Part 2 out of 2
excitement had passed I'd have a picture in my memory that I'd
hate to look at. I'd have an hour in my life that would haunt
me. And so would you. You'd hate to look back and think that
one time you helped kill a couple of men who couldn't fight
"Let the law do it, boys. You don't want them to live, and I
don't; nobody does, for they deserve to die. But it isn't for
us to play judge and jury and hangman here to-night. Let them
get what's coming to them at the hands of the officers you've
elected for that purpose. They won't get off. Hank Graves says
they will hang if it takes every hoof he owns. He said he would
bring Bowman down here to help prosecute them. I don't know
"I do," a voice spoke, somewhere in the darkness. "Lawyer from
Helena. Never lost a case."
"I'm glad to hear it, for he's the man that will prosecute. They
haven't a ghost of a show to get out of it. Lauman here is
responsible for their safe keeping and I guess, now that he
knows them better, we needn't be afraid they'll escape again.
And it's as Lauman said; he'll hang them quite as dead as you
can. He's drawing a salary to do these things, make him earn
it. It's a nasty job, boys, and you wouldn't get anything out
of it but a nasty memory."
A hand that did not feel like the hand of a man rested for an
instant on his arm. Mona brushed by him and stepped out where
the rising moon shone on her hair and into her big, blue-gray
"I wish you all would please go away," she said. "You are
making mamma sick. She's got it in her head that you are going
to do something awful, and I can't convince her you're not. I
told her you wouldn't do anything so sneaking, but she's awfully
nervous about it. Won't you please go, right now?"
They looked sheepishly at one another; every man of them feared
the ridicule of his neighbor.
"Why, sure we'll go," cried Park, rallying. "We were going
anyway in a minute. Tell your mother we were just
congratulating Lauman on rounding up these Wagners. Come on,
boys. And you, Bud, hurry up and get well again; we miss yuh
round the Lazy Eight."
The three who were sitting on Lauman got up, and he gave a sigh
of relief. "Say, yuh darned cowpunchers don't have no mercy on
an old man's carcass at all," he groaned, in exaggerated
self-pity. "Next time yuh want to congratulate me, I wish you'd
put it in writing and send it by mail."
A little ripple of laughter went through the crowd. Then they
swung up on their horses and galloped away in the moonlight.
A QUESTION OF NERVE
"That was your victory, Miss Stevens. Allow me to congratulate
you." If Thurston showed any ill grace in his tone it was
without intent. But it did seem unfortunate that just as he was
waxing eloquent and felt sure of himself and something of a
hero, Mona should push him aside as though he were of no account
and disperse a bunch of angry cowboys with half a dozen words.
She looked at him with her direct, blue-gray eyes, and smiled.
And her smile had no unpleasant uplift at the corners; it was
the dimply, roguish smile of the pastel portrait only several
times nicer. Re could hardly believe it; he just opened his
eyes wide and stared. When he came to a sense of his rudeness,
Mona was back in the kitchen helping with the supper dishes,
just as though nothing had happened--unless one observed the
deep, apple-red of her cheeks--while her mother, who showed not
the faintest symptoms of collapse, flourished a dish towel made
of a bleached flour sack with the stamp showing a faint pink
and blue XXXX across the center.
"I knew all. the time they wouldn't do anything when it came
right to the point," she declared. "Bless their hearts, they
thought they would--but they're too soft-hearted, even when they
are mad. If yuh go at 'em right yuh can talk 'em over easy. It
done me good to hear yuh talk right up to 'em, Bud." Mrs.
Stevens had called hi Bud from the first time she laid eyes on
him. "That's all under the sun they needed--just somebody to
set 'em thinking about the other side. You're a real good
speaker; seems to me you ought to study to be a preacher."
Thurston's face turned red. But presently he forgot everything
in his amazement, for Mona the dignified, Mona of the scornful
eyes and the chilly smile, actually giggled--giggled like any
ordinary girl, and shot him a glance that had in it pure mirth
and roguish teasing, and a dash of coquetry. He sat down and
giggled with her, feeling idiotically happy and for no reason
under the sun that he could name.
He had promised his conscience that he would go home to the Lazy
Eight in the morning, but he didn't; he somehow contrived,
overnight, to invent a brand new excuse for his conscience to
swallow or not, as it liked. Hank Graves had the same
privilege; as for the Stevens trio, he blessed their hospitable
souls for not wanting any excuse whatever for his staying. They
were frankly glad to have him there; at least Mrs. Stevens and
Jack were. As for Mona, he was not so sure, but he hoped she
This was the reason inspired by his great desire: he was going
to write a story, and Mona was unconsciously to furnish the
material for his heroine, and so, of course, he needed to be
there so that he might study his subject. That sounded very
well, to himself, but to Hank Graves, for some reason, it seemed
very funny. When Thurston told him, Hank was taken with a fit
of strangling that turned his face a dark purple. Afterward he
explained brokenly that something had got down his Sunday
throat--and Thurston, who had never heard of a man's Sunday
throat, eyed him with suspicion. Hank blinked at him with tears
still in his quizzical eyes and slapped him on the back, after
the way of the West--and any other enlightened country where men
are not too dignified to be their real selves--and drawled, in a
way peculiar to himself:
"That's all right, Bud. You stay right here as long as yuh want
to. I don't blame yuh--if I was you I'd want to spend a lot uh
time studying this particular brand uh female girl myself.
She's out uh sight, Bud--and I don't believe any uh the boys has
got his loop on her so far; though I could name a dozen or so
that would be tickled to death if they had. You just go right
ahead and file your little, old claim--"
"You're getting things mixed," Thurston interrupted, rather
testily. "I'm not in love with her. I, well, it's like this: if
you were going to paint a picture of those mountains off there,
you'd want to be where you could look at them-- wouldn't you? You
wouldn't necessarily want to--to own them, just because you felt
they'd make a fine picture. Your interest would be, er, entirely
"Uh-huh," Hank agreed, his keen eyes searching Phil's face
"Therefore, it doesn't follow that I'm getting foolish about a
girl just because I--hang it! what the Dickens makes you look at
a fellow that way? You make me?"
"Uh-huh," said Hank again, smoothing the lower half of his face
with one hand. "You're a mighty nice little boy, Bud. I'll bet
Mona thinks so, too and when yuh get growed up you'll know a
whole lot more than yuh do right now. Well, I guess I'll be
moving. When yuh get that--er--story done, you'll come back to
the ranch, I reckon. Be good."
Thurston watched him ride away, and then flounced, oh, men do
flounce at times, in spirit, if not in deed; and there would be
no lack of the deed if only they wore skirts that could rustle
indignantly in sympathy with the wearer--to his room. Plainly,
Hank did not swallow the excuse any more readily than did his
To prove the sincerity of his assertion to himself, his
conscience, and to Hank Graves, he straightway got out a thick
pad of paper and sharpened three lead pencils to an exceeding
fine point. Then he sat him down by the window--where he could
see the kitchen door, which was the one most used by the
family--and nibbled the tip off one of the pencils like any
school-girl. For ten minutes he bluffed himself into believing
that he was trying to think of a title; the plain truth is, he
was wondering if Mona would go for a ride that afternoon and if
so, might he venture to suggest going with her.
He thought of the crimply waves in Mona's hair, and pondered
what adjectives would best describe it without seeming
commonplace. "Rippling" was too old, though it did seem to hit
the case all right. He laid down the pad and nearly stood on
his head trying to reach his Dictionary of Synonyms and Antonyms
without getting out of his chair. While he was clawing after it-
-it lay on the floor, where he had thrown it that morning
because it refused to divulge some information he wanted--he
heard some one open and close the kitchen door, and came near
kinking his neck trying to get up in time to see who it was. He
failed to see anyone, and returned to the dictionary.
"'Ripple--to have waves--like running water.'" (That was just
the way her hair looked, especially over the temples and at the
nape of her neck--Jove, what a tempting white neck it was!)
"Um-m. 'Ripple; wave; undulate; uneven; irregular.'" (Lord,
what fools are the men who write dictionaries!) "'Antonym --hang
The kitchen door slammed. He craned again. It was Jack-- going
to town most likely. Thurston shrewdly guessed that Mrs.
Stevens leaned far more upon Mona than she did upon Jack,
although he could hardly accuse her of leaning on anyone. But
he observed that the men looked to her for orders.
He perceived that the point was gone from his pencil, and
proceeded to sharpen it. Then he heard Mona singing in the
kitchen, and recollected that Mrs. Stevens had promised him
warm doughnuts for supper. Perhaps Mona was frying them at that
identical moment--and he had never seen anyone frying doughnuts.
He caught up his cane and limped out to investigate. That is
how much his heart just then was set upon writing a story that
would breathe of the plains.
One great hindrance to the progress of his story was the
difficulty he had in selecting a hero for his heroine. Hank
Graves suggested that he use Park, and even went so far as to
supply Thurston with considerable data which went to prove that
Park would not be averse to figuring in a love story with Mona.
But Thurston was not what one might call enthusiastic, and Hank
laughed his deep, inner laugh when he was well away from the
Thurston, on the contrary, glowered at the world for two hours
after. Park was a fine fellow, and Thurston liked him about as
well as any man he knew in the West, but--And thus it went. On
each and every visit to the Stevens ranch-- and they were many--
Hank, learning by direct inquiry that the story still suffered
for lack of a hero, suggested some fellow whom he had at one
time and another caught "shining" around Mona. And with each
suggestion Thurston would draw down his eyebrows till he came
near getting a permanent frown.
A love story without a hero, while it would no doubt be original
and all that, would hardly appeal to an editor. Phil tried
heroes wholly imaginary, but he had a trick of making his
characters seem very real to himself and sometimes to other
people as well. So that, after a few passages of more or less
ardent love-making, he would in a sense grow jealous and spoil
the story by annihilating the hero thereof.
Heaven only knows how long the thing would have gone on if he
hadn't, one temptingly beautiful evening, reverted to the day of
the hold-up and apologized for not obeying her command. He
explained as well as he could just why he sat petrified with his
hands in the air.
And then having brought the thing freshly to her mind, he
somehow lost control of his wits and told her he loved her. He
told her a good deal in the next two minutes that he might
better have kept to himself just then. But a man generally makes
a glorious fool of himself once or twice in his life and it
seems the more sensible the man the more thorough a job he makes
Mona moved a little farther away from him, and when she answered
she did not choose her words. "Of all things," she said,
evenly, "I admire a brave man and despise a coward. You were
chicken-hearted that day, and you know it; you've just admitted
it. Why, in another minute I'd have had that gun myself, and
I'd have shown you--but Park got it before I really had a
chance. I hated to seem spectacular, but it served you right.
If you'd had any nerve I wouldn't have had to sit there and tell
you what to do. If ever I marry anybody, Mr. Thurston, it will
be a man."
"Which means, I suppose, that I'm not one?" he asked angrily.
"I don't know yet." Mona smiled her unpleasant smile--the one
that did not belong in the story he was going to write. "You're
new to the country, you see. Maybe you've got nerve; you
haven't shown much, so far as I know--except when you talked to
the boys that night. But you must have known that they wouldn't
hurt you anyway. A man must have a little courage as much as I
have; which isn't asking much--or I'd never marry him in the
"Not even if you--liked him?" his smile was wistful.
"Not even if I loved him!" Mona declared, and fled into the
Thurston gathered himself together and went down to the stable
and borrowed a horse of Jack, who had just got back from town,
and rode home to the Lazy Eight
When Hank heard that he was home to stay--at least until he
could join the roundup again--he didn't say a word for full five
minutes. Then, "Got your story done?" he drawled, and his eyes
Thurston was going up the stairs to his old room, and Hank could
not swear positively to the reply he got. But he thought it
sounded like, "Oh, damn the story!"
THE DRIFT OF THE HERDS
Weeks slipped by, and to Thurston they seemed but days. His
world-weariness and cynicism disappeared the first time he met
Mona after he had left there so unceremoniously; for Mona, not
being aware of his cynicism, received him on the old, friendly
footing, and seemed to have quite forgotten that she had ever
called him a coward, or refused to marry him. So Thurston
forgot it also--so long as he was with her.
How he filled in the hours he could scarcely have told; certain
it is that he accomplished nothing at all so far as Western
stories were concerned. Reeve-Howard wrote in slightly shocked
phrases to ask what was keeping him so long; and assured him
that he was missing much by staying away. Thurston mentally
agreed with him long enough to begin packing his trunk; it was
idiotic to keep staying on when he was clearly receiving no
benefit thereby. When, however, he picked up a book which he
had told Mona he would take over to her the next time he went,
he stopped and considered:
There was the Wagner trial coming off in a month or so; he
couldn't get out of attending it, for he had been subpoenaed as
a witness for the prosecution. And there was the beef roundup
going to start before long--he really ought to stay and take
that in; there would be some fine chances for pictures. And
really he didn't care so much for the Barry Wilson bunch and the
long list of festivities which trailed ever in its wake; at any
rate, they weren't worth rushing two-thirds across the continent
He sat down and wrote at length to Reeve-Howard, explaining very
carefully--and not altogether convincingly--just why he could
not possibly go home at present. After that he saddled and rode
over to the Stevens place with the book, leaving his trunk
yawning emptily in the middle of his badly jumbled belongings.
After that he spent three weeks on the beef roundup. At first
he was full of enthusiasm, and worked quite as if he had need of
the wages, but after two or three big drives the novelty wore
off quite suddenly, and nothing then remained but a lot of hard
work. For instance, standing guard on long, rainy nights when
the cattle walked and walked might at first seem picturesque and
all that, but must at length, cease to be amusing.
Likewise the long hours which he spent on day-herd, when the
wind was raw and penetrating and like to blow him out of the
saddle; also standing at the stockyard chutes and forcing an
unwilling stream of rollicky, wild-eyed steers up into the cars
that would carry them to Chicago.
After three weeks of it he awoke one particularly nasty morning
and thanked the Lord he was not obliged to earn his bread at
all, to say nothing of earning it in so distressful a fashion.
There was a lull in the shipping because cars were not then
available. He promptly took advantage of it and rode by the
very shortest trail to the ranch--and Mona. But Mona was
visiting friends in Chinook, and there was no telling when she
would return. Thurston, in the next few days, owned to himself
that there was no good reason for his tarrying longer in the
big, un-peopled West, and that the proper thing for him to do was
go back home to New York.
He had come to stay a month, and he had stayed five. He could
ride and rope like an old-timer, and he was well qualified to
put up a stiff gun-fight had the necessity ever arisen--which it
He had three hundred and seventy-one pictures of different
phases of range life, not counting as many that were over-exposed
or under-exposed or out of focus. He had six unfinished
stories, in each of which the heroine had big, blue-gray eyes
and crimply hair, and the title and bare skeleton of a seventh,
in which the same sort of eyes and hair would probably develop
later. He had proposed to Mona three times, and had been three
times rebuffed-- though not, it must be owned, with that tone of
finality which precludes hope.
He was tanned a fine brown, which became him well. His eyes had
lost the dreamy, introspective look of the student and author,
and had grown keen with the habit of studying objects at long
range. He walked with that peculiar, stiff-legged gait which
betrays long hours spent in the saddle, and he wore a silk
handkerchief around his neck habitually and had forgotten the
feel of a dress-suit.
He answered to the name "Bud" more readily than to his own, and
he made practical use of the slang and colloquialisms of the
plains without any mental quotation marks.
By all these signs and tokens he had learned his West, and
should have taken himself back to civilization when came the
frost. He had come to get into touch with his chosen field of
fiction, that he might write as one knowing whereof he spoke.
So far as he had gone, he was in touch with it; he was steeped
to the eyes in local color--and there was the rub The lure of it
was strong upon him, and he might not loosen its hold. He was
the son of his father; he had found himself, and knew that, like
him, he loved best to travel the dim trails.
Gene Wasson came in and slammed the door emphatically shut after
him. "She's sure coming," he complained, while he pulled the
icicles from his mustache and cast them into the fire. "She's
going to be a real, old howler by the signs. What yuh doing,
Bud? Writing poetry?"
Thurston nodded assent with certain mental reservations; so far
the editors couldn't seem to make up their minds that it was
"Well, say, I wish you'd slap in a lot uh things about hazy,
lazy, daisy days in the spring--that jingles fine!--and green
grass and the sun shining and making the hills all goldy yellow,
and prairie dogs chip-chip-chipping on the 'dobe flats.
(Prairie dogs would go all right in poetry, wouldn't they?
They're sassy little cusses, and I don't know of anything that
would rhyme with 'em, but maybe you do.) And read it all out to
me after supper. Maybe it'll make me kinda forget there's a
"Another one?" Thurston got up to scratch a trench in the
half-inch layer of frost on the cabin window. "Why, it only
cleared up this morning after three days of it."
"Can't help that. This is just another chapter uh that same
story. When these here Klondike Chinooks gets to lapping over
each other they never know when to quit. Every darn one has got
to be continued tacked onto the tail of it the winter. All the
difference is, you can't read the writing; but I can."
"I've got some mail for yuh, Bud. And old Hank wanted me to ask
yuh if you'd like to go to Glasgow next Thursday and watch old
Lauman start the Wagner boys for wherever's hot enough. He can
get yuh in, you being in the writing business. He says to tell
yuh it's a good chance to take notes, so yuh can write a real
stylish story, with lots uh murder and sudden death in it. We
don't hang folks out here very often, and yuh might have to go
back East after pointers, if yuh pass this up."
"Oh, go easy. It turns me sick when I think about it; how they
looked when they got their sentence, and all that. I certainly
don't care to see them hanged, though they do deserve it. Where
are the letters?" Thurston sprawled across the table for them.
One was from Reeve-Howard; he put it by. Another had a printed
address in the corner--an address that started his pulse a beat
or two faster; for he had not yet reached that blase stage where
he could receive a personal letter from one of the "Eight
Leading" without the flicker of an eye-lash. He still gloated
over his successes, and was cast into the deeps by his failures.
He held the envelope to the light, shook it tentatively, like
any woman, guessed hastily and hopefully at the contents, and
tore off an end impatiently. From the great fireplace Gene
watched him curiously and half enviously. He wished he could
get important-looking letters from New York every few days. It
must make a fellow feel that he amounted to something.
"Gene, you remember that story I read to you one night-- that
yarn about the fellow that lived alone in the hills, and how the
wolves used to come and sit on the ridge and howl o' nights--you
know, the one you said was 'out uh sight'? They took it, all
right, and--here, what do you think of that?" He tossed the
letter over to Gene, who caught it just as it was about to be
swept into the flame with the draught in Thurston, in the days
which he spent one of the half-dozen Lazy Eight line-camps with
Gene, down by the river, had been writing of the West--writing
in fear and trembling, for now he knew how great was his subject
and his ignorance of it. In the long evenings, while the fire
crackled and the flames played a game they had invented, a game
where they tried which could leap highest up the great chimney;
while the north wind whoo-ooed around the eaves and fine, frozen
snow meal swished against the one little window; while
shivering, drifting range cattle tramped restlessly through the
sparse willow-growth seeking comfort where was naught but cold
and snow and bitter, driving wind; while the gray wolves hunted
in packs and had not long to wait for their supper, Thurston had
written better than he knew. He had sent the cold of the
blizzards and the howl of the wolves; he had sent bits of the
wind-swept plains back to New York in long, white envelopes.
And the editors were beginning to watch for his white envelopes
and to seize them eagerly when they came, greedy for what was
within. Not every day can they look upon a few typewritten
pages and see the range-land spread, now frowning, now smiling,
"Gee! they say here they want a lot the same brand, and at any
old price yuh might name. I wouldn't mind writing stories
myself." Gene kicked a log back into the flame where it would
do the most good. His big, square-shouldered figure stood out
sharply against the glow.
Thurston, watching him meditatively, wanted to tell him that he
was the sort of whom good stories are made. But for men like
Gene--strong, purposeful, brave, the West would lose half its
charm. He was like Bob in many ways, and for that Thurston
liked him and, stayed with him in the line-camp when he might
have been taking his ease at the home ranch.
It was wild and lonely down there between the bare hills and the
frozen river, but the wildness and the loneliness appealed to
him. It was primitive and at times uncomfortable. He slept in
a bunk built against the wall, with hard boards under him and a
sod roof over his head. There were times when the wind blew its
fiercest and rattled dirt down into his face unless he covered
it with a blanket. And every other day he had to wash the
dishes and cook, and when it was Gene's turn to cook, Thurston
chopped great armloads of wood for the fireplace to eat o'
nights. Also he must fare forth, wrapped to the eyes, and help
Gene drive back the cattle which drifted into the river bottom,
lest they cross the river on the ice and range where they should
But in the evenings he could sit in the fire-glow and listen to
the wind and to the coyotes and the gray wolves, and weave
stories that even the most hyper-critical of editors could not
fail to find convincing. By day he could push the coffee-box
that held his typewriter over by the frosted window--when he had
an hour or two to spare--and whang away at a rate which filled
Gene with wonder. Sometimes he rode over to the home ranch for
a day or two, but Mona was away studying music, so he found no
inducement to remain, and drifted back to the little, sod-roofed
cabin by the river, and to Gene.
The winter settled down with bared teeth like a bull-dog, and
never a chinook came to temper the cold and give respite to man
or beast. Blizzards that held them, in fear of their lives,
close to shelter for days, came down from the north; and with
them came the drifting herds. By hundreds they came, hurrying
miserably before the storms. When the wind lashed them without
mercy even in the bottom-land, they pushed reluctantly out upon
the snow-covered ice of the Missouri. Then Gene and Thurston
watching from their cabin window would ride out and turn them
pitilessly back into the teeth of the storm.
They came by hundreds--thin, gaunt from cold and hunger. They
came by thousands, lowing their misery as they wandered
aimlessly, seeking that which none might find: food and shelter
and warmth for their chilled bodies. When the Canada herds
pushed down upon them the boys gave over trying to keep them
north of the river; while they turned one bunch a dozen others
were straggling out from shore, the timid following single file
behind a leader more venturesome or more desperate than his
So the march went on and on: big, Southern-bred steer grappling
the problem of his first Northern winter; thin- flanked cow with
shivering, rough-coated calf trailing at her heels; humpbacked
yearling with little nubs of horns telling that he was lately in
his calfhood; red cattle, spotted cattle, white cattle, black
cattle; white-faced Herefords, Short-horns, scrubs; Texas
longhorns--of the sort invariably pictured in stampedes--still
they came drifting out of the cold wilderness and on into
wilderness as cold.
Through the shifting wall of the worst blizzard that season
Thurston watched the weary, fruitless, endless march of the
range. "Where do they all come from?" he exclaimed once when
the snow-veil lifted and showed the river black with cattle.
"Lord! I dunno," Gene answered, shrugging his shoulders against
the pity of it. "I seen some brands yesterday that I know
belongs up in the Cypress Hills country. If things don't loosen
up pretty soon, the whole darned range will be swept clean uh
stock as far north as cattle run. I'm looking for reindeer
"Something ought to be done," Thurston declared uneasily,
turning away from the sight. "I've had the bellowing of
starving cattle in my ears day and night for nearly a month.
The thing's getting on my nerves."
"It's getting on the nerves uh them that own 'em a heap worse,"
Gene told him grimly, and piled more wood on the fire; for the
cold bit through even the thick walls of the cabin when the
flames in the fireplace died, and the door hinges were crusted
deep with ice. "There's going to be the biggest loss this range
has ever known."
"It's the owners' fault," snapped Thurston, whose nerves were in
that irritable state which calls loudly for a vent of some sort.
Even argument with Gene, fruitless though it perforce must be,
would be a relief. "It's their own fault. I don't pity them
any--why don't they take care of their stock? If I owned cattle,
do you think I'd sit in the house and watch them starve through
"What if yuh owned more than yuh could feed? It'd be a case uh
have-to then. There's fifty thousand Lazy Eight cattle walking
the range somewhere today. How the dickens is old Hank going to
feed them fifty thousand? or five thousand? It takes every spear
uh hay he's got to feed his calves."
"He could buy hay," Thurston persisted.
"Buy hay for fifty thousand cattle? Where would he get it? Say,
Bud, I guess yuh don't realize that's some cattle. All ails you
is, yuh don't savvy the size uh the thing. I'll bet yuh there
won't be less than three hundred thousand head cross this river
"Some of them belong in Canada--you said so yourself."
"I know it, but look at all the country south of us: all the
other cow States. Why, Bud, when yuh talk about feeding every
critter that runs the range, you're plumb foolish."
"Anyway, it's a damnable pity !" Thurston asserted petulantly.
"Sure it is. The grass is there, but it's under fourteen inches
uh snow right now, and more coming; they say it's twelve feet
deep up in the mountains. You'll see some great old times in
the spring, Bud, if yuh stay. You will, won't yuh?"
Thurston laughed shortly. "I suppose it's safe to say I will,"
he answered. "I ought to have gone last fall, but I didn't. It
will probably be the same thing over again; I ought to go in the
spring, but I won't."
"You bet you won't. Talk about big roundups! what yuh seen last
spring wasn't a commencement. Every hoof that crosses this
river and lives till spring will have to be rounded up and
brought back again. They'll be scattered clean down to the
Yellowstone, and every Northern outfit has got to go down and
help work the range from there back. I tell yuh, Bud, yuh want
to lay in a car-load uh films and throw away all them little,
jerk-water snap-shots yuh got. There's going to be roundups
like these old Panhandle rannies tell about, when the green
grass comes." Gene, thinking blissfully of the tented life,
sprawled his long legs toward the snapping blaze and crooned
dreamily, while without the blizzard raged more fiercely, a
verse from an old camp song:
"Out on the roundup, boys, I tell yuh what yuh get
Little chunk uh bread and a little chunk uh meat;
Little black coffee, boys, chuck full uh alkali,
Dust in your throat, boys, and gravel in your eye!
So polish up your saddles, oil your slickers and your guns,
For we're bound for Lonesome Prairie when the green grass comes."
One night in late March a sullen, faraway roar awakened Thurston
in his bunk. He turned over and listened, wondering what on
earth was the matter. More than anything it sounded like a
hurrying freight train only the railroad lay many miles to the
north, and trains do not run at large over the prairie. Gene
snored peacefully an arm's length away. Outside the snow lay
deep on the levels, while in the hollows were great, white
drifts that at bedtime had glittered frostily in the moonlight.
On the hill- tops the gray wolves howled across coulees to their
neighbors, and slinking coyotes yapped foolishly at the moon.
Thurston drew the blanket up over his ears, for the fire had
died to a heap of whitening embers and the cold of the cabin
made the nose of him tingle. The roar grew louder and
nearer-then the cabin shivered and creaked in the suddenness of
the blast that struck it. A clod of dirt plumbed down upon his
shoulder, bringing with it a shower of finer particles.
"Another blizzard!" he groaned, "and the worst we've had yet, by
The wind shrieked down the chimney and sought the places where
the chinking was loose. It howled up the coulees, putting the
wolves themselves to shame. Gene flopped over like a newly
landed fish, grunted some unintelligible words and slept again.
For an hour Thurston lay and listened to the blast and selfishly
thanked heaven it was his turn at the cooking. If the storm kept
up like that, he told himself, he was glad he did not have to
chop the wood. He lifted the blanket and sniffed tentatively,
then cuddled back into cover swearing that a thermometer would
register zero at that very moment on his pillow.
The storm came in gusts as the worst blizzards do at times. It
made him think of the nursery story about the fifth little pig
who built a cabin of rocks, and how the wolf threatened: "I'll
huff and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down!" It was as
if he himself were the fifth little pig, and as if the wind were
the wolf. The wolf-wind would stop for whole minutes, gather
his great lungs full of air and then without warning would "huff
and puff" his hardest. But though the cabin was not built of
rocks, it was nevertheless a staunch little shelter and sturdily
withstood the shocks.
He pitied the poor cattle still fighting famine and frost as
only range-bred stock can fight. He pictured them drifting
miserably before the fury of the wind or crowding for shelter
under some friendly cutback, their tails to the storm, waiting
stolidly for the dawn that would bring no relief. Then, with
the roar and rattle in his ears, he fell asleep.
In that particular line-camp on the Missouri the cook's duties
began with building a fire in the morning. Thurston waked
reluctantly, shivered in anticipation under the blankets,
gathered together his fortitude and crept out of his bunk.
While he was dressing his teeth chattered like castanets in a
minstrel show. He lighted the fire hurriedly and stood backed
close before it, listening to the rage of the wind. He was
growing very tired of the monotony of winter; he could no longer
see any beauty in the high-turreted, snow-clad hills, nor the
bare, red faces of the cliffs frowning down upon him.
"I don't suppose you could see to the river bank," he mused,
"and Gene will certainly tear the third commandment to shreds
before he gets the water-hole open."
He went over to the window, meaning to scratch a peep-hole in the
frost, just as he had done every day for the past three months;
lifted a hand, then stopped bewildered. For instead of frost
there was only steam with ridges of ice yet clinging to the sash
and dripping water in a tiny rivulet. He wiped the steam
hastily away with his palm and looked out.
"Good heavens, Gene!" he shouted in a voice to wake the Seven
Sleepers. "The world's gone mad overnight. Are you dead, man?
Get up and look out. The whole damn country is running water,
and the hills are bare as this floor!"
"Uh-huh!" Gene knuckled his eyes and sat up. "Chinook struck
us in the night. Didn't yuh hear it?"
Thurston pulled open the door and stood face to face with the
miracle of the West. He had seen Mother Nature in many a
changeful mood, but never like this. The wind blew warm from
the southwest and carried hints of green things growing and the
song of birds; he breathed it gratefully into his lungs and let
it riot in his hair. The sky was purplish and soft, with heavy,
drifting clouds high-piled like a summer storm. It looked like
rain, he thought.
The bare hills were sodden with snow-water, and the drifts in
the coulees were dirt-grimed and forbidding. The great river
lay, a gray stretch of water-soaked snow over the ice, with
little, clear pools reflecting the drab clouds above. A crow
flapped lazily across the foreground and perched like a blot of
fresh-spilled ink on the top of a dead cottonwood and cawed
raucous greeting to the spring.
The wonder of it dazed Thurston and made him do unusual things
that morning. All winter he had been puffed with pride over his
cooking, but now he scorched the oatmeal, let the coffee boil
over, and blackened the bacon, and committed divers other
grievous sins against Gene's clamoring appetite. Nor did he
feel the shame that he should have felt. He simply could not
stay in the cabin five minutes at a time, and for it he had no
After breakfast he left the dishes un-washed upon the table and
went out and made merry with nature. He could scarce believe
that yesterday he had frosted his left ear while he brought a
bucket of water up from the river, and that it had made his
lungs ache to breathe the chill air. Now the path to the river
was black and dry and steamed with warmth. Across the water
cattle were feeding greedily upon the brown grasses that only a
few hours before had been locked away under a crust of frozen
"They won't starve now," he exulted, pointing them out to Gene.
"No, you bet not!" Gene answered. "If this don't freeze up on
us the wagons '11 be starting in a month or so. I guess we can
be thinking about hitting the trail for home pretty soon now.
The river'll break up if this keeps going a week. Say, this is
out uh sight! It's warmer out uh doors than it is in the house.
Darn the old shack, anyway! I'm plumb sick uh the sight of it.
It looked all right to me in a blizzard, but now--it's me for
the range, m'son." He went off to the stable with long,
swinging strides that matched all nature for gladness, singing
"So polish up your saddles, oil your slickers and your guns,
For we're hound for Lonesome Prairie when the green grass comes."
FOLLOWING THE DIM TRAILS!
Thurston did not go on the horse roundup. He explained to the
boys, when they clamored against his staying, that he had a host
of things to write, and it would keep him busy till they were
ready to start with the wagons for the big rendezvous on the
Yellowstone, the exact point of which had yet to be decided upon
by the Stock Association when it met. The editors were after
him, he said, and if he ever expected to get anywhere, in a
literary sense, it be-hooved him to keep on the smiley side of
That sounded all right as far as it went, but unfortunately it
did not go far. The boys winked at one another gravely behind
his back and jerked their thumbs knowingly toward Milk River; by
which pantomime they reminded one another--quite unnecessarily
that Mona Stevens had come home. However, they kept their
skepticism from becoming obtrusive, so that Thurston believed
his excuses passed on their face value. The boys, it would
seem, realized that it is against human nature for a man to
declare openly to his fellows his intention of laying last,
desperate siege to the heart of a girl who has already refused
him three times, and to ask her for the fourth time if she will
reconsider her former decisions and marry him.
That is really what kept Thurston at the Lazy Eight. His
writing became once more a mere incident in his life. During the
winter, when he did not see her, he could bring himself to think
occasionally of other things; and it is a fact that the stories
he wrote with no heroine at all hit the mark the straightest.
Now, when he was once again under the spell of big, clear, blue
gray eyes and crimply brown hair, his stories lost something of
their virility and verged upon the sentimental in tone. And
since he was not a fool he realized the falling off and chafed
against it and wondered why it was. Surely a man who is in love
should be well qualified to write convincingly of the obsession
but Thurston did not. He came near going to the other extreme
and refusing to write at all.
The wagons were out two weeks--which is quite long enough for a
crisis to arise in the love affair of any man. By the time the
horse roundup was over, one Philip Thurston was in pessimistic
mood and quite ready to follow the wagons, the farther the
better. Also, they could not start too soon to please him. His
thoughts still ran to blue-gray eyes and ripply hair, but he
made no attempt to put them into a story.
He packed his trunk carefully with everything he would not need
on the roundup, and his typewriter he put in the middle. He
told himself bitterly that he had done with crimply haired
girls, and with every other sort of girl. If he could figure in
something heroic--only he said melodramatic--he might possibly
force her to think well of him. But heroic situations and
opportunities come not every day to a man, and girls who demand
that their knights shall be brave in face of death need not
complain if they are left knightless at the last.
He wrote to Reeve-Howard, the night before they were to start,
and apologized gracefully for having neglected him during the
past three weeks and told him he would certainly be home in
another month. He said that he was "in danger of being satiated
with the Western tone" and would be glad to shake the hand of
civilized man once more. This was distinctly unfair, because he
had no quarrel with the masculine portion of the West. If he
had said civilized woman it would have been more just and more
illuminating to Reeve-Howard who wondered what scrape Phil had
gotten himself into with those savages.
For the first few days of the trip Thurston was in that frame of
mind which makes a man want to ride by himself, with shoulders
hunched moodily and eyes staring straight before the nose of his
But the sky was soft and seemed to smile down at him, and the
clouds loitered in the blue of it and drifted aimlessly with no
thought of reaching harbor on the sky-line. From under his
horse's feet the prairie sod sent up sweet, earthy odors into
his nostrils and the tinkle of the bells in the saddle-bunch
behind him made music in his ears--the sort of music a true
cowboy loves. Yellow-throated meadow larks perched swaying in
the top of gray sage bushes and sang to him that the world was
good. Sober gray curlews circled over his head, their long,
funny bills thrust out straight as if to point the way for their
bodies to follow and cried, "Kor-r-eck, kor-r-eck!"--which means
just what the meadow larks sang. So Thurston, hearing it all
about him, seeing it and smelling it and feeling the riot of
Spring in his blood, straightened the hunch out of his shoulders
and admitted that it was all true: that the world was good.
At Miles City he found himself in the midst of a small army, the
regulars of the range---which grew hourly larger as the outfits
rolled in. The rattle of mess-wagons, driven by the camp cook
and followed by the bed-wagon, was heard from all directions.
Jingling cavvies (herds of saddle horses they were, driven and
watched over by the horse wrangler) came out of the wilderness
in the wake of the wagons. Thurston got out his camera and took
pictures of the scene. In the first, ten different camps
appeared; he mourned because two others were perforced omitted.
Two hours later he snapped the Kodak upon fifteen, and there
were four beyond range of the lens.
Park came along, saw what he was doing and laughed. "Yuh better
wait till they commence to come," he said. "When yuh can stand
on this little hill and count fifty or sixty outfits camped
within two or three miles uh here, yuh might begin taking
"I think you're loading me," Thurston retorted calmly, winding
up the roll for another exposure.
"All right--suit yourself about it." Park walked off and left
him peering into the view-finder.
Still they came. From Swift Current to the Cypress Hills the
Canadian cattlemen sent their wagons to join the big meet. From
the Sweet Grass Hills to the mouth of Milk River not a
stock-grower but was represented. From the upper Musselshell
they came, and from out the Judith Basin; from Shellanne east to
Fort Buford. Truly it was a gathering of the clans such as
eastern Montana had never before seen.
For a day and a night the cowboys made merry in town while their
foremen consulted and the captains appointed by the Association
mapped out the different routes. At times like these, foremen
such as Park and Deacon Smith were shorn of their accustomed
power, and worked under orders as strict as those they gave
Their future movements thoroughly understood, the army moved
down upon the range in companies of five and six crews, and the
long summer's work began; each rider a unit in the war against
the chaos which the winter had wrought; in the fight of the
stockmen to wrest back their fortunes from the wilderness, and
to hold once more their sway over the range-land.
Their method called for concerted action, although it was simple
enough. Two of the Lazy Eight wagons, under Park and Gene
Wasson (for Hank that spring was running four crews and had
promoted Gene wagon-boss of one), joined forces with the
Circle-Bar, the Flying U, and a Yellowstone outfit whose
wagon-boss, knowing best the range, was captain of the five
crews; and drove north, gathering and holding all stock which
properly ranged beyond the Missouri.
That meant day after day of "riding circle"--which is, being
interpreted, riding out ten or twelve miles from camp, then
turning and driving everything before them to a point near the
center of the circle thus formed. When they met the cattle were
bunched, and all stock which belonged on that range was cut out,
leaving only those which had crossed the river during the storms
of winter. These were driven on to the next camping place and
held, which meant constant day-herding and night-guarding work
which cowboys hate more than anything else.
There would be no calf roundup proper that spring, for all
calves were branded as they were gathered. Many there were
among the she-stock that would not cross the river again; their
carcasses made unsightly blots in the coulee-bottoms and on the
wind-swept levels. Of the calves that had followed their
mothers on the long trail, hundreds had dropped out of the march
and been left behind for the wolves. But not all. Range-bred
cattle are blessed with rugged constitutions and can bear much
of cold and hunger. The cow that can turn tail to a biting wind
the while she ploughs to the eyes in snow and roots out a very
satisfactory living for herself breeds calves that will in time
do likewise and grow fat and strong in the doing. He is a
sturdy, self-reliant little rascal, is the range-bred calf.
When fifteen hundred head of mixed stock, bearing Northern
brands, were in the hands of the day-herders, Park and his crew
were detailed to take them on and turn them loose upon their own
range north of Milk River. Thurston felt that he had gleaned
about all the experience he needed, and more than enough hard
riding and short sleeping and hurried eating. He announced that
he was ready. to bid good-by to the range. He would help take
the herd home, he told Park, and then he intended to hit the
trail for little, old New York.
He still agreed with the meadow larks that the world was good,
but he had made himself believe that he really thought the
civilized portion of it was better, especially when the
uncivilized part holds a girl who persists in saying no when she
should undoubtedly say yes, and insists that a man must be a
hero, else she will have none of him.
It was nearing the middle of June, and it was getting to be a
very hot June at that. For two days the trail-herd had toiled
wearily over the hills and across the coulees between the
Missouri and Milk River. Then the sky threatened for a day, and
after that they plodded in the rain.
"Thank the Lord that's done with," sighed Park when he saw the
last of the herd climb, all dripping, up the north bank of the
Milk River. "To-morrow we can turn 'em loose. And I tell yuh,
Bud, we didn't get across none too soon. Yuh notice how the
river's coming up? A day later and we'd have had to hold the
herd on the other side, no telling how long."
"It is higher than usual; I noticed that," Thurston agreed
absently. He was thinking more of Mona just then than of the
river. He wondered if she would be at home. He could easily
ride down there and find out. It wasn't far; not a quarter of a
mile, but he assured himself that he wasn't going, and that he
was not quite a fool, he hoped Even if she were at home, what
good could that possibly do him? Just give him several bad
nights, when he would lie in his corner of the tent and listen
to the boys snoring with a different key for every man. Such
nights were not pleasant, nor were the thoughts that caused them.
From where they were camped upon a ridge which bounded a broad
coulee on the east, he could look down upon the Stevens ranch
nestling in the bottomland, the house half hidden among the
cottonwoods. Through the last hours of the afternoon he watched
it hungrily. The big corral ran down to the water's edge, and
he noted idly that three panels of the fence extended out into
the river, and that the muddy water was creeping steadily up
until at sundown the posts of the first panel barely showed
above the water.
Park came up to him and looked down upon the little valley. "I
never did see any sense in Jack Stevens building where he did,"
he remarked. "There ain't a June flood that don't put his
corral under water, and some uh these days it's going to get the
house. He was too lazy to dig a well back on high ground; he'd
rather take chances on having the whole business washed off the
face uh the earth."
"There must be danger of it this year if ever," Thurston
observed uneasily. "The river is coming up pretty fast, it
seems to me. It must have raised three feet since we crossed
"I'll course there's danger, with all that snow coming out uh
the mountains. And like as not Jack's in Shellanne roosting on
somebody's pool table and telling it scary, instead uh staying
at home looking after his stuff. Where yuh going, Bud?"
"I'm going to ride down there," Thurston answered constrainedly.
"The women may be all alone."
"Well, I'll go along, if you'll hold on a minute. Jack ain't
got a lick uh sense. I don't care if he is Mona's brother."
"Half brother," corrected Thurston, as he swung up into the
saddle. He had a poor opinion of Jack and resented even that
slight relation to Mona.
The road was soggy with the rain which fell steadily; down in
the bottom, the low places in the road were already under water,
and the river, widening almost perceptibly in its headlong rush
down the narrow valley, crept inch by inch up its low banks.
When they galloped into the yard which sloped from the house
gently down to the river fifty yards away, Mona's face appeared
for a moment in the window. Evidently she had been watching for
some one, and Thurston's heart flopped in his chest as he
wondered, fleetingly, if it could be himself. When she opened
the door her eyes greeted him with a certain wistful expression
that he had never seen in them before. He was guilty of wishing
that Park had stayed in camp.
"Oh, I'm glad you rode over," she welcomed--but she was careful,
after that first swift glance, to look at Park. "Jack wasn't at
camp, was he? He went to town this morning, and I looked for hi
back long before now. But it's a mistake ever to look for Jack
until he's actually in sight."
Park smiled vaguely. He was afraid it would not be polite to
agree with her as emphatically as he would like to have done.
But Thurston had no smile ready, polite or otherwise. Instead
he drew down his brows in a way not complimentary to Jack.
"Where is your mother?" he asked, almost peremptorily.
"Mamma went to Great Falls last week," she told him primly, just
grazing him with one of her impersonal glances which nearly
drove him to desperation. "Aunt Mary has typhoid fever--there
seems to be so much of that this spring and they sent for mamma.
She's such a splendid nurse, you know."
Thurston did know, but he passed over the subject. "And you're
alone?" he demanded.
"Certainly not; aren't you two here?" Mona could be very pert
when she tried. "Jack and I are holding down the ranch just
now; the boys are all on roundup, of course. Jack went to town
today to see some one.
"Um-m-yes, of course." It was Park, still trying to be polite
and not commit himself on the subject of Jack. The "some one"
whom Jack went oftenest to see was the bartender in the Palace
saloon, but it was not necessary to tell her that.
"The river's coming up pretty fast, Mona," he ventured. "Don't
yuh think yuh ought to pull out and go visiting?"
"No, I don't." Mona's tone was very decided. "I wouldn't drop
down on a neighbor without warning just because the river
happens to be coming up. It has 'come up' every June since
we've been living here, and there have been several of them. At
the worst it never came inside the gate."
"You can never tell what it might do," Park argued. "Yuh know
yourself there's never been so much snow in the mountains. This
hot weather we've been having lately, and then the rain, will
bring it a-whooping. Can't yuh ride over to the Jonses? One of
us'll go with yuh."
"No, I can't." Mona's chin went up perversely. "I'm no coward,
I hope, even if there was any danger which there isn't."
Thurston's chin went up also, and he sat a bit straighter.
Whether she meant it or not, he took her words as a covert stab
at himself. Probably she did not mean it; at any rate the blood
flew consciously to her cheeks after she had spoken, and she
caught her under lip sharply between her teeth. And that did
not help matters or make her temper more yielding.
"Anyway," she added hurriedly, "Jack will be here; he's likely
to come any minute now."
"Uh course, if Jack's got some new kind of half-hitch he can put
on the river and hold it back yuh'll be all right," fleered
Park, with the freedom of an old friend. He had known Mona when
she wore dresses to her shoe-tops and her hair in long, brown
curls down her back.
She wrinkled her nose at him also with the freedom of an old
friend and Thurston stirred restlessly in his chair. He did not
like even Park to be too familiar with Mona, though he knew
there was a girl in Shellanne whose name Park sometimes spoke in
She lifted the big glass lamp down from its place on the clock
shelf and lighted it with fingers not quite steady. "You men,"
she remarked, "think women ought to be wrapped in pink cotton
and put in a glass cabinet. If, by any miracle, the river
should come up around the house, I flatter myself I should be
able to cope with the situation. I'd just saddle my horse and
ride out to high ground!"
"Would yuh?" Park grinned skeptically. "The road from here to
the hill is half under water right now; the river's got over the
bank above, and is flooding down through the horse pasture. By
the time the water got up here the river'd be as wide and deep
one side uh yuh as the other. Then where'd yuh be at?"
"It won't get up here, though," Mona asserted coolly. "It never
"No, and the Lazy Eight never had to work the Yellowstone range
on spring roundup before either," Park told her meaningly.
Whereupon Mona got upon her pedestal and smiled her unpleasant
smile, against which even Park had no argument ready.
They lingered till long after all good cowpunchers are supposed
to be in their beds--unless they are standing night-guard--but
Jack failed to appear. The rain drummed upon the roof and the
river swished and gurgled against the crumbling banks, and
grumbled audibly to itself because the hills stood immovably in
their places and set bounds which it could not pass, however
much it might rage against their base.
When the clock struck a wheezy nine Mona glanced at it
significantly and smothered a yawn more than half affected. It
was a hint which no man with an atom of self-respect could
overlook. With mutual understanding the two rose.
"I guess we'll have to be going," Park said with some ceremony.
"I kept think ing maybe Jack would show up; it ain't right to
leave yuh here alone like this."
"I don't see why not; I'm not the least bit afraid," Mona said.
Her tone was impersonal and had in it a note of dismissal.
So, there being nothing else that they could do, they said
good-night and took themselves off.
"This is sure fierce," Park grumbled when they struck the lower
ground. "Darn a man like Jack Stevens! He'll hang out there in
town and bowl up on other men's money till plumb daylight. It's
a wonder Mona didn't go with her mother. But no--it'd be awful
if Jack had to cook his own grub for a week. Say, the water has
come up a lot, don't yuh think, Bud? If it raises much more
Mona'll sure have a chance to 'cope with the situation. It'd
just about serve her right, too."
Thurston did not think so, but he was in too dispirited a mood
to argue the point. It had not been good for his peace of mind
to sit and watch the color come and go in Mona's cheeks, and the
laughter spring unheralded into her dear, big eyes, and the
light tangle itself in the waves of her hair.
He guided his horse carefully through the deep places, and noted
uneasily how much deeper it was than when they had crossed
before. He cursed the conventions which forbade his staying and
watching over the girl back there in the house which already
stood upon an island, cut off from the safe, high land by a
strip of backwater that was widening and deepening every minute,
and, when it rose high enough to flow into the river below,
would have a current that would make a nasty crossing.
On the first rise he stopped and looked back at the light which
shone out from among the dripping cottonwoods. Even then he was
tempted to go back and brave her anger that he might feel
assured of her safety.
"Oh, come on," Park cried impatiently. "We can't do any good
sitting out here in the rain. I don't suppose the water will
get clear up to the house; it'll likely do things to the sheds
and corrals, though, and serve Jack right. Come on, Bud. Mona
won't have us around, so the sooner we get under cover the
better for us. She's got lots uh nerve; I guess she'll make out
There was common sense in the argument, and Thurston recognized
it and rode on to camp. But instead of unsaddling, as he would
naturally have done, he tied Sunfish to the bed-wagon and threw
his slicker over his back to protect him from the rain. And
though Park said nothing, he followed Thurston's example.
For a long time Thurston lay with wide-open eyes staring up at
nothing, listening to the rain and thinking. By and by the rain
ceased and he could tell by the dim whiteness of the tent roof
that the clouds must have been swept away from before the moon,
then just past the full.
He got up carefully so as not to disturb the others, and crept
over two or three sleeping forms on his way to the opening,
untied the flap and went out. The whole hilltop and the valley
below were bathed in mellow radiance. He studied critically the
wide sweep of the river. He might almost have thought it the
Missouri itself, it stretched so far from bank to bank; indeed,
it seemed to know no banks but the hills themselves. He turned
toward where the light had shone among the cottonwoods below;
there was nothing but a great blot of shade that told him
A step sounded just behind. A hand, the hand of Park, rested
upon his shoulder. "Looks kinda dubious, don't it, kid? Was yuh
thinking about riding down there?"
"Yes," Thurston answered simply. "Are you coming?"
"Sure," Park assented.
They got upon their horses and headed down the trail to the
Stevens place. Thurston would have put Sunfish to a run, but
Park checked him.
"Go easy," he admonished. "If there's swimming to be done and
it's a cinch there will be, he's going to need all the wind he's
Down the hill they stopped at the edge of a raging torrent and
strained their eyes to see what lay on the other side. While
they looked, a light twinkled out from among the tree-tops.
Thurston caught his breath sharply.
"She's upstairs," he said, and his voice sounded strained and
unnatural. "It's just a loft where they store stuff." He
started to ride into the flood.
"Come on back here, yuh chump!" Park roared. "Get off and
loosen the cinch before yuh go in there, or yuh won't get far.
Sunfish'll need room to breathe, once he gets to bucking that
current. He's a good water horse, just give him his head and
don't get rattled and interfere with him. And we've got to go up
a ways before we start in."
He led the way upstream, skirting under the bluff, and Thurston,
chafing against the delay, followed obediently. Trees were
racing down, their clean-washed roots reaching up in a tangle
from the water, their branches waving like imploring arms. A
black, tar-papered shack went scudding past, lodged upon a ridge
where the water was shallower, and sat there swaying drunkenly.
Upon it a great yellow cat clung and yowled his fear.
"That's old Dutch Henry's house," Park shouted above the roar.
"I'll bet he's cussing things blue on some pinnacle up there."
He laughed at the picture his imagination conjured, and rode out
into the swirl.
Thurston kept close behind, mindful of Park's command to give
Sunfish his head. Sunfish had carried him safely out of the
stampede and he had no fear of him now.
His chief thought was a wish that he might do this thing quite
alone. He was jealous of Park's leading, and thought bitterly
that Mona would thank Park alone and pass him by with scant
praise and he did so want to vindicate himself. The next minute
he was cursing his damnable selfishness. A tree had swept down
just before him, caught Park and his horse in its branches and
hurried on as if ashamed of what it had done. Thurston, in that
instant, came near jerking Sunfish around to follow; but he
checked the impulse as it was formed and left the reins alone
which was wise. He could not have helped Park, and he could
very easily have drowned himself. Though it was not thought of
himself but of Mona that stayed his hand.
They landed at the gate. Sunfish scrambled with his feet for
secure footing, found it and waded up to the front door. The
water was a foot deep on the porch. Thurston beat an imperative
tattoo upon the door with the butt of his quirt, and shouted.
And Mona's voice, shorn of its customary assurance, answered
faintly from the loft.
He shouted again, giving directions in a tone of authority which
must have sounded strange to her, but which she did not seem to
resent and obeyed without protest. She had to wade from the
stairs to the door and when Thurston stooped and lifted her up
in front of him, she looked as if she were very glad to have him
"You didn't 'cope with the situation,' after all," he remarked
while she was settling herself firmly in the saddle.
"I went to sleep and didn't notice the water till it was coming
in at the door," she explained. And then--" She stopped
"Then what?" he demanded maliciously. "Were you afraid?"
"A little," she confessed reluctantly.
Thurston gloated over it in silence--until he remembered Park.
After that he could think of little else. As before, now Sunfish
battled as seemed to him best, for Thurston, astride behind the
saddle, held Mona somewhat tighter than he need to have done,
and let the horse go.
So long as Sunfish had footing he braced himself against the mad
rush of waters and forged ahead. But out where the current ran
swimming deep he floundered desperately under his double burden.
While his strength lasted he kept his head above water,
struggling gamely against the flood that lapped over his back
and bubbled in his nostrils. Thurston felt his laboring and
clutched Mona still tighter. Of a sudden the horse's head went
under; the black water came up around Thurston's throat with a
hungry swish, and Sunfish went out from under him like an eel.
There was a confused roaring in his ears, a horrid sense of
suffocation for a moment. But he had learned to swim when he
was a boy at school, and he freed one hand from its grip on Mona
and set to paddling with much vigor and considerably less skill.
And though the under-current clutched him and the weight of Mona
taxed his strength, he managed to keep them both afloat and to
make a little headway until the deepest part lay behind them.
How thankful he was when his feet touched bottom, no one but
himself ever knew! His ears hummed from the water in them, and
the roar of the river was to him as the roar of the sea; his
eyes smarted from the clammy touch of the dingy froth that went
hurrying by in monster flakes; his lungs ached and his heart
pounded heavily against his ribs when he stopped, gasping,
beyond reach of the water-devils that lapped viciously behind.
He stood a minute with his arm still around her, and coughed his
voice clear. "Park went down," he began, hardly knowing what it
was he was saying. "Park--" He stopped, then shouted the name
aloud. "Park! Oh-h, Park!"
And from somewhere down the river came a faint reassuring whoop.
"Thank the Lord!" gasped Thurston, and leaned against her for a
second. Then he straightened. "Are you all right?" he asked,
and drew her toward a rock near at hand-- for in truth, the knees
of him were shaking. They sat down, and he looked more closely
at her face and discovered that it was wet with something more
than river water. Mona the self-assured, Mona the
strong-hearted, was crying. And instinctively he knew that not
the chill alone made her shiver. He was keeping his arm around
her waist deliberately, and it pleased him that she let it stay.
After a minute she did something which surprised him mightily--
and pleased him more: she dropped her face down against the
soaked lapels of his coat, and left it there. He laid a hand
tenderly against her cheek and wondered if he dared feel so
"Little girl--oh, little girl," he said softly, and stopped. For
the crowding emotions in his heart and brain the English
language has no words.
Mona lifted her face and looked into his eyes. Her own were
soft and shining in the moonlight, and she was smiling a
little--the roguish little smile of the imitation pastel
portrait. "You--you'll unpack your typewriter, won't you
please, and--and stay?"
Thurston crushed her close. "Stay? The range-land will never
get rid of me now," he cried jubilantly. "Hank wanted to take
me into the Lazy Eight, so now I'll buy an interest, and stay--
"You dear!" Mona snuggled close and learned how it feels to be
kissed, if she had never known before.
Sunfish, having scrambled ashore a few yards farther down, came
up to them and stood waiting, as if to be forgiven for his
failure to carry them safe to land, but Thurston, after the
first inattentive glance, ungratefully took no heed of him.
There was a sound of scrambling foot-steps and Park came
dripping up to them. "Well, say!" he greeted. Ain't yuh got
anything to do but set here and er--look at the moon? Break away
and come up to camp. I'll rout out the cook and make him boil
us some coffee."
Thurston turned joyfully toward him. "Park, old fellow, I was
"Yuh better reform and quit being afraid," Park bantered. "I got
out uh the mix-up fine, but I guess my horse went on down--poor
devil. I was poking around below there looking for him.
"Well, Mona, I see yuh was able to 'cope with the situation,'
all right--but yuh needed Bud mighty bad, I reckon. The chances
is yuh won't have no house in the morning, so Bud'll have to get
busy and rustle one for yuh. I guess you'll own up, now, that
the water can get through the gate." He laughed in his teasing
Mona stood up, and her shining eyes were turned to Thurston. "I
don't care," she asserted with reddened cheeks. "I'm just glad
it did get through."
"Same here," said Thurston with much emphasis.
Then, with Mona once more in the saddle, and with Thurston
leading Sunfish by the bridle-rein, they trailed damply and
happily up the long ridge to where the white tents of the
roundup gleamed sharply against the sky-line.