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Branded in the Valley.

BY MARTHA PIERCE.

AS the day died, three horsemen rode down from the mountain and struck into the trail that leads across the mesa. Once clear of the descent, the horses broke into the long, swinging gallop which the cowboy loves. The line gray alkali dust flew backward from the flying feet in little clouds which looked in the half light like puffs of smoke. They rode in silence, save once when the leader half turned in his saddle and spoke to the rider nearest him.

"How far is it, Jim?"

Jim lifted his bridle-reins, and his horse sprang alongside the big gray of the leader.

"'Bout thirty miles yet," he said briefly; "we'll make it by nine o'clock."

Silence fell again and nothing was heard on the wide, desolate plain, as the darkness deepened, but the muffled thud of the horses' feet on the soft soil, and now and then, faint...

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