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A Complete Novelette

by George Brydges Rodney
Author of "The Leaven," "The Taking of Peter Pan," etc.

THE HEAVY roar of a gun-shot broke the afternoon hush, sending a bevy of mesa quail scurrying up the rocky hillside. It swung to and fro along the walls of the canon, finally rolling out upon the flat at the mouth of the cañon in a very volume of sound.

John Wilkes, ex-deputy sheriff, cowpuncher, prospector on occasion, came to the door of his store and stared up the valley from under the sharp of his hand.

"Now I wonder what in the world them fools wants to go about the land shootin' their guns off fer an' skeerin' out of the county what little game there's been left in it. Dailey ought to know better even if Boaz don't. They ain't either of 'em got brains enough to freight a louse with."

He stood for a moment staring up the canon, his gray beard moving slowly up and down like a goat's, as he thoughtfully masticated his tobacco, and then, passing inside the building, he devoted himself to a methodical re-arrangement on the shelves of what little stock his store boasted.

It was not an alluring place, Preciosa. Why it should have been so named none but Heaven knew'. There was indeed no special reason why it should ever have been settled at all. Mr. Wilkes, who had wandered foot-loose over Arizona for more than thirty-five years, had his own theories on the reasons for the original settlement of Arizona.

"It ain't no example of a country where a virtuous an' hard-workin' peasantry settled to git 'Freedom to worship God,' like I read of in a book once. An' they didn't come out here beca'se they coveted a acre of God's footstool to raise their children an' perpetuate their virtues that makes the safeguard of a state. I heard a feller say that once at a Fourth o'July meetin'— No, sir, it ain't none o' them! That ain't the way Arizona come to be settled. She got settled. The reason you find so many hellholes with people in 'em down here in the Southwest is because people was movin' through here to git to a better place an' their cattle died. They couldn't git away and they had to stay."

In which remark there was much truth.

He was disturbed at his quasi-quiet task of re-arranging his stock by the entrance of two men who stamped their way into the cool interior of the adobe building, demanding beer. Mr. Wilkes produced three bottles—warm, opened them by the simple process of knocking off the necks against his spurred heel and set them on the counter. Silence reigned while the three men gulped down the warm beer.

"This is shore a pleasant place," ejaculated Dailey staring out into the hot sunshine where the heat-horizon of the desert fairly winked at him.

"Well—" Mr. Wilkes spat judicially at a tarantula that was striving vainly to carry of! the body of a dead desert rat—"I like it."

"You—like—it?" Boaz stared at him.

"Yep. I like it. Oh, I don't mean I'm plumb foolish about it, but I do like it after a fashion. That is, I like it about as much as a man would like bein' scalped."

Boaz snorted like a horse.

"You're a —— fool, John," he said amiably.

"Sure I am," agreed Mr. Wilkes. "What else would I be here fer? Tell me that?"

Boaz did not answer, but stood looking out across the plain that wrapped Preciosa as in a blanket.

PRECIOSA stands out upon the brown desert exactly as a cake of chocolate stands out upon a mahogany table. There is nothing there, if one excepts the public corral built of long-discarded railroad cross-ties stood on end and interlaced with branches of long-dead mesquit, the one well from which alkali water is pumped by a lame white horse that, blindfolded, tramps his weary round pumping up the water which Mr. Wilkes sells for ten cents a bucketful, John Wilkes's store and hotel, and three other houses near the little railroad station.

The one thing that gives the place any importance in the scheme of things is the fact that Preciosa is the railroad station for Fort Stevens, distant twenty miles due north, and Fort Stevens, during these days when the Mexican Border was being as closely guarded as the convents were guarded during the Thirty Years' War, was an important point, being the station of the 16th Regiment of Cavalry, to which force, for its sins, was assigned the pleasant duty of policing and patroling the adjacent section of the Mexican-American International Line.

The population of Preciosa has never exceeded thirty people. The three white men who were as regular in their attendance at Mr. Wilkes' saloon as the minute-hand upon a watch, were Wilkes himself, Peter Dailey and Tom Boaz. The last-named men were partners in a great if unremunerative cattle ranch a few miles to the west of Preciosa. On this particular occasion they had met as usual to discuss grievances.

"I been talkin' to Boaz this momin', John," said Mr. Dailey. "Do you know that old Colonel Borden that's been in command at Fort Stevens fer the past two years?"

"As well as I know my own dog," said Mr. Wilkes. "Only I ain't got no dog."

"He's sure gettin' some afflictin' with his 'My man, this' an' 'My man, that' whenever he sees me. My name's Dailey, an' he knows it, an' some day I'm goin' to fix him so's he'll remember it----"

lie lapsed into silence, eyed by the observant Mr, Wilkes, who was morally certain there was something in the wind.

"Say, John," he said presently, "are you aimin' to sell that claim of youra up the canon? The one by Willow Water, I mean?"

"I been aimin' to sell it fer some time," replied the cautious Mr. Wilkes, "but I took a rotten bad aim. The man got away."

"Who was he, John?"

"I don't know rightly. He told me he was the Dead Agent fer the district."

"The—the what?"

"The Dead Agent."

"What in ——'s a Dead Agent, John?"

"That's what I asked him. He told me that the Dead Agent was the man who has the contract to supply able-bodied voters fer every Democrat who's died in the District since the last election. That's why he left before I got the chance to unload that claim on him."

"What do you want fer it?"

"It ain't fer sale," declared the astute Mr. Wilkes. "Not now. Not till I know somethin' more about it."

"Why not? You ain't got nothin' up there——"

"Oh, yes, I have, too. I got an eighty-foot tunnel all timbered up——"

"You never got no color there, did you?"

MR. WILKES started to shake his head, then stopped so suddenly that his hat fell oil. He replaced it, thinking rapidly. He remembered the gunshot up the valley and he knew that both Boaz and Dailey were too lazy to wander so far from home afoot after the small game of the canon. They might have been blasting on his old claim. He had spent his last dollar on it the year before and had never got enough gold out of the entire eighty feet of tunnel "to fill a tooth with," as he expressed it.

Disheartenment, however, was far from him. He well knew the truth of the miner's maxim that "Gold is where you find it." Perhaps Boaz and Dailey had something up their sleeves and would let him in on it. Certainly he would gain nothing by hurrying them. He would let them take their time.

"What do you fellers mean?" he asked slowly. "What's the game?"

"Oh, nothin'. We just thought we'd offer you some spot cash fer that old claim."

"What do you want it fer?"

"It's a good hole, an' it's a deep hole," said Dailey reflectively; "an' me an' Boaz thought maybe we might make a grubstake by cuttin' it up into post-holes an' shippin' it north where the squatters is takin' up land——"

He successfully dodged the empty bottle that Mr. Wilkes threw at him and returned to the charge.

"On the level, John, me an' Boaz is gettin' darned tired of bein' always called 'My man' by that ol'—ol'—" he hesitated for a name—"ol' Lord Cornwallis—he's dead an' can't kick—up at Fort Stevens. We're aimin' to get a few dollars out o' this an' get the ol' Colonel to move back to England again. Are you on?"

Mr. Wilkes yelped joyfully. He too had had more than his share of the Colonel's superiority.

"What'll you take to let us work it, John?"

One-third share in whatever's goin', you to pay all expenses," said Mr. Wilkes cautiously. He had been stung before by his two friends and would take no chances.

"Done. Put it down on paper."

Mr. Wilkes, drawing forth a scrap of wrapping-paper and the stump of a pencil, carefully set to work on the contract, interlarding bis scholastic efforts with audible sucks at his pencil.

"We had hard luck last month, John. We lost a bunch of pretty good Hereford cattle. We was aimin' to ship 'em East, but some greaser across the Line wished for 'em before we got a chance to ship. We had 'em in the big pasture an' they got across the Line an' cut the fence. One of our greaser herders went at the same time. We had to lick him once before fer cany in' a runnin' iron under his saddle an' brandin' maverick calves——"

"I never could see what you two was doia* in puttin' a wire fence around a pasture so close to the Line. You might have know ^4 that that fence was like a advertisement to them greasers, savin' 'I pot a good thing here. Come an' get it.' What you wanted to fence in two thousand acres of bare desert for, gets me. It's like puttin' a fence around a graveyard. Them that's in can't git out, an' them that's out don't want to git in—fer no good purpose, that is——"

"That's so, John," said Boaz softly. "But we may break even, after all. We've got four witnesses to the fact that the fence was cut, an' two of 'em'll swear that the men that done the cuttin' was Mexican soldiers. We've got all kinds of affidavits to that——"

"Object bein'—?" queried Mr. Wilkes.

"If one regiment of cavalry spends twelve thousand dollars of pay in a month in a place, somebody's makin' money," reflected Mr. Dailey. "There'll be beef contracts an' oat an' hay contracts, an' if any more troops should be sent here to help us poor citizens tryin' to wrest a livin' from a fruitless soil——"

"I get you," said Air. Wilkes joyfully.

"An' we sent our affidavits to our Representative in Congress assembled, an', John, if you'd only hear Colonel Borden, up at the Post, about his havin' to split up his regiment to guard the border, you'd think hell had sure broke loose at last."

"Where does he come in at?"

"He got orders to send detachments out all along the Line to watch the water-holes to pertect the lives an' property of——"

"You an' Boaz? There ain't no work in guardin' your property. You're settin' down in 'em all the time——"

"So, seein' that Colonel Borden's got a pile o' cash an' a most unlovely disposition, me an' Boaz has decided that he ain't a desirable citizen. We're goin' to move him East, John. He thinks he's a fine prospector an' knows all about minerals. I'll bet he never saw nothin' like this. Look!"

He tossed a bit of shining quartz upon the counter, under the nose of the astonished Mr. Wilkes.

Mr. Wilkes examined it carefully.

"That never come from my claim," he said presently, having subjected the sample to every improvised test that he could think of at the moment.

"It sure did, John; it come from that very claim," said Boaz, signing his name to the paper that Mr. Wilkes had completed.

"Out of the shaft?"

"Often the ore-dump."

"You're a liar," said Mr. Wilkes pleasantly. "There never was enough gold on that whole dump to fill a tooth with."

A sudden thought occurred to him and he sat down upon an up-ended box, laughing till the tears ran down his face.

"Go on," he gasped. "Go on. You two'll be the death of me yit. Only mind you, I don't know nothin' about the matter. I'm just a-rentin' my claim to you two to work, an' I'm in on one-third of it, joke or not. No matter how you git it."

"I'm plain astonished at you, John," said Mr. Dailey in a tone of pained surprise. "We're goin' to work that claim. Of course we've got to get capital to start it with, but we ain't lookin' to have no trouble in gettin' all the capital we want——"

1"You won't have—none at all, if you go after it like that," gasped Mr. Wilkes. "You'll git it, an' in the meantime I'll keep this paper."

He folded up the painfully written document and thrust it into his pocket and stood watching the two men who had slowly mounted and were plodding westward into the red-hot dust of the Arizona afternoon.


"I TELL you frankly, May, I am getting very tired of stumbling over that young cub, Mr. Needham, every time I enter the house. He is quite as bad as your Aunt Mollie's dogs. I have to stand the dogs, but I simply will not have that youngster. It seems to me that you should have more regard for what you know my wishes are, than to have him here where you know well he is not welcome——"

Miss Allardyce, toying with her grapefruit, made a little grimace at her uncle before she replied sweetly:

"I really do not see why it bothers you, Uncle. He does not come to see you, and as he never comes when you are in the house, I really do not see quite how it can actually annoy you. Since you assure me it does, I will tell him that you do not wish to see him. What time shall I tell him that you will be out?"

"Out? Out? Who the deuce said I would be out? I suppose I have a perfect right to say who shall and who shall not come to my house?"

"You can not well shut the door of your house upon an officer of your own regiment without giving some reason and that a good one. Mr. Needham comes here for two reasons. The first is because I asked him to do so; the second is——"

She paused provokingly, rose and strolled to the long glass that hung between the windows.

"Well, are you or are you not going to finish what you started to say? You have many bad habits, but none so bad as that. Am I to be kept waiting all day to hear your second reason? What the devil is your second reason, miss?"

"I have an idea—now mind you, Uncle Jim, it is really no more than an idea. I may not be right—I would not say it, though, unless I had some really good reason for believing my informant to be correct. Any wav, I did it, all for the best. You know that, don't you, uncle?"

"Good Heavens! Say it! What do you mean by gabbling over what you have to say, like two women talking gossip. Out with it! What does he come here for?"

"I think it's Aunt Mollie," said May Allardyce softly.

For one moment Colonel Borden looked long at his pretty niece. It was a long, steady look during which Miss Allardyce wondered vaguely if he were on the verge of a paralytic stroke. As he strove vainly for speech his face was as red as the crest of an angry turkey gobbler.

There was nothing for him to say, however, and Miss Allardyce, when she thought of her aunt, of whom she was really very fond, figuring in a flirtation with a bachelor lieutenant of cavalry; her aunt with the stature and the mustache of a Württemberg hussar; her aunt for his marriage with whom it was vaguely whispered in the regiment her uncle had been given his Medal of Honor with its motto: "For Valor," I say when she thought of all this, Miss Allardyce burst into soft laughter.

Colonel Borden boiled over with wrath. He had come down to breakfast a half-hour before in the worst possible temper, so that the cook, noting it, took time to feed the orderly first, so that when the inevitable message should be sent to direct some one to report to the colonel, the orderly at least should not be hungry. She also cautioned the orderly to look out for himself, strongly advising him to be suddenly taken ill and to go on sick report.

"Mind the weather this mornin', Lewis. Th' ol' man's the divvle the day. Sure the C. O. W. (which is army argot for Commanding Officer's Wife) been givin' him what-for since she got up. Norah just told me that they've been rowin' again over Miss May. Sure they always do. It's a pity they can't let the girl alone. She's more sense'n the pair of 'em. Go on sick report I tell you."

ALL colonels of cavalry are peculiar. That is an axiom. If it requires proof, any subaltern of cavalry can give it—to the point of profanity. Colonel Borden was no exception to the rule. An irate troop commander, called upon once to express his idea upon the reason why so many Colonels were peculiar, voiced the generally accepted belief in the words:

"I'll tell you why it is. It's because they're driven crazy when they're captains. That's why it is!"

He was an unbending martinet of the severest school, which means the type which can see no reason or excuse for any shortcoming in any one but himself. No man resents severity provided only it be based on justice. Injustice, severity and incompetence make a bad trinity and have broken the backs of many Competent juniors.

He was even worse than his officers called him in the privacy of their own rooms for, to the credit of that regiment be it said! in public they upheld him. No higher praise can be uttered. He was almost as bad as the regimental Sergeant - Major called him, which was singularly like a personage mentioned in the Book of Revelations.

He was extremely close in money matters and was never known to entertain any one except the Department Commander on the rare occasions of his visits to the Post; but most of his shortcomings were condoned at least on account of his niece—May Allardyce.

May Allardyce was young and May Allardyce was more than a little pretty. Even the young married ladies of the regiment said so and that is proof incontestable. Also she possessed a quiet charm that made even the more confirmed bachelors thin!: twice about the doubtful advantage that they possessed in times of moving when all they had to do was to pour water on the fire and call the dog. Better still, if that indeed was needed, May Allardyce would be rich in her own right.

Her mother had been Colonel Borden's favorite sister. In so far as he could be said to have shown affection for any one he had shown it for his sister and for her husband, Tom Allardyce, who, dying, left his wife the sole heir to his immense fortune. Unfortunately, she soon followed her husband, and when her will was read it was found to contain the somewhat curious provision that while May was to have a comfortable income when she should come of age on her eighteenth birthday yet she would not inherit the bulk of the property in its entirety until she was twenty-one years of age.

She was forbidden to many before her twenty-first birthday.

People, seeing her denied nothing that money could buy, from the days of her first living with the Borden's, at first thought that her luxuries were the outcome of avuncular affection. No one knew that Tom Allardyce had left nearly three millions of dollars to the pretty little girl who was a favorite with every one of the officers and most of their wives.

As a matter of fact, it was not generally known. Colonel Borden, her uncle, was also her guardian, and he had no mind to surrender, until the latest possible moment, his stewardship over the pleasant little bungalow on Chesapeake Bay that boasted the finest duck-shooting on the Eastern waters, nor the cottage at Palm Beach where he could have as guests men whose words would mean much if he should ever desire a pleasant detail in Washington, the Mecca of old officers.

Thus is it done. Kissing goes by favor and there are many kinds of kisses. He returned to the charge:

"I fail to see why you want that 'Shavetail'"—a generic army title for an officer of less than five years' service, derived probably from the fact that when young mules are first purchased for the service, the contractor has their tails shaved to tell them from the other mules—"hanging around you all day. Why don't you like Captain Evans?"

"He has had two wives, Uncle Jim——"

"The fatal gift of beauty," said her uncle savagely. Evans was so ugly that it was a common report in the regiment that even his own dog ran away from him.

"Striker then?"

"He has white eyes and he sniffles——"

"Johnson then. Ha! You've got nothing to say, have you? What fault can you find with Mr. Johnson?"

Case-hardened as May Allardyce was to her uncle's unpleasantnesses even she lacked courage to tell her uncle that her chief objection to Mr. Johnson lay in the fact that he was known to be the Colonel's pet and was strongly suspected of being a tale-bearer. Let a man once get that reputation in the army; let him once be known as a "boot-licker"—one who curries favor by adroitly pandering to the weaknesses of a superior—and that man had better hang himself.

MAY ALLARDYCE, her breakfast finished, sat contemplatingly eying her uncle as he fussed about the room, picking up a cigar here, a paper there, and when he stamped out upon the sunlit porch with a testy call of, "Orderly!" she breathed a sigh of relief.

Mr. Needham, a hundred yards farther down t he Line, as Officers' Line is commonly ^ called, standing discreetly on the off side of his horse, busied himself with a refractory stirrup-leather till he saw the broad back of his superior disappear in the administration building, when he walked lightly up the Line and entered the forbidden ground.

"No poaching, please. Uncle is as mad as—as—" May stopped for a simile. "Oh, Gerald, he said all kinds of nasty things this morning. He's awful——"

"Of course he is. Show me the man who denies it."

Mr. Needham promptly drew the girl behind the sheltering vines that massed on the end of the porch. What took place under those vines is no business of yours or of mine, but Mrs. Fanter who lived next door, nearly got a stiff neck through twisting her head around the corner of her sitting-room window to get a clear look. She found that she could not see them from her bedroom.

"It's perfectly disgusting," she declaimed to her bosom friend, Mrs. Burr. "My dear, I sat and watched them for twenty minutes. Every one knows that he is crazy about her and that she has just flung herself at his head. Every one knows that Colonel Borden hates young Mr. Needham and that he will not allow' any one but his own pets to show May any attentions. No, my dear. I must say I do not think she is exactly pretty —and there they stood for a half hour. I saw them as plainly as I see you this minute. He had his arms about her and her head was on his shoulder and he was kissing her. Simply disgusting, I call it——"

The episode under the vines, however, that so upset Mrs. Fanter did not affect Needham seriously. Fifteen minutes later Miss Allardyce reappeared, very flushed as to her countenance, and very bright as to the eyes.

"I tell you, darling," quoth Mr. Needham, "I do not want to be disrespectful in speaking of your uncle, but he is an old devil——"

"He is! He is worse than that, if I could only think of what to call him."

"He is very foolish. Every one knows that he is trying to make you accept the attentions of his own favorites here: Evans— he's a nice enough fellow—or Striker—or Johnson. It is a purely personal dislike that he has taken to me and he will not admit that he is wrong. There is nothing that he can show against me or against my record."

"Just let him try it—just once!" said May viciously.

Her pretty chin went up in air. Needham laughed lightly.

"I'm going to propose formally to you— Sweetheart, will you marry me?" he asked quietly, his gleaming eyes belying the quietness.

"Of course I will."

She leaned lightly toward him and he took both hands in his, raising them to his lips and kissing the rosy tinted palms.

"Then—mind you, darling, it will be unpleasant for us both—I am going straight to your uncle and ask him for his consent to our engagement. He is sure to say no, but that doesn't make the least difference in the world. If he says no, he has to give a reason. He is certain to be unpleasant to me and probably to you, but we can not have things go on in this way any longer. It is not fair to either of us. The first thing we know some of these old cats'll be talking about you, and I do not propose to have any one talking about my wile."

She colored warmly at the proud possession of the tone but nodded brightly. "I didn't think you would have the courage," she said lightly.

"Courage? I? Why I'd charge hell with a bucket of water for you! Meet me in an hour at the tennis-court. Will you—just one——"

That "one" multiplied by ten being completed and a very thoroughly kissed young lady having vanished into the house, Gerald Needham went jauntily to the office.

If the red face of the orderly standing just outside the door of the Holy of Holies had not informed him that the official barometer of courtesy registered low that morning, Needham would have read it the moment he stepped inside the door of the adjutant's office, which led to the. Colonel's room, for the adjutant, his face bent low over his desk, was red to the top of his scalp and he toiled with a fervor that was too feverish to have lasted long. He looked up as Needham, with a cheerful: "Hello, Burke! What's new?" entered the room.

"Ssh! Ssh!" cautioned the shocked adjutant.

"What's the matter? Anybody dead?" queried the unimpressed Needham.

"Shut up, you —— fool! The old man's on the rampage this morning."

"Ah! And I suppose every one in the whole round world must tremble and kowtow until it pleases his august majesty to shed the light of his countenance upon us once again. Hence, slave, and tell thy master I defy him. Give him my gage—it's twelve-bore—double choked since I've been here! Sigi Dagupan, Burke, there's a good chap. Tell the old man that I'd like a few' moments' conversation with him. That is, I mean I want a chance to do about two minutes' talking myself. Not for him to do it. As I said, Burke, sigi Dagupan!"

That word, or expression rather, has been the shibboleth of the new army. By which I mean the army that had its beginning in 1898.

CAPTAIN BURKE disappeared into the inner office whence an ominous clearing of the throat, which was to the Colonel what the rasping throat chuckle at the sight of fresh meat is to the cage-born lion, announced that the Old Man was ready for a meal. Needham entered.

"Good morning, sir."

"Hm! What do you want? To see me?"

"No, sir. To speak to you fora moment."

"Well, you will have to be quick, sir. Don't you see I am busy?"

"So am I, sir. I will not take more than a few minutes of your time. I have come, Colonel Borden, to speak to you on a private matter. I wish to ask your consent to my marriage to your niece——"

For three long minutes an awful silence reigned, a silence that was broken only by the ticking of the office dock and by the shuffling of papers in the office of the adjutant.

Needham looked at his superior with some curiosity. Colonel Borden was almost bursting with illy suppressed rage, his face mottled red and while like a well-marbled piece of ham as he stared at Needham from behind his desk. Presently:

"What—? What—? Mr. Needham, sir! This is the most unparallelled piece oi impertinence that even you have ever been guilty of——"

Needham's eyes grew steely in their intensity and his mouth set in tense, clean-cut lines. Any one who knew him could have told Colonel Borden what that look meant. His voice was as sweet as strained honey, but. there was a ring in it that meant fight.

"Colonel Borden, I must inform you with all respect that I permit no man living to speak to me in this way. I have come to you to prefer a formal request because that form is prescribed by convention. I knew when I came what your answer would be. That makes no difference. I shall not permit you to insult me. My record, both personal and official, is clean except for one slurring remark that you yourself placed upon my efficiency report which an inspector decided was the result of personal prejudice on your part. My income is the income of any officer of my grade. I am not in debt a cent. Miss Allardyce has honored me by——"

"Leave my office, sir!"

"I warn you, sir. One more word in that tone and manner and I will request an official investigation of you and your methods by an Inspector General. I will not allow you to be discourteous to me simply because you think that you can get away with it because you are a Colonel and I a mere lieutenant so unfortunate as to be placed under your command. Is your answer 'yes' or 'no,' sir?"

"No! No! A thousand times no, sir! You are not to speak to her again. Do you understand that?"

"One moment, Colonel Borden. You seem to strangely misunderstand both your position and my own. If I have done anything to merit such a diatribe as you have favored me with, I merit a trial. I know very well, sir, that if you had the slightest grounds for preferring charges against me you would have done so long ago. So long as I am who I am and my record such as it is, I shall insist on and require, sir, from you the same courtesy that I in turn am required to show. As for your consent to our marriage, I never expected you to give it. I asked it as mere formality, and I tell you frankly, sir, that as soon as May is twenty-one, next month, we intend to be married either with or without that consent. Good morning, sir!"

He stepped out into the hall and, meeting the white-faced orderly, whose mouth was hanging open like the mouth of a fish, he realized that every word of his conversation had been overheard and would be common property by noon.


GERALD NEEDHAM went to his quarters in a dangerously quiet mood. Furiously angry as he was, he was quite aware of the fact that the slightest false move on his part now would bring Colonel Borden upon him, as he expressed it, "Like a duck on a June bug."

So far, his own demeanor and conduct had been perfectly correct and within the spirit and the letter of the regulations, but he knew' that if he should make the least slip from the standard of official correctness he would receive no mercy. Evans, Striker, Johnson, could miss morning stables, be late for drill, forget to sign the book for official papers, and nothing would happen; but let him do one of these sins and he would figure as the accused before a General Court-martial. Now, however, that open war had been declared, he knew where he stood and could prepare for any move of the enemy.

The first move came when, being engaged in changing from riding-boots to tennis shoes, he heard a knock at the door. A sprucely clad orderly' entered at the shouted, "Come in."

"I have a paper here, sir, for the lieutenant."

Needham took the paper, signed the book and opened the envelope. It was a typewritten order on which the ink was not yet dry and it read:

1st Lt. Gerald Needham, 16th Cav., and ten men will proceed at once, mounted, to the International Boundary Line west of, and in the vicinity of, Preciosa for the purpose of enforcing the Neutrality Laws.

Rations for thirty days will be taken.

The detachment will take no tentage but shelter tents.

By order of Col. Borden
John Burke    
Capt. 16th Cav.

"Darn his old skin! First move to him. This is the first time in the history of this Post that an officer has had to go into the field without a tent. He'd send me out naked if he dared."

"Sir, the adjutant directed me to tell the lieutenant that Sergeant Wilson has been directed to report to him for orders. The Commanding Officer directs that the lieutenant leave in an hour."

"All right. There is no reply, orderly."

The soldier saluted and left, passing, as he went out, Sergeant Wilson, who was coming up the steps to get his orders.

"All right, sergeant. I know' all about it. Tell the first sergeant to make the detail and notify the men yourself so they can get ready. Tell the quartermaster, sergeant, to pack at once thirty days' rations for eleven men and overhaul the pack-saddles and look over the mules. You will need seven pack-mules. The forage will be sent by wagon, of course. We will leave in an hour. Have the trumpeter saddle my horse and bring him to the door in half an hour."

Sergeant Wilson saluted and departed and Needham set to work rolling up his bedding, filling his flask and canteen and packing up what few little luxuries he could carry that would make life more endurable on that hell-hole of a border.

He well knew what his life would be. He had been there before for two months in very nearly the same locality. He would make his camp as near water as he could, and the nearer to it he got, the more trouble would he have with the cattle stampeding in from the range to get at the water. Twice he had had his own horses stampeded by it, costing him two days of hard work to get them again.

For a mile around his camp the ground would be covered with the dead bodies of cattle that had died within the past year in their attempt to get to water, only too often dying when in sight of it, but too weak to reach it. He would have flies, thousands of them, almost as big as sparrow's, bred in those same dead cattle. He would be afflicted with dust-storms that would follow him around by day and go to bed with him at night. He would exist in a temperature of never less than 100 degrees, and he would learn all over again to smoke tobacco that was half wind-blown cow-dung.

That would be by day. "By night it would be different, for as soon as the darkness should shut down and the sun drop below the saw-toothed range of the raw, red, Western hills there would come a wind out of the desert—a raw cold wind that would drive the men inside their tiny shelter-tents for very warmth, where they would shiver in their clothes and one blanket till sun-up.

There would be alarms from people unheard of about parties unknown who were always just about to cross the border with arms and ammunition but who never gut there. The point where they were to cross the line would always be ten miles distant. He would be riding and roasting by day and freezing and shivering by night for a month, striving to enforce laws that no one knew.

HIS orders given, bis bedding-roll placed upon the porch where the packers could get it when the mules were ready, he buckled on his revolver and went to the tennis-court where May was waiting for him. She caught sight of him when he was a hundred yards away and ran toward him, swinging her racket.

"What's the matter—dear?" she almost whispered, seeing him in field garb. "Is there any trouble?"

"Only for us, I'm sorry to say—sweetheart." His voice lingered over the sweetest word in the English language, and he caught the hand that held the racket, careless of who might see.

"Your respected and revered old uncle has seen fit to send me an order sending me to Preciosa on field duty for a month."

"What? Why, Gerald, you only came back last month. You can't be next on the roster. Are you?"

"Of course not. There are five lieutenants here who have not been out at all. It's because I had the temerity to fall in love with you."


Needham nodded.

"He was so mad," he said, grinning at the recollection, "that I thought for a moment he was going to burst. I remember being grateful for the fact that he did not burst on me!"

"What did he say, Gerald?" asked Miss Allardyce, giggling.

"Pardon me. I never use such language.

"Tell me at once—dear!" she entreated, half tearfully. Needham relented.

"He said a lot of things. First he said: 'No, No, No,' five or six times; then he said the first word of 'God Save the King' and mixed that up with a lot of plain, ordinary words in which I understood him to express a positive conviction, as to my ultimate destiny. He was rather comprehensive in his statements and he was so mad that I expected to see him burst into a blaze. I only got the order a few minutes ago. I go to Preciosa."

"What did you tell him, Gerald?"

"I told him that I was asking him for his permission to marry you because I thought it was the proper thing to make a request like that, but that I was going to marry you whether he liked it or not just as soon as you are twenty-one years of age."

"You dear—I think I'd like to kiss you, Gerald. I think he's perfectly horrid, but I'm not going to let him see it."

She thought for a moment, then, slipping her hand under his arm, she pulled him lightly under the shade of a giant cottonwood tree that shaded the court.

"Gerald," she said presently, "I am going to speak seriously for a moment. Have we been simply flirting with each other to pass away the time?"

The youngster's face whitened slowly under her words. He looked at her steadily for a moment, his eyes narrowing to pinpoints. He noted the quick, warm flush that mounted from cheek to brow and he saw her eyes, which were as the eyes of a bride, and his own face cleared.

"You know better," he said simply. "You know, dear heart, that it is for ever and ever."

"Then before you go away today, write a request for a leave of absence for four months to take effect a month from Tuesday. Tuesday will be the eighteenth. Can you get it?"

"The old—I mean your uncle—will disapprove my request, of course; but what is the use of having an uncle who is a United States Senator if I can't get a little thing like that. Certainly I can get it. Why? What is your plan?"

The girl flushed again, even more warmly than before.

"I thought," she said in an embarrassment that was delightful to see, "that a month from Tuesday will be the eighteenth and that is my birthday. I will be twenty-one and no longer under Uncle Jim's control. Well—then—then—if you really want me——"

She had no opportunity to finish her speech, for long before she could say any more she found herself gathered into a pair of brown-shirted arms, her lovely, blushing face hidden beneath the brim of his campaign hat.

Twenty minutes later, having received his final orders from the adjutant, Needham left the Post with his little detachment, and threading the narrow dust-ribbon of a trail, with his pack-mules well closed up ahead of him, pulled out on the trail for Preciosa.

He had hastily written a letter requesting a leave of absence for four months, so his conscience was perfectly clear on that point, though he knew right well that Colonel Borden would never approve it, and for the first part of the ride he was busily framing mentally a night letter to be sent from Preciosa, when he should get an opportunity, to United States Senator James Needham which was calculated to make that gentleman sit up and rub his head.

IT WAS not a long ride as rides go, only twenty miles, but the road was dusty beyond the power of words to describe and there was no scenery. He knew it of old. The chug, chug, chug of the walking horses in the dust, varied by an occasional short trot where the prairie-dog holes were fewest, till finally they topped the last divide from which they could see Preciosa, a brown blot on a browner plain.

It is only in novels that cavalry moves at a gallop. On a campaign or in the field every cavalryman knows that luck is on his side if he can always move his entire troop at a walk. To be able to walk and trot equally is the gift of the gods.

He was glad when they drew up in the dust of the corral and dismounted to water the horses at ten cents a head. Mr. Wilkes met him at the pump, greeting him with a toothless grin.

"Hello, son. Just in from the Post?"

"Yep. Hello, Mr. Wilkes. Glad to see you. What's new?"

"Greaser baby over at Juan Morello's is the newest thing I know of, but you ain't interested in that—not yit, hey?"

"No. Any arms around here. Any talk of smuggling?"

Mr. Wilkes flung his arms wide.

"Good Lord, Lieutenant. You know as well as me what's here. There ain't nothin'. Now if we only had water—we could do anything if we had water. If we only had one-inch rainfall in a whole year we could raise all kinds of vegetables."

Needham looked his disbelief. Mr. Wilkes snorted.

"Oh, we kin. You needn't look like that. Some day we'll irrigate this place an' then we'll show the world. Do you know Broad-Ax Smith up at Pestilente?"

"No. Why?"

"He bought a thousand acres of land last year fer twenty dollars an' he sunk a three-inch pipe well fer two thousand dollars. It irrigated exactly one acre. Son, he started in to raise vegetables an' he's raised stuff enough offen that one acre to pay fer all the rest. He carted the greens over to the railroad an' sold 'em to the eatin'-houses an' he was makin' the dollars just roll in when one of his burros turned hisself loose an' kicked out four of Broad-Ax's front teeth. When they growed in again——"

"Oh, here! A man's front teeth don't grow in again——"

"Son, I'm a-tellin' you this here story to teach you somethin'. You kin raise anything here in Arizona if you'll only irrigate? The doctor had Broad-Ax irrigatin' his mouth fer three weeks—Where you goin'?"

"To buy you a drink, you old pirate. Come on."

Mr. Wilkes followed him inside the store and set forth a gaudily dressed bottle that was labelled "Cow-punchers' Delight."

"Where're you goin' to camp, son?" he asked over the drinks.

"Over by Dailey's place, I reckon. The same old place. I reckon that's the nearest place to water."

"Yep. That's right. An', say, Lieutenant, while you're over there you keep a good look-out. There's been some cattle rustlin' bein' done over there lately. Boaz an' Dailey has lost quite a lot of Hereford cattle that they was keepin' up in the pasture, an' they've got a lot of hosses in there now. They claim them greaser soldiers come across the line an' cut the fence an' run the cattle off. If they done that with cattle, they'll do it a lot quicker fer hosses. They need them fer their cavalry, you know. The line's only live hundred yards from their fence-corner."

"Hml I'm sorry to hear they lost any stock. I'll do what I can to prevent it in the future. When you see Dailey and Boaz, Mr. Wilkes, tell 'em to come over an' see me, will you?"

"I will so. Good-by. Vaya con Dios, as the greasers say."

Needham shook hands with him and rode off to the westward with his men. Mr. Wilkes stood looking after him for a moment till he faded away, swallowed up by the swirling dust.

"He's a good youngster," he said reflectively; "a good youngster. I wish there was more like him down here."


THE line runs due east and west from Preciosa, and they made their camp a mile to the west, where the corner of the wire fence that enclosed the great two-thousand-acre pasture where Dailey and Boaz kept their stock, was within five hundred yards of the international line.

At that point the boundary was marked by a great sheet-iron monument standing upon a small, rocky hill. The monument was marked upon its northern face with the arms of the United States of America, while the southern face showed the eagle, stand on a cactus, grasping a serpent in its talons, the symbol of Mexican supremacy since the days when in 1325 the Acolhuans over-ran the country front the north.

It was not an imposing camp. Five shelter tents standing in one line, spreading their brown canvas to the sun, showed where the ten men slept. At one end of this line was the improvised kitchen, made by simply scraping a narrow trench in the dirt, the length lying in the direction of the prevailing winds; at the other end of the line stood the shelter tent where Needham slept and in front of the line of tents lay the "griund-line," two lariats stretched between two stunted mesquit bushes where the horses and the mules were tied.

The water-hole was about a hundred yards to the north. For work they could ride for fifty miles over the inhospitable brown mesa that lay like an oven under the semitropical sun; for diversion they could watch the prairie dogs that yip-yapped incessantly, ducking into their holes at the first sign of life from the camp.

"Four men will remain in camp all the time, sergeant. We will have to have some one here permanently to look after the stock. There will be three patrols to go out daily. One of two men will ride east for about ten miles and one will ride west about ten miles, returning by sundown. The other two men will watch the railroad and the station at Preciosa. Who's that coming in now?"

"It's me, Dailey, Lieutenant. How are you?"

The cowpuncher rode up to the cook-fire and dismounted, leaving his rein-chains dangling. He strode forward with outstretched hand, for he knew Needham and liked him, as did most men who came in contact with him.

"You're the very man I wanted most to see, Dailey. John Wilkes told me that you and Boaz have lost some stock lately. Is it true?"

"Yes. It was about a month ago. We had driven in a lot of Hereford cattle to fatten up, an' had 'em corralled in the big pasture yonder. That's what I've come to speak to you about. The fence was cut by some Mexicans and some of the stock was run off. I think a man named Lopez was mixed up in it. He was a man we fired some time ago on suspicion. There's no question about it, Lieutenant; they do run stock off here an' take it across the border. They sneak over at night, sometimes bringin' cattle over that they swap off here to some of the Mexican residents for stolen ponies. Sometimes they don't trouble to bring no cattle along. They just naturally pinch the ponies, payin' fer 'em with the loose end of a lariat."

"Have you any idea how they do it?"

"Mostly they cut our fence an' steal some outen our herd. You see our boundary fences run down like the letter V, with the point right here, not more'n five hundred yards from the line. Naturally they cut it right at the point. That's because a horse, if he's stampeded, runs straight to the rear. If they cut it on the long side, the horses might git scared an' scatter. If they cut it at the point an' the horses scare, they'll just run back in the pasture. You kin count on it that if they do come over an' try to cut the fence they'll do it right here. More'n that, the grass has been burned off near the water-hole an' with the new grass cornin' up here all the herd'll be grazin' right down here. If you'll just watch this fence you'll sec somethin', I think."

"I'll do better than that, Dailey—"

"You see, Lieutenant, if they run any stock off, they'll run 'em off along the lowland in the bottom." He pointed to the "draw," as lowland is generally called in the Southwest, in which lay the water-hole. "They won't dare take the cattle over the hilltops. Your men'd see 'em against the skyline. You needn't worry none. They won't try it till full moon, an' that's two weeks away yit. I'll sit down awhile if you don't mind. Boaz's gone up into the foothills to round up some cattle."

So down he sat and talked late into the night. Rough as he was, he had a keen sense of humor and a stock of stories of the range that, told with Rabelaisian humor, moved Needham to laughter so that he was genuinely sorry when his guest rose.

"I'll see you soon again," Dailey said as he swung into saddle. "Me an' Boaz'll be over often. Adios."

Needham, still smiling over the last story, sat listening to the patter of his pony's feet among the rocks till the last echoes died away in the night.

THE next day, after much thought, he sent a man a pack-mule into Preciosa on a mission that greatly puzzled that hard-riding trooper. Needham wanted six empty coal-oil cans.

A great light dawned upon the detachment when they were called upon to hang the cans to the top wire of the wire fence, one empty can near each post near the point of the V. In each can Needham placed a great rock.

"I learned it in the Moro country," he deigned to explain. "A man always cuts a wire fence near the post. I don't know why, but he does. Well, when he cuts the wire, the can'll drop an' the rock in it'll make enough noise to wake the dead. You'll be able to hear it all over camp. That'll do, Brown."

Day after day the patrols rode the line vigilantly. Day after day they returned hot and dusty, longing for the cool beer that the temperance people, in that outburst of fanatical enthusiasm that leads people to deny to others what they themselves do not like, had forbidden them.

Each day, too, brought its new baseless rumor. Once word came that a flying machine was about to smuggle field-guns across the line to the rebels. Needham got word of it by a personal note sent by Colonel Borden himself and the orderly nearly killed his horse to get the note in promptly. Him the men jeered openly. Again a report came that bombs were being shipped across the line packed in firewood and carried on the backs of burros. There being no firewood nearer than Fort Stevens, the report was discounted.

With the waxing of the moon, however, he grew more cautious; but it was not until one night about two weeks after his arrival that anything actually happened.

His letter requesting his four months' leave of absence had been returned to him bearing the one word, "Disapproved." The Colonel had evidently written it himself, and the very period after the word expressed ire. Needham, expecting no less, upon receiving the letter, saddled his horse and rode in to Preciosa to send the night letter to his uncle. The message despatched and its urgency explained, he was walking his horse slowly along the moonlit road when his quick ear caught the unmistakable sound of iron striking against rock. He reined in his horse in the shadow of a mesquit bush.

Clear and distinct above him, he saw silhouetted against the skyline the heads of two men, sombrero-covered, leaning toward each other in talk. A moment later, as he watched, he saw two lean horses' heads come into view over the hilltop above the trail.

The sound of the hoof-beats on the rocks ceased. Once he heard an impatient stamping among the rocks and the jingle of bit-rings, then a voice that said in clear, sonorous Spanish:

"Alio! El hijo de la——"

Needham heard no more and it was just as well that he did not hear it. He knew the Mexican people well enough to be able to fill in the hiatus, for there are no foulerswearing people on earth than the Spanishspeaking peoples. Compared with Spanish even Arabic, which is said to be a language specially devised for the use of the afflicted, becomes mere childish prattle.

The two men were on the trail between him and his camp. If they were engaged in an attempt to run off cattle or stock, he was convinced that the two men had been placed so far out in order that they could give the alarm if any one came along the trail from the direction of Preciosa. The main attempt would be made nearer to the camp itself, just as Dailey had prophesied.

Either of two courses was open to him. He could gallop down the trail toward his camp, taking the chance of a shot as he rode, or he could sneak up to the hillside above the trail and work along the crest till he had passed the two men, when he could regain his camp. lie chose the latter and, •dismounting. he led his horse straight up the hillside down which the two men had come, keeping off the rocks as well as he could in the darkness.

Up, up, up he worked as slowly and as carefully as a scout works in war-time when developing a ridge that is suspected of hiding a foe. Once a step of his horse sent a volley of shale rock clattering down the slope, making noise enough to wake the dead. A horse whinnied in the darkness and only his quick grasp on the nostrils of his own steed kept him from replying. He stood in perfect silence for a moment, holding up one forefoot of his horse so that he should not make any noise by pawing the loose shale of the hillside.

A deep-toned voice down on the trail said clearly:

"Es nada. Nada fero un conejo—It is nothing but a rabbit—Alerla!—Be quick!"

And again he worked his way along the hillside.

HE HAD reached a point on the hillside almost directly opposite bis own camp and was about to swing into the saddle and make a dash for his own detachment when, clear and distinct, his ears caught the clang of a falling can; then a second clang echoed in the silence; then a third! A point of flame spat out into the darkness and a gun-shot jarred the night.

"Halt! Who goes there?" came the quick challenge of the sentry in the camp.

No time now to ponder over what to do. He pitched into his saddle and spurred into a headlong gallop down the slope, regardless of the prairie-dog holes that yawned for the leaping near-fore, and as his horse took the slope he worked his revolver from the holster.

He heard curses behind him that were followed by a shot and his campaign hat jerked forward over his eyes and he was suddenly aware of a sharp pain in his left thigh as if a red-hot iron had been passed across it. The next moment he had swung his horse into the trail and thundered up the far slope into his camp.

The men had got to their rifles and were standing ready for the orders that came quick and fast.

"Two of you take your horses—never mind saddling and bridling them—and ride hell-for-leather to where this draw crosses the line. Stop any one who attempts to pass you. If they do not stop, shoot!

"Sergeant Wilson, take two more men and get to the fence and reinforce the patrol there. Shoot any one you see who will not surrender. Mind you don't shoot Dailey or Boaz. York, you and Wentworth take your lariats and stretch them along the gap in the fence where the wires have been cut. You can find the gaps by looking where the cans are down. The rest of you come with me!"

There were only two men left to follow him and they did not follow very far, for as soon as he reached the level ground in the bottom of the draw, his left leg shut up under him and he fell prostrate, gasping:

"Go on, men. There're two men farther on down the trail. Get them. Bring 'em in or show me where they're lyin'. Go on, you fools. I'm hit."

Two shots from the neighborhood of the fence broke the silence, followed by the thunder of several horses in a mad stampede. The lone sentry in the camp fired twice and then he heard the stinging crack of a rifle fired down by the line. Again he heard the whirling rush of galloping horses till the very air seemed full of it. Then came a long silence—he had fainted.

When he regained consciousness—and it could not have been more than five minutes later—he heard his men calling to each other from hilltop to hilltop. He rolled over and working his revolver from the holster, fired straight up in the air. Presently a man broke from the bushes and ran down to him as he lay in the low scrub. It was Earle, one of his own men, who almost stumbled over him. Passing his arm about his wounded officer, he raised him bodily from the ground.

"Hurt bad, sir?"

"I don't know, Earle. Got a match?"

"Yes, sir."

A hastily struck match showed a gaping tear across the leg into which one could have laid a finger. It was bleeding freely and the khaki breeches were blood-soaked almost as far as the knee.

"Only a flesh wound after all," grunted Needham. "I don't see why I keeled over. Give me your first-aid package, Earle."

The trooper tore it loose from his belt and opening it, tied the bandage adroitly about the wound, which was bad enough to have bled much without being serious. With the man's aid, Needham got to his feet and hobbled back to the camp, where he found the men gathered by the replenished fire.

"Anything to report, Sergeant Wilson?"

"Yes, sir. I captured one man down by the fence. Caught him in the act of cuttin' the wires. Lowe shot the pony of another one. The rest of 'em got off, I reckon, sir. They was tryin' to do just what Mr. Dailey said they would."

"Did they succeed in running off any stock?"

"Not a hair, sir!"

"Take a light and examine the dead pony for his brand and bring the prisoner to me."

Sergeant Wilson hastened off to do his bidding and presently a soldier stepping forward into the ring of the firelight, said—

"Here's the prisoner, sir!"

HE WAS a most villainous-looking Mexican, black-bearded and dirty, weighted down by three bandoliers filled with cartridges, but he rolled his cigarette with the insouciance that only a Mexican or a Spaniard can affect, while Needham, seated upon a saddle on the ground, questioned him.

"No intende, senor—I do not understand—" however, being the only reply to his questions, he very soon desisted.

"I'd make you understand if I had you fer an hour in the bush," growled the angry sergeant. "There ain't no better teacher of English than a good revolver lanyard used about a foot below the shoulders. Sir," he added, "I examined the pony that w as shot. It is one of the Lazy B brand, but it's been vented an' there's no new brand on him that I can see."

By which Sergeant Wilson meant that the pony had originally been branded with the letter B lying down, but that some one had crossed it out.

"An' I can tell you about that," said a voice behind them.

Needham turned to find himself face to face with Dailey.

"Hello, Dailey. Go ahead then. Tell me what you can. Do you know the man?"

Dailey walked over to the man and looked him over critically.

"Sure I know him. His name's Lopez. He used to work fer us. What'll you do with him?"

"Turn him over to the sheriff, I suppose, an' let the civil authorities prosecute him for attempted horse-steal in'. Lord, but this leg does hurt."

Dailey started, looked at Needham's white face and quickly pulling a flask from his pocket, forced a drink down the youngster's throat.

"You git on your back as quick as you kin, Lieutenant, an' keep the blood outen that leg. If you've got any report to make, write it out an' I'll put it on the wire fer you at Preciosa."

Needham wrote a brief report of the occurrence on a page from his notebook and gave it to the stockman to be telegraphed to the Post and, this done, bared his leg and with Dailey's assistance examined the wound. The cow-puncher breathed a sigh of relief.

"I was afeared it was a high-power bullet. You'll be all right in a day or two. It's only a scratch. It ain't touched bone ner muscle. Now—" he gave a last touch to the rough bandage—"you're as good as new. Keep out of the sun all you kin. Did you tell 'em to send the doctor?"

"No. I didn't tell them I've been hurt. Don't you say a word about it either, Dailey. You see, I do not stand in very well with the Old Man——"

"Who wants to?" growled Dailey. "A man don't pet ground-rattlers."

"—And if he thought there was any chance of there being any real work to do down here that'd bring an)' credit to a man, he'd relieve me and send one of his own pets down here."

"Johnson?" queried Dailey, who knew both that officer and the Colonel.

"Very likely. Beside that, old man, there's another reason. There's a girl at the Post who would worry a lot if she knew I've been hurt."

"There most generally is a girl somewhere," said Dailey, looking at him with kindly eyes.

"So you see I only reported about the attempt to steal the horses and the capture of the thief and I will not 'peep' about the row. See?"

"Aye, I see. I won't open my head about it to a soul, Lieutenant, but I want to say right here an' now that we owe you somethin', me an' Boaz, an' we generally manage to pay our debt. Your friend the Colonel'll swear to that before we're through with him. I ain't a-goin' to thank you. You done your duty, an' a feller don't want thanks fer doin' that, but—well, maybe the day'll come when I'll be able to show you that me an' Boaz ain't the forgettin' kind."

He swung on his pony and cantered off down the trail toward Preciosa, leaving Needham staring after him in the moonlight.


NEEDHAM'S telegram, discreetly worded, created no disturbance at the Post, but Colonel Borden, being constitutionally unable to allow any one to perform undisturbed the work to which he had been assigned, telegraphed reams of instructions as to the manner in which the prisoner should be turned over to the sheriff.

It is doubtful if any prisoner being transferred to the military' fortress of Peter and Paul was ever surrounded by such formalities. All of which instructions having been duly received were read by Needham with an assiduity worthy of a better cause and then were promptly cremated in the troop Are.

No word having been received at the Post of his wound, no one worried, least of all May Allardyce, who got her daily letter, which was delivered by the orderly at the house after her uncle had departed for the office where he made the adjutant miserable for three hours every morning. Each time she received a letter, May went through the regular formality of crossing off the calendar one more day. The eighteenth was marked with a huge red "M," for that day was, if their plans did not miscarry', to be literally a red-letter day.

"I will not say a word to advise you," she wrote Needham, "but will leave the making of the plans to you. It would seem ridiculous if, being ready and willing to trust my entire future life in your hands, I should demur at any plans you make. Decide on what you think best to do and let me know in time to make my arrangements."

But Needham could do nothing until he should get an answer to his night letter to his uncle. Everything hinged on that, so, writing May to have patience, he told her that he could not properly plan until he could get a reply to his request for the four months' leave.

It came one night when it was least expected, when a trooper, returning from Preciosa late at night, rode up to his little fire and handed Needham the brown envelope that meant so much to him.

"A telegram for the lieutenant, sir."

Needham thanked him and tore it open. A moment later the astonished men stared at an apparently demented officer who danced about the fire forgetful of his game leg.

"Good old Uncle Jim!" he muttered, unfolding the telegram and reading it again and again as if to convince himself that it was true.

Lt. Gerald Needham, 16th Cav.
Preciosa, Arizona:
Four months leave granted you. Take effect ISth inst. Copy of order mailed your Regimental Commander today.

"Whoo-oo—oop! Who's the man who wants to do away with the United States Senate. It's the greatest body of lawmakers in the world. Oh, what a letter I'll have to write to May tonight. She wanted detailed plans— She'll get 'em now—and won't the Old Man swear!"

He got out paper and pencil and wrote feverishly:

A telegram that I have just received tells me that my leave is granted, to begin on the eighteenth —your birthday. OUR WEDDING-DAY! Now, darling, listen very carefully, and I will tell you what to do. On the eighteenth, you being twenty-one years of age, will be no longer under your uncle's control in any way. If I return to the Post and we arrange to marry there, it is quite within the realms of possibility that the old devil would order me off the Post and, it may be, you too.

Pack a suitcase and leave the Post unknown to any one, on the mail-stage that leaves the PostOffice at the Fort at eight-thirty the morning of the eighteenth. It reaches Preciosa about noon in time to put the mail-sacks on the noon train for the East. The train docs not stop here. I will meet you with a buckboard about two miles out on the Post Road, and we will get on the noon train for the East at Catlin's Crossing, which is a flag stop about three miles west of Preciosa. I will write and get a license and have a minister on the train and we will be married as soon as we get on the car. We will send a telegram to your uncle after it is all over, so that he can rejoice with us.

Be very sure to do exactly as I tell you, because the slightest change might spoil everything. All you have to do is to pack your suitcase and start for Preciosa on the stage on the morning of the eighteenth. I will attend to everything else.

ALWAYS excepting a condemned criminal awaiting the day set for his execution, to no man does the time pass so slowly as to the prospective bridegroom. It was even worse than usual to Needham, who knew nothing of either state. Patrolling, always tiresome and monotonous work, grew doubly so to him. Even Dailey, who met him frequently now on his rides, found him growing more and more touchy.

"What ails you?" he asked one day with the direct frankness of the Southwest. "Leg hurt you?"

Needham, who had for days longed for some one to whom he could speak, threw restraint to the winds.

"No. That isn't it. I'm going to be married, Dailey."

"Does the girl know it?" asked the interested Mr. Dailey.

"She does. She is the niece of that old devil up at the Fort——"

Dailey looked at him as one can imagine the onlookers gazing at the leaders of a forlorn hope.

"Say, son, you've got the nerve! She ain't like him, I reckon——"

"Not much! I don't know how he'll take it. He'll bust, I reckon. What's the matter with you?" he asked suspiciously, for Mr. Dailey was rocking to and fro in his saddle as if suddenly taken ill.

"Oh, nothin'! Nothin'! Only it's somethin' I was thinkin' about an' this here just about puts the gilded Mansard roof on it. We was plannin' a little party fer the ol' devil up there an' with this on top of it——"

He rocked from side to side in renewed laughter.

"The Old Man's forbidden it," said Needham, "so we're goin' to run away——"

"How? Where? Tell me all about it!"

Needham told him and Air. Dailey slapped his leg in unrestrained mirth.

"That's all right, son! You're on an' here's where I kin help you. I'll go over to the county seat tomorrow an' get the license fer you an' arrange to have a minister on the noon train the day after tomorrow. You might have difficulty doin' that, on account of you not knowin' nobody, but I'll go over tomorrow an' attend to it ail fer you. Give me the name of the lady."

Needham wrote it out upon a piece of paper and handed it to Dailey, who thrust it into his pocket.

"I can count on you, can I, Dailey?"

"San, you saved me an' Boaz a good many hundred dollars. You sure could count on it, just fer that; but you're goin* to salt the Colonel. So am I. Only in another kind o' way. He'll git his—an' git it good! I'll leave on the raornin' train an' by tomorrow night you'll have your license in your pocket, an' the day after tomorrow at this time you'll be makin' a noise like a bridegroom!"

"Don't say anything about it, will you, Dailey?"

"Who? Me? O' course not. Only to Boaz an' to old John Wilkes. He's in the game with me an' Boaz. I'll tell you about it some time. You see, son, it'll be such a blamed good joke on the old Colonel——"

"Joke on the Colonel? Colonel Borden?"

Mr Dailey nodded his head.

"You know he's about as popular about here as a skunk is at a church social—never mind that! He called me 'my man' once, before a gang of politicians, an' they call me that all over the state now—I'll show him! Got any money, Needham?"

Needham, about to take offense at the words, caught the tone and smiled.

"Oh, I guess I've got enough. Much obliged just the same."

"I don't mean that. I mean that me an' Boaz has got what we think is a good thing—in copper it is. It ain't any prospect where you pay a man fer diggin' a hole an' then keep on payin' him as long as he digs. You'd better pay a prairie dog than do that. No, sir! If you've got, say, three hundred dollars——"

"Yes, I've got that much."

"Well, I'll see Boaz tomorrow or the next day an' find out what he knows. He's lookin' it up now. He went up to Pestilente today to look the tiling up. We got a pointer that the people that owns the Kincaid Mine is about to beat down the stock to low-water mark so they kin buy it all in fer themselves an' then cut a water-melon in dividends. If there's anything in it, we'll let you in on the ground floor. I'll go tomorrow an' git that license fer you an' the sky-pilot'll be on the job on the noon train the day after tomorrow. Adios."

He swung off down the trail and Needham, glad at heart now that he had taken the cow-puncher into his confidence, rode back to his camp.

THAT afternoon. Johnson coming down to relieve Needham from the command of the little detachment, Needham turned over to him the various orders that he had received from time to time and gave him what information he could. Johnson, however, was not very receptive. He knew too much.

"Dailey and Boaz'll help you all they can," said Needham.

"Ah, indeed." Mr. Johnson smiled his superiority. "So you've been consorting with that crowd? The Colonel said he thought you would. Why, Needham, they're the worst outfit of robbers this country has ever seen. I can't see what you see in them. Coarse, common, vulgar cowpunchers! Colonel Borden says——"

"Oh, —— what Colonel Borden says and you too. The one redeeming feature about this place is that you don't have to listen to him. If you're here for a month, Johnson, you'll have good chance to rest up and get the taste of shoe-polish out of your mouth."

Whereat Mr. Johnson had the grace to lose his temper.

Colonel Borden, however, was not so well satisfied as he might have been. Such an important thing as transferring the command of a detachment of ten men from one officer to another without his being present to interfere was of doubtful propriety. Beside that, there was just one chance in a thousand that, by dropping in on them unexpectedly, he might bring to light some dereliction of duty on the part of Mr. Needham that would justify him in refusing to permit him to take advantage of his leave of absence which had been granted him over the head of his Colonel. Accordingly, he dropped a bomb in the midst of the dinner-table as they sat at dinner on the night of the seventeenth, when be remarked sourly—

"Molly, I'll have to have my breakfast at half-past three in the morning."

"Well, all I have to say is that you'll probably have trouble in getting it. You know very well that the cook does not get here till six—" and so forth con amore. Every married man knows it.

"Can I or can I not have what I want and pay for in my own house?" thundered the Colonel. "If you were to spend half as much time in attending to your duties as you spend in telling me how to run this Post——"

"If I didn't run this house any better than you run this Post——"

May rose and pushing her chair back from the table left the room. Her uncle gazed after her triumphantly. If he thought for one moment, which he did, rejoicing thereat mightily, that she had gone to her room to cry, he was vastly mistaken. She had gone to her room to pack her suitcase and to put it where no prying eye should find it. As she went up the steps she could not help hearing her uncle's last words. He had testily opened the mail that the orderly had brought him. A long, stiff official envelope attracted his attention and eying it eagerly he ripped it open with his dessert-knife. Two long blue checks, each for two hundred dollars, fell out. He picked them up eagerly and then burst forth:

"See what it is to be a fool! I sent my pay accounts to the paymaster two weeks ago and requested him to send me four hundred dollars in small checks so that we could have them cashed here as we needed them. No human being nearer than John Wilkes at Preciosa can cash these checks. I had intended to go there in the morning, anyway, and now this makes it imperative. We've got to have some cash. I've got to go early in the morning. I want to get there so that I can get out to the camp before Mr. Needham has a chance to leave. If he has not fully complied with all the regulations, by the eternal, he shall not go on his leave! I'll stop it!"

"How did he succeed in getting his leave when you had disapproved it?"

"How? By going over my head officially and by invoking some sort of cheap political aid. When he gets back to this regiment, I'll see that he gets a course of training!"

"I suppose his uncle helped him. You know he has an uncle who is a United States Senator. What a pity it is, Colonel, that Mr. Needham is so deep in your black bocks. If you had only liked him, it is quite within the realms of possibilities that you might have got—oh, well, I do not suppose you will ever be a Brigadier-General if no one ever has a chance to know your abilities—if a Colonel today wishes to retire——"

"An uncle—a senator? Why—why, madam!" said the Colonel with the most elaborate politeness that finally gave way under the strain, just as a dam gives way under pressure. "Why in ——, madam, have you kept this from me?"

"I supposed of course you knew it and that your would not allow yourself to be swerved by personal feelings where your principles were involved. I knew that under no circumstances would you allow him to use political aid to help you——"

May heard just this much in her aunt's voice before she fled to her own room, where she buried her face in her pillows to deaden the shrieks of her laughter, which she feared would be heard below stairs. It was simply delicious beyond the power of words to describe. How Gerald, her husband tomorrow, would enjoy it. She blushed at the thought and then came the knowledge that there still remained a way by which she could re-establish friendly relations with her uncle should she ever desire to do so. The very knowledge, too, that she could do so, hurt her, for it was not pleasant to see such veniality even in a man for whom she had long since lost all regard.

She finished packing her suitcase, undressed, brushed her hair and, after writing a farewell note to her aunt, crept into her bed, where she dropped off to sleep, smiling happily.

COLONEL BORDEN, for his part, spent a very pleasant evening in making his wife as thoroughly miserable as only a man of his type can. Finally announcing his intention to leave the Post at half-past three, he went off to bed, leaving his wife in tears.

Promptly at three-thirty, appearing on the scene with a bad temper and an attack of indigestion and finding no breakfast, he stormed out upon the porch and threw himself into the waiting buckboard, paying no attention to the shrieked: "Oh, Colonel! Colonel! Wait a moment! I'll come down and get you a cup of coffee!" that floated down to him from the second story. Like most men in like case, he imagined that somehow he was inflicting an injury upon his wife by going away without his breakfast.

"I'll get some breakfast at old John Wilkes's place. I've got to get him to cash my checks, anyway. I suppose he's got four hundred dollars in his place. Big fool as he is, he ought to be able to cook a simple breakfast for me. I hope I catch that young scoundrel Needham in some dereliction of duty. I'd just like to show him what it means to go over my head in official matters."

With which charitable wish Colonel Borden solaced himself for several miles until it occurred to him that he was missing a chance to swear at the driver for his bad driving. Accordingly, he devoted himself to scathing comments on that functionary till he saw him growing visibly red behind the ears.

The morning was fresh and the road was good, if dusty, so that in three hours he found himself in sight of the little brown settlement of Preciosa.

"Go to John Wilkes's house, driver. I want to get some breakfast."

Now John Wilkes's house had four rooms. One was a general store, one was a barroom, one was called by courtesy an "eating-room," and the fourth was Mr. Wilkes's own private boudoir. The kitchen was a small adobe building detached from the house. Mr. Wilkes stood in the doorway of the store listening vaguely to a conversation between Messieurs Dailey and Boaz, who were in the bar, which connected by a door generally kept closed with the eating-room.

"It's all done," said Boaz proudly. "I dune it myself. I couldn't trust no one else. I took the ol? shotgun an' I loaded her up with about ten dollars per barrel. Man! It's a shame to take the money! I acted on the hint that old John gave me—"

"What hint's that?"

"Why, he told me that I'd better spread some sackin' in front of the rock so's to catch the fumes of the powder when I shot through it. You see if the assayer was to find sulfur in his] assay, he'd git suspicious."

Mr. Dailey gazed long and admiringly at Mr. Wilkes's back.

"Now who would have thought of that but old John?" he demanded. "A good pirate was lost in John. How much ore is there on that dump, Mike?"

"Well, sir, I fired about ten shots, I think, at the dump itself. If I lifted one pound of rock there, I lifted five hundred. I didn't put it all in one shot. I scattered it. Didn't you hear the shootin'?"

"Sure I did, but I thought you was shootin' at quail."

"Quail nothin'. I lifted all the top rock off so I could get at the bottom layers an' I put the same stones back where they come from so that the moss was still on top. Every time I placed a new layer, I plugged it with a shot an' then I mixed in a lot of old lookin' shale with the pile so it. would look like it had never been bothered none."

The slurring of buckboard wheels in the foot-deep dust of the roadway drew both men to the door. Colonel Borden dismounted, waving to Mr. Wilkes in the doorway.

FOR the edification of those who do not know what "salting" is as practised in the busy marts of the West, it may be explained that Mr. Boaz had been employed that morning in preparing a goldmine for sale by the simple method of "salting" it.

Now there are two methods of salting a mine. If it is a placer mine, which is a mine in or near a water-course, where the gold-bearing gravel is simply washed out in the water, salting consists in simply scattering some gold-dust and then allowing the victim to dig it out and pan it.

The method of salting a quartz mine is different, requiring at times an expert. In salting a quartz mine, the gold must be made to adhere to the quartz in the diggings and in the loose rock on the ore-dump. This is done by the simple meant of loading the gold-dust into a shotgun and shooting it up against the rock. It must be done from the right distance and in just the right quantity. Too little would not induce one to buy; too much would make the would-be purchaser suspicious. Care must also be taken that the gold is the same quality that comes from that district. This was the work on which Mr. Boaz had been employed that morning.

"Let's get our business done first of all, Mr. Wilkes. I will appreciate it if you can do me a favor—ah! I knew you would if you could. Yes—I'm in a—ah—ah, a sort of an embarrassing situation. I sent my pay accounts to the paymaster with the request that he send me a lot of small checks so that I could use them to pay bills with. He paid no attention to my request, but. tike the fool he is, sent me two checks for two hundred dollars each. Can you cash them for me, Mr. Wilkes?"

Mr. Wilkes went to the little iron safe that stood in the corner and after pawing the combination for five minutes got the door open and announced that he could supply cash for the checks. He proceeded to count out the cash in dirty, greasy bills by the aid of sundry lickings of the tongue, more or less audible.

"Now for breakfast. Eggs, Mr. Wilkes, if you've got any fresh. And some nice crisp toast and a cup of coffee with a few slices of well-browned bacon. I like a simple breakfast. Please hurry, my man."

"Holy cats! I wonder what he eats when he's hungry. Look at John! He's a-havin' a fit."

Mr. Wilkes was struggling manfully against evident resentment.

"I kin give you coffee," he said slowly, "an' bread, but I ain't saw a egg since Easter. I ain't got no bacon, but I can give you corned beef."

"Call this a hotel?" snapped the Colonel. "I ain't called it nothin'," barked back Mr. Wilkes fiercely. "An' I'd advise you not to neither. I ain't no soldier. You cain't talk loose to me, 'cause I won't take it an' you ain't wuth it. If you want what I got, you kin buy it. If you don't like it, you kin go hungry."

"Well—well, my man——"

"An' I ain't your man neither, ner nobody else's man but John Wilkes'," snapped the old man angry now in earnest.

"I didn't mean any offense—you know how a hungry man feels, Mr. Wilkes," said the Colonel, who saw the chance of a breakfast rapidly disappearing. "Give me what you can, and for Heaven's sake, hurry it up, will you, Mr. Wilkes?"

"No, and I won't hurry it up none neither. I'll take my own time to it an' them as don't like it kin go further," grumbled Mr. Wilkes, retreating into the kitchen, where his voice could be heard as he talked querulously to himself.

"Oh, Mr. Wilkes!" The Colonel's voice, too, had grown snappy and irritated. "There's some one in the bar, I think. See who it is, please. It may be some one to see me. Who is in there?"

His quick ear had caught the sound of moving feet as the two men in the barroom shifted their positions.

"Say somethin'," growled Boaz. "Say somethin', an' say it quick, to make him think we didn't know he was in there."


THE door between the rooms was closed and Colonel Borden had no more idea than any person has of the carrying properties of his own voice. The fact that he heard the voices of the men in the next room should have told him that his own was audible.

"An' I says to him—" the voice carried well through the closed door—" 'I can't tell you nothin',' I saj's, 'till I see Boaz.' You remember that you was away. 'I want to let you in on the ground floor,' I says, 'because you helped us save them cattle that the greasers was tryin' to run off.' Well, when I said that, Needham he up an' says:

"'How much will it cost me to come in on this ground floor along with you an' Boaz? I ain't got much ready cash,' he says, 'but I kin put up a matter of three or four hundred dollars. It's mighty good of you, Dailey,' he says again, 'an' I only wish I had more money to put in it.'

"Of course I told him that we was anxious to git the cash in right away so we kin buy the claim up at once. He listened to me right good an' then he says that when he comes back from leave he'll be married then, an' he'll have a lot o' money to invest. It sure is funny, Mike, to listen to these vere people who gets married believin' that two can live as cheap as one. Manyin' on the pay of a lieutenant he -won't never have two quarters to jingle on a tombstone."

A long silence reigned in the eating-room. If the Colonel could have looked through the closed door he might have seen Mr. Dailey leaning over the bar, his left eye contemplatively closed as he watched his partner, who was grinning foolishly. Presently, Dailey, hearing Colonel Borden's chair scrape across the rough floor, began in a slightly higher key:

"O' course, Mike, just between us, it is a good thing. It's the best thing that I've seen in twenty years out here in Arizona. Old Wilkes himself don't know how good it is. If he had any notion of it, he'd never have been willin' to sell fer nine hundred. He's so darned lazy that he ain't been near the claim fer a month, an' durin' all that time, the greaser that he hired to work the claim fer him has been haulin' the ore away an' sellin' it. If old John knowed what that ore-dump shows right now he'd have heart failure. To tell you the truth, I ain't so blamed anxious to let young Needham in on this. Of course we owe him somethin' fer havin' helped us out with them raiders, but I'd a heap ruther have a responsible man in with us on this. It's most too big a thing to fool with. When we're done we ought to clean up fifteen thousand dollars easy."

"But you told Needham you'd let him in on this here thing," said Boaz complainingly.

"So I did, but he says right out that he can't very well spare the cash right now. He wants us to hold oil fer four months. We can't do that. Why, old John is likely to find out about this at any moment an' when he does it's good-by to any chance of gettin' any gold offen that claim."

The chair in the next room scraped back still further and they heard the Colonel rise and come to the door. Mr. Dailey snickered openly.

"Gentlemen—" The Colonel opened the door and walked in— "I hope you will pardon me. I could not help hearing a part of your conversation. Ah, Mr. Dailey, bow do you do? Weil, I hope. And this is Mr. Boaz too—I am very glad indeed to see you, gentlemen."

To save his life the Colonel could not keep the patronizing note out of his voice.

"I understand, gentlemen, that my young officer, Mr. Needham, has been so fortunate as to have been of some assistance to you in saving your stock. That's what we're here for, gentlemen, you know. To help you gentlemen all we can. Our army is a public tool, you know, always to be used to help the people."

Mr. Dailey and Mr. Boaz shuffled their feet embarassedly along the floor. Had Colonel Borden been looking, indeed, he might have seen Mr. Dailey's left eyelid flutter a moment and lie still. He had heard the Colonel before on the propriety of having the Post garrison split up to guard the border.

"Mr. Needham is one of my best young officers," went on the Colonel. "I did not mean to play the eavesdropper, but—er—er—I could not help overhearing a part of your talk. It is very good of you two gentlemen to plan to help the young man financially. I suppose he needs it. Most young men do. He is to go away today on leave of absence for four months. Quite a long leave, and I—ah—may say that it took a deal of work on my part to get it for him.

"Indeed, I can hardly spare him as it is. But I am delaying you, gentlemen. What I wanted to say is this: From what part of your talk I could not well help overhearing 1 understand that it is your intention to let Mr. Needham in on what you call a good thing financially, but that he has not got the ready money to invest at present. On the ground floor, so to speak, to use some of those incomparably humorous idioms of the Southwest."

He winked ponderously, intending Messieurs Dailey and Boaz to appreciate bis quickness of perception as well as his business acumen.

"Of course Mr. Needham hasn't got the money. Youngsters rarely have. Now if you gentlemen really wish to do him a good turn, if you will show me that this project is really a good thing, I can in put the three hundred dollars that you need and when the time comes, transfer the claim or whatever it is to Mr. Needham when he is in a position to take it."

"That's square of you, Colonel. Mighty square, sir!" Dailey's voice boomed big with appreciation. "But it's so small a thing that it wouldn't be even interestin' to a gentleman of your means. You wouldn't want to touch it."

To Colonel Borden, strong in the knowledge that on the very* day his guardianship of his pretty* niece's fortune ceased and that legally the management of her fortune had already passed out of his hands, the fifteen thousand dollars that he had heard mentioned a short time before, did not sound small. .Ml numbers arc* purely relative.

"Not for myself. No. You are right, of course. Personally I should not think of making a small investment like this. I merely mention it because I thought perhaps you might like me to take the matter up for Mr. Needham. It is of no consequence."

"Oh, I see." Mr. Dailey became suddenly convinced. "If we show you the place an' you decide that it's a good thing an' decide to go in fer Needham, then you'll transfer it to him if he wants it?"

"Certainly. That's the understanding!"

"It ain't hardly necessary to put that in writin', I suppose. With most people it would be, but of course no army officer would sting another."

"Sir?" The Colonel looked properly indignant.

"Oh. pshaw. Colonel, Dailey didn't mean nothin'! Here's what we've got," broke in Boaz.

He glanced around the room furtively as he spoke.

"It ain't necessary fer old John to hear us talkin'. If he knowed what we know, he wouldn't sell that claim o' hisn at any price. Come on outside, Colonel, where nobody can hear us."

THEY passed outside the door. Once arrived at the back of the house, Mr. Dailey produced some samples of ore from a capacious pocket and passed them to the Colonel.

"Old John took up a claim seven years ago, away up the canon here. Up by Willow Water it is. You know it. It's about three miles up the creek. Well, you know he's gettin' old an' he's gettin' lazy, an' instead of doin' his own work on the claim he's been hirin' a greaser to work it fer him. At first it didn't pay. He was workin' it fer near six years before he got color enough to make him keep on.

"Then it pinched out on him, but he wouldn't quit. Every cent that he makes offen the store he's been payin' that greaser to work the claim fer him. About a month ago we began to have suspicions that all wasn't right. We got on the trail of that greaser an' found he was gettin' drunk every Saturday night in Nogales an' then we trailed him home an' discovered that he was haulin' the ore away from the dump on the claim by the burro load an' was sellin' it right in Nogales fer eight dollars a load. You kin figure out how much the ore was runnin' to the ton."

Dailey, who had begun to believe his own story, was obviously excited and Boaz was puffing at his cheap cigar till it threatened to burst into a blaze.

"Well, sir, as I say, we trailed him an' found out what he was doin'. All that ore come from John Wilkes's ore-dump, an' old John never knowed it. It ain't no sin to keep quiet somethin'. Beside that that old devil stuck me bad on a horse last year. He'd eat loco-weed an' he like to killed me.

"It turned out that he hadn't been near the claim fer a year to my certain knowledge so when we offered to buy the claim he jumped at the chance. He wanted nine hundred. He asked three thousand at first but we let him beat hisself down to nine hundred. I've got here three hundred of mine an' three hundred of Boaz's an' we was lookin' fer Needham to put in his so we can close up the bargain. We was anxious to close up the thing on account of Worth down in Nogales gettin' on to the thing in a kind of a way. If you want to come in, sir, you kin, but it's on the understandin' that you're doin' it fer Needham. It'll cost you three hundred dollars cash down."

"Can I see the claim and the ore-dump?" asked Colonel Borden quietly. Underneath that tone he was fairly quivering with excitement. He had known several officers in times past who had been let in on the ground floors of good things realize largely from the investments that had been made on just such pointers given by these sterling, rough pioneers. Whatever he might make, it was not a matter of doubt in his own mind that Mr. Needham would not be entitled to any of it. He would be investing his own money, not that of Needham.

"Of course you can see the thing. We don't want you to buy a pig in a poke. Got an hour or two to spare?"

The Colonel consulted his watch.

"I am in your hands, gentlemen, until eleven o'clock."

"Come on then. If you an' Boaz'll walk on up the trail fer a bit, I'll sneak around to the stables an' git my buckboard without lettin' old John see us. We kin drive up there in a half-hour. I'll just take a look to see that ol' John don't suspicion nothin'. Ready, sir?"

"My breakfast," gasped the Colonel.

He strode back into the eating-room, where he found Mr. Wilkes slapping down sundry evil-looking dishes upon a none too clean table.

"It's ready! Come an' git it," was his announcement. made sourly.

The Colonel sat down and fairly gobbled at the most unappetizing meal that he had ever tried to eat. Mr. Wilkes had excelled himself.

TEN minutes later the Colonel joined Mr. Boaz in front of the house and they walked slowly down the trail, carefully observed by Mr. Wilkes, who, standing with a curtain grasped in each hand, fairly shook with Homeric laughter.

A heavy-handed slap upon the shoulder nearly threw him off his feet, and he turned to face Dailey.

"Now, John, get a move on you," he said quickly. "Get that muzzle-loadin' shotgun of yourn an' load it up with black powder an' this——"

He handed him a small glass bottle that was half filled with gold-dust and gravel.

"Boaz has salted the dump, but he told me that he clean forgot to salt the vein inside the shaft. If the old man examines the dump an' sees gold an' then looks at the veins inside in the shaft entrance an' don't see no sign of gold, he'll call off an' spot the game. Slip up there just as quick an' as quiet as you kin and lire a shot at the headin'. Everything is all fixed up there for it.

"Boaz left his screen all fixed in front of the tunnel just as it should be to fix the veins. It's made o' old sugar sackin', an' all you've got to do is to get up there right quick an' fire a shot through the screen an' then get out as fast as you can. You'll have to hurry up, though. I'll hold 'em back as long as 1 can. After you've fired the shot, sneak right up the hill as fast as you can an' then come down again an' say you was after quail. ' Use your pony. You'll have no time to get there walkin'."

Mr. Wilkes nodded comprehendingly, took the shotgun from the corner, poured a generous charge of black powder down each yawning barrel, rammed a half a newspaper in on top of each charge, decanted carefully the gold-dust on top of that, rammed that home with wet cotton atop and, hastily capping the piece, made for the back door.

"Man, but I'm workin' hard these days," he said complainingly. "I ain't doin' it fer money, mind," he called back over his shoulder. "You didn't hear what he called my hotel today, did you?"

"Nobody's doin' it fer money," said Dailey scornfully. "Who'd salt a mine fer three hundred dollars. I'm doin' it to fix him. He's so derned high an' mighty with his know-it-all airs, callin' his betters 'my man.' After you sting him good once he ll quit talkin' about knowin' so much about mines. He'll move East, I'm thinkin', after this. When it's all done we'll have to make a big fuss about it somehow or other an' then give him back his coin, after he's made a fool of hisself. Hurry up, John! 1 can't wait no longer. You'll have to crowd your hoss, as it is, to get there."

He stood for a moment watching Mr. Wilkes scrambling up the loose shale of the hillside as fast as his old legs could carry him on his way to his stable, and then, climbing into his dingy rattle-trap of a buckboard, Dailey drove slowly up the trail to where Colonel Borden and Mr. Boaz stood awaiting him.

"It ain't very far," he said as they started off, "so we can take our time."

"I have not much time to spare," said the Colonel presently. "I have to go over to inspect Mr. Needham's camp before noon. Let your horses out, Mr. Dailey."

Under his constant urging, Dailey let the eager ponies go faster than he intended. He could not refuse point-blank to hasten but he made every possible effort to delay progress in order to give Mr. Wilkes all the time he could. First he dropped his whip. Then, that proving unavailing, he adroitly kicked into the dusty trail the desert water-bag, without which no man travels in the Southwest. No sound of any shot coming to his listening ears, he became despondent. Finally Colonel Borden, unable to restrain himself longer, laid a heavy hand upon the reins.

"Oh, go on, Dailey! You drive like an apple-woman. Let the ponies go. We'll never get there."

"We're there now," said Boaz, as a jerk of the buckboard nearly threw him out of the wagon. "There's the entry."

He pointed to a yawning, black mouth that gaped at them from the hillside three hundred feet up in air. A great pile of ore lay on the dump just outside the mouth of the tunnel and, in front of the entrance, exactly as a shade stands before a fireplace, I he noticed with concern a great screen made of old sugar sacking. It was about four feet square and nearly obscured the mouth of the entrance. It was through this very screen that he had salted the ore-dump itself earlier in the day.

"One moment, Colonel." Dailey was sparring for time, though he well knew that time could not avail them now. "Fair play's a jewel. It's only right for you to deposit with us your three hundred dollars before you go up there. You turn over your money to me or Boaz an' then we'll take you up to see that claim. If you Like it, you own one-third of it. If you don't like it, we'll turn the money straight back to you, you givin' us a promise in writin' not to say a word about the matter till we give you leave. Ain't that right, Mike?"

"Sounds all right. You see, Colonel, you ain't runnin' no risk. If you like it, it's yourn. If you don't like it, it's ourn an we have your promise not to tell anybody else about it. We got to protect ourselves. Shell out, sir!"

Colonel Borden glared at them, puffed stertorously for a moment and, finally producing a plethoric pocket-book, counted out the money with a hand that trembled with eagerness.

"Now we'll go up there," said Dailey, springing out of the buckboard.

"One moment, gentlemen. By this last act you have stripped this deal of any personal feelings that might have entered into it and have made it simply a cold business deal. I prefer to examine that claim by myself, if you have no objection. If you gentlemen will kindly await me here I will run on up there. I flatter myself that it will not take me long. I am a bit of a connoisseur in mines and minerals. I will hurry all I can."

WITH a darkening brow, Mr. Dailey watched the stout figure climb slowly up the slope. At that rate of speed it would take him a long time to reach the tunnel.

"It'll be all up with us now if he goes inside. If he sticks to the dump, he may bite yet, but if he goes inside an' once sees that the veins ain't even the same kind of rock that the ore-dump carries, we'll be out twenty dollars' worth of gold-dust. That's all. Confound old John! He's as slow as cold molasses runnin' up a fence in Winter. Pie's spoiled the best joke we ever planned in Arizona— Look! There he goes now. It's all spoiled!"

Very slowly they saw Colonel Borden climb up the shaley slope that scaled off under his feet, falling in a thunderous rattle to the lower slope. They saw him grasp an overhanging bush and draw himself to the lip of the bank and then pass to the ore-dump, over which he bent curiously. Once or twice they saw him take a piece of rock from the pile, scrape it, weigh it in each hand, smell and taste it and finally drop it into his coat pocket. He finished with the ore-dump and passed to the screen of tom sacking which he carefully examined from front and rear. Finally he stepped back again to the dump, took a great piece of ore-bearing rock in his hand and coming back to the entrance, passed behind the screen. Then——

"Laud o' Goshen!" said Mr. Boaz fervently. "Look yonder, will you? There comes that old fool John Wilkes. See him comm' down the hill? Too late o' course!"

"Who—who?" Dailey gaped in every direction except the right one, indicated by Boaz's stabbing forefinger.

"Wilkes—John—the old fool! He's right above the entry, goin' down toward it! See him?"

Dailey stared. Sure enough, they saw against the hillside the figure of old, gray-haired Mr. Wilkes, bare-headed, clutching his gun to his breast with both hands, hastening down the slope of the hill just above the tunnel. He had tied his pony to a bush higher up on the crest among the rocks.

"Stop him! Yell to him, Mike! Your voice'll cam' further'n mine. Tell him to come back or to get back up the hill before the old man sees him. Y—o—u, John—get back, I say!"

Mr. Wilkes, intent upon his work, as all good workmen should be, did not hear the shout, but Colonel Borden did. He thrust his head out for one moment, waved a reassuring hand and once more disappeared behind the tom screen. Ten seconds later Mr. Wilkes, sliding down most of the way upon his haunches, made the last ten yards of his descent, climbed to his feet and the startled men in the buckboard saw him drop to one knee, raise his gun and fire straight through the screen of sacking."


Boaz never finished the sentence. The roar of the double explosion—for John had fired both barrels—echoed in thunder from wall to wall of the narrow valley, and was followed, long before it died away, by a series of ear-splitting shrieks that would have made a White Mountain Apache turn green with envy.

They stood appalled and saw presently, when the smoke pall had blown aside, old John Wilkes, his gun sinking from his nerveless hand, half sink half totter to the ground. They could see his old knees trembling.

Two seconds later the figure of Colonel Borden tottered from behind the screen. He was roaring like a bull and both hands were clasped firmly over his two hip-pockets.

"Good Lord! John has plugged the Colonel! Look at him run!"

They saw for one moment as in a hare old John Wilkes standing staring at the apparition. The next moment he had dropped his gun and sped straight up the hill with the speed of an antelope and had disappeared in the scrub toward his pony.


THE two men, hardly waiting to tie the ponies, sped quickly up the slope only to find the Colonel gasping upon the ore-dump. He was evidently not seriously injured.

"Good Heavens, Colonel—" began Dailey.

I'll kill him for this—I'll have his heart's blood! That old devil sneaked up behind me. Gentlemen, I have you for witnesses—he shot me from behind! He followed me all the way from his accursed hotel and shot me just because I didn't like the way he cooked——"

He thoughtlessly sat down upon a rock and sprang up swearing.

"Both barrels, as I live! Great gosh, Colonel!" Mr. Dailey was helpless with laughter. "Where're you hit, Colonel?"

Colonel Borden glared at him, and started to shake his fist in his face. The necessity of using both hands prevented him.

"You're a pair of —— robbers!" he gritted between his teeth. "Where's my money. Where's my three hundred dollars?"

Boaz made shift to place it in the bloodstained hip-pocket, hardly able to find the pocket through laughter. He at last shoved the roll in and roared again to see the Colonel wince. It was probably the first time in his life that the acquisition of money had caused him physical pain. He had experienced it on several occasions when he had lost it.

"Shoot him in the coat an' vest. The pants is mine," cackled Mr. Boaz, feebly waving his hands in front of his face. "There couldn't have been no shot in it, Colonel, or he'd have killed you at that distance."

"There couldn't have been, hey?" The irate Colonel was rapidly passing his hands over his person. "Look here, will you? Both pockets are filled with blood. My Heavens! Do something quick to help me. Are you going to let me die unaided?"

"What's that stickin' to your pants, Colonel?"

Dailey bent forward and touched him with a prodding finger. The Colonel winced.

"As sure as I'm a livin' man it's—gold!" The last word was a shriek. "It's gold! Gentlemen, I see it all now. I don't like to be suspicious, but l swear I believe now that we know the real reason why John Wilkes was willin' to let us pay him nine hundred dollars fer this claim. As sure as a gun is iron, that old devil has been saltin' this dump on us and he came mighty near gettin* us too. If it hadn't been fer the Colonel here—yes, sirs! That's just what he was doin'. I wouldn't have believed that of old John. He sure come up here to salt that claim to fool us an' he salted——"

"He — he — he — salted," echoed Mr. Boaz.

"The Colonel!" they shrieked in unison, falling up against each other in helpless laughter, while the astonished Colonel, who had been surreptitiously examining his wounds, stood clutching his trousers in both hands, glaring at them.

Together they got him to the buckboard, but it was a half hour before they started homeward, the ponies walking, the Colonel standing erect, one hand grasping firmly the back of the front seat, with the other holding the clothing away from the delicate parts of his person, emitting every few moments groans and curses as the buckboard hit the ruts and stones in the road.

Dailey and Boaz had openly cast aside restraint.

"My lord, but you're lucky. Colonel! When you git yourself minted——"

"He—he—he," cackled Mr. Boaz, "he kin issue gold certificates now on hisself——"

"Gentlemen," roared the now angry Colonel, "this unseemly levity shall—must stop! You hear me? Stop it instantly!"

Whereat the two men burst into renewed laughter.

"Who is that cornin' up the road, Mike? It looks like a soldier?"

IT WAS a rider spurring a tired and sweating horse up the canon trail, and when he drew nearer they saw that it was a trooper from the Fort and that he had been riding hard. He reined in his sweating horse and dismounting handed a letter to the Colonel.

"Sir, Mrs. Borden said I was not to halt my horse till I gave you this."

Letting go his hold on his trousers, which settled to his knees, the Colonel put on his glasses and tore open the letter. It was a mere hasty scrawl, but it made him grasp hastily at his clothing in his haste to do something. It was a nervous scribble and it read:

I have just found a note from May, saying that she has run away to marry Mr. Needham. For Heaven's sake, stop them at Preciosa. If they are to be married, have her married here, and spare us the gossip.

"Go on!" roared the Colonel. "Get to the railroad station as quick as you can. I must catch the noon train. What time is it due there?"

"She passes Preciosa at 12:45, but she don't stop. She just picks up the mail-sacks on the fly."

"It must stop—it shall stop. I'll flag it!"

"Oh! All right; but I'm bettin' even money she won't stop. She won't even stop fer a cow on the track."

"Well, for Heaven's sake, get there and stop talking. I must catch it. If it slows up enough to pick up mail I can jump on it. Where does she stop?"

"Catlin's Crossin' is the first stop to the west of here. She's past there now. Hold on, everybody. I'm goin' to the station."

Dailey would not have missed that last half-hour with the Colonel for the world.

Banging from rut to rut, rocketing from stone to stone, the old buckboard swung down the trail, the Colonel clutching his garments closer and closer to him, eying the nearing line of the railroad with the stern gaze of a conqueror; Boaz, clutching fast at whatever came first within his reach as the wagon swayed from side to side like a log in a tide-rip, muttered grimly:

"He's shore got faith in his maker—of buckboards. Look out' Here we are——"

The ponies sat back on their haunches in the dust as the buckboard stopped and Colonel Borden, still wildly clutching his fast escaping garments was flung forward over the front seat in a grotesque bow to the gray head of Mr. Wilkes, which, all unseen, thrust itself around the corner of the station. Mr. Wilkes promptly withdrew.

"Three minutes to spare! There she comes——"

A PLUME of black smoke showed to the west of the curve and a deep, steady hum from the approaching train came down the wind to them.

Dailey had done his work well the day before. With the license in his pocket he had sought out Needham and assured him that there would be no hitch in his plans, whereupon Mr. Needham had promptly borrowed a buckboard from the Dailey ranch and, driving two miles out upon the post road, awaited the arrival of the mail-stage.

May had had no trouble whatever in carrying out her part of the plan. Her uncle's early departure from the Fort had made all easy. She waited till her aunt was busy in her own room, when she took her suit-case, and walking to the post-office climbed into the waiting stage, simply announcing that she desired to go to Preciosa.

Two miles out she found Needham awaiting the arrival of the mail and it was with wildly beating heart that she climbed out and held up a pretty, flushed face for him to kiss.

A half-hour later, the red flag at Catlin's Crossing bade the roaring train slacken, and the)' were helped aboard by an obsequious porter, who ushered them into the observation car where they were greeted by a smiling clergyman who rose to meet them.

"Mr. Needham?"

Gerald bowed.

"This is most irregular, as of course you know, but I am willing to carry out the request of Mr. Dailey, our mutual friend. Have you your license?"

Gerald produced it.

"When do you desire the ceremony performed?"

"At once, if you please. The conductor, I have no doubt, will act as a witness. Are you ready, sweetheart?"

May Allardyce, blushing like the rosy-fingered dawn, came out upon the observation platform just as they noticed a perceptible slackening in the speed of the train.

"She's slowin' up to pick up the Preciosa mail, sub," said the grinning porter.

The clergyman opened his prayer-book and began the service:

"Dearly Beloved, we are gathered together——"

They heard a yell from the station platform as the car shot past the station. They saw a wildly moving figure dart out from the building, both hands clutching wildly at his trousers. They heard a shrill shout:

"Somebody stop him. He'll make it yit."

What they had not seen was Colonel Borden as he prepared for the rush that was to land him on the car where he would try to prevent this elopement. He forgot that he no longer had authority. He saw the train slacken its speed as it rounded the curve and he darted forward just as the gray-bearded Mr. Wilkes shot around the corner of the building and seized a coiled lariat from the saddle of a sleeping cow-pony.

"I'll ketch him by the off hock," he shrilled as he swung the loop.

It left his hand opening and dosing with a vicious snap, and it settled about the right foot of the fleeing Colonel Borden.

The next moment, the pony bracing himself for the shock, the onlookers were dimly aware, through a great cloud of dust, of a prostrate figure on the cinder platform, of a struggling pony sitting back on its haunches, of two figures standing very close together on the rear platform of the rapidly moving train with the tall, black-garbed figure of a clergyman standing behind them swaying to the swing and toss of the trucks.

In an instant a sharp knife had fallen on the taut lariat and Mr. Wilkes dashed around the corner of the station and, running like a deer, sought the sedusion of his own home.

Two perfect strangers picked the Colonel up, brushed him down and pinned up his more obvious rents. It was then that Dailey came up to him. Boaz had disappeared with Wilkes and was not to be seen.

"I've lost everything except my three hundred dollars that I started in to get today," he said when he had exhausted his stock of profanity. "I've lost everything, Dailey, except that accursed claim and I'm not sure of that. I wonder if that old Wilkes did actually salt it on us? Do you suppose there's anything in that claim, Dailey? I suppose I'm lucky to have saved my three hundred dollars."

"Well, Colonel," quoth the cow-puncher thoughtfully. "You know the old miner's sayin': 'Gold is where you find it.' My advice is when you've got a place that you know contains gold, even if there's only a small amount of it, don't say anything to anybody about it. Just set right down on it!"

And Colonel Borden, waiting for the buckboard to take him back to the Post, reached behind him for an empty cantaloup box and—sat down.