Part 2 out of 9
Helen was aware of her unsteadiness; anger and fear and
relief in quick succession had left her rather weak. Once
through the motley crowd of loungers, she saw an old gray
stage-coach and four lean horses. A grizzled, sunburned man
sat on the driver's seat, whip and reins in hand. Beside him
was a younger man with rifle across his knees. Another man,
young, tall, lean, dark, stood holding the coach door open.
He touched his sombrero to the girls. His eyes were sharp as
he addressed Dale.
"Milt, wasn't you held up?"
"No. But some long-haired galoot was tryin' to hold up the
girls. Wanted to throw his gun on me. I was sure scared,"
replied Dale, as he deposited the luggage.
Bo laughed. Her eyes, resting upon Dale, were warm and
bright. The young man at the coach door took a second look
at her, and then a smile changed the dark hardness of his
Dale helped the girls up the high step into the stage, and
then, placing the lighter luggage, in with them, he threw
the heavier pieces on top
"Joe, climb up," he said.
"Wal, Milt," drawled the driver," let's ooze along."
Dale hesitated, with his hand on the door. He glanced at the
crowd, now edging close again, and then at Helen.
"I reckon I ought to tell you," he said, and indecision
appeared to concern him.
"What?" exclaimed Helen.
"Bad news. But talkin' takes time. An' we mustn't lose any."
"There's need of hurry?" queried Helen, sitting up sharply.
"Is this the stage to Snowdrop?
"No. That leaves in the mornin'. We rustled this old trap to
get a start to-night."
"The sooner the better. But I -- I don't understand," said
"It'll not be safe for you to ride on the mornin' stage,"
"Safe! Oh, what do you mean?" exclaimed Helen.
Apprehensively she gazed at him and then back at Bo.
"Explainin' will take time. An' facts may change your mind.
But if you can't trust me --"
"Trust you!" interposed Helen, blankly. "You mean to take us
to Snowdrop? "
"I reckon we'd better go roundabout an' not hit Snowdrop,"
he replied, shortly.
"Then to Pine -- to my uncle -- Al Auchincloss?
"Yes, I'm goin' to try hard."
Helen caught her breath. She divined that some peril menaced
her. She looked steadily, with all a woman's keenness, into
this man's face. The moment was one of the fateful decisions
she knew the West had in store for her. Her future and that
of Bo's were now to be dependent upon her judgments. It was
a hard moment and, though she shivered inwardly, she
welcomed the initial and inevitable step. This man Dale, by
his dress of buckskin, must be either scout or hunter. His
size, his action, the tone of his voice had been reassuring.
But Helen must decide from what she saw in his face whether
or not to trust him. And that face was clear bronze,
unlined, unshadowed, like a tranquil mask, clean-cut,
strong-jawed, with eyes of wonderful transparent gray.
"Yes, I'll trust you," she said. "Get in, and let us hurry.
Then you can explain."
"All ready, Bill. Send 'em along," called Dale.
He had to stoop to enter the stage, and, once in, he
appeared to fill that side upon which he sat. Then the
driver cracked his whip; the stage lurched and began to
roll; the motley crowd was left behind. Helen awakened to
the reality, as she saw Bo staring with big eyes at the
hunter, that a stranger adventure than she had ever dreamed
of had began with the rattling roll of that old stage-coach.
Dale laid off his sombrero and leaned forward, holding his
rifle between his knees. The light shone better upon his
features now that he was bareheaded. Helen had never seen a
face like that, which at first glance appeared darkly
bronzed and hard, and then became clear, cold, aloof, still,
intense. She wished she might see a smile upon it. And now
that the die was cast she could not tell why she had trusted
it. There was singular force in it, but she did not
recognize what kind of force. One instant she thought it was
stern, and the next that it was sweet, and again that it was
"I'm glad you've got your sister," he said, presently.
"How did you know she's my sister?"
"I reckon she looks like you."
"No one else ever thought so," replied Helen, trying to
Bo had no difficulty in smiling, as she said, "Wish I was
half as pretty as Nell."
"Nell. Isn't your name Helen?" queried Dale.
"Yes. But my -- some few call me Nell."
"I like Nell better than Helen. An' what's yours?" went on
Dale, looking at Bo.
"Mine's Bo. just plain B-o. Isn't it silly? But I wasn't
asked when they gave it to me," she replied.
"Bo. It's nice an' short. Never heard it before. But I
haven't met many people for years."
"Oh! we've left the town!" cried Bo. "Look, Nell! How bare!
It's just like desert."
"It is desert. We've forty miles of that before we come to a
hill or a tree."
Helen glanced out. A flat, dull-green expanse waved away
from the road on and on to a bright, dark horizon-line,
where the sun was setting rayless in a clear sky. Open,
desolate, and lonely, the scene gave her a cold thrill.
"Did your uncle Al ever write anythin' about a man named
Beasley?" asked Dale.
"Indeed he did," replied Helen, with a start of surprise.
"Beasley! That name is familiar to us -- and detestable. My
uncle complained of this man for years. Then he grew bitter
-- accused Beasley. But the last year or so not a word!"
"Well, now," began the hunter, earnestly, "let's get the bad
news over. I'm sorry you must be worried. But you must learn
to take the West as it is. There's good an' bad, maybe more
bad. That's because the country's young. . . . So to come
right out with it -- this Beasley hired a gang of outlaws to
meet the stage you was goin' in to Snowdrop -- to-morrow --
an' to make off with you."
"Make off with me?" ejaculated Helen, bewildered.
"Kidnap you! Which, in that gang, would be worse than
killing you!" declared Dale, grimly, and he closed a huge
fist on his knee.
Helen was utterly astounded.
"How hor-rible!" she gasped out. "Make off with me! . . .
What in Heaven's name for?"
Bo gave vent to a fierce little utterance.
"For reasons you ought to guess," replied Dale, and he
leaned forward again. Neither his voice nor face changed in
the least, but yet there was a something about him that
fascinated Helen. "I'm a hunter. I live in the woods. A few
nights ago I happened to be caught out in a storm an' I took
to an old log cabin. Soon as I got there I heard horses. I
hid up in the loft. Some men rode up an' come in. It was
dark. They couldn't see me. An' they talked. It turned out
they were Snake Anson an' his gang of sheep-thieves. They
expected to meet Beasley there. Pretty soon he came. He told
Anson how old Al, your uncle, was on his last legs -- how he
had sent for you to have his property when he died. Beasley
swore he had claims on Al. An' he made a deal with Anson to
get you out of the way. He named the day you were to reach
Magdalena. With Al dead an' you not there, Beasley could get
the property. An' then he wouldn't care if you did come to
claim it. It 'd be too late. . . . Well, they rode away that
night. An' next day I rustled down to Pine. They're all my
friends at Pine, except old Al. But they think I'm queer. I
didn't want to confide. in many people. Beasley is strong in
Pine, an' for that matter I suspect Snake Anson has other
friends there besides Beasley. So I went to see your uncle.
He never had any use for me because he thought I was lazy
like an Indian. Old Al hates lazy men. Then we fell out --
or he fell out -- because he believed a tame lion of mine
had killed some of his sheep. An' now I reckon that Tom
might have done it. I tried to lead up to this deal of
Beasley's about you, but old Al wouldn't listen. He's cross
-- very cross. An' when I tried to tell him, why, he went
right out of his head. Sent me off the ranch. Now I reckon
you begin to see what a pickle I was in. Finally I went to
four friends I could trust. They're Mormon boys -- brothers.
That's Joe out on top, with the driver. I told them all
about Beasley's deal an' asked them to help me. So we
planned to beat Anson an' his gang to Magdalena. It happens
that Beasley is as strong in Magdalena as he is in Pine. An'
we had to go careful. But the boys had a couple of friends
here -- Mormons, too, who agreed to help us. They had this
old stage. . . . An' here you are." Dale spread out his big
hands and looked gravely at Helen and then at Bo.
"You're perfectly splendid!" cried Bo, ringingly. She was
white; her fingers were clenched; her eyes blazed.
Dale appeared startled out of his gravity, and surprised,
then pleased. A smile made his face like a boy's. Helen felt
her body all rigid, yet slightly trembling. Her hands were
cold. The horror of this revelation held her speechless. But
in her heart she echoed Bo's exclamation of admiration and
"So far, then," resumed Dale, with a heavy breath of relief.
"No wonder you're upset. I've a blunt way of talkin'. . . .
Now we've thirty miles to ride on this Snowdrop road before
we can turn off. To-day sometime the rest of the boys --
Roy, John, an' Hal -- were to leave Show Down, which's a
town farther on from Snowdrop. They have my horses an' packs
besides their own. Somewhere on the road we'll meet them --
to-night, maybe -- or tomorrow. I hope not to-night, because
that 'd mean Anson's gang was ridin' in to Magdalena."
Helen wrung her hands helplessly.
"Oh, have I no courage?" she whispered.
"Nell, I'm as scared as you are," said Bo, consolingly,
embracing her sister.
"I reckon that's natural," said Dale, as if excusing them.
"But, scared or not, you both brace up. It's a bad job. But
I've done my best. An' you'll be safer with me an' the
Beeman boys than you'd be in Magdalena, or anywhere else,
except your uncle's."
"Mr. -- Mr. Dale," faltered Helen, with her tears falling,
"don't think me a coward -- or -- or ungrateful. I'm
neither. It's only I'm so -- so shocked. After all we hoped
and expected -- this -- this -- is such a -- a terrible
"Never mind, Nell dear. Let's take what comes," murmured Bo.
"That's the talk," said Dale. "You see, I've come right out
with the worst. Maybe we'll get through easy. When we meet
the boys we'll take to the horses an' the trails. Can you
"Bo has been used to horses all her life and I ride fairly
well," responded Helen. The idea of riding quickened her
"Good! We may have some hard ridin' before I get you up to
Pine. Hello! What's that?"
Above the creaking, rattling, rolling roar of the stage
Helen heard a rapid beat of hoofs. A horse flashed by,
Dale opened the door and peered out. The stage rolled to a
halt. He stepped down and gazed ahead.
"Joe, who was that?" he queried.
"Nary me. An' Bill didn't know him, either," replied Joe. "I
seen him 'way back. He was ridin' some. An' he slowed up
goin' past us. Now he's runnin' again."
Dale shook his head as if he did not like the circumstances.
"Milt, he'll never get by Roy on this road," said Joe.
Maybe he'll get by before Roy strikes in on the road."
"It ain't likely."
Helen could not restrain her fears. "Mr. Dale, you think he
was a messenger -- going ahead to post that -- that Anson
"He might be," replied Dale, simply.
Then the young man called Joe leaned out from the seat above
and called: "Miss Helen, don't you worry. Thet fellar is
more liable to stop lead than anythin' else."
His words, meant to be kind and reassuring, were almost as
sinister to Helen as the menace to her own life. Long had
she known how cheap life was held in the West, but she had
only known it abstractly, and she had never let the fact
remain before her consciousness. This cheerful young man
spoke calmly of spilling blood in her behalf. The thought it
roused was tragic -- for bloodshed was insupportable to her
-- and then the thrills which followed were so new, strange,
bold, and tingling that they were revolting. Helen grew
conscious of unplumbed depths, of instincts at which she was
amazed and ashamed.
"Joe, hand down that basket of grub -- the small one with
the canteen," said Dale, reaching out a long arm. Presently
he placed a cloth-covered basket inside the stage. "Girls,
eat all you want an' then some."
"We have a basket half full yet," replied Helen.
"You'll need it all before we get to Pine. . . . Now, I'll
ride up on top with the boys an' eat my supper. It'll be
dark, presently, an' we'll stop often to listen. But don't
With that he took his rifle and, closing the door, clambered
up to the driver's seat. Then the stage lurched again and
began to roll along.
Not the least thing to wonder at of this eventful evening
was the way Bo reached for the basket of food. Helen simply
stared at her.
"Bo, you CAN'T EAT!" she exclaimed.
"I should smile I can," replied that practical young lady.
"And you're going to if I have to stuff things in your
mouth. Where's your wits, Nell? He said we must eat. That
means our strength is going to have some pretty severe
trials. . . . Gee! it's all great -- just like a story! The
unexpected -- why, he looks like a prince turned hunter! --
long, dark, stage journey -- held up -- fight -- escape --
wild ride on horses -- woods and camps and wild places --
pursued -- hidden in the forest -- more hard rides -- then
safe at the ranch. And of course he falls madly in love with
me -- no, you, for I'll be true to my Las Vegas lover --"
"Hush, silly! Bo, tell me, aren't you SCARED?"
"Scared! I'm scared stiff. But if Western girls stand such
things, we can. No Western girl is going to beat ME!"
That brought Helen to a realization of the brave place she
had given herself in dreams, and she was at once ashamed of
herself and wildly proud of this little sister.
"Bo, thank Heaven I brought you with me!" exclaimed Helen,
fervently. "I'll eat if it chokes me."
Whereupon she found herself actually hungry, and while she
ate she glanced out of the stage, first from one side and
then from the other. These windows had no glass and they let
the cool night air blow in. The sun had long since sunk. Out
to the west, where a bold, black horizon-line swept away
endlessly, the sky was clear gold, shading to yellow and
blue above. Stars were out, pale and wan, but growing
brighter. The earth appeared bare and heaving, like a calm
sea. The wind bore a fragrance new to Helen, acridly sweet
and clean, and it was so cold it made her fingers numb.
"I heard some animal yelp," said Bo, suddenly, and she
listened with head poised.
But Helen heard nothing save the steady clip-clop of hoofs,
the clink of chains, the creak and rattle of the old stage,
and occasionally the low voices of the men above.
When the girls had satisfied hunger and thirst, night had
settled down black. They pulled the cloaks up over them, and
close together leaned back in a corner of the seat and
talked in whispers. Helen did not have much to say, but Bo
"This beats me!" she said once, after an interval. "Where
are we, Nell? Those men up there are Mormons. Maybe they are
"Mr. Dale isn't a Mormon," replied Helen.
"How do you know?"
"I could tell by the way he spoke of his friends."
"Well, I wish it wasn't so dark. I'm not afraid of men in
daylight. . . . Nell, did you ever see such a wonderful
looking fellow? What'd they call him? Milt -- Milt Dale. He
said he lived in the woods. If I hadn't fallen in love with
that cowboy who called me -- well, I'd be a goner now."
After an interval of silence Bo whispered, startlingly,
"Wonder if Harve Riggs is following us now?"
"Of course he is," replied Helen, hopelessly.
"He'd better look out. Why, Nell, he never saw -- he never
-- what did Uncle Al used to call it? -- sav -- savvied --
that's it. Riggs never savvied that hunter. But I did, you
"Savvied! What do you mean, Bo?"
"I mean that long-haired galoot never saw his real danger.
But I felt it. Something went light inside me. Dale never
took him seriously at all."
"Riggs will turn up at Uncle Al's, sure as I'm born," said
"Let him turn," replied Bo, contemptuously. "Nell, don't you
ever bother your head again about him. I'll bet they're all
men out here. And I wouldn't be in Harve Riggs's boots for a
After that Bo talked of her uncle and his fatal illness, and
from that she drifted back to the loved ones at home, now
seemingly at the other side of the world, and then she broke
down and cried, after which she fell asleep on Helen's
But Helen could not have fallen asleep if she had wanted to.
She had always, since she could remember, longed for a
moving, active life; and 'or want of a better idea she had
chosen to dream of gipsies. And now it struck her grimly
that, if these first few hours of her advent in the West
were forecasts of the future, she was destined to have her
longings more than fulfilled.
Presently the stage rolled slower and slower, until it came
to a halt. Then the horses heaved, the harnesses clinked,
the men whispered. Otherwise there was an intense quiet. She
looked out, expecting to find it pitch-dark. It was black,
yet a transparent blackness. To her surprise she could see a
long way. A shooting-star electrified her. The men were
listening. She listened, too, but beyond the slight sounds
about the stage she heard nothing. Presently the driver
clucked to his horses, and travel was resumed.
For a while the stage rolled on rapidly, evidently downhill,
swaying from side to side, and rattling as if about to fall
to pieces. Then it slowed on a level, and again it halted
for a few moments, and once more in motion it began a
laborsome climb. Helen imagined miles had been covered. The
desert appeared to heave into billows, growing rougher, and
dark, round bushes dimly stood out. The road grew uneven and
rocky, and when the stage began another descent its violent
rocking jolted Bo out of her sleep and in fact almost out of
"Where am I?" asked Bo, dazedly.
"Bo, you're having your heart's desire, but I can't tell you
where you are," replied Helen.
Bo awakened thoroughly, which fact was now no wonder,
considering the jostling of the old stage.
"Hold on to me, Nell! . . . Is it a runaway?"
"We've come about a thousand miles like this, I think,"
replied Helen. "I've not a whole bone in my body."
Bo peered out of the window.
"Oh, how dark and lonesome! But it'd be nice if it wasn't so
cold. I'm freezing."
"I thought you loved cold air," taunted Helen.
"Say, Nell, you begin to talk like yourself," responded Bo.
It was difficult to hold on to the stage and each other and
the cloak all at once, but they succeeded, except in the
roughest places, when from time to time they were bounced
around. Bo sustained a sharp rap on the head.
"Oooooo!" she moaned. "Nell Rayner, I'll never forgive you
for fetching me on this awful trip."
"Just think of your handsome Las Vegas cowboy," replied
Either this remark subdued Bo or the suggestion sufficed to
reconcile her to the hardships of the ride.
Meanwhile, as they talked and maintained silence and tried
to sleep, the driver of the stage kept at his task after the
manner of Western men who knew how to get the best out of
horses and bad roads and distance.
By and by the stage halted again and remained at a
standstill for so long, with the men whispering on top, that
Helen and Bo were roused to apprehension.
Suddenly a sharp whistle came from the darkness ahead.
"Thet's Roy," said Joe Beeman, in a low voice.
"I reckon. An' meetin' us so quick looks bad," replied Dale.
"Drive on, Bill."
"Mebbe it seems quick to you," muttered the driver, but if
we hain't come thirty mile, an' if thet ridge thar hain't
your turnin'-off place, why, I don't know nothin'."
The stage rolled on a little farther, while Helen and Bo sat
clasping each other tight, wondering with bated breath what
was to be the next thing to happen.
Then once more they were at a standstill. Helen heard the
thud of boots striking the ground, and the snorts of horses.
"Nell, I see horses," whispered Bo, excitedly. "There, to
the side of the road . . . and here comes a man. . . . Oh,
if he shouldn't be the one they're expecting!"
Helen peered out to see a tall, dark form, moving silently,
and beyond it a vague outline of horses, and then pale
gleams of what must have been pack-loads.
Dale loomed up, and met the stranger in the road.
"Howdy, Milt? You got the girl sure, or you wouldn't be
here," said a low voice.
"Roy, I've got two girls -- sisters," replied Dale.
The man Roy whistled softly under his breath. Then another
lean, rangy form strode out of the darkness, and was met by
"Now, boys -- how about Anson's gang?" queried Dale.
"At Snowdrop, drinkin' an' quarrelin'. Reckon they'll leave
there about daybreak," replied Roy.
"How long have you been here?"
"Mebbe a couple of hours."
"Any horse go by?"
"Roy, a strange rider passed us before dark. He was hittin'
the road. An' he's got by here before you came."
"I don't like thet news," replied Roy, tersely. "Let's
rustle. With girls on hossback you'll need all the start you
can get. Hey, John?"
"Snake Anson shore can foller hoss tracks," replied the
"Milt, say the word," went on Roy, as he looked up at the
stars. "Daylight not far away. Here's the forks of the road,
an' your hosses, an' our outfit. You can be in the pines by
In the silence that ensued Helen heard the throb of her
heart and the panting little breaths of her sister. They
both peered out, hands clenched together, watching and
listening in strained attention.
"It's possible that rider last night wasn't a messenger to
Anson," said Dale. "In that case Anson won't make anythin'
of our wheel tracks or horse tracks. He'll go right on to
meet the regular stage. Bill, can you go back an' meet the
stage comin' before Anson does?"
"Wal, I reckon so -- an' take it easy at thet," replied
"All right," continued Dale, instantly. "John, you an' Joe
an' Hal ride back to meet the regular stage. An' when you
meet it get on an' be on it when Anson holds it up."
"Thet's shore agreeable to me," drawled John.
"I'd like to be on it, too," said Roy, grimly.
"No. I'll need you till I'm safe in the woods. Bill, hand
down the bags. An' you, Roy, help me pack them. Did you get
all the supplies I wanted?"
"Shore did. If the young ladies ain't powerful particular
you can feed them well for a couple of months."
Dale wheeled and, striding to the stage, he opened the door.
"Girls, you're not asleep? Come," he called.
Bo stepped down first.
"I was asleep till this -- this vehicle fell off the road
back a ways," she replied.
Roy Beeman's low laugh was significant. He took off his
sombrero and stood silent. The old driver smothered a loud
"Veehicle! Wal, I'll be doggoned! Joe, did you hear thet?
All the spunky gurls ain't born out West."
As Helen followed with cloak and bag Roy assisted her, and
she encountered keen eyes upon her face. He seemed both
gentle and respectful, and she felt his solicitude. His
heavy gun, swinging low, struck her as she stepped down.
Dale reached into the stage and hauled out baskets and bags.
These he set down on the ground.
"Turn around, Bill, an' go along with you. John an' Hal will
follow presently," ordered Dale.
"Wal, gurls," said, looking down upon them, "I was shore
powerful glad to meet you-all. An' I'm ashamed of my country
-- offerin' two sich purty gurls insults an' low-down
tricks. But shore you'll go through safe now. You couldn't
be in better company fer ridin' or huntin' or marryin' or
gittin' religion --"
"Shut up, you old grizzly!" broke in Dale, sharply.
"Haw! Haw! Good-by, gurls, an' good luck!" ended Bill, as he
began to whip the reins.
Bo said good-by quite distinctly, but Helen could only
murmur hers. The old driver seemed a friend.
Then the horses wheeled and stamped, the stage careened and
creaked, presently to roll out of sight in the gloom.
"You're shiverin'," said Dale, suddenly, looking down upon
Helen. She felt his big, hard hand clasp hers. "Cold as
"I am c-cold," replied Helen. "I guess we're not warmly
"Nell, we roasted all day, and now we're freezing," declared
Bo. "I didn't know it was winter at night out here."
"Miss, haven't you some warm gloves an' a coat?" asked Roy,
anxiously. "It 'ain't begun to get cold yet."
"Nell, we've heavy gloves, riding-suits and boots -- all
fine and new -- in this black bag," said Bo,
enthusiastically kicking a bag at her feet.
"Yes, so we have. But a lot of good they'll do us,
to-night," returned Helen.
"Miss, you'd do well to change right here," said Roy,
earnestly. "It'll save time in the long run an' a lot of
sufferin' before sunup."
Helen stared at the young man, absolutely amazed with his
simplicity. She was advised to change her traveling-dress
for a riding-suit -- out somewhere in a cold, windy desert
-- in the middle of the night -- among strange young man!
"Bo, which bag is it?" asked Dale, as if she were his
sister. And when she indicated the one, he picked it up.
"Come off the road."
Bo followed him, and Helen found herself mechanically at
their heels. Dale led them a few paces off the road behind
some low bushes.
"Hurry an' change here," he said. "We'll make a pack of your
outfit an' leave room for this bag."
Then he stalked away and in a few strides disappeared.
Bo sat down to begin unlacing her shoes. Helen could just
see her pale, pretty face and big, gleaming eyes by the
light of the stars. It struck her then that Bo was going to
make eminently more of a success of Western life than she
"Nell, those fellows are n-nice," said Bo, reflectively.
"Aren't you c-cold? Say, he said hurry!"
It was beyond Helen's comprehension how she ever began to
disrobe out there in that open, windy desert, but after she
had gotten launched on the task she found that it required
more fortitude than courage. The cold wind pierced right
through her. Almost she could have laughed at the way Bo
made things fly.
"G-g-g-gee!" chattered Bo. "I n-never w-was so c-c-cold in
all my life. Nell Rayner, m-may the g-good Lord forgive
Helen was too intent on her own troubles to take breath to
talk. She was a strong, healthy girl, swift and efficient
with her hands, yet this, the hardest physical ordeal she
had ever experienced, almost overcame her. Bo outdistanced
her by moments, helped her with buttons, and laced one whole
boot for her. Then, with hands that stung, Helen packed the
traveling-suits in the bag.
"There! But what an awful mess!" exclaimed Helen. "Oh, Bo,
our pretty traveling-dresses!"
"We'll press them t-to-morrow -- on a l-log," replied Bo,
and she giggled.
They started for the road. Bo, strange to note, did not
carry her share of the burden, and she seemed unsteady on
The men were waiting beside a group of horses, one of which
carried a pack.
"Nothin' slow about you," said Dale, relieving Helen of the
grip. "Roy, put them up while I sling on this bag."
Roy led out two of the horses.
"Get up," he said, indicating Bo. "The stirrups are short on
Bo was an adept at mounting, but she made such awkward and
slow work of it in this instance that Helen could not
believe her eyes.
"Haw 're the stirrups?" asked Roy. "Stand in them. Guess
they're about right. . . . Careful now! Thet hoss is
skittish. Hold him in."
Bo was not living up to the reputation with which Helen had
"Now, miss, you get up," said Roy to Helen. And in another
instant she found herself astride a black, spirited horse.
Numb with cold as she was, she yet felt the coursing thrills
along her veins.
Roy was at the stirrups with swift hands.
"You're taller 'n I guessed," he said. "Stay up, but lift
your foot. . . . Shore now, I'm glad you have them thick,
soft boots. Mebbe we'll ride all over the White Mountains."
"Bo, do you hear that?" called Helen.
But Bo did not answer. She was leaning rather unnaturally in
her saddle. Helen became anxious. Just then Dale strode back
"All cinched up, Roy?"
"Jest ready," replied Roy.
Then Dale stood beside Helen. How tall he was! His wide
shoulders seemed on a level with the pommel of her saddle.
He put an affectionate hand on the horse.
"His name's Ranger an' he's the fastest an' finest horse in
"I reckon he shore is -- along with my bay," corroborated
"Roy, if you rode Ranger he'd beat your pet," said Dale. "We
can start now. Roy, you drive the pack-horses."
He took another look at Helen's saddle and then moved to do
likewise with Bo's.
"Are you -- all right?" he asked, quickly.
Bo reeled in her seat.
"I'm n-near froze," she replied, in a faint voice. Her face
shone white in the starlight. Helen recognized that Bo was
more than cold.
"Oh, Bo!" she called, in distress.
"Nell, don't you worry, now."
"Let me carry you," suggested Dale.
"No. I'll s-s-stick on this horse or d-die," fiercely
The two men looked up at her white face and then at each
other. Then Roy walked away toward the dark bunch of horses
off the road and Dale swung astride the one horse left.
"Keep close to me," he said.
Bo fell in line and Helen brought up the rear.
Helen imagined she was near the end of a dream. Presently
she would awaken with a start and see the pale walls of her
little room at home, and hear the cherry branches brushing
her window, and the old clarion-voiced cock proclaim the
hour of dawn.
The horses trotted. And the exercise soon warmed Helen,
until she was fairly comfortable except in her fingers. In
mind, however, she grew more miserable as she more fully
realized her situation. The night now became so dark that,
although the head of her horse was alongside the flank of
Bo's, she could scarcely see Bo. From time to time Helen's
anxious query brought from her sister the answer that she
was all right.
Helen had not ridden a horse for more than a year, and for
several years she had not ridden with any regularity.
Despite her thrills upon mounting, she had entertained
misgivings. But she was agreeably surprised, for the horse,
Ranger, had an easy gait, and she found she had not
forgotten how to ride. Bo, having been used to riding on a
farm near home, might be expected to acquit herself
admirably. It occurred to Helen what a plight they would
have been in but for the thick, comfortable riding outfits.
Dark as the night was, Helen could dimly make out the road
underneath. It was rocky, and apparently little used. When
Dale turned off the road into the low brush or sage of what
seemed a level plain, the traveling was harder, rougher, and
yet no slower. The horses kept to the gait of the leaders.
Helen, discovering it unnecessary, ceased attempting to
guide Ranger. There were dim shapes in the gloom ahead, and
always they gave Helen uneasiness, until closer approach
proved them to be rocks or low, scrubby trees. These
increased in both size and number as the horses progressed.
Often Helen looked back into the gloom behind. This act was
involuntary and occasioned her sensations of dread. Dale
expected to be pursued. And Helen experienced, along with
the dread, flashes of unfamiliar resentment. Not only was
there an attempt afoot to rob her of her heritage, but even
her personal liberty. Then she shuddered at the significance
of Dale's words regarding her possible abduction by this
hired gang. It seemed monstrous, impossible. Yet, manifestly
it was true enough to Dale and his allies. The West, then,
in reality was raw, hard, inevitable.
Suddenly her horse stopped. He had come up alongside Bo's
horse. Dale had halted ahead, and apparently was listening.
Roy and the pack-train were out of sight in the gloom.
"What is it?" whispered Helen.
"Reckon I heard a wolf," replied Dale.
"Was that cry a wolf's?" asked Bo. "I heard. It was wild."
"We're gettin' up close to the foot-hills," said Dale. "Feel
how much colder the air is."
"I'm warm now," replied Bo. "I guess being near froze was
what ailed me. . . . Nell, how 're you?"
"I'm warm, too, but --" Helen answered.
"If you had your choice of being here or back home, snug in
bed -- which would you take?" asked Bo.
"Bo!" exclaimed Helen, aghast.
"Well, I'd choose to be right here on this horse," rejoined
Dale heard her, for he turned an instant, then slapped his
horse and started on.
Helen now rode beside Bo, and for a long time they climbed
steadily in silence. Helen knew when that dark hour before
dawn had passed, and she welcomed an almost imperceptible
lightening in the east. Then the stars paled. Gradually a
grayness absorbed all but the larger stars. The great white
morning star, wonderful as Helen had never seen it, lost its
brilliance and life and seemed to retreat into the dimming
Daylight came gradually, so that the gray desert became
distinguishable by degrees. Rolling bare hills, half
obscured by the gray lifting mantle of night, rose in the
foreground, and behind was gray space, slowly taking form
and substance. In the east there was a kindling of pale rose
and silver that lengthened and brightened along a horizon
growing visibly rugged.
"Reckon we'd better catch up with Roy," said Dale, and he
spurred his horse.
Ranger and Bo's mount needed no other urging, and they swung
into a canter. Far ahead the pack-animals showed with Roy
driving them. The cold wind was so keen in Helen's face that
tears blurred her eyes and froze her cheeks. And riding
Ranger at that pace was like riding in a rocking-chair. That
ride, invigorating and exciting, seemed all too short.
"Oh, Nell, I don't care -- what becomes of -- me!" exclaimed
Her face was white and red, fresh as a rose, her eyes
glanced darkly blue, her hair blew out in bright, unruly
strands. Helen knew she felt some of the physical
stimulation that had so roused Bo, and seemed so
irresistible, but somber thought was not deflected thereby.
It was clear daylight when Roy led off round a knoll from
which patches of scrubby trees -- cedars, Dale called them
-- straggled up on the side of the foot-hills.
"They grow on the north slopes, where the snow stays
longest," said Dale.
They descended into a valley that looked shallow, but proved
to be deep and wide, and then began to climb another
foot-hill. Upon surmounting it Helen saw the rising sun, and
so glorious a view confronted her that she was unable to
answer Bo's wild exclamations.
Bare, yellow, cedar-dotted slopes, apparently level, so
gradual was the ascent, stretched away to a dense ragged
line of forest that rose black over range after range, at
last to fail near the bare summit of a magnificent mountain,
sunrise-flushed against the blue sky.
"Oh, beautiful!" cried Bo. "But they ought to be called
"Old Baldy, there, is white half the year," replied Dale.
"Look back an' see what you say," suggested Roy.
The girls turned to gaze silently. Helen imagined she looked
down upon the whole wide world. How vastly different was the
desert! Verily it yawned away from her, red and gold near at
hand, growing softly flushed with purple far away, a barren
void, borderless and immense, where dark-green patches and
black lines and upheaved ridges only served to emphasize
distance and space.
"See thet little green spot," said Roy, pointing. "Thet's
Snowdrop. An' the other one -- 'way to the right -- thet's
"Where is Pine?" queried Helen, eagerly.
"Farther still, up over the foot-hills at the edge of the
"Then we're riding away from it."
"Yes. If we'd gone straight for Pine thet gang could
overtake us. Pine is four days' ride. An' by takin' to the
mountains Milt can hide his tracks. An' when he's thrown
Anson off the scent, then he'll circle down to Pine."
"Mr. Dale, do you think you'll get us there safely -- and
soon?" asked Helen, wistfully.
"I won't promise soon, but I promise safe. An' I don't like
bein' called Mister," he replied.
"Are we ever going to eat?" inquired Bo, demurely.
At this query Roy Beeman turned with a laugh to look at Bo.
Helen saw his face fully in the light, and it was thin and
hard, darkly bronzed, with eyes like those of a hawk, and
with square chin and lean jaws showing scant, light beard.
"We shore are," he replied. "Soon as we reach the timber.
Thet won't be long."
"Reckon we can rustle some an' then take a good rest," said
Dale, and he urged his horse into a jog-trot.
During a steady trot for a long hour, Helen's roving eyes
were everywhere, taking note of the things from near to far
-- the scant sage that soon gave place to as scanty a grass,
and the dark blots that proved to be dwarf cedars, and the
ravines opening out as if by magic from what had appeared
level ground, to wind away widening between gray stone
walls, and farther on, patches of lonely pine-trees, two and
three together, and then a straggling clump of yellow
aspens, and up beyond the fringed border of forest, growing
nearer all the while, the black sweeping benches rising to
the noble dome of the dominant mountain of the range.
No birds or animals were seen in that long ride up toward
the timber, which fact seemed strange to Helen. The air lost
something of its cold, cutting edge as the sun rose higher,
and it gained sweeter tang of forest-land. The first faint
suggestion of that fragrance was utterly new to Helen, yet
it brought a vague sensation of familiarity and with it an
emotion as strange. It was as if she had smelled that keen,
pungent tang long ago, and her physical sense caught it
before her memory.
The yellow plain had only appeared to be level. Roy led down
into a shallow ravine, where a tiny stream meandered, and he
followed this around to the left, coming at length to a
point where cedars and dwarf pines formed a little grove.
Here, as the others rode up, he sat cross-legged in his
saddle, and waited.
"We'll hang up awhile," he said. "Reckon you're tired?"
"I'm hungry, but not tired yet," replied Bo.
Helen dismounted, to find that walking was something she had
apparently lost the power to do. Bo laughed at her, but she,
too, was awkward when once more upon the ground.
Then Roy got down. Helen was surprised to find him lame. He
caught her quick glance.
"A hoss threw me once an' rolled on me. Only broke my
collar-bone, five ribs, one arm, an' my bow-legs in two
Notwithstanding this evidence that he was a cripple, as he
stood there tall and lithe in his homespun, ragged garments,
he looked singularly powerful and capable.
"Reckon walkin' around would be good for you girls," advised
Dale. "If you ain't stiff yet, you'll be soon. An' walkin'
will help. Don't go far. I'll call when breakfast's ready."
A little while later the girls were whistled in from their
walk and found camp-fire and meal awaiting them. Roy was
sitting cross-legged, like an Indian, in front of a
tarpaulin, upon which was spread a homely but substantial
fare. Helen's quick eye detected a cleanliness and
thoroughness she had scarcely expected to find in the camp
cooking of men of the wilds. Moreover, the fare was good.
She ate heartily, and as for Bo's appetite, she was inclined
to be as much ashamed of that as amused at it. The young men
were all eyes, assiduous in their service to the girls, but
speaking seldom. It was not lost upon Helen how Dale's gray
gaze went often down across the open country. She divined
apprehension from it rather than saw much expression in it.
"I -- declare," burst out Bo, when she could not eat any
more, "this isn't believable. I'm dreaming. . . . Nell, the
black horse you rode is the prettiest I ever saw."
Ranger, with the other animals, was grazing along the little
brook. Packs and saddles had been removed. The men ate
leisurely. There was little evidence of hurried flight. Yet
Helen could not cast off uneasiness. Roy might have been
deep, and careless, with a motive to spare the girls'
anxiety, but Dale seemed incapable of anything he did not
"Rest or walk," he advised the girls. "We've got forty miles
to ride before dark."
Helen preferred to rest, but Bo walked about, petting the
horses and prying into the packs. She was curious and eager.
Dale and Roy talked in low tones while they cleaned up the
utensils and packed them away in a heavy canvas bag.
"You really expect Anson 'll strike my trail this mornin'?"
Dale was asking.
"I shore do," replied Roy.
"An' how do you figure that so soon?"
"How'd you figure it -- if you was Snake Anson?" queried
Roy, in reply.
"Depends on that rider from Magdalena," Said Dale, soberly.
"Although it's likely I'd seen them wheel tracks an' hoss
tracks made where we turned off. But supposin' he does."
"Milt, listen. I told you Snake met us boys face to face day
before yesterday in Show Down. An' he was plumb curious."
"But he missed seein' or hearin' about me," replied Dale.
"Mebbe he did an' mebbe he didn't. Anyway, what's the
difference whether he finds out this mornin' or this
"Then you ain't expectin' a fight if Anson holds up the
"Wal, he'd have to shoot first, which ain't likely. John an'
Hal, since thet shootin'-scrape a year ago, have been sort
of gun-shy. Joe might get riled. But I reckon the best we
can be shore of is a delay. An' it'd be sense not to count
"Then you hang up here an' keep watch for Anson's gang --
say long enough so's to be sure they'd be in sight if they
find our tracks this mornin'. Makin' sure one way or
another, you ride 'cross-country to Big Spring, where I'll
Roy nodded approval of that suggestion. Then without more
words both men picked up ropes and went after the horses.
Helen was watching Dale, so that when Bo cried out in great
excitement Helen turned to see a savage yellow little
mustang standing straight up on his hind legs and pawing the
air. Roy had roped him and was now dragging him into camp.
"Nell, look at that for a wild pony!" exclaimed Bo.
Helen busied herself getting well out of the way of the
infuriated mustang. Roy dragged him to a cedar near by.
"Come now, Buckskin," said Roy, soothingly, and he slowly
approached the quivering animal. He went closer, hand over
hand, on the lasso. Buckskin showed the whites of his eyes
and also his white teeth. But he stood while Roy loosened
the loop and, slipping it down over his head, fastened it in
a complicated knot round his nose.
"Thet's a hackamore," he said, indicating the knot. He's
never had a bridle, an' never will have one, I reckon."
"You don't ride him?" queried Helen.
"Sometimes I do," replied Roy, with a smile. "Would you
girls like to try him?"
"Excuse me," answered Helen.
"Gee!" ejaculated Bo. "He looks like a devil. But I'd tackle
him -- if you think I could."
The wild leaven of the West had found quick root in Bo
"Wal, I'm sorry, but I reckon I'll not let you -- for a
spell," replied Roy, dryly.
"He pitches somethin' powerful bad."
"Pitches. You mean bucks?"
In the next half-hour Helen saw more and learned more about
how horses of the open range were handled than she had ever
heard of. Excepting Ranger, and Roy's bay, and the white
pony Bo rode, the rest of the horses had actually to be
roped and hauled into camp to be saddled and packed. It was
a job for fearless, strong men, and one that called for
patience as well as arms of iron. So that for Helen Rayner
the thing succeeding the confidence she had placed in these
men was respect. To an observing woman that half-hour told
When all was in readiness for a start Dale mounted, and
said, significantly: "Roy, I'll look for you about sundown.
I hope no sooner."
"Wal, it'd be bad if I had to rustle along soon with bad
news. Let's hope for the best. We've been shore lucky so
far. Now you take to the pine-mats in the woods an' hide
Dale turned away. Then the girls bade Roy good-by, and
followed. Soon Roy and his buckskin-colored mustang were
lost to sight round a clump of trees.
The unhampered horses led the way; the pack-animals trotted
after them; the riders were close behind. All traveled at a
jog-trot. And this gait made the packs bob up and down and
from side to side. The sun felt warm at Helen's back and the
wind lost its frosty coldness, that almost appeared damp,
for a dry, sweet fragrance. Dale drove up the shallow valley
that showed timber on the levels above and a black border of
timber some few miles ahead. It did not take long to reach
the edge of the forest.
Helen wondered why the big pines grew so far on that plain
and no farther. Probably the growth had to do with snow,
but, as the ground was level, she could not see why the edge
of the woods should come just there.
They rode into the forest.
To Helen it seemed a strange, critical entrance into another
world, which she was destined to know and to love. The pines
were big, brown-barked, seamed, and knotted, with no typical
conformation except a majesty and beauty. They grew far
apart. Few small pines and little underbrush flourished
beneath them. The floor of this forest appeared remarkable
in that it consisted of patches of high silvery grass and
wide brown areas of pine-needles. These manifestly were what
Roy had meant by pine-mats. Here and there a fallen monarch
lay riven or rotting. Helen was presently struck with the
silence of the forest and the strange fact that the horses
seldom made any sound at all, and when they did it was a
cracking of dead twig or thud of hoof on log. Likewise she
became aware of a springy nature of the ground. And then she
saw that the pine-mats gave like rubber cushions under the
hoofs of the horses, and after they had passed sprang back
to place again, leaving no track. Helen could not see a sign
of a trail they left behind. Indeed, it would take a sharp
eye to follow Dale through that forest. This knowledge was
infinitely comforting to Helen, and for the first time since
the flight had begun she felt a lessening of the weight upon
mind and heart. It left her free for some of the
appreciation she might have had in this wonderful ride under
Bo, however, seemed too young, too wild, too intense to mind
what the circumstances were. She responded to reality. Helen
began to suspect that the girl would welcome any adventure,
and Helen knew surely now that Bo was a true Auchincloss.
For three long days Helen had felt a constraint with which
heretofore she had been unfamiliar; for the last hours it
had been submerged under dread. But it must be, she
concluded, blood like her sister's, pounding at her veins to
be set free to race and to burn.
Bo loved action. She had an eye for beauty, but she was not
contemplative. She was now helping Dale drive the horses and
hold them in rather close formation. She rode well, and as
yet showed no symptoms of fatigue or pain. Helen began to be
aware of both, but not enough yet to limit her interest.
A wonderful forest without birds did not seem real to her.
Of all living creatures in nature Helen liked birds best,
and she knew many and could imitate the songs of a few. But
here under the stately pines there were no birds. Squirrels,
however, began to be seen here and there, and in the course
of an hour's travel became abundant. The only one with which
she was familiar was the chipmunk. All the others, from the
slim bright blacks to the striped russets and the
white-tailed grays, were totally new to her. They appeared
tame and curious. The reds barked and scolded at the passing
cavalcade; the blacks glided to some safe branch, there to
watch; the grays paid no especial heed to this invasion of
Once Dale, halting his horse, pointed with long arm, and
Helen, following the direction, descried several gray deer
standing in a glade, motionless, with long ears up. They
made a wild and beautiful picture. Suddenly they bounded
away with remarkable springy strides.
The forest on the whole held to the level, open character,
but there were swales and stream-beds breaking up its
regular conformity. Toward noon, however, it gradually
changed, a fact that Helen believed she might have observed
sooner had she been more keen. The general lay of the land
began to ascend, and the trees to grow denser.
She made another discovery. Ever since she had entered the
forest she had become aware of a fullness in her head and a
something affecting her nostrils. She imagined, with regret,
that she had taken cold. But presently her head cleared
somewhat and she realized that the thick pine odor of the
forest had clogged her nostrils as if with a sweet pitch.
The smell was overpowering and disagreeable because of its
strength. Also her throat and lungs seemed to burn.
When she began to lose interest in the forest and her
surroundings it was because of aches and pains which would
no longer be denied recognition. Thereafter she was not
permitted to forget them and they grew worse. One,
especially, was a pain beyond all her experience. It lay in
the muscles of her side, above her hip, and it grew to be a
treacherous thing, for it was not persistent. It came and
went. After it did come, with a terrible flash, it could be
borne by shifting or easing the body. But it gave no
warning. When she expected it she was mistaken; when she
dared to breathe again, then, with piercing swiftness, it
returned like a blade in her side. This, then, was one of
the riding-pains that made a victim of a tenderfoot on a
long ride. It was almost too much to be borne. The beauty of
the forest, the living creatures to be seen scurrying away,
the time, distance -- everything faded before that stablike
pain. To her infinite relief she found that it was the trot
that caused this torture. When Ranger walked she did not
have to suffer it. Therefore she held him to a walk as long
as she dared or until Dale and Bo were almost out of sight;
then she loped him ahead until he had caught up.
So the hours passed, the sun got around low, sending golden
shafts under the trees, and the forest gradually changed to
a brighter, but a thicker, color. This slowly darkened.
Sunset was not far away.
She heard the horses splashing in water, and soon she rode
up to see the tiny streams of crystal water running swiftly
over beds of green moss. She crossed a number of these and
followed along the last one into a more open place in the
forest where the pines were huge, towering, and far apart. A
low, gray bluff of stone rose to the right, perhaps
one-third as high as the trees. From somewhere came the
rushing sound of running water.
"Big Spring," announced Dale. "We camp here. You girls have
Another glance proved to Helen that all those little streams
poured from under this gray bluff.
"I'm dying for a drink," cried Bo. with her customary
"I reckon you'll never forget your first drink here,"
Bo essayed to dismount, and finally fell off, and when she
did get to the ground her legs appeared to refuse their
natural function, and she fell flat. Dale helped her up.
"What's wrong with me, anyhow?" she demanded, in great
"Just stiff, I reckon," replied Dale, as he led her a few
"Bo, have you any hurts?" queried Helen, who still sat her
horse, loath to try dismounting, yet wanting to beyond all
Bo gave her an eloquent glance.
"Nell, did you have one in your side, like a wicked, long
darning-needle, punching deep when you weren't ready?"
"That one I'll never get over!" exclaimed Helen, softly.
Then, profiting by Bo's experience, she dismounted
cautiously, and managed to keep upright. Her legs felt like
Presently the girls went toward the spring.
"Drink slow," called out Dale.
Big Spring had its source somewhere deep under the gray,
weathered bluff, from which came a hollow subterranean
gurgle and roar of water. Its fountainhead must have been a
great well rushing up through the cold stone.
Helen and Bo lay flat on a mossy bank, seeing their faces as
they bent over, and they sipped a mouthful, by Dale's
advice, and because they were so hot and parched and burning
they wanted to tarry a moment with a precious opportunity.
The water was so cold that it sent a shock over Helen, made
her teeth ache, and a singular, revivifying current steal
all through her, wonderful in its cool absorption of that
dry heat of flesh, irresistible in its appeal to thirst.
Helen raised her head to look at this water. It was
colorless as she had found it tasteless.
"Nell -- drink!" panted Bo. "Think of our -- old spring --
in the orchard -- full of pollywogs!"
And then Helen drank thirstily, with closed eyes, while a
memory of home stirred from Bo's gift of poignant speech.
The first camp duty Dale performed was to throw a pack off
one of the horses, and, opening it, he took out tarpaulin
and blankets, which he arranged on the ground under a
"You girls rest," he said, briefly.
"Can't we help?" asked Helen, though she could scarcely
"You'll be welcome to do all you like after you're broke
"Broke in!" ejaculated Bo, with a little laugh. "I'm all
broke UP now."
"Bo, it looks as if Mr. Dale expects us to have quite a stay
with him in the woods."
"It does," replied Bo, as slowly she sat down upon the
blankets, stretched out with a long sigh, and laid her head
on a saddle. "Nell, didn't he say not to call him Mister?"
Dale was throwing the packs off the other horses.
Helen lay down beside Bo, and then for once in her life she
experienced the sweetness of rest.
"Well, sister, what do you intend to call him?" queried
"Milt, of course," replied Bo.
Helen had to laugh despite her weariness and aches.
"I suppose, then, when your Las Vegas cowboy comes along you
will call him what he called you."
Bo blushed, which was a rather unusual thing for her.
"I will if I like," she retorted. "Nell, ever since I could
remember you've raved about the West. Now you're OUT West,
right in it good and deep. So wake up!"
That was Bo's blunt and characteristic way of advising the
elimination of Helen's superficialities. It sank deep. Helen
had no retort. Her ambition, as far as the West was
concerned, had most assuredly not been for such a wild,
unheard-of jaunt as this. But possibly the West -- a living
from day to day -- was one succession of adventures, trials,
tests, troubles, and achievements. To make a place for
others to live comfortably some day! That might be Bo's
meaning, embodied in her forceful hint. But Helen was too
tired to think it out then. She found it interesting and
vaguely pleasant to watch Dale.
He hobbled the horses and turned them loose. Then with ax in
hand he approached a short, dead tree, standing among a few
white-barked aspens. Dale appeared to advantage swinging the
ax. With his coat off, displaying his wide shoulders,
straight back, and long, powerful arms, he looked a young
giant. He was lithe and supple, brawny but not bulky. The ax
rang on the hard wood, reverberating through the forest. A
few strokes sufficed to bring down the stub. Then he split
it up. Helen was curious to see how he kindled a fire. First
he ripped splinters out of the heart of the log, and laid
them with coarser pieces on the ground. Then from a
saddlebag which hung on a near-by branch he took flint and
steel and a piece of what Helen supposed was rag or
buckskin, upon which powder had been rubbed. At any rate,
the first strike of the steel brought sparks, a blaze, and
burning splinters. Instantly the flame leaped a foot high.
He put on larger pieces of wood crosswise, and the fire
That done, he stood erect, and, facing the north, he
listened. Helen remembered now that she had seen him do the
same thing twice before since the arrival at Big Spring. It
was Roy for whom he was listening and watching. The sun had
set and across the open space the tips of the pines were
losing their brightness.
The camp utensils, which the hunter emptied out of a sack,
gave forth a jangle of iron and tin. Next he unrolled a
large pack, the contents of which appeared to be numerous
sacks of all sizes. These evidently contained food supplies.
The bucket looked as if a horse had rolled over it, pack and
all. Dale filled it at the spring. Upon returning to the
camp-fire he poured water into a washbasin, and, getting
down to his knees, proceeded to wash his hands thoroughly.
The act seemed a habit, for Helen saw that while he was
doing it he gazed off into the woods and listened. Then he
dried his hands over the fire, and, turning to the
spread-out pack, he began preparations for the meal.
Suddenly Helen thought of the man and all that his actions
implied. At Magdalena, on the stage-ride, and last night,
she had trusted this stranger, a hunter of the White
Mountains, who appeared ready to befriend her. And she had
felt an exceeding gratitude. Still, she had looked at him
impersonally. But it began to dawn upon her that chance had
thrown her in the company of a remarkable man. That
impression baffled her. It did not spring from the fact that
he was brave and kind to help a young woman in peril, or
that he appeared deft and quick at camp-fire chores. Most
Western men were brave, her uncle had told her, and many
were roughly kind, and all of them could cook. This hunter
was physically a wonderful specimen of manhood, with
something leonine about his stature. But that did not give
rise to her impression. Helen had been a school-teacher and
used to boys, and she sensed a boyish simplicity or vigor or
freshness in this hunter. She believed, however, that it was
a mental and spiritual force in Dale which had drawn her to
think of it.
"Nell, I've spoken to you three times," protested Bo,
petulantly. "What 're you mooning over?"
"I'm pretty tired -- and far away, Bo," replied Helen. "What
did you say?"
"I said I had an e-normous appetite."
"Really. That's not remarkable for you. I'm too tired to
eat. And afraid to shut my eyes. They'd never come open.
When did we sleep last, Bo?"
"Second night before we left home," declared Bo.
"Four nights! Oh, we've slept some."
"I'll bet I make mine up in this woods. Do you suppose we'll
sleep right here -- under this tree -- with no covering?"
"It looks so," replied Helen, dubiously.
"How perfectly lovely!" exclaimed Bo, in delight. "We'll see
the stars through the pines."
"Seems to be clouding over. Wouldn't it be awful if we had a
"Why, I don't know," answered Bo, thoughtfully. "It must
storm out West."
Again Helen felt a quality of inevitableness in Bo. It was
something that had appeared only practical in the humdrum
home life in St. Joseph. All of a sudden Helen received a
flash of wondering thought -- a thrilling consciousness that
she and Bo had begun to develop in a new and wild
environment. How strange, and fearful, perhaps, to watch
that growth! Bo, being younger, more impressionable, with
elemental rather than intellectual instincts, would grow
stronger more swiftly. Helen wondered if she could yield to
her own leaning to the primitive. But how could anyone with
a thoughtful and grasping mind yield that way? It was the
savage who did not think.
Helen saw Dale stand erect once more and gaze into the
"Reckon Roy ain't comin'," he soliloquized. "An' that's
good." Then he turned to the girls. "Supper's ready."
The girls responded with a spirit greater than their
activity. And they ate like famished children that had been
lost in the woods. Dale attended them with a pleasant light
upon his still face.
"To-morrow night we'll have meat," he said.
"What kind?" asked Bo.
"Wild turkey or deer. Maybe both, if you like. But it's well
to take wild meat slow. An' turkey -- that 'll melt in your
"Uummm!" murmured Bo, greedily. "I've heard of wild turkey."
When they had finished Dale ate his meal, listening to the
talk of the girls, and occasionally replying briefly to some
query of Bo's. It was twilight when he began to wash the
pots and pans, and almost dark by the time his duties
appeared ended. Then he replenished the campfire and sat
down on a log to gaze into the fire. The girls leaned
comfortably propped against the saddles.
"Nell, I'll keel over in a minute," said Bo. "And I oughtn't
-- right on such a big supper."
"I don't see how I can sleep, and I know I can't stay
awake," rejoined Helen.
Dale lifted his head alertly.
The girls grew tense and still. Helen could not hear a
sound, unless it was a low thud of hoof out in the gloom.
The forest seemed sleeping. She knew from Bo's eyes, wide
and shining in the camp-fire light, that she, too, had
failed to catch whatever it was Dale meant.
"Bunch of coyotes comin'," he explained.
Suddenly the quietness split to a chorus of snappy,
high-strung, strange barks. They sounded wild, yet they held
something of a friendly or inquisitive note. Presently gray
forms could be descried just at the edge of the circle of
light. Soft rustlings of stealthy feet surrounded. the camp,
and then barks and yelps broke out all around. It was a
restless and sneaking pack of animals, thought Helen; she
was glad after the chorus ended and with a few desultory,
spiteful yelps the coyotes went away.
Silence again settled down. If it had not been for the
anxiety always present in Helen's mind she would have
thought this silence sweet and unfamiliarly beautiful.
"Ah! Listen to that fellow," spoke up Dale. His voice was
Again the girls strained their ears. That was not necessary,
for presently, clear and cold out of the silence, pealed a
mournful howl, long drawn, strange and full and wild.
"Oh! What's that?" whispered Bo.
"That's a big gray wolf -- a timber-wolf, or lofer, as he's
sometimes called," replied Dale. "He's high on some rocky
ridge back there. He scents us, an' he doesn't like it. . .
. There he goes again. Listen! Ah, he's hungry."
While Helen listened to this exceedingly wild cry -- so wild
that it made her flesh creep and the most indescribable
sensations of loneliness come over her -- she kept her
glance upon Dale.
"You love him?" she murmured involuntarily, quite without
understanding the motive of her query.
Assuredly Dale had never had that question asked of him
before, and it seemed to Helen, as he pondered, that he had
never even asked it of himself.
"I reckon so," he replied, presently.
"But wolves kill deer, and little fawns, and everything
helpless in the forest," expostulated Bo.
The hunter nodded his head.
"Why, then, can you love him?" repeated Helen.
"Come to think of it, I reckon it's because of lots of
reasons," returned Dale. "He kills clean. He eats no
carrion. He's no coward. He fights. He dies game. . . . An'
he likes to be alone."
"Kills clean. What do you mean by that?"
"A cougar, now, he mangles a deer. An' a silvertip, when
killin' a cow or colt, he makes a mess of it. But a wolf
kills clean, with sharp snaps."
"What are a cougar and a silvertip?"
"Cougar means mountain-lion or panther, an' a silvertip is a
"Oh, they're all cruel!" exclaimed Helen, shrinking.
"I reckon. Often I've shot wolves for relayin' a deer."
"Sometimes two or more wolves will run a deer, an' while one
of them rests the other will drive the deer around to his
pardner, who'll, take up the chase. That way they run the
deer down. Cruel it is, but nature, an' no worse than snow
an' ice that starve deer, or a fox that kills turkey-chicks
breakin' out of the egg, or ravens that pick the eyes out of
new-born lambs an' wait till they die. An' for that matter,
men are crueler than beasts of prey, for men add to nature,
an' have more than instincts."
Helen was silenced, as well as shocked. She had not only
learned a new and striking viewpoint in natural history, but
a clear intimation to the reason why she had vaguely
imagined or divined a remarkable character in this man. A
hunter was one who killed animals for their fur, for their
meat or horns, or for some lust for blood -- that was
Helen's definition of a hunter, and she believed it was held
by the majority of people living in settled states. But the
majority might be wrong. A hunter might be vastly different,
and vastly more than a tracker and slayer of game. The
mountain world of forest was a mystery to almost all men.
Perhaps Dale knew its secrets, its life, its terror, its
beauty, its sadness, and its joy; and if so, how full, how
wonderful must be his mind! He spoke of men as no better
than wolves. Could a lonely life in the wilderness teach a
man that? Bitterness, envy, jealousy, spite, greed, and hate
-- these had no place in this hunter's heart. It was not
Helen's shrewdness, but a woman's intuition, which divined
Dale rose to his feet and, turning his ear to the north,
listened once more.
"Are you expecting Roy still?" inquired Helen.
"No, it ain't likely he'll turn up to-night," replied Dale,
and then he strode over to put a hand on the pine-tree that
soared above where the girls lay. His action, and the way he
looked up at the tree-top and then at adjacent trees, held
more of that significance which so interested Helen.
"I reckon he's stood there some five hundred years an' will
stand through to-night," muttered Dale.
This pine was the monarch of that wide-spread group.
"Listen again," said Dale.
Bo was asleep. And Helen, listening, at once caught low,
"Wind. It's goin' to storm," explained Dale. "You'll hear
somethin' worth while. But don't be scared. Reckon we'll be
safe. Pines blow down often. But this fellow will stand any
fall wind that ever was. . . . Better slip under the
blankets so I can pull the tarp up."
Helen slid down, just as she was, fully dressed except for
boots, which she and Bo had removed; and she laid her head
close to Bo's. Dale pulled the tarpaulin up and folded it
back just below their heads.
"When it rains you'll wake, an' then just pull the tarp up
over you," he said.
"Will it rain?" Helen asked. But she was thinking that this
moment was the strangest that had ever happened to her. By
the light of the camp-fire she saw Dale's face, just as
usual, still, darkly serene, expressing no thought. He was
kind, but he was not thinking of these sisters as girls,
alone with him in a pitch-black forest, helpless and
defenseless. He did not seem to be thinking at all. But
Helen had never before in her life been so keenly
susceptible to experience.
"I'll be close by an' keep the fire goin' all night," he
She heard him stride off into the darkness. Presently there
came a dragging, bumping sound, then a crash of a log
dropped upon the fire. A cloud of sparks shot up, and many
pattered down to hiss upon the damp ground. Smoke again
curled upward along the great, seamed tree-trunk, and flames
sputtered and crackled.
Helen listened again for the roar of wind. It seemed to come
on a breath of air that fanned her cheek and softly blew
Bo's curls, and it was stronger. But it died out presently,
only to come again, and still stronger. Helen realized then
that the sound was that of an approaching storm. Her heavy
eyelids almost refused to stay open, and she knew if she let
them close she would instantly drop to sleep. And she wanted
to hear the storm-wind in the pines.
A few drops of cold rain fell upon her face, thrilling her
with the proof that no roof stood between her and the
elements. Then a breeze bore the smell of burnt wood into
her face, and somehow her quick mind flew to girlhood days
when she burned brush and leaves with her little brothers.
The memory faded. The roar that had seemed distant was now
back in the forest, coming swiftly, increasing in volume.
Like a stream in flood it bore down. Helen grew amazed,
startled. How rushing, oncoming, and heavy this storm-wind!
She likened its approach to the tread of an army. Then the
roar filled the forest, yet it was back there behind her.
Not a pine-needle quivered in the light of the camp-fire.
But the air seemed to be oppressed with a terrible charge.
The roar augmented till it was no longer a roar, but an
on-sweeping crash, like an ocean torrent engulfing the
earth. Bo awoke to cling to Helen with fright. The deafening
storm-blast was upon them. Helen felt the saddle-pillow move
under her head. The giant pine had trembled to its very
roots. That mighty fury of wind was all aloft, in the
tree-tops. And for a long moment it bowed the forest under
its tremendous power. Then the deafening crash passed to
roar, and that swept on and on, lessening in volume,
deepening in low detonation, at last to die in the distance.
No sooner had it died than back to the north another low
roar rose and ceased and rose again. Helen lay there,
whispering to Bo, and heard again the great wave of wind
come and crash and cease. That was the way of this
storm-wind of the mountain forest.
A soft patter of rain on the tarpaulin warned Helen to
remember Dale's directions, and, pulling up the heavy
covering, she arranged it hoodlike over the saddle. Then,
with Bo close and warm beside her, she closed her eyes, and
the sense of the black forest and the wind and rain faded.
Last of all sensations was the smell of smoke that blew
under the tarpaulin.
When she opened her eyes she remembered everything, as if
only a moment had elapsed. But it was daylight, though gray
and cloudy. The pines were dripping mist. A fire crackled
cheerily and blue smoke curled upward and a savory odor of
hot coffee hung in the air. Horses were standing near by,
biting and kicking at one another. Bo was sound asleep. Dale
appeared busy around the camp-fire. As Helen watched the
hunter she saw him pause in his task, turn his ear to
listen, and then look expectantly. And at that juncture a
shout pealed from the forest. Helen recognized Roy's voice.
Then she heard a splashing of water, and hoof-beats coming
closer. With that the buckskin mustang trotted into camp,
"Bad mornin' for ducks, but good for us," he called.
"Howdy, Roy!" greeted Dale, and his gladness was
unmistakable. "I was lookin' for you."
Roy appeared to slide off the mustang without effort, and
his swift hands slapped the straps as he unsaddled. Buckskin
was wet with sweat and foam mixed with rain. He heaved. And
steam rose from him.
"Must have rode hard," observed Dale.
"I shore did," replied Roy. Then he espied Helen, who had
sat up, with hands to her hair, and eyes staring at him.
"Mornin', miss. It's good news."
"Thank Heaven!" murmured Helen, and then she shook Bo. That
young lady awoke, but was loath to give up slumber. "Bo! Bo!
Wake up! Mr. Roy is back."
Whereupon Bo sat up, disheveled and sleepy-eyed.
"Oh-h, but I ache!" she moaned. But her eyes took in the
camp scene to the effect that she added, "Is breakfast
"Almost. An' flapjacks this mornin'," replied Dale.
Bo manifested active symptoms of health in the manner with
which she laced her boots. Helen got their traveling-bag,
and with this they repaired to a flat stone beside the
spring, not, however, out of earshot of the men.
"How long are you goin' to hang around camp before tellin'
me?" inquired Dale.
"Jest as I figgered, Milt," replied Roy. "Thet rider who
passed you was a messenger to Anson. He an' his gang got on
our trail quick. About ten o'clock I seen them comin'. Then
I lit out for the woods. I stayed off in the woods close
enough to see where they come in. An' shore they lost your
trail. Then they spread through the woods, workin' off to
the south, thinkin', of course, thet you would circle round
to Pine on the south side of Old Baldy. There ain't a
hoss-tracker in Snake Anson's gang, thet's shore. Wal, I
follered them for an hour till they'd rustled some miles off
our trail. Then I went back to where you struck into the
woods. An' I waited there all afternoon till dark, expectin'
mebbe they'd back-trail. But they didn't. I rode on a ways
an' camped in the woods till jest before daylight."
"So far so good," declared Dale.
"Shore. There's rough country south of Baldy an' along the
two or three trails Anson an' his outfit will camp, you
"It ain't to be thought of," muttered Dale, at some idea
that had struck him.
"Goin' round the north side of Baldy."
"It shore ain't," rejoined Roy, bluntly.
"Then I've got to hide tracks certain -- rustle to my camp
an' stay there till you say it's safe to risk takin' the
girls to Pine."
"Milt, you're talkin' the wisdom of the prophets."
"I ain't so sure we can hide tracks altogether. If Anson had
any eyes for the woods he'd not have lost me so soon.
"No. But, you see, he's figgerin' to cross your trail."
"If I could get fifteen or twenty mile farther on an' hide
tracks certain, I'd feel safe from pursuit, anyway," said
the hunter, reflectively.
"Shore an' easy," responded Roy, quickly. "I jest met up
with some greaser sheep-herders drivin' a big flock. They've
come up from the south an' are goin' to fatten up at Turkey
Senacas. Then they'll drive back south an' go on to Phenix.
Wal, it's muddy weather. Now you break camp quick an' make a
plain trail out to thet sheep trail, as if you was travelin'
south. But, instead, you ride round ahead of thet flock of
sheep. They'll keep to the open parks an' the trails through
them necks of woods out here. An', passin' over your tracks,
they'll hide 'em."
"But supposin' Anson circles an' hits this camp? He'll track
me easy out to that sheep trail. What then?"
"Jest what you want. Goin' south thet sheep trail is
downhill an' muddy. It's goin' to rain hard. Your tracks
would get washed out even if you did go south. An' Anson
would keep on thet way till he was clear off the scent.
Leave it to me, Milt. You're a hunter. But I'm a
"All right. We'll rustle."
Then he called the girls to hurry.
Once astride the horse again, Helen had to congratulate
herself upon not being so crippled as she had imagined.
Indeed, Bo made all the audible complaints.
Both girls had long water-proof coats, brand-new, and of
which they were considerably proud. New clothes had not been
a common event in their lives.
"Reckon I'll have to slit these," Dale had said, whipping
out a huge knife.
"What for?" had been Bo's feeble protest.
"They wasn't made for ridin'. An' you'll get wet enough even
if I do cut them. An' if I don't, you'll get soaked."
"Go ahead," had been Helen's reluctant permission.
So their long new coats were slit half-way up the back. The
exigency of the case was manifest to Helen, when she saw how
they came down over the cantles of the saddles and to their
The morning was gray and cold. A fine, misty rain fell and
the trees dripped steadily. Helen was surprised to see the
open country again and that apparently they were to leave
the forest behind for a while. The country was wide and flat
on the right, and to the left it rolled and heaved along a
black, scalloped timber-line. Above this bordering of the
forest low, drifting clouds obscured the mountains. The wind
was at Helen's back and seemed to be growing stronger. Dale
and Roy were ahead, traveling at a good trot, with the
pack-animals bunched before them. Helen and Bo had enough to
do to keep up.
The first hour's ride brought little change in weather or
scenery, but it gave Helen an inkling of what she must
endure if they kept that up all day. She began to welcome
the places where the horses walked, but she disliked the
levels. As for the descents, she hated those. Ranger would
not go down slowly and the shake-up she received was
unpleasant. Moreover, the spirited black horse insisted on
jumping the ditches and washes. He sailed over them like a
bird. Helen could not acquire the knack of sitting the
saddle properly, and so, not only was her person bruised on
these occasions, but her feelings were hurt. Helen had never
before been conscious of vanity. Still, she had never
rejoiced in looking at a disadvantage, and her exhibitions
here must have been frightful. Bo always would forge to the
front, and she seldom looked back, for which Helen was
Before long they struck into a broad, muddy belt, full of
innumerable small hoof tracks. This, then, was the sheep
trail Roy had advised following. They rode on it for three
or four miles, and at length, coming to a gray-green valley,
they saw a huge flock of sheep. Soon the air was full of
bleats and baas as well as the odor of sheep, and a low,
soft roar of pattering hoofs. The flock held a compact
formation, covering several acres, and grazed along rapidly.
There were three herders on horses and. several pack-burros.
Dale engaged one of the Mexicans in conversation, and passed
something to him, then pointed northward and down along the
trail. The Mexican grinned from ear to ear, and Helen caught
the quick "SI, SENYOR! GRACIAS, SENYOR!" It was a pretty
sight, that flock of sheep, as it rolled along like a
rounded woolly stream of grays and browns and here and there
a black. They were keeping to a trail over the flats. Dale
headed into this trail and, if anything, trotted a little
Presently the clouds lifted and broke, showing blue sky and
one streak of sunshine. But the augury was without warrant.
The wind increased. A huge black pall bore down from the
mountains and it brought rain that could be seen falling in
sheets from above and approaching like a swiftly moving
wall. Soon it enveloped the fugitives.
With head bowed, Helen rode along for what seemed ages in a
cold, gray rain that blew almost on a level. Finally the
heavy downpour passed, leaving a fine mist. The clouds
scurried low and dark, hiding the mountains altogether and
making the gray, wet plain a dreary sight. Helen's feet and