Part 1 out of 9
This etext prepared by Richard Fane
THE MAN OF THE FOREST
by Zane Grey
At sunset hour the forest was still, lonely, sweet with tang
of fir and spruce, blazing in gold and red and green; and
the man who glided on under the great trees seemed to blend
with the colors and, disappearing, to have become a part of
the wild woodland.
Old Baldy, highest of the White Mountains, stood up round
and bare, rimmed bright gold in the last glow of the setting
sun. Then, as the fire dropped behind the domed peak, a
change, a cold and darkening blight, passed down the black
spear-pointed slopes over all that mountain world.
It was a wild, richly timbered, and abundantly watered
region of dark forests and grassy parks, ten thousand feet
above sea-level, isolated on all sides by the southern
Arizona desert -- the virgin home of elk and deer, of bear
and lion, of wolf and fox, and the birthplace as well as the
hiding-place of the fierce Apache.
September in that latitude was marked by the sudden cool
night breeze following shortly after sundown. Twilight
appeared to come on its wings, as did faint sounds, not
distinguishable before in the stillness.
Milt Dale, man of the forest, halted at the edge of a
timbered ridge, to listen and to watch. Beneath him lay a
narrow valley, open and grassy, from which rose a faint
murmur of running water. Its music was pierced by the wild
staccato yelp of a hunting coyote. From overhead in the
giant fir came a twittering and rustling of grouse settling
for the night; and from across the valley drifted the last
low calls of wild turkeys going to roost.
To Dale's keen ear these sounds were all they should have
been, betokening an unchanged serenity of forestland. He was
glad, for he had expected to hear the clipclop of white
men's horses -- which to hear up in those fastnesses was
hateful to him. He and the Indian were friends. That fierce
foe had no enmity toward the lone hunter. But there hid
somewhere in the forest a gang of bad men, sheep-thieves,
whom Dale did not want to meet.
As he started out upon the slope, a sudden flaring of the
afterglow of sunset flooded down from Old Baldy, filling the
valley with lights and shadows, yellow and blue, like the
radiance of the sky. The pools in the curves of the brook
shone darkly bright. Dale's gaze swept up and down the
valley, and then tried to pierce the black shadows across
the brook where the wall of spruce stood up, its speared and
spiked crest against the pale clouds. The wind began to moan
in the trees and there was a feeling of rain in the air.
Dale, striking a trail, turned his back to the fading
afterglow and strode down the valley.
With night at hand and a rain-storm brewing, he did not head
for his own camp, some miles distant, but directed his steps
toward an old log cabin. When he reached it darkness had
almost set in. He approached with caution. This cabin, like
the few others scattered in the valleys, might harbor
Indians or a bear or a panther. Nothing, however, appeared
to be there. Then Dale studied the clouds driving across the
sky, and he felt the cool dampness of a fine, misty rain on
his face. It would rain off and on during the night.
Whereupon he entered the cabin.
And the next moment he heard quick hoof-beats of trotting
horses. Peering out, he saw dim, moving forms in the
darkness, quite close at hand. They had approached against
the wind so that sound had been deadened. Five horses with
riders, Dale made out -- saw them loom close. Then he heard
rough voices. Quickly he turned to feel in the dark for a
ladder he knew led to a loft; and finding it, he quickly
mounted, taking care not to make a noise with his rifle, and
lay down upon the floor of brush and poles. Scarcely had he
done so when heavy steps, with accompaniment of clinking
spurs, passed through the door below into the cabin.
"Wal, Beasley, are you here?" queried a loud voice.
There was no reply. The man below growled under his breath,
and again the spurs jingled.
"Fellars, Beasley ain't here yet," he called. "Put the
hosses under the shed. We'll wait."
"Wait, huh!" came a harsh reply. "Mebbe all night -- an' we
got nuthin' to eat."
"Shut up, Moze. Reckon you're no good for anythin' but
eatin'. Put them hosses away an' some of you rustle
fire-wood in here."
Low, muttered curses, then mingled with dull thuds of hoofs
and strain of leather and heaves of tired horses.
Another shuffling, clinking footstep entered the cabin.
"Snake, it'd been sense to fetch a pack along," drawled this
"Reckon so, Jim. But we didn't, an' what's the use
hollerin'? Beasley won't keep us waitin' long."
Dale, lying still and prone, felt a slow start in all his
blood -- a thrilling wave. That deep-voiced man below was
Snake Anson, the worst and most dangerous character of the
region; and the others, undoubtedly, composed his gang, long
notorious in that sparsely settle country. And the Beasley
mentioned -- he was one of the two biggest ranchers and
sheep-raisers of the White Mountain ranges. What was the
meaning of a rendezvous between Snake Anson and Beasley?
Milt Dale answered that question to Beasley's discredit; and
many strange matters pertaining to sheep and herders, always
a mystery to the little village of Pine, now became as clear
Other men entered the cabin.
"It ain't a-goin' to rain much," said one. Then came a crash
of wood thrown to the ground.
"Jim, hyar's a chunk of pine log, dry as punk," said
Rustlings and slow footsteps, and then heavy thuds attested
to the probability that Jim was knocking the end of a log
upon the ground to split off a corner whereby a handful of
dry splinters could be procured.
"Snake, lemme your pipe, an' I'll hev a fire in a jiffy."
"Wal, I want my terbacco an' I ain't carin' about no fire,"
"Reckon you're the meanest cuss in these woods," drawled
Sharp click of steel on flint -- many times -- and then a
sound of hard blowing and sputtering told of Jim's efforts
to start a fire. Presently the pitchy blackness of the cabin
changed; there came a little crackling of wood and the
rustle of flame, and then a steady growing roar.
As it chanced, Dale lay face down upon the floor of the
loft, and right near his eyes there were cracks between the
boughs. When the fire blazed up he was fairly well able to
see the men below. The only one he had ever seen was Jim
Wilson, who had been well known at Pine before Snake Anson
had ever been heard of. Jim was the best of a bad lot, and
he had friends among the honest people. It was rumored that
he and Snake did not pull well together.
"Fire feels good," said the burly Moze, who appeared as
broad as he was black-visaged. "Fall's sure a-comin'. . .
Now if only we had some grub!"
"Moze, there's a hunk of deer meat in my saddle-bag, an' if
you git it you can have half," spoke up another voice.
Moze shuffled out with alacrity.
In the firelight Snake Anson's face looked lean and
serpent-like, his eyes glittered, and his long neck and all
of his long length carried out the analogy of his name.
"Snake, what's this here deal with Beasley?" inquired Jim.
"Reckon you'll l'arn when I do," replied the leader. He
appeared tired and thoughtful.
"Ain't we done away with enough of them poor greaser herders
-- for nothin'?" queried the youngest of the gang, a boy in
years, whose hard, bitter lips and hungry eyes somehow set
him apart from his comrades.
"You're dead right, Burt -- an' that's my stand," replied
the man who had sent Moze out. "Snake, snow 'll be flyin'
round these woods before long," said Jim Wilson. "Are we
goin' to winter down in the Tonto Basin or over on the
"Reckon we'll do some tall ridin' before we strike south,"
replied Snake, gruffly.
At the juncture Moze returned.
"Boss, I heerd a hoss comin' up the trail," he said.
Snake rose and stood at the door, listening. Outside the
wind moaned fitfully and scattering raindrops pattered upon
"A-huh!" exclaimed Snake, in relief.
Silence ensued then for a moment, at the end of which
interval Dale heard a rapid clip-clop on the rocky trail
outside. The men below shuffled uneasily, but none of the
spoke. The fire cracked cheerily. Snake Anson stepped back
from before the door with an action that expressed both
doubt and caution.
The trotting horse had halted out there somewhere.
"Ho there, inside!" called a voice from the darkness.
"Ho yourself!" replied Anson.
"That you, Snake?" quickly followed the query.
"Reckon so," returned Anson, showing himself.
The newcomer entered. He was a large man, wearing a slicker
that shone wet in the firelight. His sombrero, pulled well
down, shadowed his face, so that the upper half of his
features might as well have been masked. He had a black,
drooping mustache, and a chin like a rock. A potential
force, matured and powerful, seemed to be wrapped in his
"Hullo, Snake! Hullo, Wilson!" he said. "I've backed out on
the other deal. Sent for you on -- on another little matter
... particular private."
Here he indicated with a significant gesture that Snake's
men were to leave the cabin.
"A-huh! ejaculated Anson, dubiously. Then he turned
abruptly. Moze, you an' Shady an' Burt go wait outside.
Reckon this ain't the deal I expected.... An' you can saddle
The three members of the gang filed out, all glancing keenly
at the stranger, who had moved back into the shadow.
"All right now, Beasley," said Anson, low-voiced. "What's
your game? Jim, here, is in on my deals."
Then Beasley came forward to the fire, stretching his hands
to the blaze.
"Nothin' to do with sheep," replied he.
"Wal, I reckoned not," assented the other. "An' say --
whatever your game is, I ain't likin' the way you kept me
waitin' an' ridin' around. We waited near all day at Big
Spring. Then thet greaser rode up an' sent us here. We're a
long way from camp with no grub an' no blankets"
"I won't keep you long," said Beasley. "But even if I did
you'd not mind -- when I tell you this deal concerns Al
Auchincloss -- the man who made an outlaw of you!"
Anson's sudden action then seemed a leap of his whole frame.
Wilson, likewise, bent forward eagerly. Beasley glanced at
the door -- then began to whisper.
"Old Auchincloss is on his last legs. He's goin' to croak.
He's sent back to Missouri for a niece -- a young girl --
an' he means to leave his ranches an' sheep -- all his stock
to her. Seems he has no one else. . . . Them ranches -- an'
all them sheep an' hosses! You know me an' Al were pardners
in sheep-raisin' for years. He swore I cheated him an' he
threw me out. An' all these years I've been swearin' he did
me dirt -- owed me sheep an' money. I've got as many friends
in Pine -- an' all the way down the trail -- as Auchincloss
has. . . . An' Snake, see here --"
He paused to draw a deep breath and his big hands trembled
over the blaze. Anson leaned forward, like a serpent ready
to strike, and Jim Wilson was as tense with his divination
of the plot at hand.
"See here," panted Beasley. "The girl's due to arrive at
Magdalena on the sixteenth. That's a week from to-morrow.
She'll take the stage to Snowdrop, where some of
Auchincloss's men will meet her with a team."
"A-huh!" grunted Anson as Beasley halted again. "An' what of
"She mustn't never get as far as Snowdrop!"
"You want me to hold up the stage -- an' get the girl?"
"Wal -- an' what then?
Make off with her. . . . She disappears. That's your affair.
. . . I'll press my claims on Auchincloss -- hound him --
an' be ready when he croaks to take over his property. Then
the girl can come back, for all I care. . . . You an' Wilson
fix up the deal between you. If you have to let the gang in
on it don't give them any hunch as to who an' what. This 'll
make you a rich stake. An' providin', when it's paid, you
strike for new territory."
"Thet might be wise," muttered Snake Anson. "Beasley, the
weak point in your game is the uncertainty of life. Old Al
is tough. He may fool you."
"Auchincloss is a dyin' man," declared Beasley, with such
positiveness that it could not be doubted.
"Wal, he sure wasn't plumb hearty when I last seen him. . .
. Beasley, in case I play your game -- how'm I to know that
"Her name's Helen Rayner," replied Beasley, eagerly. "She's
twenty years old. All of them Auchinclosses was handsome an'
they say she's the handsomest."
"A-huh! . . . Beasley, this 's sure a bigger deal -- an' one
I ain't fancyin'. . . . But I never doubted your word. . . .
Come on -- an' talk out. What's in it for me?"
"Don't let any one in on this. You two can hold up the
stage. Why, it was never held up. . . . But you want to
mask. . . . How about ten thousand sheep -- or what they
bring at Phenix in gold?"
Jim Wilson whistled low.
"An' leave for new territory?" repeated Snake Anson, under
"You've said it."
"Wal, I ain't fancyin' the girl end of this deal, but you
can count on me. . . . September sixteenth at Magdalena --
an' her name's Helen -- an' she's handsome?"
"Yes. My herders will begin drivin' south in about two
weeks. Later, if the weather holds good, send me word by one
of them an' I'll meet you."
Beasley spread his hands once more over the blaze, pulled on
his gloves and pulled down his sombrero, and with an abrupt
word of parting strode out into the night.
"Jim, what do you make of him?" queried Snake Anson.
"Pard, he's got us beat two ways for Sunday," replied
"A-huh! . . . Wal, let's get back to camp." And he led the
Low voices drifted into the cabin, then came snorts of
horses and striking hoofs, and after that a steady trot,
gradually ceasing. Once more the moan of wind and soft
patter of rain filled the forest stillness.
Milt Dale quietly sat up to gaze, with thoughtful eyes, into
He was thirty years old. As a boy of fourteen he had run off
from his school and home in Iowa and, joining a wagon-train
of pioneers, he was one of the first to see log cabins built
on the slopes of the White Mountains. But he had not taken
kindly to farming or sheep-raising or monotonous home toil,
and for twelve years he had lived in the forest, with only
infrequent visits to Pine and Show Down and Snowdrop. This
wandering forest life of his did not indicate that he did
not care for the villagers, for he did care, and he was
welcome everywhere, but that he loved wild life and solitude
and beauty with the primitive instinctive force of a savage.
And on this night he had stumbled upon a dark plot against
the only one of all the honest white people in that region
whom he could not call a friend.
"That man Beasley!" he soliloquized. "Beasley -- in cahoots
with Snake Anson! . . . Well, he was right. Al Auchincloss
is on his last legs. Poor old man! When I tell him he'll
never believe ME, that's sure!"
Discovery of the plot meant to Dale that he must hurry down
"A girl -- Helen Rayner -- twenty years old," he mused.
"Beasley wants her made off with. . . . That means -- worse
Dale accepted facts of life with that equanimity and
fatality acquired by one long versed in the cruel annals of
forest lore. Bad men worked their evil just as savage wolves
relayed a deer. He had shot wolves for that trick. With men,
good or bad, he had not clashed. Old women and children
appealed to him, but he had never had any interest in girls.
The image, then, of this Helen Rayner came strangely to
Dale; and he suddenly realized that he had meant somehow to
circumvent Beasley, not to befriend old Al Auchincloss, but
for the sake of the girl. Probably she was already on her
way West, alone, eager, hopeful of a future home. How little
people guessed what awaited them at a journey's end! Many
trails ended abruptly in the forest -- and only trained
woodsmen could read the tragedy.
"Strange how I cut across country to-day from Spruce Swamp,"
reflected Dale. Circumstances, movements, usually were not
strange to him. His methods and habits were seldom changed
by chance. The matter, then, of his turning off a course out
of his way for no apparent reason, and of his having
overheard a plot singularly involving a young girl, was
indeed an adventure to provoke thought. It provoked more,
for Dale grew conscious of an unfamiliar smoldering heat
along his veins. He who had little to do with the strife of
men, and nothing to do with anger, felt his blood grow hot
at the cowardly trap laid for an innocent girl.
"Old Al won't listen to me," pondered Dale. "An' even if he
did, he wouldn't believe me. Maybe nobody will. . . . All
the same, Snake Anson won't get that girl."
With these last words Dale satisfied himself of his own
position, and his pondering ceased. Taking his rifle, he
descended from the loft and peered out of the door. The
night had grown darker, windier, cooler; broken clouds were
scudding across the sky; only a few stars showed; fine rain
was blowing from the northwest; and the forest seemed full
of a low, dull roar.
"Reckon I'd better hang up here," he said, and turned to the
fire. The coals were red now. From the depths of his
hunting-coat he procured a little bag of salt and some
strips of dried meat. These strips he laid for a moment on
the hot embers, until they began to sizzle and curl; then
with a sharpened stick he removed them and ate like a hungry
hunter grateful for little.
He sat on a block of wood with his palms spread to the dying
warmth of the fire and his eyes fixed upon the changing,
glowing, golden embers. Outside, the wind continued to rise
and the moan of the forest increased to a roar. Dale felt
the comfortable warmth stealing over him, drowsily lulling;
and he heard the storm-wind in the trees, now like a
waterfall, and anon like a retreating army, and again low
and sad; and he saw pictures in the glowing embers, strange
Presently he rose and, climbing to the loft, he stretched
himself out, and soon fell asleep.
When the gray dawn broke he was on his way, 'cross-country,
to the village of Pine.
During the night the wind had shifted and the rain had
ceased. A suspicion of frost shone on the grass in open
places. All was gray -- the parks, the glades -- and deeper,
darker gray marked the aisles of the forest. Shadows lurked
under the trees and the silence seemed consistent with
spectral forms. Then the east kindled, the gray lightened,
the dreaming woodland awoke to the far-reaching rays of a
bursting red sun.
This was always the happiest moment of Dale's lonely days,
as sunset was his saddest. He responded, and there was
something in his blood that answered the whistle of a stag
from a near-by ridge. His strides were long, noiseless, and
they left dark trace where his feet brushed the dew-laden
Dale pursued a zigzag course over the ridges to escape the
hardest climbing, but the "senacas" -- those parklike
meadows so named by Mexican sheep-herders -- were as round
and level as if they had been made by man in beautiful
contrast to the dark-green, rough, and rugged ridges. Both
open senaca and dense wooded ridge showed to his quick eye
an abundance of game. The cracking of twigs and disappearing
flash of gray among the spruces, a round black lumbering
object, a twittering in the brush, and stealthy steps, were
all easy signs for Dale to read. Once, as he noiselessly
emerged into a little glade, he espied a red fox stalking
some quarry, which, as he advanced, proved to be a flock of
partridges. They whirred up, brushing the branches, and the
fox trotted away. In every senaca Dale encountered wild
turkeys feeding on the seeds of the high grass.
It had always been his custom, on his visits to Pine, to
kill and pack fresh meat down to several old friends, who
were glad to give him lodging. And, hurried though he was
now, he did not intend to make an exception of this trip.
At length he got down into the pine belt, where the great,
gnarled, yellow trees soared aloft, stately, and aloof from
one another, and the ground was a brown, odorous, springy
mat of pine-needles, level as a floor. Squirrels watched him
from all around, scurrying away at his near approach --
tiny, brown, light-striped squirrels, and larger ones,
russet-colored, and the splendid dark-grays with their white
bushy tails and plumed ears.
This belt of pine ended abruptly upon wide, gray, rolling,
open land, almost like a prairie, with foot-hills lifting
near and far, and the red-gold blaze of aspen thickets
catching the morning sun. Here Dale flushed a flock of wild
turkeys, upward of forty in number, and their subdued color
of gray flecked with white, and graceful, sleek build,
showed them to be hens. There was not a gobbler in the
flock. They began to run pell-mell out into the grass, until
only their heads appeared bobbing along, and finally
disappeared. Dale caught a glimpse of skulking coyotes that
evidently had been stalking the turkeys, and as they saw him
and darted into the timber he took a quick shot at the
hindmost. His bullet struck low, as he had meant it to, but
too low, and the coyote got only a dusting of earth and
pine-needles thrown up into his face. This frightened him so
that he leaped aside blindly to butt into a tree, rolled
over, gained his feet, and then the cover of the forest.
Dale was amused at this. His hand was against all the
predatory beasts of the forest, though he had learned that
lion and bear and wolf and fox were all as necessary to the
great scheme of nature as were the gentle, beautiful wild
creatures upon which they preyed. But some he loved better
than others, and so he deplored the inexplicable cruelty.
He crossed the wide, grassy plain and struck another gradual
descent where aspens and pines crowded a shallow ravine and
warm, sun-lighted glades bordered along a sparkling brook.
Here be heard a turkey gobble, and that was a signal for him
to change his course and make a crouching, silent detour
around a clump of aspens. In a sunny patch of grass a dozen
or more big gobblers stood, all suspiciously facing in his
direction, heads erect, with that wild aspect peculiar to
their species. Old wild turkey gobblers were the most
difficult game to stalk. Dale shot two of them. The others
began to run like ostriches, thudding over the ground,
spreading their wings, and with that running start launched
their heavy bodies into whirring flight. They flew low, at
about the height of a man from the grass, and vanished in
Dale threw the two turkeys over his shoulder and went on his
way. Soon he came to a break in the forest level, from which
he gazed down a league-long slope of pine and cedar, out
upon the bare, glistening desert, stretching away, endlessly
rolling out to the dim, dark horizon line.
The little hamlet of Pine lay on the last level of sparsely
timbered forest. A road, running parallel with a
dark-watered, swift-flowing stream, divided the cluster of
log cabins from which columns of blue smoke drifted lazily
aloft. Fields of corn and fields of oats, yellow in the
sunlight, surrounded the village; and green pastures, dotted
with horses and cattle, reached away to the denser woodland.
This site appeared to be a natural clearing, for there was
no evidence of cut timber. The scene was rather too wild to
be pastoral, but it was serene, tranquil, giving the
impression of a remote community, prosperous and happy,
drifting along the peaceful tenor of sequestered lives.
Dale halted before a neat little log cabin and a little
patch of garden bordered with sunflowers. His call was
answered by an old woman, gray and bent, but remarkably
spry, who appeared at the door.
"Why, land's sakes, if it ain't Milt Dale!" she exclaimed,
"Reckon it's me, Mrs. Cass," he replied. "An, I've brought
you a turkey."
"Milt, you're that good boy who never forgits old Widow
Cass. . . . What a gobbler! First one I've seen this fall.
My man Tom used to fetch home gobblers like that. . . . An'
mebbe he'll come home again sometime."
Her husband, Tom Cass, had gone into the forest years before
and had never returned. But the old woman always looked for
him and never gave up hope.
"Men have been lost in the forest an' yet come back,"
replied Dale, as he had said to her many a time.
"Come right in. You air hungry, I know. Now, son, when last
did you eat a fresh egg or a flapjack?"
"You should remember," he answered, laughing, as he followed
her into a small, clean kitchen.
"Laws-a'-me! An' thet's months ago," she replied, shaking
her gray head. "Milt, you should give up that wild life --
an' marry -- an' have a home."
"You always tell me that."
"Yes, an' I'll see you do it yet. . . . Now you set there,
an' pretty soon I'll give you thet to eat which 'll make
your mouth water."
"What's the news, Auntie?" he asked.
"Nary news in this dead place. Why, nobody's been to
Snowdrop in two weeks! . . . Sary Jones died, poor old soul
-- she's better off -- an' one of my cows run away. Milt,
she's wild when she gits loose in the woods. An' you'll have
to track her, 'cause nobody else can. An' John Dakker's
heifer was killed by a lion, an' Lem Harden's fast hoss --
you know his favorite -- was stole by hoss-thieves. Lem is
jest crazy. An' that reminds me, Milt, where's your big
ranger, thet you'd never sell or lend?"
"My horses are up in the woods, Auntie; safe, I reckon, from
"Well, that's a blessin'. We've had some stock stole this
summer, Milt, an' no mistake."
Thus, while preparing a meal for Dale, the old woman went on
recounting all that had happened in the little village since
his last visit. Dale enjoyed her gossip and quaint
philosophy, and it was exceedingly good to sit at her table.
In his opinion, nowhere else could there have been such
butter and cream, such ham and eggs. Besides, she always had
apple pie, it seemed, at any time he happened in; and apple
pie was one of Dale's few regrets while up in the lonely
"How's old Al Auchincloss?" presently inquired Dale.
"Poorly -- poorly," sighed Mrs. Cass. "But he tramps an'
rides around same as ever. Al's not long for this world. . .
. An', Milt, that reminds me -- there's the biggest news you
"You don't say so!" exclaimed Dale, to encourage the excited
"Al has sent back to Saint Joe for his niece, Helen Rayner.
She's to inherit all his property. We've heard much of her
-- a purty lass, they say. . . . Now, Milt Dale, here's your
chance. Stay out of the woods an' go to work. . . . You can
marry that girl!"
"No chance for me, Auntie," replied Dale, smiling.
The old woman snorted. "Much you know! Any girl would have
you, Milt Dale, if you'd only throw a kerchief."
"Me! . . . An' why, Auntie?" he queried, half amused, half
thoughtful. When he got back to civilization he always had
to adjust his thoughts to the ideas of people.
"Why? I declare, Milt, you live so in the woods you're like
a boy of ten -- an' then sometimes as old as the hills. . .
.There's no young man to compare with you, hereabouts. An'
this girl -- she'll have all the spunk of the
"Then maybe she'd not be such a catch, after all," replied
"Wal, you've no cause to love them, that's sure. But, Milt,
the Auchincloss women are always good wives."
"Dear Auntie, you're dreamin'," said Dale, soberly. "I want
no wife. I'm happy in the woods."
"Air you goin' to live like an Injun all your days, Milt
Dale?" she queried, sharply.
"I hope so."
"You ought to be ashamed. But some lass will change you,
boy, an' mebbe it'll be this Helen Rayner. I hope an' pray
so to thet."
"Auntie, supposin' she did change me. She'd never change old
Al. He hates me, you know."
"Wal, I ain't so sure, Milt. I met Al the other day. He
inquired for you, an' said you was wild, but he reckoned men
like you was good for pioneer settlements. Lord knows the
good turns you've done this village! Milt, old Al doesn't
approve of your wild life, but he never had no hard feelin's
till thet tame lion of yours killed so many of his sheep."
"Auntie, I don't believe Tom ever killed Al's sheep,"
declared Dale, positively.
"Wal, Al thinks so, an' many other people," replied Mrs.
Cass, shaking her gray head doubtfully. "You never swore he
didn't. An' there was them two sheep-herders who did swear
they seen him."
"They only saw a cougar. An' they were so scared they ran."
"Who wouldn't? Thet big beast is enough to scare any one.
For land's sakes, don't ever fetch him down here again! I'll
never forgit the time you did. All the folks an' children
an' hosses in Pine broke an' run thet day."
"Yes; but Tom wasn't to blame. Auntie, he's the tamest of my
pets. Didn't he try to put his head on your lap an' lick
"Wal, Milt, I ain't gainsayin' your cougar pet didn't act
better 'n a lot of people I know. Fer he did. But the looks
of him an' what's been said was enough for me."
"An' what's all that, Auntie?"
"They say he's wild when out of your sight. An' thet he'd
trail an' kill anythin' you put him after."
"I trained him to be just that way."
"Wal, leave Tom to home up in the woods-when you visit us."
Dale finished his hearty meal, and listened awhile longer to
the old woman's talk; then, taking his rifle and the other
turkey, he bade her good-by. She followed him out.
"Now, Milt, you'll come soon again, won't you -- jest to see
Al's niece -- who'll be here in a week?"
"I reckon I'll drop in some day. . . . Auntie, have you seen
my friends, the Mormon boys?"
"No, I 'ain't seen them an' don't want to," she retorted.
"Milt Dale, if any one ever corrals you it'll be Mormons."
"Don't worry, Auntie. I like those boys. They often see me
up in the woods an' ask me to help them track a hoss or help
kill some fresh meat."
"They're workin' for Beasley now."
"Is that so?" rejoined Dale, with a sudden start. "An' what
"Beasley is gettin' so rich he's buildin' a fence, an'
didn't have enough help, so I hear."
"Beasley gettin' rich!" repeated Dale, thoughtfully. "More
sheep an' horses an' cattle than ever, I reckon?"
"Laws-a'-me! Why, Milt, Beasley 'ain't any idea what he
owns. Yes, he's the biggest man in these parts, since poor
old Al's took to failin'. I reckon Al's health ain't none
improved by Beasley's success. They've bad some bitter
quarrels lately -- so I hear. Al ain't what he was."
Dale bade good-by again to his old friend and strode away,
thoughtful and serious. Beasley would not only be difficult
to circumvent, but he would be dangerous to oppose. There
did not appear much doubt of his driving his way rough-shod
to the dominance of affairs there in Pine. Dale, passing
down the road, began to meet acquaintances who had hearty
welcome for his presence and interest in his doings, so that
his pondering was interrupted for the time being. He carried
the turkey to another old friend, and when he left her house
he went on to the village store. This was a large log cabin,
roughly covered with clapboards, with a wide plank platform
in front and a hitching-rail in the road. Several horses
were standing there, and a group of lazy, shirt-sleeved
"I'll be doggoned if it ain't Milt Dale!" exclaimed one.
"Howdy, Milt, old buckskin! Right down glad to see you,"
"Hello, Dale! You air shore good for sore eyes," drawled
After a long period of absence Dale always experienced a
singular warmth of feeling when he met these acquaintances.
It faded quickly when he got back to the intimacy of his
woodland, and that was because the people of Pine, with few
exceptions -- though they liked him and greatly admired his
outdoor wisdom -- regarded him as a sort of nonentity.
Because he loved the wild and preferred it to village and
range life, they had classed him as not one of them. Some
believed him lazy; others believed him shiftless; others
thought him an Indian in mind and habits; and there were
many who called him slow-witted. Then there was another side
to their regard for him, which always afforded him
good-natured amusement. Two of this group asked him to bring
in some turkey or venison; another wanted to hunt with him.
Lem Harden came out of the store and appealed to Dale to
recover his stolen horse. Lem's brother wanted a
wild-running mare tracked and brought home. Jesse Lyons
wanted a colt broken, and broken with patience, not
violence, as was the method of the hard-riding boys at Pine.
So one and all they besieged Dale with their selfish needs,
all unconscious of the flattering nature of these overtures.
And on the moment there happened by two women whose remarks,
as they entered the store, bore strong testimony to Dale's
"If there ain't Milt Dale!" exclaimed the older of the two.
"How lucky! My cow's sick, an' the men are no good
doctorin'. I'll jest ask Milt over."
"No one like Milt!" responded the other woman, heartily.
"Good day there -- you Milt Dale!" called the first speaker.
"When you git away from these lazy men come over."
Dale never refused a service, and that was why his
infrequent visits to Pine were wont to be prolonged beyond
his own pleasure.
Presently Beasley strode down the street, and when about to
enter the store he espied Dale.
"Hullo there, Milt!" he called, cordially, as he came
forward with extended hand. His greeting was sincere, but
the lightning glance he shot over Dale was not born of his
pleasure. Seen in daylight, Beasley was a big, bold, bluff
man, with strong, dark features. His aggressive presence
suggested that he was a good friend and a bad enemy.
Dale shook hands with him.
"How are you, Beasley?"
"Ain't complainin', Milt, though I got more work than I can
rustle. Reckon you wouldn't take a job bossin' my
"Reckon I wouldn't," replied Dale. "Thanks all the same."
"What's goin' on up in the woods?"
"Plenty of turkey an' deer. Lots of bear, too. The Indians
have worked back on the south side early this fall. But I
reckon winter will come late an' be mild."
"Good! An' where 're you headin' from?"
"'Cross-country from my camp," replied Dale, rather
"Your camp! Nobody ever found that yet," declared Beasley,
"It's up there," said Dale.
"Reckon you've got that cougar chained in your cabin door?"
queried Beasley, and there was a barely distinguishable
shudder of his muscular frame. Also the pupils dilated in
his hard brown eyes.
"Tom ain't chained. An' I haven't no cabin, Beasley."
"You mean to tell me that big brute stays in your camp
without bein' hog-tied or corralled!" demanded Beasley.
"Sure he does."
"Beats me! But, then, I'm queer on cougars. Have had many a
cougar trail me at night. Ain't sayin' I was scared. But I
don't care for that brand of varmint. . . . Milt, you goin'
to stay down awhile?"
"Yes, I'll hang around some."
"Come over to the ranch. Glad to see you any time. Some old
huntin' pards of yours are workin' for me."
"Thanks, Beasley. I reckon I'll come over."
Beasley turned away and took a step, and then, as if with an
after-thought, he wheeled again.
"Suppose you've heard about old Al Auchincloss bein' near
petered out?" queried Beasley. A strong, ponderous cast of
thought seemed to emanate from his features. Dale divined
that Beasley's next step would be to further his advancement
by some word or hint.
"Widow Cass was tellin' me all the news. Too bad about old
Al," replied Dale.
"Sure is. He's done for. An' I'm sorry -- though Al's never
been square --"
"Beasley," interrupted Dale, quickly, "you can't say that to
me. Al Auchincloss always was the whitest an' squarest man
in this sheep country."
Beasley gave Dale a fleeting, dark glance.
"Dale, what you think ain't goin' to influence feelin' on
this range," returned Beasley, deliberately. "You live in
the woods an' --"
"Reckon livin' in the woods I might think -- an' know a
whole lot," interposed Dale, just as deliberately. The group
of men exchanged surprised glances. This was Milt Dale in
different aspect. And Beasley did not conceal a puzzled
"About what -- now?" he asked, bluntly.
"Why, about what's goin' on in Pine," replied Dale.
Some of the men laughed.
"Shore lots goin' on -- an' no mistake," put in Lem Harden.
Probably the keen Beasley had never before considered Milt
Dale as a responsible person; certainly never one in any way
to cross his trail. But on the instant, perhaps, some
instinct was born, or he divined an antagonism in Dale that
was both surprising and perplexing.
"Dale, I've differences with Al Auchincloss -- have had them
for years," said Beasley. "Much of what he owns is mine. An'
it's goin' to come to me. Now I reckon people will be takin'
sides -- some for me an' some for Al. Most are for me. . . .
Where do you stand? Al Auchincloss never had no use for you,
an' besides he's a dyin' man. Are you goin' on his side?"
"Yes, I reckon I am."
"Wal, I'm glad you've declared yourself," rejoined Beasley,
shortly, and he strode away with the ponderous gait of a man
who would brush any obstacle from his path.
"Milt, thet's bad -- makin' Beasley sore at you," said Lem
Harden. "He's on the way to boss this outfit."
"He's sure goin' to step into Al's boots," said another.
"Thet was white of Milt to stick up fer poor old Al,"
declared Lem's brother.
Dale broke away from them and wended a thoughtful way down
the road. The burden of what he knew about Beasley weighed
less heavily upon him, and the close-lipped course be had
decided upon appeared wisest. He needed to think before
undertaking to call upon old Al Auchincloss; and to that end
he sought an hour's seclusion under the pines.
In the afternoon, Dale, having accomplished some tasks
imposed upon him by his old friends at Pine, directed slow
steps toward the Auchincloss ranch.
The flat, square stone and log cabin of unusually large size
stood upon a little hill half a mile out of the village. A
home as well as a fort, it had been the first structure
erected in that region, and the process of building had more
than once been interrupted by Indian attacks. The Apaches
had for some time, however, confined their fierce raids to
points south of the White Mountain range. Auchincloss's
house looked down upon barns and sheds and corrals of all
sizes and shapes, and hundreds of acres of well-cultivated
soil. Fields of oats waved gray and yellow in the afternoon
sun; an immense green pasture was divided by a
willow-bordered brook, and here were droves of horses, and
out on the rolling bare flats were straggling herds of
The whole ranch showed many years of toil and the
perseverance of man. The brook irrigated the verdant valley
between the ranch and the village. Water for the house,
however, came down from the high, wooded slope of the
mountain, and had been brought there by a simple expedient.
Pine logs of uniform size had been laid end to end, with a
deep trough cut in them, and they made a shining line down
the slope, across the valley, and up the little hill to the
Auchincloss home. Near the house the hollowed halves of logs
had been bound together, making a crude pipe. Water ran
uphill in this case, one of the facts that made the ranch
famous, as it had always been a wonder and delight to the
small boys of Pine. The two good women who managed
Auchincloss's large household were often shocked by the
strange things that floated into their kitchen with the
ever-flowing stream of clear, cold mountain water.
As it happened this day Dale encountered Al Auchincloss
sitting in the shade of a porch, talking to some of his
sheep-herders and stockmen. Auchincloss was a short man of
extremely powerful build and great width of shoulder. He had
no gray hairs, and he did not look old, yet there was in his
face a certain weariness, something that resembled sloping
lines of distress, dim and pale, that told of age and the
ebb-tide of vitality. His features, cast in large mold, were
clean-cut and comely, and he had frank blue eyes, somewhat
sad, yet still full of spirit.
Dale had no idea how his visit would be taken, and he
certainly would not have been surprised to be ordered off
the place. He had not set foot there for years. Therefore it
was with surprise that he saw Auchincloss wave away the
herders and take his entrance without any particular
"Howdy, Al! How are you?" greeted Dale, easily, as he leaned
his rifle against the log wall.
Auchincloss did not rise, but he offered his hand.
"Wal, Milt Dale, I reckon this is the first time I ever seen
you that I couldn't lay you flat on your back," replied the
rancher. His tone was both testy and full of pathos.
"I take it you mean you ain't very well," replied Dale. "I'm
"No, it ain't thet. Never was sick in my life. I'm just
played out, like a hoss thet had been strong an' willin',
an' did too much. . . . Wal, you don't look a day older,
Milt. Livin' in the woods rolls over a man's head."
"Yes, I'm feelin' fine, an' time never bothers me."
"Wal, mebbe you ain't such a fool, after all. I've wondered
lately -- since I had time to think. . . . But, Milt, you
don't git no richer."
"Al, I have all I want an' need."
"Wal, then, you don't support anybody; you don't do any good
in the world."
"We don't agree, Al," replied Dale, with his slow smile.
"Reckon we never did. . . . An' you jest come over to pay
your respects to me, eh?"
"Not altogether," answered Dale, ponderingly. "First off,
I'd like to say I'll pay back them sheep you always claimed
my tame cougar killed."
"You will! An' how'd you go about that?"
"Wasn't very many sheep, was there?
"A matter of fifty head."
"So many! Al, do you still think old Tom killed them sheep?"
"Humph! Milt, I know damn well he did."
"Al, now how could you know somethin' I don't? Be
reasonable, now. Let's don't fall out about this again. I'll
pay back the sheep. Work it out --"
"Milt Dale, you'll come down here an' work out that fifty
head of sheep!" ejaculated the old rancher, incredulously.
"Wal, I'll be damned!" He sat back and gazed with shrewd
eyes at Dale. "What's got into you, Milt? Hev you heard
about my niece thet's comin', an' think you'll shine up to
"Yes, Al, her comin' has a good deal to do with my deal,"
replied Dale, soberly. "But I never thought to shine up to
her, as you hint."
"Haw! Haw! You're just like all the other colts hereabouts.
Reckon it's a good sign, too. It'll take a woman to fetch
you out of the woods. But, boy, this niece of mine, Helen
Rayner, will stand you on your head. I never seen her. They
say she's jest like her mother. An' Nell Auchincloss -- what
a girl she was!"
Dale felt his face grow red. Indeed, this was strange
conversation for him.
"Honest, Al --" he began.
"Son, don't lie to an old man."
"Lie! I wouldn't lie to any one. Al, it's only men who live
in towns an' are always makin' deals. I live in the forest,
where there's nothin' to make me lie."
"Wal, no offense meant, I'm sure," responded Auchincloss.
"An' mebbe there's somethin' in what you say . . . We was
talkin' about them sheep your big cat killed. Wal, Milt, I
can't prove it, that's sure. An' mebbe you'll think me
doddery when I tell you my reason. It wasn't what them
greaser herders said about seein' a cougar in the herd."
"What was it, then?" queried Dale, much interested.
"Wal, thet day a year ago I seen your pet. He was lyin' in
front of the store an' you was inside tradin', fer supplies,
I reckon. It was like meetin' an enemy face to face.
Because, damn me if I didn't know that cougar was guilty
when he looked in my eyes! There!"
The old rancher expected to be laughed at. But Dale was
"Al, I know how you felt," he replied, as if they were
discussing an action of a human being. "Sure I'd hate to
doubt old Tom. But he's a cougar. An' the ways of animals
are strange . . . Anyway, Al, I'll make good the loss of
"No, you won't," rejoined Auchincloss, quickly. "We'll call
it off . I'm takin' it square of you to make the offer.
Thet's enough. So forget your worry about work, if you had
"There's somethin' else, Al, I wanted to say," began Dale,
with hesitation. "An' it's about Beasley."
Auchincloss started violently, and a flame of red shot into
his face. Then he raised a big hand that shook. Dale saw in
a flash how the old man's nerves had gone.
"Don't mention -- thet -- thet greaser -- to me!" burst out
the rancher. "It makes me see -- red. . . . Dale, I ain't
overlookin' that you spoke up fer me to-day -- stood fer my
side. Lem Harden told me. I was glad. An' thet's why --
to-day -- I forgot our old quarrel. . . . But not a word
about thet sheep-thief -- or I'll drive you off the place!"
"But, Al -- be reasonable," remonstrated Dale. "It's
necessary thet I speak of -- of Beasley."
"It ain't. Not to me. I won't listen."
"Reckon you'll have to, Al," returned Dale. "Beasley's after
your property. He's made a deal --"
"By Heaven! I know that!" shouted Auchincloss, tottering up,
with his face now black-red. "Do you think thet's new to me?
Shut up, Dale! I can't stand it."
"But Al -- there's worse," went on Dale, hurriedly. "Worse!
Your life's threatened -- an' your niece, Helen -- she's to
"Shut up -- an' clear out!" roared Auchincloss, waving his
He seemed on the verge of a collapse as, shaking all over,
he backed into the door. A few seconds of rage had
transformed him into a pitiful old man.
"But, Al -- I'm your friend --" began Dale, appealingly.
"Friend, hey?" returned the rancher, with grim, bitter
passion. "Then you're the only one. . . . Milt Dale, I'm
rich an' I'm a dyin' man. I trust nobody . . . But, you wild
hunter -- if you're my friend -- prove it! . . . Go kill
thet greaser sheep-thief! DO somethin' -- an' then come talk
With that he lurched, half falling, into the house, and
slammed the door.
Dale stood there for a blank moment, and then, taking up his
rifle, he strode away.
Toward sunset Dale located the camp of his four Mormon
friends, and reached it in time for supper.
John, Roy, Joe, and Hal Beeman were sons of a pioneer Mormon
who had settled the little community of Snowdrop. They were
young men in years, but hard labor and hard life in the open
had made them look matured. Only a year's difference in age
stood between John and Roy, and between Roy and Joe, and
likewise Joe and Hal. When it came to appearance they were
difficult to distinguish from one another. Horsemen,
sheep-herders, cattle-raisers, hunters -- they all possessed
long, wiry, powerful frames, lean, bronzed, still faces, and
the quiet, keen eyes of men used to the open.
Their camp was situated beside a spring in a cove surrounded
by aspens, some three miles from Pine; and, though working
for Beasley, near the village, they had ridden to and fro
from camp, after the habit of seclusion peculiar to their
Dale and the brothers had much in common, and a warm regard
had sprang up. But their exchange of confidences had wholly
concerned things pertaining to the forest. Dale ate supper
with them, and talked as usual when he met them, without
giving any hint of the purpose forming in his mind. After
the meal he helped Joe round up the horses, hobble them for
the night, and drive them into a grassy glade among the
pines. Later, when the shadows stole through the forest on
the cool wind, and the camp-fire glowed comfortably, Dale
broached the subject that possessed him.
"An' so you're working for Beasley?" he queried, by way of
"We was," drawled John. "But to-day, bein' the end of our
month, we got our pay an' quit. Beasley sure was sore."
"Why'd you knock off?"
John essayed no reply, and his brothers all had that quiet,
suppressed look of knowledge under restraint.
"Listen to what I come to tell you, then you'll talk," went
on Dale. And hurriedly he told of Beasley's plot to abduct
Al Auchincloss's niece and claim the dying man's property.
When Dale ended, rather breathlessly, the Mormon boys sat
without any show of surprise or feeling. John, the eldest,
took up a stick and slowly poked the red embers of the fire,
making the white sparks fly.
"Now, Milt, why'd you tell us thet?" he asked, guardedly.
"You're the only friends I've got," replied Dale. "It didn't
seem safe for me to talk down in the village. I thought of
you boys right off. I ain't goin' to let Snake Anson get
that girl. An' I need help, so I come to you."
"Beasley's strong around Pine, an' old Al's weakenin'.
Beasley will git the property, girl or no girl," said John.
"Things don't always turn out as they look. But no matter
about that. The girl deal is what riled me. . . . She's to
arrive at Magdalena on the sixteenth, an' take stage for
Snowdrop. . . . Now what to do? If she travels on that stage
I'll be on it, you bet. But she oughtn't to be in it at all.
. . . Boys, somehow I'm goin' to save her. Will you help me?
I reckon I've been in some tight corners for you. Sure, this
's different. But are you my friends? You know now what
Beasley is. An' you're all lost at the hands of Snake
Anson's gang. You've got fast hosses, eyes for trackin', an'
you can handle a rifle. You're the kind of fellows I'd want
in a tight pinch with a bad gang. Will you stand by me or
see me go alone?"
Then John Beeman, silently, and with pale face, gave Dale's
hand a powerful grip, and one by one the other brothers rose
to do likewise. Their eyes flashed with hard glint and a
strange bitterness hovered around their thin lips.
"Milt, mebbe we know what Beasley is better 'n you," said
John, at length. "He ruined my father. He's cheated other
Mormons. We boys have proved to ourselves thet he gets the
sheep Anson's gang steals. . . . An' drives the herds to
Phenix! Our people won't let us accuse Beasley. So we've
suffered in silence. My father always said, let some one
else say the first word against Beasley, an' you've come to
Roy Beeman put a hand on Dale's shoulder. He, perhaps, was
the keenest of the brothers and the one to whom adventure
and peril called most. He had been oftenest with Dale, on
many a long trail, and he was the hardest rider and the most
relentless tracker in all that range country.
"An' we're goin' with you," he said, in a strong and rolling
They resumed their seats before the fire. John threw on more
wood, and with a crackling and sparkling the blaze curled
up, fanned by the wind. As twilight deepened into night the
moan in the pines increased to a roar. A pack of coyotes
commenced to pierce the air in staccato cries.
The five young men conversed long and earnestly,
considering, planning, rejecting ideas advanced by each.
Dale and Roy Beeman suggested most of what became acceptable
to all. Hunters of their type resembled explorers in slow
and deliberate attention to details. What they had to deal
with here was a situation of unlimited possibilities; the
horses and outfit needed; a long detour to reach Magdalena
unobserved; the rescue of a strange girl who would no doubt
be self-willed and determined to ride on the stage -- the
rescue forcible, if necessary; the fight and the inevitable
pursuit; the flight into the forest, and the safe delivery
of the girl to Auchincloss.
"Then, Milt, will we go after Beasley?" queried Roy Beeman,
Dale was silent and thoughtful.
"Sufficient unto the day!" said John. "An, fellars, let's go
They rolled out their tarpaulins, Dale sharing Roy's
blankets, and soon were asleep, while the red embers slowly
faded, and the great roar of wind died down, and the forest
stillness set in.
Helen Rayner had been on the westbound overland train fully
twenty-four hours before she made an alarming discovery.
Accompanied by her sister Bo, a precocious girl of sixteen,
Helen had left St. Joseph with a heart saddened by farewells
to loved ones at home, yet full of thrilling and vivid
anticipations of the strange life in the Far West. All her
people had the pioneer spirit; love of change, action,
adventure, was in her blood. Then duty to a widowed mother
with a large and growing family had called to Helen to
accept this rich uncle's offer. She had taught school and
also her little brothers and sisters; she had helped along
in other ways. And now, though the tearing up of the roots
of old loved ties was hard, this opportunity was
irresistible in its call. The prayer of her dreams had been
answered. To bring good fortune to her family; to take care
of this beautiful, wild little sister; to leave the yellow,
sordid, humdrum towns for the great, rolling, boundless
open; to live on a wonderful ranch that was some day to be
her own; to have fulfilled a deep, instinctive, and
undeveloped love of horses, cattle, sheep, of desert and
mountain, of trees and brooks and wild flowers -- all this
was the sum of her most passionate longings, now in some
marvelous, fairylike way to come true.
A check to her happy anticipations, a blank, sickening dash
of cold water upon her warm and intimate dreams, had been
the discovery that Harve Riggs was on the train. His
presence could mean only one thing -- that he had followed
her. Riggs had been the worst of many sore trials back there
in St. Joseph. He had possessed some claim or influence upon
her mother, who favored his offer of marriage to Helen; he
was neither attractive, nor good, nor industrious, nor
anything that interested her; he was the boastful, strutting
adventurer, not genuinely Western, and he affected long hair
and guns and notoriety. Helen had suspected the veracity of
the many fights he claimed had been his, and also she
suspected that he was not really big enough to be bad -- as
Western men were bad. But on the train, in the station at La
Junta, one glimpse of him, manifestly spying upon her while
trying to keep out of her sight, warned Helen that she now
might have a problem on her hands.
The recognition sobered her. All was not to be a road of
roses to this new home in the West. Riggs would follow her,
if he could not accompany her, and to gain his own ends he
would stoop to anything. Helen felt the startling
realization of being cast upon her own resources, and then a
numbing discouragement and loneliness and helplessness. But
these feelings did not long persist in the quick pride and
flash of her temper. Opportunity knocked at her door and she
meant to be at home to it. She would not have been Al
Auchincloss's niece if she had faltered. And, when temper
was succeeded by genuine anger, she could have laughed to
scorn this Harve Riggs and his schemes, whatever they were.
Once and for all she dismissed fear of him. When she left
St. Joseph she had faced the West with a beating heart and a
high resolve to be worthy of that West. Homes had to be made
out there in that far country, so Uncle Al had written, and
women were needed to make homes. She meant to be one of
these women and to make of her sister another. And with the
thought that she would know definitely what to say to Riggs
when he approached her, sooner or later, Helen dismissed him
While the train was in motion, enabling Helen to watch the
ever-changing scenery, and resting her from the strenuous
task of keeping Bo well in hand at stations, she lapsed
again into dreamy gaze at the pine forests and the red,
rocky gullies and the dim, bold mountains. She saw the sun
set over distant ranges of New Mexico -- a golden blaze of
glory, as new to her as the strange fancies born in her,
thrilling and fleeting by. Bo's raptures were not silent,
and the instant the sun sank and the color faded she just as
rapturously importuned Helen to get out the huge basket of
food they bad brought from home.
They had two seats, facing each other, at the end of the
coach, and piled there, with the basket on top, was luggage
that constituted all the girls owned in the world. Indeed,
it was very much more than they had ever owned before,
because their mother, in her care for them and desire to
have them look well in the eyes of this rich uncle, had
spent money and pains to give them pretty and serviceable
The girls sat together, with the heavy basket on their
knees, and ate while they gazed out at the cool, dark
ridges. The train clattered slowly on, apparently over a
road that was all curves. And it was supper-time for
everybody in that crowded coach. If Helen had not been so
absorbed by the great, wild mountain-land she would have had
more interest in the passengers. As it was she saw them, and
was amused and thoughtful at the men and women and a few
children in the car, all middle-class people, poor and
hopeful, traveling out there to the New West to find homes.
It was splendid and beautiful, this fact, yet it inspired a
brief and inexplicable sadness. From the train window, that
world of forest and crag, with its long bare reaches
between, seemed so lonely, so wild, so unlivable. How
endless the distance! For hours and miles upon miles no
house, no hut, no Indian tepee! It was amazing, the length
and breadth of this beautiful land. And Helen, who loved
brooks and running streams, saw no water at all.
Then darkness settled down over the slow-moving panorama; a
cool night wind blew in at the window; white stars began to
blink out of the blue. The sisters, with hands clasped and
heads nestled together, went to sleep under a heavy cloak.
Early the next morning, while the girls were again delving
into their apparently bottomless basket, the train stopped
at Las Vegas.
"Look! Look!" cried Bo, in thrilling voice. "Cowboys! Oh,
Helen, laughing, looked first at her sister, and thought how
most of all she was good to look at. Bo was little, instinct
with pulsating life, and she had chestnut hair and dark-blue
eyes. These eyes were flashing, roguish, and they drew like
Outside on the rude station platform were railroad men,
Mexicans, and a group of lounging cowboys. Long, lean,
bow-legged fellows they were, with young, frank faces and
intent eyes. One of them seemed particularly attractive with
his superb build, his red-bronze face and bright-red scarf,
his swinging gun, and the huge, long, curved spurs.
Evidently he caught Bo's admiring gaze, for, with a word to
his companions, he sauntered toward the window where the
girls sat. His gait was singular, almost awkward, as if he
was not accustomed to walking. The long spurs jingled
musically. He removed his sombrero and stood at ease, frank,
cool, smiling. Helen liked him on sight, and, looking to see
what effect he had upon Bo, she found that young lady
staring, frightened stiff.
"Good mawnin'," drawled the cowboy, with slow, good-humored
smile. "Now where might you-all be travelin'?"
The sound of his voice, the clean-cut and droll geniality;
seemed new and delightful to Helen.
"We go to Magdalena -- then take stage for the White
Mountains," replied Helen.
The cowboy's still, intent eyes showed surprise.
"Apache country, miss," he said. "I reckon I'm sorry. Thet's
shore no place for you-all . . . Beggin' your pawdin -- you
"No. We're nieces of Al Auchincloss," rejoined Helen.
"Wal, you don't say! I've been down Magdalena way an' heerd
of Al. . . . Reckon you're goin' a-visitin'?"
"It's to be home for us."
"Shore thet's fine. The West needs girls. . . . Yes, I've
heerd of Al. An old Arizona cattle-man in a sheep country!
Thet's bad. . . . Now I'm wonderin' -- if I'd drift down
there an' ask him for a job ridin' for him -- would I get
His lazy smile was infectious and his meaning was as clear
as crystal water. The gaze he bent upon Bo somehow pleased
Helen. The last year or two, since Bo had grown prettier all
the time, she had been a magnet for admiring glances. This
one of the cowboy's inspired respect and liking, as well as
amusement. It certainly was not lost upon Bo.
"My uncle once said in a letter that he never had enough men
to run his ranch," replied Helen, smiling.
"Shore I'll go. I reckon I'd jest naturally drift that way
He seemed so laconic, so easy, so nice, that he could not
have been taken seriously, yet Helen's quick perceptions
registered a daring, a something that was both sudden and
inevitable in him. His last word was as clear as the soft
look he fixed upon Bo.
Helen had a mischievous trait, which, subdue it as she
would, occasionally cropped out; and Bo, who once in her
wilful life had been rendered speechless, offered such a
"Maybe my little sister will put in a good word for you --
to Uncle Al," said Helen. Just then the train jerked, and
started slowly. The cowboy took two long strides beside the
car, his heated boyish face almost on a level with the
window, his eyes, now shy and a little wistful, yet bold,
too, fixed upon Bo.
"Good-by -- Sweetheart!" he called.
He halted -- was lost to view.
"Well!" ejaculated Helen, contritely, half sorry, half
amused. "What a sudden young gentleman!"
Bo had blushed beautifully.
"Nell, wasn't he glorious!" she burst out, with eyes
"I'd hardly call him that, but he was-nice," replied Helen,
much relieved that Bo had apparently not taken offense at
It appeared plain that Bo resisted a frantic desire to look
out of the window and to wave her hand. But she only peeped
out, manifestly to her disappointment.
"Do you think he -- he'll come to Uncle Al's?" asked Bo.
"Child, he was only in fun."
"Nell, I'll bet you he comes. Oh, it'd be great! I'm going
to love cowboys. They don't look like that Harve Riggs who
ran after you so."
Helen sighed, partly because of the reminder of her odious
suitor, and partly because Bo's future already called
mysteriously to the child. Helen had to be at once a mother
and a protector to a girl of intense and wilful spirit.
One of the trainmen directed the girls' attention to a
green, sloping mountain rising to a bold, blunt bluff of
bare rock; and, calling it Starvation Peak, be told a story
of how Indians had once driven Spaniards up there and
starved them. Bo was intensely interested, and thereafter
she watched more keenly than ever, and always had a question
for a passing trainman. The adobe houses of the Mexicans
pleased her, and, then the train got out into Indian
country, where pueblos appeared near the track and Indians
with their bright colors and shaggy wild mustangs -- then
she was enraptured.
"But these Indians are peaceful!" she exclaimed once,
"Gracious, child! You don't want to see hostile Indians, do
you?" queried Helen.
"I do, you bet," was the frank rejoinder.
"Well, I'LL bet that I'll be sorry I didn't leave you with
"Nell -- you never will!"
They reached Albuquerque about noon, and this important
station, where they had to change trains, had been the first
dreaded anticipation of the journey. It certainly was a busy
place -- full of jabbering Mexicans, stalking, red-faced,
wicked-looking cowboys, lolling Indians. In the confusion
Helen would have been hard put to it to preserve calmness,
with Bo to watch, and all that baggage to carry, and the
other train to find; but the kindly brakeman who had been
attentive to them now helped them off the train into the
other -- a service for which Helen was very grateful.
"Albuquerque's a hard place," confided the trainman. "Better
stay in the car -- and don't hang out the windows. . . .
Good luck to you!"
Only a few passengers were in the car and they were Mexicans
at the forward end. This branch train consisted of one
passenger-coach, with a baggage-car, attached to a string of
freight-cars. Helen told herself, somewhat grimly, that soon
she would know surely whether or not her suspicions of Harve
Riggs had warrant. If he was going on to Magdalena on that
day he must go in this coach. Presently Bo, who was not
obeying admonitions, drew her head out of the window. Her
eyes were wide in amaze, her mouth open.
"Nell! I saw that man Riggs!" she whispered. "He's going to
get on this train."
"Bo, I saw him yesterday," replied Helen, soberly. "He's
followed you -- the -- the -- "
"Now, Bo, don't get excited," remonstrated Helen. "We've
left home now. We've got to take things as they come. Never
mind if Riggs has followed me. I'll settle him."
"Oh! Then you won't speak -- have anything to do with him?"
"I won't if I can help it."
Other passengers boarded the train, dusty, uncouth, ragged
men, and some hard-featured, poorly clad women, marked by
toil, and several more Mexicans. With bustle and loud talk
they found their several seats.
Then Helen saw Harve Riggs enter, burdened with much
luggage. He was a man of about medium height, of dark,
flashy appearance, cultivating long black mustache and hair.
His apparel was striking, as it consisted of black
frock-coat, black trousers stuffed in high, fancy-topped
boots, an embroidered vest, and flowing tie, and a black
sombrero. His belt and gun were prominent. It was
significant that he excited comment among the other
When he had deposited his pieces of baggage he seemed to
square himself, and, turning abruptly, approached the seat
occupied by the girls. When he reached it he sat down upon
the arm of the one opposite, took off his sombrero, and
deliberately looked at Helen. His eyes were light, glinting,
with hard, restless quiver, and his mouth was coarse and
arrogant. Helen had never seen him detached from her home
surroundings, and now the difference struck cold upon her
"Hello, Nell!" he said. "Surprised to see me?"
"No," she replied, coldly.
"I'll gamble you are."
"Harve Riggs, I told you the day before I left home that
nothing you could do or say mattered to me."
"Reckon that ain't so, Nell. Any woman I keep track of has
reason to think. An' you know it."
"Then you followed me -- out here?" demanded Helen, and her
voice, despite her control, quivered with anger
"I sure did," he replied, and there was as much thought of
himself in the act as there was of her.
"Why? Why? It's useless -- hopeless."
"I swore I'd have you, or nobody else would," he replied,
and here, in the passion of his voice there sounded egotism
rather than hunger for a woman's love. "But I reckon I'd
have struck West anyhow, sooner or later."
"You're not going to -- all the way -- to Pine?" faltered
Helen, momentarily weakening.
"Nell, I'll camp on your trail from now on," he declared.
Then Bo sat bolt-upright, with pale face and flashing eyes.
"Harve Riggs, you leave Nell alone," she burst out, in
ringing, brave young voice. "I'll tell you what -- I'll bet
-- if you follow her and nag her any more, my uncle Al or
some cowboy will run you out of the country."
"Hello, Pepper!" replied Riggs, coolly. "I see your manners
haven't improved an' you're still wild about cowboys."
"People don't have good manners with -- with --"
"Bo, hush!" admonished Helen. It was difficult to reprove Bo
just then, for that young lady had not the slightest fear of
Riggs. Indeed, she looked as if she could slap his face. And
Helen realized that however her intelligence had grasped the
possibilities of leaving home for a wild country, and
whatever her determination to be brave, the actual beginning
of self-reliance had left her spirit weak. She would rise
out of that. But just now this flashing-eyed little sister
seemed a protector. Bo would readily adapt herself to the
West, Helen thought, because she was so young, primitive,
Whereupon Bo turned her back to Riggs and looked out of the
window. The man laughed. Then he stood up and leaned over
"Nell, I'm goin' wherever you go," he said, steadily. "You
can take that friendly or not, just as it pleases you. But
if you've got any sense you'll not give these people out
here a hunch against me. I might hurt somebody. . . . An'
wouldn't it be better -- to act friends? For I'm goin' to
look after you, whether you like it or not."
Helen had considered this man an annoyance, and later a
menace, and now she must declare open enmity with him.
However disgusting the idea that he considered himself a
factor in her new life, it was the truth. He existed, he had
control over his movements. She could not change that. She
hated the need of thinking so much about him; and suddenly,
with a hot, bursting anger, she hated the man.
"You'll not look after me. I'll take care of myself," she
said, and she turned her back upon him. She heard him mutter
under his breath and slowly move away down the car. Then Bo
slipped a hand in hers.
"Never mind, Nell," she whispered. "You know what old
Sheriff Haines said about Harve Riggs. 'A four-flush
would-be gun-fighter! If he ever strikes a real Western town
he'll get run out of it.' I just wish my red-faced cowboy
had got on this train!"
Helen felt a rush of gladness that she had yielded to Bo's
wild importunities to take her West. The spirit which had
made Bo incorrigible at home probably would make her react
happily to life out in this free country. Yet Helen, with
all her warmth and gratefulness, had to laugh at her sister.
"Your red-faced cowboy! Why, Bo, you were scared stiff. And
now you claim him!"
"I certainly could love that fellow," replied Bo, dreamily.
"Child, you've been saying that about fellows for a long
time. And you've never looked twice at any of them yet."
"He was different. . . . Nell, I'll bet he comes to Pine."
"I hope he does. I wish he was on this train. I liked his
"Well, Nell dear, he looked at ME first and last -- so don't
get your hopes up. . . . Oh, the train's starting! . . .
Good-by, Albu-ker -- what's that awful name? . . . Nell,
let's eat dinner. I'm starved."
Then Helen forgot her troubles and the uncertain future, and
what with listening to Bo's chatter, and partaking again of
the endless good things to eat in the huge basket, and
watching the noble mountains, she drew once more into happy
The valley of the Rio Grande opened to view, wide near at
hand in a great gray-green gap between the bare black
mountains, narrow in the distance, where the yellow river
wound away, glistening under a hot sun. Bo squealed in glee
at sight of naked little Mexican children that darted into
adobe huts as the train clattered by, and she exclaimed her
pleasure in the Indians, and the mustangs, and particularly
in a group of cowboys riding into town on spirited horses.
Helen saw all Bo pointed out, but it was to the wonderful
rolling valley that her gaze clung longest, and to the dim
purple distance that seemed to hold something from her. She
had never before experienced any feeling like that; she had
never seen a tenth so far. And the sight awoke something
strange in her. The sun was burning hot, as she could tell
when she put a hand outside the window, and a strong wind
blew sheets of dry dust at the train. She gathered at once
what tremendous factors in the Southwest were the sun and
the dust and the wind. And her realization made her love
them. It was there; the open, the wild, the beautiful, the
lonely land; and she felt the poignant call of blood in her
-- to seek, to strive, to find, to live. One look down that
yellow valley, endless between its dark iron ramparts, had
given her understanding of her uncle. She must be like him
in spirit, as it was claimed she resembled him otherwise.
At length Bo grew tired of watching scenery that contained
no life, and, with her bright head on the faded cloak, she
went to sleep. But Helen kept steady, farseeing gaze out
upon that land of rock and plain; and during the long hours,
as she watched through clouds of dust and veils of heat,
some strong and doubtful and restless sentiment seemed to
change and then to fix. It was her physical acceptance --
her eyes and her senses taking the West as she had already
taken it in spirit.
A woman should love her home wherever fate placed her, Helen
believed, and not so much from duty as from delight and
romance and living. How could life ever be tedious or
monotonous out here in this tremendous vastness of bare
earth and open sky, where the need to achieve made thinking
and pondering superficial?
It was with regret that she saw the last of the valley of
the Rio Grande, and then of its paralleled mountain ranges.
But the miles brought compensation in other valleys, other
bold, black upheavals of rock, and then again bare,
boundless yellow plains, and sparsely cedared ridges, and
white dry washes, ghastly in the sunlight, and dazzling beds
of alkali, and then a desert space where golden and blue
She noted, too, that the whites and yellows of earth and
rock had begun to shade to red -- and this she knew meant an
approach to Arizona. Arizona, the wild, the lonely, the red
desert, the green plateau -- Arizona with its thundering
rivers, its unknown spaces, its pasture-lands and
timber-lands, its wild horses, cowboys, outlaws, wolves and
lions and savages! As to a boy, that name stirred and
thrilled and sang to her of nameless, sweet, intangible
things, mysterious and all of adventure. But she, being a
girl of twenty, who had accepted responsibilities, must
conceal the depths of her heart and that which her mother
had complained was her misfortune in not being born a boy.
Time passed, while Helen watched and learned and dreamed.
The train stopped, at long intervals, at wayside stations
where there seemed nothing but adobe sheds and lazy
Mexicans, and dust and heat. Bo awoke and began to chatter,
and to dig into the basket. She learned from the conductor
that Magdalena was only two stations on. And she was full of
conjectures as to who would meet them, what would happen. So
Helen was drawn back to sober realities, in which there was
considerable zest. Assuredly she did not know what was going
to happen. Twice Riggs passed up and down the aisle, his
dark face and light eyes and sardonic smile deliberately
forced upon her sight. But again Helen fought a growing
dread with contemptuous scorn. This fellow was not half a
man. It was not conceivable what he could do, except annoy
her, until she arrived at Pine. Her uncle was to meet her or
send for her at Snowdrop, which place, Helen knew, was
distant a good long ride by stage from Magdalena. This
stage-ride was the climax and the dread of all the long
journey, in Helen's considerations.
"Oh, Nell!" cried Bo, with delight. "We're nearly there!
Next station, the conductor said."
"I wonder if the stage travels at night," said Helen,
"Sure it does!" replied the irrepressible Bo.
The train, though it clattered along as usual, seemed to
Helen to fly. There the sun was setting over bleak New
Mexican bluffs, Magdalena was at hand, and night, and
adventure. Helen's heart beat fast. She watched the yellow
plains where the cattle grazed; their presence, and
irrigation ditches and cottonwood-trees told her that the
railroad part of the journey was nearly ended. Then, at Bo's
little scream, she looked across the car and out of the
window to see a line of low, flat, red-adobe houses. The
train began to slow down. Helen saw children run, white
children and Mexican together; then more houses, and high
upon a hill an immense adobe church, crude and glaring, yet
Helen told Bo to put on her bonnet, and, performing a like
office for herself, she was ashamed of the trembling of her
fingers. There were bustle and talk in the car.
The train stopped. Helen peered out to see a straggling
crowd of Mexicans and Indians, all motionless and stolid, as
if trains or nothing else mattered. Next Helen saw a white
man, and that was a relief. He stood out in front of the
others. Tall and broad, somehow striking, he drew a second
glance that showed him to be a hunter clad in gray-fringed
buckskin, and carrying a rifle.
Here, there was no kindly brakeman to help the sisters with
their luggage. Helen bade Bo take her share; thus burdened,
they made an awkward and laborious shift to get off the
Upon the platform of the car a strong hand seized Helen's
heavy bag, with which she was straining, and a loud voice
"Girls, we're here -- sure out in the wild an' woolly West!"
The speaker was Riggs, and he had possessed himself of part
of her baggage with action and speech meant more to impress
the curious crowd than to be really kind. In the excitement
of arriving Helen had forgotten him. The manner of sudden
reminder -- the insincerity of it -- made her temper flash.
She almost fell, encumbered as she was, in her hurry to
descend the steps. She saw the tall hunter in gray step
forward close to her as she reached for the bag Riggs held.
"Mr. Riggs, I'll carry my bag," she said.
"Let me lug this. You help Bo with hers," he replied,
"But I want it," she rejoined, quietly, with sharp
determination. No little force was needed to pull the bag
away from Riggs.
"See here, Helen, you ain't goin' any farther with that
joke, are you?" he queried, deprecatingly, and he still
spoke quite loud.
"It's no joke to me," replied Helen. "I told you I didn't
want your attention."
"Sure. But that was temper. I'm your friend -- from your
home town. An' I ain't goin' to let a quarrel keep me from
lookin' after you till you're safe at your uncle's."
Helen turned her back upon him. The tall hunter had just
helped Bo off the car. Then Helen looked up into a smooth
bronzed face and piercing gray eyes.
"Are you Helen Rayner?" he asked.
"My name's Dale. I've come to meet you."
"Ah! My uncle sent you?" added Helen, in quick relief.
"No; I can't say Al sent me," began the man, "but I reckon
He was interrupted by Riggs, who, grasping Helen by the arm,
pulled her back a step.
"Say, mister, did Auchincloss send you to meet my young
friends here?" he demanded, arrogantly.
Dale's glance turned from Helen to Riggs. She could not read
this quiet gray gaze, but it thrilled her.
"No. I come on my own hook," he answered.
"You'll understand, then -- they're in my charge," added
This time the steady light-gray eyes met Helen's, and if
there was not a smile in them or behind them she was still
"Helen, I reckon you said you didn't want this fellow's
"I certainly said that," replied Helen, quickly. Just then
Bo slipped close to her and gave her arm a little squeeze.
Probably Bo's thought was like hers -- here was a real
Western man. That was her first impression, and following
swiftly upon it was a sensation of eased nerves.
Riggs swaggered closer to Dale.
"Say, Buckskin, I hail from Texas --"
"You're wastin' our time an' we've need to hurry,"
interrupted Dale. His tone seemed friendly. "An' if you ever
lived long in Texas you wouldn't pester a lady an' you sure
wouldn't talk like you do."
"What!" shouted Riggs, hotly. He dropped his right hand
significantly to his hip.
"Don't throw your gun. It might go off," said Dale.
Whatever Riggs's intention had been -- and it was probably
just what Dale evidently had read it -- he now flushed an
angry red and jerked at his gun.
Dale's hand flashed too swiftly for Helen's eye to follow
it. But she heard the thud as it struck. The gun went flying
to the platform and scattered a group of Indians and
"You'll hurt yourself some day," said Dale.
Helen had never heard a slow, cool voice like this hunter's.
Without excitement or emotion or hurry, it yet seemed full
and significant of things the words did not mean. Bo uttered
a strange little exultant cry.
Riggs's arm had dropped limp. No doubt it was numb. He
stared, and his predominating expression was surprise. As
the shuffling crowd began to snicker and whisper, Riggs gave
Dale a malignant glance, shifted it to Helen, and then
lurched away in the direction of his gun.
Dale did not pay any more attention to him. Gathering up
Helen's baggage, he said, "Come on," and shouldered a lane
through the gaping crowd. The girls followed close at his
"Nell! what 'd I tell you?" whispered Bo. "Oh, you're all