Part 11 out of 12
"I see. Well, he sent you this message: 'Tell Bob to go ahead. I can
take care of myself.'"
"Bully for dad!" cried Bob, greatly heartened.
"He told me he did not want to advise you, but that in the old days when
a fight was on, the spectators were supposed to do their own dodging."
"I'd about come to that conclusion," said Bob, "but it surely does me
good to feel that father's behind me in it."
"My trip in '79--or whenever it was--was exactly on this same muss-up."
Mr. Taylor went on: "Your father owned this timber land then, and wanted
to borrow money on it. At the time a rascally partner was trying to ruin
him; and, in order to prevent his getting this money, which would save
him, this partner instigated investigations and succeeded temporarily in
clouding the title. Naturally the banks declined to lend money on
doubtful titles; which was all this partner wanted.[A] Perhaps you know
Bob shook his head. "I was a little too young to know anything of
"Your father sent me out to straighten things. The whole matter was
involved in endless red tape, obscured in every ingenious way possible.
Although there proved to be nothing to the affair, to prove that fact
took time, and time was what your father's partner was after. As a
matter of fact, he failed; but that was not the result of
miscalculation. Now I strongly suspect that your friend Baker, or his
lawyers, have dug up a lot of this old evidence on the records and are
going to use it to annoy us. There is nothing more in it how than there
was at the beginning, but it's colourable enough to start a noisy suit
on, and that's all these fellows are after."
"But if it was decided once, how can they bring it up again?" Bob
"It was never brought to court. When the delay had been gained--or
rather, when I unravelled the whole matter--it was dropped."
"I see," said Bob. "Then the titles are all right?"
"Every bit of that tract is as good as gold," said Taylor impressively.
"Your father bought only from men who had taken up land with their own
money. He paid as high as fifteen or sixteen hundred dollars for claims
where by straight 'colonizing' he could have had them for three or four
"I'm glad to hear that," said Bob. "But are you sure you can handle
"As for a suit, they can never win this in the world," said Taylor. "But
that isn't the question. What they want is a chance for big headlines."
"Well, can you head them off?"
"I'm going to try, after I look over the situation. If I can't head it
off completely, I'll at least be in a position to reply publicly at
once. It took me three months to dig this thing out, but it won't take
me half an hour to get it in the papers."
"I should think they'd know that."
"I don't think their lawyer really knows about it. As I say, it took me
three months to dig it all out. My notion is that while they have no
idea they can win the case, they believe that we did actually colonize
the lands. In other words, they think they have it on us straight
enough. The results of my investigations will surprise them. I'll keep
the thing out of court if I can; but in any case we're ready. It will be
a trial in the newspapers."
"Well," said Bob, "you want to get acquainted then. Western newspapers
are not like those in the East. They certainly jump in with both feet on
any cause that enlists them one way or another. It is a case of no
quarter to the enemy, in headlines, subheads, down to the date--reading
matter, of course. They have a powerful influence, too, for they are
very widely read."
"Can they be bought?" asked Taylor shrewdly.
Bob glanced at him.
"I was thinking of the Power Company," explained Taylor.
"Blessed if I know," confessed Bob; "but I think not. I disagree with
them on so many things that I'd like to think they are bought. But they
are more often against those apt to buy, than for them. They lambaste
impartially and with a certain Irish delight in doing the job
thoroughly. I must say they are not fair about it. They hit a man just
as hard when he is down. What you want to do is to be better news than
"I'll be all of that," promised Taylor, "if it comes to a newspaper
Bob glanced at his watch and jumped to his feet with an exclamation of
"I've five minutes to get to the station," he said. "Goodbye."
He rushed out of the hotel, caught a car, ran a block--and arrived in
time to see the tail lights slipping away. He had to wait until the
morning train, but that mattered little to him now. His wait and the
journey back to the mountains were considerably lightened by this
partial relief of the situation. At the first sign of trouble his father
had taken the field to fight out his own fights. That much
responsibility was lifted from Bob's shoulders. He might have known!
Of the four dangerous elements of his problem one was thus
unexpectedly, almost miraculously, relieved. Remained, however, poor
Welton's implication in the bribery matter, and Pollock's danger. Bob
could not count in himself. If he could only relieve the others of the
consequences of his action, he could face his own trouble with a stout
At White Oaks he was forced to wait for the next stage. This put him
twenty-four hours behind, and he was inclined to curse his luck. Had he
only known it, no better fortune could have fallen him. The news came
down the line that the stage he would have taken had been held up by a
lone highwayman just at the top of Flour Gold grade. As the vehicle
carried only an assortment of perishable fruit and three Italian
labourers, for the dam, the profits from the transaction were not
extraordinary. The sheriff and a posse at once set out in pursuit. Their
efforts at overtaking the highwayman were unavailing, for the trail soon
ran out over the rocky and brushy ledges, and the fugitive had been
clever enough to sprinkle some of his tracks liberally with red pepper
to baffle the dogs. The sheriff made a hard push of it, however, and for
one day held closely enough on the trail. Bob's journey to Sycamore
Flats took place on this one day--during which Saleratus Bill was too
busy dodging his pursuers to resume a purpose which Bob's delay had
On arriving at Auntie Belle's, Bob resolved to push on up the mountain
that very night, instead of waiting as usual until the following
morning. Accordingly, after supper, he saddled his horse, collected the
camp mail, and set himself in motion up the steep road.
Before he had passed Fern Falls, the twilight was falling. Hermit
thrushes sang down through the cooling forest. From the side hill,
exposed all the afternoon to the California summer sun, rose tepid
odours of bear-clover and snowbush, which exhaled out into space, giving
way to the wandering, faint perfumes of night. Bob took off his hat, and
breathed deep, greatly refreshed after the long, hot stage ride of the
day. Darkness fell. In the forest the strengthening moonlight laid its
wand upon familiar scenes to transform them. New aisles opened down the
woodlands, aisles at the end of which stood silvered, ghostly trees thus
distinguished by the moonbeams from their unnumbered brethren. The whole
landscape became ghostly, full of depths and shadows, mysteries and
allurements, heights and spaces unknown to the more prosaic day.
Landmarks were lost in the velvet dark; new features sprang into
prominence. Were it not for the wagon trail, Bob felt that in this
strange, enchanted, unfamiliar land he might easily have become lost.
His horse plodded mechanically on. One by one he passed the homely
roadside landmarks, exempt from the necromancies of the moon--the pile
of old cedar posts, split heaven knows when, by heaven knows whom, and
thriftlessly abandoned; the water trough, with the brook singing by; the
S turn by the great boulders; the narrow defile of the Devil's
Grade--and then, still under the spell of the night, Bob surmounted the
ridge to look out over the pine-clad plateau slumbering dead-still under
the soft radiance of the moon.
He rode the remaining distance to headquarters at a brisker pace. As he
approached the little meadow, and the group of buildings dark and
silent, he raised joyously the wild hallo of the late-comer with mail.
Immediately lights were struck. A moment later, by the glimmer of a
lantern, he was distributing the coveted papers, letters and magazines
to the half-dressed group that surrounded him. Amy summoned him to bring
her share. He delivered it to the hand and arm extended from the low
"You must be nearly dead," said Amy, "after that long stage ride--to
come right up the mountain."
"It's the finest sort of a night," said Bob. "I wouldn't have missed it
for anything. It's H-O-T, hot, down at the Flats. This ride just saved
This might have been truer than Bob had thought, for at almost that
very moment Saleratus Bill, having successfully shaken off his pursuers,
was making casual and guarded inquiries at Austin's saloon. When he
heard that Orde had arrived at the Flats on the evening's stage, he
manifested some satisfaction. The next morning, however, that
satisfaction vanished, for only then he learned that the young man must
be already safe at headquarters.
[Footnote A: See "The Riverman."]
In delivering his instructions to Oldham, Baker had, of course, no
thought of extreme measures. Indeed, had the direct question been put to
him, he would most strongly and emphatically have forbidden them.
Nevertheless, he was glad to leave his intentions vague, feeling that in
thus wilfully shutting his eyes he might avoid personal responsibility
for what might happen. He had every confidence that Oldham--a man of
more than average cultivation--while he might contemplate lawlessness,
was of too high an order to consider physical violence. Baker was
inclined to believe that on mature reflection Bob would yield to the
accumulation of influence against him. If not, Oldham intimated with no
uncertain confidence, that he possessed information of a sort to coerce
the Forest officer into silence. If that in turn proved unavailing--a
contingency, it must be remembered that Baker hardly thought worth
entertainment--why, then, in some one of a thousand perfectly legal ways
Oldham could entangle the chief witness into an enforced absence from
the trial. This sort of manoeuvre was, later, actually carried out in
the person of Mr. Fremont Older, a witness in the graft prosecutions of
San Francisco. In short, Baker's intentions, while desperately illegal,
contemplated no personal harm to their victim. He gave as general orders
to his subordinate: "Keep Orde's testimony out of court"; and shrugged
off minute responsibilities.
This command, filtered through a second and inimical personality, gained
in strength. Oldham was not of a temperament to contemplate murder. His
nerves were too refined; his training too conventional; his imagination
too developed. He, too, resolutely kept his intentions a trifle vague.
If Orde persisted, then he must be kidnapped for a time.
But Saleratus Bill, professional gun-man, well paid, took his
instructions quite brutally. In literal and bald statement he closed the
circle and returned to Baker's very words: "Keep Orde's testimony out of
court." Only in this case Saleratus Bill read into the simple command a
more sinister meaning.
The morning after his return from the lower country, Bob saddled up to
ride over to the mill. He wished to tell Welton of his meeting Taylor;
and to consult him on the best course to pursue in regard to the bribery
charges. With daylight many of his old perplexities had returned. He
rode along so deep in thought that the only impression reaching him from
the external world was one of the warmth of the sun.
Suddenly a narrow shadow flashed by his eyes. Before his consciousness
could leap from its inner contemplation, his arms were pulled flat to
his sides, a shock ran through him as though he had received a heavy
blow, and he was jerked backward from his horse to hit the ground with
The wind was knocked from his body, so that for five seconds, perhaps,
he was utterly confused. Before he could gather himself, or even
comprehend what had happened, a heavy weight flung itself upon him. The
beginnings of his feeble struggles were unceremoniously subdued. When,
in another ten seconds, his vision had cleared, he found himself bound
hand and foot. Saleratus Bill stood over him, slowly recoiling the
_riata,_ or throwing rope, with which he had so dexterously caught Bob
from behind. After contemplating his victim for a moment, Saleratus Bill
mounted his own animal, and disappeared.
Bob, his head humming from the violence of its impact with the ground,
listened until the hoof beats had ceased to jar the earth. Then with a
methodical desperation he began to wrench and work at his bonds. All his
efforts were useless; Saleratus Bill understood "hog-tying" too well.
When, finally, he had convinced himself that he could not get away, Bob
gave over his efforts. The forest was very still and warm. After a time
the sun fell upon him, and he began to feel its heat uncomfortably. The
affair was inexplicable. He began to wonder whether Saleratus Bill
intended leaving him there a prey to what fortune chance might bring.
Although the odds were a hundred to one against his being heard, he
shouted several times. About as he had begun once more to struggle
against his bonds, his captor returned, leading Bob's horse, and cursing
audibly over the difficulty he had been put to in catching it.
Ignoring Bob's indignant demands, the gun-man loosed his ankles, taking,
however, the precaution of throwing the riata over the young man's
"Climb your horse," he commanded briefly.
"How do you expect me to do that, with my hands tied behind me?"
"I don't know. Just do it, and be quick," replied Saleratus Bill.
Bob's horse was nervous and restive. Three times he dropped his master
heavily to earth. Then Saleratus Bill, his evil eye wary, extended a
helping hand. This was what Bob was hoping for; but the gun-man was too
wily and experienced to allow himself within the captive's fettered
When Bob had finally gained his saddle, Saleratus Bill, leading the
horse, set off at a rapid pace cross country. To all of Bob's questions
and commands he turned a deaf ear, until, finally, seeing it was useless
to ask, Bob fell silent. Only once did he pause, and then to breathe and
water the horses. The country through which they passed was unfamiliar
to Bob. He knew only that they were going north, and were keeping to
westward of the Second Ranges.
Late that evening Saleratus Bill halted for the night at a little
meadow. He fed Bob a thick sandwich, and offered him a cup of water;
after which he again shackled the young man's ankles, bound his elbows,
and attached the helpless form to a tree. Bob spent the night in this
case, covered only by his saddle blanket. The cords cut into his swelled
flesh, the retarded circulation pricked him cruelly. He slept little. At
early dawn his captor offered him the same fare. By sun-up they were
under way again.
All that day they angled to the northwest. The pine forests gave way to
oaks, buckthorn, chaparral, as they entered lower country. Several times
Saleratus Bill made long detours to avoid clearings and ranches. Bob, in
spite of his strength and the excellence of his condition, reeled from
sheer weariness and pain. They made no stop at noon.
At two o'clock, or so, they left the last ranch and began once more
leisurely to climb. The slope was gentle. A badly washed and eroded
wagon grade led them on. It had not been used for years. The horses, now
very tired, plodded on dispiritedly.
Then, with the suddenness of a shift of scenery, they topped what seemed
to be a trifling rounded hill. On the other side the slope dropped sheer
away. Opposite and to north and south were the ranks of great mountains,
some dark with the blue of atmosphere before pines, others glittering
with snow. Directly beneath, almost under him, Bob saw a valley.
It was many thousand feet below, mathematically round, and completely
surrounded by lofty mountains. Indeed, already evening had there spread
its shadows, although to the rest of the world the sun was still hours
high. Through it flowed a river. From the height it looked like a piece
of translucent green glass in the still depths; like cotton-wool where
the rapids broke; for the great distance robbed it of all motion. This
stream issued from a gorge and flowed into another, both so narrow that
the lofty mountains seemed fairly to close them shut.
Through the clear air of the Sierras this valley looked like a toy, a
miniature. Every detail was distinct. Bob made out very plainly the
pleasant trees, and a bridge over the river, and the roofs of many
houses, and the streets of a little town.
To the left the wagon road dropped away down the steep side of the
mountain. Bob's eye could follow it, at first a band, then a ribbon,
finally a tiny white thread, as it wound and zigzagged, seeking its
contours, until finally it ran out on the level and rested at the bridge
end. Opposite, on the other mountain, he thought to make out here and
there faint suggestions of another way.
Though his eye thus embraced at a glance the whole length of the route,
Bob found it a two-hours' journey down. Always the walls of the
mountains rose higher and higher above him, gaining in majesty and awe
as he abandoned to them the upper air. Always the round valley grew
larger, losing its toy-like character. Its features became, not more
distinct, but more detailed. Bob saw the streets of the town were
pleasantly shaded by cotton woods and willows; he distinguished dwelling
houses, a store, an office building, a mill building for crushing of
ore. The roar of the river came up to him more clearly. As though some
power had released the magic of the stream, the water now moved. Rushing
foam and white water tumbled over the black and shining rocks; deep
pools eddied, dark and green, shot with swirls.
As it became increasingly evident that the road could lead nowhere but
through this village, Bob's spirits rose. The place was well built. Bob
caught the shimmer of ample glass in the windows, the colour of paint on
the boards, and even the ordered rectangles of brick chimneys! Evidently
these things must have been freighted in over the devious steep grade he
was at that moment descending. Bob well knew that, even nearer the
source of supplies, such mining camps as this appeared to be were most
often but a collection of rude, unpainted shanties, huddled together for
a temporary need. The orderly, well-kept, decent appearance of this
hamlet, more like a shaded New England village than a Western camp,
argued old establishment, prosperity, and self-respect. The inhabitants
could be no desperate fly-by-nights, such as Saleratus Bill would most
likely have sought as companions. Bob made up his mind that the gun-man
would shortly try to threaten him into a temporary secrecy as to the
condition of affairs. This Bob instantly resolved to refuse.
[Illustration: Bob found it two hours' journey down]
Saleratus Bill, however, rode on in an unbroken silence. Long after the
brawl of the river had become deafening, the road continued to dip and
descend. It is a peculiar phenomenon incidental to the descent of the
sheer canons of the Sierra Nevada that the last few hundred feet down
seem longer than the thousands already passed. This is probably because,
having gained close to the level of the tree-tops, the mind, strung taut
to the long descent, allows itself prematurely to relax its attention.
Bob turned in his saddle to look back at the grade. He could not fail to
reflect on how lucky it was that the inhabitants of this village could
haul their materials and supplies _down_ the road. It would have been
prohibitively difficult to drag anything up.
After a wearisome time the road at last swung out on the flat, and so
across the meadow to the bridge. Feed was belly deep to the horses. The
bridge proved to be a suspension affair of wire cables, that swung
alarmingly until the horses had to straddle in order to stand at all.
Below it boiled the river, swirling, dashing, turning lazily and
mysteriously over its glass-green depths, the shimmers and folds of
eddies rising and swaying like air currents made visible.
They climbed out on solid ground. The road swung to the left and back,
following a contour to the slight elevation on which the houses stood.
Saleratus Bill, however, turned up a brief short-cut, which landed them
immediately on the main street.
Bob saw two stores, an office building and a small hotel, shaded by
wooden awnings. Beyond them, and opposite them, were substantial bunk
houses and dwelling houses, painted red, each with its elevated, roofed
verandah. Large trees, on either side, threw a shade fairly across the
thoroughfare. An iron pump and water trough in front of the hotel saved
the wayfarer from the necessity of riding his animals down to the river.
The vista at the end of the street showed a mill building on a distant
mountain side, with the rabbit-burrow dumps of many shafts and prospect
holes all about it.
They rode up the street past two or three of the houses, the hotel and
the office. Bob, peering in through the windows, saw tables and chairs,
old chromos and newer lithographs on the walls. Under the tree at the
side of the hotel hung a water _olla_ with a porcelain cup atop. Near
the back porch stood a screen meat safe.
But not a soul was in sight. The street was deserted, the houses empty,
the office unoccupied. As they proceeded Bob expected from one moment to
the next to see a door open, a figure saunter around a corner. Save for
the jays and squirrels, the place was absolutely empty.
For some minutes the full realization of this fact was slow in coming.
The village exhibited none of the symptoms of abandonment. The window
glass was whole; the furniture of such houses as Bob had glanced into
while passing stood in its accustomed places. A few strokes of the broom
might have made any one of them immediately fit for habitation. The
place looked less deserted than asleep; like one of the enchanted
palaces so dear to tales of magic. It would not have seemed greatly
wonderful to Bob to have seen the town spring suddenly to life in
obedience to some spell. If the mill stamps in the distant crusher had
creaked and begun to pound; if dogs had rushed barking around corners
and from under porches; if from the hotel mine host had emerged,
yawning and rubbing his eyes; if from the shops and offices and houses
had issued the slow, grumbling sounds of life awakening, it would all
have seemed natural and to be expected. Under the influence of this
strange effect a deathly stillness seemed to fall, in spite of the
bawling and roaring of the river, and the trickle of many streamlets
hurrying down from the surrounding hills.
So extraordinary was this effect of suspended animation that Bob again
essayed his surly companion.
"What place do you call this?" he inquired.
Saleratus Bill had dismounted, and was stretching his long, lean arms
over his head. Evidently he considered this the end of the long and
painful journey, and as evidently he was, in his relief, inclined to be
"Busted minin' camp called Bright's Cove," said he; "they took about ten
million dollars out of here before she bust."
"How long ago was that?" asked Bob.
"Ten year or so."
The young man gazed about him in amazement. The place looked as though
it might have been abandoned the month before. In his subsequent sojourn
he began more accurately to gauge the reasons for this. Here were no
small boys to hurl the casual pebble through the delightfully shimmering
glass; here was no dust to be swirled into crevices and angles, no wind
to carry it; to this remote cove penetrated no vandals to rob, mutilate
or wantonly disfigure; and the elevation of the valley's floor was low
enough even to avoid the crushing weights of snow that every winter
brought to the peaks around it. Only the squirrels, the birds and the
tiny wood rats represented in their little way the forces of
destruction. Furthermore, the difficulties of transportation absolutely
precluded moving any of the small property whose absence so strongly
impresses the desertion of a building. When Bright's Cove moved, it had
merely to shut the front door. In some cases it did not shut the front
Saleratus Bill assisted Bob from the saddle. This had become necessary,
for the long ride in bonds had so cramped and stiffened the young man
that he was unable to help himself. Indeed, he found he could not stand.
Saleratus Bill, after looking at him shrewdly, untied his hands.
"I guess you're safe enough for now," said he.
Bob's wrists were swollen, and his arms so stiff he could hardly use
them. Saleratus Bill paused in throwing the saddles off the wearied
"Look here," said he gruffly; "if you pass yore word you won't try to
get away or make no fight, I'll turn you loose."
"I'll promise you that for to-night, anyway," returned Bob quickly.
Saleratus Bill immediately cast the ropes into a corner of the verandah.
The shadows of evening were falling when Saleratus Bill returned from
pasturing the wearied horses. Bob had been too exhausted to look about
him, even to think. From a cache the gun-man produced several bags of
food and a side of bacon. Evidently Bright's Cove was one of his
familiar haunts. After a meal which Bob would have enjoyed more had he
not been so dead weary, his captor motioned him to one of the bunks.
Only too glad for an opportunity to rest, Bob tumbled in, clothes and
About midnight he half roused, feeling the mountain chill. He groped
instinctively; his hand encountered a quilt, which he drew around his
When he awoke it was broad daylight. A persistent discomfort which had
for an hour fought with his drowsiness for the ascendancy, now disclosed
itself as a ligature tying his elbows at the back. Evidently Saleratus
Bill had taken this precaution while the young man slept. Bob could
still use his hands and wrists, after a fashion; he could walk about but
he would be unable to initiate any effective offence. The situation was
admirably analogous to that of a hobbled horse. Moreover, the bonds were
apparently of some broad, soft substance like sacking or harness
webbing, so that, after Bob had moved from his constrained position,
they did not excessively discommode him.
He had no means of guessing what the hour might be, and no sounds
reached him from the other parts of the house. His muscles were sore and
bruised. For some time he was quite content to lie on his side, thinking
From his knowledge of the connection between Baker and Oldham, Oldham
and his captor, Bob had no doubt as to the purpose of his abduction; nor
did he fail to guess that now, with the chief witness out of the way,
the trial would be hurried where before it had been delayed. Personally
he had little to fear beyond a detention--unless he should attempt to
escape, or unless a searching party might blunder on his traces. Bob had
already made up his mind to use his best efforts to get away. As to the
probabilities of a rescue blundering on this retreat, he had no means of
guessing; but he shrewdly concluded that Saleratus Bill was taking no
That individual now entered; and, seeing his captive awake, gruffly
ordered him to rise. Bob found an abundant breakfast ready, to which he
was able to do full justice. In the course of the meal he made several
attempts on his jailer's taciturnity, but without success. Saleratus
Bill met all his inquiries, open and guarded, with a sullen silence or
evasive, curt replies.
"It don't noways matter why you're here, or how you're here. You _are_
here, and that's all there's to it."
"How long do I stay?"
"Until I get ready to let you go."
"How can you get word from Mr. Oldham when to let me off?" asked Bob.
But Saleratus Bill refused to rise to the bait.
"I'll let you go when I get ready," he repeated.
Bob was silent for some time.
"You know this lets me off from my promise," said he, nodding backward
toward his elbows. "I'll get away if I can."
Saleratus Bill, for the first time, permitted himself a smile.
"There's two ways out of this place," said he--"where we come in, and
over north on the trail. You can see every inch--both ways--from here.
Besides, don't make no mistakes. I'll shoot you if you make a break."
"I believe you," said he.
As though to convince Bob of the utter helplessness of any attempt,
Saleratus Bill, leaving the dishes unwashed, led the way in a tour of
the valley. Save where the wagon road descended and where the steep side
hill of the north wall arose, the boundaries were utterly precipitous.
From a narrow gorge, flanked by water-smoothed rock aprons, the river
boiled between glassy perpendicular cliffs.
"There ain't no swimming-holes in that there river," remarked Saleratus
Bob, leaning forward, could just catch a glimpse of the torrent raging
and buffeting in the narrow box canon, above which the mountains rose
tremendous. No stream growths had any chance there. The place was water
and rock--nothing more. In the valley itself willows and alders, well
out of reach of high water, offered a partial screen to soften the
The round valley itself, however, was beautiful. Ripening grasses grew
shoulder high. Shady trees swarmed with birds. Bees and other insects
hummed through the sun-warmed air.
In vain Bob looked about him for the horses, or for signs of them. They
were nowhere to be seen. Saleratus Bill, reading his perplexity, grinned
"Yore friends might come in here," said he, evidently not unwilling to
expose to Bob the full hopelessness of the latter's case. "And if so,
they can trail us in; _and then trail us out again!_" He pointed to the
lacets of the trail up the north wall. He grinned again. "You and I'd
just crawl down a mile of mine shaft."
Having thus, to his satisfaction, impressed Bob with the utter futility
of an attempt to escape, Saleratus Bill led the way back to the deserted
village. There he turned deliberately on his captive.
"Now, young feller, you listen to me," said he. "Don't you try no monkey
business. There won't be no questions asked, none whatever. As long as
you set and look at the scenery, you won't come to no harm; but the
minute you make even a bluff at gettin' funny--even if yore sorry the
next minute--I'll shoot. And don't you never forget and try to get
nearer to me than three paces. Don't forget that! I don't rightly want
to hurt you; but I'd just as leave shoot you as anybody else."
To this view of the situation Bob gave the expected assent.
The next three days were ones of routine. Saleratus Bill spent his time
rolling brown-paper cigarettes at a spot that commanded both trails. Bob
was instructed to keep in sight. He early discovered the cheering fact
that trout were to be had in the glass-green pools; and so spent hours
awkwardly manipulating an improvised willow pole equipped with the short
line and the Brown Hackle without which no mountaineer ever travels the
Sierras. His bound elbows and the crudity of his tackle lost him many
fish. Still, he caught enough for food; and his mind was busy.
Canvassing the possibilities, Bob could not but admit that Saleratus
Bill knew his job. The river was certain death, and led nowhere except
into mysterious and awful granite gorges; the outlets by roads were well
in sight. For one afternoon Bob seriously contemplated hazarding a
personal encounter. He conceived that in some manner he could get rid of
his bonds at night; that Saleratus Bill must necessarily sleep; and that
there might be a chance to surprise the gun-man then. But when night
came, Saleratus Bill disappeared into the outer darkness; nor did he
return until morning. He might have spent the hours camped under the
trees of the more remote meadow, whence in the brilliant moonlight he
could keep tabs on the trails, or he might be lying near at hand; Bob
had no means of telling. Certainly, again the young man reluctantly
acknowledged to himself, Saleratus Bill knew his job!
Nevertheless, as the days slipped by; and Bob's physical strength
returned in its full measure, his active and bold spirit again took the
initiative. A slow anger seized possession of him. The native combative
stubbornness of the race asserted itself, the necessity of doing
something, the inability tamely to submit to imposed circumstances.
Bob's careful analysis of the situation as a whole failed to discover
any feasible plan. Therefore he abandoned trying to plan ahead, and fell
back on those always-ready and comfortable aphorisims of the
adventurous--"sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof," and "one
thing at a time." Obviously, the first thing to do was to free his arms;
after that he would see what he would see.
Every evening Saleratus Bill took the candle and departed, leaving Bob
to find his own way to his bunk. This was the time to cut his bonds; if
at all. Unfortunately Bob could find nothing against which to cut them.
Saleratus Bill had carefully removed every abrasive possibility in the
two rooms. Bob very wisely relinquished the idea of passing the
threshold in search of a suitable rock or piece of tin. He had no notion
of risking a bullet until something was likely to be gained by it.
Finally his cogitations brought him an idea. Saleratus Bill was
attentive enough to such of the simple creature comforts as were within
his means. Bob's pipe had been well supplied with tobacco. On the fourth
evening Bob filled it just as his jailor was about to take away the
candle for the night.
"Just a minute," said Bob. "Let me have a light."
Bill set the candle on the table again, and retired the three paces
which he never forgot rigidly to maintain between himself and his
captive. Bob thereupon lit his pipe and nodded his thanks. As soon as
Saleratus Bill had well departed, however, he retired to his bunk room,
shutting the door carefully after him. There, with great care, he
deliberately set to work to coax into flame a small fire on the old
hearth, using as fuel the rounds of a broken chair, and as ignition the
glowing coal in the bowl of his pipe. Before the hearth he had managed
to hang the heavy quilt from his bunk, so that the flicker of the flames
should not be visible from the outside.
The little fire caught, blazed for a few moments, and fell to a steady
glow. Bob fished out one of the chair rungs, jammed the cool end firmly
in one of the open cracks between the timbers of the room, turned his
back, and deliberately pressed the band around his elbows against the
A smell of burning cloth immediately filled the air. After a moment the
coal went out. Bob replaced the charred rung in the fire, extracted
another, and repeated the operation.
It was exceedingly difficult to gauge the matter accurately, as Bob soon
found out to his cost. He managed to burn more holes in his garment--and
himself--than in the bonds. However, he kept at it, and after a half
hour's steady and patient effort he was able to snap asunder the last
strands. He stretched his arms over his head in an ecstasy of physical
That was all very well, but what next? Bob was suddenly called to a
decision which had up to that moment seemed inconceivably remote.
Heretofore, an apparent impossibility had separated him from it. Now
that impossibility was achieved.
A moment's thought convinced him of the senseless hazard of attempting
to slip out through any of the doors or windows. The moon was bright,
and Saleratus Bill would have taken his precautions. Bob attacked the
floor. Several boards proved to be loose. He pried them up cautiously,
and so was enabled to drop through into the open space beneath the
house. Thence it was easy to crawl away. Saleratus Bill's precautions
were most likely taken, Bob argued to himself, with a view toward a man
bound at the elbows, not to a man with two hands. In this he was
evidently correct, for after a painful effort, he found himself among
the high grasses of the meadow.
There were now, as he recognized, two courses open to him: he could
either try to discover Saleratus Bill's sleeping place and by surprise
overpower that worthy as he slept; or he could make the best of the
interim before his absence was discovered to get as far away as
possible. Both courses had obvious disadvantages. The most immediate to
the first alternative was the difficulty, failing some clue, of finding
Saleratus Bill's sleeping place without too positive a risk of
discovery; the most immediate to the second was the difficulty of
getting to the other side of the river. As Saleratus Bill might be at
any one of a thousand places, in or out of doors; whereas the river
could be crossed only by the bridge. Bob, without hesitation, chose the
Therefore he made his way cautiously to that structure. It proved to be
lying in broad moonlight. As it constituted the only link with the
outside world to the south, Bob could not doubt that his captor had
arranged to keep it in sight.
The bridge was, as has been said, suspended across a strait between two
rocks by means of heavy wire cables. Slipping beneath these rocks and
into the shadow, Bob was rejoiced to find that between the stringers and
the shore, smaller cables had been bent to act as guy lines. If he could
walk "hand over hand," the distance comprised by the width of the stream
he could pass the river below the level of the bridge floor. He measured
the distance with his eye. It did not look farther than the length of
the gymnasium at college. He seized the cable and swung himself out over
Immediately the swift and boiling current, though twenty feet below,
seemed to suck at his feet. The swirling and flashing of the water
dizzied his brain with the impression of falling upstream. He had to fix
his eyes on the black flooring above his head. The steel cable, too, was
old and rusted and harsh. Bob's hands had not for many years grasped a
rope strongly, and in that respect he found them soft. His muscles,
cramped more than he had realized by the bonds of his captivity, soon
began to drag and stretch. When halfway across, suspended above a
ravening torrent; confronted, tired, by an effort he had needed all his
fresh energies to put forth, Bob would have given a good deal to have
been able to clamber aboard the bridge, risk or no risk. It was,
however, a clear case of needs must. He finished the span on sheer nerve
and will power; and fell thankfully on the rocks below the farther
abutment. For a half minute he lay there, stretching slowly his muscles
and straightening his hands, which had become cramped like claws. Then
he crept, always in the shadow, to the level of the meadow.
Bob was learning to be a mountaineer. Therefore, on the way down, he had
subconsciously noted that from the head of the meadow a steep dry wash
climbed straight up to intersect the road. The recollection came to the
surface of his mind now. If he could make his way up this wash, he would
gain three advantages: he would materially shorten his journey by
cutting off a mile or so of the road-grade's twists and doublings; he
would avoid the necessity of showing himself so near the Cove in the
bright moonlight; and he would leave no tracks where the road touched
the valley. Accordingly he turned sharp to the left and began to pick
his way upstream, keeping in close to the river and treading as much as
possible on the water-worn rocks. The willows and elders protected him
somewhat. In this manner he proceeded until he had come to the smooth
rock aprons near the gorge from which the river flowed. Here, in
accordance with his intention of keeping close in the shadow of the
mountain, he was to turn to the right until he should have arrived at
the steep "chimney" of the wash. He was about to leave the shelter of
the last willows when he looked back. As his eyes turned, a flash of
moonlight struck them full, like the heliographing of a mirror. He fixed
his gaze on the bushes from which the flicker had come. In a moment it
was repeated. Then, stooping low, a human figure hurried across a tiny
opening, and once again the moonlight reflected from the worn and
shining revolver in its hand.
In some manner Saleratus Bill had discovered the young man's escape, and
had already eliminated the other possibilities of his direction of
flight. Bob shuddered at this evidence of the rapidity with which the
expert trailer had arrived at the correct conclusion. He could not now
skirt the mountain, as he had intended, for that would at once expose
him in full view; he could not return by the way he had come, for that
would bring him face to face with his enemy. It would avail him little
to surrender, for the gun-man would undoubtedly make good his threats;
fidelity to such pledges is one of the few things sacred to the race.
With some vague and desperate idea of defence, Bob picked up a heavy
branch of driftwood. Then, as the man drew nearer, Bob scrambled hastily
over the smooth apron to the tiny beach that the eddies had washed out
below the precipice.
Here for the moment he was hidden, but he did not flatter himself he
would long remain so. He cast his eyes about him for a way of escape. To
the one side was the river, in front of him was the rock apron with his
enemy, to the other side and back of him was a sheer precipice. In his
perplexity he looked down. A gleam of metal caught his eye. He stooped
and picked up the half of a worn horseshoe. Even in his haste of mind,
he cast a passing wonderment on how it had come there.
If Bob had not been trained by his river work in the ways of currents,
he might sooner have thought of the stream. But well he knew that
Saleratus Bill had spoken right when he had said that there were "no
swimming holes" here. The strongest swimmer could not have taken two
strokes in that cauldron of seething white water. But now, as Bob
looked, he saw that a little back eddy along the perpendicularity of the
cliff slowed the current close to the sheer rock. It might be just
possible, with luck, to win far enough along this cliff to lie concealed
behind some outjutting boulder until Saleratus Bill had examined the
beach and gone his way. Bob was too much in haste to consider the
unexplained tracks he must leave on the sand.
He thrust the branch he carried into the still black water. To his
surprise it hit bottom at a foot's depth. Promptly he waded in. Sounding
ahead, he walked on. The underwater ledge continued. The water never
came above his knees. Out of curiosity he tapped with his branch until
he had reached the edge of the submerged shelf. It proved to be some
four feet wide. Beyond it the water dropped off sheer, and the current
nearly wrenched the staff from Bob's hand.
In this manner he proceeded cautiously for perhaps a hundred feet. Then
he waded out on another beach.
He found himself in a pocket of the cliffs, where the precipice so far
drew back as to leave a clear space of four or five acres in the river
bottom. Such pockets, or "coves," are by no means unusual in the
inaccessible depths of the great box canons of the Sierras. Often the
traveller can look down on them from above, lying like green gems in
their settings of granite, but rarely can he descend to examine them.
Thankfully Bob darted to one side. Here for a moment he might be safe,
for surely no one not driven by such desperation as his own would dream
of setting foot in the river.
A loud snort almost at his elbow, and a rush of scurrying shapes,
startled him almost into crying aloud. Then out into the moonlight from
the shadow of the cliffs rushed two horses. And Bob, seeing what they
were, sprang from his fancied security into instant action, for in a
flash he saw the significance of the broken horseshoe on the beach, the
sunken ledge, and the secret of the horses' pasture. By sheer chance he
had blundered on one of Saleratus Bill's outlaw retreats.
Hastily he skirted the walls of the tiny valley. They were unbroken. The
river swept by tortured and tumbled. He ran to the head of the cove. No
sunken ledge there rewarded him. Instead, the river at that point swept
inward, so that the full force of the current washed the very shores.
Bob searched the prospect with eager eye. Twelve or fifteen feet
upstream, and six or seven feet out from the cliff, stood a huge round
boulder. That alone broke the shadowy expanse of the river, which here
rushed down with great velocity. Manifestly it was impossible to swim to
this boulder. Bob, however, conceived a daring idea. At imminent risk
and by dint of frantic scrambling he worked his way along the cliff
until he had gained a point opposite the boulder and considerably above
it. Then, without hesitation, he sprang as strongly as he was able
sidewise from the face of the cliff.
He landed on the boulder with great force, so that for a moment he
feared he must have broken some bones. Certainly his breath was all but
knocked from his body. Spread out flat on the top of the rock, he moved
his limbs cautiously. They seemed to work all right. He backed
cautiously until he lay outspread on the upstream slope of the boulder.
At just this moment he caught the sinister figure of Saleratus Bill
moving along the sunken ledge.
For the first time Bob remembered the tracks he must have left and the
man's skill at trailing. A rapid review of his most recent actions
reassured him at one point; in order to gain to the first of the minor
cliff projections by means of which he had spread-eagled along the face
of the rock, he had been forced to step into the very shallow water at
the stream's edge. Thus his last footprints led directly into the river.
The value of this impression, conjoined with the existence of a ledge
below over which he had already waded safely, was not lost on Bob's
preception. As has been stated, his earlier experience in river driving
had given him an intimate knowledge of the action of currents. Casting
his eye hastily down the moonlit river, he seized his hat from his head
and threw it low and skimming toward an eddy opposite him as he lay. The
river snatched it up, tossed it to one side or another, and finally
carried it, as Bob had calculated, within a few feet of the ledge along
which Saleratus Bill was still making his way.
The gun-man, of course, caught sight of it, and even made an attempt to
capture it as it floated past, but without avail. It served, however, to
prepossess his mind with the idea that Bob had been swept away by the
river, so that when, after a careful examination of the tiny cove, he
came to the trail leading into the water, he was prepared to believe
that the young man had been carried off his feet in an attempt to wade
out past the cliff. He even picked up a branch, with which he poked at
the bottom. A short and narrow rock projection favoured his hypothesis,
for it might very well happen that merely an experimental venture on so
slanting and slippery a footing would prove fatal. Saleratus Bill
examined again for footprints emerging; threw his branch into the river,
and watched the direction of its course; and then, for the first time,
slipped the worn and shiny old revolver into its holster. He spent
several moments more reexamining the cove, glanced again at the river,
and finally disappeared, wading slowly back around the sunken ledge.
Bob's next task was to regain solid land. For some minutes he sat
astride the boulder, estimating the force and directions of the current.
Then he leaped. As he had calculated, the stream threw him promptly
against the bank below. There his legs were immediately sucked beneath
the overhanging rock that had convinced Saleratus Bill of his captive's
fate. It seemed likely now to justify that conviction. Bob clung
desperately, until his muscles cracked, but was unable so far to draw
his legs from underneath the rock as to gain a chance to struggle out
of water. Indeed, he might very well have hung in that equilibrium of
forces until tired out, had not a slender, water-washed alder root
offered itself to his grasp. This frail shrub, but lightly rooted,
nevertheless afforded him just the extra support he required. Though he
expected every instant that the additional ounces of weight he from
moment to moment applied to it would tear it away, it held. Inch by inch
he drew himself from the clutch of the rushing water, until at length he
succeeded in getting the broad of his chest against the bank. A few
vigorous kicks then extricated him.
For a moment or so he lay stretched out panting, and considering what
next was to be done. There was a chance, of course--and, in view of
Saleratus Bill's shrewdness, a very strong chance--that the gun-man
would add to his precautions a wait and a watch at the entrance to the
cove. If Bob were to wade out around the ledge, he might run fairly into
his former jailer's gun. On the other hand, Saleratus Bill must be
fairly well convinced of the young man's destruction, and he must be
desirous of changing his wet clothes. Bob's own predicament, in this
chill of night, made him attach much weight to this latter
consideration. Besides, any delay in the cove meant more tracks to be
noticed when the gun-man should come after the horses. Bob, his teeth
chattering, resolved to take the chance of instant action.
Accordingly he waded back along the sunken ledge, glided as quickly as
he could over the rock apron, and wormed his way through the grasses to
the dry wash leading up the side of the mountains. Here fortune had
favoured him, and by a very simple, natural sequence. The moon had by an
hour sailed farther to the west; the wash now lay in shadow.
Bob climbed as rapidly as his wind would let him, and in that manner
avoided a chill. He reached the road at a broad sheet of rock whereon
his footsteps left no trace. After a moment's consideration, he decided
to continue directly up the mountainside through the thick brush. This
travel must be uncertain and laborious; but if he proceeded along the
road, Saleratus Bill must see the traces he would indubitably leave. In
the obscurity of the shady side of the mountain he found his task even
more difficult than he had thought possible. Again and again he found
himself puzzled by impenetrable thickets, impassable precipices, rough
outcrops barring his way. By dint of patience and hard work, however, he
gained the top of the mountain. At sunrise he looked back into Bright's
Cove. It lay there peacefully deserted, to all appearance; but Bob,
looking very closely, thought to make out smoke. The long thread of the
road was quite vacant.
Bob had no very clear idea of where he was, except that it was in the
unfriendly Durham country. It seemed well to postpone all public
appearances until he should be beyond a chance that Saleratus Bill might
hear of him. Bob was quite satisfied that the gun-man should believe him
to have been swept away by the current.
Accordingly, after he had well rested from his vigorous climb, he set
out to parallel the dim old road by which the two had entered the Cove.
At times this proved so difficult a matter that Bob was almost on the
point of abandoning the hillside tangle of boulders and brush in favour
of the open highway. He reflected in time that Saleratus Bill must come
out by this route; and he shrewdly surmised the expert trailer might be
able from some former minute observation to recognize his footprints.
Therefore he struggled on until the road dipped down toward the lower
country. He remembered that, on the way in, his captor had led him first
down the mountain, and then up again. Bob resolved to abandon the road
and keep to the higher contours, trusting to cut the trail where it
again mounted to his level. To be sure, it was probable that there
existed some very good reason why the road so dipped to the valley--some
dike, ridge or deep canon impassable to horses. Bob knew enough of
mountains to guess that. Still, he argued, that might not stop a man
The rest of a long, hard day he spent in proving this latter
proposition. The country was very broken. A dozen times Bob scrambled
and slid down a gorge, and out again, doing thus an hour's work for a
half mile gain. The sun turned hot, and he had no food. Fortunately
water was abundant. Toward the close of the afternoon he struck in to a
long slope of pine belt, and conceived his difficulties over.
After the heat and glare of the rocks, the cool shadows of the forest
were doubly grateful. Bob lifted his face to the wandering breezes, and
stepped out with fresh vigour. The way led at first up the narrow spine
of a "hogback," but soon widened into one of the ample and spacious
parks peculiar to the elevations near the summits of the First Rampart.
Occasional cattle tracks meandered here and there, but save for these
Bob saw no signs of man's activities--no cuttings, no shake-bolts, no
blazes on the trees to mark a way. Nevertheless, as he rose on the slow,
even swell of the mountain the conviction of familiarity began to force
its way in him. The forest was just like every other forest; there was
no outlook in any direction; but all the same, with that instinct for
locality inherent in a natural woodsman, he began to get his bearings,
to "feel the lay of the country," as the saying is. This is probably an
effect of the subconscious mind in memory; a recognition of what the eye
has seen without reporting to the conscious mind. However that may be,
Bob was not surprised when toward sunset he came suddenly on a little
clearing, a tiny orchard, and a house built rudely of logs and shakes.
Relieved that he was not to spend the night without food and fire, he
vaulted the "snake" fence, and strode to the back door. A woman was
frying venison steaks.
"Hullo, Mrs. Ward," Bob shouted at her. "That smells good to me; I
haven't had a bite since last night!"
The woman dropped her pan and came to the door. A lank and lean Pike
County Missourian rose from the shadows and advanced.
"Light and rest yo' hat, Mr. Orde!" he called before he came well into
view. "But yo' already lighted, and you ain't go no hat!" he cried in
puzzled tones. "Whar yo'all from?"
"Came from north," Bob replied cheerfully, "and I lost my horse down a
canon, and my hat in a river."
"And yere yo' be plumb afoot!"
"And plumb empty," supplemented Bob. "Maybe Mrs. Ward will make me some
coffee," he suggested with a side glance at the woman who had once tried
to poison him.
She turned a dull red under the tan of her sallow complexion.
"Shore, Mr. Orde--" she began.
"We didn't rightly understand each other," Bob reassured her. "That was
"Did she-all refuse you coffee onct?" asked Ward. "What yo' palaverin'
"She isn't refusing to make me some now," said Bob.
He spent the night comfortably with his new friends who a few months ago
had been ready to murder him. The next morning early, supplied with an
ample lunch, he set out. Ward offered him a riding horse, but he
"I'd have to send it back," said he, "and, anyway, I'd neither want to
borrow your saddle nor ride bareback. I'd rather walk."
The old man accompanied him to the edge of the clearing.
"By the way," Bob mentioned, as he said farewell, "if some one asks you,
just tell them you haven't seen me."
The old man stopped short.
"What-for a man?" he asked.
A frosty gleam crept into the old Missourian's eye.
"I'll keep hands off," said he. He strode on twenty feet. "I got an
extra gun--" said he.
"Thanks," Bob interrupted. "But I'll get organized better when I get
"Hope you git him," said the old man by way of farewell. "He won't git
nothing out of me," he shot back over his shoulder.
Bob now knew exactly where he was going. Reinvigorated by the food, the
night's rest, and the cool air of these higher altitudes, he made good
time. By four o'clock of the afternoon he at last hit the broad, dusty
thoroughfare over which were hauled the supplies to Baker's upper works.
Along this he swung, hands in pockets, a whistle on his lips, the fine,
light dust rising behind his footsteps. The slight down grade released
his tired muscles from effort. He was enjoying himself.
Then he came suddenly around a corner plump against a horseman climbing
leisurely up the grade. Both stopped.
If Bob had entertained any lingering doubt as to Oldham's complicity in
his abduction, the expression on the land agent's face would have
removed it. For the first time in public Oldham's countenance expressed
a livelier emotion than that of cynical interest. His mouth fell open
and his eyeglasses dropped off. He stared at Bob as though that young
man had suddenly sprung into visibility from clear atmosphere. Bob
surveyed him grimly.
"Delighted to see me, aren't you?" he remarked. A slow anger surged up
within him. "Your little scheme didn't work, did it? Wanted me out of
the way, did you? Thought you'd keep me out of court! Well, I'm here,
just as I said I'd be here. You can pay your villainous tool or kick him
out, as you please. He's failed, and he won't get another chance. You
But Oldham had recovered his poise.
"Get out of my way. I don't know what you are talking about. I'll land
you in the penitentiary a week after you appear in court. You're
"Oh, I've been warned for some time. But first I'll land you."
"Right here and now," said Bob stepping forward.
Oldham reined back his horse, and drew from his side pocket a short,
"Let me pass!" he commanded harshly. He presented the weapon, and his
gray eyes contracted to pin points.
"Throw that thing away," said Bob, laying his hand on the other man's
bridle. "_I'm going to give you the very worst licking you ever heard
The young man's muscles were tense with the expectation of a shot. To
his vast astonishment, at his last words Oldham turned deadly pale,
swayed in the saddle, and the revolver clattered past his stirrup to
fall in the dust. With a snarl of contempt at what he erroneously took
for a mere physical cowardice, Bob reached for his enemy and dragged him
from the saddle.
The chastisement was brief, but effective. Bob's anger cooled with the
first blow, for Oldham was no match for his younger and more vigorous
assailant. In fact, he hardly offered any resistance. Bob knocked him
down, shook him by the collar as a terrier shakes a ground squirrel, and
cast him fiercely in the dust. Oldham sat up, his face bleeding
slightly, his eyes bewildered with the suddenness of the onslaught. The
young man leaned over him, speaking vehemently to rivet his attention.
"Now you listen to me," said he. "You leave me alone. If I ever hear any
gossip, even, about what you will or will not do to me, I'll know where
it started from. The first word I hear from any one anywhere, I'll start
He looked down for a moment at the disorganized man seated in the thick,
white dust that was still floating lazily around him. Then he turned
abruptly away and resumed his journey.
For ten seconds Oldham sat as Bob had left him. His hat and eyeglasses
were gone, his usually immaculate irongray hair rumpled, his clothes
covered with dust. A thin stream of blood crept from beneath his
close-clipped moustache. But the most striking result of the encounter,
to one who had known the man, was in the convulsed expression of his
countenance. A close friend would hardly have recognized him. His lips
snarled, his eyes flared, the muscles of his face worked. Ordinarily
repressed and inscrutable, this crisis had thrown him so far off his
balance that, as often happens, he had fallen to the other extreme.
Sniffling and half-sobbing, like a punished schoolboy, he dragged
himself to where his revolver lay forgotten in the dust. Taking as
deliberate aim as his condition permitted, he pulled at the trigger. The
hammer refused to rise, or the cylinder to revolve. Abandoning the
self-cocking feature of the arm, he tried to cock it by hand. The
mechanism grated sullenly against the grit from the road. Oldham worked
frantically to get the hammer to catch. By the time he had succeeded,
his antagonist was out of reach. With a half-scream of baffled rage, he
hurled the now useless weapon in the direction of the young man's
disappearance. Then, as Oldham stood militant in the dusty road, a
change came over him. Little by little the man resumed his old self. A
full minute went by. Save for the quicker breathing, a spectator might
have thought him sunk in reverie. At the end of that time the old,
self-contained, reserved, cynical Oldham stepped from his tracks, and
set methodically to repair damages.
First he searched for and found his glasses, fortunately unbroken. At
the nearest streamlet he washed his face, combed his hair, brushed off
his clothes. The saddle horse browsed not far away. Finally he walked
down the road, picked up the revolver, cleaned it thoroughly of dust,
tested it and slipped it into his pocket. Then he resumed his journey,
outwardly as self-possessed as ever.
Near the upper dam he had another encounter. The dust of some one
approaching warned him some time before the traveller came in sight.
Oldham reined back his horse until he could see who it was; then he
spurred forward to meet Saleratus Bill.
The gun-man was lounging along at peace with all the world, his bridle
rein loose, his leg slung over the pommel of his saddle. At the sight of
his employer, he grinned cheerfully.
Oldham rode directly to him.
"Why aren't you attending to your job?" he demanded icily.
"Out of a job," said Saleratus Bill cheerfully.
"Why haven't you kept your man in charge?"
"I did until he just naturally had one of those unavoidable accidents."
"Well. I ain't never been afraid of words. He's dead; that's what."
"Indeed," said Oldham, "Then I suppose I met his ghost just now; and
that a spirit gave me this cut lip."
Saleratus Bill swung his leg from the saddle horn and straightened to
"Did he have a hat on?" he demanded keenly.
"Yes--no--I believe not. No, I'm sure he didn't."
"It's him, all right." He shook his head reflectively, "I can't figure
Oldham was staring at him with deadly coldness.
"Perhaps you'll be good enough to explain," he sneered--"five hundred
dollars worth at any rate."
Saleratus Bill detailed what he knew of the whole affair. Oldham
listened to the end. His cynical expression did not change; and the
unlighted cigar that he held between his swollen lips never changed its
"And so he just nat'rally disappeared," Saleratus Bill ended his
recital. "I can't figure it out."
Then Oldham spat forth the cigar. His calm utterly deserted him. He
thrust his livid countenance out at his man.
"Figure it out!" he cried. "You pin-headed fool! You had an unarmed man
tied hand and foot, in a three-thousand-foot hole, and you couldn't keep
him! And one of the smallest interests involved is worth more than
everything your worthless hide can hold! I picked you out for this job
because I thought you reliable. And now you come to me with 'I can't
figure it out!' That's all the explanation or excuse you bring! You
miserable, worthless cur!"
Saleratus Bill was looking at him steadily from his evil, red-rimmed
"Hold on," he drawled. "Go slow. I don't stand such talk."
Oldham spurred up close to him.
"Don't you try any of your gun-play or intimidation on me," he fairly
shouted. "I won't stand for it. You'll hear what I've got to say, just
as long as I choose to say it."
He eyed the gun-man truculently. Certainly even Bob could not have
accused him of physical cowardice at that moment.
Saleratus Bill stared back at him with the steady, venomous glare of a
rattlesnake. Then his lips, under his straggling, sandy moustache,
parted in a slow grin.
"Say your say," he conceded. "I reckon you're mad; I reckon that boy
man-handled you something scand'lous."
At the words Oldham's face became still more congested.
"But you look a-here," said Saleratus Bill, suddenly leaning across
from his saddle and pointing a long, lean finger. "You just remember
this: I took this yere job with too many strings tied to it. I mustn't
hurt him; and I must see no harm comes to him; and I must be noways
cruel to mama's baby. You had me hobbled, and then you cuss me out
because I can't get over the rocks. If you'd turned me loose with no
instructions except to disappear your man, I'd have earned my money."
He dropped his hand to the butt of his six-shooter, and looked his
principal in the eye.
"I'm just as sorry as you are that he made this get-away," he continued
slowly. "Now I got to pull up stakes and get out. Nat'rally he'll make
it too hot for me here. Then I could use that extry twenty-five hundred
that was coming to me on this job. But it ain't too late. He's got away
once; but he ain't in court yet. I can easy keep him out, if the
original bargain stands. Of course, I'm sorry he punched your face."
"Damn his soul!" burst out Oldham.
"Just let me deal with him my way, instead of yours," repeated Saleratus
"Do so," snarled Oldham; "the sooner the better."
"That's all I want to hear," said the gun-man, and touched spurs to his
Bob's absence had occasioned some speculation, but no uneasiness, at
headquarters. An officer of the Forest Service was too often called upon
for sudden excursions in unexpected emergencies to make it possible for
his chiefs to keep accurate track of all his movements. A day's trip to
the valley might easily be deflected to a week's excursion to the higher
peaks by any one of a dozen circumstances. The report of trespassing
sheep, a tiny smoke above distant trees, a messenger sent out for
arbitration in a cattle dispute, are samples of the calls to which Bob
must have hastened no matter on what errand he had been bound.
He arrived at headquarters late in the afternoon. Already a thin wand of
smoke wavered up through the trees from Amy's little, open kitchen. The
open door of the shed office trickled forth a thin clicking of
typewriters. Otherwise the camp seemed deserted.
At Bob's halloo, however, both Thorne and old California John came to
the door. In two minutes he had all three gathered about the table under
the three big firs.
"In the first place, I want to say right now," he began, "that I have
the evidence to win the land case against the Modoc Mining Company."
"How?" demanded Thorne, leaning forward eagerly.
"Baker has boasted, before two witnesses, that his mineral entries were
fraudulent and made simply to get water rights and timber."
"Those witnesses will testify?"
"Who are they?"
"Mr. Welton and myself."
"Glory be!" cried Thorne, springing to his feet and clapping Bob on the
back. "We've got him!"
"So that's what you've been up to for the past week!" cried Amy. "We've
been wondering where you had disappeared to!"
"Well, not precisely," grinned Bob; "I've been in durance vile."
In response to their questionings he detailed a semi-humorous account of
his abduction, detention and escape. His three auditors listened with
the deepest attention.
As the recital progressed to the point wherein Bob described his
midnight escape, Amy, unnoticed by the others, leaned back and closed
her eyes. The colour left her face for a moment, but the next instant
had rushed back to her cheeks in a tide of deeper red. She thrust
forward, her eyes snapping with indignation.
"They are desperate; there's no doubt of it," was Thorne's comment. "And
they won't stop at this. I wish the trial was to-morrow. We must get
your testimony in shape before anything happens."
Amy was staring across the table at them, her lips parted with horror.
"You don't think they'll try anything worse!" she gasped.
Bob started to reassure her, but Thorne in his matter-of-fact way broke
"I don't doubt they'll try to get him proper, next time. We must get out
papers and the sheriff after this Saleratus Bill."
"He'll be almighty hard to locate," put in California John.
"And I think we'd better not let Bob, here, go around alone any more."
"I don't think he ought to go around at all!" Amy amended this
Bob shot at her an obliquely humorous glance, before which her own fell.
Somehow the humour died from his.
"Bodyguard accepted with thanks," said he, recovering himself. "I've
had enough Wild West on my own account." His words and the expression of
his face were facetious, but his tones were instinct with a gravity that
attracted even Thorne's attention. The Supervisor glanced at the young
man curiously, wondering if he were going to lose his nerve at the last.
But Bob's personal stake was furthest from his mind. Something in Amy's
half-frightened gesture had opened a new door in his soul. The real and
insistent demands of the situation had been suddenly struck shadowy
while his forces adjusted themselves to new possibilities.
"Ware's your man," suggested California John. "He's a gun-man, and he's
got a nerve like a saw mill man."
"Where is Ware?" Thorne asked Amy.
"He's over at Fair's shake camp. He will be back to-morrow."
"That's settled, then. How about Welton? Is he warned? You say he'll
"If he has to," replied Bob, by a strong effort bringing himself back to
a practical consideration of the matter in hand. "At least he'll never
perjure himself, if he's called. Welton's case is different. Look here;
it's bound to come out, so you may as well know the whole situation."
He paused, glancing from one to another of his hearers. Thorne's keen
face expressed interest of the alert official; California John's mild
blue eye beamed upon him with a dawning understanding of the situation;
Amy, intuitively divining a more personal trouble, looked across at him
"John, here, will remember the circumstance," said Bob. "It happened
about the time I first came out here with Mr. Welton. It seems that
Plant had assured him that everything was all arranged so our works and
roads could cross the Forest, so we went ahead and built them. In those
days it was all a matter of form, anyway. Then when we were ready to go
ahead with our first season's work, up steps Plant and asks to see our
permission, threatening to shut us down! Of course, all he wanted was
"And Welton gave it to him?" cried Amy.
"It wasn't a case of buy a privilege," explained Bob, "but of life
itself. We were operating on borrowed money, and just beginning our
first year's operations. The season is short in these mountains, as you
know, and we were under heavy obligations to fulfil a contract for sawed
lumber. A delay of even a week meant absolute ruin to a large
enterprise. Mr. Welton held off to the edge of danger, I remember,
exhausting every means possible here and at Washington to rush through
the necessary permission."
"Why didn't he tell the truth--expose Plant? Surely no department would
endorse that," put in Amy, a trifle subdued in manner.
"That takes time," Bob pointed out. "There was no time."
"So Welton came through," said Thorne drily. "What has that got to do
"Baker paid the money for him," said Bob.
"Well, they're both in the same boat," remarked Thorne tranquilly. "I
don't see that that gives him any hold on Welton."
"He threatens to turn state's evidence in the matter, and seems
confident of immunity on that account."
"He can't mean it!" cried Amy.
"Sheer bluff," said Thorne.
"I thought so, and went to see him. Now I am sure not. He means it; and
he'll do it when this case against the Modoc Company is pushed."
"I thought you said Welton would testify?" observed Thorne.
"He will. But naturally only if he is summoned."
"Oh, I see. Baker never thought he could keep Welton from telling the
truth, but knew perfectly well he would not volunteer the evidence. He
used his hold over Welton to try to keep me from bringing forward this
testimony. Sort of relied on our intimacy and friendship."
"But you will testify?"
"I think I see my duty that way," said Bob in a troubled voice.
"Quite right," said Thorne, dispassionately; "I'm sorry." He arose from
the table. "This is most important. I don't often issue positive
prohibitions in my capacity of superior officer; but in this instance I
must. I am going to request you not to leave camp on any errand unless
accompanied by Ranger Ware."
Bob nodded a little impatiently. California John paused before following
his chief into the office.
"It's good sense, boy," said he, "and nobody gives a darn for your
worthless skin, you know. It's just the information you got inside it."
"Right," laughed Bob, his brow clearing. "I forgot."
California John nodded at him, and disappeared into the office.
Bob turned to Amy with a laughing comment that died on his lips. The
girl was standing very straight on the other side of the table. One
little brown hand grasped and crushed the edge of her starched apron;
her black brows were drawn in a straight line of indignation beneath
which her splendid eyes flashed; her rounded bosom, half-defined by the
loose, soft blue of her simple gown, rose and fell rapidly.
"And you're going to do it?" she threw across at him.
Bob, bewildered, stared at her.
"You're going to deliver over your friend to prison?" She moved swiftly
around the table to stand close to him. "Surely you can't mean to do
that! You've worked with him, and lived with him--and he's a dear, jolly
"Hold on!" cried Bob, recovering from the first shock, and beginning to
enjoy the situation. "You don't understand. If I don't give my
testimony, think what the Service will lose in the Basin."
"Lose!" she cried indignantly. "What of it? Do you think if I had a
friend who was near and dear to me I'd sacrifice him for all the trees
in the mountains? How can you!"
"_Et tu Brute_!" said Bob a little wearily. "Where is all the
no-compromise talk I've heard at various times, and the high ideals, and
the loyalty to the Service at any cost, and all the rest of it? You're
Amy eyed him a little disdainfully.
"You've got to save that poor old man," she stated. "It's all very easy
for you to talk of duty and the rest of it, but the fact remains that
you're sending that poor old man to prison for something that isn't his
fault, and it'll break his heart."
"He isn't there yet," Bob pointed out. "The case isn't decided."
"It's all very well for you to talk that way," said Amy, "for all you
have to do is to satisfy your conscience and bear your testimony. But if
testifying would land you in danger of prison, you might feel
differently about it."
Bob thought of George Pollock, and smiled a trifle bitterly. Welton
might get off with a fine, or even suspended sentence. There was but one
punishment for those accessory before the fact to a murder. Amy was
eyeing him reflectively. The appearance of anger had died. It was
evident that she was thinking deeply.
"Why doesn't Mr. Welton protect himself?" she inquired at length. "If he
turned state's evidence before that man Baker did, wouldn't it work that
"I don't believe it would," said Bob. "Baker was not the real principal
in the offence, only an accessory. Besides, even if it were possible,
Mr. Welton would not do such a thing. You don't know Welton."
Amy sank again to reflection, her eyes losing themselves in a gaze
beyond the visible world. Suddenly she threw up her head with a joyous
"I believe I have it!" she cried. She nodded her head several times as
though to corroborate with herself certain points in her plan.
"Listen!" she said at last. "As I understand it, Baker is really liable
on this charge of bribing Plant as much as Mr. Welton is."
"Yes; he paid the money."
"So that if it were not for the fact that he intends to gain immunity by
telling what he knows, he would get into as much trouble as Mr. Welton."
"Well, don't you know enough about it all to testify? Weren't you
"Yes, I believe I was present at all the interviews."
"Then," cried Amy triumphantly, "you can issue complaint against _both_
Baker and Mr. Welton on a charge of bribery, and Baker can't possibly
wriggle out by turning state's evidence, because your evidence will be
"Do you expect me to have Mr. Welton arrested on this charge?" cried
"No, silly! But you can go to Baker, can't you, and say to him: 'See
here, if you try to bring up this old bribery charge against Welton,
I'll get in ahead of you and have you _both_ up. I haven't any desire to
raise a fuss, nor start any trouble; but if you are bound to get Mr.
Welton in on this, I might as well get you both in.' He'd back out, you
"I believe he would!" cried Bob. "It's a good bluff to make."
"It mustn't be a bluff," warned Amy. "You must mean it. I don't believe
he wants to face a criminal charge just to get Mr. Welton in trouble, if
he realizes that you are both going to testify anyway. But if he thinks
you're bluffing, he'll carry it through."
"You're right," said Bob slowly. "If necessary, we must carry it through
"I'll take down a letter for you to Baker," she said, "and type it out
this evening. We'll say nothing to anybody."
"I must tell Welton of our plan," said Bob; "I wouldn't for the world
have to spring this on him unprepared. What would he think of me?"
"We'll see him to-morrow--no, next day; we have to wait for Ware, you
"Am I forgiven for doing my plain duty?" asked Bob a trifle
"Only if our scheme works," declared Amy. Her manner changed to one of
great seriousness. "I know your way is brave and true, believe me I do.
And I know what it costs you to follow it. I respect and admire the
quality in men that leads them so straightly along the path. But I could
not do it. Ideas and things are inspiring and great and to be worked for
with enthusiasm and devotion, I know. No one loves the Service more than
I, nor would make more personal sacrifices for her. But people are warm
and living, and their hearts beat with human life, and they can be sorry
and glad, happy and brokenhearted. I can't tell you quite what I mean,
for I cannot even tell myself. I only feel it. I could turn my thumbs
down on whole cohorts of senators and lawyers and demagogues that are
attacking us in Washington and read calmly in next day's paper how they
had been beheaded recanting all their sins against us. But I couldn't
get any nearer home. Why, the other day Ashley told me to send a final
and peremptory notice of dispossession to the Main family, over near
Bald Knob, and I couldn't do it. I tried all day. I knew old Main had no
business there, and is worthless and lazy and shiftless. But I kept
remembering how his poor old back was bent over. Finally I made Ashley
dictate it, and tried to keep thinking all the time that I was nothing
but a machine for the transmission of his ideas. When it comes to such
things I'm useless, and I know I fall short of all higher ideals of
honour and duty and everything else."
"Thank God you do," said Bob gravely.
Ware returned to headquarters toward evening of the next day. He had
ridden hard and long, but he listened to Thorne's definition of his new
duties with kindling eye, and considerable appearance of quiet
satisfaction. Bob met him outside the office.
"You aren't living up to your part, Ware," said he, with mock anxiety.
"According to Hoyle you ought to draw your gun, whirl the cylinder, and
murmur gently, Aha!"
"Why should I do that?" asked Ware, considerably mystified.
"To see if your weapon is in order, of course."
"How would a fool trick like that show whether my gun's in shape?"
"Hanged if I know," confessed Bob, "but they always do that in books and
on the stage."
"Well, my gun will shoot," said Ware, shortly.
It was then too late to visit Welton that evening, but at a good hour
the following morning Bob announced his intention of going over to the
"If you're going to be my faithful guardian, you'll have to walk," he
told Ware. "My horse is up north somewhere, and there isn't another
saddle in camp."
"I'm willing," said Ware; "my animals are plumb needy of a rest."
At the last moment Amy joined them.
"I have a day off instead of Sunday," she told them, "and you're the
first humans that have discovered what two feet are made for. I never
can get anybody to walk two steps with me," she complained.
"Never tried before you acquired those _beautiful_ gray elkskin boots
with the _ravishing_ hobnails in 'em," chaffed Bob.
Amy said nothing, but her cheeks burned with two red spots. She chatted
eagerly, too eagerly, trying to throw into the expedition the air of a
holiday excursion. Bob responded to her rather feverish gaiety, but Ware
looked at her with an eye in which comprehension was slowly dawning. He
had nothing to add to the rapid-fire conversation. Finally Amy inquired
with mock anxiety, over his unwonted silence.
"I'm on my job," replied Ware briefly.
This silenced her for a moment or so, while she examined the woods about
them with furtive, searching glances as though their shadows might
conceal an enemy.
To Bob, at least, the morning conduced to gaiety, for the air was crisp
and sparkling with the wine of early fall. Down through the sombre
pines, here and there, flamed the delicate pink of a dogwood, the orange
of the azaleas, or the golden yellow of aspens ripening already under
the hurrying of early frosts. The squirrels, Stellar's jays,
woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees were very busy scurrying here and
there, screaming gossip, or moving diligently and methodically as their
natures were. All the rest of the forest was silent. Not a breath of
wind stirred the tallest fir-tip or swayed the most lofty pine branch.
Through the woodland spaces the sunlight sparkled with the inconceivable
brilliance of the higher levels, as though the air were filled with
glittering particles in suspension, like the mica snowstorms of the peep
shows inside a child's candy egg.
They dipped into the canon of the creek and out again through the yellow
pines of the other side. They skirted the edge of the ancient clearing
for the almost prehistoric mill that had supplied early settlers with
their lumber, and thence looked out through trees to the brown and
shimmering plain lying far below.
"My, I'm glad I'm not there!" exclaimed Amy fervently; "I always say
that," she added.
"A hundred and eleven day before yesterday, Jack Pollock says," remarked
So at last they gained the long ridge leading toward the mill and saw a
hundred feet away the mill road, and the forks where their own wagon
trail joined it.
At this point they again entered the forest, screened by young growth
and a thicket of alders.
"Look there," Amy pointed out. "See that dogwood, up by the yellow pine.
It's the most splendiferous we've seen yet. Wait a minute. I'm going to
get a branch of it for Mr. Welton's office. I don't believe anybody ever
picks anything for him."
"Let me--" began Bob; but she was already gone, calling back over her
"No; this is my treat!"
The men stopped in the wagon trail to wait for her. Bob watched with
distinct pleasure her lithe, active figure making its way through the
tangle of underbrush, finally emerging into the clear and climbing with
swift, sure movements to the little elevation on which grew the
beautiful, pink-leaved dogwoods. She turned when she had gained the
level of the yellow pine, to wave her hand at her companions. Even at
the distance, Bob could make out the flush of her cheeks and divine the
delighted sparkle of her eyes.
But as she turned, her gesture was arrested in midair, and almost
instantly she uttered a piercing scream. Bob had time to take a half
step forward. Then a heavy blow on the back of his neck threw him
forward. He stumbled and fell on his face. As he left his feet, the
crash of two revolver shots in quick succession rang in his ears.
Oldham's cold rage carried him to the railroad and into his berth. Then,
with the regular beat and throb of the carwheels over the sleepers,
other considerations forced themselves upon him. Consequences demanded
The land agent had not for many years permitted himself to act on
impulse. Therefore this one lapse from habit alarmed him vaguely by the
mere fact that it was a lapse from habit. He distrusted himself in an
unaccustomed environment of the emotions.
But superinduced on this formless uneasiness were graver considerations.
He could not but admit to himself that he had by his expressed order
placed himself to some extent in Saleratus Bill's power. He did not for
a moment doubt the gun-man's loyal intentions. As long as things went
well he would do his best by his employer--if merely to gain the reward
promised him only on fulfillment of his task. But it is not easy to
commit a murder undetected. And if detected, Oldham had no illusions as
to Saleratus Bill. The gun-man, would promptly shelter himself behind
As the night went on, and Oldham found himself unable to sleep in the
terrible heat, the situation visualized itself. Step by step he followed
out the sequence of events as they might be, filling in the minutest
details of discovery, exposure and ruin. Gradually, in the tipped
balance of after midnight, events as they might be became events as they
surely would be. Oldham began to see that he had made a fearful mistake.
No compunction entered his mind that he had condemned a man to death;
but a cold fear gripped him lest his share should be discovered, and he
should be called upon to face the consequences. Oldham enjoyed and could
play only the game that was safe so far as physical and personal
So deeply did the guilty panic invade his soul that after a time he
arose and dressed. The sleepy porter was just turning out from the
"What's this next station?" Oldham demanded.
"Mo-harvey," blinked the porter.
"I get off there," stated Oldham briefly.
The porter stared at him.
"I done thought you went 'way through," he confessed. "I'se scairt I
done forgot you."
"All right," said Oldham curtly, and handing him a tip. "Never mind that
confounded brush; get my suit case."
Ten seconds later he stood on the platform of the little station in the
desert while the tail lights of the train diminished slowly into the
The desert lay all about him like a calmed sea on which were dim
half-lights of sage brush or alkali flats. On a distant horizon slept
black mountain ranges, stretched low under a brilliant sky that arched
triumphant. In it the stars flamed steadily like candles, after the
strange desert fashion. Although by day the heat would have scorched the
boards on which he stood, now Oldham shivered in the searching of the
cool insistent night wind that breathed across the great spaces.
He turned to the lighted windows of the little station where a tousled
operator sat at a telegraph key. A couch in the corner had been recently
deserted. The fact that the operator was still awake and on duty argued
well for another train soon. Oldham proffered his question.
"Los Angeles express due now. Half-hour late," replied the operator
wearily, without looking up.
Oldham caught the train, which landed him in White Oaks about noon.
There he hired a team, and drove the sixty miles to Sycamore Flats by
eleven o'clock that night. The fear was growing in his heart, and he had
to lay on himself a strong retaining hand to keep from lashing his
horses beyond their endurance and strength. Sycamore Flats was, of
course, long since abed. In spite of his wild impatience Oldham retained
enough sense to know that it would not do to awaken any one for the sole
purpose of inquiring as to the whereabouts of Saleratus Bill. That would
too obviously connect him with the gun-man. Therefore he stabled his
horses, roused one of the girls at Auntie Belle's, and retired to the
little box room assigned him.
There nature asserted herself. The man had not slept for two nights; he
had travelled many miles on horseback, by train, and by buckboard; he
had experienced the most exhausting of emotions and experiences. He fell
asleep, and he did not awaken until after sun-up.
Promptly he began his inquiries. Saleratus Bill had passed through the
night before; he had ridden up the mill road.
Oldham ate his breakfast, saddled one of the team horses, and followed.
Ordinarily, he was little of a woodsman, but his anxiety sharpened his
wits and his eyes, so that a quarter mile from the summit he noticed
where a shod horse had turned off from the road. After a moment's
hesitation he turned his own animal to follow the trail. The horse
tracks were evidently fresh, and Oldham surmised that it was hardly
probable two horsemen had as yet that morning travelled the mill road.
While he debated, young Elliott swung down the dusty way headed toward
the village. He greeted Oldham.
"Is Orde back at headquarters yet?" the latter asked, on impulse.
"Yes, he got back day before yesterday," the young ranger replied; "but
you won't find him there this morning. He walked over to the mill to
see Welton. You'd probably get him there."
Oldham waited only until Elliott had rounded the next corner, then
spurred his horse up the mountain. The significance of the detour was
now no longer in doubt, for he remembered well how and where the wagon
trail from headquarters joined the mill road. Saleratus Bill would leave
his horse out of sight on the hog-back ridge, sneak forward afoot, and
ambush his man at the forks of the road.
And now, in the clairvoyance of this guilty terror, Oldham saw as
assured facts several further possibilities. Saleratus Bill was known to
have ridden up the mill road; he, Oldham, was known to have been
inquiring after both Saleratus Bill and Orde--in short, out of wild
improbabilities, which to his ordinary calm judgment would have meant
nothing at all, he now wove a tissue of danger. He wished he had thought
to ask Elliott how long ago Orde had started out from headquarters.
The last pitch up the mountain was by necessity a fearful grade, for it
had to surmount as best it could the ledge at the crest of the plateau.
Horsemen here were accustomed to pause every fifty feet or so to allow
their mounts a gulp of air. Oldham plied lash and spur. He came out from
his frenzy of panic to find his horse, completely blown, lying down
under him. The animal, already weary from its sixty-mile drive of
yesterday, was quite done. After a futile effort to make it rise, Oldham
realized this fact. He pursued his journey afoot.
Somewhat sobered and brought to his senses by this accident, Oldham
trudged on as rapidly as his wind would allow. As he neared the
crossroads he slackened his pace, for he saw that no living creature
moved on the headquarters fork of the road. As a matter of fact, at that
precise instant both Bob and Ware were within forty yards of him,
standing still waiting for Amy to collect her dogwood leaves. A single
small alder concealed them from the other road. If they had not
happened to have stopped, two seconds would have brought them into sight
in either direction. Therefore, Oldham thought the road empty, and
himself came to a halt to catch his breath and mop his brow.
As he replaced his hat, his eye caught a glimpse of a man crouching and
gliding cautiously forward through the low concealment of the snowbush.
His movements were quick, his head was craned forward, every muscle was
taut, his eyes fixed on some object invisible to Oldham with an
intensity that evidently excluded from the field of his vision
everything but that toward which his lithe and snake-like advance was
bringing him. In his hand he carried the worn and shining Colts 45 that
was always his inseparable companion.
Oldham made a single step forward. At the same moment somewhere above
him on the hill a woman screamed. The cry was instantly followed by two
Ware was an expert gun-man who had survived the early days of Arizona,
New Mexico, and the later ruffianism of the border on Old Mexico. His
habit was at all times alert. Now, in especial, behind his casual
conversation, he had been straining his finer senses for the first
intimations of danger. For perhaps six seconds before Amy cried out he
had been aware of an unusual faint sound heard beneath rather than above
the cheerful and accustomed noises of the forest. It baffled him. If he
had imposed silence on his companion, and had set himself to listening,
he might have been able to identify and localize it, but it really
presented nothing alarming enough. It might have been a squirrel
playfully spasmodic, or the leisurely step forward of some hidden and
distant cow browsing among the bushes. Ware lent an attentive ear to the
quiet sounds of the woodland, but continued to stand at ease and
The scream, however, released instantly the springs of his action. With
the heel of his left palm he dealt Bob so violent a shoving blow that
the young man was thrown forward off his feet. As part of the same
motion his right hand snatched his weapon from its holster, threw the
muzzle over his left shoulder, and discharged the revolver twice in the
direction from which Ware all at once realized the sound had proceeded.
So quickly did the man's brain act, so instantly did his muscles follow
his brain, that the scream, the blow, and the two shots seemed to go off
together as though fired by one fuse.
Bob bounded to his feet. Ware had whirled in his tracks, had crouched,
and was glaring fixedly across the openings at the forks. The revolver
smoked in his hand.
"Oh, are you hurt? Are you hurt?" Amy was crying over and over, as,
regardless of the stiff manzanita and the spiny deer brush, she tore her
way down the hill.
"All right! All right!" Bob found his breath to assure her.
She stopped short, clenched her hands at her sides, and drew a deep,
sobbing breath. Then, quite collectedly, she began to disentangle
herself from the difficulties into which her haste had precipitated her.
"It's all right," she called to Ware. "He's gone. He's run."
Still tense, Ware rose to his full height. He let down the hammer of his
six-shooter, and dropped the weapon back in its holster.
"What was it, Amy?" he asked, as the girl rejoined them.
"Saleratus Bill," she panted. "He had his gun in his hand."
Bob was looking about him a trifle bewildered.
"I thought for a minute I was hit," said he.
"I knocked you down to _get_ you down," explained Ware. "If there's
shooting going on, it's best to get low."
"Thought I was shot," confessed Bob. "I heard two shots."
"I fired twice," said Ware. "Thought sure I must have hit, or he'd have
fired back. Otherwise I'd a' kept shooting. You say he run?"
"Immediately. Didn't you see him?"
"I just cut loose at the noise he made. Why do you suppose he didn't
"Maybe he wasn't gunning for us after all," suggested Bob.
"Maybe you've got another think coming," said Ware.
During this short exchange they were all three moving down the wagon
trail. Ware's keen old eyes were glancing to right, left and ahead, and
his ears fairly twitched. In spite of his conversation and speculations,
he was fully alive to the possibilities of further danger.
"He maybe's laying for us yet," said Bob, as the thought finally
occurred to him. "Better have your gun handy."
"My gun's always handy," said Ware.
"You're bearing too far south," interposed the girl. "He was more up
"Don't think it," said Ware.
"Yes," she insisted. "I marked that young fir near where I first saw
him; and he ran low around that clump of manzanita."
Still skeptical, Ware joined her.
"That's right," he admitted, after a moment. "Here's his trail. I'd have
swore he was farther south. That's where I fired. I only missed him by
about a hundred yards," he grinned. "He sure made a mighty tall sneak.
I'm still figuring why he didn't open fire."
"Waiting for a better chance, maybe," suggested Amy.
"Must be. But what better chance does he want, unless he aims to get Bob