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Where the Trail Divides by Will Lillibridge

Part 4 out of 5

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The man flushed. It is far easier in this world to give frank criticism
than to receive it.

"I won't endeavour to justify myself, Bess," he said intimately, "nor
attempt to deny it. There is a reason, however."

"I've noticed," commented his companion, "that there usually is an
explanation for everything we do in this life."

"Yes. And in this instance you are the reason, Bess."

"Thank you." A pause. "I suppose I should take that as a compliment."

"You may if you wish. Leastways it's the truth."

The girl locked her fingers over her knees and leaned back against the
lintel of the door. She looked very young that moment--and very old.

"And your reason?" persisted the man. "You know now my explanation for
being--as I am. What is yours?"

"Do you wish a compliment, also, Clayton Craig?"

"I wish to know the reason."

"Unfortunately you know it already. Otherwise you would not be here."

"You mean it is this lonely life, this man of another race you have

"No. I mean the thing that led me away from this life, and--the man you
have named."

"I don't believe I understand, Bess."

"You ought to. You drank me dry once, every drop of confidence I
possessed, for two weeks."

"You mean I myself am the cause," said the man low.

"I repeat you have the compliment--if you consider it such."

Again there was silence. Within the stable door, during all the time,
the grey wolf had not stirred. He was observing them now, steadily,
immovably. Though it was bright sunlight without, against the background
of the dark interior his eyes shone as though they were afire.

"Honestly, Bess," said the man, low as before, "I'm sorry if I have
made you unhappy."

"I thought we had decided to be truthful for once," answered a voice.

"You're unjust, horribly unjust!"

"No. I merely understand you--now. You're not sorry, because otherwise
you wouldn't be here. You wouldn't dare to be here--even though my
husband were away."

Again instinctively the man's face reddened. It was decidedly a novelty
in his life to be treated as he was being treated this day. Ordinarily
glib of speech, for some reason in the face of this newfound emotionless
characterisation, he had nothing to say. It is difficult to appear what
one is not in the blaze of one's own fireside. It was impossible under
the scrutiny of this wide-eyed girl, with the recollection of events
gone by.

"All right, Bess," he admitted at last, with an effort, "we've got other
things more interesting than myself to discuss anyway." He looked at her
openly, significantly. "Your own self, for instance."


"I'm listening. Tell me everything."

"You really fancy I will after--the past?"


"And why, please?"

"You've already told me why."

"That's right," meditatively. "I'd forgotten. We were going to be
ourselves, our natural worst selves, to-day."

"I'm still listening."

"You're patient. What do you most wish to know?"

"Most? The thing most essential, of course. Do you love your husband?
You're unhappy, I know. Is that the reason?"

The girl looked out, out over the prairies, meditatively, impassively.
Far in the distance, indistinguishable to an untrained eye, a black dot
stood out above the horizon line. Her eyes paused upon it.

"You'll never tell anyone if I answer?" she asked suddenly.

"Never, Bess."

"You swear it?"

"I swear."

Just perceptibly the girl's lips twitched.

"Thanks. I merely wished to find out if you would still perjure
yourself. To answer your question, I really don't know."

"Bess!" The man was upon his feet, his face twitching. "I'll stand a lot
from you, but there's a limit--"

"Sit down, please," evenly. "It's wasted absolutely. There's not a soul
but myself to see; and I'm not looking. Please be seated."

From his height the man looked down at her; at first angrily,
resentfully--then with an expression wherein surprise and unbelief were
mingled. He sat down.

The girl's eyes left the dot on the horizon, moved on and on.

"As I was saying," she continued, "I don't know. I'd give my soul, if I
have one, to know; but I have no one with whom to make the exchange, no
one who can give me light. Does that answer your question?"

Her companion stared at her, and forgot himself.

"Yes, it answers the now. But why did you marry him?"

"You really wish to know?" Again the lips were twitching.


"You're very hungry for compliments. You yourself are why."

No answer, only silence.

"You've seen a coursing, haven't you?" wandered on the girl. "A little
tired rabbit with a great mongrel pack in pursuit? You're not plural,
but nevertheless you personified that pack. You and the unknown things
you represented were pressing me close. I was confused and afraid. I was
a babe four months ago. I was not afraid of How, I had loved him--at
least I thought I had, I'm sure of nothing now--and, as I say, I was
afraid of you--then."

"And now--"

Just for a second the girl glanced at the questioner, then she looked

"I'm not in the least afraid of you now--or of anything."

"Not even of your husband?"

"No," unemotionally. "I leave that to you."

Again the man's face twitched, but he was silent.

"I said afraid of nothing," retracted the girl swiftly. "I made a
mistake." Of a sudden her face grew old and tense. "I am afraid of
something; horribly afraid. I'm as afraid, as you are of death, of this
infinite eventless monotony." She bit her lip deep, unconsciously. "I
sometimes think the old fear of everything were preferable, were the
lesser of the two evils."

Just perceptibly the figure of the man grew alert. The loose skin under
his eyes drew tight as the lids partially closed.

"You've been a bit slow about it, Bess," he said, "but I think you've
gotten down to realities at last." He likewise looked away; but
unseeingly. The mind of Clayton Craig was not on the landscape that
spring morning. "I even fancy that at last you realise what a mess
you've made of your life."

The girl showed no resentment, no surprise.

"Yes, I think I do," she said.

"You are perhaps even prepared to admit that I wasn't such a brute after
all in attempting to prevent your doing as you did."

"No," monotonously. "You could have prevented it if you hadn't been a

Again the man looked at her, unconscious of self.

"You mean that you did really and truly care for me, then, Bess? Cared
for me myself?"


"And that I frightened you back here?"


Unconsciously the man swallowed. His throat was very dry.

"And now that you're no longer afraid of me, how about it now?"

The girl looked away in silence.

"Tell me, Bess," pleaded the man, "tell me!"

"I can't tell you. I don't know."

"Don't know?"

"No. I don't seem to be sure of anything now-a-days--anything except
that I'm afraid."

"Of the future?"

"Yes--and of myself."

For once at least in his life Clayton Craig was wise. He said nothing. A
long silence fell between them. It was the girl herself who broke it.

"I sometimes think a part of me is dead," she said slowly, and the voice
was very weary. "I think it was buried in Boston with Uncle Landor."

"Was I to blame, Bess?"

"Yes. You were the grave digger. You covered it up."

"Then I'm the one to bring it to life again."

The girl said nothing.

"You admit," pressed Craig, "that I'm the only person who can restore
the thing you have lost, the thing whose lack is making you unhappy?"

"Yes. I admit it."

The man took a deep breath, as one arousing from reverie.

"Won't you let me give it you again, Bess?" he asked low.

"You won't do it," listlessly. "You could, but you won't. You're too

"Bess!" The man's hand was upon her arm.

"Don't do that, please," said the girl quietly.

The man's face twitched; but he obeyed.

"You're maddening, Bess," he flamed. "Positively maddening!"

"Perhaps," evenly. "I warned you that if you stayed we'd be ourselves
to-day. I merely told you things as they are."

Craig opened his lips to speak; but closed them again in silence. One of
his hands, long fingered, white as a woman's, lay in his lap. Against
his will now and then a muscle contracted nervously; and of a sudden he
thrust the telltale member deep into his trousers pocket.

"But the future, Bess," he challenged, "your future. You can't go on
this way indefinitely. What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

"Haven't you ever thought of it?"

"It seems to me I've thought of nothing else--for an age."

"And you've decided nothing?"

"Absolutely nothing."

Again the man drew a long breath; but even thereafter his voice

"Let me decide for you then, Bess," he said.

"You?" The girl inspected him slowly through level eyes. "By what right
should you be permitted to decide?"

The man returned her look. Of a sudden he had become calm. His eyes were
steady. Deep down in his consciousness he realised that he would win,
that the moment was his moment.

"The right is mine because I love you, Bess Landor," he said simply.

"Love me, after what you have done?"

"Yes. I have been mad--and done mad things. But I've discovered my
fault. That's why I've come back; to tell you so--and to make amends."

Intensely, desperately intensely, the girl continued her look; but the
man was master of himself now, sure of himself, so sure that he voiced a

"And you, Bess Landor, love me. In spite of the fact that you ran away,
in spite of the fact that you are married, you love me!"

Into the girl's brown face there crept a trace of colour; her lips
parted, but she said no word.

"You can't deny it," exulted the man. "You can't--because it is true."

A moment longer they sat so, motionless; then for a second time that day
Clayton Craig did a wise thing, inspiration wise. While yet he was
master of the situation, while yet the time was his, he arose.

"I'm going now, Bess," he said, "but I'll come again." He looked at her
deeply, meaningly. "I've said all there is to say, for I've told you
that I love you. Good-bye for now, and remember this: If I've stolen
your happiness, I'll give it all back. As God is my witness, I'll give
it all back with interest." Swiftly, before she could answer, he turned
away and strode toward the impatient thoroughbred. Equally swiftly he
undid the tie strap and mounted. Without another word, or a backward
glance, he rode away; the galloping hoofs of his mount muffled in the
damp spring earth.

Equally silent, the girl sat looking after him. She did not move. She
did not make a sound. Not until the horse turned in at the C-C ranch
house, until the buildings hid the owner from view, did her eyes leave
him. Then, as if compelled by an instinct, she looked away over the
prairie, away where the last time she had glanced a tiny black dot stood
out against the intense blue sky. But look as she might she could not
find it. It was there no more. It had been for long; but now was not.
Clean as though drawn by a crayon on a freshly washed blackboard, the
unbroken horizon line stretched out in a great circle before her eyes.
With no watcher save the grey wolf staring forth from the stable
doorway, she was alone with her thoughts.



It was later than usual when How Landor returned that evening, and as he
came up the path that led from the stable, he shuffled his feet as one
unconsciously will when very weary. He was wearing his ready-made
clothes and starched collar; but the trousers were deplorably baggy at
the knees from much riding, and his linen and polished shoes were soiled
with the dust of the prairie.

Supper was waiting for him, a supper hot and carefully prepared. Serving
it was a young woman he had not seen for long, a young woman minus the
slightest trace of listlessness, with a dash of red ribbon at belt and
throat, and a reflection of the same colour burning on either cheek. A
young woman, moreover, who anticipated his slightest wish, who took his
hat and fetched his moccasins, and when the meal was over brought the
buffalo robes and stretched them carefully on the gently sloping terrace
just outside the ranch house door. Meanwhile she chatted bubblingly,
continuously; with a suggestion of the light-hearted gaiety of a year
before. To one less intimately acquainted with her than the man, her
companion, she would have seemed again her old girlish self, returned,
unchanged; but to him who knew her as himself there was now and then a
note that rang false, a hint of suppressed excitement in the unwonted
colour, an abnormal energy bordering on the feverish in her every
motion. Not in the least deceived was this impassive, all-observing
human, not in the least in doubt as to the cause of the transformation:
yet through it all he gave no intimation of consciousness of the
unusual, through it all he smiled, and smiled and smiled again. Never
was there a more appreciative diner than he, never a more attentive,
sympathetic listener. He said but little; but that was not remarkable.
He had never done so except when she had not. When he looked at her
there was an intensity that was almost uncanny in his gaze; but that
also was not unusual. There was ever a mystery in the depths of his
steady black eyes. Never more himself, never outwardly more unsuspicious
was the man than on this occasion; even when, the meal complete, the
girl had led him hand in hand out of doors, out into the soft spring
night, out under the stars where she had stretched the two robes
intimately close.

Thus, side by side, but not touching, they lay there, the soft south
breeze fanning their faces, whispering wordless secrets in their ears;
about them the friendly enveloping darkness, in their nostrils the
subtle, indescribable fragrance of awakening earth and of growing
things. But not even then could the girl be still. Far too full of this
day's revelation and of anticipation of things to come was she to be
silent. The mood of her merely changed. The chatter, heretofore aimless,
ceased. In its place came a definite intent, a motive that prompted a
definite question. She was lying stretched out like a child, her crossed
arms pillowing her head, her eyes looking up into the great unknown,
when she gave it voice. Even when she had done so, she did not alter her

"I wonder," she said, "whether if one has made a mistake, it were better
to go on without acknowledging it, living a lie and dying so, or to
admit it and make another, who is innocent, instead of one's self, pay
the penalty?" She paused for breath after the long sentence. "What do
you think, How?"

In the semi-darkness the man looked at her. Against the lighter sky her
face stood out distinct, clear-cut as a silhouette.

"I do not think it ever right to live a lie, Bess," he answered.

"Not even to keep another, who is innocent, from suffering?"

"No," quickly, "not even to keep another from suffering."

The girl shifted restlessly, repressedly.

"But supposing one's acknowledging the lie and living the truth makes
one, according to the world, bad. Would that make any difference, How?"

The Indian did not stir, merely lay there looking at her with his steady

"There are some things one has to decide for one's self," he said. "I
think this is one of them."

Again the arms beneath the girl's head shifted unconsciously.

"Others judge us after we do decide, though," she objected.

"What they think doesn't count. We're good or bad, as we're honest with
ourselves or not."

"You think that, really?"

"I know it, Bess. There's no room for doubt."

Silence fell, and in it the girl's mind wandered on and on. At last,
abrupt as before, abstractedly as before, came a new thought, a new

"Is happiness, after all, the chief end of life, How?" she questioned.

"Happiness, Bess?" He halted. "Happiness?" repeated; but there was no
irony in the voice, only, had the girl noticed, a terrible mute pain.
"How should I know what is best in life, I, who have never known life at

Blind in her own abstraction, the girl had not read beneath the words
themselves, did not notice the thinly veiled inference.

"But you must have an idea," she pressed. "Tell me."

This time the answer was not concealed. It stood forth glaring, where
the running might read.

"Yes, I have an idea--and more," he said. "Happiness, your happiness,
has always been the first thing in my life."

Again silence walled them in, a longer silence than before. Step by
step, gropingly, the girl was advancing on her journey. Step by step she
was drawing away from her companion; yet though, wide-eyed, he watched
her every motion, felt the distance separating grow wider and wider, he
made no move to prevent, threw no obstacle in her path. Deliberately
from his grip, from beneath his very eyes, fate, the relentless, was
filching his one ewe lamb; yet he gave no sign of the knowledge, spoke
no word of unkindness or of hate. Nature, the all-observing, could not
but have admired her child that night.

One more advance the girl made; and that was the last. Before she had
walked gropingly, as though uncertain of her pathway. Now there was no
hesitation. The move was deliberate; even certain.

"I know you'll think I'm foolish, How," she began swiftly, "but I
haven't much to think about, and so little things appeal to me." She
paused and again her folded arms reversed beneath her head. "I've been
watching 'Shaggy,' the wolf here, since he grew up; watched him become
restless week by week. Last night,--you didn't notice, but I did,--I
heard another wolf call away out on the prairie, and I got up to see
what Shaggy would do. Somehow I seemed to understand how he'd feel, and
I came out here, out where we are now, and looked down toward the barn.
It was moonlight last night, and I could see everything clearly, almost
as clearly as day. There hadn't been a sound while I was getting up; but
all at once as I stood watching the call was repeated from somewhere
away off in the distance. Before, Shaggy hadn't stirred. He was standing
there, where you had chained him, just outside the door; but when that
second call came, it was too much. He started to go, did go as far as he
could; then the collar choked him and he realised where he was. He
didn't make a sound, he didn't fight or rebel against something he
couldn't help; but the way he looked, there in the moonlight, with the
chain stretched across his back--" She halted abruptly, of a sudden sat
up. "I know it's childish, but promise me, How, you'll let him go," she
pleaded. "He's wild, and the wild was calling to him. Please promise me
you'll let him go!"

Not even then did the man stir or his eyes leave her face.

"Did I ever tell you, Bess," he asked, "that it was to save Shaggy's
life I brought him here? Sam Howard dug his mother out of her den and
shot her, and was going to kill the cub, too, when I found him."

"No." A hesitating pause. "But anyway," swiftly, "that doesn't make any
difference. He's wild, and it's a prison to him here."

Deliberately, ignoring the refutation, the man went on with the

"Again, if Shaggy returns," he said, "the chances are he won't live
through a year. The first cowboy who gets near enough will shoot him on

"He'll have to take his chance of that, How," countered the girl. "We
all have to take our chances in this life."

For the second time the Indian ignored the interruption.

"Last of all, he's a murderer, Bess. If he were free he'd kill the first
animal weaker than himself he met. Have you thought of that?"

The girl looked away into the infinite abstractedly.

"Yes. But again that makes no difference. Neither you nor I made him as
he is, nor Shaggy himself. He's as God meant him to be; and if he's bad,
God alone is to blame." Her glance returned, met the other fair. "I wish
you'd let him go, How."

The man made no answer.

"Won't you promise me you'll let him go?"

"You really wish it, Bess?"

"Yes, very much."

Still for another moment the man made no move; then of a sudden he

"Come, Bess," he said.

Wondering, the girl got to her feet; wondering still more, followed his
lead down the path to the stable. At the door the Indian whistled. But
there was no response, no shaggy grey answering shadow. A lantern hung
from a nail near at hand. In silence the man lit it and again led the
way within. The mouse-coloured broncho and its darker mate were asleep,
but at the interruption they awoke and looked about curiously. Otherwise
there was no move. Look where one would within the building, there was
no sign of another live thing. Still in silence the Indian led the way
outside, made the circuit of the stable, paused at the south end where
a chain hung loose from a peg driven into the wall. A moment he stood
there, holding the light so the girl could see; then, impassive as
before, he extinguished the blaze and returned the lantern to its place.

They were half way back to the house before the girl spoke; then,
detainingly, she laid her hand upon his arm.

"You mean you've let him go already, How?" she asked.

"Yes. I didn't fasten him this evening."

They walked on so.

"You wanted him to go?"

No answer.

"Tell me, How, did you want him to leave?"

"No, Bess."

Again they advanced, until they reached the house door.

"Why did you let him go, then?" asked the girl tensely.

For the second time there was no answer.

"Tell me, How," she repeated insistently.

"I heard you get up last night, Bess," said a voice. "I thought

For long they stood there, the girl's hand on the man's arm, but neither
stirring; then with a sound perilously near a sob, the hand dropped.

"I think I'll go to bed now, How," she said.

Deliberately, instinctively, the man's arms folded across his chest.
That was all.

The girl mounted the single step, paused in the doorway.

"Aren't you coming, too, How?" she queried.

"No, Bess."

A sudden suspicion came to the girl, a sudden terror.

"You aren't angry with me, are you?" she trembled.

"No, Bess," repeated.

"But still you're not coming?"


Swift as a lightning flash suspicion became certainty.

"You mean you're not going to come with me to-night?" She scarcely
recognised her own voice. "You're never going to be with me again?"

"Never?" A long, long pause. "God alone knows about that, Bess." A
second halt. "Not until things between us are different, at least."

"How!" Blindly, weakly, the girl threw out her hand, grasped the casing
of the door. "Oh, How! How!"

No answer, not the twitching of a muscle, nor the whisper of a breath;
just that dread, motionless silence. A moment the girl stood it, hoping
against hope, praying for a miracle; then she could stand it no longer.
Gropingly clutching at every object within reach, she made her way into
the dark interior; flung herself full dressed onto the bed, her face
buried desperately among the covers.

All the night which followed a sentinel paced back and forth in front
of the ranch house door; back and forth like an automaton, back and
forth in a motion that seemed perpetual. Within the tiny low-ceiled
room, in the fulness of time, the girl sobbed herself into a fitful
sleep; but not once did the sentinel pause to rest, not once in those
dragging hours before day did he relax. With the coming of the first
trace of light he halted, and on silent moccasined feet stole within.
But again he only remained for moments, and when he returned it was
merely to stride away to the stable. Within the space of minutes, before
the east had fairly begun to grow red, silently as he did everything, he
rode away astride the mouse-coloured cayuse into the darkness to the

* * * * *

It was broad day when the girl awoke, and then with a vague sense of
depression and of impending evil. The door was open and the bright
morning light flooded the room. Beyond the entrance stretched the open
prairie: an endless sea of green with a tiny brown island, her own
dooryard, in the foreground. With dull listlessness, the girl propped
herself up in bed and sat looking about her. Absently, aimlessly, her
eyes passed from one familiar object to another. Without any definite
conception of why or of where, she was conscious of an impression of
change in the material world about her, a change that corresponded to
the mental crisis that had so recently taken place. Glad as was the
sunshine without this morning, in her it aroused no answering joy.
Ubiquitous as was the vivid surrounding life, its message passed her by.
Like a haze enveloping, dulling all things, was a haunting memory of
the past night and of what it had meant. As a traveller lost in this
fog, she lay staring about, indecisive which way to move, idly waiting
for light. Ordinarily action itself would have offered a solution of the
problem, would have served at least as a diversion; but this morning she
was strangely listless, strangely indifferent. There seemed to her no
adequate reason for rising, no definite object in doing anything more
than she was doing. In conformity she pulled the pillow higher and,
lifting herself wearily, dropped her chin into her palm and lay with
wide-open eyes staring aimlessly away.

Just how long she remained there so, she did not know. The doorway faced
south, and bit by bit the bar of sunlight that had entered therein began
moving to the left across the floor. Unconsciously, for the lack of
anything better to do, she watched its advance. It fell upon a tiny
shelf against the wall, littered with a collection of papers and
magazines; and the reflected light from the white sheets glared in her
eyes. It came to the supper table of the night before, the table she had
not cleared, and like an accusing hand, lay directed at the evidence of
her own slothfulness. On it went with the passing time, on and on;
crossed a bare spot on the uncarpeted floor, and like a live thing,
began climbing the wall beyond.

Deliberately, with a sort of fascination now, the girl watched its
advance. Her nerves were on edge this morning, and in its relentless
stealth it began to assume an element of the uncanny. Like a hostile
alien thing, it seemed searching here and there in the tiny room for
something definite, something it did not find. Fatuous as it may seem,
the impression grew upon her, augmented until in its own turn it became
a dominant influence. Her glance, heretofore absent, perfunctory, became
intense. The glare was well above the floor by this time and climbing
higher and higher. Answering the mythical challenge, of a sudden she sat
up free in bed and, as though at a spoken injunction, looked about her

The place where she glanced, the point toward which the light was
mounting, was beside her own bed and where, from rough-fashioned wooden
pegs, hung the Indian's pathetically scant wardrobe. At first glance
there seemed to the girl nothing unusual revealed thereon, nothing
significant; and, restlessly observant, the inspection advanced. Then,
ere the mental picture could vanish, ere a new impression could take its
place, in a flash of tardy recollection and of understanding came
realisation complete, and her eyes returned. For perhaps a minute
thereafter she sat so, her great eyes unconsciously opening wider and
wider, her brown skin shading paler second by second. A minute so, a
minute of nerve-tense inaction; then with a little gesture of weariness
and of abandon absolute, she dropped back in her place, and covered her
face from sight.



A week had gone by. Each day of the seven the thoroughbred with the
slender legs and the tiny sensitive ears had stood in the barren
dooryard before Elizabeth Landor's home. Moreover, with each repetition
the arrival had been earlier, the halt longer. Though the weather was
perfect, nevertheless the beast had grown impatient under the long
waits, and telltale, a glaring black mound had come into being where he
had pawed his displeasure. At first Craig on departing had carefully
concealed the testimony of his presence beneath a sprinkling of dooryard
litter; but at last he had ceased to do so, and bit by bit the mound had
grown. Day had succeeded day, and no one had appeared to question the
visitor's right of coming or of going. Even the wolf was no longer
present to stare his disapproval. Verily, unchallenged, the king had
come into his own in this realm of one; and as a monarch absolute ever
rules, Clayton Craig had reigned, was reigning now.

For he no longer halted perforce at the doorstep. He had never been
invited to enter, yet he had entered--and the girl had spoken no word to
prevent. Not by request were his cap and riding stick hanging from a
peg beside the few belongings of How Landor; yet, likewise unchallenged,
they were there. Not by the girl's solicitation was he lounging
intimately in the single rocker the room boasted; yet once again the
bald fact remained that though it was not yet nine by the clock, he was
present, his legs comfortably crossed, his eyes, beneath drooping lids,
whimsically observing the girl as she went about the perfunctory labour
of putting the place to rights.

"I say, Bess," he remarked casually at length, "you've dusted that
unoffending table three times by actual count since I've been watching.
Wouldn't it be proper to rest a bit now and entertain your company?"

The girl did not smile.

"Perhaps." She put away the cloth judicially. "I fancied you were
tolerably amused as it was. However, if you prefer--" She drew another
chair opposite, and, sitting down, folded her hands in her lap.

A moment longer the man sat smiling at her; then shade by shade the
whimsical expression vanished, and the normal proprietary look he had
grown to assume in her presence took its place.

"By the way, Bess," he commented, "isn't it about time to drop sarcasm
when you and I are together? I know I've been a most reprehensible
offender, but haven't I been punished enough?"

"Punished?" There was just the ghost of a smile. "Is this your idea of

The man flushed involuntarily. His face had cleared remarkably in the
past week of abstinence, and through the fair skin the colour showed

"Well, perhaps punishment is a little too severe. Leastways you've held
me at arm's length until I'm beginning to despair."

"Despair?" Again the ghost smiled forth. "Do you fancy I'm so dull that
I don't realise what I'm doing, what you've done?"

For the second time the involuntary colour appeared; but the role that
the man was playing, the role of the injured, was too effective to
abandon at once.

"You can't deny that you've held me away all this last week, Bess," he
objected. "You've permitted me to call and call again; but that is all.
Otherwise we're not a bit nearer than we were when I first returned."

"Nearer?" This time the smile did not come. Even the ghost refused to
appear. "I wonder if that's true." A pause. "At least I've gotten
immeasurably farther away from another."

"Your husband you mean?"

"I mean How. There are but you and he in my life."

The pose was abandoned. It was useless now.

"Tell me, Bess," said the man intimately. "You and I mean too much to
each other not to know everything there is to know."

"There's nothing to tell." The girl did not dissimulate now. The
inevitable was in sight, approaching swiftly--and she herself had
chosen. "He's merely given me up."

"He knows, Bess?" Blank unbelief was on the questioner's face, something
else as well, something akin to exultation.

"Yes," repressedly. "He's known since that first night."

"And he hasn't objected, hasn't done anything at all?"

Just for an instant, ere came second thought, the old defiance, the old
pride, broke forth.

"Do you fancy you would be here now, that you wouldn't have known before
this if he objected?" she flamed.


"I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have said that." Already the blaze had
died, never to be rekindled. "Forget that I said that. I didn't mean

The man did not answer, he scarcely heard. Almost as by a miracle, the
last obstacle had been removed from his way. He had counted upon
blindness, the unsuspicion of perfect confidence; but a passive,
conscious conformity such as this--The thing was unbelievable,
providential, too unnaturally good to last. The present was a strategic
moment, the time for immediate, irrevocable action, ere there came a
change of heart. It had not been a part of Clayton Craig's plans to
permit a meeting between himself and the Indian. As a matter of fact he
had taken elaborate, and, as it proved, unnecessary precautions to
avoid such a consummation. Even now, the necessity passed, he did not
alter his plans. Not that he was afraid of the red man. He had proven to
himself by an incontrovertible process of reasoning that such was not
the case. It was merely to avoid unpleasantness for himself and for the
girl--particularly for the latter. Moreover, no possible object could be
gained by such a meeting. Things were as they were and inevitable. He
merely decided to hasten the move. It was the forming of this decision
that had held him silent. It was under its influence that he spoke.

"When is it to be, Bess," he asked abruptly, "the final break, I mean?"

"It has already been, I tell you. It's all over."

"The new life, then," guided the man. "You can't go on this way any
longer. It's intolerable for both of us."

"Yes," dully, "it's intolerable for all of us."

Craig arose and, walking to the door, looked out. In advance he had
imagined that the actual move, when all was ready, would be easy. Now
that the time had really arrived, he found it strangely difficult. He
hardly knew how to begin.

"Bess." Of a sudden he had returned swiftly and, very erect, very
dominant, stood looking down at her. "Bess," repeated, "we've avoided
the obvious long enough, too long. As I said, you've succeeded in
keeping me at arm's length all the last week; but I won't be denied any
longer. I'm willing to take all the blame of the past, and all the
responsibility of the future. I love you, Bess. I've told you that
before, but I repeat it now. I want you to go away with me, away from
this God-cursed land that's driving us both mad--at least leave for a
time. After a while, when we both feel different, we can come back if we
wish; but for the present--I can't stand this uncertainty another week,
another day." He paused for breath, came a step nearer.

"Your marrying this Indian was a hideous mistake," he rushed on; "but we
can't help that now. All we can do is to get away and forget it." He
cleared his throat needlessly. "It's this getting away that I've
arranged for since I've been here. I've not been entirely idle the last
week, and every detail is complete. There are three relays of horses
waiting between here and the railroad. One team is all ready at the
ranch house the minute I give the signal. They'll get us to town before
morning. You've only to say the word, and I'll give the sign." Again,
nervously, shortly, he repeated the needless rasp, "How may, as you say,
not interfere; but it's useless, to take any chances. There's been
enough tragedy already between you two, without courting more. Besides,
the past is dead; dead as though it had never been. My lawyer is over at
the ranch house now. He'll straighten out everything after we're gone.
Things here are all in your name; you can do as you please with them.
There's no possible excuse for delay." He bent over her, his hands on
her shoulders, his eyes looking into hers compellingly. "God knows
you've been buried here long enough, girl. I'll teach you to live; to
live, do you hear? We'll be very happy together, you and I, Bess;
happier than you ever dreamed of being. Will you come?"

He was silent, and of a sudden the place became very still; still as the
dead past the man had suggested. Wide-eyed, motionless, the girl sat
looking up at him. She did not speak; she scarcely seemed to breathe. As
she had chosen, so had it come to pass; yet involuntarily she delayed.
Deliverance from the haunting solitude that had oppressed her like an
evil dream was beckoning; yet impotent, she held back. Of a sudden,
within her being, something she had fancied dormant had awakened. The
instinct of convention, fundamental, inbred, more vital to a woman than
life itself, intruded preventingly, fair in her path. Warning, pleading,
distinct as a spoken admonition, its voice sounded a negative in her
ears. She tried to silence it, tried to overwhelm it with her newborn
philosophy; but it was useless. Fear of the future, as she had said, she
had none. Good or bad as the man might be, she had chosen. With full
knowledge of his deficiencies she had chosen. But to go away with him
so, without sanction of law or of clergy; she, Bess Landor, who was a

The hands on her shoulders tightened insistently, the compelling face
drew nearer.

"Answer me, Bess," demanded a tense voice; "don't keep me in suspense.
Will you go?"

With the motion of a captured wild thing, the girl arose, drew back
until she was free.

"Don't," she pleaded. "Don't hurry me so. Give me a little time to
think." She caught her breath from the effort. "I'll go with you, yes;
but to-day, now--I can't. We must see How first. He must know, must

"See How!" The man checked himself. "You must be mad," he digressed. "I
can't see How, nor won't. I tell you it's between How and myself you
must choose. I love you, Bess. I'm proving I love you; but I'm not
insane absolutely. I ask you again: will you come?"

The girl shook her head, nervously, jerkily.

"I can't now, as things are."

"And why not?" passionately. "Haven't you said you care for me?"

For answer the red lower lip trembled. That was all.

The man came a step forward, and another.

"Tell me, Bess," he demanded. "Don't you love me?"

"I have told you," said a low voice.

Answering, coercing, swift as the swoop of a prairie hawk, as a human
being in abandon, the man's arms were about her. Ere the girl could move
or resist, his lips were upon her lips. "You must go then," he
commanded. "I'll compel you to go." He kissed her again, hungrily,
irresistibly. "I won't take no for an answer. You will go."

"Don't, please," pleaded a voice, breathless from its owner's impotent
effort to be free. "You must not, we must not--yet. I'm bad, I know, but
not wholly. Please let me go."

Unconscious of time, unconscious of place, oblivious to aught save the
moment, the man held his ground, joying in his victory, in her effort to
escape. Save that one casual glance long before, he had not looked out
of doors. Had he done so, had he seen--.

But he had forgotten that a world existed without those four walls. His
back was toward the door. His own great shoulders walled the girl in.
Neither he nor she dreamed of a dark figure that had drifted from out
the prairie swiftly into the dooryard, dreamed that that same
all-knowing shadow, on soundless moccasined feet, had advanced to the
doorway, stood silent, watching therein. As the first man and the first
woman were alone, they fancied themselves alone. As the first man might
have exulted over his mate, Clayton Craig exulted now.

"Let you go, Bess," he baited, "let you go now that I've just gotten
you?" He laughed passionately. "You must think that I'm made of clay and
not of flesh and blood." He drew her closer and closer, until she could
no longer struggle, until she lay still in his arms. "I'll never let you
go again, girl, not if God himself were to demand your release. You're
mine, Bess, mine by right of capture, mine--"

The sentence halted midway; halted in a gasp and an unintelligible
muttering in the throat. Of a sudden, darkening, ominous, fateful, the
shadow within the entrance had silently advanced until it stood beside
them, paused so with folded arms. Simultaneously the wife and the
invader saw, realised. Instantly, instinctively, like similar repellent
poles, they sprang apart. Enveloped in a maze of surging divergent
passions, the two guilty humans stood silent so, staring at the intruder
in breathless expectation, breathless fascination.

* * * * *

While an observer could have counted ten slowly, and repeated the count,
the three remained precisely as they were. While the same mythical
spectator could have counted ten more, the silence held; but inaction
had ceased. While time, the relentless, checked off another measure,
there was still no interruption; then of a sudden, desperately tense,
desperately challenging, a voice sounded: the voice of Clayton Craig.

"Well," he queried, "why don't you do something?" He moistened his lips
and shuffled his feet restlessly. "You've seen enough to understand, I
guess. What are you going to do about it?"

The Indian had not been looking at him. Since that first moment when the
two had sprang separate he had not even appeared conscious of his
presence. Nor did he alter now. Erect as a maize plant, dressed once
more in the flannels and corduroys of his station, as tall and graceful,
he merely stood there with folded arms, looking down on the girl. More
maddening than an execration, than physical menace itself, was that
passionless, ignoring isolation to the other man. Answering, the hot
blood flooded his blonde face, swelled the arteries of his throat until
his collar choked him. Involuntarily his hand went to his neckband,
tugged until it was free. Equally involuntarily he took a step forward

"Curse you, How Landor," he blazed, "you've learned at last, perhaps,
not to dare me to take something of yours away from you." Word by word
his voice had risen until he fairly shouted. "You've lost, fool; lost,
lost! Are you blind that you can't see? You've lost, I say!"

From pure inability to articulate more, the white man halted; and that
instant the room became deathly still.

A second, or the fraction of a second thereof, it remained so; then,
white-faced, apprehensive, the girl sprang between the two, paused so,
motionless:--for of a sudden a voice, an even, passionless voice, was

"You don't know me even yet, do you, Elizabeth?" it chided. Just a step
the speaker moved backward, and for the first time he recognised the
white man's presence. His eyes were steady and level. His voice,
unbelievably low in contrast to that of the other, when he spoke was
even as before.

"I won't forgive you for what you've just done, Mr. Craig," he said.
"I'll merely forget that you've done anything at all. One thing I
expect, however, and that is that you'll not interrupt again. You may
listen or not, as you wish. Later, I may have a word to say to you; but
now there is nothing to be said." Just a moment longer the look held, a
moment wherein the other man felt his tongue grow dumb; then with the
old impassivity, the old isolation, the black eyes shifted until they
rested on the face of the girl.

But for still another moment--he was as deliberate as nature herself,
this man--he stood so, looking down. Always slender, he had grown more
so these last weeks. Moreover, he had the look of one weary unto death.
His black eyes were bright, mysteriously bright, and on his thin hands,
folded across his chest, the veins stood out full and prominent; but
look where one would on the lithe body, the muscles lay distinct beneath
the close-fitting clothes, distinct to emaciation. Standing there now,
very grave, very repressed, there was nevertheless no reproach in his
expression, no trace of bitterness; only a haunting tenderness, infinite
in its pathos. When he spoke the same incredible tolerance throbbed in
the low-pitched voice.

"I've just a few things I wish to say to you, Bess," he began, "and a
request to make--and that is all. I didn't come back so, unexpectedly,
to be unpleasant, or to interfere with what you wish to do. I came
because I fancied you were going to do an unwise thing: because I had
reason to believe you were going to run away." Unconsciously, one of the
folded hands loosened, passed absently over his forehead; then returned
abruptly to its place. "Perhaps I was mistaken. If so I beg your pardon
for the suspicion; but at least, if I can prevent, I don't want you to
do so. It's this I came to tell you." Again the voice halted, and into
it there came a new note: a self-conquered throb that lingered in the
girl's recollection while memory lasted.

"It's useless to talk of yourself and of myself, Bess," he went on.
"Things are as they are--and final. I don't judge you, I--understand.
Above everything else in life, I wish you to be happy; and I realise now
I can't make you so. Another perhaps can; I hope so and trust so. At
least I shall not stand in your way any longer. It is that I came to
tell you. It is I who shall leave and not you, Bess." Of a sudden he
stepped back and lifted one hand free, preventingly. "Just a moment,
please," he requested. "Don't interrupt me until I say what I came to
say." His arms folded back as before, his eyes held hers compellingly.

"I said I had a request to make. This is it--that you don't leave until
you are married again. You won't have to wait long if I leave. I have
inquired and found out. A few days, a few weeks at the longest, and you
will be free. Meanwhile stay here. Everything is yours. I never owned
anything except the house, and that is yours also." For the last time he
halted; then even, distinct, came the question direct. "Will you promise
me this, Bess?" he asked.

Save once, when she had tried to interrupt, the girl had listened
through it all without a move, without a sound. Now that he was silent,
and it was her turn to speak, she still stood so, passive, waiting. Ever
in times of stress his will had dominated her will; and the present was
no exception. There was an infinity of things she might have said. A
myriad which she should have spoken, would occur to her when he was
gone. But at the present, when the opportunity was hers, there seemed
nothing to offer; nothing to gainsay. She even forgot that she was
expected to answer at all, that he had asked a question.

"Won't you promise me this one thing, Bess?" repeated the voice gently.
"I've never made a request of you before, and I probably never shall

At last the girl aroused; and of a sudden she realised that her lips
were very dry and hot. She moistened them with her tongue.

"Yes, How," she said dully, "I promise."

Silence fell, a silence deathly in its significance, in its finality;
but the girl did not break it, said no more--and forever the moment, her
moment, vanished into the past.

"Thank you, Bess," acknowledged the man monotonously. Slowly, strangely
different from his usual alert certainty, he moved across the room.
"There are just a few things here I'd like to take with me," he
explained apologetically. "They'd only be in your way if I left them."

With a hand that fumbled a bit, he took down a battered telescope
satchel from a peg on the wall and began packing. He moved about slowly
here and there, his moccasined feet patting dully on the bare floor. No
one offered to assist him, no one interrupted; and in dead silence,
except for the sound he himself made, he went about his work. Into the
satchel went a few books from the shelf on the wall: an old army
greatcoat that had been Colonel William Landor's: a weather-stained cap
which had been a present likewise: a handful of fossils he had gathered
in one of his journeys to the Bad Lands: an inexpensive trinket here and
there, that the girl herself had made for him. The satchel was small,
and soon, pitifully soon, it was full. A moment thereafter he stood
beside it, looking about him; then with an effort he put on the cover
and began tightening the straps. The leather was old and the holes
large, but he found difficulty even then in fastening the buckles. At
last, though, it was done, and he straightened. Both the white man and
the girl were watching him; but no one spoke. For the second time, the
last time, the Indian stood so while his intense black eyes shifted from
nook to nook, taking in every detail of the place that had once been his
heaven, his nest, but now his no more; then of a sudden he lifted his
burden and started to leave. Opposite the girl he paused and held out
his hand.

"Good-bye, Bess," he said. He looked her deep in the eyes, deep into her
very soul. "If I knew what religion is, I'd say God bless you, girl; but
I don't, so I'll only say good-bye--and--I wish you happiness." Just a
moment longer he remained so; then at something he saw, he dropped her
hand and drew away swiftly, preventingly.

"Don't, Bess," he pleaded, "don't say it--as you cared for me once.
Don't make things any harder--make them impossible!" Desperately,
without another pause, ere she could disobey, he started for the door.
Beside the entrance--for he was not watching these last minutes--stood
the white man; and just for a moment at his side the Indian halted.
Despite the will of Clayton Craig, their eyes met. For an instant,
wherein time lapsed, they stood face to face; then swiftly as he did
everything, now the Indian spoke: and, as once before in his life, those
words and the look that accompanied them went with the alien to his

"As for you, Mr. Craig," said the voice, "I have one thing only to say.
Make Bess happy. There's nothing in the world to prevent your doing so,
if you will. If you do not--" a pause of horrible ice-cold menace--"if
you do not," repeated, "suicide." Just for the fraction of a second not
a civilised man but a savage stared the listener in the face. "I shall
know if you fail, and believe me, it were better, a thousand times
better, if you do as I say."

Again, as beside the girl, there was a mute, throbbing lapse; then,
similarly before there could be an answer, upon the tense silence there
broke the swift pat of moccasined feet, and he was gone.



The month was late September. The time, evening. The place, the ranch
house of a rawboned Yankee named Hawkins. Upon the scene at the hour the
supper table was spread appeared a traveller in an open road waggon. The
vehicle was covered with dust. The team which drew it were dust-stained
likewise, and in addition, on belly and legs, were covered with a white
powder-like frost where the sweat had oozed to the hair tips and dried.
Without announcing his arrival or deigning the formality of asking
permission, the newcomer unhitched and put his team in the barn. From a
convenient bin he took out a generous feed, and from a stack beside the
eaves he brought them hay for the night. This done, he started for the
house. A minute later, again without form of announcement or seeking
permission, he opened the ranch house door and stepped inside.

Within the room, beside a table with an oilcloth cover, four men were
eating. A fifth, a dark-skinned Mexican, was standing by a stove in one
corner baking pancakes. All looked up as the door opened.

Then, curiosity satisfied, the eyes of all save one, the proprietor,
Hawkins, returned to their plates, and the rattle of steel on heavy
queensware proceeded.

"Good-evening," recognised the Yankee laconically. He hitched along his
chair until a space was clear at his elbow. "Draw up and fall to,
stranger. Bring the gentleman a chair, Pete."

In silence the Mexican obeyed, and in equal silence returned to his

Appetites are keen on the prairie, and not until the meal was complete
was there further conversation. Then after, one by one, the cowmen had
filed out of doors, the host produced two corn-cob pipes from a shelf on
the wall and tendered one across the littered table.

"Smoke?" he again invited laconically.

The visitor fumbled in the pockets of his coat and drew out a couple of

"Better have one of these instead," he suggested.

Hawkins accepted in silence, and thereafter--for cigars were a rarity on
the frontier--puffed half the length of the weed in wordless content.
The Mexican went impassively about his work, cleared the table and
washed the dishes methodically. The labour complete, he rolled a
cigarette swiftly and, followed by a vanishing trail of blue,
disappeared likewise out of doors. Then, and not until then, the visitor
introduced himself.

"My name's Manning, Bob Manning," he said. "I run the store over at the

The host scrutinised his guest, deliberately, reminiscently

"I thought there was something familiar about you," he commented at
last. "I haven't seen you for twenty years; but I remember you now.
You're one of the bunch who was with Bill Landor that time he picked up
the two kids."

It was the guest's turn to make critical inspection.

"You wouldn't remember me," explained the rancher. "I came in while you
were gone, and only saw you the day you returned." The reminiscent look
reappeared. "I used to know Landor pretty well when we were on the other
side of the river, before the country settled up; but when we came over
here we got too far apart and lost track of each other."

The visitor smoked a full minute in meditative silence. At last he
glanced up.

"You knew he was dead, didn't you?"

"Yes. And the two youngsters grew up and got married and--" Hawkins
laughed peculiarly--"made a fizzle of it."

"Knew them personally, did you?" queried Manning.

"No. I haven't seen the young folks for ten years, and I haven't even
heard anything of them for six months now." He twirled the cigar with
his fingers in the self-consciousness of unaccustomed gossip. "The girl
went East with Landor's nephew, Craig, afterward, I understood."


Hawkins puffed at the cigar fiercely; then blew an avenue in the cloud
of smoke obscuring his companion's face.

"I'm not usually so confoundedly curious," he apologised, "but, knowing
the circumstances, I've often wondered how the affair ended. Did they
hit it off well together?"

Manning settled farther back in his chair. One of his gnarled old hands
fastened of a sudden upon the arm tightly.

"While the money lasted, yes."

"Money! Did they sell the ranch?"

"Mortgaged it, Craig did, until he couldn't get another cent."

"And then--"

"It's the old story."

"They went to pieces?"

"Craig left her--for another woman." The clawlike hands closed tighter
and tighter. "He never really cared for Bess. He couldn't. It seems he
was supporting the other woman all the time."

Hawkins sat chewing the stump of the cigar in silence. In a lean-to the
cowboys were going to bed. Muffled by the intervening wall came the
mocking sound of their intermittent laughter.

"And then what?" asked the rancher at last.

"Bess came back."


Manning had sunk deeper and deeper into his seat. His face was concealed
by the straggling grey beard, but beneath his shaggy brows his old eyes
were blazing.

"Yes, she was alone," he said.

The cigar had gone dead in Hawkins's lips, and he lit it jerkily. The
blaze of the match illumined a face that was not pleasant to look upon.

"And Craig himself," he suggested, "where is he?"

"He's back at the ranch by this time. He went through town yesterday,
just before I left, with a man who wants to buy."

The rancher looked at the other meaningly.

"Back at the ranch--with the Indian?"

Equally directly Manning returned the look.

"Evidently you didn't hear all the story," he said. "The Indian is not

"No?" swiftly. "Where is he?"

Manning's free hand, his distorted hand, caught at the table before him.

"That's what I came to ask you," he returned equally swiftly. "He came
here, to work for you, six months ago, when he left Bess. Do you mean to
tell me you don't know where he is gone?"

Face to face the two men sat staring at each other. The sounds from the
lean-to had ceased. In the silence they could hear each other breathing.
For perhaps a minute they sat so; while bit by bit on the rancher's face
incredulity merged into belief, and belief into understanding perfect.

"Know where he is? Of course I do--now." He leaned back in his chair.
"To think that I never suspicioned who he was all the time he was here,
or even when he left. I'm an ass, an ass!"

He did not now. "Tell me where he is, if you know."

"About twelve miles from here, unless he's changed camp in the last
week." The rancher looked at the other understandingly. "He worked for
me until about a month ago. Then he left and started away alone. We
never got a word out of him while he was here, not even his name." Of a
sudden came realisation complete, and his great bony fist crashed on the
board. "I'm dull as a post, but I begin to understand at last, and I'm
with you absolutely. I'll take you there to-night, it won't be a
two-hour drive. I'll hitch up right now if you're ready."

For the first time in the last tense minutes Manning relaxed. The hand
on the chair arm loosened its grip.

"I'm glad you know where he is," he said unemotionally. "I don't think
we'll go to-night, though." He fumbled in his pocket and produced two
fresh cigars. One he slid across the table to the other man and lit its
mate carefully. "I don't think we'd better both go anyway. In the
morning you can fit me out with a fresh team, if you will. I crowded
things a bit on the way up."

For a moment the rancher sat staring at his guest blankly,
unbelievingly; then for the second time came understanding.

"Perhaps after all you're right," he acquiesced. "It's only eighty
miles, and there's plenty of time."

Beneath the craggy brows the blaze still glowed undimmed in the old
storekeeper's deep-set eyes.

"Yes, there's plenty of time--after How Landor knows," he said.

* * * * *

In the midst of the prairie wilderness Providence had placed a tiny
dawdling creek. At a point where the creek wandered through a spot a
shade lower than the surrounding country, man, a man, had builded a dam.
In the fulness of time the accumulated water had formed a fair-sized
pond that glittered and shimmered in the sunlight, until from a little
altitude it could be seen for miles. To this pond, for open water was
very, very scarce on the prairie in September, came water fowl from near
and afar; from no man knew where. As steel filings respond to a magnet,
they came, and as inevitably; stragglingly, suspiciously by day, in
flocks that grew to be a perfect cloud by night. A tent that had once
been white, but that was now weather-stained and darkened by smoke, was
pitched near at hand; but they minded it not. An evil-looking
mouse-coloured cayuse grazed likewise, hard by; but for them a broncho
had no terror. A rough blind, ingeniously fashioned from weeds and
grasses, stood at the water's edge; yet again even of this they were
unsuspicious. Now and anon, at long intervals, something happened,
something startlingly sudden, bewilderingly loud; and in blind terror
they would take wing and vanish temporarily, like smoke. But this
something never pursued them, never repeated itself the same day, and
invariably after a time they came back, to take up anew, with the
confidence of children, the careless thread of their life where it had
been interrupted.

Thus it had been for days past. Thus it was of a certain morning in late
September. Though it was ten of the clock, they were still there: sleepy
brown mallards, glossy-winged teal, long-necked shovellers, greyish
speckled widgeon: these and others less common, representatives of all
the native tribe. Happy as nature the common mother intended, as
irresponsibly idle, they dawdled here and there, back and forth while
time drifted swiftly by; and unknown to them, concealed from view within
the blind, a dark-skinned man lay watching.

Since before daylight, ere they were yet awake, he had been there. On
soundless moccasined feet he had come. Motionless as an inanimate thing,
he had remained. Not two rods away the flock were feeding. More than
once the water they carelessly spattered had fallen upon him; but he did
not stir. He had no gun or weapon of any kind. Though they were within
stone's throw, he had not brought even a rock. Unbelievable to an
Anglo-Saxon sportsman, he merely lay there observing them. With that
object he had come; for this purpose he remained. A long dark statue, he
peered through the woven grasses steadily, admiringly; with an
instinctive companionship, a mute forbearance, that was haunting in its
revelation. Lonely as death itself were the surrounding unbroken
prairies. Lonely as a desert of sand, their absolute isolation. Lonely
beyond comparison, beyond the suggestion of language, was that silent
human in their midst this autumn day.

How long he would have remained there so, idly watching, no one could
have told; the man himself could not have told; for at last,
interrupting, awakening, a new actor appeared. Answering, with a great
quacking and beating of webbed feet, the flock sprang a-wing; and almost
before the shower of water drops they scattered in their wake had
ceased, a road waggon, with a greybearded old man on the seat, drew up
beside the tent.

Then, for the first time in hours, the Indian arose and stretched
himself. Still in silence he came back to where the newcomer was

They exchanged the conventionalities, and thereafter the white man sat
eyeing the other peculiarly, analytically.

"Well, where's your game?" he queried at last. "There seemed to be
enough around when I came."

The Indian smiled; the smile of one accustomed to being misunderstood.

"I wasn't hunting," he said. "I was merely watching."

A moment longer Manning continued the inspection; then with an effort he

"I was over to see Hawkins yesterday on business," he digressed
abruptly, "and he said you were out here somewhere, so I thought before
I went back I'd look you up." The man was not accustomed to
dissimulation, and the explanation halted lamely. "If you don't mind
I'll go inside and smoke a bit."

In silence the Indian led the way to the tent and buttoned back the
flap. There was but one chair and he indicated it impassively.

"I'm very glad to see you," he said then simply.

Manning lit a pipe clumsily with his crippled hand, and thereafter drew
on it deliberately until the contents of the bowl were aglow. Even then,
however, he did not speak. That which had been on his mind trembled now
at the tip of his tongue. The one for whose ear the information was
intended was waiting, listening; yet he delayed. With the suddenness of
a revelation, in those last minutes, there had come to the old
storekeeper an appreciation of the other he had never felt before. The
message of the artificial pond and the harmless watcher at its edge had
begun the alteration. A glimpse of the barren interior of the tent, with
a pathetic little group of valueless trinkets arranged with infinite
care on a tiny folding table, added its testimony. The sight of the man
himself, standing erect in the doorway, gazing immovably out over the
sunlit earth, looking and waiting, but asking no question, completed the
impression. He had known this repressed human long and, as he fancied,
well; but now of a sudden he realised that in fact he had not known him
at all. Fearless unquestionably he had found him to be. That in a
measure he was civilised, he had taken for granted; but more than this,
that he was an individual among individuals, that beneath that
emotionless exterior there lay a subtle, indescribable something
inadequately termed soul, with the supercilious superiority of the white
he had ignored. Before he had been merely a puppet: the play actor of an
inferior, conquered race. Injustice, horrible, unforgivable injustice,
with this being one of the injured, had been done in the white man's
sight; and instinctively he had come to him as the agent of Providence
calculated to mete out retribution. That an irresponsible, relentless
savage lurked beneath the thin veneer of alien civilisation he had taken
for granted, and builded thereon. Now with disconcerting finality he
realised the thing he was doing. It was not a mere agent of divine
punishment he was calling to action; but a fellow human being, an equal,
with whose affairs he was arbitrarily meddling. Whatever the motive that
had inspired his coming, however justifiable in itself, his
interference, as a mere spectator, was under the circumstances
unjustified and an impertinence. This he realised with startling
suddenness; and swift in its wake came a new point of view, a
readjustment absolute in his attitude. Under its influence the
dissimulation of a moment ago vanished. From out of concealment he came
fair into the open. What he knew he would reveal--if the other wished;
but it was for the Indian to request, not him to proffer. With the
decision he aroused. In the interval his pipe had gone dead and he lit
it afresh suggestively.

"I lied to you a bit ago, How," he confessed abruptly. "It was not
Hawkins I came to see at all, but you."

The dark statue did not turn, showed no sign of surprise.

"I thought so," it said simply.

Puff, puff went the white man's pipe, until even though it was daylight,
the glow lit up his face.

"You did me a service once," he continued at last, "a big service--and
I've not forgotten. I'll go now, or stay, as you wish."

Still the Indian stood in the doorway looking out into the careless,
smiling infinite.

"I understand. You have something to tell me, something you think I
should know."

The old man thumbed the ashes in the pipe bowl absently.

"I repeat, it is for you to choose."

Silence fell; a lapse so long that, old man as he was, Manning felt his
heart beat more swiftly in anticipation. Then at last the Indian moved.
Deliberately, noiselessly he turned. Equally deliberately he drew a robe
opposite his visitor and, still very erect, sat down on the ground--his
long fingers locked across his knees.

"I choose to listen," he said. "Tell me, please."

For the second time, because he needs must be doing something, the white
man filled his pipe. The hand that held the tobacco pouch shook a bit
now involuntarily, and a tiny puff of the brown flakes fell scattering
outside the bowl onto his knee.

"About a month ago"--the speaker cleared his throat raspingly--"on
August 16th it was, to be exact, there was a funeral in town. It started
from the C-C ranch house and ended in the same lot with Mary Landor. It
wasn't much of a funeral, either. Besides myself and Mrs. Burton no one
was there." Again the voice halted; and following there came the sharp
crackling of a match, and the quick puff, puff of an habitual smoker.
"It was the funeral of a child: a child half Indian, half white."

Again the story paused; but the steady smoking continued.

"Go on, please," requested a voice.

"Early yesterday morning"--again the narrator halted perforce, to clear
his throat--"just before I left three men went through town on their way
to the same ranch. One was the owner, another a lawyer, the third a man
who wished to buy. They were in a hurry. They only stopped to water
their team and to visit Red Jennings's place. They are at the ranch
house closing the bargain now."

"Yes," repeated the voice, "I'm listening."

The speaker did not respond at once. With the trick of the very aged
when they relax, in the past minutes he seemed to have contracted
physically, to have shrunk, as it were, within himself. The nervousness
and uncertainty of a moment ago had passed now absolutely. The deep-set
eyes of him were of a sudden glowing ominously as they had done when
telling the same tale to Rancher Hawkins the night before; but that was
all. His voluntary offering was given; more than this must come by

"I have nothing more to say--unless you wish," he repeated in the old

For a second time silence fell; to be broken again by the crackling of a
match in the white man's hand. Following, as though prompted by the
sound, came a question.

"Why,"--the Indian did not stir, but his eyes had shifted until they
looked immovably into those of his companion,--"why, please, was not the
mother of the child at least at the funeral?"

"Because she could not come," impassively. "The baby was less than two
days old."

"She had been back, though, back at the ranch, for some time?"

"Yes. Several weeks."

"She returned alone?"


"And to stay?"

Swifter and more swiftly came the questions. Even yet no muscle of the
inquisitor's body stirred; but in the black eyes a light new to the
other man, ominous in its belated appearance, was kindling.

"Yes," answered Manning.

"She, Bess, had left her husband?"

"No, Craig had left her."

Suddenly, instinctively, the impersonal had been dropped; but neither
man noticed the change.

"There was a reason?"

"Yes," baldly. "Another woman."

The locked fingers across the Indian's knee were growing white; white as
the sunlight without.

"And now he has returned, you say, to sell the ranch, her ranch?"

"It is her ranch no more. It is his."

"She, Bess, gave it to him after all that had happened, all that he had
done? You mean to tell me this?"

Abruptly, instinctively, for the end was very close at hand, the white
man got to his feet, stood so silent.

"Tell me." The Indian was likewise erect, his dark face standing clear
against the white background of the tent wall. "Did Bess do this thing?"

"No," said a voice. "It came to him in another way."

"Another way!" swiftly. "Another way!" repeated. "Another way!" for the
third time; and then a halt. For that moment realisation had come.
"There could be but one other way!"

Swiftly, instinctively, the white man turned about, until the face
opposite was hid. Hardened frontiersman as he was, prepared for the
moment as he had thought himself, he could not watch longer. To do so
was sacrilege unqualified. In his youth the man had been a hunter of big
game. Of a sudden now, horribly distinct, he had a vision of the
expression in the eyes of a great moose, mortally wounded, when at the
end he himself had drawn the knife. Under its influence he halted,
waiting, postponing the inevitable.

"There could be but one other way," repeated the voice slowly,
repressedly. "Tell me, please. Let me know all. Am I not right?"

To hesitate longer was needless cruelty; and in infinite pity, the blow

"Yes, How," said Manning gently, "Bess is dead."



An hour had passed. Manning had gone; and on the horizon to the east
whither he had taken his way not even a dot now indicated his former
presence. Even the close-fed grass whereon the wheels of the old road
waggon had temporarily blazed a trail had returned normally erect.
Suddenly, as a rain cloud forms over the parched earth, the storm had
gathered and broken; and passed on as though it had not been. All about
smiled the sunshine; sarcastic, isolate as though it had seen nothing,
heard nothing. On the surface of the pond the ducks, again returned,
swam and splashed and dawdled in their endless holiday. The eternal
breeze of the prairie noontime, drifting leisurely by, sang its old, old
song of abandon and of peace. Not in the merest detail had nature, the
serene, altered; not by the minutest trifle had she deviated from her
customary course. Man alone it is who changes to conform with the
passing mood. Man alone it was amid this primitive setting who had
altered now.

For How Landor, the Indian, was no longer idle or dreaming. Instead, his
every action was that of one with a definite purpose. Yet even then he
did not hurry. At first he seemed merely to be going about the ordinary
routine of his life. Methodically he kindled a fire and prepared himself
a generous meal. Deliberately, fair in the sunshine, he ate. Then for
the first time an observer who knew him well would have detected the
unusual. Contrary to all precedent the dishes were not washed or even
touched. Instead, the meal complete, he went swiftly toward the tent and
disappeared inside.

For minutes he remained within, moving about from place to place; and
when he again returned it was to do a peculiar thing indeed. In his arms
were several articles of clothing rolled into a bulky bundle. Without a
halt he made his way back to the place where he had eaten. The fire
which he had builded had burned low ere this; and, standing there beside
it, he scraped away the ashes with the toe of his moccasined foot until
the glowing embers beneath came to view. The bundle he carried had
opened with the action, revealing clearly the various articles of which
it was composed. Outside was an old army-blue greatcoat; within a
battered felt hat and a pair of moccasins, wholly unused. A moment the
Indian stood looking at them meditatively, intensely; then gently as
though they were a lost child he was returning to its mother's arms he
laid them fair upon the glowing coals. Wool is slow to catch ablaze and
for the moment they lay there black against the brown earth; then of a
sudden, like the first lifting of an Indian signal smoke, a tiny column
of blue went trailing upward. Second by second it grew until with a
muffled explosion the whole was ablaze. Before the man had merely stood
watching; now deliberately as before, yet as unhesitatingly, he returned
to the tent.

This time he was gone longer; and when he returned it was with an armful
of books--and something more. The fire was crackling merrily now, and
volume by volume his load disappeared. Then for the first time he
hesitated. There was still something to destroy, something which he had
gathered in the old felt hat from off his own head; yet he hesitated.
Greedy as a hungry animal deprived of its due the fire at his feet kept
sending out spurts of flame like longing tentacles toward him; yet he
delayed. Like the sulky thing it was, it had at last drawn back into
passive waiting, when of a sudden, without a single glance, the man laid
this last sacrifice, as he had done the first, gently down. But this
time he did not watch the end. Swiftly, his bare black head glistening
in the sunlight, he started away toward the now expectant broncho; and
back of him the pathetic little gathering of useless trinkets, bearing
indelibly the mark of a woman's handiwork, a woman's trust, mingled with
the ashes of the things which had gone before.

Long ere the fire had burned itself out, the wicked-looking cayuse
following a bridle's length at his heels, he was back; waiting
impatiently for the flame to die. No frontiersman, in a land where
prairie fires spread as the breath of scandal, ever leaves fire alive
when out of his sight; and to this instinct the Indian was true. Minute
after minute he waited; until the flame vanished and in its stead there
lay a mass of blazing coals. Then with a practical hand he banked the
whole with a layer of earth until, look where one would, not a dot of
red was visible. The act was the last, the culmination of preparation.
At its end, with a single spoken command, the pony was alongside; his
head high in the air, his tiny ears flattened back in anticipation. Well
he knew what was in store, what was expected. No need was there of a
second command nor the touch of a bridle rein. Almost ere the taking of
the single leap that put the rider in his seat the little beast was
away, his wide-spread nostrils breathing deep of the prairie air, the
patter of his tiny hoofs a continuous song upon the close-cropped sod.
As two human beings living side by side grow to know each other, so this
dumb menial had grown to know his master. With a certainty attributed to
the dog alone he had learned to recognise the mood of the hour. He did
so now; and as time passed and the miles flowed monotonously beneath his
galloping feet the relentless determination of the man himself was
repeated in that undeviating pace.

Thus the journey southward was begun. Thus through the dragging hours of
the September afternoon it continued. Many a time before the little
beast had followed the trail from sun to sun. As well as the rider knew
his own endurance he knew the possibilities of his mount, knew that now
he would not fail. He did not attempt to quicken the pace, nor did he
check it. He spoke no word. The earth was dry as tinder in the annual
drouth of fall, and as time passed on the dust the pony raised collected
upon the man's clothes and upon his bare head; but apparently he noticed
it not. Shade by shade the mouse-coloured hair of the broncho grew
darker from sweat, moistened until the man's hand on the diminutive
beast's neck grew wet; but of this likewise he was unconscious. Silent
as fate, as nature the immovable, he sat his place; his lithe body
conforming involuntarily to the motion, to the play of muscles beneath
his legs; yet as unconsciously as one breathes in sleep. Not until the
sun was red in the west, until of its own accord the broncho had drawn
up at the first bit of water they had met on the way--a shallow marshy
pond--did he move. Then, while the pony drank and drank his fill, the
man washed his face and hands, and more from instinct than volition,
shook the dust from his clothing.

For a half hour thereafter the rider did not mount. Side by side the man
and the beast moved ahead at a walk; but ever moved and ever southward.
Darkness fell swiftly. There was no moon; but the sky was clear as it
had been during the day, and the man needed no guide but the stars to
show him the way. As he moved the hand of the Indian remained on the
broncho's neck; and bit by bit as the time passed he felt the moist hair
grow stiff and dry. Then, and not until then, came the final move, the
beginning of the last relay. As when they had started, with one motion,
apparently without an effort, he was once more in his seat; and again
as at first, equally understandingly, equally willingly, that instant
the broncho sprang into a lope. Relentlessly, silent as before, a
ghostly animate shadow, the two forged ahead into the night and the

* * * * *

Meanwhile, for the second time within the year, the C-C ranch had
changed hands. All day long Craig and the prospective buyer had driven
about the place. One by one the cowboys had given testimony of the
fraction of the herd intrusted to their care. At first resignedly
complaisant, as the hours drifted by Craig had grown cumulatively
impatient at the inevitably dragging inventory. Nothing but necessity
absolute in the shape of an imminent foreclosure had brought him back to
this land at all. Delay had followed delay until at last immediate
action was imperative. Then, having agreed to come personally, he was in
a fever of haste to have the deal complete and to be away. Since they
had left the railroad and crossed the river the mood had been upon him.
The team that had brought them out could not move fast enough. The
preceding night, shortened by liquor as it had been, nevertheless
dragged interminably. Strive as he might to combat the impression, to
ignore it, this land had of a sudden become to him a land of terror.
Every object which met his eye called forth a recollection. Every minute
that passed whispered a menace. In a measure it had been so a half year
ago ere he had tempted fate. Now, with the knowledge of what had
occurred in that time staring him in the face, the impression augmented
immeasurably, haunted him like a ghostly presence. Not for a minute
since his return had he been alone. Not for an instant had he been
without a revolver at hand. All the previous night, despite the
grumbling protest of the overseer with whom he had bunked, a lamp had
burned beside the bed; yet even then he could not sleep. Whether or no
he felt contrition for the past, this man, he could not have told, he
never paused to consider. All he knew was that he had a deathly fear of
this silent waste and of a certain human who dwelt somewhere therein.
Repugnant as consideration of the return had been, it was as nothing
compared with the reality. Had he realised in advance what the actual
experience of his coming would mean, even the consideration of money,
badly as he needed it, could not have bought his presence. Now that he
was here he must needs see the transaction through; he could not well do
otherwise; but as the afternoon drew to a close and the necessity of
tarrying a second night became assured, the premonition of retribution,
that had before lowered merely as a possibility, loomed into the
proportions of certainty. Then it was that in abandon he began to drink;
not at stated intervals, as had been his habit, but frequently, all but
continuously, until even his tolerant companions had exchanged glances
of understanding.

To all things, however, there is an end, and at last the deal was
complete. Within the stuffy living-room, hazy now with tobacco smoke, by
the uncertain light of a sputtering kerosene lamp Craig had accomplished
a sprawling signature and received in return a check on a Chicago bank.
It was already late, and very soon the new owner, with a significant
look at a half-drained flask by the other's hand, and a curt
"Good-night," had departed for bed. Immediately following, with a thinly
veiled apology, the lawyer had likewise excused himself, and Craig and
his one-time overseer were alone. For five minutes thereafter the two
men sat so in silence; then, at last, despite his muddled brain, the
former realised that the big Irishman was observing him with a
concentration that was significant. Ever short of temper, the man's
nerves were stretched to the jangling point this night, and the look
irritated him. Responsive, he scowled prodigiously.

"Well," he queried impatiently, "what is it?"

No answer; only, if possible, the look became more analytic than before.

"What's on your mind?" repeated Craig. "You make me nervous staring that
way. Speak up if you've got anything to say. Don't you like my selling
and putting you out of a job?"

"No, it's not that," refuted the Hibernian. "There are plenty of other
places I can get. I could stay right here for that matter if I wanted
to--but I don't. I wouldn't live in this house any longer if my pay were
doubled." As he spoke he had looked away. Now of a sudden his glance
returned. "I meant to quit anyway, whether you sold or not."

"Why so?" queried Craig, and unconsciously the scowl was repeated. "You
seemed glad enough to come."

"I was--then," shortly.

"And why not now? Talk up, if you've any grievance. Don't sit there like
a chimpanzee, hugging it."

"You know why well enough," ignored the other. He passed a knotty hand
through his shock of red whiskers absently. "I've expected the devil or
worse here every night these last weeks."

Craig tried to laugh; but the effort resulted in failure.

"God," he satirised, "who'd ever imagined you were the superstitious
sort! Weren't you ever in a place where anyone died before?"

"I never was where a woman and her child were murdered," deliberately.

Quick as thought Craig's red face whitened.

"Damn you, O'Reilly," he challenged, "you're free with your tongue." He
checked himself. "I don't wish to quarrel with you to-night, though," he

"Nor I with you," returned the other impassively. "I was merely telling
you the truth. Besides, it's none of my affair; and even if it were, I'm
thinking you'll pay for it dear enough before you're through."

Craig straightened in his seat; but not as before in attitude

"What the deuce do you mean, O'Reilly? You keep suggesting things, but
that is all. Talk plain if you know anything."

"I don't know anything," impassively; "unless it is that I wouldn't be
in your shoes if I got a dollar for every cent you've made out of this
cursed business."

Bit by bit Craig's face whitened. If anything the air of conciliation

"You think circumstances weren't to blame?" he queried. "That, in other
words, I've brought things about as they are deliberately?"

"I don't think anything. I know what you've done--and what you've got to
answer for."

Instinctively, almost with a shudder, Craig glanced about him.

The shade of the single window was up, and of a sudden he arose
unsteadily and drew it over the blackness outside with a jerk.

"You're beastly hard on me," he commented, "but let that pass. It's
probably the last time we'll ever see each other, and we may as well
part friends." He was back in his place again with the flask before him,
and with a propitiatory motion he extended the liquor toward the other
man. "Come, let's forget it," he insinuated. "Have a drink with me."

"Not a drop."

"Not if I requested it?"

"Not if you got down on your knees and begged."

"All right." The hand was withdrawn with a nervous little laugh. "I'll
have to spoil it all myself, then."

The Irishman watched in silence while the other gulped down swallow
after swallow. The hand of the drinker trembled uncontrollably, and a
tiny red stream trickled down the unshaven chin to the starched linen

"If you'll take a word of advice," commented the spectator at last,
"you'll cut that--for the time being at least." He hesitated; then went
on reluctantly. "I've been in your pay and I'll try to be square with
you. If you've got an atom of presentiment you'll realise that this is
no place for you to get into the shape you're getting." Again he halted,
and again with an effort he gave the warning direct. "If I were you I
wouldn't be at this ranch a second longer than it took me to leave; not
as long as I had a broncho or a leg or a crutch to go on."

Slowly and more slowly came the words. Then followed silence, with the
two men staring each other face to face. Breaking it, the overseer

"I've said more than I intended already," he added, "and now I wash my
hands of you. Do as you please. I'm going to bed."

Preventing, of a sudden sobered, Craig was likewise on his feet.

"In common decency, even if you're no friend of mine, don't go,
O'Reilly," he pleaded. He had no thought of superiority now, no thought
of malice; only of companionship and of protection. "I know what you
mean. I'm no fool, and what you suggest is exactly what's been driving
me insane these last two days. I'm going in the morning, as soon as it's
daylight; the team is all ordered; but to-night, now--" instinctively he
glanced at the window where recollection pictured the darkness
without--"I haven't nerve to face it now. I'd go plumb mad out there

The Irishman shrugged in silence and attempted to pass.

"Please don't go," repeated Craig swiftly. "I know I'm acting like a
child, but this cursed country's to blame. Stay with me this last night.
I couldn't sleep, and it's madness to be alone. See me through this and
I swear you'll not regret it. I swear it!"

Just for a second O'Reilly paused; then of a sudden his face flamed red
through his untrimmed beard.

"To hell with your money!" he blazed. "I wouldn't lift my finger for you
if How Landor were to come this second." He checked himself and took a
step forward meaningly. "Besides, I couldn't help you any if I would.
God himself couldn't protect you now unless He performed a miracle. Out
of my way. I tell you I'm done with you."

Craig had not stirred. He did not now; and of a sudden the overseer
turned to pass around. As he did so for the first time he faced the
single window that looked north toward the second ranch house: the house
which How Landor had builded to receive his bride. The curtain was still
down, but to the Irishman's quick eye there rested upon it now a dull
glow that was not a reflection of the light within. A second after he
noticed the man halted, looking at it, speculating as to its meaning.
Then of a sudden he realised; and in two steps he was across the room
and simultaneously the obscuring shade shot up with a crash. Instantly
following, startlingly unexpected, the red glow without sprang through
the glass and filled the room.

"Fire!" announced the observer involuntarily to the sleepers above. "The
other ranch house is afire!" Then, as they were slow in awakening, the
cry was repeated more loudly: "Fire! Fire!"

* * * * *

A conflagration is the universal contagion, the one excitement that
never palls. Forth into the night, forgetful of his companion, forgetful
of all save the interest of the moment, rushed O'Reilly. Half dressed,
hatless, working with buttons as they went, Parker, the new owner, and
Mead, the lawyer, descended the rickety stairs like an avalanche and
without pausing to more than look followed running in his wake. The
unused ranch house was dry as cardboard and was burning fiercely. Though
there was still no moon and the overseer had several minutes the start,
against the light they could see his running figure distinctly. Standing
in the living-room as they rushed through, white faced, hesitant, was
Clayton Craig; but though he had spoken to them--they both recalled that
fact afterward--neither had paused to listen or to answer. That he would
not follow never occurred to them until minutes thereafter. Not until,
panting, struggling for breath after the unusual effort, they had
covered the intervening mile, and the heat of the already diminishing
fire was on their faces, did they think of him at all. Even then it was
not the first thought which occurred; for the moment they arrived
O'Reilly, who was waiting, turned, facing them excitedly.

"Do you see that?" he queried, pointing to a black band that surrounded
the building in a complete circle.

Parker nodded understandingly; but Mead, who was city bred, looked
mystified. "What is it?" he returned.

"A firebreak," explained the Irishman. "Someone didn't want the blaze to
spread and scattered earth clear around the place, with a spade."
Leaning over he picked up a clod and thumbed it significantly. "It
hasn't been done a half hour. The dirt isn't even dry."

Brief as the time had been, already the frail walls were settling to
embers. There was nothing to do; and standing there the three men looked
understandingly into each other's faces. The same thought stood clear on
all; for all alike knew every detail of the story.

"The Indian, How Landor," suggested Mead adequately.

"Yes," corroborated Parker, "and I'm glad of it. I'm not squeamish, but
the Lord knows I'd never have used the place myself."

Of a sudden, O'Reilly, who had turned and was staring into the blaze,
faced about. That second he had remembered.

"Where's Craig?" he queried swiftly, glancing back the way they had
come. "Didn't he follow?"

Until that moment none of the three had thought of the other man. Now
they realised that they were alone. But even then two of the trio did
not understand.

"Evidently he didn't start," said Mead. "He couldn't have missed the
light if he did."

"I remember now he was standing by the door when we left," added Parker.

"Standing by the door, was he?" took up the Irishman swiftly. "As
there's a Heaven and a Hell he's not standing there now, I'll wager!"

Again face to face, as when they had first caught sight of that meaning
black band, the three spectators there beneath the stars stood staring
at each other. It was O'Reilly again who broke the silence.

"Don't you people understand yet what this all means, what's happened?"
he interrogated unbelievingly.

"It means there's been an incendiary here; I guess there's no doubt
about that," said Mead.

"Yes," blurted O'Reilly, "and that incendiary's How Landor, and he's
been here within the half hour; and Craig's been alone back there in the
ranch house." He paused for breath. "Can't you see now? At last the
Indian has found out!"

For the fraction of a minute, while understanding came home, not a man
stirred. Then of a sudden Parker turned swiftly and started back into
the night.

"By the Eternal," he corroborated, "I believe you're right. We can't get

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