Part 7 out of 9
"Riggs ran her down -- made off with her!" cried Helen,
passionately. "Oh, the villain! He had men in waiting.
That's Beasley's work. They were after me."
"It may not be just what you said, but that's close enough.
An' Bo's in a bad fix. You must face that an' try to bear up
under -- fears of the worst."
"My friend! You will save her!"
"I'll fetch her back, alive or dead."
"Dead! Oh, my God!" Helen cried, and closed her eyes an
instant, to open them burning black. "But Bo isn't dead. I
know that -- I feel it. She'll not die very easy. She's a
little savage. She has no fear. She'd fight like a tigress
for her life. She's strong. You remember how strong. She can
stand anything. Unless they murder her outright she'll live
-- a long time -- through any ordeal. . . . So I beg you, my
friend, don't lose an hour -- don't ever give up!"
Dale trembled under the clasp of her hands. Loosing his own
from her clinging hold, he stepped out on the porch At that
moment John appeared on Ranger, coming at a gallop.
"Nell, I'll never come back without her," said Dale. "I
reckon you can hope -- only be prepared. That's all. It's
hard. But these damned deals are common out here in the
"Suppose Beasley comes -- here!" exclaimed Helen, and again
her hand went out toward him.
"If he does, you refuse to get off ," replied Dale. "But
don't let him or his greasers put a dirty hand on you.
Should he threaten force -- why, pack some clothes -- an'
your valuables -- an' go down to Mrs. Cass's. An' wait till
I come back!"
"Wait -- till you -- come back!" she faltered, slowly
turning white again. Her dark eyes dilated. "Milt -- you're
like Las Vegas. You'll kill Beasley!"
Dale heard his own laugh, very cold and strange, foreign to
his ears. A grim, deadly hate of Beasley vied with the
tenderness and pity he felt for this distressed girl. It was
a sore trial to see her leaning there against the door -- to
be compelled to leave her alone. Abruptly be stalked off the
porch. Tom followed him. The black horse whinnied his
recognition of Dale and snorted at sight of the cougar. Just
then the Mexican boy returned with a bag. Dale tied this,
with the small pack, behind the saddle.
"John, you stay here with Miss Helen," said Dale. "An' if
Carmichael comes back, keep him, too! An' to-night, if any
one rides into Pine from the way we come, you be sure to
"I'll do thet, Milt," responded John.
Dale mounted, and, turning for a last word to Helen, he felt
the words of cheer halted on his lips as he saw her standing
white and broken-hearted, with her hands to her bosom. He
could not look twice.
"Come on there, you Tom," he called to the cougar. Reckon on
this track you'll pay me for all my trainin' of you"
"Oh, my friend!" came Helen's sad voice, almost a whisper to
his throbbing ears. "Heaven help you -- to save her! I --"
Then Ranger started and Dale heard no more. He could not
look back. His eyes were full of tears and his breast ached.
By a tremendous effort he shifted that emotion -- called on
all the spiritual energy of his being to the duty of this
grim task before him.
He did not ride down through the village, but skirted the
northern border, and worked round to the south, where,
coming to the trail he had made an hour past, he headed on
it, straight for the slope now darkening in the twilight.
The big cougar showed more willingness to return on this
trail than he had shown in the coming. Ranger was fresh and
wanted to go, but Dale held him in.
A cool wind blew down from the mountain with the coming of
night. Against the brightening stars Dale saw the promontory
lift its bold outline. It was miles away. It haunted him,
strangely calling. A night, and perhaps a day, separated him
from the gang that held Bo Rayner prisoner. Dale had no plan
as yet. He had only a motive as great as the love he bore
Beasley's evil genius had planned this abduction. Riggs was
a tool, a cowardly knave dominated by a stronger will. Snake
Anson and his gang had lain in wait at that cedar camp; had
made that broad hoof track leading up the mountain. Beasley
had been there with them that very day. All this was as
assured to Dale as if he had seen the men.
But the matter of Dale's recovering the girl and doing it
speedily strung his mental strength to its highest pitch.
Many outlines of action flashed through his mind as he rode
on, peering keenly through the night, listening with
practised ears. All were rejected. And at the outset of
every new branching of thought he would gaze down at the
gray form of the cougar, long, graceful, heavy, as he padded
beside the horse. From the first thought of returning to
help Helen Rayner he had conceived an undefined idea of
possible value in the qualities of his pet. Tom had
performed wonderful feats of trailing, but he had never been
tried on men. Dale believed he could make him trail
anything, yet he had no proof of this. One fact stood out of
all Dale's conjectures, and it was that he had known men,
and brave men, to fear cougars.
Far up on the slope, in a little hollow where water ran and
there was a little grass for Ranger to pick, Dale haltered
him and made ready to spend the night. He was sparing with
his food, giving Tom more than he took himself. Curled close
up to Dale, the big cat went to sleep.
But Dale lay awake for long.
The night was still, with only a faint moan of wind on this
sheltered slope. Dale saw hope in the stars. He did not seem
to have promised himself or Helen that he could save her
sister, and then her property. He seemed to have stated
something unconsciously settled, outside of his thinking.
Strange how this certainty was not vague, yet irreconcilable
with any plans he created! Behind it, somehow nameless with
inconceivable power, surged all his wonderful knowledge of
forest, of trails, of scents, of night, of the nature of men
lying down to sleep in the dark, lonely woods, of the nature
of this great cat that lived its every action in accordance
with his will.
He grew sleepy, and gradually his mind stilled, with his
last conscious thought a portent that he would awaken to
accomplish his desperate task.
Young Burt possessed the keenest eyes of any man in Snake
Anson's gang, for which reason he was given the post as
lookout from the lofty promontory. His instructions were to
keep sharp watch over the open slopes below and to report
any sight of a horse.
A cedar fire with green boughs on top of dead wood sent up a
long, pale column of smoke. This signal-fire had been kept
burning since sunrise.
The preceding night camp had been made on a level spot in
the cedars back of the promontory. But manifestly Anson did
not expect to remain there long. For, after breakfast, the
packs had been made up and the horses stood saddled and
bridled. They were restless and uneasy, tossing bits and
fighting flies. The sun, now half-way to meridian, was hot
and no breeze blew in that sheltered spot.
Shady Jones had ridden off early to fill the water-bags, and
had not yet returned. Anson, thinner and scalier and more
snakelike than ever, was dealing a greasy, dirty deck of
cards, his opponent being the square-shaped, black-visaged
Moze. In lieu of money the gamblers wagered with
cedar-berries, each of which berries represented a pipeful
of tobacco. Jim Wilson brooded under a cedar-tree, his
unshaven face a dirty dust-hue, a smoldering fire in his
light eyes, a sullen set to his jaw. Every little while he
would raise his eyes to glance at Riggs, and it seemed that
a quick glance was enough. Riggs paced to and fro in the
open, coatless and hatless, his black-broadcloth trousers
and embroidered vest dusty and torn. An enormous gun bumped
awkwardly in its sheath swinging below his hip. Riggs looked
perturbed. His face was sweating freely, yet it was far from
red in color. He did not appear to mind the sun or the
flies. His eyes were staring, dark, wild, shifting in gaze
from everything they encountered. But often that gaze shot
back to the captive girl sitting under a cedar some yards
from the man.
Bo Rayner's little, booted feet were tied together with one
end of a lasso and the other end trailed off over the
ground. Her hands were free. Her riding-habit was dusty and
disordered. Her eyes blazed defiantly out of a small, pale
"Harve Riggs, I wouldn't be standing in those cheap boots of
yours for a million dollars," she said, sarcastically. Riggs
took no notice of her words.
"You pack that gun-sheath wrong end out. What have you got
the gun for, anyhow?" she added, tauntingly.
Snake Anson let out a hoarse laugh and Moze's black visage
opened in a huge grin. Jim Wilson seemed to drink in the
girl's words. Sullen and somber, he bent his lean head, very
still, as if listening.
"You'd better shut up," said Riggs, darkly.
"I will not shut up," declared Bo.
"Then I'll gag you," he threatened.
"Gag me! Why, you dirty, low-down, two-bit of a bluff!" she
exclaimed, hotly, "I'd like to see you try it. I'll tear
that long hair of yours right off your head."
Riggs advanced toward her with his hands clutching, as if
eager to throttle her. The girl leaned forward, her face
reddening, her eyes fierce.
"You damned little cat!" muttered Riggs, thickly. "I'll gag
you -- if you don't stop squallin'."
"Come on. I dare you to lay a hand on me. . . . Harve Riggs,
I'm not the least afraid of you. Can't you savvy that?
You're a liar, a four-flush, a sneak! Why, you're not fit to
wipe the feet of any of these outlaws."
Riggs took two long strides and bent over her, his teeth
protruding in a snarl, and he cuffed her hard on the side of
Bo's head jerked back with the force of the blow, but she
uttered no cry.
"Are you goin' to keep your jaw shut?" he demanded,
stridently, and a dark tide of blood surged up into his
"I should smile I'm not," retorted Bo, in cool, deliberate
anger of opposition. "You've roped me -- and you've struck
me! Now get a club -- stand off there -- out of my reach --
and beat me! Oh, if I only knew cuss words fit for you --
I'd call you them!"
Snake Anson had stopped playing cards, and was watching,
listening, with half-disgusted, half-amused expression on
his serpent-like face. Jim Wilson slowly rose to his feet.
If any one had observed him it would have been to note that
he now seemed singularly fascinated by this scene, yet all
the while absorbed in himself. Once he loosened the
neck-band of his blouse.
Riggs swung his arm more violently at the girl. But she
"You dog!" she hissed. "Oh, if I only had a gun!"
Her face then, with its dead whiteness and the eyes of
flame, held a tragic, impelling beauty that stung Anson into
"Aw, Riggs, don't beat up the kid," he protested. "Thet
won't do any good. Let her alone."
"But she's got to shut up," replied Riggs.
"How 'n hell air you goin' to shet her up? Mebbe if you get
out of her sight she'll be quiet. . . . How about thet,
Anson gnawed his drooping mustache as he eyed Bo.
"Have I made any kick to you or your men yet?" she queried.
"It strikes me you 'ain't," replied Anson.
"You won't hear me make any so long as I'm treated decent,"
said Bo. "I don't know what you've got to do with Riggs. He
ran me down -- roped me -- dragged me to your camp. Now I've
a hunch you're waiting for Beasley."
"Girl, your hunch 's correct," said Anson.
"Well, do you know I'm the wrong girl?"
"What's thet? I reckon you're Nell Rayner, who got left all
old Auchincloss's property."
"No. I'm Bo Rayner. Nell is my sister. She owns the ranch.
Beasley wanted her."
Anson cursed deep and low. Under his sharp, bristling
eyebrows he bent cunning green eyes upon Riggs.
"Say, you! Is what this kid says so?"
"Yes. She's Nell Rayner's sister," replied Riggs, doggedly.
"A-huh! Wal, why in the hell did you drag her into my camp
an' off up here to signal Beasley? He ain't wantin' her. He
wants the girl who owns the ranch. Did you take one fer the
other -- same as thet day we was with you?"
"Guess I must have," replied Riggs, sullenly.
"But you knowed her from her sister afore you come to my
Riggs shook his head. He was paler now and sweating more
freely. The dank hair hung wet over his forehead. His manner
was that of a man suddenly realizing he had gotten into a
"Oh, he's a liar!" exclaimed Bo, with contemptuous ring in
her voice. "He comes from my country. He has known Nell and
me for years."
Snake Anson turned to look at Wilson.
"Jim, now hyar's a queer deal this feller has rung in on us.
I thought thet kid was pretty young. Don't you remember
Beasley told us Nell Rayner was a handsome woman?"
"Wal, pard Anson, if this heah gurl ain't handsome my eyes
have gone pore," drawled Wilson.
"A-huh! So your Texas chilvaree over the ladies is some
operatin'," retorted Anson, with fine sarcasm. "But thet
ain't tellin' me what you think?"
"Wal, I ain't tellin' you what I think yet. But I know thet
kid ain't Nell Rayner. For I've seen her."
Anson studied his right-hand man for a moment, then, taking
out his tobacco-pouch, he sat himself down upon a stone and
proceeded leisurely to roll a cigarette. He put it between
his thin lips and apparently forgot to light it. For a few
moments he gazed at the yellow ground and some scant
sage-brush. Riggs took to pacing up and down. Wilson leaned
as before against the cedar. The girl slowly recovered from
her excess of anger.
"Kid, see hyar," said Anson, addressing the girl; "if Riggs
knowed you wasn't Nell an' fetched you along anyhow -- what
'd he do thet fur?"
"He chased me -- caught me. Then he saw some one after us
and he hurried to your camp. He was afraid -- the cur!"
Riggs heard her reply, for he turned a malignant glance upon
"Anson, I fetched her because I know Nell Rayner will give
up anythin' on earth for her," he said, in loud voice.
Anson pondered this statement with an air of considering its
"Don't you believe him," declared Bo Rayner, bluntly. "He's
a liar. He's double-crossing Beasley and all of you."
Riggs raised a shaking hand to clench it at her. "Keep still
or it 'll be the worse for you."
"Riggs, shut up yourself," put in Anson, as he leisurely
rose. "Mebbe it 'ain't occurred to you thet she might have
some talk interestin' to me. An' I'm runnin' this hyar camp.
. . . Now, kid, talk up an' say what you like."
"I said he was double-crossing you all," replied the girl,
instantly. "Why, I'm surprised you'd be caught in his
company! My uncle Al and my sweetheart Carmichael and my
friend Dale -- they've all told me what Western men are,
even down to outlaws, robbers, cutthroat rascals like you.
And I know the West well enough now to be sure that
four-flush doesn't belong here and can't last here. He went
to Dodge City once and when he came back he made a bluff at
being a bad man. He was a swaggering, bragging, drinking
gun-fighter. He talked of the men he'd shot, of the fights
he'd had. He dressed like some of those gun-throwing
gamblers. . . . He was in love with my sister Nell. She
hated him. He followed us out West and he has hung on our
actions like a sneaking Indian. Why, Nell and I couldn't
even walk to the store in the village. He rode after me out
on the range -- chased me. . . . For that Carmichael called
Riggs's bluff down in Turner's saloon. Dared him to draw!
Cussed him every name on the range! Slapped and beat and
kicked him! Drove him out of Pine! . . . And now, whatever
he has said to Beasley or you, it's a dead sure bet he's
playing his own game. That's to get hold of Nell, and if not
her -- then me! . . . Oh, I'm out of breath -- and I'm out
of names to call him. If I talked forever -- I'd never be --
able to -- do him justice. But lend me -- a gun -- a
Jim Wilson's quiet form vibrated with a start. Anson with
his admiring smile pulled his gun and, taking a couple of
steps forward, held it out butt first. She stretched eagerly
for it and he jerked it away.
"Hold on there!" yelled Riggs, in alarm.
"Damme, Jim, if she didn't mean bizness!" exclaimed the
"Wal, now -- see heah, Miss. Would you bore him -- if you
hed a gun?" inquired Wilson, with curious interest. There
was more of respect in his demeanor than admiration.
"No. I don't want his cowardly blood on my hands," replied
the girl. "But I'd make him dance -- I'd make him run."
"Shore you can handle a gun?"
She nodded her answer while her eyes flashed hate and her
resolute lips twitched.
Then Wilson made a singularly swift motion and his gun was
pitched butt first to within a foot of her hand. She
snatched it up, cocked it, aimed it, all before Anson could
move. But he yelled:
"Drop thet gun, you little devil!"
Riggs turned ghastly as the big blue gun lined on him. He
also yelled, but that yell was different from Anson's.
"Run or dance!" cried the girl.
The big gun boomed and leaped almost out of her hand. She
took both hands, and called derisively as she fired again.
The second bullet hit at Riggs's feet, scattering the dust
and fragments of stone all over him. He bounded here --
there -- then darted for the rocks. A third time the heavy
gun spoke and this bullet must have ticked Riggs, for he let
out a hoarse bawl and leaped sheer for the protection of a
"Plug him! Shoot off a leg!" yelled Snake Anson, whooping
and stamping, as Riggs got out of sight.
Jim Wilson watched the whole performance with the same
quietness that had characterized his manner toward the girl.
Then, as Riggs disappeared, Wilson stepped forward and took
the gun from the girl's trembling hands. She was whiter than
ever, but still resolute and defiant. Wilson took a glance
over in the direction Riggs had hidden and then proceeded to
reload the gun. Snake Anson's roar of laughter ceased rather
"Hyar, Jim, she might have held up the whole gang with thet
gun," he protested.
"I reckon she 'ain't nothin' ag'in' us," replied Wilson.
"A-huh! You know a lot about wimmen now, don't you? But thet
did my heart good. Jim, what 'n earth would you have did if
thet 'd been you instead of Riggs?"
The query seemed important and amazing. Wilson pondered.
"Shore I'd stood there -- stock-still -- an' never moved an
"An' let her shoot!" ejaculated Anson, nodding his long
head. "Me, too!"
So these rough outlaws, inured to all the violence and
baseness of their dishonest calling, rose to the challenging
courage of a slip of a girl. She had the one thing they
respected -- nerve.
Just then a halloo, from the promontory brought Anson up
with a start. Muttering to himself, he strode out toward the
jagged rocks that hid the outlook. Moze shuffled his burly
form after Anson.
"Miss, it shore was grand -- thet performance of Mister
Gunman Riggs," remarked Jim Wilson, attentively studying the
"Much obliged to you for lending me your gun," she replied.
"I -- I hope I hit him -- a little."
"Wal, if you didn't sting him, then Jim Wilson knows nothin'
"Jim Wilson? Are you the man -- the outlaw my uncle Al
"Reckon I am, miss. Fer I knowed Al shore enough. What 'd he
say aboot me?"
"I remember once he was telling me about Snake Anson's gang.
He mentioned you. Said you were a real gun-fighter. And what
a shame it was you had to be an outlaw."
"Wal! An' so old Al spoke thet nice of me. . . . It's
tolerable likely I'll remember. An' now, miss, can I do
anythin' for you?"
Swift as a flash she looked at him.
"What do you mean?"
"Wal, shore I don't mean much, I'm sorry to say. Nothin' to
make you look like thet. . . . I hev to be an outlaw, shore
as you're born. But -- mebbe there's a difference in
She understood him and paid him the compliment not to voice
her sudden upflashing hope that he might be one to betray
"Please take this rope off my feet. Let me walk a little.
Let me have a -- a little privacy. That fool watched every
move I made. I promise not to run away. And, oh! I'm
"Shore you've got sense." He freed her feet and helped her
get up. "There'll be some fresh water any minit now, if
Then he turned his back and walked over to where Riggs sat
nursing a bullet-burn on his leg.
"Say, Riggs, I'm takin' the responsibility of loosin' the
girl for a little spell. She can't get away. An' there ain't
any sense in bein' mean."
Riggs made no reply, and went on rolling down his trousers
leg, lapped a fold over at the bottom and pulled on his
boot. Then he strode out toward the promontory. Half-way
there he encountered Anson tramping back.
"Beasley's comin' one way an' Shady's comin' another. We'll
be off this hot point of rock by noon," said the outlaw
Riggs went on to the promontory to look for himself.
"Where's the girl?" demanded Anson, in surprise, when he got
back to the camp.
"Wal, she's walkin' 'round between heah an' Pine," drawled
"Jim, you let her loose?"
"Shore I did. She's been hawg-tied all the time. An' she
said she'd not run off. I'd take thet girl's word even to a
"A-huh. So would I, for all of thet. But, Jim, somethin's
workin' in you. Ain't you sort of rememberin' a time when
you was young -- an' mebbe knowed pretty kids like this
"Wal, if I am it 'll shore turn out bad fer somebody."
Anson gave him a surprised stare and suddenly lost the
"A-huh! So thet's how it's workin'," he replied, and flung
himself down in the shade.
Young Burt made his appearance then, wiping his sallow face.
His deep-set, hungry eyes, upon which his comrades set such
store, roved around the camp.
"Whar's the gurl?" he queried.
"Jim let her go out fer a stroll," replied Anson.
"I seen Jim was gittin' softy over her. Haw! Haw! Haw!"
But Snake Anson did not crack a smile. The atmosphere
appeared not to be congenial for jokes, a fact Burt rather
suddenly divined. Riggs and Moze returned from the
promontory, the latter reporting that Shady Jones was riding
up close. Then the girl walked slowly into sight and
approached to find a seat within ten yards of the group.
They waited in silence until the expected horseman rode up
with water-bottles slung on both sides of his saddle. His
advent was welcome. All the men were thirsty. Wilson took
water to the girl before drinking himself.
"Thet's an all-fired hot ride fer water," declared the
outlaw Shady, who somehow fitted his name in color and
impression. "An', boss, if it's the same to you I won't take
"Cheer up, Shady. We'll be rustlin' back in the mountains
before sundown," said Anson.
"Hang me if that ain't the cheerfulest news I've hed in some
days. Hey, Moze?"
The black-faced Moze nodded his shaggy head.
"I'm sick an' sore of this deal," broke out Burt, evidently
encouraged by his elders. "Ever since last fall we've been
hangin' 'round -- till jest lately freezin' in camps -- no
money -- no drink -- no grub wuth havin'. All on promises!"
Not improbably this young and reckless member of the gang
had struck the note of discord. Wilson seemed most detached
from any sentiment prevailing there. Some strong thoughts
were revolving in his brain.
"Burt, you ain't insinuatin' thet I made promises?" inquired
"No, boss, I ain't. You allus said we might hit it rich. But
them promises was made to you. An' it 'd be jest like thet
greaser to go back on his word now we got the gurl."
"Son, it happens we got the wrong one. Our long-haired pard
hyar -- Mister Riggs -- him with the big gun -- he waltzes
up with this sassy kid instead of the woman Beasley wanted."
Burt snorted his disgust while Shady Jones, roundly
swearing, pelted the smoldering camp-fire with stones. Then
they all lapsed into surly silence. The object of their
growing scorn, Riggs, sat a little way apart, facing none of
them, but maintaining as bold a front as apparently he could
Presently a horse shot up his ears, the first indication of
scent or sound imperceptible to the men. But with this cue
they all, except Wilson, sat up attentively. Soon the crack
of iron-shod hoofs on stone broke the silence. Riggs
nervously rose to his feet. And the others, still excepting
Wilson, one by one followed suit. In another moment a rangy
bay horse trotted out of the cedars, up to the camp, and his
rider jumped off nimbly for so heavy a man.
"Howdy, Beasley?" was Anson's greeting.
"Hello, Snake, old man!" replied Beasley, as his bold,
snapping black eyes swept the group. He was dusty and hot,
and wet with sweat, yet evidently too excited to feel
discomfort. "I seen your smoke signal first off an' jumped
my hoss quick. But I rode north of Pine before I headed
'round this way. Did you corral the girl or did Riggs? Say!
-- you look queer! . . . What's wrong here? You haven't
signaled me for nothin'?
Snake Anson beckoned to Bo.
"Come out of the shade. Let him look you over."
The girl walked out from under the spreading cedar that had
hidden her from sight.
Beasley stared aghast -- his jaw dropped.
"Thet's the kid sister of the woman I wanted!" he
"So we've jest been told."
Astonishment still held Beasley.
"Told?" he echoed. Suddenly his big body leaped with a
start. "Who got her? , Who fetched her?"
"Why, Mister Gunman Riggs hyar," replied Anson, with a
"Riggs, you got the wrong girl," shouted Beasley. "You made
thet mistake once before. What're you up to?"
"I chased her an' when I got her, seein' it wasn't Nell
Rayner -- why -- I kept her, anyhow," replied Riggs. "An'
I've got a word for your ear alone."
"Man, you're crazy -- queerin' my deal thet way!" roared
Beasley. "You heard my plans. . . . Riggs, this
girl-stealin' can't be done twice. Was you drinkin' or
locoed or what?"
"Beasley, he was giving you the double-cross," cut in Bo
Rayner's cool voice.
The rancher stared speechlessly at her, then at Anson, then
at Wilson, and last at Riggs, when his brown visage shaded
dark with rush of purple blood. With one lunge he knocked
Riggs flat, then stood over him with a convulsive hand at
"You white-livered card-sharp! I've a notion to bore you. .
. . They told me you had a deal of your own, an' now I
"Yes -- I had," replied Riggs, cautiously getting up. He was
ghastly. "But I wasn't double-crossin' you. Your deal was to
get the girl away from home so you could take possession of
her property. An' I wanted her."
"What for did you fetch the sister, then?" demanded Beasley,
his big jaw bulging.
"Because I've a plan to --"
"Plan hell! You've spoiled my plan an' I've seen about
enough of you." Beasley breathed hard; his lowering gaze
boded an uncertain will toward the man who had crossed him;
his hand still hung low and clutching.
"Beasley, tell them to get my horse. I want to go home,"
said Bo Rayner.
Slowly Beasley turned. Her words enjoined a silence. What to
do with her now appeared a problem.
"I had nothin' to do with fetchin' you here an' I'll have
nothin' to do with sendin' you back or whatever's done with
you," declared Beasley.
Then the girl's face flashed white again and her eyes
changed to fire.
"You're as big a liar as Riggs," she cried, passionately.
"And you're a thief, a bully who picks on defenseless girls.
Oh, we know your game! Milt Dale heard your plot with this
outlaw Anson to steal my sister. You ought to be hanged --
you half-breed greaser!"
"I'll cut out your tongue!" hissed Beasley.
"Yes, I'll bet you would if you had me alone. But these
outlaws -- these sheep-thieves -- these tools you hire are
better than you and Riggs. . . . What do you suppose
Carmichael will do to you? Carmichael! He's my sweetheart --
that cowboy. You know what he did to Riggs. Have you brains
enough to know what he'll do to you?"
"He'll not do much," growled Beasley. But the thick purplish
blood was receding from his face. "Your cowpuncher --"
"Bah!" she interrupted, and she snapped her fingers in his
face. "He's from Texas! He's from TEXAS!"
"Supposin' he is from Texas?" demanded Beasley, in angry
irritation. "What's thet? Texans are all over. There's Jim
Wilson, Snake Anson's right-hand man. He's from Texas. But
thet ain't scarin' any one."
He pointed toward Wilson, who shifted uneasily from foot to
foot. The girl's flaming glance followed his hand.
"Are you from Texas?" she asked.
"Yes, Miss, I am -- an' I reckon I don't deserve it,"
replied Wilson. It was certain that a vague shame attended
"Oh! I believed even a bandit from Texas would fight for a
helpless girl!" she replied, in withering scorn of
Jim Wilson dropped his head. If any one there suspected a
serious turn to Wilson's attitude toward that situation it
was the keen outlaw leader.
"Beasley, you're courtin' death," he broke in.
"You bet you are!" added Bo, with a passion that made her
listeners quiver. "You've put me at the mercy of a gang of
outlaws! You may force my sister out of her home! But your
day will come.' Tom Carmichael will KILL you."
Beasley mounted his horse. Sullen, livid, furious, he sat
shaking in the saddle, to glare down at the outlaw leader.
"Snake, thet's no fault of mine the deal's miscarried. I was
square. I made my offer for the workin' out of my plan. It
'ain't been done. Now there's hell to pay an' I'm through."
"Beasley, I reckon I couldn't hold you to anythin'," replied
Anson, slowly. "But if you was square you ain't square now.
We've hung around an' tried hard. My men are all sore. An'
we're broke, with no outfit to speak of. Me an' you never
fell out before. But I reckon we might."
"Do I owe you any money -- accordin' to the deal?" demanded
"No, you don't," responded Anson, sharply.
"Then thet's square. I wash my hands of the whole deal. Make
Riggs pay up. He's got money an' he's got plans. Go in with
With that Beasley spurred his horse, wheeled and rode away.
The outlaws gazed after him until he disappeared in the
"What'd you expect from a greaser?" queried Shady Jones.
"Anson, didn't I say so?" added Burt.
The black-visaged Moze rolled his eyes like a mad bull and
Jim Wilson studiously examined a stick he held in his hands.
Riggs showed immense relief.
"Anson, stake me to some of your outfit an' I'll ride off
with the girl," he said, eagerly.
"Where'd you go now?" queried Anson, curiously.
Riggs appeared at a loss for a quick answer; his wits were
no more equal to this predicament than his nerve.
"You're no woodsman. An' onless you're plumb locoed you'd
never risk goin' near Pine or Show Down. There'll be real
trackers huntin' your trail."
The listening girl suddenly appealed to Wilson.
"Don't let him take me off -- alone -- in the woods!" she
faltered. That was the first indication of her weakening.
Jim Wilson broke into gruff reply. "I'm not bossin' this
"But you're a man!" she importuned.
"Riggs, you fetch along your precious firebrand an' come
with us," said Anson, craftily. "I'm particular curious to
see her brand you."
"Snake, lemme take the girl back to Pine," said Jim Wilson.
Anson swore his amaze.
"It's sense," continued Wilson. "We've shore got our own
troubles, an' keepin' her 'll only add to them. I've a
hunch. Now you know I ain't often givin' to buckin' your
say-so. But this deal ain't tastin' good to me. Thet girl
ought to be sent home."
"But mebbe there's somethin' in it for us. Her sister 'd pay
to git her back."
"Wal, I shore hope you'll recollect I offered -- thet's
all," concluded Wilson.
"Jim, if we wanted to git rid of her we'd let Riggs take her
off," remonstrated the outlaw leader. He was perturbed and
undecided. Wilson worried him.
The long Texan veered around full faced. What subtle
transformation in him!
"Like hell we would!" he said.
It could not have been the tone that caused Anson to quail.
He might have been leader here, but he was not the greater
man. His face clouded.
"Break camp," he ordered.
Riggs had probably not heard that last exchange between
Anson and Wilson, for he had walked a few rods aside to get
In a few moments when they started off, Burt, Jones, and
Moze were in the lead driving the pack-horses, Anson rode
next, the girl came between him and Riggs, and
significantly, it seemed, Jim Wilson brought up the rear.
This start was made a little after the noon hour. They
zigzagged up the slope, took to a deep ravine, and followed
it up to where it headed in the level forest. From there
travel was rapid, the pack-horses being driven at a jogtrot.
Once when a troop of deer burst out of a thicket into a
glade, to stand with ears high, young Burt halted the
cavalcade. His well-aimed shot brought down a deer. Then the
men rode on, leaving him behind to dress and pack the meat.
The only other halt made was at the crossing of the first
water, a clear, swift brook, where both horses and men drank
thirstily. Here Burt caught up with his comrades.
They traversed glade and park, and wended a crooked trail
through the deepening forest, and climbed, bench after
bench, to higher ground, while the sun sloped to the
westward, lower and redder. Sunset had gone, and twilight
was momentarily brightening to the afterglow when Anson,
breaking his silence of the afternoon, ordered a halt.
The place was wild, dismal, a shallow vale between dark
slopes of spruce. Grass, fire-wood, and water were there in
abundance. All the men were off, throwing saddles and packs,
before the tired girl made an effort to get down. Riggs,
observing her, made a not ungentle move to pull her off. She
gave him a sounding slap with her gloved hand.
"Keep your paws to yourself," she said. No evidence of
exhaustion was there in her spirit.
Wilson had observed this by-play, but Anson had not.
"What come off?" he asked.
"Wal, the Honorable Gunman Riggs jest got caressed by the
lady -- as he was doin' the elegant," replied Moze, who
"Jim, was you watchin'?" queried Anson. His curiosity had
held through the afternoon.
"He tried to yank her off an' she biffed him," replied
"That Riggs is jest daffy or plain locoed," said Snake, in
an aside to Moze.
"Boss, you mean plain cussed. Mark my words, he'll hoodoo
this outfit. Jim was figgerin' correct."
"Hoodoo --" cursed Anson, under his breath.
Many hands made quick work. In a few moments a fire was
burning brightly, water was boiling, pots were steaming, the
odor of venison permeated the cool air. The girl had at last
slipped off her saddle to the ground, where she sat while
Riggs led the horse away. She sat there apparently
forgotten, a pathetic droop to her head.
Wilson had taken an ax and was vigorously wielding it among
the spruces. One by one they fell with swish and soft crash.
Then the sliding ring of the ax told how he was slicing off
the branches with long sweeps. Presently he appeared in the
semi-darkness, dragging half-trimmed spruces behind him. He
made several trips, the last of which was to stagger under a
huge burden of spruce boughs. These he spread under a low,
projecting branch of an aspen. Then he leaned the bushy
spruces slantingly against this branch on both sides,
quickly improvising a V-shaped shelter with narrow aperture
in front. Next from one of the packs he took a blanket and
threw that inside the shelter. Then, touching the girl on
the shoulder, he whispered:
"When you're ready, slip in there. An' don't lose no sleep
by worryin', fer I'll be layin' right here."
He made a motion to indicate his length across the front of
the narrow aperture.
"Oh, thank you! Maybe you really are a Texan," she whispered
"Mebbe," was his gloomy reply.
The girl refused to take food proffered her by Riggs, but
she ate and drank a little that Wilson brought her, then she
disappeared in the spruce lean-to.
Whatever loquacity and companionship had previously existed
in Snake Anson's gang were not manifest in this camp. Each
man seemed preoccupied, as if pondering the dawn in his mind
of an ill omen not clear to him yet and not yet dreamed of
by his fellows. They all smoked. Then Moze and Shady played
cards awhile by the light of the fire, but it was a dull
game, in which either seldom spoke. Riggs sought his blanket
first, and the fact was significant that he lay down some
distance from the spruce shelter which contained Bo Rayner.
Presently young Burt went off grumbling to his bed. And not
long afterward the card-players did likewise.
Snake Anson and Jim Wilson were left brooding in silence
beside the dying camp-fire.
The night was dark, with only a few stars showing. A fitful
wind moaned unearthly through the spruce. An occasional
thump of hoof sounded from the dark woods. No cry of wolf or
coyote or cat gave reality to the wildness of forest-land.
By and by those men who had rolled in their blankets were
breathing deep and slow in heavy slumber.
"Jim, I take it this hyar Riggs has queered our deal," said
Snake Anson, in low voice.
"I reckon," replied Wilson.
"An' I'm feared he's queered this hyar White Mountain
country fer us."
"Shore I 'ain't got so far as thet. What d' ye mean, Snake?"
"Damme if I savvy," was the gloomy reply. "I only know what
was bad looks growin' wuss. Last fall -- an' winter -- an'
now it's near April. We've got no outfit to make a long
stand in the woods. . . . Jim, jest how strong is thet
Beasley down in the settlements?"
"I've a hunch he ain't half as strong as he bluffs."
"Me, too. I got thet idee yesterday. He was scared of the
kid -- when she fired up an' sent thet hot-shot about her
cowboy sweetheart killin' him. He'll do it, Jim. I seen that
Carmichael at Magdalena some years ago. Then he was only a
youngster. But, whew! Mebbe he wasn't bad after toyin' with
a little red liquor."
"Shore. He was from Texas, she said."
"Jim, I savvied your feelin's was hurt -- by thet talk about
Texas -- an' when she up an' asked you."
Wilson had no rejoinder for this remark.
"Wal, Lord knows, I ain't wonderin'. You wasn't a hunted
outlaw all your life. An' neither was I. . . . Wilson, I
never was keen on this girl deal -- now, was I?"
"I reckon it's honest to say no to thet," replied Wilson.
But it's done. Beasley 'll get plugged sooner or later. Thet
won't help us any. Chasin' sheep-herders out of the country
an' stealin' sheep -- thet ain't stealin' gurls by a long
sight. Beasley 'll blame that on us, an' be greaser enough
to send some of his men out to hunt us. For Pine an' Show
Down won't stand thet long. There's them Mormons. They'll be
hell when they wake up. Suppose Carmichael got thet hunter
Dale an' them hawk-eyed Beemans on our trail?"
"Wal, we'd cash in -- quick," replied Anson, gruffly.
"Then why didn't you let me take the gurl back home?"
"Wal, come to think of thet, Jim, I'm sore, an' I need money
-- an' I knowed you'd never take a dollar from her sister.
An' I've made up my mind to git somethin' out of her."
"Snake, you're no fool. How 'll you do thet same an' do it
"'Ain't reckoned it out yet."
"Wal, you got aboot to-morrer an' thet's all," returned
"Jim, what's ailin' you?"
"I'll let you figger thet out."
"Wal, somethin' ails the whole gang," declared Anson,
savagely. "With them it's nothin' to eat -- no whisky -- no
money to bet with -- no tobacco!. . . But thet's not what's
ailin' you, Jim Wilson, nor me!"
"Wal, what is, then?" queried Wilson.
"With me it's a strange feelin' thet my day's over on these
ranges. I can't explain, but it jest feels so. Somethin' in
the air. I don't like them dark shadows out there under the
spruces. Savvy? . . . An' as fer you, Jim -- wal, you allus
was half decent, an' my gang's got too lowdown fer you."
"Snake, did I ever fail you?"
"No, you never did. You're the best pard I ever knowed. In
the years we've rustled together we never had a contrary
word till I let Beasley fill my ears with his promises.
Thet's my fault. But, Jim, it's too late."
"It mightn't have been too late yesterday."
"Mebbe not. But it is now, an' I'll hang on to the girl or
git her worth in gold," declared the outlaw, grimly.
"Snake, I've seen stronger gangs than yours come an' go.
Them Big Bend gangs in my country -- them rustlers -- they
were all bad men. You have no likes of them gangs out heah.
If they didn't get wiped out by Rangers or cowboys, why they
jest naturally wiped out themselves. Thet's a law I
recognize in relation to gangs like them. An' as for yours
-- why, Anson, it wouldn't hold water against one real
"A-huh' Then if we ran up ag'in' Carmichael or some such
fellar -- would you be suckin' your finger like a baby?"
"Wal, I wasn't takin' count of myself. I was takin'
"Aw, what 'n hell are them?" asked Anson, disgustedly. Jim,
I know as well as you thet this hyar gang is hard put. We're
goin' to be trailed an' chased. We've got to hide -- be on
the go all the time -- here an' there -- all over, in the
roughest woods. An' wait our chance to work south."
"Shore. But, Snake, you ain't takin' no count of the
feelin's of the men -- an' of mine an' yours. . . . I'll bet
you my hoss thet in a day or so this gang will go to
"I'm feared you spoke what's been crowdin' to git in my
mind," replied Anson. Then he threw up his hands in a
strange gesture of resignation. The outlaw was brave, but
all men of the wilds recognized a force stronger than
themselves. He sat there resembling a brooding snake with
basilisk eyes upon the fire. At length he arose, and without
another word to his comrade he walked wearily to where lay
the dark, quiet forms of the sleepers.
Jim Wilson remained beside the flickering fire. He was
reading something in the red embers, perhaps the past.
Shadows were on his face, not all from the fading flames or
the towering spruces. Ever and anon he raised his head to
listen, not apparently that he expected any unusual sound,
but as if involuntarily. Indeed, as Anson had said, there
was something nameless in the air. The black forest breathed
heavily, in fitful moans of wind. It had its secrets. The
glances Wilson threw on all sides betrayed that any hunted
man did not love the dark night, though it hid him. Wilson
seemed fascinated by the life inclosed there by the black
circle of spruce. He might have been reflecting on the
strange reaction happening to every man in that group, since
a girl had been brought among them. Nothing was clear,
however; the forest kept its secret, as did the melancholy
wind; the outlaws were sleeping like tired beasts, with
their dark secrets locked in their hearts.
After a while Wilson put some sticks on the red embers, then
pulled the end of a log over them. A blaze sputtered up,
changing the dark circle and showing the sleepers with their
set, shadowed faces upturned. Wilson gazed on all of them, a
sardonic smile on his lips, and then his look fixed upon the
sleeper apart from the others -- Riggs. It might have been
the false light of flame and shadow that created Wilson's
expression of dark and terrible hate. Or it might have been
the truth, expressed in that lonely, unguarded hour, from
the depths of a man born in the South -- a man who by his
inheritance of race had reverence for all womanhood -- by
whose strange, wild, outlawed bloody life of a gun-fighter
he must hate with the deadliest hate this type that aped and
mocked his fame.
It was a long gaze Wilson rested upon Riggs -- as strange
and secretive as the forest wind moaning down the great
aisles -- and when that dark gaze was withdrawn Wilson
stalked away to make his bed with the stride of one ill whom
spirit had liberated force.
He laid his saddle in front of the spruce shelter where the
girl had entered, and his tarpaulin and blankets likewise
and then wearily stretched his long length to rest.
The camp-fire blazed up, showing the exquisite green. and
brown-flecked festooning of the spruce branches, symmetrical
and perfect, yet so irregular, and then it burned out and
died down, leaving all in the dim gray starlight. The horses
were not moving around; the moan of night wind had grown
fainter; the low hum of insects, was dying away; even the
tinkle of the brook had diminished. And that growth toward
absolute silence continued, yet absolute silence was never
attained. Life abided in the forest; only it had changed its
form for the dark hours.
Anson's gang did not bestir themselves at the usual early
sunrise hour common to all woodsmen, hunters, or outlaws, to
whom the break of day was welcome. These companions -- Anson
and Riggs included -- might have hated to see the dawn come.
It meant only another meager meal, then the weary packing
and the long, long ride to nowhere in particular, and
another meager meal -- all toiled for without even the
necessities of satisfactory living, and assuredly without
the thrilling hopes that made their life significant, and
certainly with a growing sense of approaching calamity.
The outlaw leader rose surly and cross-grained. He had to
boot Burt to drive him out for the horses. Riggs followed
him. Shady Jones did nothing except grumble. Wilson, by
common consent, always made the sour-dough bread, and he was
slow about it this morning. Anson and Moze did the rest of
the work, without alacrity. The girl did not appear.
"Is she dead?" growled Anson.
"No, she ain't," replied Wilson, looking up. "She's
sleepin'. Let her sleep. She'd shore be a sight better off
if she was daid."
"A-huh! So would all of this hyar outfit," was Anson's
"Wal, Sna-ake, I shore reckon we'll all be thet there soon,"
drawled Wilson, in his familiar cool and irritating tone
that said so much more than the content of the words.
Anson did not address the Texas member of his party again.
Burt rode bareback into camp, driving half the number of the
horses; Riggs followed shortly with several more. But three
were missed, one of them being Anson's favorite. He would
not have budged without that horse. During breakfast he
growled about his lazy men, and after the meal tried to urge
them off. Riggs went unwillingly. Burt refused to go at all.
"Nix. I footed them hills all I'm a-goin' to," he said. "An'
from now on I rustle my own hoss."
The leader glared his reception of this opposition. Perhaps
his sense of fairness actuated him once more, for he ordered
Shady and Moze out to do their share.
"Jim, you're the best tracker in this outfit. Suppose you
go," suggested Anson. "You allus used to be the first one
"Times has changed, Snake," was the imperturbable reply.
"Wal, won't you go?" demanded the leader, impatiently.
"I shore won't."
Wilson did not look or intimate in any way that he would not
leave the girl in camp with one or any or all of Anson's
gang, but the truth was as significant as if he had shouted
it. The slow-thinking Moze gave Wilson a sinister look.
"Boss, ain't it funny how a pretty wench --?" began Shady
"Shut up, you fool!" broke in Anson. "Come on, I'll help
rustle them hosses."
After they had gone Burt took his rifle and strolled off
into the forest. Then the girl appeared. Her hair was down,
her face pale, with dark shadows. She asked for water to
wash her face. Wilson pointed to the brook, and as she
walked slowly toward it he took a comb and a clean scarf
from his pack and carried them to her.
Upon her return to the camp-fire she looked very different
with her hair arranged and the red stains in her cheeks.
"Miss, air you hungry?" asked Wilson.
"Yes, I am," she replied.
He helped her to portions of bread, venison and gravy, and a
cup of coffee. Evidently she relished the meat, but she had
to force down the rest.
"Where are they all?" she asked.
"Rustlin' the hosses."
Probably she divined that he did not want to talk, for the
fleeting glance she gave him attested to a thought that his
voice or demeanor had changed. Presently she sought a seat
under the aspen-tree, out of the sun, and the smoke
continually blowing in her face; and there she stayed, a
forlorn little figure, for all the resolute lips and defiant
The Texan paced to and fro beside the camp-fire with bent
head, and hands locked behind him. But for the swinging gun
he would have resembled a lanky farmer, coatless and
hatless, with his brown vest open, his trousers stuck in the
top of the high boots.
And neither he nor the girl changed their positions
relatively for a long time. At length, however, after
peering into the woods, and listening, he remarked to the
girl that he would be back in a moment, and then walked off
around the spruces.
No sooner had he disappeared -- in fact, so quickly
after-ward that it presupposed design instead of accident --
than Riggs came running from the opposite side of the glade.
He ran straight to the girl, who sprang to her feet.
"I hid -- two of the -- horses," he panted, husky with
excitement. "I'll take -- two saddles. You grab some grub.
We'll run for it."
"No," she cried, stepping back.
"But it's not safe -- for us -- here," he said, hurriedly,
glancing all around. "I'll take you -- home. I swear. . . .
Not safe -- I tell you -- this gang's after me. Hurry!"
He laid hold of two saddles, one with each hand. The moment
had reddened his face, brightened his eyes, made his action
"I'm safer -- here with this outlaw gang," she replied.
"You won't come!" His color began to lighten then, and his
face to distort. He dropped his hold on the saddles.
"Harve Riggs, I'd rather become a toy and a rag for these
ruffians than spend an hour alone with you," she flashed at
him, in unquenchable hate.
"I'll drag you!"
He seized her, but could not hold her. Breaking away, she
That whitened his face, drove him to frenzy. Leaping
forward, he struck her a hard blow across the mouth. It
staggered her, and, tripping on a saddle, she fell. His
hands flew to her throat, ready to choke her. But she lay
still and held her tongue. Then he dragged her to her feet.
"Hurry now -- grab that pack -- an' follow me." Again Riggs
laid hold of the two saddles. A desperate gleam, baleful and
vainglorious, flashed over his face. He was living his one
The girl's eyes dilated. They looked beyond him. Her lips
"Scream again an' I'll kill you!" he cried, hoarsely and
swiftly. The very opening of her lips had terrified Riggs.
"Reckon one scream was enough," spoke a voice, slow, but
without the drawl, easy and cool, yet incalculable in some
Riggs wheeled with inarticulate cry. Wilson stood a few
paces off, with his gun half leveled, low down. His face
seemed as usual, only his eyes held a quivering, light
intensity, like boiling molten silver.
"Girl, what made thet blood on your mouth?"
"Riggs hit me!" she whispered. Then at something she feared
or saw or divined she shrank back, dropped on her knees, and
crawled into the spruce shelter.
"Wal, Riggs, I'd invite you to draw if thet 'd be any use,"
said Wilson. This speech was reflective, yet it hurried a
Riggs could not draw nor move nor speak. He seemed turned to
stone, except his jaw, which slowly fell.
"Harve Riggs, gunman from down Missouri way," continued the
voice of incalculable intent, "reckon you've looked into a
heap of gun-barrels in your day. Shore! Wal, look in this
Wilson deliberately leveled the gun on a line with Riggs's
"Wasn't you heard to brag in Turner's saloon -- thet you
could see lead comin' -- an' dodge it? Shore you must be
swift! . . . DODGE THIS HEAH BULLET!"
The gun spouted flame and boomed. One of Riggs's starting,
popping eyes -- the right one -- went out, like a lamp. The
other rolled horribly, then set in blank dead fixedness.
Riggs swayed in slow motion until a lost balance felled him
heavily, an inert mass.
Wilson bent over the prostrate form. Strange, violent
contrast to the cool scorn of the preceding moment! Hissing,
spitting, as if poisoned by passion, he burst with the hate
that his character had forbidden him to express on a living
counterfeit. Wilson was shaken, as if by a palsy. He choked
over passionate, incoherent invective. It was class hate
first, then the hate of real manhood for a craven, then the
hate of disgrace for a murder. No man so fair as a
gun-fighter in the Western creed of an "even break"!
Wilson's terrible cataclysm of passion passed. Straightening
up, he sheathed his weapon and began a slow pace before the
fire. Not many moments afterward he jerked his head high and
listened. Horses were softly thudding through the forest.
Soon Anson rode into sight with his men and one of the
strayed horses. It chanced, too, that young Burt appeared on
the other side of the glade. He walked quickly, as one who
Snake Anson as he dismounted espied the dead man.
"Jim -- I thought I heard a shot."
The others exclaimed and leaped off their horses to view the
prostrate form with that curiosity and strange fear common
to all men confronted by sight of sudden death.
That emotion was only momentary.
"Shot his lamp out!" ejaculated Moze.
"Wonder how Gunman Riggs liked thet plumb center peg!"
exclaimed Shady Jones, with a hard laugh.
"Back of his head all gone!" gasped young Burt. Not
improbably he had not seen a great many bullet-marked men.
"Jim! -- the long-haired fool didn't try to draw on you!"
exclaimed Snake Anson, astounded.
Wilson neither spoke nor ceased his pacing.
"What was it over?" added Anson, curiously.
"He hit the gurl," replied Wilson.
Then there were long-drawn exclamations all around, and
glance met glance.
"Jim, you saved me the job," continued the outlaw leader.
"An' I'm much obliged. . . . Fellars, search Riggs an' we'll
divvy. . . . Thet all right, Jim?"
"Shore, an' you can have my share."
They found bank-notes in the man's pocket and considerable
gold worn in a money-belt around his waist. Shady Jones
appropriated his boots, and Moze his gun. Then they left him
as he had fallen.
"Jim, you'll have to track them lost hosses. Two still
missin' an' one of them's mine," called Anson as Wilson
paced to the end of his beat.
The girl heard Anson, for she put her head out of the spruce
shelter and called: "Riggs said he'd hid two of the horses.
They must be close. He came that way."
"Howdy, kid! Thet's good news," replied Anson. His spirits
were rising. "He must hev wanted you to slope with him?"
"Yes. I wouldn't go."
"An' then he hit you?"
"Wal, recallin' your talk of yestiddy, I can't see as Mister
Riggs lasted much longer hyar than he'd hev lasted in Texas.
We've some of thet great country right in our outfit."
The girl withdrew her white face.
"It's break camp, boys," was the leader's order. "A couple
of you look up them hosses. They'll be hid in some thick
spruces. The rest of us 'll pack."
Soon the gang was on the move, heading toward the height of
land, and swerving from it only to find soft and grassy
ground that would not leave any tracks.
They did not travel more than a dozen miles during the
afternoon, but they climbed bench after bench until they
reached the timbered plateau that stretched in sheer black
slope up to the peaks. Here rose the great and gloomy forest
of firs and pines, with the spruce overshadowed and thinned
out. The last hour of travel was tedious and toilsome, a
zigzag, winding, breaking, climbing hunt for the kind of
camp-site suited to Anson's fancy. He seemed to be growing
strangely irrational about selecting places to camp. At
last, for no reason that could have been manifest to a good
woodsman, he chose a gloomy bowl in the center of the
densest forest that had been traversed. The opening, if such
it could have been called, was not a park or even a glade. A
dark cliff, with strange holes, rose to one side, but not so
high as the lofty pines that brushed it. Along its base
babbled a brook, running over such formation of rock that
from different points near at hand it gave forth different
sounds, some singing, others melodious, and one at least of
a hollow, weird, deep sound, not loud, but strangely
"Sure spooky I say," observed Shady, sentiently.
The little uplift of mood, coincident with the rifling of
Riggs's person, had not worn over to this evening camp. What
talk the outlaws indulged in was necessary and conducted in
low tones. The place enjoined silence.
Wilson performed for the girl very much the same service as
he had the night before. Only he advised her not to starve
herself; she must eat to keep up her strength. She complied
at the expense of considerable effort.
As it had been a back-breaking day, in which all of them,
except the girl, had climbed miles on foot, they did not
linger awake long enough after supper to learn what a wild,
weird, and pitch-black spot the outlaw leader had chosen.
The little spaces of open ground between the huge-trunked
pine-trees had no counterpart up in the lofty spreading
foliage. Not a star could blink a wan ray of light into that
Stygian pit. The wind, cutting down over abrupt heights
farther up, sang in the pine-needles as if they were strings
vibrant with chords. Dismal creaks were audible. They were
the forest sounds of branch or tree rubbing one another, but
which needed the corrective medium of daylight to convince
any human that they were other than ghostly. Then, despite
the wind and despite the changing murmur of the brook, there
seemed to be a silence insulating them, as deep and
impenetrable as the darkness.
But the outlaws, who were fugitives now, slept the sleep of
the weary, and heard nothing. They awoke with the sun, when
the forest seemed smoky in a golden gloom, when light and
bird and squirrel proclaimed the day.
The horses had not strayed out of this basin during the
night, a circumstance that Anson was not slow to appreciate.
"It ain't no cheerful camp, but I never seen a safer place
to hole up in," he remarked to Wilson.
"Wal, yes -- if any place is safe," replied that ally,
"We can watch our back tracks. There ain't any other way to
git in hyar thet I see."
"Snake, we was tolerable fair sheep-rustlers, but we're no
Anson grumbled his disdain of this comrade who had once been
his mainstay. Then he sent Burt out to hunt fresh meat and
engaged his other men at cards. As they now had the means to
gamble, they at once became absorbed. Wilson smoked and
divided his thoughtful gaze between the gamblers and the
drooping figure of the girl. The morning air was keen, and
she, evidently not caring to be near her captors beside the
camp-fire, had sought the only sunny spot in this gloomy
dell. A couple of hours passed; the sun climbed high; the
air grew warmer. Once the outlaw leader raised his head to
scan the heavy-timbered slopes that inclosed the camp.
"Jim, them hosses are strayin' off ," he observed.
Wilson leisurely rose and stalked off across the small, open
patches, in the direction of the horses. They had grazed
around from the right toward the outlet of the brook. Here
headed a ravine, dense and green. Two of the horses had gone
down. Wilson evidently heard them, though they were not in
sight, and he circled somewhat so as to get ahead of them
and drive them back. The invisible brook ran down over the
rocks with murmur and babble. He halted with instinctive
action. He listened. Forest sounds, soft, lulling, came on
the warm, pine-scented breeze. It would have taken no keen
ear to hear soft and rapid padded footfalls. He moved on
cautiously and turned into a little open, mossy spot,
brown-matted and odorous, full of ferns and bluebells. In
the middle of this, deep in the moss, he espied a huge round
track of a cougar. He bent over it. Suddenly he stiffened,
then straightened guardedly. At that instant he received a
hard prod in the back. Throwing up his hands, he stood
still, then slowly turned. A tall hunter in gray buckskin,
gray-eyed and square-jawed, had him covered with a cocked
rifle. And beside this hunter stood a monster cougar,
snarling and blinking.
"Howdy, Dale," drawled Wilson. "Reckon you're a little
previous on me."
"Sssssh! Not so loud," said the hunter, in low voice.
"You're Jim Wilson?"
"Shore am. Say, Dale, you showed up soon. Or did you jest
happen to run acrost us?"
"I've trailed you. Wilson, I'm after the girl."
"I knowed thet when I seen you!"
The cougar seemed actuated by the threatening position of
his master, and he opened his mouth, showing great yellow
fangs, and spat at Wilson. The outlaw apparently had no fear
of Dale or the cocked rifle, but that huge, snarling cat
occasioned him uneasiness.
"Wilson, I've heard you spoken of as a white outlaw," said
"Mebbe I am. But shore I'll be a scared one in a minit.
Dale, he's goin' to jump me!"
"The cougar won't jump you unless I make him. Wilson, if I
let you go will you get the girl for me?"
"Wal, lemme see. Supposin' I refuse?" queried Wilson,
"Then, one way or another, it's all up with you."
"Reckon I 'ain't got much choice. Yes, I'll do it. But,
Dale, are you goin' to take my word for thet an' let me go
back to Anson?"
"Yes, I am. You're no fool. An' I believe you're square.
I've got Anson and his gang corralled. You can't slip me --
not in these woods. I could run off your horses -- pick you
off one by one -- or turn the cougar loose on you at night."
"Shore. It's your game. Anson dealt himself this hand. . . .
Between you an' me, Dale, I never liked the deal."
"Who shot Riggs? . . . I found his body."
"Wal, yours truly was around when thet come off," replied
Wilson, with an involuntary little shudder. Some thought
made him sick.
"The girl? Is she safe -- unharmed?" queried Dale,
"She's shore jest as safe an' sound as when she was home.
Dale, she's the gamest kid thet ever breathed! Why, no one
could hev ever made me believe a girl, a kid like her, could
hev the nerve she's got. Nothin's happened to her 'cept
Riggs hit her in the mouth. . . . I killed him for thet. . .
. An', so help me, God, I believe it's been workin' in me to
save her somehow! Now it'll not be so hard."
"But how?" demanded Dale.
"Lemme see. . . . Wal, I've got to sneak her out of camp an'
meet you. Thet's all."
"It must be done quick."
"But, Dale, listen," remonstrated Wilson, earnestly. "Too
quick 'll be as bad as too slow. Snake is sore these days,
gittin' sorer all the time. He might savvy somethin', if I
ain't careful, an' kill the girl or do her harm. I know
these fellars. They're all ready to go to pieces. An' shore
I must play safe. Shore it'd be safer to have a plan."
Wilson's shrewd, light eyes gleamed with an idea. He was
about to lower one of his upraised hands, evidently to point
to the cougar, when he thought better of that.
"Anson's scared of cougars. Mebbe we can scare him an' the
gang so it 'd be easy to sneak the girl off. Can you make
thet big brute do tricks? Rush the camp at night an' squall
an' chase off the horses?"
"I'll guarantee to scare Anson out of ten years' growth,"
"Shore it's a go, then," resumed Wilson, as if glad. "I'll
post the girl -- give her a hunch to do her part. You sneak
up to-night jest before dark. I'll hev the gang worked up.
An' then you put the cougar to his tricks, whatever you
want. When the gang gits wild I'll grab the girl an' pack
her off down heah or somewheres aboot an' whistle fer you. .
. . But mebbe thet ain't so good. If' thet cougar comes
pilin' into camp he might jump me instead of one of the
gang. An' another hunch. He, might slope up on me in the
dark when I was tryin' to find you. Shore thet ain't
appealin' to me."
"Wilson, this cougar is a pet," replied Dale. "You think
he's dangerous, but he's not. No more than a kitten. He only
looks fierce. He has never been hurt by a person an' he's
never fought anythin' himself but deer an' bear. I can make
him trail any scent. But the truth is I couldn't make him
hurt you or anybody. All the same, he can be made to scare
the hair off any one who doesn't know him."
"Shore thet settles me. I'll be havin' a grand joke while
them fellars is scared to death. . . . Dale, you can depend
on me. An' I'm beholdin' to you fer what 'll square me some
with myself. . . . To-night, an' if it won't work then,
to-morrer night shore!"
Dale lowered the rifle. The big cougar spat again. Wilson
dropped his hands and, stepping forward, split the green
wall of intersecting spruce branches. Then he turned up the
ravine toward the glen. Once there, in sight of his
comrades, his action and expression changed.
"Hosses all thar, Jim?" asked Anson, as he picked up, his
"Shore. They act awful queer, them hosses," replied. Wilson.
"They're afraid of somethin'."
"A-huh! Silvertip mebbe," muttered Anson. "Jim, You jest
keep watch of them hosses. We'd be done if some tarnal
varmint stampeded them."
"Reckon I'm elected to do all the work now," complained
Wilson, "while you card-sharps cheat each other." Rustle the
hosses -- an' water an' fire-wood. Cook an' wash. Hey?"
"No one I ever seen can do them camp tricks any better 'n
Jim Wilson," replied Anson.
"Jim, you're a lady's man an' thar's our pretty hoodoo over
thar to feed an' amoose," remarked Shady Jones, with a smile
that disarmed his speech.
The outlaws guffawed.
"Git out, Jim, you're breakin' up the game," said Moze, who
"Wal, thet gurl would starve if it wasn't fer me," replied
Wilson, genially, and he walked over toward her, beginning
to address her, quite loudly, as he approached. "Wal, miss,
I'm elected cook an' I'd shore like to heah what you fancy
The outlaws heard, for they guffawed again. "Haw! Haw! if
Jim ain't funny!" exclaimed Anson.
The girl looked up amazed. Wilson was winking at her, and
when he got near he began to speak rapidly and low.
"I jest met Dale down in the woods with his pet cougar. He's
after you. I'm goin' to help him git you safe away. Now you
do your part. I want you to pretend you've gone crazy.
Savvy? Act out of your head! Shore I don't care what you do
or say, only act crazy. An' don't be scared. We're goin' to
scare the gang so I'll hev a chance to sneak you away.
To-night or to-morrow -- shore."
Before he began to speak she was pale, sad, dull of eye.
Swiftly, with his words, she was transformed, and when he
had ended she did not appear the same girl. She gave him one
blazing flash of comprehension and nodded her head rapidly.
"Yes, I understand. I'll do it!" she whispered.
The outlaw turned slowly away with the most abstract air,
confounded amid his shrewd acting, and he did not collect
himself until half-way back to his comrades. Then, beginning
to hum an old darky tune, he stirred up and replenished the
fire, and set about preparation for the midday meal. But he
did not miss anything going on around him. He saw the girl
go into her shelter and come out with her hair all down over
her face. Wilson, back to his comrades, grinned his glee,
and he wagged his head as if he thought the situation was
The gambling outlaws, however, did not at once see the girl
preening herself and smoothing her long hair in a way
calculated to startle.
"Busted!" ejaculated Anson, with a curse, as he slammed down
his cards. "If I ain't hoodooed I'm a two-bit of a gambler!"
"Sartin you're hoodooed," said Shady Jones, in scorn. "Is
thet jest dawnin' on you?"
"Boss, you play like a cow stuck in the mud," remarked Moze,
"Fellars, it ain't funny," declared Anson, with pathetic
gravity. "I'm jest gittin' on to myself. Somethin's wrong.
Since 'way last fall no luck -- nothin' but the wust end of
everythin'. I ain't blamin' anybody. I'm the boss. It's me
"Snake, shore it was the gurl deal you made," rejoined
Wilson, who had listened. "I told you. Our troubles hev only
begun. An' I can see the wind-up. Look!"
Wilson pointed to where the girl stood, her hair flying
wildly all over her face and shoulders. She was making most
elaborate bows to an old stump, sweeping the ground with her
tresses in her obeisance.
Anson started. He grew utterly astounded. His amaze was
ludicrous. And the other two men looked to stare, to equal
their leader's bewilderment.
"What 'n hell's come over her?" asked Anson, dubiously.
"Must hev perked up. . . . But she ain't feelin' thet gay!"
Wilson tapped his forehead with a significant finger.
"Shore I was scared of her this mawnin'," he whispered.
"Naw!" exclaimed Anson, incredulously.
"If she hain't queer I never seen no queer wimmin,"
vouchsafed Shady Jones, and it would have been judged, by
the way he wagged his head, that he had been all his days
familiar with women.
Moze looked beyond words, and quite alarmed.
"I seen it comin'," declared Wilson, very much excited. "But
I was scared to say so. You-all made fun of me aboot her.
Now I shore wish I had spoken up."
Anson nodded solemnly. He did not believe the evidence of
his sight, but the facts seemed stunning. As if the girl
were a dangerous and incomprehensible thing, he approached
her step by step. Wilson followed, and the others appeared
"Hey thar -- kid!" called Anson, hoarsely.
The girl drew her slight form up haughtily. Through her
spreading tresses her eyes gleamed unnaturally upon the
outlaw leader. But she deigned not to reply.
"Hey thar -- you Rayner girl!" added Anson, lamely. "What's
"My lord! did you address me?" she asked, loftily.
Shady Jones got over his consternation and evidently
extracted some humor from the situation, as his dark face
began to break its strain.
"Aww!" breathed Anson, heavily.
"Ophelia awaits your command, my lord. I've been gathering
flowers," she said, sweetly, holding up her empty hands as
if they contained a bouquet.
Shady Jones exploded in convulsed laughter. But his
merriment was not shared. And suddenly it brought disaster
upon him. The girl flew at him.
"Why do you croak, you toad? I will have you whipped and put
in irons, you scullion!" she cried, passionately.
Shady underwent a remarkable change, and stumbled in his
backward retreat. Then she snapped her fingers in Moze's
"You black devil! Get hence! Avaunt!"
Anson plucked up courage enough to touch her.
"Aww! Now, Ophelyar --"
Probably he meant to try to humor her, but she screamed, and
he jumped back as if she might burn him. She screamed
shrilly, in wild, staccato notes.
"You! You!" she pointed her finger at the outlaw leader.
"You brute to women! You ran off from your wife!"
Anson turned plum-color and then slowly white. The girl must
have sent a random shot home.
"And now the devil's turned you into a snake. A long, scaly
snake with green eyes! Uugh! You'll crawl on your belly soon
-- when my cowboy finds you. And he'll tramp you in the
She floated away from them and began to whirl gracefully,
arms spread and hair flying; and then, apparently oblivious
of the staring men, she broke into a low, sweet song. Next
she danced around a pine, then danced into her little green
inclosure. From which presently she sent out the most
"Aww! What a shame!" burst out Anson. "Thet fine, healthy,
nervy kid! Clean gone! Daffy! Crazy 'n a bedbug!"
"Shore it's a shame," protested Wilson." But it's wuss for
us. Lord! if we was hoodooed before, what will we be now?
Didn't I tell you, Snake Anson? You was warned. Ask Shady
an' Moze -- they see what's up."
"No luck 'll ever come our way ag'in," predicted Shady,
"It beats me, boss, it beats me," muttered Moze.
"A crazy woman on my hands! If thet ain't the last straw!"
broke out Anson, tragically, as he turned away. Ignorant,
superstitious, worked upon by things as they seemed, the
outlaw imagined himself at last beset by malign forces. When
he flung himself down upon one of the packs his big
red-haired hands shook. Shady and Moze resembled two other
men at the end of their ropes.
Wilson's tense face twitched, and he averted it, as
apparently he fought off a paroxysm of some nature. Just
then Anson swore a thundering oath.
"Crazy or not, I'll git gold out of thet kid!" he roared.
"But, man, talk sense. Are you gittin' daffy, too? I declare
this outfit's been eatin' loco. You can't git gold fer her!"
said Wilson, deliberately.
"Why can't I?"
"'Cause we're tracked. We can't make no dickers. Why, in
another day or so we'll be dodgin' lead."
"Tracked! Whar 'd you git thet idee? As soon as this?"
queried Anson, lifting his head like a striking snake. His
men, likewise, betrayed sudden interest.
"Shore it's no idee. I 'ain't seen any one. But I feel it in
my senses. I hear somebody comin' -- a step on our trail --
all the time -- night in particular. Reckon there's a big
posse after us."
"Wal, if I see or hear anythin' I'll knock the girl on the
head an' we'll dig out of hyar," replied Anson, sullenly.
Wilson executed a swift forward motion, violent and
passionate, so utterly unlike what might have been looked
for from him, that the three outlaws gaped.
"Then you'll shore hev to knock Jim Wilson on the haid
first," he said, in voice as strange as his action.
"Jim! You wouldn't go back on me!" implored Anson, with
uplifted hands, in a dignity of pathos.
"I'm losin' my haid, too, an' you shore might as well knock
it in, an' you'll hev to before I'll stand you murderin'
thet pore little gurl you've drove crazy."
"Jim, I was only mad," replied Anson. "Fer thet matter, I'm
growin' daffy myself. Aw! we all need a good stiff drink of
So he tried to throw off gloom and apprehension, but he
failed. His comrades did not rally to his help. Wilson
walked away, nodding his head.
"Boss, let Jim alone," whispered Shady. "It's orful the way
you buck ag'in' him -- when you seen he's stirred up. Jim's
true blue. But you gotta be careful."
Moze corroborated this statement by gloomy nods.
When the card-playing was resumed, Anson did not join the
game, and both Moze and Shady evinced little of that
whole-hearted obsession which usually attended their
gambling. Anson lay at length, his head in a saddle,
scowling at the little shelter where the captive girl kept
herself out of sight. At times a faint song or laugh, very
unnatural, was wafted across the space. Wilson plodded at
the cooking and apparently heard no sounds. Presently he
called the men to eat, which office they surlily and
silently performed, as if it was a favor bestowed upon the
"Snake, hadn't I ought to take a bite of grub over to the
gurl?" asked Wilson.
"Do you hev to ask me thet?" snapped Anson. "She's gotta be
fed, if we hev to stuff it down her throat."
"Wal, I ain't stuck on the job," replied Wilson. "But I'll
tackle it, seein' you-all got cold feet."
With plate and cup be reluctantly approached the little
lean-to, and, kneeling, he put his head inside. The girl,
quick-eyed and alert, had evidently seen him coming. At any
rate, she greeted him with a cautious smile.
"Jim, was I pretty good?" she whispered.
"Miss, you was shore the finest aktress I ever seen," he
responded, in a low voice. "But you dam near overdid it. I'm
goin' to tell Anson you're sick now -- poisoned or somethin'
awful. Then we'll wait till night. Dale shore will help us
"Oh, I'm on fire to get away," she exclaimed. "Jim Wilson,
I'll never forget you as long as I live!"
He seemed greatly embarrassed.
"Wal -- miss -- I -- I'll do my best licks. But I ain't
gamblin' none on results. Be patient. Keep your nerve. Don't
get scared. I reckon between me an' Dale you'll git away
Withdrawing his head, he got up and returned to the
camp-fire, where Anson was waiting curiously.
"I left the grub. But she didn't touch it. Seems sort of
sick to me, like she was poisoned."
"Jim, didn't I hear you talkin'?" asked Anson.
"Shore. I was coaxin' her. Reckon she ain't so ranty as she