Part 5 out of 9
built man in coarse garb and heavy boots stood holding Bo's
"Wal, wal! You favor the Rayners," he was saying I remember
your dad, an' a fine feller he was."
Beside them stood Dale and Roy, and beyond was a group of
horses and riders.
"Uncle, here comes Nell," said Bo, softly.
"Aw!" The old cattle-man breathed hard as he turned.
Helen hurried. She had not expected to remember this uncle,
but one look into the brown, beaming face, with the blue
eyes flashing, yet sad, and she recognized him, at the same
instant recalling her mother.
He held out his arms to receive her.
"Nell Auchincloss all over again!" he exclaimed, in deep
voice, as he kissed her. "I'd have knowed you anywhere!"
"Uncle Al!" murmured Helen. "I remember you -- though I was
"Wal, wal, -- that's fine," he replied. "I remember you
straddled my knee once, an' your hair was brighter -- an'
curly. It ain't neither now. . . . Sixteen years! An' you're
twenty now? What a fine, broad-shouldered girl you are! An',
Nell, you're the handsomest Auchincloss I ever seen!"
Helen found herself blushing, and withdrew her hands from
his as Roy stepped forward to pay his respects. He stood
bareheaded, lean and tall, with neither his clear eyes nor
his still face, nor the proffered hand expressing anything
of the proven quality of fidelity, of achievement, that
Helen sensed in him.
"Howdy, Miss Helen? Howdy, Bo?" he said. "You all both look
fine an' brown. . . . I reckon I was shore slow rustlin'
your uncle Al up here. But I was figgerin' you'd like Milt's
camp for a while."
"We sure did," replied Bo, archly.
"Aw!" breathed Auchincloss, heavily. "Lemme set down."
He drew the girls to the rustic seat Dale had built for them
under the big pine.
"Oh, you must be tired! How -- how are you?" asked Helen,
"Tired! Wal, if I am it's jest this here minit. When Joe
Beeman rode in on me with thet news of you -- wal, I jest
fergot I was a worn-out old hoss. Haven't felt so good in
years. Mebbe two such young an' pretty nieces will make a
new man of me."
"Uncle Al, you look strong and well to me," said Bo. "And
young, too, and --"
"Haw! Haw! Thet 'll do," interrupted Al. "I see through you.
What you'll do to Uncle Al will be aplenty. . . . Yes,
girls, I'm feelin' fine. But strange -- strange! Mebbe
thet's my joy at seein' you safe -- safe when I feared so
thet damned greaser Beasley --"
In Helen's grave gaze his face changed swiftly -- and all
the serried years of toil and battle and privation showed,
with something that was not age, nor resignation, yet as
tragic as both.
"Wal, never mind him -- now," he added, slowly, and the
warmer light returned to his face. "Dale -- come here."
The hunter stepped closer.
"I reckon I owe you more 'n I can ever pay," said
Auchincloss, with an arm around each niece.
"No, Al, you don't owe me anythin'," returned Dale,
thoughtfully, as he looked away.
"A-huh!" grunted Al. "You hear him, girls. . . . Now listen,
you wild hunter. An' you girls listen. . . . Milt, I never
thought you much good, 'cept for the wilds. But I reckon
I'll have to swallow thet. I do. Comin' to me as you did --
an' after bein' druv off -- keepin' your council an' savin'
my girls from thet hold-up, wal, it's the biggest deal any
man ever did for me. . . . An' I'm ashamed of my hard
feelin's, an' here's my hand."
"Thanks, Al," replied Dale, with his fleeting smile, and he
met the proffered hand. "Now, will you be makin' camp here?"
"Wal, no. I'll rest a little, an' you can pack the girls'
outfit -- then we'll go. Sure you're goin' with us?"
"I'll call the girls to breakfast," replied Dale, and he
moved away without answering Auchincloss's query.
Helen divined that Dale did not mean to go down to Pine with
them, and the knowledge gave her a blank feeling of
surprise. Had she expected him to go?
"Come here, Jeff," called Al, to one of his men.
A short, bow-legged horseman with dusty garb and
sun-bleached face hobbled forth from the group. He was not
young, but he had a boyish grin and bright little eyes.
Awkwardly he doffed his slouch sombrero.
"Jeff, shake hands with my nieces," said Al. "This 's Helen,
an' your boss from now on. An' this 's Bo, fer short. Her
name was Nancy, but when she lay a baby in her cradle I
called her Bo-Peep, an' the name's stuck. . . . Girls, this
here's my foreman, Jeff Mulvey, who's been with me twenty
The introduction caused embarrassment to all three
principals, particularly to Jeff.
"Jeff, throw the packs an' saddles fer a rest," was Al's
order to his foreman.
"Nell, reckon you'll have fun bossin' thet outfit," chuckled
Al. "None of 'em's got a wife. Lot of scalawags they are; no
women would have them!"
"Uncle, I hope I'll never have to be their boss," replied
"Wal, you're goin' to be, right off," declared Al. "They
ain't a bad lot, after all. An' I got a likely new man."
With that he turned to Bo, and, after studying her pretty
face, he asked, in apparently severe tone, "Did you send a
cowboy named Carmichael to ask me for a job?"
Bo looked quite startled.
"Carmichael! Why, Uncle, I never heard that name before,"
replied Bo, bewilderedly.
"A-huh! Reckoned the young rascal was lyin'," said
Auchincloss. "But I liked the fellar's looks an' so let him
Then the rancher turned to the group of lounging riders.
"Las Vegas, come here," he ordered, in a loud voice.
Helen thrilled at sight of a tall, superbly built cowboy
reluctantly detaching himself from the group. He had a
red-bronze face, young like a boy's. Helen recognized it,
and the flowing red scarf, and the swinging gun, and the
slow, spur-clinking gait. No other than Bo's Las Vegas
Then Helen flashed a look at Bo, which look gave her a
delicious, almost irresistible desire to laugh. That young
lady also recognized the reluctant individual approaching
with flushed and downcast face. Helen recorded her first
experience of Bo's utter discomfiture. Bo turned white then
red as a rose.
"Say, my niece said she never heard of the name Carmichael,"
declared Al, severely, as the cowboy halted before him.
Helen knew her uncle had the repute of dealing hard with his
men, but here she was reassured and pleased at the twinkle
in his eye.
"Shore, boss, I can't help thet," drawled the cowboy. "It's
good old Texas stock."
He did not appear shamefaced now, but just as cool, easy,
clear-eyed, and lazy as the day Helen had liked his warm
young face and intent gaze.
"Texas! You fellars from the Pan Handle are always hollerin'
Texas. I never seen thet Texans had any one else beat -- say
from Missouri," returned Al, testily.
Carmichael maintained a discreet silence, and carefully
avoided looking at the girls.
"Wal, reckon we'll all call you Las Vegas, anyway,"
continued the rancher. "Didn't you say my niece sent you to
me for a job?"
Whereupon Carmichael's easy manner vanished.
"Now, boss, shore my memory's pore," he said. "I only says
"Don't tell me thet. My memory's not p-o-r-e," replied Al,
mimicking the drawl. "What you said was thet my niece would
speak a good word for you."
Here Carmichael stole a timid glance at Bo, the result of
which was to render him utterly crestfallen. Not improbably
he had taken Bo's expression to mean something it did not,
for Helen read it as a mingling of consternation and fright.
Her eyes were big and blazing; a red spot was growing in
each cheek as she gathered strength from his confusion.
"Well, didn't you?" demanded Al.
From the glance the old rancher shot from the cowboy to the
others of his employ it seemed to Helen that they were
having fun at Carmichael's expense.
"Yes, sir, I did," suddenly replied the cowboy.
"A-huh! All right, here's my niece. Now see thet she speaks
the good word."
Carmichael looked at Bo and Bo looked at him. Their glances
were strange, wondering, and they grew shy. Bo dropped hers.
The cowboy apparently forgot what had been demanded of him.
Helen put a hand on the old rancher's arm.
"Uncle, what happened was my fault," she said. "The train
stopped at Las Vegas. This young man saw us at the open
window. He must have guessed we were lonely, homesick girls,
getting lost in the West. For he spoke to us -- nice and
friendly. He knew of you. And he asked, in what I took for
fun, if we thought you would give him a job. And I replied,
just to tease Bo, that she would surely speak a good word
"Haw! Haw! So thet's it," replied Al, and he turned to Bo
with merry eyes. "Wal, I kept this here Las Vegas Carmichael
on his say-so. Come on with your good word, unless you want
to see him lose his job."
Bo did not grasp her uncle's bantering, because she was
seriously gazing at the cowboy. But she had grasped
"He -- he was the first person -- out West -- to speak
kindly to us," she said, facing her uncle.
"Wal, thet's a pretty good word, but it ain't enough,"
Subdued laughter came from the listening group. Carmichael
shifted from side to side.
"He -- he looks as if he might ride a horse well," ventured
"Best hossman I ever seen," agreed Al, heartily.
"And -- and shoot?" added Bo, hopefully.
"Bo, he packs thet gun low, like Jim Wilson an' all them
Texas gun-fighters. Reckon thet ain't no good word."
"Then -- I'll vouch for him," said Bo, with finality.
"Thet settles it." Auchincloss turned to the cowboy. "Las
Vegas, you're a stranger to us. But you're welcome to a
place in the outfit an' I hope you won't never disappoint
Auchincloss's tone, passing from jest to earnest, betrayed
to Helen the old rancher's need of new and true men, and
hinted of trying days to come.
Carmichael stood before Bo, sombrero in hand, rolling it
round and round, manifestly bursting with words he could not
speak. And the girl looked very young and sweet with her
flushed face and shining eyes. Helen saw in the moment more
than that little by-play of confusion.
"Miss -- Miss Rayner -- I shore -- am obliged," he
"You're very welcome," she replied, softly. "I -- I got on
the next train," he added.
When he said that Bo was looking straight at him, but she
seemed not to have heard.
"What's your name?" suddenly she asked.
"I heard that. But didn't uncle call you Las Vegas?"
"Shore. But it wasn't my fault. Thet cow-punchin' outfit
saddled it on me, right off . They Don't know no better.
Shore I jest won't answer to thet handle. . . . Now -- Miss
Bo -- my real name is Tom."
"I simply could not call you -- any name but Las Vegas,"
replied Bo, very sweetly.
"But -- beggin' your pardon -- I -- I don't like thet,"
"People often get called names -- they don't like," she
said, with deep intent.
The cowboy blushed scarlet. Helen as well as he got Bo's
inference to that last audacious epithet he had boldly
called out as the train was leaving Las Vegas. She also
sensed something of the disaster in store for Mr.
Carmichael. Just then the embarrassed young man was saved by
Dale's call to the girls to come to breakfast.
That meal, the last for Helen in Paradise Park, gave rise to
a strange and inexplicable restraint. She had little to say.
Bo was in the highest spirits, teasing the pets, joking with
her uncle and Roy, and even poking fun at Dale. The hunter
seemed somewhat somber. Roy was his usual dry, genial self.
And Auchincloss, who sat near by, was an interested
spectator. When Tom put in an appearance, lounging with his
feline grace into the camp, as if he knew he was a
privileged pet, the rancher could scarcely contain himself.
"Dale, it's thet damn cougar!" he ejaculated.
"Sure, that's Tom."
"He ought to be corralled or chained. I've no use for
cougars," protested Al.
"Tom is as tame an' safe as a kitten."
"A-huh! Wal, you tell thet to the girls if you like. But not
me! I'm an old hoss, I am."
"Uncle Al, Tom sleeps curled up at the foot of my bed," said
"Aw -- what?"
"Honest Injun," she responded. "Well, isn't it so?"
Helen smilingly nodded her corroboration. Then Bo called Tom
to her and made him lie with his head on his stretched paws,
right beside her, and beg for bits to eat.
"Wal! I'd never have believed thet!" exclaimed Al, shaking
his big head. "Dale, it's one on me. I've had them big cats
foller me on the trails, through the woods, moonlight an'
dark. An' I've heard 'em let out thet awful cry. They ain't
any wild sound on earth thet can beat a cougar's. Does this
Tom ever let out one of them wails?"
"Sometimes at night," replied Dale.
"Wal, excuse me. Hope you don't fetch the yaller rascal down
"What'll you do with this menagerie?"
Dale regarded the rancher attentively. "Reckon, Al, I'll
take care of them."
"But you're goin' down to my ranch."
Al scratched his head and gazed perplexedly at the hunter.
"Wal, ain't it customary to visit friends?"
"Thanks, Al. Next time I ride down Pine way -- in the
spring, perhaps -- I'll run over an' see how you are."
"Spring!" ejaculated Auchincloss. Then he shook his head
sadly and a far-away look filmed his eyes. "Reckon you'd
call some late."
"Al, you'll get well now. These, girls -- now -- they'll
cure you. Reckon I never saw you look so good."
Auchincloss did not press his point farther at that time,
but after the meal, when the other men came to see Dale's
camp and pets, Helen's quick ears caught the renewal of the
"I'm askin' you -- will you come?" Auchincloss said, low and
"No. I wouldn't fit in down there," replied Dale.
"Milt, talk sense. You can't go on forever huntin' bear an'
tamin' cats," protested the old rancher.
"Why not?" asked the hunter, thoughtfully.
Auchincloss stood up and, shaking himself as if to ward off
his testy temper, he put a hand on Dale's arm.
"One reason is you're needed in Pine."
"How? Who needs me?"
"I do. I'm playin' out fast. An' Beasley's my enemy. The
ranch an' all I got will go to Nell. Thet ranch will have to
be run by a man an' HELD by a man. Do you savvy? It's a big
job. An' I'm offerin' to make you my foreman right now."
"Al, you sort of take my breath," replied Dale. "An' I'm
sure grateful. But the fact is, even if I could handle the
job, I -- I don't believe I'd want to."
"Make yourself want to, then. Thet 'd soon come. You'd get
interested. This country will develop. I seen thet years
ago. The government is goin' to chase the Apaches out of
here. Soon homesteaders will be flockin' in. Big future,
Dale. You want to get in now. An' --"
Here Auchincloss hesitated, then spoke lower:
"An' take your chance with the girl! . . . I'll be on your
A slight vibrating start ran over Dale's stalwart form.
"Al -- you're plumb dotty!" he exclaimed.
"Dotty! Me? Dotty!" ejaculated Auchincloss. Then he swore.
"In a minit I'll tell you what you are."
"But, Al, that talk's so -- so -- like an old fool's."
"Huh! An' why so?"
"Because that -- wonderful girl would never look at me,"
Dale replied, simply.
"I seen her lookin' already," declared Al, bluntly.
Dale shook his head as if arguing with the old rancher was
"Never mind thet," went on Al. "Mebbe I am a dotty old fool
-- 'specially for takin' a shine to you. But I say again --
will you come down to Pine and be my foreman?"
"No," replied Dale.
"Milt, I've no son -- an' I'm -- afraid of Beasley." This
was uttered in an agitated whisper.
"Al, you make me ashamed," said Dale, hoarsely. "I can't
come. I've no nerve."
"You've no what?"
"Al, I don't know what's wrong with me. But I'm afraid I'd
find out if I came down there."
"A-huh! It's the girl!"
"I don't know, but I'm afraid so. An' I won't come."
"Aw yes, you will --"
Helen rose with beating heart and tingling ears, and moved
away out of hearing. She had listened too long to what had
not been intended for her ears, yet she could not be sorry.
She walked a few rods along the brook, out from under the
pines, and, standing in the open edge of the park, she felt
the beautiful scene still her agitation. The following
moments, then, were the happiest she had spent in Paradise
Park, and the profoundest of her whole life.
Presently her uncle called her.
"Nell, this here hunter wants to give you thet black hoss.
An' I say you take him."
"Ranger deserves better care than I can give him," said
Dale. "He runs free in the woods most of the time. I'd be
obliged if she'd have him. An' the hound, Pedro, too."
Bo swept a saucy glance from Dale to her sister.
"Sure she'll have Ranger. Just offer him to ME!"
Dale stood there expectantly, holding a blanket in his hand,
ready to saddle the horse. Carmichael walked around Ranger
with that appraising eye so keen in cowboys.
"Las Vegas, do you know anything about horses?" asked Bo.
"Me! Wal, if you ever buy or trade a hoss you shore have me
there," replied Carmichael.
"What do you think of Ranger?" went on Bo.
"Shore I'd buy him sudden, if I could."
"Mr. Las Vegas, you're too late," asserted Helen, as she
advanced to lay a hand on the horse.
"Ranger is mine."
Dale smoothed out the blanket and, folding it, he threw it
over the horse; and then with one powerful swing he set the
saddle in place.
"Thank you very much for him," said Helen, softly.
"You're welcome, an' I'm sure glad," responded Dale, and
then, after a few deft, strong pulls at the straps, he
continued. "There, he's ready for you."
With that he laid an arm over the saddle, and faced Helen as
she stood patting and smoothing Ranger. Helen, strong and
calm now, in feminine possession of her secret and his, as
well as her composure, looked frankly and steadily at Dale.
He seemed composed, too, yet the bronze of his fine face was
a trifle pale.
"But I can't thank you -- I'll never be able to repay you --
for your service to me and my sister," said Helen.
"I reckon you needn't try," Dale returned. "An' my service,
as you call it, has been good for me."
"Are you going down to Pine with us?"
"But you will come soon?"
"Not very soon, I reckon," he replied, and averted his gaze.
"Hardly before spring."
"Spring? . . . That is a long time. Won't you come to see me
sooner than that?"
"If I can get down to Pine."
"You're the first friend I've made in the West," said Helen,
"You'll make many more -- an' I reckon soon forget him you
called the man of the forest."
"I never forget any of my friends. And you've been the --
the biggest friend I ever had."
"I'll be proud to remember."
"But will you remember -- will you promise to come to Pine?"
"Thank you. All's well, then. . . . My friend, goodby."
"Good-by," he said, clasping her hand. His glance was clear,
warm, beautiful, yet it was sad.
Auchincloss's hearty voice broke the spell. Then Helen saw
that the others were mounted. Bo had ridden up close; her
face was earnest and happy and grieved all at once, as she
bade good-by to Dale. The pack-burros were hobbling along
toward the green slope. Helen was the last to mount, but Roy
was the last to leave the hunter. Pedro came reluctantly.
It was a merry, singing train which climbed that brown
odorous trail, under the dark spruces. Helen assuredly was
happy, yet a pang abided in her breast.
She remembered that half-way up the slope there was a turn
in the trail where it came out upon an open bluff. The time
seemed long, but at last she got there. And she checked
Ranger so as to have a moment's gaze down into the park.
It yawned there, a dark-green and bright-gold gulf, asleep
under a westering sun, exquisite, wild, lonesome. Then she
saw Dale standing in the open space between the pines and
the spruces. He waved to her. And she returned the salute.
Roy caught up with her then and halted his horse. He waved
his sombrero to Dale and let out a piercing yell that awoke
the sleeping echoes, splitting strangely from cliff to cliff
"Shore Milt never knowed what it was to be lonesome," said
Roy, as if thinking aloud. "But he'll know now."
Ranger stepped out of his own accord and, turning off the
ledge, entered the spruce forest. Helen lost sight of
Paradise Park. For hours then she rode along a shady,
fragrant trail, seeing the beauty of color and wildness,
hearing the murmur and rush and roar of water, but all the
while her mind revolved the sweet and momentous realization
which had thrilled her -- that the hunter, this strange man
of the forest, so deeply versed in nature and so unfamiliar
with emotion, aloof and simple and strong like the elements
which had developed him, had fallen in love with her and did
not know it.
Dale stood with face and arm upraised, and he watched Helen
ride off the ledge to disappear in the forest. That vast
spruce slope seemed to have swallowed her. She was gone!
Slowly Dale lowered his arm with gesture expressive of a
strange finality, an eloquent despair, of which he was
He turned to the park, to his camp, and the many duties of a
hunter. The park did not seem the same, nor his home, nor
"I reckon this feelin's natural," he soliloquized,
resignedly, "but it's sure queer for me. That's what comes
of makin' friends. Nell an' Bo, now, they made a difference,
an' a difference I never knew before."
He calculated that this difference had been simply one of
responsibility, and then the charm and liveliness of the
companionship of girls, and finally friendship. These would
pass now that the causes were removed.
Before he had worked an hour around camp he realized a
change had come, but it was not the one anticipated. Always
before he had put his mind on his tasks, whatever they might
be; now he worked while his thoughts were strangely
The little bear cub whined at his heels; the tame deer
seemed to regard him with deep, questioning eyes, the big
cougar padded softly here and there as if searching for
"You all miss them -- now -- I reckon," said Dale. "Well,
they're gone an' you'll have to get along with me."
Some vague approach to irritation with his pets surprised
him. Presently he grew both irritated and surprised with
himself -- a state of mind totally unfamiliar. Several
times, as old habit brought momentary abstraction, he found
himself suddenly looking around for Helen and Bo. And each
time the shock grew stronger. They were gone, but their
presence lingered. After his camp chores were completed he
went over to pull down the lean-to which the girls had
utilized as a tent. The spruce boughs had dried out brown
and sear; the wind had blown the roof awry; the sides were
leaning in. As there was now no further use for this little
habitation, he might better pull it down. Dale did not
acknowledge that his gaze had involuntarily wandered toward
it many times. Therefore he strode over with the intention
of destroying it.
For the first time since Roy and he had built the lean-to he
stepped inside. Nothing was more certain than the fact that
he experienced a strange sensation, perfectly
incomprehensible to him. The blankets lay there on the
spruce boughs, disarranged and thrown back by hurried hands,
yet still holding something of round folds where the slender
forms had nestled. A black scarf often worn by Bo lay
covering the pillow of pine-needles; a red ribbon that Helen
had worn on her hair hung from a twig. These articles were
all that had been forgotten. Dale gazed at them attentively,
then at the blankets, and all around the fragrant little
shelter; and he stepped outside with an uncomfortable
knowledge that he could not destroy the place where Helen
and Bo had spent so many hours.
Whereupon, in studious mood, Dale took up his rifle and
strode out to hunt. His winter supply of venison had not yet
been laid in. Action suited his mood; he climbed far and
passed by many a watching buck to slay which seemed murder;
at last he jumped one that was wild and bounded away. This
he shot, and set himself a Herculean task in packing the
whole carcass back to camp. Burdened thus, be staggered
under the trees, sweating freely, many times laboring for
breath, aching with toil, until at last he had reached camp.
There he slid the deer carcass off his shoulders, and,
standing over it, he gazed down while his breast labored. It
was one of the finest young bucks he had ever seen. But
neither in stalking it, nor making a wonderful shot, nor in
packing home a weight that would have burdened two men, nor
in gazing down at his beautiful quarry, did Dale experience
any of the old joy of the hunter.
"I'm a little off my feed," he mused, as he wiped sweat from
his heated face. "Maybe a little dotty, as I called Al. But
Whatever his state, it did not pass. As of old, after a long
day's hunt, he reclined beside the camp-fire and watched the
golden sunset glows change on the ramparts; as of old he
laid a hand on the soft, furry head of the pet cougar; as of
old he watched the gold change to red and then to dark, and
twilight fall like a blanket; as of old he listened to the
dreamy, lulling murmur of the water fall. The old familiar
beauty, wildness, silence, and loneliness were there, but
the old content seemed strangely gone.
Soberly he confessed then that he missed the happy company
of the girls. He did not distinguish Helen from Bo in his
slow introspection. When he sought his bed he did not at
once fall to sleep. Always, after a few moments of
wakefulness, while the silence settled down or the wind
moaned through the pines, he had fallen asleep. This night
he found different. Though he was tired, sleep would not
soon come. The wilderness, the mountains, the park, the camp
-- all seemed to have lost something. Even the darkness
seemed empty. And when at length Dale fell asleep it was to
be troubled by restless dreams.
Up with the keen-edged, steely-bright dawn, he went at the
his tasks with the springy stride of the deer-stalker.
At the end of that strenuous day, which was singularly full
of the old excitement and action and danger, and of new
observations, he was bound to confess that no longer did the
chase suffice for him.
Many times on the heights that day, with the wind keen in
his face, and the vast green billows of spruce below him, he
had found that be was gazing without seeing, halting without
object, dreaming as he had never dreamed before.
Once, when a magnificent elk came out upon a rocky ridge
and, whistling a challenge to invisible rivals, stood there
a target to stir any hunter's pulse, Dale did not even raise
his rifle. Into his ear just then rang Helen's voice: "Milt
Dale, you are no Indian. Giving yourself to a hunter's
wildlife is selfish. It is wrong. You love this lonely life,
but it is not work. Work that does not help others is not a
real man's work."
From that moment conscience tormented him. It was not what
he loved, but what he ought to do, that counted in the sum
of good achieved in the world. Old Al Auchincloss had been
right. Dale was wasting strength and intelligence that
should go to do his share in the development of the West.
Now that he had reached maturity, if through his knowledge
of nature's law he had come to see the meaning of the strife
of men for existence, for place, for possession, and to hold
them in contempt, that was no reason why he should keep
himself aloof from them, from some work that was needed in
an incomprehensible world.
Dale did not hate work, but he loved freedom. To be alone,
to live with nature, to feel the elements, to labor and
dream and idle and climb and sleep unhampered by duty, by
worry, by restriction, by the petty interests of men -- this
had always been his ideal of living. Cowboys, riders,
sheep-herders, farmers -- these toiled on from one place and
one job to another for the little money doled out to them.
Nothing beautiful, nothing significant had ever existed in
that for him. He had worked as a boy at every kind of
range-work, and of all that humdrum waste of effort he had
liked sawing wood best. Once he had quit a job of branding
cattle because the smell of burning hide, the bawl of the
terrified calf, had sickened him. If men were honest there
would be no need to scar cattle. He had never in the least
desired to own land and droves of stock, and make deals with
ranchmen, deals advantageous to himself. Why should a man
want to make a deal or trade a horse or do a piece of work
to another man's disadvantage? Self-preservation was the
first law of life. But as the plants and trees and birds and
beasts interpreted that law, merciless and inevitable as
they were, they had neither greed nor dishonesty. They lived
by the grand rule of what was best for the greatest number.
But Dale's philosophy, cold and clear and inevitable, like
nature itself, began to be pierced by the human appeal in
Helen Rayner's words. What did she mean? Not that he should
lose his love of the wilderness, but that he realize
himself! Many chance words of that girl had depth. He was
young, strong, intelligent, free from taint of disease or
the fever of drink. He could do something for others. Who?
If that mattered, there, for instance, was poor old Mrs.
Cass, aged and lame now; there was Al Auchincloss, dying in
his boots, afraid of enemies, and wistful for his blood and
his property to receive the fruit of his labors; there were
the two girls, Helen and Bo, new and strange to the West,
about to be confronted by a big problem of ranch life and
rival interests. Dale thought of still more people in the
little village of Pine -- of others who had failed, whose
lives were hard, who could have been made happier by
kindness and assistance.
What, then, was the duty of Milt Dale to himself? Because
men preyed on one another and on the weak, should he turn
his back upon a so-called civilization or should he grow
like them? Clear as a bell came the answer that his duty was
to do neither. And then he saw how the little village of
Pine, as well as the whole world, needed men like him. He
had gone to nature, to the forest, to the wilderness for his
development; and all the judgments and efforts of his future
would be a result of that education.
Thus Dale, lying in the darkness and silence of his lonely
park, arrived at a conclusion that he divined was but the
beginning of a struggle.
It took long introspection to determine the exact nature of
that struggle, but at length it evolved into the paradox
that Helen Rayner had opened his eyes to his duty as a man,
that he accepted it, yet found a strange obstacle in the
perplexing, tumultuous, sweet fear of ever going near her
Suddenly, then, all his thought revolved around the girl,
and, thrown off his balance, he weltered in a wilderness of
unfamiliar strange ideas.
When he awoke next day the fight was on in earnest. In his
sleep his mind had been active. The idea that greeted him,
beautiful as the sunrise, flashed in memory of Auchincloss's
significant words, "Take your chance with the girl!"
The old rancher was in his dotage. He hinted of things
beyond the range of possibility. That idea of a chance for
Dale remained before his consciousness only an instant.
Stars were unattainable; life could not be fathomed; the
secret of nature did not abide alone on the earth -- these
theories were not any more impossible of proving than that
Helen Rayner might be for him.
Nevertheless, her strange coming into his life had played
havoc, the extent of which he had only begun to realize.
For a month he tramped through the forest. It was October, a
still golden, fulfilling season of the year; and everywhere
in the vast dark green a glorious blaze of oak and aspen
made beautiful contrast. He carried his rifle, but he never
used it. He would climb miles and go this way and that with
no object in view. Yet his eye and ear had never been
keener. Hours he would spend on a promontory, watching. the
distance, where the golden patches of aspen shone bright out
of dark-green mountain slopes. He loved to fling himself
down in an aspen-grove at the edge of a senaca, and there
lie in that radiance like a veil of gold and purple and red,
with the white tree-trunks striping the shade. Always,
whether there were breeze or not, the aspen-leaves quivered,
ceaselessly, wonderfully, like his pulses, beyond his
control. Often he reclined against a mossy rock beside a
mountain stream to listen, to watch, to feel all that was
there, while his mind held a haunting, dark-eyed vision of a
girl. On the lonely heights, like an eagle, he sat gazing
down into Paradise Park, that was more and more beautiful,
but would never again be the same, never fill him with
content, never be all and all to him.
Late in October the first snow fell. It melted at once on
the south side of the park, but the north slopes and the
rims and domes above stayed white.
Dale had worked quick and hard at curing and storing his
winter supply of food, and now he spent days chopping and
splitting wood to burn during the months he would be
snowed-in. He watched for the dark-gray, fast-scudding
storm-clouds, and welcomed them when they came. Once there
lay ten feet of snow on the trails he would be snowed-in
until spring. It would be impossible to go down to Pine. And
perhaps during the long winter he would be cured of this
strange, nameless disorder of his feelings.
November brought storms up on the peaks. Flurries of snow
fell in the park every day, but the sunny south side, where
Dale's camp lay, retained its autumnal color and warmth. Not
till late in winter did the snow creep over this secluded
The morning came at last, piercingly keen and bright, when
Dale saw that the heights were impassable; the realization
brought him a poignant regret. He had not guessed how he had
wanted to see Helen Rayner again until it was too late. That
opened his eyes. A raging frenzy of action followed, in
which he only tired himself physically without helping
It was sunset when he faced the west, looking up at the pink
snow-domes and the dark-golden fringe of spruce, and in that
moment he found the truth.
"I love that girl! I love that girl!" he spoke aloud, to the
distant white peaks, to the winds, to the loneliness and
silence of his prison, to the great pines and to the
murmuring stream, and to his faithful pets. It was his
tragic confession of weakness, of amazing truth, of hopeless
position, of pitiful excuse for the transformation wrought
Dale's struggle ended there when he faced his soul. To
understand himself was to be released from strain, worry,
ceaseless importuning doubt and wonder and fear. But the
fever of unrest, of uncertainty, had been nothing compared
to a sudden upflashing torment of love.
With somber deliberation he set about the tasks needful, and
others that he might make -- his camp-fires and meals, the
care of his pets and horses, the mending of saddles and
pack-harness, the curing of buckskin for moccasins and
hunting-suits. So his days were not idle. But all this work
was habit for him and needed no application of mind.
And Dale, like some men of lonely wilderness lives who did
not retrograde toward the savage, was a thinker. Love made
him a sufferer.
The surprise and shame of his unconscious surrender, the
certain hopelessness of it, the long years of communion with
all that was wild, lonely, and beautiful, the wonderfully
developed insight into nature's secrets, and the
sudden-dawning revelation that he was no omniscient being
exempt from the ruthless ordinary destiny of man -- all
these showed him the strength of his manhood and of his
passion, and that the life he had chosen was of all lives
the one calculated to make love sad and terrible.
Helen Rayner haunted him. In the sunlight there was not a
place around camp which did not picture her lithe, vigorous
body, her dark, thoughtful eyes, her eloquent, resolute
lips, and the smile that was so sweet and strong. At night
she was there like a slender specter, pacing beside him
under the moaning pines. Every camp-fire held in its heart
the glowing white radiance of her spirit.
Nature had taught Dale to love solitude and silence, but
love itself taught him their meaning. Solitude had been
created for the eagle on his crag, for the blasted mountain
fir, lonely and gnarled on its peak, for the elk and the
wolf. But it had not been intended for man. And to live
always in the silence of wild places was to become obsessed
with self -- to think and dream -- to be happy, which state,
however pursued by man, was not good for him. Man must be
given imperious longings for the unattainable.
It needed, then, only the memory of an unattainable woman to
render solitude passionately desired by a man, yet almost
unendurable. Dale was alone with his secret; and every pine,
everything in that park saw him shaken and undone.
In the dark, pitchy deadness of night, when there was no
wind and the cold on the peaks had frozen the waterfall,
then the silence seemed insupportable. Many hours that
should have been given to slumber were paced out under the
cold, white, pitiless stars, under the lonely pines.
Dale's memory betrayed him, mocked his restraint, cheated
him of any peace; and his imagination, sharpened by love,
created pictures, fancies, feelings, that drove him frantic.
He thought of Helen Rayner's strong, shapely brown hand. In
a thousand different actions it haunted him. How quick and
deft in camp-fire tasks! how graceful and swift as she
plaited her dark hair! how tender and skilful in its
ministration when one of his pets had been injured! how
eloquent when pressed tight against her breast in a moment
of fear on the dangerous heights! how expressive of
unutterable things when laid on his arm!
Dale saw that beautiful hand slowly creep up his arm, across
his shoulder, and slide round his neck to clasp there. He
was powerless to inhibit the picture. And what he felt then
was boundless, unutterable. No woman had ever yet so much as
clasped his hand, and heretofore no such imaginings had ever
crossed his mind, yet deep in him, somewhere hidden, had
been this waiting, sweet, and imperious need. In the bright
day he appeared to ward off such fancies, but at night he
was helpless. And every fancy left him weaker, wilder.
When, at the culmination of this phase of his passion, Dale,
who had never known the touch of a woman's lips, suddenly
yielded to the illusion of Helen Rayner's kisses, he found
himself quite mad, filled with rapture and despair, loving
her as he hated himself. It seemed as if he had experienced
all these terrible feelings in some former life and had
forgotten them in this life. He had no right to think of
her, but he could not resist it. Imagining the sweet
surrender of her lips was a sacrilege, yet here, in spite of
will and honor and shame, he was lost.
Dale, at length, was vanquished, and he ceased to rail at
himself, or restrain his fancies. He became a dreamy,
sad-eyed, camp-fire gazer, like many another lonely man,
separated, by chance or error, from what the heart hungered
most for. But this great experience, when all its
significance had clarified in his mind, immeasurably
broadened his understanding of the principles of nature
applied to life.
Love had been in him stronger than in most men, because of
his keen, vigorous, lonely years in the forest, where health
of mind and body were intensified and preserved. How simple,
how natural, how inevitable! He might have loved any
fine-spirited, healthy-bodied girl. Like a tree shooting its
branches and leaves, its whole entity, toward the sunlight,
so had he grown toward a woman's love. Why? Because the
thing he revered in nature, the spirit, the universal, the
life that was God, had created at his birth or before his
birth the three tremendous instincts of nature -- to fight
for life, to feed himself, to reproduce his kind. That was
all there was to it. But oh! the mystery, the beauty, the
torment, and the terror of this third instinct -- this
hunger for the sweetness and the glory of a woman's love!
Helen Rayner dropped her knitting into her lap and sat
pensively gazing out of the window over the bare yellow
ranges of her uncle's ranch.
The winter day was bright, but steely, and the wind that
whipped down from the white-capped mountains had a keen,
frosty edge. A scant snow lay in protected places; cattle
stood bunched in the lee of ridges; low sheets of dust
scurried across the flats.
The big living-room of the ranch-house was warm and
comfortable with its red adobe walls, its huge stone
fireplace where cedar logs blazed, and its many-colored
blankets. Bo Rayner sat before the fire, curled up in an
armchair, absorbed in a book. On the floor lay the hound
Pedro, his racy, fine head stretched toward the warmth.
"Did uncle call?" asked Helen, with a start out of her
"I didn't hear him," replied Bo.
Helen rose to tiptoe across the floor, and, softly parting
some curtains, she looked into the room where her uncle lay.
He was asleep. Sometimes he called out in his slumbers. For
weeks now he had been confined to his bed, slowly growing
weaker. With a sigh Helen returned to her window-seat and
took up her work.
"Bo, the sun is bright," she said. "The days are growing
longer. I'm so glad."
"Nell, you're always wishing time away. For me it passes
quickly enough," replied the sister.
"But I love spring and summer and fall -- and I guess I hate
winter," returned Helen, thoughtfully.
The yellow ranges rolled away up to the black ridges and
they in turn swept up to the cold, white mountains. Helen's
gaze seemed to go beyond that snowy barrier. And Bo's keen
eyes studied her sister's earnest, sad face.
"Nell, do you ever think of Dale?" she queried, suddenly.
The question startled Helen. A slow blush suffused neck and
"Of course," she replied, as if surprised that Bo should ask
such a thing.
"I -- I shouldn't have asked that," said Bo, softly, and
then bent again over her book.
Helen gazed tenderly at that bright, bowed head. In this
swift-flying, eventful, busy winter, during which the
management of the ranch had devolved wholly upon Helen, the
little sister had grown away from her. Bo had insisted upon
her own free will and she had followed it, to the amusement
of her uncle, to the concern of Helen, to the dismay and
bewilderment of the faithful Mexican housekeeper, and to the
undoing of all the young men on the ranch.
Helen had always been hoping and waiting for a favorable
hour in which she might find this wilful sister once more
susceptible to wise and loving influence. But while she
hesitated to speak, slow footsteps and a jingle of spurs
sounded without, and then came a timid knock. Bo looked up
brightly and ran to open the door.
"Oh! It's only -- YOU!" she uttered, in withering scorn, to
the one who knocked.
Helen thought she could guess who that was.
"How are you-all?" asked a drawling voice.
"Well, Mister Carmichael, if that interests you -- I'm quite
ill," replied Bo, freezingly.
"Ill! Aw no, now?"
"It's a fact. If I don't die right off I'll have to be taken
back to Missouri," said Bo, casually.
"Are you goin' to ask me in?" queried Carmichael, bluntly.
"It's cold -- an' I've got somethin' to say to --"
"To ME? Well, you're not backward, I declare," retorted Bo.
"Miss Rayner, I reckon it 'll be strange to you -- findin'
out I didn't come to see you."
"Indeed! No. But what was strange was the deluded idea I had
-- that you meant to apologize to me -- like a gentleman. .
. .Come in, Mr. Carmichael. My sister is here."
The door closed as Helen turned round. Carmichael stood just
inside with his sombrero in hand, and as he gazed at Bo his
lean face seemed hard. In the few months since autumn he had
changed -- aged, it seemed, and the once young, frank,
alert, and careless cowboy traits had merged into the making
of a man. Helen knew just how much of a man he really was.
He had been her mainstay during all the complex working of
the ranch that had fallen upon her shoulders.
"Wal, I reckon you was deluded, all right -- if you thought
I'd crawl like them other lovers of yours," he said, with
Bo turned pale, and her eyes fairly blazed, yet even in what
must have been her fury Helen saw amaze and pain.
"OTHER lovers? I think the biggest delusion here is the way
you flatter yourself," replied Bo, stingingly.
"Me flatter myself? Nope. You don't savvy me. I'm shore
hatin' myself these days."
"Small wonder. I certainly hate you -- with all my heart!"
At this retort the cowboy dropped his head and did not see
Bo flaunt herself out of the room. But he heard the door
close, and then slowly came toward Helen.
"Cheer up, Las Vegas," said Helen, smiling. "Bo's
"Miss Nell, I'm just like a dog. The meaner she treats me
the more I love her," he replied, dejectedly.
To Helen's first instinct of liking for this cowboy there
had been added admiration, respect, and a growing
appreciation of strong, faithful, developing character.
Carmichael's face and hands were red and chapped from winter
winds; the leather of wrist-bands, belt, and boots was all
worn shiny and thin; little streaks of dust fell from him as
he breathed heavily. He no longer looked the dashing cowboy,
ready for a dance or lark or fight.
"How in the world did you offend her so?" asked Helen. "Bo
is furious. I never saw her so angry as that."
"Miss Nell, it was jest this way," began Carmichael. "Shore
Bo's knowed I was in love with her. I asked her to marry me
an' she wouldn't say yes or no. . . . An', mean as it sounds
-- she never run away from it, thet's shore. We've had some
quarrels -- two of them bad, an' this last's the worst."
"Bo told me about one quarrel," said Helen. "It was --
because you drank -- that time."
"Shore it was. She took one of her cold spells an' I jest
"But that was wrong," protested Helen.
"I ain't so shore. You see, I used to get drunk often --
before I come here. An' I've been drunk only once. Back at
Las Vegas the outfit would never believe thet. Wal, I
promised Bo I wouldn't do it again, an' I've kept my word."
"That is fine of you. But tell me, why is she angry now?"
"Bo makes up to all the fellars," confessed Carmichael,
hanging his head. "I took her to the dance last week -- over
in the town-hall. Thet's the first time she'd gone anywhere
with me. I shore was proud. . . . But thet dance was hell.
Bo carried on somethin' turrible, an' I --"
"Tell me. What did she do?" demanded Helen, anxiously. "I'm
responsible for her. I've got to see that she behaves."
"Aw, I ain't sayin' she didn't behave like a lady," replied
Carmichael. "It was -- she -- wal, all them fellars are
fools over her -- an' Bo wasn't true to me."
"My dear boy, is Bo engaged to you?"
"Lord -- if she only was!" he sighed.
"Then how can you say she wasn't true to you? Be
"I reckon now, Miss Nell, thet no one can be in love an' act
reasonable," rejoined the cowboy. "I don't know how to
explain, but the fact is I feel thet Bo has played the --
the devil with me an' all the other fellars."
"You mean she has flirted?"
"Las Vegas, I'm afraid you're right," said Helen, with
growing apprehension. "Go on. Tell me what's happened."
"Wal, thet Turner boy, who rides for Beasley, he was hot
after Bo," returned Carmichael, and he spoke as if memory
hurt him. "Reckon I've no use for Turner. He's a
fine-lookin', strappin', big cow-puncher, an' calculated to
win the girls. He brags thet he can, an' I reckon he's
right. Wal, he was always hangin' round Bo. An' he stole one
of my dances with Bo. I only had three, an' he comes up to
say this one was his; Bo, very innocent -- oh, she's a cute
one! -- she says, 'Why, Mister Turner -- is it really
yours?' An' she looked so full of joy thet when he says to
me, 'Excoose us, friend Carmichael,' I sat there like a
locoed jackass an' let them go. But I wasn't mad at thet. He
was a better dancer than me an' I wanted her to have a good
time. What started the hell was I seen him put his arm round
her when it wasn't just time, accordin' to the dance, an' Bo
-- she didn't break any records gettin' away from him. She
pushed him away -- after a little -- after I near died. Wal,
on the way home I had to tell her. I shore did. An' she said
what I'd love to forget. Then -- then, Miss Nell, I grabbed
her -- it was outside here by the porch an' all bright
moonlight -- I grabbed her an' hugged an' kissed her good.
When I let her go I says, sorta brave, but I was plumb
scared -- I says, "Wal, are you goin' to marry me now?'"
He concluded with a gulp, and looked at Helen with woe in
"Oh! What did Bo do?" breathlessly queried Helen.
"She slapped me," he replied. "An' then she says, I did like
you best, but NOW I hate you!' An' she slammed the door in
"I think you made a great mistake," said Helen, gravely.
"Wal, if I thought so I'd beg her forgiveness. But I reckon
I don't. What's more, I feel better than before. I'm only a
cowboy an' never was much good till I met her. Then I
braced. I got to havin' hopes, studyin' books, an' you know
how I've been lookin' into this ranchin' game. I stopped
drinkin' an' saved my money. Wal, she knows all thet. Once
she said she was proud of me. But it didn't seem to count
big with her. An' if it can't count big I don't want it to
count at all. I reckon the madder Bo is at me the more
chance I've got. She knows I love her -- thet I'd die for
her -- thet I'm a changed man. An' she knows I never before
thought of darin' to touch her hand. An' she knows she
flirted with Turner."
"She's only a child," replied Helen. "And all this change --
the West -- the wildness -- and you boys making much of her
-- why, it's turned her head. But Bo will come out of it
true blue. She is good, loving. Her heart is gold."
"I reckon I know, an' my faith can't be shook," rejoined
Carmichael, simply. "But she ought to believe thet she'll
make bad blood out here. The West is the West. Any kind of
girls are scarce. An' one like Bo -- Lord! we cowboys never
seen none to compare with her. She'll make bad blood an'
some of it will be spilled."
"Uncle Al encourages her," said Helen, apprehensively. "It
tickles him to hear how the boys are after her. Oh, she
doesn't tell him. But he hears. And I, who must stand in
mother's place to her, what can I do?"
"Miss Nell, are you on my side?" asked the cowboy,
wistfully. He was strong and elemental, caught in the toils
of some power beyond him.
Yesterday Helen might have hesitated at that question. But
to-day Carmichael brought some proven quality of loyalty,
some strange depth of rugged sincerity, as if she had
learned his future worth.
"Yes, I am," Helen replied, earnestly. And she offered her
"Wal, then it 'll shore turn out happy," he said, squeezing
her hand. His smile was grateful, but there was nothing in
it of the victory he hinted at. Some of his ruddy color had
gone. "An' now I want to tell you why I come."
He had lowered his voice. "Is Al asleep?" he whispered.
"Yes," replied Helen. "He was a little while ago."
"Reckon I'd better shut his door."
Helen watched the cowboy glide across the room and carefully
close the door, then return to her with intent eyes. She
sensed events in his look, and she divined suddenly that he
must feel as if he were her brother.
"Shore I'm the one thet fetches all the bad news to you," he
Helen caught her breath. There had indeed been many little
calamities to mar her management of the ranch -- loss of
cattle, horses, sheep -- the desertion of herders to Beasley
-- failure of freighters to arrive when most needed --
fights among the cowboys -- and disagreements over
"Your uncle Al makes a heap of this here Jeff Mulvey,"
"Yes, indeed. Uncle absolutely relies on Jeff," replied
"Wal, I hate to tell you, Miss Nell," said the cowboy,
bitterly, "thet Mulvey ain't the man he seems."
"Oh, what do you mean?"
"When your uncle dies Mulvey is goin' over to Beasley an'
he's goin' to take all the fellars who'll stick to him."
"Could Jeff be so faithless -- after so many years my
uncle's foreman? Oh, how do you know?"
"Reckon I guessed long ago. But wasn't shore. Miss Nell,
there's a lot in the wind lately, as poor old Al grows
weaker. Mulvey has been particular friendly to me an' I've
nursed him along, 'cept I wouldn't drink. An' his pards have
been particular friends with me, too, more an' more as I
loosened up. You see, they was shy of me when I first got
here. To-day the whole deal showed clear to me like a hoof
track in soft ground. Bud Lewis, who's bunked with me, come
out an' tried to win me over to Beasley -- soon as
Auchincloss dies. I palavered with Bud an' I wanted to know.
But Bud would only say he was goin' along with Jeff an'
others of the outfit. I told him I'd reckon over it an' let
him know. He thinks I'll come round."
"Why -- why will these men leave me when -- when -- Oh, poor
uncle! They bargain on his death. But why -- tell me why?"
"Beasley has worked on them -- won them over," replied
Carmichael, grimly. "After Al dies the ranch will go to you.
Beasley means to have it. He an' Al was pards once, an' now
Beasley has most folks here believin' he got the short end
of thet deal. He'll have papers -- shore -- an' he'll have
most of the men. So he'll just put you off an' take
possession. Thet's all, Miss Nell, an' you can rely on its
"I -- I believe you -- but I can't believe such -- such
robbery possible," gasped Helen.
"It's simple as two an' two. Possession is law out here.
Once Beasley gets on the ground it's settled. What could you
do with no men to fight for your property?"
"But, surely, some of the men will stay with me?"
"I reckon. But not enough."
"Then I can hire more. The Beeman boys. And Dale would come
to help me."
"Dale would come. An' he'd help a heap. I wish he was here,"
replied Carmichael, soberly. "But there's no way to get him.
He's snowed-up till May."
"I dare not confide in uncle," said Helen, with agitation.
"The shock might kill him. Then to tell him of the
unfaithfulness of his old men -- that would be cruel. . . .
Oh, it can't be so bad as you think."
"I reckon it couldn't be no worse. An' -- Miss Nell, there's
only one way to get out of it -- an' thet's the way of the
"How?" queried Helen, eagerly.
Carmichael lunged himself erect and stood gazing down at
her. He seemed completely detached now from that frank,
amiable cowboy of her first impressions. The redness was
totally gone from his face. Something strange and cold and
sure looked out of his eyes.
"I seen Beasley go in the saloon as I rode past. Suppose I
go down there, pick a quarrel with him -- an' kill him?"
Helen sat bolt-upright with a cold shock.
"Carmichael! you're not serious?" she exclaimed.
"Serious? I shore am. Thet's the only way, Miss Nell. An' I
reckon it's what Al would want. An' between you an' me -- it
would be easier than ropin' a calf. These fellars round Pine
don't savvy guns. Now, I come from where guns mean
somethin'. An' when I tell you I can throw a gun slick an'
fast, why I shore ain't braggin'. You needn't worry none
about me, Miss Nell."
Helen grasped that he had taken the signs of her shocked
sensibility to mean she feared for his life. But what had
sickened her was the mere idea of bloodshed in her behalf.
"You'd -- kill Beasley -- just because there are rumors of
his -- treachery?" gasped Helen.
"Shore. It'll have to be done, anyhow," replied the cowboy.
"No! No! It's too dreadful to think of. Why, that would be
murder. I -- I can't understand how you speak of it -- so --
"Reckon I ain't doin' it calmly. I'm as mad as hell," said
Carmichael, with a reckless smile.
"Oh, if you are serious then, I say no -- no -- no! I forbid
you. I don't believe I'll be robbed of my property."
"Wal, supposin' Beasley does put you off -- an' takes
possession. What 're you goin' to say then?" demanded the
cowboy, in slow, cool deliberation.
"I'd say the same then as now," she replied.
He bent his head thoughtfully while his red hands smoothed
"Shore you girls haven't been West very long," be muttered,
as if apologizing for them. "An' I reckon it takes time to
learn the ways of a country."
"West or no West, I won't have fights deliberately picked,
and men shot, even if they do threaten me," declared Helen,
"All right, Miss Nell, shore I respect your wishes," he
returned. "But I'll tell you this. If Beasley turns you an'
Bo out of your home -- wal, I'll look him up on my own
Helen could only gaze at him as he backed to the door, and
she thrilled and shuddered at what seemed his loyalty to
her, his love for Bo, and that which was inevitable in
"Reckon you might save us all some trouble -- now if you'd
-- just get mad -- an' let me go after thet greaser."
"Greaser! Do you mean Beasley?"
"Shore. He's a half-breed. He was born in Magdalena, where I
heard folks say nary one of his parents was no good."
"That doesn't matter. I'm thinking of humanity of law and
order. Of what is right."
"Wal, Miss Nell, I'll wait till you get real mad -- or till
"But, my friend, I'll not get mad," interrupted Helen. "I'll
keep my temper."
"I'll bet you don't," he retorted. "Mebbe you think you've
none of Bo in you. But I'll bet you could get so mad -- once
you started -- thet you'd be turrible. What 've you got them
eyes for, Miss Nell, if you ain't an Auchincloss ?"
He was smiling, yet he meant every word. Helen felt the
truth as something she feared.
"Las Vegas, I won't bet. But you -- you will always come to
me -- first -- if there's trouble."
"I promise," he replied, soberly, and then went out.
Helen found that she was trembling, and that there was a
commotion in her breast. Carmichael had frightened her. No
longer did she hold doubt of the gravity of the situation.
She had seen Beasley often, several times close at hand, and
once she had been forced to meet him. That time had
convinced her that he had evinced personal interest in her.
And on this account, coupled with the fact that Riggs
appeared to have nothing else to do but shadow her, she had
been slow in developing her intention of organizing and
teaching a school for the children of Pine. Riggs had become
rather a doubtful celebrity in the settlements. Yet his
bold, apparent badness had made its impression. From all
reports he spent his time gambling, drinking, and bragging.
It was no longer news in Pine what his intentions were
toward Helen Rayner. Twice he had ridden up to the
ranch-house, upon one occasion securing an interview with
Helen. In spite of her contempt and indifference, he was
actually influencing her life there in Pine. And it began to
appear that the other man, Beasley, might soon direct
stronger significance upon the liberty of her actions.
The responsibility of the ranch had turned out to be a heavy
burden. It could not be managed, at least by her, in the way
Auchincloss wanted it done. He was old, irritable,
irrational, and hard. Almost all the neighbors were set
against him, and naturally did not take kindly to Helen.
She had not found the slightest evidence of unfair dealing
on the part of her uncle, but he had been a hard driver.
Then his shrewd, far-seeing judgment had made all his deals
fortunate for him, which fact had not brought a profit of
Of late, since Auchincloss had grown weaker and less
dominating, Helen had taken many decisions upon herself,
with gratifying and hopeful results. But the wonderful
happiness that she had expected to find in the West still
held aloof. The memory of Paradise Park seemed only a dream,
sweeter and more intangible as time passed, and fuller of
vague regrets. Bo was a comfort, but also a very
considerable source of anxiety. She might have been a help
to Helen if she had not assimilated Western ways so swiftly.
Helen wished to decide things in her own way, which was as
yet quite far from Western. So Helen had been thrown more
and more upon her own resources, with the cowboy Carmichael
the only one who had come forward voluntarily to her aid.
For an hour Helen sat alone in the room, looking out of the
window, and facing stern reality with a colder, graver,
keener sense of intimacy than ever before. To hold her
property and to live her life in this community according to
her ideas of honesty, justice, and law might well be beyond
her powers. To-day she had been convinced that she could not
do so without fighting for them, and to fight she must have
friends. That conviction warmed her toward Carmichael, and a
thoughtful consideration of all he had done for her proved
that she had not fully appreciated him. She would make up
for her oversight.
There were no Mormons in her employ, for the good reason
that Auchincloss would not hire them. But in one of his
kindlier hours, growing rare now, he had admitted that the
Mormons were the best and the most sober, faithful workers
on the ranges, and that his sole objection to them was just
this fact of their superiority. Helen decided to hire the
four Beemans and any of their relatives or friends who would
come; and to do this, if possible, without letting her uncle
know. His temper now, as well as his judgment, was a
hindrance to efficiency. This decision regarding the
Beemans; brought Helen back to Carmichael's fervent wish for
Dale, and then to her own.
Soon spring would be at hand, with its multiplicity of range
tasks. Dale had promised to come to Pine then, and Helen
knew that promise would be kept. Her heart beat a little
faster, in spite of her business-centered thoughts. Dale was
there, over the black-sloped, snowy-tipped mountain, shut
away from the world. Helen almost envied him. No wonder he
loved loneliness, solitude, the sweet, wild silence and
beauty of Paradise Park! But he was selfish, and Helen meant
to show him that. She needed his help. When she recalled his
physical prowess with animals, and imagined what it must be
in relation to men, she actually smiled at the thought of
Beasley forcing her off her property, if Dale were there.
Beasley would only force disaster upon himself. Then Helen
experienced a quick shock. Would Dale answer to this
situation as Carmichael had answered? It afforded her relief
to assure herself to the contrary. The cowboy was one of a
blood-letting breed; the hunter was a man of thought,
gentleness, humanity. This situation was one of the kind
that had made him despise the littleness of men. Helen
assured herself that he was different from her uncle and
from the cowboy, in all the relations of life which she had
observed while with him. But a doubt lingered in her mind.
She remembered his calm reference to Snake Anson, and that
caused a recurrence of the little shiver Carmichael had
given her. When the doubt augmented to a possibility that
she might not be able to control Dale, then she tried not to
think of it any more. It confused and perplexed her that
into her mind should flash a thought that, though it would
be dreadful for Carmichael to kill Beasley, for Dale to do
it would be a calamity -- a terrible thing. Helen did not
analyze that strange thought. She was as afraid of it as she
was of the stir in her blood when she visualized Dale.
Her meditation was interrupted by Bo, who entered the room,
rebellious-eyed and very lofty. Her manner changed, which
apparently owed its cause to the, fact that Helen was alone.
"Is that -- cowboy gone?" she asked.
"Yes. He left quite some time ago," replied Helen.
"I wondered if he made your eyes shine -- your color burn
so. Nell, you're just beautiful."
"Is my face burning?" asked Helen, with a little laugh. "So
it is. Well, Bo, you've no cause for jealousy. Las Vegas
can't be blamed for my blushes."
"Jealous! Me? Of that wild-eyed, soft-voiced, two-faced
cow-puncher? I guess not, Nell Rayner. What 'd he say about
"Bo, he said a lot," replied Helen, reflectively. "I'll tell
you presently. First I want to ask you -- has Carmichael
ever told you how he's helped me?"
"No! When I see him -- which hasn't been often lately -- he
-- I -- Well, we fight. Nell, has he helped you?"
Helen smiled in faint amusement. She was going to be
sincere, but she meant to keep her word to the cowboy. The
fact was that reflection had acquainted her with her
indebtedness to Carmichael.
"Bo, you've been so wild to ride half-broken mustangs -- and
carry on with cowboys -- and read -- and sew -- and keep
your secrets that you've had no time for your sister or her
"Nell!" burst out Bo, in amaze and pain. She flew to Helen
and seized her hands. "What 're you saying?"
"It's all true," replied Helen, thrilling and softening.
This sweet sister, once aroused, would be hard to resist.
Helen imagined she should hold to her tone of reproach and
"Sure it's true," cried Bo, fiercely. "But what's my fooling
got to do with the -- the rest you said? Nell, are you
keeping things from me?"
"My dear, I never get any encouragement to tell you my
"But I've -- I've nursed uncle -- sat up with him -- just
the same as you," said Bo, with quivering lips.
"Yes, you've been good to him."
"We've no other troubles, have we, Nell?"
"You haven't, but I have," responded Helen, reproachfully.
"Why -- why didn't you tell me?" cried Bo, passionately.
"What are they? Tell me now. You must think me a -- a
selfish, hateful cat."
"Bo, I've had much to worry me -- and the worst is yet to
come," replied Helen. Then she told Bo how complicated and
bewildering was the management of a big ranch -- when the
owner was ill, testy, defective in memory, and hard as steel
-- when he had hoards of gold and notes, but could not or
would not remember his obligations -- when the neighbor
ranchers had just claims -- when cowboys and sheep-herders
were discontented, and wrangled among themselves -- when
great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep had to be fed in
winter -- when supplies had to be continually freighted
across a muddy desert and lastly, when an enemy rancher was
slowly winning away the best hands with the end in view of
deliberately taking over the property when the owner died.
Then Helen told how she had only that day realized the
extent of Carmichael's advice and help and labor -- how,
indeed, he had been a brother to her -- how --
But at this juncture Bo buried her face in Helen's breast
and began to cry wildly.
"I -- I -- don't want -- to hear -- any more," she sobbed.
"Well, you've got to hear it," replied Helen, inexorably "I
want you to know how he's stood by me."
"But I hate him."
"Bo, I suspect that's not true."
"I do -- I do."
"Well, you act and talk very strangely then."
"Nell Rayner -- are -- you -- you sticking up for that --
"I am, yes, so far as it concerns my conscience," rejoined
Helen, earnestly. "I never appreciated him as he deserved --
not until now. He's a man, Bo, every inch of him. I've seen
him grow up to that in three months. I'd never have gotten
along without him. I think he's fine, manly, big. I --"
"I'll bet -- he's made love -- to you, too," replied Bo,
"Talk sense," said Helen, sharply. "He has been a brother to
me. But, Bo Rayner, if he HAD made love to me I -- I might
have appreciated it more than you."
Bo raised her face, flushed in part and also pale, with
tear-wet cheeks and the telltale blaze in the blue eyes.
"I've been wild about that fellow. But I hate him, too," she
said, with flashing spirit. "And I want to go on hating him.
So don't tell me any more."
Whereupon Helen briefly and graphically related how
Carmichael had offered to kill Beasley, as the only way to
save her property, and how, when she refused, that he
threatened he would do it anyhow.
Bo fell over with a gasp and clung to Helen.
"Oh -- Nell! Oh, now I love him more than -- ever," she
cried, in mingled rage and despair.
Helen clasped her closely and tried to comfort her as in the
old days, not so very far back, when troubles were not so
serious as now.
"Of course you love him," she concluded. "I guessed that
long ago. And I'm glad. But you've been wilful -- foolish.
You wouldn't surrender to it. You wanted your fling with the
other boys. You're -- Oh, Bo, I fear you have been a sad
"I -- I wasn't very bad till -- till he got bossy. Why,
Nell, he acted -- right off -- just as if he OWNED me. But
he didn't. . . . And to show him -- I -- I really did flirt
with that Turner fellow. Then he -- he insulted me. . . .
Oh, I hate him!"
"Nonsense, Bo. You can't hate any one while you love him,"
"Much you know about that," flashed Bo. "You just can! Look
here. Did you ever see a cowboy rope and throw and tie up a
"Yes, I have."
"Do you have any idea how strong a cowboy is -- how his
hands and arms are like iron?"
"Yes, I'm sure I know that, too."
"And how savage he is?"
"And how he goes at anything he wants to do?"
"I must admit cowboys are abrupt," responded Helen, with a
"Well, Miss Rayner, did you ever -- when you were standing
quiet like a lady -- did you ever have a cowboy dive at you
with a terrible lunge -- grab you and hold you so you
couldn't move or breathe or scream -- hug you till all your
bones cracked -- and kiss you so fierce and so hard that you
wanted to kill him and die?
Helen had gradually drawn back from this blazing-eyed,
eloquent sister, and when the end of that remarkable
question came it was impossible to reply.
"There! I see you never had that done to you," resumed Bo,
with satisfaction. "So don't ever talk to me."
"I've heard his side of the story," said Helen,
With a start Bo sat up straighter, as if better to defend
"Oh! So you have? And I suppose you'll take his part -- even
about that -- that bearish trick."
"No. I think that rude and bold. But, Bo, I don't believe he
meant to be either rude or bold. From what he confessed to
me I gather that he believed he'd lose you outright or win
you outright by that violence. It seems girls can't play at
love out here in this wild West. He said there would be
blood shed over you. I begin to realize what he meant. He's
not sorry for what he did. Think how strange that is. For he
has the instincts of a gentleman. He's kind, gentle,
chivalrous. Evidently he had tried every way to win your
favor except any familiar advance. He did that as a last
resort. In my opinion his motives were to force you to
accept or refuse him, and in case you refused him he'd
always have those forbidden stolen kisses to assuage his
self-respect -- when he thought of Turner or any one else
daring to be familiar with you. Bo, I see through
Carmichael, even if I don't make him clear to you. You've
got to be honest with yourself. Did that act of his win or
lose you? In other words, do you love him or not?"
Bo hid her face.
"Oh, Nell! it made me see how I loved him -- and that made
me so -- so sick I hated him. . . . But now -- the hate is
When spring came at last and the willows drooped green and
fresh over the brook and the range rang with bray of burro
and whistle of stallion, old Al Auchincloss had been a month
in his grave.
To Helen it seemed longer. The month had been crowded with
work, events, and growing, more hopeful duties, so that it
contained a world of living. The uncle had not been
forgotten, but the innumerable restrictions to development
and progress were no longer manifest. Beasley had not
presented himself or any claim upon Helen; and she,
gathering confidence day by day, began to believe all that
purport of trouble had been exaggerated.
In this time she had come to love her work and all that
pertained to it. The estate was large. She had no accurate
knowledge of how many acres she owned, but it was more than
two thousand. The fine, old, rambling ranch-house, set like
a fort on the last of the foot-hills, corrals and fields and
barns and meadows, and the rolling green range beyond, and
innumerable sheep, horses, cattle -- all these belonged to
Helen, to her ever-wondering realization and ever-growing
joy. Still, she was afraid to let herself go and be
perfectly happy. Always there was the fear that had been too
deep and strong to forget so soon.
This bright, fresh morning, in March, Helen came out upon
the porch to revel a little in the warmth of sunshine and
the crisp, pine-scented wind that swept down from the
mountains. There was never a morning that she did not gaze
mountainward, trying to see, with a folly she realized, if
the snow had melted more perceptibly away on the bold white
ridge. For all she could see it had not melted an inch, and
she would not confess why she sighed. The desert had become
green and fresh, stretching away there far below her range,
growing dark and purple in the distance with vague buttes
rising. The air was full of sound -- notes of blackbirds and
the baas of sheep, and blasts from the corrals, and the
clatter of light hoofs on the court below.
Bo was riding in from the stables. Helen loved to watch her
on one of those fiery little mustangs, but the sight was
likewise given to rousing apprehensions. This morning Bo
appeared particularly bent on frightening Helen. Down the
lane Carmichael appeared, waving his arms, and Helen at once
connected him with Bo's manifest desire to fly away from
that particular place. Since that day, a month back, when Bo
had confessed her love for Carmichael, she and Helen had not
spoken of it or of the cowboy. The boy and girl were still
at odds. But this did not worry Helen. Bo had changed much
for the better, especially in that she devoted herself to
Helen and to her work. Helen knew that all would turn out
well in the end, and so she had been careful of her rather
precarious position between these two young firebrands.
Bo reined in the mustang at the porch steps. She wore a
buckskin riding-suit which she had made herself, and its
soft gray with the touches of red beads was mightily
becoming to her. Then she had grown considerably during the
winter and now looked too flashing and pretty to resemble a
boy, yet singularly healthy and strong and lithe. Red spots
shone in her cheeks and her eyes held that ever-dangerous
"Nell, did you give me away to that cowboy?" she demanded.
"Give you away!" exclaimed Helen, blankly.
"Yes. You know I told you -- awhile back -- that I was
wildly in love with him. Did you give me away -- tell on me?
She might have been furious, but she certainly was not
"Why, Bo! How could you? No. I did not," replied Helen.
"Never gave him a hint?"
"Not even a hint. You have my word for that. Why? What's
"He makes me sick."
Bo would not say any more, owing to the near approach of the
"Mawnin', Miss Nell," he drawled. "I was just tellin' this
here Miss Bo-Peep Rayner --"
"Don't call me that!" broke in Bo, with fire in her voice.
"Wal, I was just tellin' her thet she wasn't goin' off on
any more of them long rides. Honest now, Miss Nell, it ain't
safe, an' --"
"You're not my boss," retorted Bo.
"Indeed, sister, I agree with him. You won't obey me."
"Reckon some one's got to be your boss," drawled Carmichael.
"Shore I ain't hankerin' for the job. You could ride to
Kingdom Come or off among the Apaches -- or over here a
ways" -- at this he grinned knowingly -- "or anywheres, for
all I cared. But I'm workin' for Miss Nell, an' she's boss.
An' if she says you're not to take them rides -- you won't.
Savvy that, miss?"
It was a treat for Helen to see Bo look at the cowboy.
"Mis-ter Carmichael, may I ask how you are going to prevent
me from riding where I like?"
"Wal, if you're goin' worse locoed this way I'll keep you
off'n a hoss if I have to rope you an' tie you up. By golly,
His dry humor was gone and manifestly he meant what he said.
"Wal," she drawled it very softly and sweetly, but
venomously, "if -- you -- ever -- touch -- me again!"
At this he flushed, then made a quick, passionate gesture
with his hand, expressive of heat and shame.
"You an' me will never get along," he said, with a dignity
full of pathos. "I seen thet a month back when you changed
sudden-like to me. But nothin' I say to you has any
reckonin' of mine. I'm talkin' for your sister. It's for her
sake. An' your own. . . . I never told her an' I never told
you thet I've seen Riggs sneakin' after you twice on them
desert rides. Wal, I tell you now."
The intelligence apparently had not the slightest effect on
Bo. But Helen was astonished and alarmed.
"Riggs! Oh, Bo, I've seen him myself -- riding around. He
does not mean well. You must be careful."
"If I ketch him again," went on Carmichael, with his mouth
lining hard, "I'm goin' after him."
He gave her a cool, intent, piercing look, then he dropped
his head and turned away, to stride back toward the corrals.
Helen could make little of the manner in which her sister
watched the cowboy pass out of sight.
"A month back -- when I changed sudden-like," mused Bo. "I
wonder what he meant by that. . . . Nell, did I change --
right after the talk you had with me -- about him?"
"Indeed you did, Bo," replied Helen. "But it was for the
better. Only he can't see it. How proud and sensitive he is!
You wouldn't guess it at first. Bo, your reserve has wounded
him more than your flirting. He thinks it's indifference."
"Maybe that 'll be good for him," declared Bo. "Does he
expect me to fall on his neck? He's that thick-headed! Why,
he's the locoed one, not me."
"I'd like to ask you, Bo, if you've seen how he has
changed?" queried Helen, earnestly. "He's older. He's
worried. Either his heart is breaking for you or else he
fears trouble for us. I fear it's both. How he watches you!
Bo, he knows all you do -- where you go. That about Riggs
"If Riggs follows me and tries any of his four-flush
desperado games he'll have his hands full," said Bo, grimly.
"And that without my cowboy protector! But I just wish Riggs
would do something. Then we'll see what Las Vegas Tom
Carmichael cares. Then we'll see!"
Bo bit out the last words passionately and jealously, then
she lifted her bridle to the spirited mustang,
"Nell, don't you fear for me," she said. "I can take care of
Helen watched her ride away, all but willing to confess that
there might be truth in what Bo said. Then Helen went about
her work, which consisted of routine duties as well as an
earnest study to familiarize herself with continually new
and complex conditions of ranch life. Every day brought new
problems. She made notes of all that she observed, and all