt; but she is not dead
or--I would know it."
In spite of the fact that Aaron King's reason told him the woman of the
disfigured face had no ground for her belief, he was somehow helped, by
her words, to hope.
The Tracks on Granite Peak
The searching party was already on the way over to Pine Glen, when Brian
Oakley stopped at Sibyl's old home for Aaron King. The Ranger, himself,
had waited to receive the morning message from the Sheriff.
When the two men, following the Government trail that leads to the
neighborhood where the girl's horse had been found, reached the fire-break
on the summit of the Galenas, the officer said, "Aaron, you'll be of
little use over there in that Pine Glen country, where you have never
been." He had pulled up his horse and was looking at his companion,
"Is there nothing that I can do, Brian?" returned the young man,
hopelessly. "God, man! I _must_ do something! I _must_, I tell you!"
"Steady, old boy, steady," returned the mountaineer's calm voice. "The
first thing you must do, you know, is to keep a firm grip on yourself. If
you lose your nerve I'll have you on my hands too."
Under his companion's eye, the artist controlled himself. "You're right,
Brian," he said calmly. "What do you want me to do? You know best, of
The officer, still watching him, said slowly, "I want you to spend the
day on that point, up there,"--he pointed to the clump of pines,--"with
this glass." He turned to take an extra field-glass from his saddle.
Handing the glass to the other, he continued "You can see all over the
country, on the Galena Valley side of this range, from there." Again he
paused, as though reluctant to give the final word of his instructions.
The young man looked at him, questioningly. "Yes?"
The Ranger answered in a low tone, "You are to watch for buzzards, Aaron."
Aaron King went white. "Brian! You think--"
The answer came sharply, "I am not thinking. I don't dare think. I am only
recognizing every possibility and letting nothing, _nothing_, get away
from me. I don't want _you_ to think. I want you to do the thing that will
be of greatest service. It's because I am afraid you will _think_, that I
hesitate to assign you to the position."
The sharp words acted like a dash of cold water in the young man's face.
Unconsciously, he straightened in his saddle. "Thank you, Brian. I
understand. You can depend upon me."
"Good boy!" came the hearty and instant approval. "If you see anything, go
to it; leaving a note here, under a stone on top of this rock; I'll find
it to-night, when I come back. If nothing shows up, stay until dark, and
then go down to Carleton's. I'll be in late. The rest of the party will
stay over at Pine Glen."
Alone on the peak where he had sat with Sibyl the day of their last climb,
Aaron King watched for the buzzards' telltale, circling flight--and tried
not to think.
It was one o'clock when the artist--resting his eyes for a moment, after a
long, searching look through the glass--caught, again, that flash of light
in the blue haze that lay over Fairlands in the distant valley. Brian
Oakley had said,--when they had seen it that first day of the
search,--that it was a common sight; but the artist, his mind preoccupied,
watched the point of light with momentary, idle interest.
Suddenly, he awoke to the fact that there seemed to be a timed regularity
in the flashes. Into his mind came the memory of something he had read of
the heliograph, and of methods of signalling with mirrors Closely, now, he
watched--three flashes in quick succession--pause--two flashes--pause--one
flash--pause--one flash--pause--two flashes--pause--three flashes--pause.
For several minutes the artist waited, his eyes fixed on the distant spot
under the haze. Then the flashes began again, repeating the same order:
--- -- - - -- ---.
At the last flash, the man sprang to his feet, and searched the mountain
peaks and spurs behind him. On lonely Granite Peak, at the far end of the
Galena Range, a flash of light caught his eye--then another and another.
With an exclamation, he lifted his glass. He could distinguish nothing but
the peak from which had come the flashes. He turned toward the valley to
see a long flash and then--only the haze and the dark spot that he knew to
be the orange groves about Fairlands.
Aaron King sank, weak and trembling, against the rock. What should he do?
What could he do? The signals might mean much. They might mean nothing.
Brian Oakley's words that morning, came to him; "I am recognizing every
possibility, and letting nothing _nothing_, get away from me." Instantly,
he was galvanized into life. Idle thinking, wondering, conjecturing could
Riding as fast as possible down to the boulder beside the trail, where he
was to leave his message, he wrote a note and placed it under the rock.
Then he set out, to ride the fire-break along the top of the range, toward
the distant Granite Peak. An hour's riding took him to the end of the
fire-break, and he saw that from there on he must go afoot.
Tying the bridle-reins over the saddle-horn, and fastening a note to the
saddle, in case any one should find the horse, he turned the animal's head
back the way he had come, and, with a sharp blow, started it forward. He
knew that the horse--one of Carleton's--would probably make its way home.
Turning, he set his face toward the lonely peak; carrying his canteen and
what was left of his lunch.
There was no trail for his feet now. At times, he forced his way through
and over bushes of buckthorn and manzanita that seemed, with their sharp
thorns and tangled branches, to be stubbornly fighting him back. At times,
he made his way along some steep slope, from pine to pine, where the
ground was slippery with the brown needles, and where to lose his footing
meant a fall of a thousand feet. Again, he scaled some rocky cliff,
clinging with his fingers to jutting points of rock, finding niches and
projections for his feet; or, with the help of vine and root and bush,
found a way down some seemingly impossible precipice. Now and then, from
some higher point, he sighted Granite Peak. Often, he saw, far below, on
one hand the great canyon, and on the other the wide Galena Valley. Always
he pushed forward. His face was scratched and stained; his clothing was
torn by the bushes; his hands were bloody from the sharp rocks; his body
reeked with sweat; his breath came in struggling gasps; but he would not
stop. He felt himself driven, as it were, by some inner power that made
him insensible to hardship or death. Far behind him, the sun dropped below
the sky-line of the distant San Gabriels, but he did not notice. Only when
the dusk of the coming night was upon him, did he realize that the day was
On a narrow shelf, in the lee of a great cliff, he hastily gathered
material for a fire, and, with his back to the rock, ate a little of the
food he carried. Far up on that wind-swept, mountain ridge, the night was
bitter cold. Again and again he aroused himself from the weary stupor that
numbed his senses, and replenished the fire, or forced himself to pace to
and fro upon the ledge. Overhead, he saw the stars glittering with a
strange brilliancy. In the canyon, far below, there were a few twinkling
lights to mark the Carleton ranch, and the old home of Sibyl, where Conrad
Lagrange and Myra Willard waited. Miles away, the lights of the towns
among the orange groves, twinkled like feeble stars in another feeble
world. The cold wind moaned and wailed in the dark pines and swirled about
the cliff in sudden gusts. A cougar screamed somewhere on the
mountainside below. An answering scream came from the ledge above his
head. The artist threw more fuel upon his fire, and grimly walked his
In the cold, gray dawn of that Friday morning, he ate a few mouthfuls of
his scanty store of food and, as soon as it was light,--even while the
canyon below was still in the gloom,--started on his way.
It was eleven o'clock when, almost exhausted, he reached what he knew must
be the peak that he had seen through his glass the day before. There was
little or no vegetation upon that high, wind-swept point. The side toward
the distant peak from which the artist had seen the signals, was an abrupt
cliff--hundreds of feet of sheer, granite rock. From the rim of this
precipice, the peak sloped gradually down and back to the edge of the
pines that grew about its base. The ground in the open space was bare and
Carefully, Aaron King searched--as he had seen the Ranger do--for signs.
Beginning at a spot near the edge of the cliff, he worked gradually, back
and forth, in ever widening arcs, toward the pines below. He was almost
ready to give up in despair, cursing himself for being such a fool as to
think that he could pick up a trail, when, clearly marked in a bit of
softer soil, he saw the print of a hob-nailed boot.
Instantly the man's weariness was gone. The long, hard way he had come was
forgotten. Insensible, now, to hunger and fatigue, he moved eagerly in the
direction the boot-track pointed. He was rewarded by another track. Then,
as he moved nearer the softer ground, toward the trees, another and
another and then--
The man--worn by his physical exertion, and by his days of mental
anguish--for a moment, lost control of himself. Clearly marked, beside the
broad track of the heavier, man's boot, was the unmistakable print of a
smaller, lighter foot.
For a moment he stood with clenched fists and heaving breast; then, with
grim eagerness, with every sense supernaturally alert, with nerves tense,
quick eyes and ready muscles, he went forward on the trail.
* * * * *
It was after dark, that night, when Brian Oakley, on his way back to Clear
Creek, stopped at the rock where the artist had left his note.
Reaching the floor of the canyon, he crossed to tell Myra Willard and the
novelist the result of the day's search. The men riding in the vicinity of
Pine Glen had found nothing. It had been--as the Ranger
expected--impossible to follow back for any distance on the track of the
roaming horse, for the animal had been grazing about the Pine Glen
neighborhood for at least a day. Over the note left by Aaron King, the
mountaineer shook his head doubtfully. Aaron had done right to go. But for
one of his inexperience, the way along the crest of the Galenas was
practically impossible. If the young man had known, he could have made the
trip much easier by returning to Clear Creek and following up to the head
of that canyon, then climbing to the crest of the divide, and so around to
Granite Peak. The Ranger, himself, would start, at daybreak, for the
peak, by that route; and would come back along the crest of the range, to
find the artist.
At Carleton's, they told the officer that Aaron's horse had come in. Jack
Carleton and his father arrived from the country above Lone Cabin and
Burnt Pine, a few minutes after Brian Oakley reached the ranch. It was
agreed that Henry should join the searchers at Pine Glen, at
daybreak--lest any one should have seen the artist's camp-fire, that
night, and so lose precious time going to it--and that Jack should
accompany the Ranger to Granite Peak.
Henry Carleton had gone on his way to Pine Glen, and Brian Oakley and Jack
were in the saddle, ready to start up the canyon, the next morning, when a
messenger from the Sheriff arrived. An automobile had been seen returning
from the mountains, about two o'clock that night. There was only one man
in the car.
"Jack," said the Ranger, "Aaron has got hold of the right end of this,
with his mirror flashes. You've got to go up the canyon alone. Get to
Granite Peak as quick as God will let you, and pick up the trail of
whoever signalled from there; keeping one eye open for Aaron. I'm going to
trail that automobile as far as it went, and follow whatever met or left
it. We'll likely meet somewhere, over in the Cold Water country."
A minute later the two men who had planned to ride together were going in
Following the Fairlands road until he came to where the Galena Valley road
branches off from the Clear Creek way, three miles below the Power-House
at the mouth of the canyon, Brian Oakley found the tracks of an
automobile--made without doubt, during the night just past. The machine
had gone up the Galena Valley road, and had returned.
A little before noon, the officer stood where the automobile had stopped
and turned around for the return trip. The place was well up toward the
head of the valley, near the mouth of a canyon that leads upward toward
Granite Peak. An hour's careful work, and the Ranger uncovered a small
store of supplies; hidden a quarter of a mile up the canyon. There were
tracks leading away up the side of the mountain. Turning his horse loose
to find its way home; Brian Oakley, without stopping for lunch, set out on
* * * * *
High up on Granite Peak, Aaron King was bending over the print of a
slender shoe, beside the track of a heavy hob-nailed boot. Somewhere in
Clear Creek canyon, Jack Carleton was riding to gain the point where the
artist stood. At the foot of the mountain, on the other side of the range,
Brian Oakley was setting out to follow the faint trail that started at the
supplies brought by the automobile, in the night, from Fairlands.
A Hard Way
When Sibyl Andres left the studio, after meeting Mrs. Taine, her mind was
dominated by one thought--that she must get away from the world that saw
only evil in her friendship with Aaron King--a friendship that, to the
mountain girl, was as pure as her relations to Myra Willard or Brian
Under the watchful, experienced care of the woman with the disfigured
face, only the worthy had been permitted to enter into the life of this
child of the hills. Sibyl's character--mind and heart and body and
soul--had been formed by the strength and purity of her mountain
environment; by her association with her parents, with Myra Willard, and
with her parents' life-long friends; and by her mental comradeship with
the greatest spirits that music and literature have given to the world. As
her physical strength and beauty was the gift of her free mountain life,
the beauty and strength of her pure spirit was the gift of those kindred
spirits that are as mountains in the mental and spiritual life of the
Love had come to Sibyl Andres, not as it comes to those girls who, in the
hot-house of passion we call civilization, are forced into premature and
sickly bloom by an atmosphere of sensuality. Love had come to her so
gently, so naturally, so like the opening of a wild flower, that she had
not yet understood that it was love. Even as her womanhood had come to
fulfill her girlhood, so Aaron King had come into her life to fulfill her
womanhood. She had chosen her mate with an unconscious obedience to the
laws of life that was divinely reckless of the world.
Myra Willard, wise in her experience, and in her more than mother love for
Sibyl, saw and recognized that which the girl herself did not yet
understand. Satisfied as to the character of Aaron King, as it had been
tested in those days of unhampered companionship; and seeing, as well, his
growing love for the girl, the woman had been content not to meddle with
that which she conceived to be the work of God. And why not the work of
God? Should the development, the blossoming, and the fruiting of human
lives, that the race may flower and fruit, be held less a work of divinity
than the plants that mature and blossom and reproduce themselves in their
The character of Mrs. Taine represented those forces in life that are, in
every way, antagonistic to the forces that make the character of a Sibyl
Andres possible. In a spirit of wanton, selfish cruelty, that was born of
her worldly environment and training, "The Age" had twisted and distorted
the very virtues of "Nature" into something as hideously ugly and vile as
her own thoughts. The woman--product of gross materialism and
sensuality--had caught in her licentious hands God's human flower and had
crushed its beauty with deliberate purpose. Wounded, frightened,
dismayed, not understanding, unable to deny, the girl turned in reluctant
flight from the place that was, to her, because of her love, holy ground.
It was impossible for Sibyl not to believe Mrs. Taine--the woman had
spoken so kindly; had seemed so reluctant to speak at all; had appeared so
to appreciate her innocence. A thousand trivial and unimportant incidents,
that, in the light of the worldly woman's words, could be twisted to
evidence the truth of the things she said, came crowding in upon the
girl's mind. Instead of helping Aaron King with his work, instead of truly
enjoying life with him, as she had thought, her friendship was to him a
menace, a danger. She had believed--and the belief had brought her a
strange happiness--that he had cared for her companionship. He had cared
only to use her for his pictures--as he used his brushes. He had played
with her--as she had seen him toy idly with a brush, while thinking over
his work. He would throw her aside, when she had served his purpose, as
she had seen him throw a worn-out brush aside.
The woman who was still a child could not blame the artist--she was too
loyal to what she had thought was their friendship; she was too unselfish
in her yet unrecognized love for her chosen mate. No, she could not blame
him--only--only--she wished--oh how she wished--that she had understood.
It would not have hurt so, perhaps, if she had understood.
In all the cruel tangle of her emotions, in all her confused and
bewildering thoughts, in all her suffering one thing was clear; she must
get away from the world that could see only evil--she must go at once.
Conrad Lagrange and Aaron King might come at any moment. She could not
face them; now that she knew. She wished Myra was home. But she would
leave a little note and Myra--dear Myra with her disfigured face--would
Quickly, the girl wrote her letter. Hurriedly, she dressed in her mountain
costume. Still acting under her blind impulse to escape, she made no
explanations to the neighbors, when she went for the horse. In her desire
to avoid coming face to face with any one, she even chose the more
unfrequented streets through the orange groves. In her humiliation and
shame, she wished for the kindly darkness of the night. Not until she had
left the city far behind, and, in the soft dusk, drew near the mouth of
the canyon, did she regain some measure of her self-control.
As she was overtaking the Power Company's team and wagon of supplies, she
turned in her saddle, for the first time, to look back. A mile away, on
the road, she could see a cloud of dust and a dark, moving spot which she
knew to be an automobile. One of the Company machines, she thought; and
drew a breath of relief that Fairlands was so far away.
It was quite dark as she entered the canyon; but, as she drew near, she
could see against the sky, those great gates, opening silently,
majestically to receive her. From within the canyon, she watched, as she
rode, to see them slowly close again. The sight of the encircling peaks
and ridges, rising in solemn grandeur out of the darkness into the light
of the stars, comforted her. The night wind, drawing down the canyon, was
sweet and bracing with the odor of the hills. The roar of the tumbling
Clear Creek, filling the night with its deep-toned music, soothed and
calmed her troubled mind. Presently, she would be with her friends, and,
somehow, all would be well.
The girl had ridden half the distance, perhaps, from the canyon gates to
the Ranger Station when, above the roar of the mountain stream, her quick
ear caught the sound of an automobile, behind her. Looking back, she saw
the gleam of the lights, like two great eyes in the darkness. A Company
machine, going up to the Head-Work, she thought. Or, perhaps the Doctor,
to see some one of the mountain folk.
As the automobile drew nearer, she reined her horse out of the road, and
halted in the thick chaparral to let it pass. The blazing lights, as her
horse turned to face the approaching machine, blinded her. The animal
restive under the ordeal, demanded all her attention. She scarcely noticed
that the automobile had slowed down, when within a few feet of her, until
a man, suddenly, stood at her horse's head; his hand on the bridle-rein as
though to assist her. At the same instant, the machine moved past them,
and stopped; its engine still running.
Still with the thought of the Company men in her mind, the girl saw only
their usual courtesy. "Thank you," she said, "I can handle him very
But the man--whom she had not had time to see, blinded as she had been by
the light, and who was now only dimly visible in the darkness--stepped
close to the horse's shoulder, as if to make himself more easily heard
above the noise of the machine, his hand still holding the bridle-rein.
"It is Miss Andres, is it not?" He spoke as though he was known to her;
and the girl--still thinking that it was one of the Company men, and
feeling that he expected her to recognize him--leaned forward to see his
face, as she answered.
Instantly, the stranger--standing close and taking advantage of the girl's
position as she stooped toward him from the saddle--caught her in his
powerful arms and lifted her to the ground. At the same moment, the man's
companion who, under cover of the darkness and the noise of the machine,
had drawn close to the other side of the horse, caught the bridle-rein.
Before the girl, taken so off her guard could cry out, a softly-rolled,
silk handkerchief was thrust between her lips and skillfully tied in
place. She struggled desperately; but, against the powerful arms of her
captor, her splendid, young strength was useless. As he bound her hands,
the man spoke reassuringly; "Don't fight, Miss. I'm not going to hurt you.
I've got to do this; but I'll be as easy as I can. It will do you no good
to wear yourself out."
Frightened as she was, the girl felt that the stranger was as gentle as
the circumstances permitted him to be. He had not, in fact, hurt her at
all; and, in his voice, she caught a tone of genuine regret. He seemed to
be acting wholly against his will; as if driven by some power that
rendered him, in fact, as helpless as his victim.
The other man, still standing by the horse's head, spoke sharply; "All
"All right, sir," gruffly answered the man who held Sibyl, and lifting the
helpless girl gently in his arms he seated her carefully in the machine.
An automobile-coat was thrown around her, the high collar turned up to
hide the handkerchief about her lips, and her hat was replaced by an
"auto-cap," pulled low. Then her captor went back to the horse; the other
man took the seat beside her; and the car moved forward.
The girl's fright now gave way to perfect coolness. Realizing the
uselessness of any effort to escape, she wisely saved her strength;
watchful to take quick advantage of any opportunity that might present
itself. Silently, she worked at her bonds, and endeavored to release the
bandage that prevented her from crying out. But the hands that had bound
her had been too skillful. Turning her head, she tried to see her
companion's face. But, in the darkness, with upturned collar and cap
pulled low over "auto-glasses," the identity of the man driving the car
was effectually hidden.
Only when they were passing the Ranger Station and Sibyl saw the lights
through the trees, did she, for a moment, renew her struggle. With all her
strength she strained to release her hands. One cry from her strong, young
voice would bring Brian Oakley so quickly after the automobile that her
safety would be assured. On that mountain road, the chestnut would soon
run them down. She even tried to throw herself from the car; but, bound as
she was, the hand of her companion easily prevented, and she sank back in
the seat, exhausted by her useless exertion.
At the foot of the Oak Knoll trail the automobile stopped. The man who
had been following on Sibyl's horse came up quickly. Swiftly, the two men
worked; placing sacks of supplies and blankets--as the girl guessed--on
the animal. Presently, the one who had bound her, lifted her gently from
the automobile "Don't hurt yourself, Miss," he said in her ear, as he
carried her toward the horse. "It will do you no good." And the girl did
not again resist, as he lifted her to the saddle.
The driver of the car said something to his companion in a low tone, and
Sibyl heard her captor answer, "The girl will be as safe with me as if she
were in her own home."
Again, the other spoke, and the girl heard only the reply; "Don't worry; I
understand that. I'll go through with it. You've left me no chance to do
Then, stepping to the horse's head and taking the bridle-rein, the man who
seemed to be under orders, led the way up the canyon. Behind them, the
girl heard the automobile starting on its return. The sound died away in
the distance. The silence of the night was disturbed only by the sound of
the man's hob-nailed boots and the horse's iron-shod feet on the road.
Once, her captor halted a moment, and, coming to the horse's shoulder,
asked if she was comfortable. The girl bowed her head. "I'm sorry for that
gag," he said. "As soon as it's safe, I'll remove it; but I dare not take
chances." He turned abruptly away and they went on.
Dimly, Sibyl saw, in her companion's manner, a ray of hope. That no
immediate danger threatened, she was assured. That the man was acting
against his will, was as evident. Wisely, she resolved to bend her efforts
toward enlisting his sympathies,--to make it hard for him to carry out the
purpose of whoever controlled him,--instead of antagonizing him by
continued resistance and repeated attempts to escape, and so making it
easier for him to do his master's bidding.
Leaving the canyon by the Laurel Creek trail, they reached Burnt Pine,
where the man removed the handkerchief that sealed the girl's lips.
"Oh, thank you," she said quietly. "That is so much better."
"I'm sorry that I had to do it," he returned, as he unbound her arms.
"There, you may get down now, and rest, while I fix a bit of lunch for
The girl sprang to the ground. "It is a relief to be free," she said.
"But, really, I'm not a bit tired. Can't I help you with the pack?"
"No," returned the other, gruffly, as though he understood her purpose and
put himself on his guard. "We'll only be here a few minutes, and it's a
long road ahead. You must rest."
Obediently, she sat down on the ground, her back against a tree.
As they lunched, in the dim light of the stars, she said, "May I ask where
you are taking me?"
"It's a long road, Miss Andres. We'll be there to-morrow night," he
Again, she ventured timidly; "And is, is--some one waiting for--for us, at
the end of our journey?"
The man's voice was kinder as he answered, "no, Miss Andres; there'll he
just you and me, for some time. And," he added, "you don't need to fear
"I am not at all afraid of you," she returned gently. "But I am--" she
hesitated--"I am sorry for you--that you have to do this."
The man arose abruptly. "We must he going."
For some distance beyond Burnt Pine, they kept to the Laurel Creek trail,
toward San Gorgonio; then they turned aside to follow some unmarked way,
known only to the man. When the first soft tints of the day shone in the
sky behind the peaks and ridges, while Sibyl's friends were assembling at
the Carleton Ranch in Clear Creek Canyon, and Brian Oakley was directing
the day's search, the girl was following her guide in the wild depths of
the mountain wilderness, miles from any trail. The country was strange to
her, but she knew that they were making their way, far above the canyon
rim, on the side of the San Bernardino range, toward the distant Cold
Water country that opened into the great desert beyond.
As the light grew stronger, Sibyl saw her companion a man of medium
height, with powerful shoulders and arms; dressed in khaki, with mountain
boots. Under his arm, as he led the way with a powerful stride that told
of almost tireless strength, the girl saw the familiar stock of a
Winchester rifle. Presently he halted, and as he turned, she saw his face.
It was not a bad face. A heavy beard hid mouth and cheek and throat, but
the nose was not coarse or brutal, and the brow was broad and intelligent.
In the brown eyes there was, the girl thought, a look of wistful sadness,
as though there were memories that could not be escaped.
"We will have breakfast here, if you please, Miss Andres," he said
"I'm so hungry," she answered, dismounting. "May I make the coffee?"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry; but there must be no telltale smoke. The
Ranger and his riders are out by now, as like as not."
"You seem very familiar with the country," she said, moving easily toward
the rifle which he had leaned against a tree, while he busied himself with
the pack of supplies.
"I am," he answered. "I have been forced to learn it thoroughly. By the
way, Miss Andres,"--he added, without turning his head, as he knelt on the
ground to take food from the pack,--"that Winchester will do you no good.
It is not loaded. I have the shells in my belt." He arose, facing her, and
throwing open his coat, touched the butt of a Colt forty-five that hung in
a shoulder holster under his left armpit. "This will serve in case quick
action is needed, and it is always safely out of your reach, you see."
The girl laughed. "I admit that I was tempted," she said. "I might have
known that you put the rifle within my reach to try me."
"I thought it would save you needless disappointment to make things clear
at once," he answered. "Breakfast is ready."
The incident threw a strong light upon the character with which Sibyl had
to deal. She realized, more than ever, that her only hope lay in so
winning this man's sympathies and friendship that he would turn against
whoever had forced him into his present position. The struggle was to be
one of those silent battles of the spirit, where the forces that war are
not seen but only felt, and where those who fight must often fight with
smiling faces. The girl's part was to enlist her captor to fight for her,
against himself. She saw, as clearly, the need of approaching her object
with caution. Eager to know who it was that ruled this man, and by what
peculiar power a character so strong could be so subjected, she dared not
ask. Hour after hour, as they journeyed deeper and deeper into the
mountain wilds, she watched and waited for some sign that her companion's
mood would make it safe for her to approach him. Meanwhile, she exercised
all her womanly tact to lead him to forget his distasteful position, and
so to make his uncongenial task as pleasant as possible.
The girl did not realize how far her decision, in itself, aroused the
admiring sympathy of her captor. Her coolness, self-possession, and
bravery in meeting the situation with calm, watchful readiness, rather
than with hysterical moaning and frantic pleading, did more than she
realized toward accomplishing her purpose.
During that long forenoon, she sought to engage her guide in conversation,
quite as though they were making a pleasure trip that was mutually
agreeable. The man--as though he also desired his thoughts removed as far
as might be from his real mission--responded readily, and succeeded in
making himself a really interesting companion. Only once, did the girl
venture to approach dangerous ground.
"Really," she said, "I wish I knew your name. It seems so stupid not to
know how to address you. Is that asking too much?"
The man did not answer for some time, and the girl saw his face clouded
with somber thought.
"I beg your pardon," she said gently. "I--I ought not to have asked."
"My name is Henry Marston, Miss Andres," he said deliberately. "But it is
not the name by which I am known these days," he added bitterly. "It is an
honorable name, and I would like to hear it again--" he paused--"from
Sibyl returned gently, "Thank you, Mr. Marston--believe me, I do
appreciate your confidence, and--" she in turn hesitated--"and I will keep
By noon, they had reached Granite Peak in the Galenas, having come by an
unmarked way, through the wild country around the head of Clear Creek
They had finished lunch, when Marston, looking at his watch, took a small
mirror from his pocket and stood gazing expectantly toward the distant
valley where Fairlands lay under the blue haze. Presently, a flash of
light appeared; then another and another. It was the signal that Aaron
King had seen and to which he had called Brian Oakley's attention, that
first day of their search.
With his mirror, the man on Granite Peak answered and the girl, watching
and understanding that he was communicating with some one, saw his face
grow dark with anger. She did not speak.
They had traveled a half mile, perhaps, from the peak, when the man again
stopped, saying, "You must dismount here, please."
Removing the things from the saddle, he led the horse a little way down
the Galena Valley side of the ridge, and tied the reins to a tree. Then,
slapping the animal about the head with his open hand, he forced the horse
to break the reins, and started him off toward the distant valley. Again,
the girl understood and made no comment.
Lifting the pack to his own strong shoulders, her companion--his eyes
avoiding hers in shame--said gruffly, "Come."
Their way, now, led down from the higher levels of peak and ridge, into
the canyons and gorges of the Cold Water country. There was no trail, but
the man went forward as one entirely at home. At the head of a deep gorge,
where their way seemed barred by the face of an impossible cliff that
towered above their heads a thousand feet and dropped, another thousand,
sheer to the tops of the pines below, he halted and faced the girl,
enquiringly. "You have a good head, Miss Andres?"
Sibyl smiled. "I was born in the mountains, Mr. Marston," she answered.
"You need not fear for me."
Drawing near to the very brink of the precipice, he led her, by a narrow
ledge, across the face of the cliff; and then, by an easier path, down the
opposite wall of the gorge.
It was late in the afternoon when they arrived at a little log cabin
that was so hidden in the wild tangle of mountain growth at the bottom of
the narrow canyon as to be invisible from a distance of a hundred yards.
The girl knew that they had reached the end of their journey. Nearly
exhausted by the hours of physical exertion, and worn with the mental and
nervous strain, she sank down upon the blankets that her companion spread
for her upon the ground.
"As soon as it is dark, I will cook a hot supper for you," he said,
regarding her kindly. "Poor child, this has been a hard, hard, day for
you. For me--"
Fighting to keep back the tears, she tried to thank him. For a moment he
stood looking down at her. Then she saw his face grow black with rage,
and, clenching his great fists, he turned away.
While waiting for the darkness that would hide the smoke of the fire, the
man gathered cedar boughs from trees near-by, and made a comfortable bed
in the cabin, for the girl. As soon as it was dark, he built a fire in the
rude fire-place, and, in a few minutes, announced supper. The meal was
really excellent; and Sibyl, in spite of her situation, ate heartily;
which won an admiring comment from her captor.
The meal finished, he said awkwardly, "I want to thank you, Miss Andres,
for making this day as easy for me as you have. We will be alone here,
until Friday, at least; perhaps longer. There is a bar to the cabin door.
You may rest here as safely as though you were in your own room. Good
Before she could answer, he was gone.
A few minutes later, Sibyl stood in the open door. "Mr. Marston," she
"Yes, Miss Andres," came, instantly, out of the darkness.
"Please come into the cabin."
There was no answer.
"It will be cold out there. Please come inside."
"Thank you, Miss Andres; but I will do very nicely. Bar the door and go to
"But, Mr. Marston, I will sleep better if I know that you are
The man came to her and she saw him in the dim light of the fire, standing
hat in hand. He spoke wonderingly. "Do you mean, Miss Andres, that you
would not be afraid to sleep, if I occupied the cabin with you?"
"No," she answered, "I am not afraid. Come in."
But he did not move to cross the threshold. "And why are you not afraid?"
he asked curiously.
"Because," she answered, "I know that you are a gentleman."
The man laughed harshly--such a laugh as Sibyl had never before heard. "A
gentleman! This is the first time I have heard that word in connection
with myself for many a year, Miss Andres. You have little reason for using
it--after what I have done to you--and am doing."
"Oh, but you see, I know that you are forced to do what you are doing. You
_are_ a gentleman, Mr. Marston.--Won't you please come in and sleep by the
fire? You will be so uncomfortable out there. And you have had such a hard
"God bless you, for your good heart, Miss Andres," the man said brokenly.
"But I will not intrude upon your privacy to-night. Don't you see," he
added savagely, "don't you see that I--I _can't?_ Bar your door, please,
and let me play the part assigned to me. Your kindness to me, your
confidence in me, is wasted."
He turned abruptly away and disappeared in the darkness.
What Should He Do
The next morning, it was evident to Sibyl Andres that the man who said his
name was Henry Marston had not slept.
All that day, she watched the battle--saw him fighting with himself. He
kept apart from her, and spoke but little. When night came, as soon as
supper was over, he again left the cabin, to spend the long, dark hours in
a struggle that the girl could only dimly sense. She could not understand;
but she felt him fighting, fighting; and she knew that he fought for her.
What was it? What terrible unseen force mastered this man,--compelled him
to do its bidding,--even while he hated and loathed himself for
Watchful, ready, hoping, despairing, the helpless girl could only pray
that her companion might be given strength.
The following morning, at breakfast, he told her that he must go to
Granite Peak to signal. His orders were to lock her in the cabin, and to
go alone; but he would not. She might go with him, if she chose.
Even this crumb of encouragement--that he would so far disobey his
master--filled the girl's heart with hope. "I would love to go with you,
Mr. Marston," she said, "but if it is going to make trouble for you, I
would rather stay."
"You mean that you would rather be locked up in the cabin all day, than to
make trouble for me?" he asked.
"It wouldn't be so terrible," she answered, "and I would like to do
something--something to--to show you that I appreciate your, kindness to
me. There's nothing else I _can_ do, is there?"
The man looked at her wonderingly. It was impossible to doubt her
sincerity. And Sibyl, as she saw his face, knew that she had never before
witnessed such mental and spiritual anguish. The eyes that looked into
hers so questioningly, so pleadingly, were the eyes of a soul in torment.
Her own eyes filled with tears that she could not hide, and she turned
At last he said slowly, "No, Miss Andres, you shall not stay in the cabin
to-day. Come; we must go on, or I shall be late."
At Granite Peak, Sibyl watched the signal flashes from distant
Fairlands--the flashes that Aaron King was watching, from the peak where
they had sat together that day of their last climb. As the man answered
the signals with his mirror, and the girl beside him watched, the artist
was training his glass upon the spot where they stood; but, partially
concealed as they were, the distance was too great.
When Sibyl's captor turned, after receiving the message conveyed by the
flashes of light, his face was terrible to see; and the girl, without
asking, knew that the crisis was drawing near. Deadly fear gripped her
heart; but she was strangely calm. On the way back to the cabin, the man
scarcely spoke, but walked with bent head; and the girl felt him fighting,
fighting. She longed to cry out, to plead with him, to demand that he tell
her why he must do this thing; but she dared not. She knew, instinctively
that he must fight alone. So she watched and waited and prayed. As they
were crossing the face of the canyon wall, on the narrow ledge, the man
stopped and, as though forgetting the girl's presence, stood looking
moodily down into the depths below. Then they went on. That night, he did
not leave the cabin as soon as they had finished their evening meal, but
sat on one of the rude seats with which the little hut was furnished,
gazing into the fire.
The girl's heart beat quicker, as he said, "Miss Andres, I would like to
ask your opinion in a matter that I cannot decide satisfactorily to
She took the seat on the other side of the rude fireplace.
"What is it, Mr. Marston?"
"I will put it in the form of a story," he answered. Then, after a wait of
some minutes, as though he found it hard to begin, he said, "It is an old
story, Miss Andres; a very common one, but with a difference. A young man,
with every chance in the world to go right, went wrong. He was well-born.
He was fairly well educated. His father was a man of influence and
considerable means. He had many friends, good and bad. I do not think the
man was intentionally bad, but I do not excuse him. He was a fool--that's
all--a fool. And, as fools must, he paid the price of his foolishness.
"A sentence of thirty years in the penitentiary is a big price for a young
man to pay for being a fool, Miss Andres. He was twenty-five when he went
in--strong and vigorous, with a good mind; the prospects years of prison
life--but that's not the story. I could not hope to make you understand
what a thirty years sentence to the penitentiary means to a man of
twenty-five. But, at least, you will not wonder that the man watched for
an opportunity to escape. He prayed for an opportunity. For ten
years,--ten years,--Miss Andres, the man watched and prayed for a chance
to escape. Then he got away.
"He was never a criminal at heart, you must understand. He had no wish,
now, to live a life of crime. He wished only to live a sane, orderly,
useful, life of freedom. They hunted him to the mountains. They could not
take him, but they made it impossible for him to escape--he was
starving--dying. He would not give himself up to the twenty years of hell
that waited him. He did not want to die--but he would die rather than go
"Then, one day, when he was very near the end, a man found him. The poor
hunted devil of a convict aroused his pity. He offered help. He gave the
wretched, starving creature food. He arranged to furnish him with
supplies, until it would be safe for him to leave his hiding place. He
brought him food and clothing and books. Later, when the convict's prison
pallor was gone, when his hair and beard were grown, and the prison manner
and walk were, in some measure, forgotten; when the officers, thinking
that he had perished in the mountains, had given up looking for him; his
benefactor gave him work--beautiful work in the orange groves--where he
was safe and happy and useful and could feel himself a _man_.
"Do you wonder, Miss Andres, that the man was grateful? Do you wonder that
he worshipped his benefactor--that he looked upon his friend as upon his
"No," said the girl, "I do not wonder. It was a beautiful thing to do--to
help the poor fellow who wanted to do right. I do not wonder that the man
who had escaped, loved his friend."
"But listen," said the other, "when the convict was beginning to feel
safe; when he saw that he was out of danger; when he was living an
honorable, happy life, instead of spending his days in the hell they call
prison; when he was looking forward to years of happiness instead of to
years of torment; then his benefactor came to him suddenly, one day, and
said, 'Unless you do what I tell you, now--unless you help me to something
that I want, I will send you back to prison. Do as I say, and your life
shall go on as it is--as you have planned. Refuse, and I will turn you
over to the officers, and you will go back to your hell for the remainder
of your life.'
"Do you wonder, Miss Andres, that the convict obeyed his master?"
The girl's face was white with despair, but she did not lose her
self-control. She answered the man, thoughtfully--as though they were
discussing some situation in which neither had a vital interest. "I think,
Mr. Marston," she said, "that it would depend upon what it was that the
man wanted the convict to do. It seems to me that I can imagine the
convict being happier in prison, knowing that he had not done what the man
wanted, than he would he, free, remembering what he had done to gain his
freedom. What was it the man wanted?"
Breathlessly, Sibyl waited the answer.
The man on the other side of the fire did not speak.
At last, in a voice hoarse with emotion, Henry Marston said, "Freedom and
a life of honorable usefulness purchased at a price, or hell, with only
the memory of a good deed--which should the man choose, Miss Andres?"
"I think," she replied, "that you should tell me, plainly, what it was
that the man wanted the convict to do."
"I will go on with the story," said the other.
"The convict's benefactor--or, perhaps I should say, master--loved a woman
who refused to listen to him. The girl, for some reason, left home, very
suddenly and unexpectedly to any one. She left a hurried note, saying,
only, that she was going away. By accident, the man found the note and saw
his opportunity. He guessed that the girl would go to friends in the
mountains. He saw that if he could intercept her, and keep her hidden, no
one would know what had become of her. He believed that she would marry
him rather than face the world after spending so many days with him alone,
because her manner of leaving home would lend color to the story that she
had gone with him. Their marriage would save her good name. He wanted the
man whom he could send back to prison to help him.
"The convict had known his benefactor's kindness of heart, you must
remember, Miss Andres. He knew that this man was able to give his wife
everything that seems desirable in life--that thousands of women would
have been glad to marry him. The man assured the convict that he desired
only to make the girl his wife before all the world. He agreed that she
should remain under the convict's protection until she _was_ his wife, and
that the convict should, himself, witness the ceremony." The man paused.
When the girl did not speak, he said again, "Do you wonder, Miss Andres,
that the convict obeyed his master?"
"No," said the girl, softly, "I do not wonder. But, Mr. Marston," she
continued, hesitatingly, "what do you think the convict in your story
would have done if the man had not--if he had not wanted to marry the
"I know what he would have done in that case," the other answered with
conviction. "He would have gone back to his twenty years of hell. He would
have gone back to fifty years of hell, if need be, rather than buy his
freedom at such a price."
The girl leaned forward, eagerly; "And suppose--suppose--that after the
convict had done his master's bidding--suppose that after he had taken the
girl away from her friends--suppose, then, the man would not marry her?"
For a moment there was no sound in the little room, save the crackling of
the fire in the fire-place, and the sound of a stick that had burned in
two, falling in the ashes.
"What would the convict do if the man would not marry the girl?" persisted
Her companion spoke with the solemnity of a judge passing sentence; "If
the man violated his word--if he lied to the convict--if his purpose
toward the girl was anything less than an honorable marriage--if he
refused to keep his promise after the convict had done his part--he would
die, Miss Andres. The convict would kill his benefactor--as surely as
there is a just God who, alone, can say what is right and what is wrong."
The girl uttered a low cry.
The man did not seem to notice. "But the man will do as he promised, Miss
Andres. He wishes to make the girl his wife. He can give her all that
women, these days, seem to desire in marriage. In the eyes of the world,
she would be envied by thousands. And the convict would gain freedom and
the right to live an honorable life--the right to earn his bread by doing
an honest man's work. Freedom and a life of honorable service, at the
price; or hell, with only the memory of a good deed--which should he
choose, Miss Andres? The convict is past deciding for himself."
The troubled answer came out of the honesty of the girl's heart; "Mr.
Marston, I do not know."
A moment, the man on the other side of the fireplace waited. Then, rising,
he quietly left the cabin. The girl did not know that he was gone, until
she heard the door close.
* * * * *
In that log hut, hidden in the deep gorge, in the wild Cold Water country,
Sibyl Andres sat before the dying fire, waiting for the dawn. On a high,
wind-swept ledge in the Galena mountains, Aaron King grimly walked his
weary beat. In Clear Creek Canyon, Myra Willard and Conrad Lagrange
waited, and Brian Oakley planned for the morrow. Over in the Galena
Valley, an automobile from Fairlands stopped at the mouth of a canyon
leading toward Granite Peak. Somewhere, in the darkness of the night, a
man strove to know right from wrong.
The Man Was Insane
Neither Sibyl Andres nor her companion, the next morning, reopened their
conversation of the night before. Each was preoccupied and silent, with
troubled thoughts that might not be spoken.
Often, as the forenoon passed, Sibyl saw the man listening, as though for
a step on the mountainside above. She knew, without being told, that the
convict was expecting his master. It was, perhaps, ten o'clock, when they
heard a sound that told them some one was approaching.
The man caught up his rifle and slipped a round of cartridges into the
magazine; saying to the girl, "Go into the cabin and bar the door; quick,
do as I say! Don't come out until I call you."
She obeyed; and the convict, himself, rifle in hand, disappeared in the
A few minutes later, James Rutlidge parted the bushes and stepped into the
little open space in front of the cabin. The convict reappeared, his rifle
under his arm.
The new-comer greeted the man whom Sibyl knew as Henry Marston, with,
"Hello, George, everything all right? Where is she?"
"Miss Andres is in the cabin. When I heard you coming, I asked her to go
inside, and took cover in the brush, myself, until I knew for sure that it
Rutlidge laughed. "You are all right, George. But you needn't worry.
Everything is as peaceful as a graveyard. They've found the horse, and
they think now that the girl killed herself, or met with an accident while
wandering around the hills in a state of mental aberration."
"You left the supplies at the same old place, I suppose?" said the
"Yes, I brought what I could," Rutlidge indicated a pack which he had
slipped from his shoulder as he was talking. "You better hike over there
and bring in the rest to-night. If you leave at once, you will make it
back by noon, to-morrow."
The girl in the cabin, listening, heard every word and trembled with fear.
The convict spoke again.
"What are your plans, Mr. Rutlidge?"
"Never mind my plans, now. They can wait until you get back. You must
start at once. You say Miss Andres is in the cabin?" He turned toward the
But the other said, shortly, "Wait a minute, sir. I have a word to say,
before I go."
"Well, out with it."
"You are not going to forget your promise to me?"
"Certainly not, George. You are safe."
"I mean regarding Miss Andres."
"Oh, of course not! Why, what's the matter?"
"Nothing, only she is in my care until she is your wife."
James Rutlidge laughed. "I will take good care of her until you get back.
You need have no fear. You're not doubting my word, are you?"
"If I doubted your word, I would take Miss Andres with me," answered the
James Rutlidge looked at him, curiously; "Oh, you would?"
"Yes, sir, I would; and I think I should tell you, too, that if you
_should_ forget your promise--"
"Well, what would you do if I should forget?"
The answer came deliberately; "If you do not keep your promise I will kill
you, Mr. Rutlidge."
James Rutlidge did not reply.
Stepping to the cabin door, the convict knocked.
Sibyl's voice answered, "Yes?"
"You may come out now, please, Miss Andres."
As the girl opened the door, she spoke to him in a low tone. "Thank you,
Mr. Marston. I heard."
"I meant you to hear," he returned in a whisper. "Do not be afraid." In a
louder tone he continued. "I must go for supplies, Miss Andres. I will be
back to-morrow noon."
He stepped around the corner of the cabin, and was gone.
Sibyl Andres faced James Rutlidge, without speaking. She was not afraid,
now, as she had always been in his presence, until that day when he had so
plainly declared himself to her and she met his advances with a gun. The
convict's warning to the man who could send him back to prison for
practically the remaining years of his life, had served its purpose in
giving her courage. She did not believe that, for the present, Rutlidge
would dare to do otherwise than heed the warning.
[Illustration: Still she did not speak.]
James Rutlidge regarded her with a smile of triumphant satisfaction.
"Really," he said, at last, "you do not seem at all glad to see me."
She made no reply.
"I am frightfully hungry"--he continued, with a short laugh, moving toward
her as she stood in the door of the cabin--"I've been walking since
midnight I was in such a hurry to get here that I didn't even stop for
She stepped out, and moved away from the door.
With another laugh, he entered the cabin.
Presently, when he had helped himself to food, he went back to the girl
who had seated herself on a log, at the farther side of the little
clearing. "You seem fairly comfortable here," he said.
She did not speak.
"You and my man get along nicely, I take it. He has been kind to you?"
Still she did not speak.
He spoke sharply, "Look here, my girl, you can't keep this up, you know.
Say what you have to say, and let's get it over."
All the time, she had been regarding him intently--her wide, blue eyes
filled with wondering pain. "How could you?" she said at last. "Oh, how
could you do such a thing?"
His face flushed. "I did it because you have driven me mad, I guess. From
the first time I saw you, I have wanted you. I have tried again and
again, in the last three years, to approach you; but you would have
nothing to do with me. The more you spurned me, the more I wanted you.
Then this man, King, came. You were friendly enough, with him. It made me
wild. From that day when I met you in the mountains above Lone Cabin, I
have been ready for anything. I determined if I could not win you by fair
means, I would take you in any way I could. When my opportunity came, I
took advantage of it. I've got you. The story is already started that you
were the painter's mistress, and that you have committed suicide. You
shall stay here, a while, until the belief that you are dead has become a
certainty; then you will go East with me."
"But you cannot do a thing so horrible!" she exclaimed "I would tell my
story to the first people we met."
He laughed grimly, as he retorted with brutal meaning, "You do not seem to
understand. You will be glad enough to keep the story a secret--when the
time comes to go."
Bewildered by fear and shame, the girl could only stammer, "How could
you--oh how could you! Why, why--"
"Why!" he echoed. Then, as he went a step toward her, he exclaimed, with
reckless profanity, "Ask the God who made me what I am, why I want you!
Ask the God who made you so beautiful, why!"
He moved another step toward her, his face flushed with the insane passion
that mastered him, his eyes burning with the reckless light of one past
counting the cost; and the girl, seeing, sprang to her feet, in terror.
Wheeling suddenly, she ran into the cabin, thinking to shut and bar the
door. She reached the door, and swung it shut, but the bar was gone. While
he was in the cabin he had placed it out of her reach. Putting his
shoulder to the door, the man easily forced it open against her lighter
weight. As he crossed the threshold, she sprang to the farthest corner of
the little room, and cowered, trembling--too shaken with horror to cry
out. A moment he paused; then started toward her.
At that instant, the convict burst through the underbrush into the little
Hearing the sound, Rutlidge wheeled and sprang to the open door.
The convict was breathing heavily from the exertion of a hard run.
"What are you doing here?" demanded Rutlidge, sharply. "What's the
"Some one is following my trail down from Granite Peak."
"Well, what are you carrying that rifle for?" said Rutlidge, harshly, with
"There may be others near enough to hear a shot," answered the convict.
"Besides, Mr. Rutlidge, this is your part of the game--not mine. I did not
agree to commit murder for you."
"Where did you see him?"
"A half mile beyond the head of the gulch, where we turn off to go to the
Rutlidge, rifle in hand, stepped from the house. "You stay here and take
care of the girl--and see that she doesn't scream." With the last word he
set out at a run.
The convict sprang into the cabin, where Sibyl still crouched in the
corner. The man's voice was imploring as he said, "Miss Andres, Miss
Andres, what is the matter? Did he touch you? Tell me, did he harm you?"
Sobbing, the girl held out her hands, and he lifted her to her feet.
"You--you came--just in time, Mr. Marston."
An instant he stood there, then muttering something under his breath, he
turned, caught up his rifle, and started toward the door.
But, as he reached the threshold, she cried out, "Mr. Marston, don't,
don't leave me again."
The convict stopped, hesitated, then he said solemnly "Miss Andres, can
you pray? I know you can. You are a good girl. If God can hear a prayer he
will surely hear you. Come with me. Come--and pray girl--pray for me."
* * * * *
The most charitable construction that can be put upon the action of James
Rutlidge, just related, is to accept the explanation of his conduct that
he, himself made to Sibyl. The man was insane--as Mr. Taine was insane--as
Mrs. Taine was insane.
What else can be said of a class of people who, in an age wedded to
materialism, demand of their artists not that they shall set before them
ideals of truth and purity and beauty, but that they shall feed their
diseased minds with thoughts of lust and stimulate their abnormal passions
with lascivious imaginings? Can a class--whatever its pretense to culture
may be--can a class, that, in story and picture and music and play, counts
greatest in art those who most effectively arouse the basest passions of
which the human being is capable, be rightly judged sane?
James Rutlidge was bred, born, and reared in an atmosphere that does not
tolerate purity of thought. It was literally impossible for him to think
sanely of the holiest, most sacred, most fundamental facts of life.
Education, culture, art, literature,--all that is commonly supposed to
lift man above the level of the beasts,--are used by men and women of his
kind to so pervert their own natures that they are able to descend to
bestial depths that the dumb animals themselves are not capable of
reaching. In what he called his love for Sibyl Andres, James Rutlidge was
insane--but no more so than thousands of others. The methods of securing
the objects of their desires vary--the motive that prompts is the
same--the end sought is identical.
As he hurriedly climbed the mountainside, out of the deep gorge that hid
the cabin, the man's mind was in a whirl of emotions--rage at being
interrupted at the moment of his triumph; dread lest the approaching one
should be accompanied by others, and the girl be taken from him; fear that
the convict would prove troublesome, even should the more immediate danger
be averted; anger at himself for being so blindly precipitous; and a
maddening indecision as to how he should check the man who was following
the tracks that led from Granite Peak to the evident object of his
search. The words of the convict rang in his ears. "This is your job. I
did not agree to commit murder for you."
Murder had no place in the insanity of James Rutlidge To destroy
innocence, to kill virtue, to murder a soul--these are commonplaces in the
insane philosophy of his kind. But to kill--to take a life
deliberately--the thought was abhorrent to him. He was not educated to the
thought of _taking_ life--he was trained to consider its _perversion_. The
heroes in _his_ fiction did not _kill_ men--they _betrayed_ women. The
heroines in his stories did not desire the death of their betrayers--they
loved them, and deserted their husbands for them.
But to stand idly aside and permit Sibyl Andres to be taken from him--to
face the exposure that would inevitably follow--was impossible. If the man
who had struck the trail was alone, there might still be a chance--if he
could be stopped. But how could he check him? What could he do? A
rifle-shot might bring a dozen searchers.
While these thoughts were seething in his hot brain, he was climbing
rapidly toward the cliff at the head of the gorge, across which, he knew,
the man who was following the tracks that led to the cabin below, must
Gaining the end of the ledge that leads across the face of that mighty
wall of rock, less than a hundred feet to the other side, he stopped.
There was no one in sight. Looking down, he saw, a thousand feet below the
tops of the trees in the bottom of the gorge. Lifting his head, he looked
carefully about, searching the mountainsides that slope steeply back from
the rim of the narrow canyon. He looked up at the frowning cliff that
towered a thousand feet above his head. He listened. He was thinking,
thinking. The best of him and the worst of him struggled for supremacy.
A sound on the mountainside, above the gorge, and beyond the other end of
the ledge, caught his ear. With a quick step he moved behind a projecting
corner of the cliff. Rifle in hand, he waited.
An Inevitable Conflict
When Aaron King set out to follow the tracks he had found at Granite Peak,
after his long, hard trip along the rugged crest of the Galenas, his
weariness was forgotten. Eagerly, as if fresh and strong, but with careful
eyes and every sense keenly alert, he went forward on the trail that he
knew must lead him to Sibyl Andres.
He did not attempt to solve the problem of how the girl came there, nor
did he pause to wonder about her companion. He did not even ask himself if
Sibyl were living or dead. He thought of nothing; knew nothing; was
conscious of nothing; but the trail that led away into the depths of the
mountain wilderness. Insensible to his own physical condition; without
food; unacquainted with the wild country into which he was going; reckless
of danger to himself but with all possible care and caution for the sake
of the girl he loved, he went on.
Coming to the brink of the gorge in which the cabin was hidden, the trail,
following the rim, soon led him to the ledge that lay across the face of
the cliff at the head of the narrow canyon. A moment, he paused, to search
the vicinity with careful eyes, then started to cross. As he set foot upon
the ledge, a voice at the other end called sharply, "Stop."
At the word, Aaron King halted.
A moment passed. James Rutlidge stepped from behind the rocks at the other
end of the ledge. He was covering the artist with a rifle.
In a flash, the man on the trail understood. The automobile, the mirror
signals from Fairlands--it was all explained by the presence and by the
menacing attitude of the man who barred his way. The artist's hand moved
toward the weapon that hung at his hip.
"Don't do that," said the man with the rifle. "I can't murder you in cold
blood; but if you attempt to draw your gun, I'll fire."
The other stood still.
James Rutlidge spoke again, his voice hoarse with emotion; "Listen to me,
King. It's useless for me to deny what brought me here. The trail you are
following leads to Sibyl Andres. You had her all summer. I've got her now.
If you hadn't stumbled onto the trail up there, I would have taken her out
of the country, and you would never have seen her again. I might have
killed you before you saw me, but I couldn't. I'm not that kind. Under the
circumstances there is no possible compromise. I'll give you a fighting
chance for your life and the girl. I'll take a fighting chance for my life
and the girl. Throw your gun out of reach and I'll leave mine here. We'll
meet on the ledge there."
James Rutlidge was no coward. Mr. Taine, also,--it will be remembered,--on
the night of his death, boasted that he was game.
Without an instant's hesitation, Aaron King unbuckled the belt that held
his weapon and, turning, tossed it behind him, with the gun still in its
holster. At the other end of the ledge, James Rutlidge set his rifle
behind the rock.
Deliberately, the two men removed their coats and threw aside their hats.
For a moment they stood eyeing each other. Into Aaron King's mind flashed
the memory of that scene at the Fairlands depot, when, moved by the
distress of the woman with the disfigured face, he had first spoken to the
man who faced him now. With startling vividness, the incidents of their
acquaintance came to him in flash-like succession--the day that Rutlidge
had met Sibyl in the studio; the time of his visit to the camp in the
sycamore grove; the night of the Taine banquet--a hundred things that had
strengthened the feeling of antagonism which had marked their first
meeting. And, through it all, he seemed to hear Conrad Lagrange saying
that in his story of life this character's name was "Sensual." The artist,
in that instant, knew that this meeting was inevitable.
It was only for a moment that the two men--who in their lives and
characters represented forces so antagonistic--stood regarding each other,
each knowing that the duel would be--must be--to the death. Deliberately,
they started toward the center of the ledge. Over their heads towered the
great cliff. A thousand feet below were the tops of the trees in the
bottom of the gorge. About them, on every hand, the silent, mighty hills
watched--the wild and lonely wilderness waited.
As they drew closer together, they moved, as wrestlers,
warily--crouching, silent, alert. Stripped to their shirts and trousers,
they were both splendid physical types. James Rutlidge was the heavier,
but Aaron King made up for his lack in weight by a more clean-cut,
They grappled. As two primitive men in a savage age might have met, bare
handed, they came together. Locked in each other's arms, their limbs
entwined, with set faces, tugging muscles, straining sinews, and taut
nerves they struggled. One moment they crushed against the rocky wall of
the cliff--the next, and they swayed toward the edge of the ledge and hung
over the dizzy precipice. With pounding hearts, laboring breath, and
clenched teeth they wrestled.
James Rutlidge's foot slipped on the rocky floor; but, with a desperate
effort, he regained his momentary loss. Aaron King--worn by his days of
anxiety, by his sleepless nights and by the long hours of toil over the
mountains, without sufficient food or rest--felt his strength going.
Slowly, the weight and endurance of the heavier man told against him.
James Rutlidge felt it, and his eyes were beginning to blaze with savage
They were breathing, now, with hoarse, sobbing gasps, that told of the
nearness of the finish. Slowly, Aaron King weakened. Rutlidge, spurred to
increase his effort, and exerting every ounce of his strength, was bearing
the other downward and back.
At that instant, the convict and Sibyl Andres reached the cliff. With a
cry of horror, the girl stood as though turned to stone.
Motionless, without a word, the convict watched the struggling men.
With a sob, the girl stretched forth her hands. In a low voice she called,
"Aaron! Aaron! Aaron!"
The two men on the ledge heard nothing--saw nothing.
Sibyl spoke again, almost in a whisper, but her companion heard. "Mr.
Marston, Mr. Marston, it is Aaron King. I--I love him--I--love him."
Without taking his eyes from the struggling men, the convict answered,
"Pray, girl; pray, pray for me." As he spoke, he steadily raised his rifle
to his shoulder.
Aaron King went down upon one knee. Rutlidge his legs braced, his body
inclined toward the edge of the precipice, was gathering his strength for
the last triumphant effort.
The convict, looking along his steady rifle barrel, was saying again,
"Pray, pray for me, girl." As the words left his lips, his finger pressed
the trigger, and the quiet of the hills was broken by the sharp crack of
James Rutlidge's hold upon the artist slipped. For a fraction of a second,
his form half straightened and he stood nearly erect; then, as a weed cut
by the sharp scythe of a mower falls, he fell; his body whirling downward
toward the trees and rocks below. The sound of the crashing branches
mingled with the reverberating report of the shot. On the ledge, Aaron
King lay still.
The convict dropped his rifle and ran forward. Lifting the unconscious man
in his arms, he carried him a little way down the mountain, toward the
cabin; where he laid him gently on the ground. To Sibyl, who hung over the
artist in an agony of loving fear, he said hurriedly, "He'll be all right,
presently, Miss Andres. I'll fetch his coat and hat."
Running back to the ledge, he caught up the dead man's rifle, coat, and
hat, and threw them over the precipice, as he swiftly crossed for the
artist's things. Recovering his own rifle, he ran back to the girl.
"Listen, Miss Andres," said the convict, speaking quickly. "Mr. King will
be all right in a few minutes. That rifle-shot will likely bring his
friends; if not, you are safe, now, anyway. I dare not take chances.
From where she sat with the unconscious man's head in her lap, she looked
at him, wonderingly. "Good-by?" she repeated questioningly.
Henry Marston smiled grimly. "Certainly, good-by What else is there for
A moment later, she saw him running swiftly down the mountainside, like
some hunted creature of the wilderness.
The Better Way
Alone on the mountainside with the man who had awakened the pure passion
of her woman heart, Sibyl Andres bent over the unconscious object of her
love. She saw his face, unshaven, grimy with the dirt of the trail and the
sweat of the fight, drawn and thin with the mental torture that had driven
him beyond the limit of his physical strength; she saw how his clothing
was stained and torn by contact with sharp rocks and thorns and bushes;
she saw his hands--the hands that she had watched at their work upon her
portrait as she stood among the roses--cut and bruised, caked with blood
and dirt--and, seeing these things, she understood.
In that brief moment when she had watched Aaron King in the struggle upon
the ledge,--and, knowing that he was fighting for her, had realized her
love for him,--all that Mrs. Taine had said to her in the studio was swept
away. The cruel falsehoods, the heartless misrepresentations, the vile
accusations that had caused her to seek the refuge of the mountains and
the protection of her childhood friends were, in the blaze of her awakened
passion, burned to ashes; her cry to the convict--"I love him, I love
him"--was more than an expression of her love; it was a triumphant
assertion of her belief in his love for her--it was her answer to the evil
seeing world that could not comprehend their fellowship.
As the life within the man forced him slowly toward consciousness, the
girl, natural as always in the full expression of herself, bent over him
with tender solicitude. With endearing words, she kissed his brow, his
hair, his hands. She called his name in tones of affection. "Aaron, Aaron,
Aaron." But when she saw that he was about to awake, she deftly slipped
off her jacket and, placing it under his head, drew a little back.
He opened his eyes and looked wonderingly up at the dark pines that
clothed the mountainsides. His lips moved and she heard her name; "Sibyl,
She leaned forward, eagerly, her cheeks glowing with color. "Yes, Mr.
"Am I dreaming, again?" he said slowly, gazing at her as though struggling
to command his senses.
"No, Mr. King," she answered cheerily, "you are not dreaming."
Carefully, as one striving to follow a thread of thought in a bewildering
tangle of events, he went over the hours just past. "I was up on that peak
where you and I ate lunch the day you tried to make me see the Golden
State Limited coming down from the pass. Brian Oakley sent me there to
watch for buzzards." For a moment he turned away his face, then continued,
"I saw flashes of light in Fairlands and on Granite Peak. I left a note
for Brian and came over the range. I spent one night on the way. I found
tracks on the peak. There were two, a man and a woman. I followed them to
a ledge of rock at the head of a canyon," he paused. Thus far the thread
of his thought was clear. "Did some one stop me? Was there--was there a
fight? Or is that part of my dream?"
"No," she said softly, "that is not part of your dream."
"And it was James Rutlidge who stopped me, as I was going to you?"
"Then where--" with quick energy he sat up and grasped her arm--"My God!
Sibyl--Miss Andres, did I, did I--" He could not finish the sentence, but
sank back, overcome with emotion.
The girl spoke quickly, with a clear, insistent voice that rallied his
mind and forced him to command himself.
"Think, Mr. King, think! Do you remember nothing more? You were
struggling--your strength was going--can't you remember? You must, you
Lifting his face he looked at her. "Was there a rifle-shot?" he asked
slowly. "It seems to me that something in my brain snapped, and everything
went black. Was there a rifle-shot?"
"Yes," she answered.
"And I did not--I did not--?"
"No. You did not kill James Rutlidge. He would have killed you, but for
the shot that you heard."
"And Rutlidge is--?"
"He is dead," she answered simply.
Briefly, she told him the story, from the time that she had met Mrs.
Taine in the studio until the convict had left her, a few minutes before.
"And now," she finished, rising quickly, "we must go down to the cabin.
There is food there. You must be nearly starved. I will cook supper for
you, and when you have had a night's sleep, we will start home."
"But first," he said, as he rose to his feet and stood before her, "I must
tell you something. I should have told you before, but I was waiting until
I thought you were ready to hear. I wonder if you know. I wonder if you
are ready to hear, now."
She looked him frankly in the eyes as she answered, "Yes, I know what you
want to tell me. But don't, don't tell me here." She shuddered, and the
man remembering the dead body that lay at the foot of the cliff,
understood. "Wait," she said, "until we are home."
"And you will come to me when you are ready? When you want me to tell
you?" he said.
"Yes," she answered softly, "I will go to you when I am ready."
* * * * *
At the cabin in the gulch, the girl hastened to prepare a substantial
meal. There was no one, now, to fear that the smoke would be seen. Later,
with cedar boughs and blankets, she made a bed for him on the floor near
the fire-place. When he would have helped her she forbade him; saying that
he was her guest and that he must rest to be ready for the homeward trip.
Softly, the day slipped away over the mountain peaks and ridges that shut
them in. Softly, the darkness of the night settled down. In the rude
little hut, in the lonely gulch, the man and the woman whose lives were
flowing together as two converging streams, sat by the fire, where, the
night before, the convict had told that girl his story.
Very early, Sibyl insisted that her companion lie down to sleep upon the
bed she had made. When he protested, she answered, laughing, "Very well,
then, but you will be obliged to sit up alone," and, with a "Good night,"
she retired to her own bed in another corner of the cabin. Once or twice,
he spoke to her, but when she did not answer he lay down upon his woodland
couch and in a few minutes was fast asleep.
In the dim light of the embers, the girl slipped from her bed and stole
quietly across the room to the fire-place, to lay another stick of wood
upon the glowing coals. A moment she stood, in the ruddy light, looking
toward the sleeping man. Then, without a sound, she stole to his side, and
kneeling, softly touched his forehead with her lips. As silently, she
crept back to her couch.
* * * * *
All that afternoon Brian Oakley had been following with trained eyes, the
faintly marked trail of the man whose dead body was lying, now, at the
foot of the cliff. When the darkness came, the mountaineer ate a cold
supper and, under a rude shelter quickly improvised by his skill in
woodcraft, slept beside the trail. Near the head of Clear Creek, Jack
Carleton, on his way to Granite Peak, rolled in his blanket under the
pines. Somewhere in the night, the man who had saved Sibyl Andres and
Aaron King, each for the other, fled like a fearful, hunted thing.
* * * * *
At daybreak, Sibyl was up, preparing their breakfast But so quietly did
she move about her homely task that the artist did not awake. When the
meal was ready, she called him, and he sprang to his feet, declaring that
he felt himself a new man. Breakfast over, they set out at once.
When they came to the cliff at the head of the gulch, the girl halted and,
shrinking back, covered her face with trembling hands; afraid, for the
first time in her life, to set foot upon a mountain trail. Gently, her
companion led her across the ledge, and a little way back from the rim of
the gorge on the other side.
Five minutes later they heard a shout and saw Brian Oakley coming toward
them. Laughing and crying, Sibyl ran to meet him; and the mountaineer, who
had so many times looked death in the face, unafraid and unmoved, wept
like a child as he held the girl in his arms.
When Sibyl and Aaron had related briefly the events that led up to their
meeting with the Ranger, and he in turn had told them how he had followed
the track of the automobile and, finding the hidden supplies, had followed
the trail of James Rutlidge from that point, the officer asked the girl
several questions. Then, for a little while he was silent, while they,
guessing his thoughts, did not interrupt. Finally, he said, "Jack is due
at Granite Peak, sometime about noon. He'll have his horse, and with Sibyl
riding, we'll make it back down to the head of Clear Creek by dark. You
young folks just wait for me here a little. I want to look around below
there, a bit."
As he started toward the gulch, Sibyl sprang to her feet and threw herself
into his arms. "No, no, Brian Oakley, you shall not--you shall not do it!"
Holding her close, the Ranger looked down into her pleading eyes,
smilingly. "And what do you think I am going to do, girlie?"
"You are going down there to pick up the trail of the man who saved
Aaron--who saved me. But you shall not do it. I don't care if you are an
officer, and he is an escaped convict! I will not let you do anything that
might lead to his capture."
"God bless you, child," answered Brian Oakley, "the only escaped convict I
know anything about, this last year, according to my belief, died
somewhere in the mountains. If you don't believe it, look up my official
reports on the matter."
"And you're not going to find which way he went?"
"Listen, Sibyl," said the Ranger gravely. "The disappearance of James
Rutlidge, prominent as he was, will be heralded from one end of the world
to the other. The newspapers will make the most of it. The search is sure
to be carried into these hills, for that automobile trip in the night will
not go unquestioned, and Sheriff Walters knows too much of my suspicions.
In a few days, the body will be safely past recognition, even should it be
discovered through the buzzards. But I can't take chances of anything
durable being found to identify the man who fell over the cliff."
When he returned to them, two hours later, he said, quietly, "It's a
mighty good thing I went down. It wasn't a nice job, but I feel better. We
can forget it, now, with perfect safety. Remember"--he charged them
impressively--"even to Myra Willard and Conrad Lagrange, the story must be
only that an unknown man took you, Sibyl, from your horse. The man
escaped, when Aaron found you. We'll let the Sheriff, or whoever can,