WILLIAM MacLEOD RAINE
Author of "Wyoming," "Ridgway of Montana," "Bucky O'Connor," "A Texas Ranger," "Mavericks," "Brand Blotters," "Crooked Trails and Straight," "The Vision Splendid," "The Pirate of Panama," "A Daughter of the Dons," Etc.
Illustrations By D. C. HUTCHISON
G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY Publishers New York
Copyright, 1915, by G. W. DILLINGHAM COMPANY
I. The Campers 11 II. Mr. Verinder Complains 18 III. Night Fishing 28 IV. Fugitives From Justice 44 V. "I'm Here, Neighbor" 56 VI. Lord Farquhar Gives Moya A Hint 71 VII. Moya's Highwayman 84 VIII. The Bad Penny Again 102 IX. "An Out and Out Rotter" 113 X. Old Friends 123 XI. A Blizzard 141 XII. Out of the Storm a Man 157 XIII. Shot To the Core With Sunlight 170 XIV. "Prove It!... Prove It!" 180 XV. A Highgrader—In Principle 189 XVI. One Maid—Two Men 201 XVII. A Warning 218 XVIII. Two Ambushes 237 XIX. Mr. Verinder Is Treated To A Surprise 243 XX. Colter Takes A Hand 250 XXI. Spirit Rapping? 264 XXII. The Acid Test 274 XXIII. Captain Kilmeny Retires 284 XXIV. Two In A Bucket 291 XXV. Homing Hearts 309
Kilmeny's alert eyes swept again and again the trail leading up the gulch. He did not intend to be caught napping by the officers Frontispiece 67
"He's hooked pretty fast. Take your time about getting him into your net. These big fellows are likely to squirm away" 33
They rode through a world shot to the core with sunlight. The snow sparkled and gleamed with it 177
A young idealist, aetat four, was selling stars to put in the sky. She had cut them with her own scissors out of red tissue paper, so that she was able to give a guarantee.
"But you'll have to get the ladder out of our bedroom to put 'em up wiv," she told purchasers honestly.
The child was a wild dark creature, slim and elfish, with a queer little smile that flashed sudden as an April sun.
It was evening, on the promenade deck of an ocean liner. The sea was like glass and the swell hardly perceptible. Land was in sight, a vague uneven line rising mist-like on the horizon. Before morning the Victorian would be running up the St. Lawrence. Even for the most squeamish the discomforts of the voyage lay behind. A pleasant good fellowship was in the air. In some it took the form of an idle contentment, a vague regret that ties newly formed must so soon be broken. In others it found an expression more buoyant. Merry voices of shuffleboard players drifted forward. Young couples paced the deck and leaned over the rail to watch the phosphorescent glow. The open windows of the smoking-room gave forth the tinkle of glasses and the low rattle of chips. All sounds blended into a mellow harmony.
"What's your price on a whole constellation with a lovers' moon thrown in?" inquired a young man lounging in a deck chair.
The vendor of stars looked at him in her direct serious fashion. "I fink I tan't sell you all 'at, but I'll make you a moon to go wiv the stars—not a weally twuly one, jus' a make-believe moon," she added in a whisper.
An irritated voice made itself heard. "Steward, have you seen that child anywhere? The naughty little brat has run away again—and I left her only a minute."
The dealer in celestial supplies came to earth.
"I'm goin' to be smacked," she announced with grave conviction.
An unvoiced conspiracy formed itself instantly in her behalf. A lady in a steamer chair gathered the child under the shelter of her rug. An eight-year-old youngster knotted his fists valiantly. The young man who had priced a constellation considered the chances of a cutting-out expedition.
"She should have been in bed long ago. I just stepped out to speak to our room steward and when I came back she was gone," the annoyed governess was explaining.
Discovery was imminent. The victim prepared herself for the worst.
"I don't care," she protested to her protector. "It's ever so nicer to stay up, an' if it wasn't runnin' away it would be somefing else."
At this bit of philosophy the lounger chuckled, rose swiftly, and intercepted the dragon.
"When do I get that walk you promised me, Miss Lupton? What's the matter with right now?"
The governess was surprised, since it was the first she had heard of any walk. Flattered she was, but still faithful to duty.
"I'm looking for Moya. She knows she must always go to her room after tea and stay there. The naughty child ran away."
"She's all right. I saw her snuggled under a rug with Mrs. Curtis not two minutes ago. Just a turn or two in this lovely night."
Drawn by the magnet of his manhood, Moya slipped into the chair beside the eight-year-old.
"I'd kick her darned shins if she spanked me," boasted he of the eight years.
Moya admired his courage tremendously. Her dark eyes followed the retreating figure of her governess. "I'm 'fraid."
"Hm! Bet I wouldn't be. Course, you're only a girl."
His companion pleaded guilty with a sigh and slipped her hand into his beneath the steamer rug.
"It's howwid to be a dirl," she confided.
"Bet I wouldn't be one."
"You talk so funny."
"Don't either. I'm a Namerican. Tha's how we all talk."
"I'm Irish. Mith Lupton says 'at's why I'm so naughty," the sinner confessed complacently.
Confidences were exchanged. Moya explained that she was a norphan and had nobody but a man called Guardy, and he was not her very own. She lived in Sussex and had a Shetland pony. Mith Lupton was horrid and was always smacking her. When she said her prayers she always said in soft to herself, "But pleathe, God, don't bless Mith Lupton." They were taking a sea voyage for Moya's health, and she had been seasick just the teentiest weentiest bit. Jack on his part could proudly affirm that he had not missed a meal. He lived in Colorado on a ranch with his father, who had just taken him to England and Ireland to visit his folks. He didn't like England one little bit, and he had told his cousin Ned so and they had had a fight. As he was proceeding to tell details Miss Lupton returned from her stroll.
She brought Moya to her feet with a jerk. "My goodness! Who will you pick up next? Now walk along to your room, missie."
"Yes, Mith Lupton."
"Haven't I told you not to talk to strangers?"
"He isn't stwanger. He's Jack," announced Moya stanchly.
"I'll teach you to run away as soon as my back is turned. You should have been in bed an hour ago."
"I tan't unbutton myself."
"A likely reason. Move along, now."
Having been remiss in her duty, Miss Lupton was salving her conscience by being extra severe now. She hurried her charge away.
Suddenly Moya stopped. "Pleathe, my han'erchif."
"Have you lost it? Where is it?"
"I had it in the chair."
"Then run back and get it."
Moya's thin white legs flashed along the deck. Like a small hurricane she descended upon the boy. Her arms went around his neck and for an instant he was smothered in her embrace, dark ringlets flying about his fair head.
A kiss fell helter-skelter on his cheek and she was gone, tugging a little handkerchief from her pocket as she ran.
The boy did not see her again. Before she was up he and his father left the boat at Quebec. Jack wondered whether she had been smacked, after all. Once or twice during the day he thought of her, but the excitement of new sights effaced from his mind the first romance his life had known.
But for nearly a week Moya added a codicil silently to her prayer. "And, God, pleathe bless Jack."
Inside the cabin a man was baking biscuits and singing joyously, "It's a Long, Long Way to Tipperary." Outside, another whistled softly to himself while he arranged his fishing tackle. From his book he had selected three flies and was attaching them to the leader. Nearest the rod he put a royal coachman, next to it a blue quill, and at the end a ginger quill.
The cook, having put his biscuits in the oven, filled the doorway. He was a big, strong-set man, with a face of leather. Rolled-up sleeves showed knotted brown arms white to the wrists with flour. His eyes were hard and steady, but from the corners of them innumerable little wrinkles fell away and crinkled at times to mirth.
"First call to dinner in the dining-car," he boomed out in a heavy bass.
Two men lounging under a cottonwood beside the river showed signs of life. One of them was scarcely more than a boy, perhaps twenty, a pleasant amiable youth with a weak chin and eyes that held no steel. His companion was nearer forty than thirty, a hard-faced citizen who chewed tobacco and said little.
"Where you going to fish to-night, Crumbs?" the cook asked of the man busy with the tackle.
"Think I'll try up the river, Colter—start in above the Narrows and work down, mebbe. Where you going?"
"Me for the Meadows. I'm after the big fellows. Going to hang the Indian sign on them with a silver doctor and a Jock Scott. The kid here got his three-pounder on a Jock Scott."
The man who had been called Crumbs put his rod against the side of the house and washed his hands in a tin pan resting on a stump. He was a slender young fellow with lean, muscular shoulders and the bloom of many desert suns on his cheeks and neck.
"Going to try a Jock Scott myself after it gets dark."
The boy who had come up from the river's bank grinned. "Now I've shown you lads how to do it you'll all be catching whales."
"Once is a happenstance, twice makes a habit. Do it again, Curly, and we'll hail you king of the river," Colter promised, bringing to the table around which they were seating themselves a frying pan full of trout done to a crisp brown. "Get the coffee, Mosby. There's beer in the icebox, kid."
They ate in their shirtsleeves, camp fashion, on an oil cloth scarred with the marks left by many hot dishes. They brought to dinner the appetites of outdoors men who had whipped for hours a turbid stream under an August sun. Their talk was strong and crisp, after the fashion of the mining West. It could not be printed without editing, yet in that atmosphere it was without offense. There is a time for all things, even for the elemental talk of frontiersmen on a holiday.
Dinner finished, the fishermen lolled on the grass and smoked.
A man cantered out of the patch of woods above and drew up at the cabin, disposing himself for leisurely gossip.
"Evening, gentlemen. Heard the latest?" He drew a match across his chaps and lit the cigarette he had rolled.
"We'll know after you've told us what it is," Colter suggested.
"The Gunnison country ce'tainly is being honored, boys. A party of effete Britishers are staying at the Lodge. Got in last night. I seen them when they got off the train—me lud and me lady, three young ladies that grade up A1, a Johnnie boy with an eyeglass, and another lad who looks like one man from the ground up. Also, and moreover, there's a cook, a hawss wrangler, a hired girl to button the ladies up the back, and a valley chap to say 'Yes, sir, coming, sir,' to the dude."
"You got it all down like a book, Steve," grinned Curly.
"Any names?" asked Colter.
"Names to burn," returned the native. "A whole herd of names, honest to God. Most any of 'em has five or six, the way the Denver Post tells it. Me, I can't keep mind of so many fancy brands. I'll give you the A B C of it. The old parties are Lord James and Lady Jim Farquhar, leastways I heard one of the young ladies call her Lady Jim. The dude has Verinder burnt on about eight trunks, s'elp me. Then there's a Miss Dwight and a Miss Joyce Seldon—and, oh, yes! a Captain Kilmeny, and an Honorable Miss Kilmeny, by ginger."
Colter flashed a quick look at Crumbs. A change had come over that young man's face. His blue eyes had grown hard and frosty.
"It's a plumb waste of money to take a newspaper when you're around, Steve," drawled Colter, in amiable derision. "Happen to notice the color of the ladies' eyes?"
The garrulous cowpuncher was on the spot once more. "Sure, I did, leastways one of them. I want to tell you lads that Miss Joyce Seldon is the prettiest skirt that ever hit this neck of the woods—and her eyes, say, they're like pansies, soft and deep and kinder velvety."
The fishermen shouted. Their mirth was hearty and uncontained.
"Go to it, Steve. Tell us some more," they demanded joyously.
Crumbs, generally the leader in all the camp fun, had not joined in the laughter. He had been drawing on his waders and buckling on his creel. Now he slipped the loop of the landing net over his head.
"We want a full bill of particulars, Steve. You go back and size up the eyes of the lady lord and the other female Britishers," ordered Curly gayly.
"Go yore own self, kid. I ain't roundin' up trouble for no babe just out of the cradle," retorted the grinning rider. "What's yore hurry, Crumbs?"
The young man addressed had started away but now turned. "No hurry, I reckon, but I'm going fishing."
Steve chuckled. "You're headed in a bee line for Old Man Trouble. The Johnnie boy up at the Lodge is plumb sore on this outfit. Seems that you lads raised ructions last night and broken his sweet slumbers. He's got the kick of a government mule coming. Why can't you wild Injuns behave proper?"
"We only gave Curly a chapping because he let the flapjacks burn," returned Crumbs with a smile. "You see, he's come of age most, Curly has. He'd ought to be responsible now, but he ain't. So we gave him what was coming to him."
"Well, you explain that to Mr. Verinder if he sees you. He's sure on his hind laigs about it."
"I expect he'll get over it in time," Crumbs said dryly. "Well, so-long, boys. Good fishing to-night."
"Same to you," they called after him.
"Some man, Crumbs," commented Steve.
"He'll stand the acid," agreed Colter briefly.
"What's his last name? I ain't heard you lads call him anything but Crumbs. I reckon that's a nickname."
Curly answered the question of the cowpuncher. "His name 's Kilmeny—Jack Kilmeny. His folks used to live across the water. Maybe this Honorable Miss Kilmeny and her brother are some kin of his."
"You don't say!"
"Course I don't know about that. His dad came over here when he was a wild young colt. Got into some trouble at home, the way I heard it. Bought a ranch out here and married. His family was high moguls in England—or, maybe, it was Ireland. Anyhow, they didn't like Mrs. Kilmeny from the Bar Double C ranch. Ain't that the way of it, Colter?"
The impassive gaze of the older man came back from the rushing river. "You know so much about it, Curly, I'll not butt in with any more misinformation," he answered with obvious sarcasm.
Curly flushed. "I'd ought to know. Jack's father and mine were friends, so's he and me."
"How come you to call him Crumbs?"
"That's a joke, Steve. Jack's no ordinary rip-roaring, hell-raisin' miner. He knows what's what. That's why we call him Crumbs—because he's fine bred. Pun, see. Fine bred—crumbs. Get it?"
"Sure I get it, kid. I ain't no Englishman. You don't need a two-by-four to pound a josh into my cocoanut," the rider remonstrated.
MR. VERINDER COMPLAINS
Jack Kilmeny followed the pathway which wound through the woods along the bank of the river. Occasionally he pushed through a thick growth of young willows or ducked beneath the top strand of a neglected wire fence.
Beyond the trees lay a clearing. At the back of this, facing the river, was a large fishing lodge built of logs and finished artistically in rustic style. It was a two-story building spread over a good deal of ground space. A wide porch ran round the front and both sides. Upon the porch were a man in an armchair and a girl seated on the top step with her head against the corner post.
A voice hailed Kilmeny. "I say, my man."
The fisherman turned, discovered that he was the party addressed, and waited.
"Come here, you!" The man in the armchair had taken the cigar from his mouth and was beckoning to him.
"Meaning me?" inquired Kilmeny.
"Of course I mean you. Who else could I mean?"
The fisherman drew near. In his eyes sparkled a light that belied his acquiescence.
"Do you belong to the party camped below?" inquired he of the rocking chair, one eyeglass fixed in the complacent face.
The guilty man confessed.
"Then I want to know what the deuce you meant by kicking up such an infernal row last night. I couldn't sleep a wink for hours—not for hours, dash it. It's an outrage—a beastly outrage. What!"
The man with the monocle was smug with the self-satisfaction of his tribe. His thin hair was parted in the middle and a faint straw-colored mustache decorated his upper lip. Altogether, he might measure five feet five in his boots. The miner looked at him gravely. No faintest hint of humor came into the sea-blue eyes. They took in the dapper Britisher as if he had been a natural history specimen.
"So kindly tell them not to do it again," Dobyans Verinder ordered in conclusion.
"If you please, sir," added the young woman quietly.
Kilmeny's steady gaze passed for the first time to her. He saw a slight dark girl with amazingly live eyes and a lift to the piquant chin that was arresting. His hat came off promptly.
"We didn't know anybody was at the Lodge," he explained.
"You wouldn't, of course," she nodded, and by way of explanation: "Lady Farquhar is rather nervous. Of course we don't want to interfere with your fun, but——"
"There will be no more fireworks at night. One of the boys had a birthday and we were ventilating our enthusiasm. If we had known——"
"Kindly make sure it doesn't happen again, my good fellow," cut in Verinder.
Kilmeny looked at him, then back at the girl. The dapper little man had been weighed and found wanting. Henceforth, Verinder was not on the map.
"Did you think we were wild Utes broke loose from the reservation? I reckon we were some noisy. When the boys get to going good they don't quite know when to stop."
The eyes of the young woman sparkled. The fisherman thought he had never seen a face more vivid. Such charm as it held was too irregular for beauty, but the spirit that broke through interested by reason of its hint of freedom. She might be a caged bird, but her wings beat for the open spaces.
"Were they going good last night?" she mocked prettily.
"Not real good, ma'am. You see, we had no town to shoot up, so we just punctured the scenery. If we had known you were here——"
"You would have come and shot us up," she charged gayly.
Kilmeny laughed. "You're a good one, neighbor. But you don't need to worry." He let his eyes admire her lazily. "Young ladies are too seldom in this neck of the woods for the boys to hurt any. Give them a chance and they would be real good to you, ma'am."
His audacity delighted Moya Dwight. "Do you think they would?"
"In our own barbaric way, of course."
"Do you ever scalp people?" she asked with innocent impudence.
"It's a young country," he explained genially.
"It has that reputation."
"You've been reading stories about us," he charged. "Now we'll be on our good behavior just to show you."
"Thank you—if it isn't too hard."
"They're good boys, though they do forget it sometimes."
"I'm glad they do. They wouldn't interest me if they were too good. What's the use of coming to Colorado if it is going to be as civilized as England?"
Verinder, properly scandalized at this free give and take with a haphazard savage of the wilds, interrupted in the interest of propriety. "I'll not detain you any longer, my man. You may get at your fishing."
The Westerner paid not the least attention to him. "My gracious, ma'am, we think we're a heap more civilized than England. We ain't got any militant suffragettes in this country—at least, I've never met up with any."
"They're a sign of civilization," the young woman laughed. "They prove we're still alive, even if we are asleep."
"We've got you beat there, then. All the women vote here. What's the matter with you staying and running for governor?"
"Could I—really?" she beamed.
"Really and truly. Trouble with us is that we're so civilized we bend over backward with it. You're going to find us mighty tame. The melodramatic romance of the West is mostly in storybooks. What there was of it has gone out with the cowpuncher."
"What's a cowpuncher?"
"He rides the range after cattle."
"Oh—a cowboy. But aren't there any cowboys?"
"They're getting seldom. The barb wire fence has put them out of business. Mostly they're working for the moving picture companies now," he smiled.
Mr. Verinder prefaced with a formal little cough a second attempt to drive away this very assured native. "As I was saying, Miss Dwight, I wouldn't mind going into Parliament, you know, if it weren't for the bally labor members. I'm rather strong on speaking—that sort of thing, you know. Used to be a dab at it. But I couldn't stand the bounders that get in nowadays. Really, I couldn't."
"And I had so counted on the cowboys. I'm going to be disappointed, I think," Miss Dwight said to the Westerner quietly.
Verinder had sense enough to know that he was being punished. He had tried to put the Westerner out of the picture and found himself eliminated instead. An angry flush rose to his cheeks.
"That's the mistake you all make," Kilmeny told her. "The true romance of the West isn't in its clothes and its trappings."
"Where is it?" she asked.
"In its spirit—in the hope and the courage born of the wide plains and the clean hills—in its big democracy and its freedom from convention. The West is a condition of mind."
Miss Dwight was surprised. She had not expected a philosophy of this nature from her chance barbarian. He had the hands of a working man, brown and sinewy but untorn; yet there was the mark of distinction in the lean head set so royally on splendid shoulders. His body, spare of flesh and narrow of flank, had the lithe grace of a panther. She had seen before that look of competence, of easy self-reliance. Some of the men of her class had it—Ned Kilmeny, for instance. But Ned was an officer in a fighting regiment which had seen much service. Where had this tanned fisherman won the manner that inheres only in a leader of men?
"And how long does it take to belong to your West?" asked the young woman, with the inflection of derision.
But her mockery was a fraud. In both voice and face was a vivid eagerness not to be missed.
"Time hasn't a thing to do with it. Men live all their lives here and are never Westerners. Others are of us in a day. I think you would qualify early."
She knew that she ought to snub his excursion into the personal, but she was by nature unconventional.
"How do you know?" she demanded quickly.
"That's just a guess of mine," he smiled.
A musical voice called from within the house. "Have you seen my Graphic, Moya?"
A young woman stood in the doorway, a golden-white beauty with soft smiling eyes that showed a little surprise at sight of the fisherman. A faint murmur of apology for the interruption escaped her lips.
Kilmeny could not keep his eyes from her. What a superb young creature she was, what perfection in the animal grace of the long lines of the soft rounded body! Her movements had a light buoyancy that was charming. And where under heaven could a man hope to see anything lovelier than this pale face with its crown of burnished hair so lustrous and abundant?
Miss Dwight turned to her friend. "I haven't seen the Graphic, Joyce, dear."
"Isn't it in the billiard room? Thought I saw it there. I'll look," Verinder volunteered.
"Good of you," Miss Joyce nodded, her eyes on the stranger who had turned to leave.
Kilmeny was going because he knew that he might easily outwear his welcome. He had punished Verinder, and that was enough. The miner had met too many like him not to know that the man belonged to the family of common or garden snob. No doubt he rolled in wealth made by his father. The fellow had studied carefully the shibboleths of the society with which he wished to be intimate and was probably letter-perfect. None the less, he was a bounder, a rank outsider tolerated only for his money. He might do for the husband of some penniless society girl, but he would never in the world be accepted by her as a friend or an equal. The thought of him stirred the gorge of the fisherman. Very likely the man might capture for a wife the slim dark girl with the quick eyes, or even her friend, Joyce, choicest flower in a garden of maidens. Nowadays money would do anything socially.
"Cheekiest beggar I ever saw," fumed Verinder. "Don't see why you let the fellow stay, Miss Dwight."
The girl's scornful eyes came round to meet his. She had never before known how cordially she disliked him.
She rose and walked quickly into the house.
Verinder bit his mustache angrily. He had been cherishing a fiction that he was in love with Miss Dwight and more than once he had smarted beneath the lash of her contempt.
Joyce sank gracefully into the easiest chair and flashed a dazzling smile at him. "Has Moya been very unkind, Mr. Verinder?"
He had joined the party a few days before at Chicago and this was the first sign of interest Miss Seldon had shown in him. Verinder was grateful.
"Dashed if I understand Miss Dwight at all. She blows hot and cold," he confided in a burst of frankness.
"That's just her way. We all have our moods, don't we? I mean we poor women. Don't all the poets credit us with inconstancy?" The least ripple of amusement at her sex swelled in her throat and died away.
"Oh, by Jove, if that's all! I say, do you have moods too, Miss Joyce?"
Her long thick lashes fluttered down to the cheeks. Was she embarrassed at his question? He felt a sudden lift of the heart, an access of newborn confidence. Dobyans Verinder had never dared to lift his hopes as high as the famous beauty Joyce Seldon. Now for the first time his vanity stirred. Somehow—quite unexpectedly to him—the bars between them were down. Was it possible that she had taken a fancy to him? His imagination soared.
For a moment her deep pansy eyes rested in his. He felt a sudden intoxication of the senses. Almost with a swagger he drew up a chair and seated himself beside her. Already he was the conquering male in headlong pursuit. Nor was he disturbed by the least suspicion of having been filled with the sensations and the impulses that she had contrived.
Miss Seldon had that morning incidentally overheard Lady Farquhar tell her husband that Dobyans Verinder's fortune must be nearer two million pounds than one million. It was the first intimation she had been given that he was such a tremendous catch.
Jack Kilmeny crossed the river by the rope ferry and followed the trail that ran up. He took the water above the Narrows, about a mile and a half from camp. The mosquitoes were pretty bad near the willows along the shore, but as he got out farther they annoyed him less and with the coming of darkness they ceased to trouble.
The fish were feeding and he had a few strikes. Half a dozen eight and nine-inch trout went into his creel, but though he was fishing along the edge of the deep water, the big fellows would not be tempted. His watch showed a quarter to ten by the moon when at last he hooked one worth while.
He was now down by the riffles not far from the Lodge. A long cast brought him what fishermen along the Gunnison call a bump. Quietly he dropped his fly in exactly the same spot. There was a tug, a flash of white above the water, and, like an arrow, the trout was off. The reel whirred as the line unwound. Kilmeny knew by the pressure that he had hooked a good one and he played it carefully, keeping the line taut but not allowing too much strain on it. After a short sharp fight he drew the fish close enough to net the struggler. Of the Lochleven variety, he judged the weight of the trout to be about two pounds.
He would have liked to try another cast, but it was ten o'clock, the limit set by law. He waded ashore, resolved to fish the riffles again to-morrow.
Next day brought Kilmeny the office of camp cook, which was taken in turn by each of the men. Only two meals a day were eaten in camp, so that he had several hours of leisure after the breakfast things were cleared away. In a desultory fashion he did an hour or two of fishing, though his mind was occupied with other things.
The arrival of the party at the Lodge brought back to him vividly some chapters of his life that had long been buried. His father, Archibald Kilmeny, had married the daughter of a small cattleman some years after he had come to Colorado. Though she had died while he was still a child, Jack still held warmly in his heart some vivid memories of the passionate uncurbed woman who had been his mother.
She had been a belle in the cow country, charming in her way, beautiful to the day of her death, but without education or restraint. Her husband had made the mistake of taking her back to Ireland on a visit to his people. The result had been unfortunate. She was unconquerably provincial, entirely democratic, as uncultured as her native columbine. Moreover, her temper was of the whirlwind variety. The staid life of the old country, with its well-ordered distinctions of class and rutted conventions, did not suit her at all. At traditions which she could not understand the young wife scoffed openly. Before she left, veiled dislike became almost open war. The visit had never been repeated, nor, indeed, had she ever been invited again. This she had bitterly resented and she had instilled into Jack the antagonism she herself felt. When he was eight years old Jack's father had insisted on taking him back to meet his relatives. Immediately upon his return the youngster's mother had set about undermining any fondness he might have felt for his British kindred. Three years later she had died.
She had been a doting mother, with fierce gusts of passionate adoration for her boy. Jack remembered these after he forgot her less amiable qualities. He had grown up with an unreasonable feeling of dislike toward those of his father's family who had failed to get along with her. Some instinct of loyalty which he could hardly define set him unconsciously in antagonism to his cousins at the Lodge. He had decided not to make himself known to them. In a few days their paths would diverge again for all time.
Dusk found him again in the river just above the riffles. He fished down the stream slowly, shortening his line as darkness settled over the hills. His luck was rather worse than usual. The trout were nosing the flies rather than striking with any appetite.
He was nearly opposite the Lodge when he noticed a fisherman in front of him. Working steadily forward, Kilmeny found himself gaining on the other. In order not to pass too near he struck out into the deeper water toward the center of the river. When almost opposite the other he heard a splash not twenty feet away, followed by the whirr of the reel as the trout made for the deep water. From the shadows where his unknown companion was obscured came the click of the line being wound up. There was a flash of silver in the moonlight, and again the rapid whirl of the reel.
"You've hooked a whale, neighbor," Kilmeny called across.
The voice that came back to him across the water was eager and glad. Jack would have known its throb of youthful zest among a thousand. "Must I let him have all the line he wants?"
Kilmeny waded toward her as he gave counsel. "Don't make it too easy for him, but don't jerk. Keep his nose up if you can."
The humming of the reel and the steady click-click-click of the winding alternated. The trout fought gamely and strongly, but the young woman stuck to her work and would not give him any rest. Jack watched her carefully. He saw that she was tiring, but he did not offer any help, for he knew that she was a sportsman. She would want to win alone or not at all.
Yet he moved closer. The water was up to her hips, and no river in the Rockies has a swifter current than the Gunnison. The bottom too is covered with smooth slippery stones and bowlders, so that a misstep might send her plunging down. Deprived of the use of her landing pole, she could make less resistance to the tug of the stream, and the four or five pounds of dynamic energy at the end of her line would give her all she could do to take care of for the next few minutes. Her pole was braced against her body, which made reeling difficult. The man beside her observed that except for a tendency to raise the pole too much she was playing her trout like a veteran.
The thing that he had anticipated happened. Her foot slipped from its insecure rock hold and she stumbled. His arm was round her waist in an instant.
"Steady! Take your time."
"Thanks. I'm all right now."
His right arm still girdled her slight figure. It met with his approval that she had not cried out or dropped her pole, but he would not take the chance of an accident.
The trout was tiring. Inch by inch she brought him nearer. Sometimes he would dart away again, but each dash for liberty was shorter and weaker than the last.
Presently she panted, "My landing net."
It was caught in the creel. Kilmeny unfastened the net and brought it round where it would be ready for instant use.
"Tell me what I must do now."
"He's hooked pretty fast. Take your time about getting him into your net, and be careful then. These big fellows are likely to squirm away."
It was a ticklish moment when she let go of the rod with her left hand to slip the net under the trout, but she negotiated it in safety.
"Isn't he a whopper?" she cried in delight. "He won't go into the creel at all."
"Then let me have him. The glory is yours. I'll be your gillie to carry the game bag."
He got his fingers through its gill before he took the hook from the mouth of the fish. Carrying the trout in one hand and his pole in the other, he waded slowly through the swift water to the shore.
The girl's vibrant voice came to him as she splashed at his heels toward the bank. "He's such a ripping good one. I'm so pleased. How much do you think he will weigh?"
The young man took the catch far enough back from the river, so that they could examine him in safety.
"My guess is six pounds. He's the biggest taken this year so far. I congratulate you, Miss Dwight."
"I would never have got him if you hadn't been there to help me with advice. But I really did it all myself, didn't I? If you had touched the rod before I had him netted I'd never have forgiven you," she confessed, eyes glowing with the joy of her achievement.
"It's no joke to land one of these big fellows. I saw you were tired. But it's the sporting thing to play your own fish."
Her dark eyes flashed a questioning glance at him. She had been brought up in a society where class lines were closely drawn, but her experience gave her no data for judging this young man's social standing. Casual inquiries of old Ballard, the caretaker at the Lodge, had brought her the information that the party of fishermen were miners from the hills. This one went by the name of Crumbs and sometimes Jack. What puzzled Miss Dwight was the difficulty of reconciling him with himself. Sometimes he used the speech and the slow drawl of the plainsman, and again he spoke with the correctness of one who has known good society. In spite of his careless garb he had the look of class. The well-shaped, lightly poised head, the level blue eyes of a man unafraid, the grace with which he carried himself, all denied that he was an uncouth rustic.
A young woman of impulse, she yielded to an audacious one now. "I'm glad you let me do the sporting thing, Mr.—Crumbs."
His gentle laughter welled out. "Where did you get that?"
"Isn't it your name?" she asked, with a lift of the dark eyebrows.
He hesitated, barely an instant. Of course she knew perfectly well that it was not his name. But it suited him not to give one more definite.
"I reckon it's a name good enough to bring me to dinner by," he drawled, smiling.
He was back again in the Western idiom and manner. She wondered why. The change had come when she had spoken his name. A certain wariness had settled over his face like a mask. She could see that he was purposely taking refuge in the class distinctions that presumably separated them. Yet she could have sworn that nothing had been farther from his mind during the exciting ten minutes in the water while voice and presence and arm had steadied her for the battle.
They walked together up the slope to the big house. A fishing costume is not a thing of grace, but the one this girl wore could not eclipse the elastic suppleness of the slender figure or the joy in life that animated the vivid face with the black curls straying from beneath the jaunty cap. The long hip waders she wore so briskly gave her the look of a modern Rosalind. To deny her beauty was easy, but in the soft sifted moonlight showered down through the trees it was impossible for Kilmeny's eyes to refuse her an admission of charm. There was a hint of pleasant adventure in the dusky eyes of this clean-limbed young nymph, a plastic energy in the provoking dainty face, that stung his reluctant admiration. She had the gift for comradeship, and with it a freedom of mind unusual in one of her class.
She ran up the steps of the Lodge lightly and thanked him with a pleasant "Good-night." As he turned away Kilmeny came face to face with another fisherman returning from the sport of the night. The man opposite him was rather short and thickset. In his eyes was a look of kind shrewd wisdom. Red-faced and white-bearded, he was unmistakably an Englishman of the upper class.
Miss Dwight introduced him as Lord Farquhar, and the men shook hands.
"Guess what I've got," demanded the young woman, her hands behind her.
"Heaven only knows. It might be anything from the measles to a new lover," smiled Farquhar.
She flashed upon him the fish that had been hidden behind her waders.
"By Jove! Catch him yourself?"
She nodded, her eyes shining.
Farquhar, very much a sportsman, wanted to know all about it, after which he insisted on weighing the trout. Jack was dragged into the Lodge to join in this function, and presently found himself meeting Lady Farquhar, a pleasant plump lady who did not at all conform to the usual stage conception of her part. Her smile was warm for this supple blue-eyed engaging Westerner, but the latter did not need to be told that behind her friendliness the instinct of the chaperone was alert. The one swift glance she had thrown at Miss Dwight told him as much.
Into the room drifted presently Miss Seldon, a late novel in her hand. In contrast with her sheathed loveliness Miss Dwight looked like a young girl. There was something very sweet and appealing in Moya's slim indefinite figure of youth, with its suggestion of developing lines, but most men ceased to look at her when Joyce swam within the orbit of their vision.
Joyce Seldon was frankly a beauty in every line and feature. Her exquisite coloring, the soft amber hair so extravagant in quantity, the long lashes which shaded deep lovely eyes, satisfied the senses no less than the supple rounded young body which was carried with such light grace. Kilmeny was not very impressionable, but in her presence the world seemed somehow shot through with a new radiance. She laid upon him the spell of women.
Presently Dobyans Verinder dropped in with an empty creel and opened wide supercilious eyes at sight of Jack. He was followed presently by Captain Kilmeny and his sister, the latter a pretty Irish girl, quick of tongue, quicker of eye, and ready for anything from flirting to fishing.
From the talk, Jack gathered that Lord Farquhar and Miss Dwight had bet their catch would outweigh that of the other three, Farquhar and she to fish opposite the Lodge and the others half a mile below. The minority party had won easily, thanks to the big trout and Verinder's obstinacy in sticking to the flies he had used in England with success. There is a type of Englishman that goes through life using the flies he was brought up on and trying to make them fit all places and times. Any divergence is a form of treason. Neither Farquhar nor Kilmeny happened to be of that kind. They besieged the American with questions and soon had a pretty fair idea of fishing on the Gunnison.
"I should think you would ask me. I thought I was the one that catches the big fish," suggested Miss Dwight, who had just returned from having changed into more conventional attire.
"Make a habit of it, my dear, and we will," Lord Farquhar assured her.
"Once is enough, Moya. I can't afford a pair of gloves every evening," India Kilmeny protested.
"By Jove, leave some of the big ones for us, Miss Dwight," implored the captain. He was a spare wiry man, with the long clean build one expects to see in soldiers. Long residence in India had darkened his skin to an almost coffee brown, except for a wintry apple red where the high cheek bones seemed about to push through.
Supper, to which Lady Farquhar had insisted that the American stay, was being served informally in the living-room. Verinder helped himself to a sandwich, ogling Moya the while with his eyeglass.
"I say, you know, I believe in you, Miss Dwight," he asserted.
That young woman did not know why she resented more than usual his wheedling attentions. Lady Jim had invited the millionaire to join their party, as the girl very well knew, in order to give her charges a chance at him. Not that Lady Farquhar liked the man. She knew him quite well for an ill-bred little snob at heart. But he would pass muster in a crowd, and none of the young women of the party could afford to sniff at two millions sterling. It was entirely probable that Joyce, with her beauty and her clear vision of the need of money in the scheme of things, would marry as well as if she had a mother to look out for her. But Lady Jim felt it her duty to plan for India and Moya. She was more anxious about Miss Dwight than the other Irish girl, for Moya was likely to bolt the traces. Her friendships with men were usually among ineligibles. Verinder had shown a decided drift in her direction, but the girl had not encouraged him in the least. If she had been possessed of an independent fortune she could not have been more airily indifferent to his advances.
Since Captain Kilmeny had joined the party in Denver the plans of Lady Farquhar had been modified. The soldier had taken an early opportunity to tell her that he meant to ask Moya Dwight to marry him. He had been in love with her for years and had asked her just before his regiment left for India the last time. The captain was not rich, but he had enough. It happened too that he was a clean honest gentleman who had made a reputation for efficiency and gallantry in the army. If he was not brilliant, he was at least thorough. Lady Farquhar was quite willing to back his suit so far as she could.
"He's our kind, Ned Kilmeny is," she had told her husband. "I gave Moya her chance with Verinder but I should have been disappointed in her if she had taken him. If she will only fall in love with Ned I'll forgive her all the queer things she is always doing."
Farquhar had chuckled. "It's an odds-on chance she'll not fancy him, Di."
"For Heaven's sake, why not?" his wife had asked impatiently. "Does she expect to marry an emperor?"
"I don't know what she expects. The subject of matrimony is not all-important to Moya yet. But some day it will be—and then may I be there to see!"
"You're so ridiculously wrapped up in her," Lady Jim accused with a smile. "Why do you expect her love affair to be so interesting? For my part, I think Ned quite good enough for her."
"Oh, he's good enough. That isn't quite the point, is it? Moya wants to be stormed, to be swept from her feet into the arms of the man she is ready to love. A sort of a Lochinvar business—full of thrills and great moments. Ned can't give her those."
"No, I suppose not. Pity she can't be sensible."
"There are enough of us sensible, Di. We can spare her a few years yet for romance. When she grows sensible she'll have to give up something she can't afford to lose."
His wife looked at him and smiled fondly. "You haven't quite lost it yourself, Jim."
It was true enough that Lord Farquhar retained an interest in life that was refreshing. This evening his eyes gleamed while the Westerner told of the frontier day program to be held at the little town of Gunnison next day.
"You and your friends are miners, I understand. You'll not take part, then?" he asked.
"I used to punch cows. My name is entered for the riding. The boys want me to take a turn."
India Kilmeny sat up straight. "Let's go. We can ride up in the morning. It will be jolly. All in favor of going eat another sandwich."
"It will be pretty woolly—quite different from anything you have seen," the miner suggested.
"Thought we came here to fish," Verinder interposed. "Great bore looking at amateur shows—and it's a long ride."
"Move we go. What say, Lady Farquhar?" put in Captain Kilmeny.
"Do let's go," Moya begged.
"I don't see why we shouldn't," Lady Farquhar smiled. "But I'm like Mr. Verinder about riding. If he'll drive me up the rest of you can go on horseback."
"Delighted, 'm sure."
Verinder came to time outwardly civil but inwardly fuming. What the deuce did Lady Farquhar mean? Captain Kilmeny would have five hours clear with Miss Dwight and Miss Seldon during the ride back and forth. Ever since the soldier had joined the party things had been going badly.
"If we're going it's time you girls were in bed. You've had a hard day and to-morrow will be another," Lady Jim pronounced.
The Westerner rose to go.
"Night's young yet. Stop and sit in with us to a game of poker. What!" Farquhar invited.
"My pocketbook is at the camp," the American demurred.
"I'll be your banker," his host volunteered.
The ladies said good-night and departed. Chairs were drawn to the card table, chips sold, and hands dealt. The light of morning was breaking before Kilmeny made his way back to camp. He had in his pockets one hundred seventy three dollars, most of which had recently been the property of Dobyans Verinder.
An early start for Gunnison had been agreed upon by the fishermen at the camp. To go to bed now was hardly worth while. Jack took a towel from the willow bush upon which it was hanging, went down to the river, stripped, and from a rock ten feet above a deep pool dived straight as an arrow into the black water. The swirl of the current swept him into the shallower stream below. He waded ashore, beautiful in his supple slimness as an Apollo, climbed the rock a second time, and again knew the delightful shock of a dive into icy water fresh from the mountain snows.
Ten minutes later he wakened the camp by rattling the stove lids.
"Oh, you sluggards! Time to hit the floor," he shouted.
FUGITIVES FROM JUSTICE
At the Lodge too an early breakfast was held, though it was five hours later than the one at the camp. The whole party was down by nine-thirty and was on the road within the hour. The morning was such a one as only the Rockies can produce. The wine of it ran through the blood warm and stimulating. A blue sky flecked with light mackerel clouds stretched from the fine edge of the mountains to the ragged line of hills that cut off the view on the other side.
The horses were keen for the road and the pace was brisk. It was not until half the distance had been covered that Joyce, who was riding beside the captain, found opportunity for conversation.
"You sat up late, didn't you?"
"Early," the soldier laughed.
"How did the savage behave himself?"
"He went the distance well. We all contributed to the neat little roll he carried away." Kilmeny smiled as he spoke. He was thinking of Verinder, who had made a set against the miner and had tried to drive him out by the size of his raises. The result had been unfortunate for the millionaire.
"He has a good deal of assurance, hasn't he?" she asked lightly.
The captain hesitated. "Do you think that's quite the word? He fitted in easily—wasn't shy or awkward—that sort of thing, you know—but he wasn't obtrusive at all. Farquhar likes him."
"He's rather interesting," Joyce admitted.
She thought of him as a handsome untamed young barbarian, but it was impossible for her to deny a certain amount of regard for any virile man who admired her. The Westerner had not let his eyes rest often upon her, but the subtle instinct of her sex had told her that he was very much taken with her. Since Joyce Seldon was the center and circumference about which most of her thoughts revolved, it followed that the young man had chosen the sure way to her favor.
Moya Dwight too found that the young fisherman flitted in and out of her mind a good deal. He had told her, with that sardonic smile, that he was a workingman. Indeed, there had been something almost defiant in the way he had said it, as if he would not for a moment accept their hospitality on false pretenses. But, surely, he was worlds apart from any laborer she had ever seen. Last evening he had been as much at his ease as Lord Farquhar himself. A little uncertainty about the use of the spoons and forks had not disturbed him at all. In spite of the soft vocal elisions of the West, his speech had a dignity that suggested breeding. It was quite likely he was not a gentleman, according to the code in which she had been brought up, but it was equally sure there burned in him that dynamic spark of self-respect which is at the base of all good manners.
The little town of Gunnison rioted with life. Born and brought up as she had been in the iron caste of modern super-civilization, Moya found the barbaric color of the occasion very appealing. As she looked down on the arena from the box her party occupied, the heart of the girl throbbed with the pure joy of it all. She loved this West, with its picturesque chap-clad brown-faced riders. They were a hard-bitten lot, burned to a brick red by the untempered sun of the Rockies. Cheerful sons of mirth they were, carrying their years with a boyish exuberance that was delightful.
Most of the competitors for the bucking broncho championship had been eliminated before the arrival of the party from the Lodge. Among the three who had reached the finals was their guest of the previous evening.
"Jack Kilmeny will ride Teddy Roosevelt," blared the megaphone man.
The English officer turned to Farquhar. "Didn't quite catch the name. Sounded like my own."
"That's what I thought," contributed his sister. A moment later, she added: "Why, it's Mr. Crumbs."
That young man sauntered forward lazily, dragging his saddle by its horn. He saddled the trembling animal warily, then swung lightly to the seat. The broncho stood for an instant motionless, then humped itself from the earth, an incarnate demon of action. As a pitcher, a weaver, a sunfisher, this roan had no equal. Its ill-shaped nose and wicked red eyes were enough to give one bad dreams. But the lean-flanked young miner appeared clamped to the saddle. Lithe and sinuous as a panther, he rode with a perfect ease that was captivating. Teddy tried all its tricks. It went up into the air and came down with all four legs stiff as iron posts. It shot forward in a series of quick sharp bucks. It flung itself against the wall of the arena to crush the leg of this rider who held the saddle with such perfect poise. But Jack Kilmeny was equal to the occasion and more. When the brute went over backward, in a somersault, he was out of the saddle and in again before the vicious outlaw had staggered to its feet. Even the frontier West had never seen a more daring and magnificent piece of horsemanship.
Captain Kilmeny clapped his hands enthusiastically. "Bravo! Well done!" He turned to Moya, who sat beside him. "Finest bit of rough-riding I ever saw. Not one man in a million could have done it."
"It's all in getting the hang of the thing, you know," drawled Verinder complacently.
Moya, who was leaning forward with her dark eyes fixed on the two superb animals fighting for mastery in the arena, thought both comments characteristic. The captain was a sportsman and a gentleman, the millionaire was neither.
India whispered in the ear of Moya. "He's as broadminded as a crab, just about."
The reference was of course to Verinder. "I think we ought to be fair, even to a crab, dear," Miss Dwight answered dryly.
The battle between the outlaw broncho and its rider was over. The confidence of Teddy Roosevelt as well as its strength had been shaken. The bucks of the pony were easy to foresee. Presently they ceased. The horse stood with drooping head, foam dripping from its mouth, flanks flecked with sweat stains.
Kilmeny swung from the saddle, and at the same time Colter stepped into the arena. He drew Jack aside and whispered in his ear. India, watching the rough-rider through field glasses, saw the face of the young man grow grim and hard. Without the delay of a moment he pushed through the crowd that gathered to congratulate him and walked out of the grounds with Colter.
The other two riders who had reached the finals were both experts in the saddle. One of them, however, had been traveling with a Wild West show and was too soft to hold his own against the bit of incarnate deviltry he was astride. To save himself he had to clutch at the horn of the saddle.
"He's pulling leather," shouted one of the judges, and the man was waved aside.
The third cowpuncher made a good showing, but his horse lacked the energy and spirit of Teddy Roosevelt. The unanimous decision of the judges was in favor of Kilmeny. But when they sought for him to award the prize the new champion was nowhere to be found.
Moya Dwight felt with genuine disappointment that the man's courtesy had failed. She and her friends had applauded his exploits liberally. The least he could have done would have been to have made a short call at their box. Instead, he had ignored them. She resolved to bear herself more coldly if they met again.
The early shadows of sunset were stretching down the rough mountain sides by the time the visitors from the Lodge reached the river canon on their homeward way. Soon after this the champion rider and his friend Colter passed them on a stretch of narrow road cut in the steep wall of the gulch. The leathery face of the latter took them in impassively as he gave them a little nod of recognition, but the younger man reined in for a few words. He accepted their congratulations with a quiet "Glad you enjoyed it," but it was plain that he was in a hurry. In his eyes there was a certain hard wariness that seemed hardly to fit the occasion. Moya could not avoid the impression that he was anxious about something. As soon as he well could he put spurs to his horse and cantered after his companion.
"I don't like your savage as well as I thought I was going to. If he can't be pleasanter than that you may keep him yourself, Moya," Joyce announced with a smile.
It was perhaps a quarter of an hour later that the sound of hard riding reached them from the rear. Five dusty, hard-bitten men, all armed with rifles and revolvers, drew level with them. The leader threw a crisp question at Lord Farquhar.
"Two riders pass you lately?"
"One on a big sorrel and the other on a roan with white stockings on the front feet?"
"The younger one stopped for a few words. He is a Mr. Crumbs, camped on the river just below us."
The lank man with the rifle across his saddle bow laughed grimly. "Yes, he is—not. His name is Kilmeny—Jack Kilmeny. I'm the sheriff of Gunnison County—and I want him bad."
"Did you say Kilmeny?" asked the captain sharply.
"That's what I said—the man that won the broncho busting contest to-day."
To Moya, looking around upon the little group of armed men, there was a menacing tenseness in their manner. Her mind was groping for an explanation, but she understood this much—that the law was reaching out for the devil-may-care youth who had so interested her.
"What do you want with him? What has he done?" she cried quickly.
"He and his friend held up the gatekeeper of the fair association and got away with three thousand dollars."
"Held up! Do you mean robbed?"
"That's what I mean—vamoosed with the whole proceeds of the show. How long since they passed?"
"Between a quarter and half an hour," answered Farquhar.
The sheriff nodded. "All ready, boys."
The clattering hoofs disappeared in a cloud of dust down the road.
The rough places of life had been padded for all these young women. Never before had they come so close to its raw, ugly seams. The shadow of the law, the sacredness of caste, had always guarded them.
India turned upon her brother big dilated eyes. "He said Kilmeny. Who can the man be?"
"I don't know." He was silent a moment in frowning thought, struck by an unwelcome idea. "You remember Uncle Archie. He had a son named Jack who lives somewhere in Colorado. D'ye remember he came home when you were a little kiddie? Stopped at granddad's."
The girl nodded. "He fought you once, didn't he?"
The captain nodded. The doubt began to grow into certainty. "Thought I had seen his face before. He's our cousin Jack. That's who he is."
"And now he's a highwayman. By Jove, he doesn't look it," contributed Farquhar.
"I don't believe it. Such nonsense!" flamed Moya.
"Fancy! A real live highwayman to supper with us," Joyce reminded them with sparkling eyes.
"I'm sure he isn't. There must be a mistake."
"He was troubled about something, Moya," Lord Farquhar suggested. "He and his friend were riding fast and plainly in a hurry."
"Didn't he stop to talk?"
"He had to do that to avoid suspicion. I could see his mind wasn't on what he was saying. The man was anxious."
"I thought you liked him," Moya charged scornfully.
Her guardian smiled. "I did, but that isn't evidence that will acquit him in court of being a road agent."
"He's India's cousin—maybe. How could he be a criminal? Shall we have to cut her and Captain Kilmeny now?" Miss Dwight demanded hotly.
The captain laughed, but there was no mirth in his laughter. "You're a stanch friend, Miss Dwight. By Jove, I hope you're right about him."
Deep in her heart Moya was not at all sure. What did she know of him? And why should she care what he was? The man was a stranger to her. Forty-eight hours ago she had never seen him. Why was it that every good looking vagabond with a dash of the devil in him drew on her sympathies? She recalled now that he had hesitated when she had mentioned his name, no doubt making up his mind to let her think him other than he was. The sheriff must know what he was talking about when he said the man was an outlaw. But the appearance of him pleaded potently. Surely those clear unflinching eyes were not the homes of villainy. Nor could she find it possible to think his gallant grace of bearing the possession of a miscreant.
Before the day was out her faith in him had sunk to zero. Captain Kilmeny returned from the camp of the miners with the news that it was deserted except for two of the deputies who had stayed to guard it against the possible return of the robbers. He brought with him the detailed story of the hold-up.
Two masked men on horseback had robbed the treasurer of the Gunnison County Fair association as he was driving to the bank to deposit the receipts of the day. The men had not been recognized, but the description of the horses corresponded closely to those ridden by Kilmeny and Colter. It was recalled that these two men had disappeared as soon as the bucking broncho contest was over, not half an hour before the robbery. This would allow them just time to return to the corral on the outskirts of the town, where they had left their mounts, and to saddle so as to meet the treasurer on his way to the bank. It happened that the corral was deserted at the time, the boy in charge having left to see the finals of the contest. Cumulative evidence of guilt lay in the disappearance from the fishing camp not only of the two men suspected, but also of their companions, Curly and Mosby.
"Think he really did it, Ned?" India asked her brother.
"Can't say, sis. Looks like it," he answered gloomily.
Of the party at the Lodge only one member was pleased at the turn events had taken. Verinder's manner was as openly triumphant as he dared allow it to become. It cried offensively, "I told you so!"
"I'M HERE, NEIGHBOR"
Moya still rode afternoons with her friends, fished occasionally, and took her regular hand at bridge. But it was unaccountably true that her zest in these amusements was gone. She could give no satisfactory reason for it, but she felt as if something had passed out of her life forever. It was as if the bubbling youth in her were quenched. The outstanding note of her had been the eagerness with which she had run out to meet new experiences. Now she found herself shrinking from them. Whenever she could the girl was glad to slip away by herself. To the charge that she was in love with this young vagabond she would have given a prompt denial. Nevertheless, Lady Farquhar recognized the symptoms as dangerous.
On the fifth day after the Gunnison trip the young people at the Lodge made a party to fish Sunbeam Creek. They followed the stream far into the hills, riding along the trail which bordered it. Kilmeny and Verinder carried lunch baskets, for they were to make a day of it and return only in time for a late dinner.
Moya made her brave pretense of gayety. With alacrity she responded to Verinder's challenge of a bet on the relative sizes of their catches. But as soon as the rest were out of sight she sat down in a shady spot and fell to musing.
How long she sat there, a sun-dappled nymph upon whom gleams of light filtered through the leaves of the aspens, she had not the least idea. The voice of a grizzled rider startled her from her dreams. Her lifted eyes took in the grim look of the man, garnished with weapons ready to his hands.
"Mornin', miss," he nodded amiably.
"Good-morning." And swift on the heels of it, "You are a deputy sheriff, are you not?"
"Rung the bell, ma'am. You belong to the English outfit, I reckon."
She smiled. "I suppose so, though I don't know what an outfit is."
"I mean to Lord What's-his-name's party."
"Yes, I think I do. I'm rather sure of it."
"Funny about some members of your crowd having the same name as the man we're looking for."
"Mr. Kilmeny, you mean?"
"Jack Kilmeny! Yes, ma'am."
"He introduced himself to us, but I don't think the name he went by was Kilmeny. I was told it was Crumbs."
"That's just a joke. His friends call him that because his people are 'way up in G. Fine bred—crumbs. Get the idea?"
"I think so."
"Came from the old country, his father did—son of some big gun over there. Likely he's some kin to your friends."
He put the last observation as a question, with a sharp glance from under his heavy gray eyebrows. Moya chose to regard it as a statement.
"Are you still searching for him?" she asked.
"You bet we are. The sheriff's got a notion he's up in these hills somewheres. A man answering his description was seen by some rancher. But if you ask me, I'd say he was busy losing himself 'way off in Routt County, clear off the map. He used to punch cows up there and he knows all kinds of holes to hide in. It don't stand to reason he'd still be fooling around here. He's bridle-wise and saddle-broke—knows every turn of the road."
"Yes," Moya assented listlessly.
"He had his getaway all planned before ever he came down here. That's a cinch. The fishing was all a bluff. The four of them had the hold-up arranged weeks ago. They've gone into a hole and drawn it in after them."
"Don't you think there's a chance he didn't do it?" she asked in a forlorn way.
"Not a chance. Jack Kilmeny and Colter pulled off the play. What the others had to do with it I don't know."
The deputy passed to the fishing in his conversation, hoped she would have luck, stroked his white goatee, and presently departed.
The man had scarcely disappeared around a bend in the gulch before a sound startled her. Moya turned quickly, to see a man drop down the face of a large rock to the ground. Even before he turned she recognized that pantherine grace and her heart lost a beat.
He came straight toward her, with the smile in his blue eyes that claimed comradeship as a matter of course.
"You—here," she gasped.
"I'm here, neighbor. Where ought I to be—in Routt County losing myself?"
Her little hand was lost in his big brown fist, her gaze locked in his.
"You heard him?"
"Couldn't help it. I was working down through that grove of pines to the river when I saw him."
"He may come back." Her quick glance went up the gulch into which the deputy had disappeared.
"I reckon not. Let's sit down and talk."
Her first thought had been of his danger, but she remembered something else now. "No, I think not, Mr. Kilmeny."
The deep eyes that met his steadily had in them the rapier flash. He smiled.
"Because I am a miscreant, I reckon," he drawled.
"You say it, not I."
"Now you're dodging, neighbor. You think it."
"If so, do I think more than the truth?"
A ripple of sardonic laughter stirred in him. "I see you have me convicted and in the penitentiary already."
"Your actions convict you."
"So you think. Isn't it just possible you don't understand them?" There was the faintest hint of derision in his polite inquiry.
A light flashed in her dusky eyes, a shining hope newborn in her eager heart. "Are you telling me that you are innocent?"
"You've been thinking me guilty, then," he countered swiftly.
"What else could I think?"
"You might have waited to hear the defense."
"If you had stayed to make one, but you ran away."
"How do you know I did?"
"You were gone when the officers reached your camp."
His smile was grim and his voice defiant. "There was a man up in the hills I wanted to see in a hurry."
By the look in her eyes it was as if he had struck her. With fine contempt her answer came. "Was there another man up there in the rocks just now that you had to see until the deputy left?"
"Anyhow, there was a young woman down by the banks of Sunbeam I wanted to see after he was gone," the fugitive claimed boldly.
A faint angry flush glowed delicately beneath the olive of her cheeks. "Evasions—nothing but evasions."
She turned away, sick at heart. He had treated with flippancy the chance she had given him. Would an innocent man have done that?
Swift as an arrow his hand shot out, caught her shoulder, and held her firmly. The eyes that lifted to his flamed with proud resentment.
"I'm not going to let you go like this. Don't think it."
"You'll do me justice first." His hand dropped from her shoulder, but the masterful look of him stayed her steps. "You'll tell me what evidence you've got against me."
Again an insurgent hope warmed her heart. Wild he might be, but surely no criminal—if there was any truth in faces.
What she had heard against him she told. "The robbers were riding horses like yours. You left the fair grounds early. You and your friend were seen going into the corral where you had stabled the animals. This was less than half an hour before the robbery. When you passed us on the road you were anxious about something. You looked back two or three times. Both you and Mr. Colter showed you were in a hurry. Then you ran away before the sheriff reached your camp. Does an innocent man do that?" She put her question as an accusation, but in the voice was a little tremble that asked to be refuted.
"Sometimes he does. Now listen to me. The horses ridden by the robbers were Colter's and mine. We certainly were worried about the time we met you. And we did break camp in a hurry so as to miss the sheriff. Does this prove me guilty?"
She brushed away the soft waves of dark hair that had fallen over her forehead in little escaping tendrils. The fearless level eyes of the outdoors West were looking straight at her.
"I don't know. Does it?"
"We'll say this evidence had piled up against Captain Kilmeny instead of against me. Would you have believed him guilty?"
"No. He couldn't have done it."
"On the same evidence you would acquit him and condemn me. Is that fair?"
"I have known him for years—his standards, his ways of thinking. All his life he has schooled himself to run a straight course."
"Whereas I——" He waited, the sardonic frosty smile on his lean strong face.
Moya knew that the flutter of her pulses was telling tales in the pink of her cheeks. "I don't know you."
"I'm only a workingman, and an American at that—so it follows that I must be a criminal," he answered with a touch of bitterness.
"No—no! But you're—different. There's something untamed about you. I don't quite know how to put it—as if you had been brought up without restraints, as if you didn't care much for law."
"Why should I? Law is a weapon to bolster up the rich and keep down the poor," he flung back with an acid smile. "But there's law and law. Even in our class we have our standards, such as they are."
"Now it's you that isn't fair," she told him quietly. "You know I meant nothing like that. The point is that I don't know what your standards are. Law doesn't mean so much to people here. Your blood runs freer, less evenly than ours. You don't let the conventions hamper you."
"The convention of honesty, for instance. Thanks, Miss Dwight."
"I didn't want to believe it, but——"
The penitence in her vivid face pleaded for her. He could not refuse the outstretched hand of this slender lance-straight girl whose sweet vitality was at once so delicate and so gallant. Reluctantly his palm met hers.
"You're quite sure now that I didn't do it?"
"Even though I've been brought up badly?"
"Oh, I didn't say badly—really. You know I didn't."
"And though I'm wild and lawless?"
"Aren't you?" she flashed back with a smile that took from the words any sting they might otherwise have had.
Mirth overflowed in his eyes, from which now many little creases radiated. "You're a good one, neighbor. But, since you will have it, I am. I reckon my standards even of honesty wouldn't square with yours. I live in a rough mining camp where questions have two sides. It's up to me to play the game the way the other fellow plays it. But we'll not go into that now."
Strong, clear-eyed and masterful, she knew him a man among ten thousand. He might be capable of great sin, but what he did would be done with his eyes wide open and not from innate weakness. Her heart sang jubilantly. How could she ever have dreamed this crime of him? Her trust was now a thing above any evidence.
"And you'll sit down with me now if I ask you, neighbor," he laughed.
She did not wait to be asked, but sat down, tailor fashion, and looked expectantly up with a humorous little twist of the eyebrows. Flakes of dappled sunlight played on her through the moving leaves and accented the youthful bloom of her.
With a sigh of content he stretched himself on the sun-warmed loam. His glance swept up the gulch, a sword cleft in the hills, passed over the grove of young pines through which he had recently descended, and came back to the slim Irish girl sitting erectly on the turf.
"It's sometimes a mighty good world, neighbor," he said.
"I'm thinking that myself," she admitted, laughter welling softly out of her.
The sun lit the tips of the pines, so that they looked like burnished lances in battle array, poured its beams over the scarred hillside, and bathed the little valley in effulgent glory.
"You can always find it somewhere," he said with deep content, leaning on an elbow indolently.
She asked for no antecedent to his pronoun. What he meant was not ambiguous to her.
"If one knows where to look for it," she added softly.
"That's the trouble. We get so busy with our little everyday troubles that we forget to look. But the joy of life is always there if we'll forget our grouch and see it."
"Yes—if having eyes we see."
"I'm comforted a heap to know that you believe in me—even if I'm not Captain Kilmeny," he assured her with his slow rippling laugh.
Had he been looking at her he would have seen the telltale color tide her cheeks. "If that is a comfort you are welcome to it. I might have known the idea of connecting you with such a thing was folly."
He glanced whimsically at her. "Don't be too sure of me, neighbor. I'm likely to disappoint you. What one person thinks is right another knows is wrong. You'd have to make a heap of allowances for me if I were your friend."
"Isn't that what friendship is for—to make allowances?"
"You've found that out already, have you?"
The long-lashed lids fell to her cheeks in self-defense. Not for worlds would she have had him guess the swift message ready to leap out toward him. He seemed to be drawing her soul to his unconsciously. Tingling in every nerve, athrob with an emotion new and inexplicable, she drew a long slow breath and turned her head away. A hot shame ran like quicksilver through her veins. She whipped herself with her own scorn. Was she the kind of girl that gave her love to a man who did not want it?
His next words brought to her the shock she needed, the effect of a plunge into icy water on a warm day.
"What about your friends—what about Miss Seldon—did she believe me guilty too?" He could not quite keep the self-consciousness out of his voice.
"Hadn't you better ask her that?" she suggested.
In spite of his interest in their talk, Kilmeny's alert eyes had swept again and again the trail leading up the gulch. He did not intend to be caught napping by the officers. Now he rose and offered her a hand up.
"Your friends are coming."
Swiftly Moya came to earth from her emotions. In another moment she was standing beside the fugitive, her gaze on the advancing group. Captain Kilmeny was in the lead and was the first to recognize her companion. If he was surprised, his voice failed to show it.
"No, no, Verinder. I had him hooked all right," he was saying. "Dashed poor generalship lost him. He went into the rushes like a shot. I persuaded him out—had him in the open water. Looked to me like a two to one shot, hang it. Mr. Trout develops a bad break to the off and heads under a big log. Instead of moving down the bank I'm ass enough to reel from where I hooked him. Leader snaps, and Mr. Trout has the laugh on me."
To the sound of that high cheerful voice Moya roused at once. The rapt expression died from her face.
"How many?" called India, holding up her string.
"I haven't been fishing," Moya answered; then gave herself away. "It surely isn't time for luncheon already."
She took a step toward her friends, so that for the first time Jack Kilmeny stood plainly revealed. India's pretty piquant face set to a red-lipped soundless whistle. Joyce stared in frank amusement. Verinder, rutted in caste and respectability as only a social climber dubious of his position can be, ejaculated a "God bless my soul!" and collapsed beyond further articulation. Captain Kilmeny nodded to the Westerner without embarrassment.
"Mornin', Mr. Crumbs."
"Good-morning. But you have the name wrong, sir."
"Beg pardon." The captain's eyebrows lifted in inquiry.
"Kilmeny," the American corrected.
Nonchalantly the captain came to time. "Same name as ours. Wonder if by any chance we're of the same family. Happen to be any relation of Archibald Kilmeny, who died in Colorado fifteen years ago?"
Jack looked at him quietly. "A son."
"Makes us cousins. He was my father's brother."
The Westerner nodded coolly, not in the least impressed. "Yes."
It would have been easy to read hostility in his bearing, but India sailed past her brother with hand extended. "Glad to meet you, Cousin Jack. 'Member me? Last time you saw me I was a squalling five-year-old."
The American warmed a trifle. "I remember you, all right. Never saw a kid before so fond of currant jam."
"Still am. You've improved in your personal appearance. Last time I saw your eye it had been beautifully blacked, kindness of Ned."
"Fortune of war. My lip was swollen for a week," her brother laughed as he extended his hand.
"Ned got caned for fighting with a guest. Served him jolly well right," Miss Kilmeny said.
Joyce sailed forward into the picture gracefully. Her radiant beauty took the Westerner's breath.
"You'll stay with us for luncheon," she said with soft animation. "For, of course, this is an occasion. Long-lost cousins do not meet every day."
Verinder, making speechless sounds of protest at this indiscretion, grew very red in the face. Would he have to sit down to eat with a criminal at large?
Jack hesitated scarcely a second. He could not take his gaze from this superb young creature, whose every motion charmed, whose deep eyes glowed with such a divine warmth of molten gold.
"Thanks awf'lly, but I really can't stay."
He bowed to one and another, turned upon Joyce that look of dumb worship she had seen on the faces of many men, and swung off into the pines, as elastic-heeled, confident, and competent a youth as any of them had seen in many a day.
India's eyes danced. She was Irish enough to enjoy a situation so unusual. "Snubbed, Joyce, by a highwayman," she laughed.
But Joyce merely smiled. She knew what she knew.
"If you ask me, he's got the deuce of a cheek, you know," Verinder fumed.
Miss Kilmeny pounced instantly upon him. "Referring to our cousin, Mr. Verinder?" she demanded sweetly.
"But—er—you said yourself——"
"That was all in the family," she informed him promptly.
Joyce came to the assistance of Verinder with one confidential glance of her incredibly deep eyes of velvet. "Of course he's cheeky. How could he be India's cousin and not be that?" she asked with a rippling little laugh. "Come and help me spread the tablecloth, Mr. Verinder."
Deeply grateful, the millionaire flew to assist.
LORD FARQUHAR GIVES MOYA A HINT
Verinder's man, Biggs, who had been a fascinated spectator of the Wild West sports at Gunnison, was describing them to Fisher, maid to Lady Farquhar and general buttoner-up-the-back to the entire feminine contingent of the party.
"What do you mean when you say a horse bucks?" she wanted to know.
"'E throws down 'is 'ead and 'e throws up 'is 'eels and you cawn't remain," he explained, without entire originality.
"Consequence is the rider lands himpromptu on terra firma, so to hexpress it."
"Dear me. But doesn't it make him dusty, Mr. Biggs?"
"Couldn't Captain Kilmeny ride one of the bronchos?"
"I've 'eard that the captain is a crack rider, none better in the harmy, Miss Fisher. 'E could ride the blawsted brute if it wouldn't 'ide its bloomin' 'ead between its legs."
Moya, patrolling the willow walk in front of the Lodge, took this in with a chuckle.
It was a still night, save only for the rushing waters of the river. The lamps of the sky had all been lit and were gleaming coldly millions of miles away. The shadowed moonlight in the trees offered a stage set to lowered lights.
The thoughts of the girl had drifted to speculation about the transplanted countryman of hers whose personality had come to interest her so greatly. He had challenged her trust in him and she had responded with a pledge. He had not explained a single one of the suspicious circumstances against him. He had not taken her into his confidence, nor had he in so many words declared his innocence. She was glad he had told her nothing, had demanded her faith as a matter of course. It was part of her pride in him that she could believe without evidence. All the world would know he was not guilty after he had shown his proofs. It would be no test of friendship to stand by him then.
A step sounded on the gravel behind her and an arm opened to let her hand slip round the elbow.
"May I stroll out this dance with you, Miss Dwight?" Lord Farquhar asked formally, dropping into step with her.
Moya and her guardian were kindred spirits. They never needed to explain themselves to each other. Both knew how to make-believe.
"If you're not afraid of a scandal at being alone with me so far from a chaperone," the girl answered lightly.
He burlesqued a sigh. "I'm only afraid there won't be any. It's the penalty of age, my dear. I can claim all sorts of privileges without making Verinder jealous."
"Oh, Verinder," she scoffed.
"Should I have said Kilmeny?" he asked.
"I'll tell you a secret, guardy," whispered Moya gayly. "You're a hundred years younger than either of them."
"I wish my glass told me so."
"Fiddlesticks! Youth is in the heart. Mr. Verinder has never been young and Captain Kilmeny has forgotten how to be."
"I fancy Ned would be willing to learn how again if he had the proper teacher."
She gave his arm a little squeeze. "You dear old matchmaker."
"Heaven forbid! I'm merely inquiring, my dear."
"Oh, I see—your in-loco-parentis duty."
"Exactly. So it isn't going to be Ned?"
She looked across the turbid moonlit river before she answered. "I don't think so."
"Goodness, no!" A little ripple of laughter flowed from her lips before she added: "He's changed his mind. It's Joyce he wants now."
Farquhar selected a cigar from the case. "Hm! Sure you didn't change it for him?"
A dimple flashed into her cheeks. "I may have helped a little, but not half as much as Joyce."
"That young woman is a born flirt," Lord Farquhar announced, his beard and the lower part of his face in the sudden glow of the lighted match. "Upon my word, I saw her making eyes at your highwayman the night we had him here."
There was a moment's silence before she answered. "Anybody could see that he was interested in her."
"It doesn't matter to me who interests him, but I can't have any of my wards being romantic over a Dick Turpin," he replied lightly.
She was standing in the shadow, so that he could not see the dye sweep into her cheeks.
"I'm afraid he is going to disappoint you. He's not a highwayman at all."
"Did he tell you so?"
"No. But I know it."
"Looks to me as if he might make a good one. The fellow is cool as a cucumber and afraid of nothing on two legs or four."
"You forget he is India's cousin."
"No, I'm remembering that. His father had a devil of a temper and his mother was as wild as an unbroken colt when I met her."
"They weren't thieves, were they?" she flashed.
He gave her his frank smile. "You like this young man, Moya?"
"Yes. Why shouldn't I?"
"Why not—if you don't like him too well?"
"So that's why you came out here—sent by Lady Farquhar to scold me—and I thought you had come because you like to be with me."
"One reason doesn't preclude the other."
"I've known for several days she had it on her mind—ever since we saw Mr. Kilmeny on Sunbeam Creek."
"Come; let us reason together," he invited cheerfully. "We'll sit on the end of the wharf and dangle our legs while your guardian finishes his cigar and does his duty by you."
They compromised on a wire-woven seat under a cottonwood. Across the river two fishermen could be seen working down stream close to the opposite shore. The two were Verinder and Captain Kilmeny, though at that distance they were not recognizable.
Lord Farquhar seemed in no hurry to begin, nor did Moya attempt to hasten him. His cigar glowed and ashed and glowed again before he spoke.
"Odd how things work out, my dear. There across the river are two men who would like to marry you. Both are good matches. One is by way of being a bit of a bounder perhaps, but the other is as fine a fellow as any girl could look for—not brilliant, but no fool either, and as steady as a clock."
A breath of wind lifted the edge of her white skirt. She followed the woman's instinct to tuck it safely under her before making demure answer. "Captain Kilmeny is his own certificate of merit. Any praise is surplusage."
He shrugged. "That's the perversity of it. You see all his merits and they don't touch you."
With a vivacious little turn that was wholly charming she turned merrily upon him. "Are you by any chance proposing for him, Lord Farquhar?"
"Hasn't he proposed for himself?" her guardian asked bluntly.
"I believe he has."
"And you—didn't see it?"
"Sorry." He looked at the tip of his cigar and brushed away the ash. "Because he's a no end good sort."
"You don't know that any better than I do. Don't think I can't see all the advantages of it. I do. I want to say 'Yes,' but—well, I can't. That's all."
"On account of the other man?" he questioned gently.
"I haven't mentioned any other man," she cried, her face in a flame.
"No, I mentioned him. Devilish impudent of me, if you want to take it that way, Moya. But, then, as you've said, I'm in loco. Got to grub around and find out how you feel."