Roy Glashan's Library
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First published in The Popular Magazine, 7 November 1914

First US book edition:
Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1927

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-04-21

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Ex Libris


The Popular Magazine, 7 September 1925,
with "The Adam Chaser."


"The Adam Chaser," Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1927


Treasures of the storied past, records of prehistoric settlements of the American Indian, lure a young archaeologist, Professor Abington, to the Sonora caves of Arizona where fate plays him a grim trick, and makes him arbiter of the destinies of living men.




HALFWAY up a long cañon that cut a six-mile gash through rugged mountains thinly pock-marked with prospect holes, the radiator cap of John Abington's car blew off with a pop like amateur home-brew.

For a matter of a minute, perhaps, that particular brand of automobile developed a lively hot-water geyser. Followed a brief period of steaming, and after that it stalled definitely and set square in the trail which ran through deep sandy gravel and rock rubble—a hot car and a sulky one, if you know what I mean.

Abington harried the starter with vicious jabs of his heel, then crawled reluctantly out into the blistering wind which felt as if it were driving down the sunlight with sharp needle points of heat that stung and smarted the skin where they struck.

The canteens were buried deep under much camp paraphernalia, a circumstance which gave occasion for a few minutes of eloquent monologue. Curiously, the driver's vituperation was directed neither at the car nor the wind nor the heat, but at an absent individual whom he called "Shorty"—and at another named Pete.

Considerable luggage was shifted before the canteens were finally excavated from the floor of the tonneau; both canteens, because the first one was so completely empty that it made no sound when Abington impatiently shook it.

He was standing beside the car, mechanically sloshing a pint or so of water in the second grimy, flat-bottomed canteen, when a dust-covered roadster came coasting down the four-per-cent grade of the cañon half a mile or so away. He glanced at the approaching car, set the canteen in the sand and helped himself to a cigarette from a silver-trimmed leather case. Abington was leaning against the rear fender in the narrow bit of shade when the roadster came down upon him, slowed with a squealing of dry brakes and stopped perforce. In the rocks and deep sand that bordered the road a caterpillar truck could scarcely have driven around the stalled car.

"In trouble?" A perspiring tanned face leaned out, squinting ahead into the sun through desert-wrinkled eyelids.

"None whatever," Abington calmly replied, smiling to make the words cheerful. "I'm waiting here for the car to cool off a bit. I hope you're not in a hurry?"

The driver of the roadster slanted a quick glance at his companion, who slumped sidewise in the seat with his hat pulled low over his eyes.

"Kinda. Got plenty of water?" This in a hopeful tone, which his next sentence explained. "I'm kinda short, myself, but I'll hit Mina before long, so I ain't worrying. How much you going to need? Half a canteen do you any good?"

The stalled driver walked forward with a loose, negligent stride which nevertheless covered the ground with amazing ease. From under straight, black brows his eyes looked forth with apparent negligence, though they saw a great deal with a flicking glance or two.

"It might take me back to where I can fill my canteens, sheriff. I don't suppose there's a quart of water in the radiator, and everything's empty. My fault. I discharged a couple of men I had with me, and I should have been on my guard against some such trick as this. As it was, I failed to stand over them while they unloaded their plunder from the car. At any rate, here I am for the present."

"Tough luck. I'll let you have what water I've got, but it ain't much. She kept heating on me, climbing the summit. How far you going?"

"Back to Mina. I want to find those two fellows I let off there." Abington's questing black eyes rested on the roadster's other occupant, shifted to the driver's hard yet not unkindly face, and he waved the cigarette significantly.

"Better give this fellow a drink, before I empty the canteen." He nodded toward the slack figure. "And if you'll pardon the suggestion, sheriff, I'd turn him loose for a bit. Pretty rough riding, even when you've got all your hands and feet to hang on by."

The other gave a short, apologetic laugh.

"Say, this feller's plumb mean—that's why I got him shackled that way. Car broke down, the other side of Tonopah, and I'm taking him through alone. He's a slippery cuss. Had us chasin' him off and on for two years. I can't take any chances."

"You're not." If the tone was ironic the eyes were friendly enough. "But the man looks sick. A drink of water and a smoke won't make him any more dangerous, I imagine."

"Yeah, I know he acts sick, and he looks sick. But it might be a stall, at that," The officer turned and eyed his prisoner doubtfully. "I don't want to be hard on anybody—and I don't want to be bashed over the bean and throwed out on the desert to die, neither! She's a lonely road—I'll tell anybody."

For all that, he got out, unlocked the tool box on the running board, took out a smaller box of screws, bolts, nuts and cotter pins, fumbled within it with thumb and finger and finally produced a small flat key.

"Never pays to be in a hurry to git a pair of handcuffs open," he muttered to Abington. "This way's safe as I can make it. He's a bad hombre."

Abington nodded understanding and stood back while the deputy sheriff walked around the car and freed his passenger from the handcuffs which were fastened behind his back.

For an appreciable space the fellow drooped indifferently where he was, not even taking the trouble to rub his chafed wrists, though they must have pained him considerably, swollen and discolored as they were with the snug steel bands and the awkward position forced upon him.

"Have a drink of water," Abington suggested, not too kindly. More as if he were speaking to a man who was free to go where he pleased.

The fellow looked up at him, nodded and lifted a hand shaking from cramp. Abington unscrewed the cap and steadied the canteen to the man's mouth. He drank thirstily, pushed the canteen away with the back of his hand, lifted his hat and drew a palm across his flushed forehead where the veins stood out like heavy cords drawn just under the skin.

"Thanks!" He gave Abington another glance, a gleam in his eyes as of throttled speech.

"Have a smoke. Here, keep the case while we're getting the car started." Abington glanced at the officer. "You've no objection, I suppose?"

"Hell, no! What do you take me for? Just because I use some precautions against being brained while I'm busy driving don't mean I'm hard boiled." He sent a measuring glance toward either side of the straight-walled cañon. Within half a mile there was no cover for a man, and the cliffs rose sheer. "You can get out if you want to, Bill," he said to the prisoner. "Guess you won't go far with them leg irons."

"Thanks." The prisoner's voice was perfunctory, and he seemed in no great hurry to avail himself of the privilege. While the others walked to the stalled car—the deputy watching over his shoulder—the prisoner sat where he was, smoking a cigarette from Abington's leather-and-silver case.

The stalled car refused to start. That mechanical condition, which is called freezing, held the cylinders locked fast until such time as the expansion subsided, and in the fierce heat of that cañon the motor cooled very slowly. Abington suggested coasting backward to the first place where a turnout had been provided.

"There's a turnout, back here a couple of hundred yards or such a matter. If you can give me a push over this little hump, I think the car will roll down the road easily enough," he explained. "I'll have to keep it in the road, sheriff, or I could manage alone."

The deputy rather liked being called sheriff, and he was anxious to reach Carson City that evening with his prisoner. Until Abington's car moved out of the way, he himself was stalled, since he could not move forward more than the hundred feet which separated the two cars. There was no other road down that cañon.

"If Bill Jonathan wasn't feeling so tough, I'd take off the hobbles and make him get out and help," he grumbled, looking back at the roadster. "But I guess he's sick, all right. He ain't left the car yet. Well, you get in and hold 'er in the ruts, Mister"

"My name is Abington. I'm an archaeologist—"

"That right? My name's Park. I'm sure glad to meet you, Doctor Abington. Heard a lot about you and them petrified animals and things you've been digging up. Got the brake off? All right—"

But the best he could do, just at first, was to rock the car a few inches each way. Between shoves he looked over his shoulder. The prisoner apparently preferred the shade of the car to the heat of the sun, and Park soon ceased to worry about him. Midway between Tonopah and Mina would be a poor spot to choose for a walk away, even if the man were free to walk, he reflected.

However desperate he might be, Bill Jonathan was no fool. He knew well enough that Park would shoot at the first hint of trouble. The deputy grunted and turned his attention to the work at hand.

Abington got out and helped claw the hot loose sand away from behind the rear wheels, got in again and steered while Park braced himself and heaved against the front fender. The car moved backward nearly a foot, and the two grinned triumphantly at one another.

"Next time—I'll get her—Doctor Abington!" the deputy puffed, glancing over his shoulder as he mopped trickles of sweat from face and neck. A thin wreath of cigarette smoke waved out from the prisoner's side of the roadster, and Park grinned at Abington behind the wheel.

"Hope you're well fixed for cigarettes!" He chuckled good-humoredly. "Bill's trying to smoke enough to last till he gets outa the pen, looks like."

"He's welcome," Abington returned, a smile hidden under his pointed black beard. "I've plenty more."

"Just as you say. All right, let's give her another shove. Gosh, it's hot!"

Grunting and straining, Park moved the car three feet backward to where a nest of small stones halted it again. Encouraged by the small progress, the two knelt again behind the rear wheels and began to paw a clear path in the gravel. The "hump," one of those small ridges which characterized desert roads, would be passed within the next six feet.

At the precise moment when Park was kneeling with his back half turned from his own car, he heard his starter whir with an instant roar of the motor just under a full feed of gas.

The roadster shot backward up the trail, guided evidently by guess and a helpful divinity, since Bill Jonathan's head never once appeared outside the car to watch the trail behind him. Park jumped up, pulled his old-fashioned range-model Colt and fixed six shots in rapid succession, evidently realizing that he must get them all in before the car was out of range. With the sixth shot the glass was seen to fly from a headlight, then the hammer clicked futilely against an empty shell.

Park swore as he started running up the trail after the car, the driver's head now plainly in sight as he leaned out and watched the road. A good fifteen miles an hour he was making in reverse; and unless a car came down the cañon and stopped him as Park had been halted, for the simple reason that he could not turn out, Bill Jonathan seemed in a fair way of making his escape.

"The damn fool! He can't get far with them leg irons on!" Park grunted, coming to a stop where the roadster had stood. "That's what I get for being so damn soft hearted! I told you he was a bad hombre, Doctor Abington!"


ABINGTON walked forward a few steps, stooped and picked up his cigarette case from the hot sand of the trail.

"Spencer founded his whole philosophy on the premise that there is a soul of goodness even in things evil," he observed with the little hidden smile tucked into the corners of his black-bearded lips. "Your man has made off with your car, but he very thoughtfully returned my cigarette case—not altogether empty, either. Not knowing I have a full carton in the car, he has left us a cigarette apiece; which proves the soul of goodness within the evil. Will you have a smoke, sheriff?"

"Might as well, I guess," Park grumbled, his eyes on the departing car. "This is a hell of a note! Doctor Abington, what we've got to do is make it in to Mina and get word out to the different towns before Bill can make Tonopah or Goldfield.

"Thunder! Who'd ever think he'd try to pull off a stunt like that? I was going to take the irons off his legs, but I kinda had a hunch not to. Never dreamed he'd pull out with the car while his legs was shackled; did you?"

"I'm afraid my mind was quite taken up with my own problem." Abington confessed in a slightly apologetic tone. "I'm not accustomed to chasing live men, you know. It's the dead ones I'm interested in, and the longer they've been dead the better.

"Nevertheless, sheriff, I realize your predicament. If there's a long-distance telephone in Mina you can intercept the fellow at Tonopah, I should think." He was thoughtfully turning the cigarette case over in his fingers as if his habit was to admire its glossy brown leather and the silver filigree. Now he slipped it into his pocket and turned to retrace his steps.

"I suppose we ought to get the old boat headed down the trail, sheriff. Your prisoner went off with your canteen, you know, so we'll have to pet my motor along as best we can. But she'll roll down the cañon in neutral, and then we'll drive it as far as we can—which may not be far.

"At the turnout, down the road here, I'll get the car headed in the other direction, and it wouldn't surprise me if we beat your man in, after all. Will he have gas enough to take him to Tonopah?"

"Lord, yes! I filled the tank plumb full, and it's one of them old thirty-gallon tanks. But somebody'll maybe run across him trying to fill the radiator or something, and see the leg irons and take him in. Tires ain't none too good—maybe he'll have tire trouble. I sure hope so," he added unnecessarily.

Abington, leaning to push at the side of the car while he kept one hand on the steering wheel, did not answer. Park added his weight at the front fender, straining until his gloomy countenance went purple. The car rolled over the hump, and Abington hopped nimbly to the running board, watched his chance and straddled in behind the wheel.

SOME time was lost in negotiating the turn. After that, coasting down the road with a dead engine cooled the cylinders considerably. By skillful management Abington was able to start the motor and use what power was needed to drive the car up over certain small knolls near the foot of the cañon.

At the edge of the long valley, a hill gave them momentum sufficient to carry them well down toward a white, leprous expanse, called Soda Lake, with a tiny settlement a few miles beyond. Here, in the chuck holes of the soda-incrusted lake bed, the car refused to go any farther without power, and power in that grilling heat required a full radiator.

Even so, the two made fair time walking, and at the settlement Abington was able to hire a man to haul water out to the car. Also, Park was successful in getting wires through to the sheriff's office at Tonopah, and also at Goldfield, the only points he believed Bill Jonathan would attempt to reach.

"If you like, sheriff, we can follow up your man at once," Abington suggested when Park came out of the telegraph office looking less worried. "I'm willing to postpone the pleasure of chastising Shorty and Pete, and drive you straight through to Tonopah. Water is the only thing I needed for the trip, and the man is waiting out here with a full supply, ready to drive us back to my car. At the most we will be only three hours behind the fugitive and, as you say, he can't do much with leg irons on.

"He'll need to have a remarkable run of luck if he reaches there ahead of us. For instance, your motor had been heating, and you had only half a canteen of water. As I remember the road, there's a long, hard climb for several miles beyond that cañon. He'll be compelled to fill up with water at that spring just over the summit; one stop, at least, where he will have enough awkward walking to hold him there twice as long as a man with his legs free. So—"

"Say, Doctor Abington, you sure can figure things out!" Park grinned while he bit the end off a forlorn-looking cigar he had just bought at the little store. "You ought to be a detective."

"I am. I've been trying to detect the origin of the human race, for years now," Abington smiled. "It's the same kind of figuring brought down to modern conditions. If you're ready, sheriff, we'll get underway."

So back they went, roaring up the long rough trail to the cañon and on to Tonopah. They did not meet a soul on the way, nor did they overtake Bill Jonathan and the roadster. Neither did they glimpse anywhere a sign of his turning aside from the main highway, though Park's eyes watered from watching intently the trail.

Abington proved to be a scientifically reckless driver and a silent one withal. Within an incredibly short time he landed a grateful deputy at the sheriff's office in Tonopah, bade him an unperturbed adieu, drove his car into a garage and established himself comfortably in the best hotel the town afforded—all with the brisk, purposeful air of one who is clearing away small matters so that he may take up the business which really engrosses his mind.

In his room at the hotel John Abington dragged the most comfortable chair directly under the two-globe chandelier, lighted a cigarette from the pasteboard box which he took from his pocket, and pulled out the leather cigarette case as if this was what he had been all along preparing to do.

"Got a tack from the upholstery, no doubt, for a stylus," he mused. "Old car—binding probably loose on the door pocket—that's where it gives first. H'm! That's what he waited for. Knew he meant to escape, of course—saw it in his eyes. H'm! Let's see, now."

Abington blew a cloud of smoke and thoughtfully examined the case as he turned it over slowly in his hand, just as he had done when he picked it up in the cañon road.

As he studied it his lips moved in that silent musing speech which was his habit —the black beard offering perfect concealment for his soundless whisperings.

"H'm! Clever of him—hieroglyphics adapted to code work. Let's see. The old Babylonian 'chain of evil'—three links, meaning 'not so bad.' Following that, a man. Humph! That's Bill himself, no doubt.

"Nest—h'm!—that's Egyptian; the old Egyptian symbol denoting the number of days in a journey, but with the Babylonian and Manchurian moon month at the end. Probably meant a month's journey, and didn't know the sign for it. Bill, my lad, you show intelligence above the average layman, at least.

"Now, what's all this? Water sign, mountains, stopping place—Bill descended to picture writing there, I see! That's the mountain across from my camp where I took Bill in and fed him—gave him my best hiking boots, too, by Jove! My camp by the river—Bill, you are ingenious!

"Without a doubt you wish me to understand that within a month you will be at my old camp by the river—counting on more food and more boots, perhaps! H'm! I don't just know about that.

"Don't see how you are going to make it. Handicap too heavy. Doubt whether I myself could overcome the obstacles—leg irons, officers on the watch, posses on the trail, three hundred miles to go—Bill, old fellow, if you make it you'll prove yourself a man worth helping! You won't get half the distance—but if you do, you may have my next-best boots and welcome!"

Abington turned the case over, held it closer to the light, frowned and gave a faint whistle at what he saw. He had supposed that the message had been repeated here as a precaution against his failure to notice the barely discernible markings in the leather on the other side.

But as he peered sharply at the fine indentations his eyes brightened with interest. For although the river and the stopping-place symbols were repeated, and the string of tiny circles which signified the number of days' journeying, the plural sign was there just below them. At the end of the journey, mountains—but they were indicated by the conventional, premodified Manchurian symbol and, close by, the sign of a mummy.


Bill's message, written in hieroglyphics such
as are found among the rock carvings of Nevada.

"What the deuce!" breathed Abington, pulling black eyebrows together. "He's blundered there—maybe means he'll leave my camp only in custody. No, by Jove! That can't be it, either."

For a long time he sat motionless except when he turned the cigarette case for a renewed scrutiny of the other side. The message that had seemed so simple presented an unexpected little twist of mystery.

Bill Jonathan, pursued by the chain of evil, meant to journey for perhaps a month and arrive at John Abington's camp in the mountains that bordered the river. That much seemed fairly plain, and one would logically expect no further information at present.

But there was more to it, apparently. Bill had not sat in that roadster idly scratching hieroglyphics on the cigarette case of an archaeologist just to pass the time away. Meaning to escape in the car, uncertain too of the number of minutes at his disposal, he must have grudged every second of delay while he worked out his message.

Abington permitted his cigarette to go out while he brooded over those crude lines. His thoughts harked back to the time, four months before, when Bill Jonathan had come limping into camp, crippled with stone bruises from traveling the rough granite hills in thin-soled shoes worn to tattered leather. He had been hungry, too, by the manner in which he wolfed his first meal whenever he thought Abington was not looking his way.

He had not told his name, and Abington had taken the hint and asked no questions. Bill had called himself a prospector, said he had an outfit back in the hills and had come down to Abington's camp to see if he could rustle a pair of boots and a little tobacco. A likable fellow, Abington had found him; one of those rare individuals who can display an intelligent interest in the other fellow's subject.

Abington at that time had been searching out and recording with a camera all the ancient rock carvings along the river. While Bill's feet were healing he had wanted to know all about the various symbols and their meanings. He had told Abington of two or three cañons where writings could be found, and he had discussed with Abington the possibility of finding petrified human remains—

"By Jove!" Abington ejaculated, straightening suddenly in his chair. "I wonder if that is not what he means! That we'll both journey to a spot in the mountains where I can find my fossilized man!"

The idea once implanted in his mind, Abington could not seem to get rid of it. Without a doubt, that was the meaning Bill had meant to convey; that he had found the fossil man which would mean more to Abington than a gold mine—for such is the peculiar point of view held by scientists of a certain school.

"Told him that mummy symbol indicated a burial—remember we discussed it. He recognized the sign from having seen one on a rock. I told him it undoubtedly meant that some one had been buried there. H'm! Nothing else he could mean. Wasn't sitting in that car drawing marks for fun. Couldn't write a message. Afraid Park might pick up the case, no doubt. Too bad—handicapped too heavily. Never will make it."

Nevertheless Abington loitered for four days in Tonopah, though he had no business to hold him there. He heard nothing of an escaped convict being captured in that part of the country, so finally went his way.

He had meant to hire more men and carry his explorations over into Utah, but the sporting instinct for once prevailed over scientific zeal. He still believed that Bill would never make it—that the "chain of evil" was too strong. But being an archaeologist, he had learned the sublime lesson of a patient, plodding persistence that simply ignores failure. Abington returned alone to a field already pretty thoroughly covered, and rëestablished his old camp by the river. There he sat himself down to wait, with a brooding patience not unlike the eternal hills that hemmed him in.


INTO the firelight Bill Jonathan came walking one evening, barely within the month he had given himself in the symbolic message. Face drawn and sallow, eyes staring out from under his hat brim with a glassy dullness born of hunger, fever and fatigue mingled, perhaps, with that never-sleeping fear which dogs the soul of the hunted. But none of this showed in his manner, nor in his greeting which gave the arrival a casual note.

"Hello, professor! Got my message, I see. Well, I had one merry heck of a trip, but here I am." He dropped down where he could lean against Abington's favorite camp boulder—lean there at ease or crawl swiftly out of sight behind the broken ledge, Abington observed with that negligent, flicking glance of his. Another glance dropped briefly to Bill's ankles, and Bill laughed wryly.

"Didn't think I meant to wear them things permanent, did you, professor? Hell, I ain't no Aztec princess, going around with anklets on that'd sink a whale. No, I was up at the old Honey Boy Mine, in the blacksmith shop, setting on a bench with one foot in a vise, filing faster than a buzz saw when I heard you folks go past, down in the gulch. At least, I s'pose it was you folks, because it was a cinch nobody would pass you in the cañon, and I had it doped out you'd roll down to where you could get water, and come chasing me up. Hauled my nursemaid on into Tonopah, I'll bet!"

"I did that." Abington smiled, tossing Bill his cigarette case before opening a can of baked beans while the coffee heated. "I really didn't think you'd make it, though. Handicap too heavy."

Bill accepted the cigarette case, pausing to eye with prideful interest the markings. He lighted a cigarette and relishfully inhaled three gratified mouthfuls before he spoke.

"If you mean them irons, I didn't wear 'em long. Just till I could get the bus up to the old Honey Boy. Wonder you didn't spot the place where I turned off—maybe you did. It was on your side the road." He saw Abington nod, and grinned appreciatively. "Well, it rained some that night, and that helped dim the tracks. Nobody came near the mine; not while I was there, anyhow.

"Friend Park had a fair lot of grub in the back of the car, and I rustled a little more at the mine. Waited till dark and beat it back down the cañon and over to Bishop. Made Randsburg, drove the car over a cliff into a brushy cañon just before I got there, walked in with an old bed roll I'd fixed up at the Honey Boy, as good a blanket stiff as the next one! Worked there a week and blew out again, first pay day—hit it just right, as it happened.

"Hoboed to San Berdoo, doubled back to Needles—hanging tight to my blanket roll and my time check to show I'd worked not so long ago. And I've been hoofing it up the river since then."

Abington nodded again and pulled the coffeepot off the coals, using a crooked stick for the purpose. It may have occurred to him that crooked sticks are sometimes more useful than straight ones, for he gave Bill Jonathan an unhurried measuring look as he extended a cup of black coffee.

"That mummy sign, Bill. Did you mean by that you had discovered more ancient writings, or did you by any chance refer to skeletal remains?"

Bill took a great swallow of coffee and set down the cup. His tired eyes brightened in the fire glow. "Maybe you'd call 'em skeletons, professor—I'd say they're rock. All you want. Thought you'd like to take a look at 'em. So when we met up with you on the way to Carson I made up my mind I wouldn't wait till I was turned loose. You might be to hell an' gone by that time, or some nosey Adam chaser might run acrost 'em. I seen last spring how you've got your heart set on finding the granddaddy of all men, or some such thing, and I'd kinda hate to see anybody beat you to it. So I made my git-away in order to show you where they're at."

HAVING thus explained the matter to his own satisfaction, Bill forthwith began to empty the can of beans in a manner best pleasing to himself.

John Abington poked absently at the fire, gently rapping upon a burning juniper branch until it broke under the blows, spurting sparks as it fell into the coals.

"Adam chasers, as you call it, are not so numerous in this country," he said softly. "Not nearly so numerous as—er—deputy sheriffs."

Bill Jonathan leaned sidewise, reached the coffeepot and refilled his cup. "Yeah, I get you," he said finally. "But this is wild country we're going into. I ain't taking such an awful chance, now I got this far. I was duckin' sheriffs when I found these stone men. I've got to go on duckin' sheriffs anyway—that, or else let 'em ketch me and put me in for five or ten years. It's six one way and a half dozen the other.

"This is how I've got it doped out, professor. You and me throw in together. I'll show you Adam—or his wife's folks, anyway—and you furnish me with grub and tobacco so I don't have to show up where I can be nabbed. I'll draw on you for supplies and keep along close without trailing right with you. So you won't get in bad if it's found out I'm in the hills." He looked across the fire at Abington. "How's it strike you, professor?"

Over and over Abington had considered this very point during his month of waiting. It all depended on Bill himself, he had decided. Some men are so constituted that preying upon society is second nature to them. Others fall afoul of the law through no real criminal intent. There is a vast difference between the two types, Abington knew. It all depended on Bill.

"I never did function as guardian angel to escaped convicts," Abington said with brutal directness. "Laws are better kept than broken, as you will probably agree, and it ill becomes a loyal citizen to help any man dodge the penalty for his misdeeds. On the other hand, even lawbreakers may contribute something to the general welfare of the world. Discovering the skeletal relics of a man of the Cretaceous period may not materially help to liquidate the national debt, but it would be a priceless contribution to the scientific knowledge of the human race."

"Yeah, and I can go on and finish that argument, myself. I can't do no more damage to society while I'm herdin' with the coyotes, and if I can help you find what you're lookin' for, that's better than loafin' around doing time in Carson. So you won't be doing nothing worse than taking a boarder off the hands of the State. That's about the way you doped it out, ain't it, professor?"

"Essentially the same, yes," Abington admitted. "I'm glad you have so thorough an understanding of the matter. I think if your offense was not too great I could perhaps get you paroled and placed in my charge, but that would take time and—. They've just discovered the skull of an ape man in Rhodesia, Bill! I'd give a good deal to be able to show them a Cretaceous man found in America."

Bill leaned back with a sigh of repletion and lighted his second cigarette. "Well, I dunno how Cretaceous they are, professor, but they're fossils all right enough. Stone, anyway, way back in a cave—you have to crawl on your belly quite a ways, where I went in. I guess maybe there's another opening somewhere. I didn't look for it. I had pinon knots for torches, and I lit a fresh one soon as I come into this chamber—or cave. And when the blaze showed them stone skeletons—Say, professor, I backed right out the same way I'd went in!"

"How do you know they were fossilized? They may have been modern—no more than a hundred years old! They may even have been frontiersmen trapped in there while trying to escape from hostile Indians." Abington's tone was crisp.

"I went back," Bill declared calmly. "Got over my scare and wanted to see for sure whether them skeletons was twelve feet high like they looked to be, or just plain man size. So I looked good, next time in. There was four, and the biggest wasn't over eight feet. And they was solid stone, far as I could tell."

"I don't suppose you could describe the geologic conditions—I shall have to determine that, of course, when I arrive at the spot."

During five minutes Bill smoked and silently eyed the archaeologist, who sat meditatively tapping another burned stick into coals.

"One thing I better tell you, professor," he ventured at last, vaguely stirred by the rapt look in Abington's dark eyes. "There's a lot more to it than just arriving 'at the spot,' as you say. When I went into that cave, I was scared in. There's something up in there that got my goat. I beat it outa there—that's how I got nabbed by the law.

"I can't tell you what it is, professor. Some kinda animal. Makes tracks like a mountain sheep—but it ain't a sheep; or if it is—All I can say is that us Adam chasers will have to keep our eyes peeled."


ABINGTON stood absolutely motionless with his head drooped forward, his narrowed eyes surveying with brief, darting glances his devastated camp. The small brown tent, lying in a tattered heap with slits crisscrossing one another in the balloon silk which was so light to carry—and so costly—received a second scrutiny. The camp supplies, which had been neatly piled just where he had unloaded them from the two burros that carried his own outfit, were strewn about in indescribable disorder, as if a drove of hogs had held carnival there for an hour or so.

Because of the view it gave of the fantastic, red-sandstone crags across the valley, Abington had pitched his camp on a smooth hard ledge a few feet above the level with a cliff at his back and a spring of good water hidden away in a tiny cleft in the cañon at his right. It was a cool, sightly spot, free from bothersome ant hills or weedy growth that might harbor rattlesnakes or other venomous creatures.

True to his word, Bill Jonathan camped apart from Abington. In this particular location he had chosen a cave half a mile up the cañon—and he had immediately set about walling up the entrance so that he must squeeze in between two rocks which he could move across the aperture at night.

"Getting close to the range of that gosh-awful thing, professor," he had explained. "Better hunt a hole yourself and crawl into it—'specially at night. And you want to keep your eyes peeled, and don't go prowlin' around without your gun or a knife or something."

Abington liked his little brown-silk tent, however, and he was not particularly impressed by the gosh-awfulness of the thing which Bill Jonathan could not even describe—he having failed to catch so much as a glimpse of it, as he had been forced to admit under Abington's repeated questioning.

Here was the ruin left by some animal, however, and Abington found himself completely at a loss as he circled the camp, going slowly and studying the wreckage foot by foot. On the ledge itself he did not expect to see any tracks. He walked therefore to the edge of the hard-pan and examined the softer gravel at the foot of the two-foot slope.

There, cleanly outlined in a finer streak of red gravelly sand, he discovered the imprint of a pointed, cloven foot; a gigantic sheep, by the track, or possibly an elk, though elk were not known in that country.

For some minutes he stood there looking for other tracks. When he found one, he whistled under his breath. From the length of the stride indicated by that second hoofprint he judged that this particular animal must be considerably larger than a caribou. "Gosh-awful" it certainly must be!

Abington stared down the wash, for a moment tempted to follow the tracks. But with night coming on and an empty stomach clamoring to be filled, he hesitated. There was the wrecked camp to set to rights and such supplies as had not been destroyed must be gathered together and placed where this malicious-minded animal could not reach them again.

Moreover, the tracks might not be fresh, for the damage could have been done at any time during the afternoon while he and Bill were exploring a complex assortment of crooked ravines, tangled at the head of the larger one where Bill had prepared to hole up in gloomy security.

Abington was thoughtfully regarding a sack of flour that had been slashed lengthwise and dragged in wanton destructiveness half across the ledge, when Bill Jonathan's voice sounded behind him, swearing a dismayed oath.

"Looks like it's been here a'ready!" Bill gasped, when Abington turned and glanced at him.

"Looks as though something has been here," Abington agreed. "Very unusual incident, in some of the details. Certain incongruities can scarcely be accounted for until I have further investigated the matter. I have had a herd of wild elephants stampede through camp, and I know the work of every marauding animal from jungle tigers to the wolverines of Canada. But I have never seen anything quite like this.

"For instance," he went on, "the slits in that tent plainly started from the peak and extended downward, with an upward thrust near the bottom, leaving a triangular rent. Any horned animal that could rip a tent like that invariably lowers the head and gores with an upward toss. So does a hog. Certain indications would seem to point to a wild hog—or a drove of them!—but I believe the longest slits in the tent were accomplished while it was still standing.

"You will observe," he continued, "that the rents are spaced with a regularity impossible to attain while the material lay bundled in a heap on the ground. The cloth has not been chewed, therefore it could not be the work of wild cattle. Moreover, that sack of salt was not touched. Wouldn't you suppose, Bill, that any herbivorous animal would smell the salt and go after it first?"

"Yeah, but it don't ever touch salt, professor. Not as far as I know. Did it leave any tracks?"

"Down here in the sand are some enormous hoofprints resembling sheep or elk tracks, Bill. From its stride the beast must be as large as a camel."

"Yeah, and I've known it to leave mule tracks behind it!" Bill declared glumly. "Now, maybe you'll want to crawl into my cave, professor!"

"I may decide to let you store what supplies are left, but I myself don't fancy caves except for research work. By the way, did you notice any eoliths in that cave of yours, Bill?"

"I dunno. Killed a scorpion about four inches long and his tail curled up. You ain't afraid of bugs, are you, professor?"

ABINGTON gave him a sharp glance, but Bill was innocent and looked it.

"It doesn't matter now," Abington said, "since I shall probably spend a week or more exploring these ravines. There should be a good many artifacts left in the caves hereabouts. The carvings indicate that the ancient people lived here and I have an idea that their occupancy of this section of the country extended over considerable period of time. This old Cretaceous sandstone gives every—"

"Yeah, and it'll give 'em just the same to-morrow, don't you think, professor? I'm going to take what's left of the flour and cache it away in my cave, and that can of coffee. Looks to me like the thing was scared off before it finished the job. All the times I've saw it get in its work before now, it sure was thorough! You must 'ave scared it—"

"In that case I may be able to catch it."

Abington turned and strode again to where the tracks lay printed deep in the packed sand. He stepped down off the ledge and followed the hoofprints, scanning each one sharply as he came to it.

"Hey! You can't trail that thing, professor!" Bill called anxiously. "I tried that—once when it was a sheep and another time when it was a mule. Tracks take to the hills and quit.

"Aw, gwan and find out for yourself, then!" he grumbled, when Abington merely flung up his hand to show he heard and continued along the wash. "Won't be satisfied to take my word—never seen such a bullheaded cuss. But it won't be long, old boy, till you'll be tickled to death if you're able to dodge it!"

Dusk deepened. Bill hurriedly salvaged what supplies were not utterly destroyed, looking frequently over his shoulder when his work would not permit him to keep his back toward the cliff. It seemed a long while before Abington returned.

Bill's uneasiness had reached the point where he threw back his head to send a loud halloo booming out into the darkness; but at that very moment Abington came stumbling up to the ledge, leaning heavily on a dead mescal stalk while one foot dragged. Bill leaped forward and pulled him up the slope.

"Rock rolled down the hill and started a slide," Abington explained in a flat, tired tone. "Dodged most of the rubble, but one fragment struck against my ankle. Temporarily paralyzed my foot. Be all right in a short time, Bill." He sat down, breathing rather heavily.

"Who done it?" Bill knelt and tentatively felt the injured foot.

"No one, so far as I know. I am not sure, of course, but my impression is that the slide was purely accidental."

"See anything of your sheep?"

"Too dark to detect any signs after it took to the rocks. Heard something—up the hill. Couldn't exactly locate the sound. Any coffee, Bill?"

Bill had been itching to get back to his cave and make coffee there, but now he looked at Abington and hesitated. Neither Abington nor any other man could laugh at Bill and call him a coward. There had been a small pile of firewood; it was scattered around somewhere among the débris. The coffeepot, he knew, had been flattened as if an elephant had stepped on it; but he could find a can that would serve.

HE groped for the wood, found it and got a fire started. A cheerful light pushed back the shadows, making them eerier than when all was gloom. He set about supper of a sort, keeping his back to the ledge with a persistence that might have amused Abington if he had not been wholly occupied with the mystery that had impinged upon an otherwise uneventful trip.

"I can't fathom it," he said at last, speaking half to himself. "It is not a mountain sheep, I'm certain of that. Those slits in the tent and the salt sack ignored—those two details alone place the depredations apart from the work of any such animal."

"Yeah, there ain't no such animal!" Bill looked up to remark. "Now you know why I wanted a gun, professor. You thought it was for killing sheriffs, maybe, but you was wrong there. I told you there was something up here we'd have to look out for. I asked you to get me a gun, because I ain't got much hopes of killin' this thing by throwin' rocks at it. That's why."

"I'm sorry, Bill, but I really couldn't buy you a gun," Abington told him gravely. "And I don't think you will need one. The beast keeps himself out of sight, it seems. It isn't likely to attack either of us."

"Well, I'd about as soon be attacked as scared to death," Bill demurred. "That's just it, professor. I wouldn't give a cuss if I could look the thing over, once. What I hate is coming in and finding camp demolished and the grub all throwed out and nothing you can fight back at. Well, here's your coffee. It's about all I could find to cook, in the dark."

They drank the coffee in silence, even the self-contained Abington pausing every minute or so to stare into the darkness, listening. It was a nerve-trying pastime which netted them nothing in the way of enlightenment.

What it cost Bill to shoulder a load of more-or-less damaged supplies and go off alone up the cañon, his way lighted only by the stars, Abington could only guess. In justice to the peace officers of the county he could not give the man a gun, and he sensed that Bill was really afraid of the unknown marauder, and with good reason, Abington was forced to admit.

Bill had been hunted from camp to camp by the thing which he had never seen. He had been robbed and his food supplies destroyed until at last he had fled the place only to fall into the hands of the watchful sheriff. Abington couldn't blame Bill for his fears. All the same, Abington did not want to place a gun in the hands of an escaped prisoner. That, it seemed to him, would be going rather strong, even in the interests of science.

He was sitting with his back against the cliff with the dying fire before him, rubbing his numbed ankle to which sensation was returning with sharp stabs of pain, when Bill came up out of the cañon mouth with his bundle still on his shoulders and his eyes staring.

"It's been to the cave," he announced in a suppressed tone. "Clawed out the rocks I walled the opening up with and raised hell with my stuff. Professor, how bad do you want them stone Adamses?"


ACROSS the valley the moon peered over a jagged pinnacle, looking as if broken teeth had bitten deep into its lower rim. That effect was soon brushed away as the pale disk swung higher, and the blood-red sandstone peaks stood fantastically revealed in the swimming radiance. The valley straightway became enchanted ground wherein fairy folk might dance on the smooth sand strips or play laughing games of hide and seek among the strange pillars and jutting crags.

Beside the dying fire Bill Jonathan dozed, head bent with now and then an involuntary drop forward, whereupon he would rouse and glance sharply to left and right—the habit of a man who knows himself hunted, a man whose safety lies in unsleeping vigilance.

"Lie down on the tent, Bill," Abington advised him, after his third startled awakening. "Lie down and make yourself comfortable. To-morrow you can watch while I sleep."

"Aw, I can keep awake, professor. All that climbing around to-day made me kinda tired, is all. If I know you're asleep, I'll keep my eyes open wide enough."

"But I don't want to sleep, Bill. This little mystery must be solved before we go any farther with our chief business. Couldn't sleep if I wanted to."

"You'll stay awake a darn long while, professor, if you wait to put salt on the tail of the thing that haunts this valley," Bill opined.

Abington calmly knocked the dottle from his pipe and began to refill it, ready for another long, meditative smoke. "For every problem in the universe there is a correct answer," he said quietly. "It is only our ignorance that makes mysteries of things simple enough in themselves. A peculiar arrangement of details has given this 'gosh-awful' animal of yours an air of mystery, but the explanation is simple enough, I'll guarantee."

"Yeah, but how are you going to find this explanation—that you think is so darned simple?" Bill stifled a yawn.

"Just as I find the meaning of the hieroglyphics; by studying the symbols already familiar to me, and from them arriving at the natural relation of the unknown characters. This thing left tracks, and it managed to accomplish a certain amount of destruction in a given time. To-morrow morning I'll take a look at your cave, and the answer to the puzzle will not be so hard to find as you imagine."

Bill mumbled a half-finished sentence and lay down on the torn tent, and presently the rhythmic sound of snoring hushed the strident chorus of stone crickets on the ledge.

Until the moon had swum its purple sea and reached shore on the western rim of the valley, Abington lounged beside the cliff, so quiet that any observer might have thought him asleep. For a time his pipe sent up a thin column of aromatic smoke, then went cold; and after that only the moonlight shining on his wide-open eyes betrayed the fact that Abington was very much awake.

An owl hooted monotonously in the cañon at his right, probably near the spring. A coyote yammered on the steep hillside across the cañon mouth, and a little later Abington heard the frightened, squealing cry of a rabbit caught unawares by that coyote or another.

On a cliff just over his head, shadowed now as the moon slipped behind the hill, the ancient people he was tracing had carved intricate tribal records. These had endured far beyond the last vague legend of those whose valor had thus been blazoned before their little world, a world that had seemed so vast and imperishable, no doubt, to heroes and historians alike.

It seemed to him that here was a land well fitted to hold the full story of these forgotten lives. Could he but find it, and read it aright, might not his own name be blazoned before his own people—to be forgotten perchance in ages to come, as these were forgotten now?

THE cave that held fast the bones of these ancients lay somewhere in the bewildering maze of cañons across the valley. Bill Jonathan would recognize the spot, so he had declared whenever Abington questioned him. A certain rock on the cañon's northern rim, shaped like the head of a huge rhinoceros with two tusks on his snout—Bill was positive he could not miss it, once he got inside the cañon. The opening to the cave was directly under the first tusklike rock spire. A matter of ten miles perhaps, Bill had guessed as he stood on the ledge and gazed across.

Here on this side were caves and even with the hope of finding the fossil skeletons Bill had described, Abington had wanted to explore these before going on. He still wanted to do so, if he and Bill could manage to hunt down the unknown pillager of camps, or at least guard their supplies against further depredations. If the raid on Bill's cave had been as complete as on his own camp, he would be compelled to postpone all research work while he plodded with the burros to the nearest town for fresh supplies. Bill could not go, that was certain.

At daybreak Abington was planning drowsily to send Bill up the cañon after the burros, load on what was left of the outfit and cross immediately to the other side of the valley, where they would endeavor to find the skeletons first of all and be sure of them before he went out for supplies. He would then be able to take out specimens to send on to his museum, thus saving a bothersome trip later on.

His hand reached out to shake Bill's leg and rouse him to the day's work, when a great clattering sounded in the cañon mouth near by. Bill needed no shaking to bring him to his feet. As the two automatically faced toward the noise, there came the three burros in a panicky gallop out of the cañon and into the open.

In one great leap Bill left the ledge and ran yelling and flailing his arms to head them off before they stampeded down the valley. The leading burro, a staid, mouse-colored little beast, swerved from him, wheeled toward the hills opposite, stumbled and fell in a heap. The second kept straight on down the valley, the third burro at its heels. Bill let them go while he ran to the fallen leader.

Though it took but a minute to cover the short distance, the burro's eyes were already glazing when Bill arrived. As he stopped and bent over it a shuddering convulsion seized its legs and immediately it stiffened. It was dead.

Bill stood dumfounded, eying it stupidly for a moment before he turned to call Abington. But the shout died in his throat, for his glance had fallen upon a fresh disaster. The two other burros were down and kicking convulsively, just as the first had done. They were dead before he could reach them.

Abington was not in sight when Bill, walking heavily under the burden of this new tragedy, returned to the ledge; but presently he came limping out of the cañon and into camp.

"I thought I could discover what had stampeded the burros," Abington said, coming up with an indefinable air of surprise that Bill should be standing there passive with that blank look on his face. "Too late, again. If it was the gosh-awful, he'd disappeared before I could get up there. Did you head off the burros? I want to move camp this morning."

"Yeah—but you'll have to git along without 'em this morning. The damn things is dead."

Abington looked at him, looked past him to where Bill pointed an unsteady finger. He got off the ledge and limped over to the nearest carcass, looked it over carefully, walked to the others and examined them, and returned thoughtfully to camp.

Bill had kindled a fire and was starting off to the spring with an empty bucket when Abington stopped him.

"Hey, come back here! Don't use any water from that spring."

"Yeah? Where will I use water from, then?"

"From a canteen. I filled two yesterday. The burros were at the spring this morning and stampeded from there. I can't be certain yet, of course, but I think the water is poisoned."

Bill stared, his jaw sagging. Abington was looking out across the valley, his eyes narrowed and blacker than Bill had ever seen them.

"I may be wrong, Bill, but we can't afford to take a chance. One burro might suddenly pass out with heart failure, but when three of them turn up their toes in the same way and at the same moment, the coincidence will bear investigation, I think!"

"How could that sheep thing poison a spring?" Bill's tone implied violent incredulity.

"I don't know. I'm merely stating what appears to be a fact. Three burros drank at that spring and afterward stampeded out of the cañon and dropped dead in the open. I'm assuming that the water in the spring, or at least in the little pool below it, was poisoned. They must have been scared away, else they would have died right there near the spring. Yes, I think it will bear investigation!"

"Yeah, but in the meantime we've got to have water," Bill said gloomily, shaking a canteen gently before he poured a little into his makeshift coffeepot. "I don't aim to stick around till my tongue swells up, doing fancy thinkin' about a poisoned spring. Suit yourself, professor, but I'm going to hunt water, soon as we go through the motions of eating."

"I suppose in time the spring will clear itself and run pure," Abington reassured him with a twitching of his bearded lips. "If we were to stay here, we could divert the trickle from the rocks and soon have another pool. But we could never be sure that it was not poisoned again. No, Bill, we'll have to get our belongings together and move across the valley."

"A darn hard job," muttered Bill, "packing everything on our backs." And he added: "That sheep thing can travel, too; don't overlook that fact, professor."


THE eastern rim of the valley stood crimson where the westering sun struck it full, bringing into bold relief each cañon and crag, the smallest fold and the smoothest boulder; as if a contour map had been painstakingly modeled on a gigantic scale in red sealing wax, or as if a world aflame had been paralyzed into utter silence.

Toward that garish pile of shattered hills, Abington and Bill Jonathan plodded with the low sun at their backs, which were burdened heavily with as much of their camp supplies as they had been able to retrieve and could carry.

The start that morning had been delayed until nearly noon while they searched vainly for some clue to the mystery that had in a few hours held an orgy of wanton destructiveness in two camps and had poisoned their water supply and killed three burros. Human malevolence had been displayed in that last attack, Abington was convinced.

Yet in spite of all his skill, all the careful attention to details which his scientific training had made second nature, he had failed to discover the slightest evidence of a human agency at work against them. Not a sign, not a track, save those enormous sheep tracks leaving the vicinity of the spring and going off up a narrow ravine in great strides which made it hopeless to think of overtaking it; for without water he did not dare attempt any prolonged search. Now, with a half mile of red sand to plow through before they reached the first bold hillside, their eyes clung perforce to the seamed, broken rampart they were nearing.

A dazzling light that flashed and was gone, then came again and stood motionless for a space while one might count fifteen, showed high up on a ridge as evenly serrated as a rooster's comb, and quite as red. Abington came to a full stop which he made a rest period by slipping the heavy pack from his shoulders. Nothing loath, Bill did likewise. The two sat down on the sand beside their bundles, mopping perspiration from faces and necks.

"Bill, when I get up and stand in front of you, look past me at the sharp peak just south of the mountain—the first one on the ridge straight before us. Tell me if you see anything that might be a reflection of the sun—from a telescope, we'll say, or more likely a pair of field glasses. No, don't look yet. Remember that with good glasses a man could read the expression on your face, read your lips, too, if he's had any training."

At the first sentence Bill's face had hardened. "You don't have to preach caution to a man that's been on the dodge long as I have," he muttered bitterly, under cover of lighting a cigarette. "Shoot. What d'you think—that it's an officer, maybe?"

"I'm not thinking past the field glasses that I believe are focused on us," Abington parried, rising and standing so that his back was to the ridge while he held up his watch before Bill's face. "He may think I'm trying to hypnotize you, but it's an excuse. Look right past this watch, to a point between the second and third little pinnacles on the ridge. See anything?"

"Something moved, in the notch just below that pinnacle. I got it against the sky for a minute. There ain't any shine, though. Might have been a sheep."

Abington put away his watch, stooped and shouldered his pack.

Bill slipped his arms through the rope loops and wriggled his own burden into place on his back as he got up. "Wouldn't think they'd be lookin' for me away down here," he said uneasily, after a few rods of silent plodding. "Not unless you—" He sent an involuntary glance toward his companion.

"Unless I informed on you when I went after supplies, and arranged for your capture after I had benefited by your information," Abington answered the look. "You don't really think that, Bill."

"I don't know why I wouldn't think it, if somebody's planted up there watching for us with glasses," Bill retorted, not more than half in earnest but yielding to the ugly mood born of nerve strain and muscle weariness.

"Of course, you can think any idiotic thing you choose," Abington returned, in that tolerant tone which he could summon when he wished to bite into a man's self-esteem. "Any other brilliant ideas on the subject, explaining why, if I were contemplating treachery, I should call your attention to that light on the ridge up there?"

"Yeah, I might have one or two," Bill growled. "I was a fool to start across here in broad daylight. Now, if they come after me, I ain't even got a gun!"

ABINGTON sent a quick, sidelong glance toward Bill's face. That gun question was becoming a touchy subject between them. "No, you haven't a gun. So you are not quite so liable to a few extra years—or a chair in the gas house—if you are caught!"

"Well, I ain't caught yet!" Bill's upper lip lifted away from his teeth. "Not by a damn sight!"

Abington gave him another sidelong glance. The snarl was not lost upon him, though he made no reply. Like many another man who is agreeable enough in ordinary circumstances, Bill Jonathan's good nature did not always stand up under hardship.

That blustery impatience at the physical discomforts of a long grilling walk was beginning to crop out in Bill, mostly in the form of a surly ill temper and a grumbling against conditions which neither could help. Abington had reached the point of gauging the exact degree of surliness and to set up mental defenses against his moods.

Bill had taken the initiative in this quest and he was surely receiving full value for his efforts. From a sporting admiration for Bill's daring, and a certain liking for his whimsical shrewdness, Abington was consciously beginning to chafe at the man's crabbed temper; he felt a growing distrust, too, which was yet formless and only vaguely realized.

He caught himself wishing now that he had asked Park what crime stood against Bill Jonathan. No use asking Bill; he would say what he pleased and the other could believe it or not.

"If you've got any wild idea of finding out from me where them stone skeletons is, and then turning me over to the sheriff, you better revise the notion, professor," Bill said abruptly, having brooded over it for five minutes. "I'm nobody's fool."

"Then why talk like one?" Exhaustion was beginning to draw a white line beside Abington's nostrils and his bruised ankle ached cruelly. He began to feel that he'd had enough of Bill's grousing. "You've nothing to kick about, so shut up. I'm doing packer's work rather than have men along who might go out and betray you."

"Yeah. You knew mighty well I wouldn't stir a foot if you brought in a bunch of mouthy roughnecks," Bill growled back. "How do I know what you framed in town?"

Abington slipped his pack off his shoulders and swung toward Bill with a menacing glitter in his eyes. "That's going a bit strong, even for you," he said sharply. "If you've any reason for saying that, out with it! If not, I'll thank you to keep such thoughts behind your teeth. You're getting quite as much as you are giving, Bill Jonathan—and by that I mean to include loyalty and fair play.

"For all I know," Abington went on, "you invented the story of fossilized human remains as a temptation that would insure my protection and the food you'd need in case you made your escape from Park. Do you suppose I was so blind I did not see that possibility from the start? A fossilized man, as you knew, was bait I'd be pretty sure to swallow. Well, I did swallow it—but not with my eyes shut, I assure you. Please give me credit for that much intelligence.

"I took you at your word," he continued, "and I have played the game straight. I shall continue to play it square, until I find that you have lied to me."

HE waited, balanced, ready for the blow he expected. Instead, he saw the expression in Bill's eyes change to a grudging mollification, as if the very abusiveness of the attack reassured him.

"I never said anything to put you on your ear," Bill hedged morosely, after an uncomfortable pause. "What are you razzing me for? I said I wouldn't be caught and I won't be. That goes, professor."

"Very well, let's have no more talk about it." Abington lifted his pack to his galled shoulders and started on, leaving Bill to his own devices; wherefore Bill presently overtook him and walked alongside.

The truce held while the clouds flamed with the sunset, a barbaric pageant that could not rival the sanguine magnificence of that wild ensemble of towering hills slashed with deep gorges whose openings were frequently hidden away behind bold, jutting pinnacles.

"Looks like the devil was practicing on these hills, trying to make a world of his own with nothing but fire for building material," Bill observed at last, wanting to appear friendly and awed in spite of himself before the spectacle. "When God came along and told him to knock off, looks like the devil just kicked it all to thunder and dragged his feet through the mess a few times and walked off and left it like that. Don't you think so, professor?"

"I've heard theories advanced that were not half so plausible," Abington replied, his voice once more calm and slightly ironic, as if he still doubted Bill's sincerity. "A man could spend a lifetime in this country without exhausting its archaeological possibilities."

"Yeah—or without getting caught," Bill added, speaking as had the other of the thing nearest his own heart.


BILL and Abington came to and entered a narrow, straight-walled gorge. It had a loose, sandy bottom and every indication that ages before it had been a watercourse with the floods of glacial rainfall sluicing down to the valley. Presently Bill, plowing laboriously ahead to a certain spring he remembered in a cave up this ravine, gave a grunt and stopped short.

In the peculiar, amethystine veil of the afterglow which lay upon the hills like a cunning stage effect of, colored lights, he pointed a finger stiffly to a certain mark in the sand. Abington limped forward and joined him.

"I see the gosh-awful is here ahead of us," he said listlessly. "Well, it will be obliged to wreck us personally this time, Bill, since all our worldly goods are literally on our backs. We may get a sight of it at last."

"That all you care?" Bill stared at him. "Maybe I'd feel that way about it, too, if I had a gun to defend myself with. You're making a big mistake, professor. You'll see it before you're through."

"Possibly." Abington's tone was skeptical. "How far is it to the spring?"

Bill did not reply. He was still staring at the strange tracks that were too large for any sheep one could imagine, yet not shaped like cattle tracks, nor much resembling the elk they had discussed last night. Blurred though they were in the fine sand, they were yet easily distinguishable to being the same hoof prints they had seen across the valley.

The tracks did not look very fresh, and after a brief study of them Abington took the lead, perhaps because he was armed and Bill was not.

Presently Abington stopped and pointed to a cleft in the rocks. "Whatever it is, it turned out of the gorge and went up there," he said. "Pretty good climbing, even for a sheep."

"I'll go ahead and show you the spring," Bill volunteered and Abington chuckled to himself.

Bill looked back at him with sullen eyes. "All right for you, professor—with two guns handy," he said resentfully. "Put you in here with just your bare hands and maybe you wouldn't be so damn nervy, yourself."

"I'd probably wait until I saw some danger before I became alarmed."

Bill muttered something under his breath, and stepped out more briskly. Both were thirsty, but since they had left the western side of the valley with one canteen nearly full, the need of water had not yet become acute. It was the tramp across the valley with packs too heavy for them that had told on the tempers of the two men—with Abington's bruised foot and Bill's nervous dread of pursuit for good measure.

The spring proved to be well protected, in a water-worn cave that seemed to offer excellent shelter. A tangle of nondescript oak bushes grew near the entrance and drew moisture from the overflow which, though slight, was yet sufficient for the scant vegetation.

The cave itself was not large, with a fine sandy floor and a lofty arched roof of irregular blocks of the red sandstone which was the regular formation of these hills. A lime dyke broke through here and there in sharp peaks and ridges in a fairly continuous outcropping roughly pointing toward the river.

Abington slipped off his pack, drank from the spring and sat down against the wall of the cave to unlace his boot from his lame foot.

Bill began gathering dry twigs and branches and set about making coffee and frying a little bacon. "We oughta git a sheep or something," he grumbled, breaking a long moody silence. "This time of year there's generally sheep running in through here."

"I'll take a hunt, when my foot has had a rest. We can manage for a day or two," Abington replied without looking up.

"Say, you'd be in a hell of a fix if you broke your leg," Bill sneered. "You'd starve to death before you'd trust me with a gun, wouldn't you?"

"There's meat for to-night. To-morrow will take care of itself."

"Yeah, maybe it will—and it'll leave us to do the same," Bill retorted. "What the heck are you scared of, professor?"

"Nothing at all. Not even your gosh-awful. Will you fill that corn can with water for me, Bill? I'll try a cold compress on the foot."

Bill did as he was requested and a sight of the discolored foot stirred him to sympathy. Abington, he suddenly saw, must have suffered cruelly all day, though he hadn't said anything about it. Bill remembered too that Abington had remained awake all last night while he himself had slept. But it was not Bill's way to apologize.

"That's a hell of a looking foot!" he growled. "Hot water beats cold. After supper I'll heat a can of water—"

"After supper I'm going to sleep," Abington rebuffed him. "Cold water will do."

"Have it your way—it's your foot," snapped Bill, and relapsed into his morose silence.

IT was not an agreeable supper, and neither spoke while they drank coffee and ate bacon and fried corn from the same frying pan.

Bill was tired and full of uneasy fears and he bitterly resented Abington's action in regard to the guns. He was accustomed to the feel of a gun's weight against his hip and the thought of facing trouble without a weapon gave him an uncomfortable feeling of helplessness. Add mystery to the hazard, and Bill reacted with a dread not far removed from panic.

Abington ate and drank his share, then forced himself to explore the cave with a lamp. He chose for himself a niche in one side of the wall near the entrance, where he would hear any intruder and would still be fairly well concealed.

At least, that was his idea when he settled himself in the recess. As a matter of fact not even his aching foot could keep him awake. He dropped almost at once into the deep dreamless sleep of exhaustion. When he opened his eyes it was to see the sunlight slanting into the cave—a circumstance which at first convinced him that it must be nearly noon, since the cave opening faced the south and the cañon walls were high.

After a brief space of mental fogginess, however, his mind snapped into alertness. He remembered that he had stooped to enter the cavern; the sunlight bathed the high-arched roof just over his head and brought into relief certain symbols—left there by the ancients, he had no doubt.

For a time he lay looking up at the roof, deciphering each crude character, his eyes tracing the lines which even in that sheltered place showed the erosion of many centuries. Some of the lines were dimmed; none retained the sharp outlines left by the engravers.

Now he knew that the cave had a high opening through which the sun was shining; a common occurrence in that old formation that had suffered the buffetings of wind and water for millions of years, and moreover had been rocked and twisted by many a primeval earthquake. He thought no more of the opening, but insensibly slipped under the spell of those ancient records, his imagination thrilling to each new sign as it caught his eye.

The story of a journey was depicted there, a journey of death, he judged from certain priestly emblems and the sign of burial. Perhaps they had attempted to depict the journey of the soul, though he could only guess at that, his speculations revolving around a figure of a dog or wolf, very similar to the jackal which in the belief of ancient Egypt was supposed to carry souls across the desert to paradise. He wondered, searching farther along the roof for further inscriptions.

Like an old rangeman riding up to a herd of strange cattle, unconsciously reading the brands and mentally identifying the owners, Abington could not seem to pull his mind away from that roof. Beyond the sunlit patch the carvings extended into obscurity so deep that, stare as he would, he could not distinguish the lines.

A sense of bafflement nagged at him. Just as the cattleman will follow a range animal for half a mile, seeking the vague satisfaction of seeing what brand had been burned into its hide, Abington sat up and put on his boots, and picked up the can of carbide and miner's lamp which he used in preference to candles when exploring dark caverns. He started climbing up a tilted shelf of rock that offered a precarious footing for a man tall enough to bridge certain places where the shelf had dropped completely away and left gaps in what may once have been a steep narrow trail.

From the floor of the cave it looked impossible for anything save a fly or a lizard to climb to the roof. When he started, Abington had not expected to do more than reach a point from where he could view the shadowed writing at closer range. He kept going, however, while the lame foot protested with twinges of pain that gradually ceased as the muscles limbered. Presently he stood on a low irregular balcony, the writings just over his head.

This was something he had not suspected even while lying on his back studying the roof. He made his way along the ledge, forced to stoop so that he was soon walking like a gorilla with his hands sometimes touching the balcony floor. He became suddenly aware of an odd variation in the rough sandstone. The sharp, granular formation was worn down to a dull smoothness in the center of the ledge where he walked. It was a pathway polished by many shuffling feet—nothing else.

He turned a corner and peered into blackness; an ancient water channel was there, no doubt. Abington lighted a match, saw that the hieroglyphics continued along the wall. Waiting only long enough to light the carbide lamp, he set off along the narrow passage, pausing now and then to study the inscriptions as he went.

Broad chambers receded into blackness beyond the white light of his lamp and these he hastily explored before going on. Labyrinthine passageways were revealed as he turned the light this way and that, each opening inscribed with strange symbols carved in the rock at the sides.

"A gold mine of records!" Abington exclaimed to himself in the whisper that was his habit when alone. "The ancient people who lived here seem to have had a Scribblers' Club of very active members! An ancient catacomb, or I'm mistaken. That, or else these symbols were carved with the express purpose of misleading one. H'm! An attempt to confuse the devil and thwart him in his search for the souls of the dead! Now here's a pretty problem for an archaeologist. Let's see if I am smarter than the devil!"


ORDINARILY John Abington thought fairly well of himself and he felt certain that these misleading characters could not prevent him from finding the way to the actual burial place. For one thing, he discovered that many of the passages—a miner would have called them drifts—had been hacked out by hand, with stone hammers and wedges. How long and arduous a task that had been, he could only conjecture.

In several of the drifts he found implements to prove his theory. After a glance or two that identified them with the early people he had been tracing, he went on and left the implements lying there for the present, knowing that he could return at any time and get them if he wished to do so.

It cost him several fruitless trips down long, winding ways that finally ended in blank walls, before he learned to mistrust the man-made passageways, which had evidently been cunningly constructed to deceive the devil himself—and any other unwelcome intruder.

He began to study more carefully the carvings placed at the openings of these zigzag passages, but after a while he was forced to admit to himself that he could make nothing of them. So far as he could determine with a cursory examination they all looked much alike, though he knew there must be some secret differentiation. He could only avoid such corridors as seemed to him the work of human hands, and go on.

Going on was not a simple thing, however. Many times he was forced to crawl on hands and knees along an old water channel with fine red sand packed hard and smooth, and at such times he caught himself looking for human footprints. That he found nothing of the kind in any of the old water channels seemed to him a proof that the ancient ones had traversed these black passages before the time of copious rainfall, else the sand would not have been so smooth and untrodden.

Frequently he was forced to climb up through crevices where the rocks were worn glossy—always, wherever rock lay underfoot, the same smoothness prevailed —until it seemed to him that he must soon emerge upon the crest of the high-turreted ridge which formed that wall of the cañon.

After a time that to Abington had been timeless, so absorbed was he in the fascinating quest of a final destination which these signs seemed to promise, he was recalled to practical things by the dimming of his carbide lamp. He held it close to his ear and shook it, but heard no sloshing sound in the small water compartment above the carbide.

HE moved the tiny lever that permitted the water to leak drop by drop over the lumps of carbide to form the acetylene gas which burned with a clear white light until water or carbide—or both—were exhausted and the gas ceased to form, but the flame still burned feebly and threatened to go out altogether.

Abington glanced at his watch and gave a low whistle. No wonder the lamp was going out! His watch said that the hour was eleven thirty-five, though he would have sworn it was crazy if the lamp had not begun to fail.

He must have been prowling in there for three or four hours. That was as long as the lamp would burn with one filling of water. The previous evening he had wanted to make sure of a steady light in case they were disturbed during the night and he had put in fresh carbide and filled the small tank with water just before going to bed.

"Damned idiot! Brought the carbide can along, and no extra water!" he anathematized his carelessness.

After all, he was not so culpable, however, for he had intended to use the lamp for only a few minutes, to study the carvings on the cave roof. The can of carbide, lying beside the lamp, had gone into his pocket from force of habit, a good habit, too. If only he had slipped the quart canteen over his shoulder! But Abington's work had taught him to manage comfortably with very little water and who would burden himself with a canteen when he was merely going to climb fifteen or twenty feet?

He shut off the lamp entirely, since it was folly to waste the flame while he sat there thinking over the unpleasant predicament in which his scientific zeal had led him. That little cat claw of light might serve to help him over a bad place, he reflected. As he sat there, he could recall several places which he would not care to negotiate in the dark. Furthermore, there had been trickles of water in some of the passages and one cavern held a pool.

It occurred to him that Bill would probably be worried. It was the first time he had thought of Bill since he started this strange underground journey. He remembered now that he had not seen Bill in the cave when he left it that morning. "He'll think the gosh-awful got me in the night!" Abington grinned to himself.

Abington hated to go back without having discovered the secret of these writings, but common sense told him that the thorough exploration of this place was likely to take some little time. The problem now was to find his way back to the cave. He had little doubt that he could retrace his steps, though he realized that it would take some time, feeling his way along in the dark, as he would be compelled to do unless he found water.

He stood up, stooping under the low roof, and stared unseeingly into the blackness whence he had come, trying to recall the nearest point where he could find water. It was some little distance back, he knew. He had been climbing considerably in the last half hour or more and the walls were dry.

Well, he would have to help out with matches until he found water enough to fill his lamp. An inveterate smoker, he had a fair supply of matches; and now he lighted one and tucked it under the little lamp switch, so that he could have the benefit of the blaze down the full length of the wood.

That first match having helped him down a rough channel where the boulders were trickily piled, he felt his way along the wall as far as he dared go before lighting another. Walking in alternate darkness and light, he made his way for some distance.

Inevitably the time arrived when he paused, hesitating between a left-hand turn and a right, with a black hole directly in front of him. It cost Abington two matches to decide that he knew none of these passages, that he had not come this way at all.

He was about to retrace his steps to a point where he was sure of the landmarks when, far away, he heard the faint drip, drip, drip of water falling on rock. At first, standing there in black silence save for the intermittent tinkling, he could not tell where the sound came from.

By walking a few feet down each passage, however, he eliminated first the left passage and then the right, and so went straight ahead down a gentle incline with roof so high that a match flame failed to reveal it, and so narrow that his shoulders brushed the walls on either side as he walked. He judged it to be a natural fissure running through the hill, an old watercourse; the ridge seemed honeycombed with them.

That particular match having burned itself out, Abington walked on in darkness, frankly relieved at the near prospect of water. He was willing now to admit to himself that he was very thirsty, and that the hunger gnawing at his stomach could be easier borne if he had a drink.

It would be a relief, too, to have a decent light once more and he promised himself grimly that this time he would not loiter along, studying hieroglyphics as he went. They could wait until he came in again prepared to explore the place thoroughly and chalk the different turnings so there could be no blundering in the future. So, thinking of future precautions, he stepped out over the lip of a small precipice and fell headlong into water.

He came up spluttering sentences which might have surprised Bill, who had found him always controlled in his speech. Abington fumbled for the edge of the pool, found it and hung on with one hand while he explored with the other for room to lift himself out on the rock. Grimly he clung to the lamp, which was doubly vital to him now, and when he had made shift to crawl out he turned and sat with his legs dangling in water to his knees while he prepared to fill his lamp.

"Well, I wanted water," he said with a chuckle, when his first startled rage had passed and he was smoothing the water out of his wet beard. "Sooner or later we do get what we want, I've noticed, even though the manner of getting is often unexpected." With the lamp cap opened, he leaned and dipped the lamp in the water, feeling for the depth.

ABINGTON'S nerves were scarcely more susceptible to emotion than wires, but the Stygian blackness and the silence broken only by that tinkling drip, drip, drip, began to press rather heavily upon his consciousness. In spite of himself his fingers shook and fumbled the simple mechanism which provided for lighting the lamp with a spark when matches were not available—as his emphatically were not, after their involuntary bath.

He whirred the little wheel again and again before he succeeded in striking a spark that would ignite the gas, and exhaled a long breath of gratitude when the slender white flame suddenly sprang into life. Solicitously he coaxed it into a brighter radiance and turned its full beam upward, looking for the spot where he had walked over the edge of the fissure. When he found it, his mouth sagged open.

"Call this hole a teapot, and I'd say I fell down the spout," he grunted. "A pretty problem—getting out again!"

In truth the problem was not pretty, but instead was as ugly a situation as any in which John Abington had ever found himself. The place was not unlike a huge teapot with bulging sides and the fissure for a spout. How deep the water was in the pool, he could only guess; considerably over six feet, he knew, because he had taken a dive of about fifteen feet and he did not remember that he touched bottom at all. As to the diameter of the pool, that too was a matter of conjecture, since the light did not show the farther rim.

He leaned over, dropped a wet match into the water and watched it, edging along the rim of the pool as the match floated gently away from the side where he had fallen in.

Abington's eyes brightened. "Thought there was a current," he said with a nod of confirmation. "Some outlet, of course. Some inlet, as well. This pool never filled drop by drop."

Carefully guarding his lamp, he worked his way along, following the match. He saw it hesitate, poise and sway like something grown suddenly fearful, then up-end and disappear under water as if invisible fingers had reached up and seized it. Abington leaned far over, flung another match into the water and saw it disappear as the first had done.

He dropped his hand into the water, let the fingers dangle passively, and felt the nagging pull of the undertow. The hope of leaving the cavern by following the outlet of the pool died before it had gained more than a flutter of life. For the water flowed out by a subterranean channel which no man could follow.

Abington continued around the pool, turning the lamp this way and that upon water and walls. The place was not unlike a huge cistern, roughly round and slowly drying up, judging from certain marks on the rock rim which in places sloped steeply toward the water. Presently he discovered the inlet, a small stream running down through a crack in the wall. There was no hope Whatever of getting out that way. It was here that the tinkly drip fell into the pool from a finger of rock thrust out of the fissure.

Even in his urgent need of finding his way back to the surface, his scientific mind ruled Abington, for he caught himself turning the lamp rays back for a second look at hieroglyphics carved high up.

"What the deuce!" he muttered. "That can mean nothing but evil—much evil—and the death of many. Aztec and Egyptian—not burial but death, and an evil death at that. Death to many—repeated over there. Well, the carvers were here, that's certain. Couldn't have come in as I came. H'm—"

He went on, stepping across the fissure where the water flowed in, and keeping to the dank rim which widened as he proceeded. Although the walls rose roughly perpendicular with here an outward bulge, there a falling back to a steep incline, there was visible no passage nor even a split, save where the water came sliding down the fissure that was no more than a seam. All along the wall, high up wherever a smooth surface offered, there were the carvings, with little variation in their sinister portent, the great chain of evil, and the death of many.


TWICE Abington circled the pool, pausing often to scan the carvings and to look up at the place where he had made his unexpected entrance. A real jump-off, that; more than twice the height of a tall man, and no possibility of climbing back unless one had a rope. The water had undoubtedly saved him a nasty fall.

As a means of escape, Abington gave it up and turned his attention to the places where the walls slanted up into blackness. He was standing thoughtfully considering his next move—a matter that would bear thought!—when he was startled by an explosive report, muffled by distance, but nevertheless unmistakably a gunshot.

Something approaching a spasm of rage at his helplessness shook Abington and passed, leaving him again calculating and outwardly calm. The sound could not have come down the fissure from which he had fallen. He had come too far along a straight passage before he reached the three forks, for an outside noise to penetrate to him there.

The sound might have come down the narrow inlet to the pool, but Abington dismissed that possibility, probably because it was of no use to him, since he could not very well worm his way through an eight-inch crevice.

There must be some opening in the roof. If not, then one good archaeologist was likely to be counted a martyr to science and finally forgotten—his own bones eventually becoming mere fossilized relics.

"Cheerful prospect, by Jove!" he grunted as he turned his back on the inlet and began to examine the walls with the speculative eye of a steeple jack. Now that he was fairly sure that the surface was near, Abington did find a place where it looked possible for an athlete to climb up, at least as far as the light illumined the walls.

He was resolved that there must be no more carelessness. Before he left the pool he took the precaution of emptying the carbide lumps from the can into his handkerchief, and filling the can with water. The tight-fitting top served to keep the water from leaking into his pocket, though he stowed the carbide in another for safety's sake. He kept out but one lump, which he put into the lamp, leaving himself in the dark for a minute or two.

With the lamp dry and warm the tiny flint wheel sparked at the first attempt and the white tongue of flame shot out in a friendly fashion that brought the ghost of a smile to Abington's lips. Even then he waited long enough to refill the lamp with water before rising to begin the hazardous climb—which, after all, might net him nothing, unless it were a broken bone or two if he lost his footing and fell again.

Abington's work had given him the sureness of a mountain goat. He took off his necktie, tied it like a bandeau around his head, hooked the lamp securely in its fabric and began to climb, resolutely pushing far from him the thought of failure.

How far he went, he did not know. All he was certain of was the impossibility of going back. There were times when he hung by a slender foothold and risked his neck while he rested his hands. There were other times when he was almost ready to give it up, almost but never wholly beaten.

"By Jove, this is a high mountain!" he gasped once when, having found a fairly comfortable perch on a knob of rock the size of a barrel, he very gingerly removed the lamp from his forehead and took a more comprehensive survey of his immediate surroundings and the wall above him. "I'll swear I've climbed ten miles!" This was a very unscientific assertion to make. He capped it at once by another. "Bet I've passed a dozen lateral fissures on the way up."

HAVING relieved the tension somewhat by that remark, he slowly turned himself about and illumined with white light an arched opening in the wall that half faced him around the curve of the cavern. "I'll be damned!" breathed John Abington but what he really meant was: "Thank God!"

The six feet of sheer wall which stood between his perch and the mouth of the passageway balked him for a time, until he saw that the rock immediately above the opening broke smoothly for several feet, even with the face of the wall. The rock floor of the tunnel extended outward over the black abyss from which he had just climbed; it was like a pursed lip thrust out from an open mouth, he thought.

Upon that narrow platform he fixed his gaze, shrewdly measuring the width of the extension. He would have to climb above the opening and drop down to the out-thrust lip, trusting to good fortune to keep his balance and not pitch headlong into the cavern.

For a long moment he stood face to face with this fresh ordeal, the lamplight sliding back and forth, halting to contemplate a feasible niche for his feet, stealing upward to find some splinter or seam where the fingers could clutch.

Foot by foot he planned it, while he gathered his last reserve of strength for this supreme effort. Once he started, there could be no going back. He must work above the smooth stretch, where, at some time in the past, a huge fragment of wall had fallen away, and then edge sidewise until he was directly over the lip of the tunnel.

After that he must let go all holds and drop. If he landed on the lip and stayed there, he would at least have a chance. If not—the evil death of a certainty would be his; for even if he landed uninjured in the pool he would never be able to repeat that terrific climb. He knew that he would not even attempt it.

Doggedly, with that persistence which characterized the man, Abington began the ascent. He reached the exact point which he had planned to reach, drew one long breath in the full knowledge that it might be his last—and dropped. The impact of solid rock upon his boot soles jarred him as he flung himself forward and fell face downward on the floor of the passage.


WHEN Abington came to himself he was in darkness, the lamp having fallen on its side and gone out. Whether he had fainted, slept or merely lost consciousness for a moment he could not tell, nor did he ponder it much. The fact that his toes hung over the edge set him crawling forward on his hands and knees, obeying the primal instinct of self-preservation.

He wanted no more of that particular abysm. Until he had put several yards between himself and what seemed to him now a black, bottomless void, he did not think of the lamp.

When he finally forced himself to stop and light it he discovered that he was in a fairly level passage, the walls covered with carvings wherein the same chain of evil predominated. These hieroglyphics won only a cursory glance, however, as he got painfully upon his feet and started forward, steadying himself against the wall as he went.

A cool breath of air in his face was his first intimation that he was nearing the outdoor world. In spite of a stiffness in his joints and muscles he found himself moving almost at a run and the consciousness of his nervous haste brought a faint grin of amusement to his face. John Abington was more anxious to see daylight than he ever had been in his life—and the first man to laugh over the experience would be John Abington himself.

Nevertheless he did not slacken his pace until he arrived at a sharp turning where a gray light dimmed the white flame of his lamp.

He stopped before a crack twice the width of his palm, through which the dawn wind came blowing gratefully in his face. Directly across from him, but fifty feet lower and separated by a hundred-foot chasm, a broad ridge extended out into the valley; and as he looked two bighorn sheep came trotting up a faint trail and disappeared among the higher crags.

"That's where the shooting took place," Abington told himself. "Wonder if Bill's been hunting? Took my rifle. Have to give it back. Well—at least I can see daylight!"

The lazy clouds above the valley blossomed suddenly into radiant hues. The gaunt hills blushed and the cañons all seemed bathed in crimson and yellow flames. As through the narrow window of a belfry tower, Abington gazed down on a world of magnificent peaks and crags flaunting their bold reds and yellow beneath a redder sunrise.

For the moment the scene held him, then he turned back to the problem of finding a way out; for although a glimpse of the outside world was heartening, he could not squeeze through an eight-inch split in the rock. There must be some other exit. He turned away from the window and went on.

The passage took another twist and he entered a roughly outlined room into which the daylight seeped through several fissures between the shattered blocks of sandstone; high overhead most of them were, although two or three were low enough to serve as narrow windows.

A square boulder, the top hollowed in the shape of a rounded trough, stood in the center of the chamber. Otherwise the room was empty, unless the intricate mass of carved symbols might be classed as furnishings, for the walls were covered with them.

Abington's spirits rose, though he paid little attention to the writings. To him they proved, as did the boulder which he recognized as a sacrificial altar, that this was a chamber much used by the ancients. Since the route by which he had entered could not be called a thoroughfare, there would be another way out, possibly several.

Within two minutes he had found the passage, and something else. There on the rock floor which slanted down from the chamber on the side opposite the one by which he had entered, was a cigarette stub; it was one of the oval kind he himself always smoked. He stooped and picked it up, his black eyebrows lifted in surprise.

"Never reached this point yesterday—h'm! Bill not only borrowed my gun and went hunting last night, but did a little exploring on his own account. Looking for me, perhaps. No, Bill was scouting around for himself. H'm! Growing surly and quarrelsome, pretending a distrust he can't actually feel, hoping I'd give him an excuse to turn on me. Wonder, now, if Bill didn't raid his own cave and hide the stuff!

"A full burro load of grub—with gun and ammunition he could live all winter—h'm!" He went on: "Looking now for a hideout—place where I can't find him! Bill, my lad, you should pay more attention to details; one little oversight—such as a cigarette stub—has hanged a man before now. A good inch and a half of tobacco wasted here. You'll be wanting a cigarette very badly, Bill, before you get another supply, remember."

He laid the stub down where he had found it and went on, haggard eyes peering this way and that, seeking further signs of the traitor's presence. If Bill had been looking for his partner, then it was an odd twist of circumstance that had sent them both wandering around in the same labyrinth of caves and complicated katabothra without once permitting them to meet. If, on the other hand, Bill had been hunting a hiding place which Abington would never find—and the archaeologist was certain this was the case—he had a surprise in store.

Just now Abington wanted most of all to get out of there and find his way back to their camp, where there should be food. If not—well, he had his automatic; he had seen game; and he was a fairly accurate shot. He would not starve.

The passage sharply descended, as so many others had done. Abington went cautiously, lighting both walls and watching for obscure openings which for all he knew might be the one he should take. This whole country seemed to have been the playground of Vulcan, who rent mountains asunder, twisted whole ranges of hills and broke them into fragments and flung them aside when fresh land appeared above the great Sonora Sea and caught his sportive fancy.

Just here the shattered formation of the old volcanic fissure lay in blocks that had been roughly hewn into the crude semblance of steps, down which Abington went slowly, choosing his footing with the deliberation of excessive weariness. His thirty-six-hour fast and that terrific climb up from the Pool of Evil Death—from the writings he had so named the place—had taken more out of him than he realized, until he began to negotiate this rather difficult descent. But he kept going, that cigarette stub serving now to urge him forward.

STUMBLING from hunger and weariness, Abington emerged into another cavern of considerable extent and showing unmistakable signs of human occupancy in bygone ages. Crude pots—most of them broken—stood against the walls. Stone implements of various kinds, all thickly covered with dust, lay scattered about; and on the dust-strewn floor were the plain imprints of hiking boots. Bill, then, had visited this cavern, which proved that so far Abington had kept to the right trail.

Tilting the lamp so that the light shone on the floor, he went forward, following the boot tracks in the dust. Through winding passages they led him—Abington might have become lost again had not those footprints pointed the way—and so into a chamber where was piled a little heap of things which Abington recognized as a part of his own outfit and the things Bill had declared were stolen from his cave across the valley.

The treachery of the act stabbed through Abington's weary consciousness and merged into a malicious satisfaction. At any rate the spot had been well chosen, for here was water trickling down a rift in the wall, tinkling into a tiny basin hewn out of the rock by some other hands than Bill's.

Abington sank to his knees and drank thirstily, then clawed at the pile of stuff, found a tin of corned beef and cut it open with his knife. It was not what he would have chosen for a meal, but it would serve. There was plenty of water at hand. He ate all of the corned beef, drank again and withdrew to a sandy niche where he felt fairly sure of hearing Bill if he returned; laid himself down under a shelving projection of rock, put out his lamp and went thankfully to sleep.


REFRESHED, Abington awoke with a sunbeam shining fair in his eyes. Just at first he failed to orient himself and thought he was in the cave with Bill. But this cavern was larger and the crevices high up on the wall, between the broken masses of rock, let in a westering sun and a breeze straight off the desert. He was hungry again and the salt beef had given him a burning thirst.

He wondered if Bill had returned while he slept. It was quite likely, he thought, and having no wish to be discovered just yet, he crept very slowly from his place of concealment, careful to keep in the shadows beneath the jutting wall.

For some time he waited and listened, but the only sounds he heard were the tinkling of the little spring and the shrill chirping of a few cedar birds that had made their home in the crannies of the roof and were very busy with their own small affairs.

Abington grinned to himself as he cautiously approached the little pile of supplies and began a more careful investigation than he had attempted that morning. Two pounds of chewing tobacco—most convincingly had Bill bewailed the loss of those plugs, he remembered. He counted half a dozen cans of corned beef, one of the variations in diet which had been made possible by having three pack burros. Had Bill really imagined he could make Abington believe that the gosh-awful had carried off chewing tobacco and corned beef in cans?

In the face of their loss of the burros Abington had not given much thought to the missing articles from Bill's outfit. He had visited the cave, viewed the apparent aimlessness of the demolition, had looked for tracks, and, having found the giant sheep tracks in the bottom of the cañon, paid no more attention to the wreckage.

"Bill must have hurried back across the valley after this stuff—no, certain details contradict that," Abington said to himself. "He must have carried all this stuff on his back, along with what I gave him. Not very bulky—he could have concealed it all in his pack, easily enough. Pretty heavy load it would make! No wonder Bill was grouchy! Took advantage of the gosh-awful's work and held out a few supplies on me. Clever—but then, the sheriff's experience with Bill should have warned me to be on the lookout for tricks."

Abington helped himself to what food he could stow in his pockets, dined on another can of corned beef, took a long drink at the spring and refilled his carbide lamp before he started out again. His plans had changed altogether since he discovered the food cache.

He no longer wanted to get back to the cave where he and Bill had camped, for he did not believe that Bill would be there, nor any of the supplies, and if there were fossilized human skeletons in this region he felt that he would find them just as easily without Bill.

The way out of this particular cavern led him down through another crevice, blocky and splintered as if the whole peak had been twisted asunder; and for the greater part of the distance it was open to the sky.

There were places where it would even have been possible for a man to climb up out of the crevice. But the day was too far gone and Abington had no intention of spending another night underground in aimless wanderings, nor to roost on some dangerous pinnacle until morning.

He emerged at last on a narrow ridge that stood like the crest of a huge, petrified wave between the peak he was leaving and another not quite so high. Intuitively he identified it as the ridge he had dubbed the rooster's comb—and knew that if he were right he must have come a long way underground. For the cave where he and Bill had spent the night together and from which he had started on his subterranean journey was considerably more than half a mile from the ridge where he had seen the light.

Again the high peaks were gilded with sunlight while the lower slopes glowed scarlet and the deeper shadows merged into warm purple. No artist would ever have dared to mix those barbaric colors, even for a desert sunset; and if he had dared his hand must have lacked the cunning of the Master Painter who daily wrought his magic here on these wild hills where men so seldom ventured.

Abington looked down a sheer wall of rock to a deep basin where grass grew and a round pool of water held like a mirror the rose-tinted reflection of the cloud straight overhead. One steep trail led down the farther hillside to the pool and as he gazed a mountain sheep went bounding up that trail. On the brink of the pool stood a man foreshortened to the height of a boy. He seemed to be staring after the sheep.

"Bill! Oh, Bill!" Abington shouted between cupped hands. For the moment he had quite forgotten Bill's treachery, in his human reaction to the sight of a familiar figure after the ordeal he had just passed through. "Oh, Bill! Hey!"

The man's face was upturned, staring. Then he raised his rifle and fired point-blank at Abington. The bullet struck a rock close by, ricochetted and nicked Abington across the forearm.

"You poisonous reptile!" snarled Abington, and whipped out his automatic.

At his first shot the figure went sprawling; tried to get up, fell back and lay still. Abington watched him, a bit heartsick over the excellence of his shot. He had never taken much to the manly sport of planting leaden pellets in living bodies, but since his work took him into the wild places of the world he had learned to shoot straight because it seemed to him a necessary accomplishment. Besides, straight shooting made an enormous saving in ammunition.

"You would have it," he grunted remorsefully. "Any jury would agree that my life is of more use to the world than yours—and since you are the killing kind it—"

Down in the basin the wounded man struggled to hands and knees and began crawling; slowly, stopping every moment or two, going on, crawling in an aimless circle most horrible to watch.

An oath voiced at random jarred out of Abington's throat. He half raised the automatic, lowered it, shook his head. He couldn't do it. But neither could he leave man nor animal crawling blindly, aimlessly around until he died. Abington looked again and turned away sickened at that creeping, groping, stricken thing hemmed in by the crimson rocks that rimmed the basin.

WITHOUT any clear purpose Abington started down the ridge, looking for some break in the cliff that separated him from the basin by a scant two hundred feet. He had no doubt that Bill Jonathan was done for; the automatic was a wicked weapon; the range was short.

When in the dusk he came slipping and sliding down an old sheep trail long since abandoned for a more favored path, however, there was no wounded man to be seen in the little basin. Like a shot quail that flutters for a moment among the bushes and is lost, the man somehow had managed to crawl away and disappear.

Abington called Bill's name again and again while he lighted the carbide lamp. And as the white light sprang out and drove back the shadows, a gunshot roared just under the cliff for answer to his hail.

As he leaped sidewise, Abington shut off the lamp, then rushed the spot where the gun had flashed. By good luck he spied the vague bulk just as the rifle was being painfully lifted for another shot. He snatched at the barrel and wrenched the gun free—by the feeble resistance of the other gauging shrewdly his waning strength.

"Venomous kind of snake, aren't you?" Abington observed with pitying contempt, as he leaned the rifle against the cliff and started to relight the lamp.

The light flared up. Abington stooped, gave a shocked exclamation as he started back, recovered himself and stooped again. The man was not Bill Jonathan, but a gaunt old fellow with high cheek bones and a straight gash of a mouth drawing an evil line through his grizzled beard. He was a total stranger, wounded and collapsed against the cliff; beaten and utterly passive now, like a trapped animal that will not move unless it sees some chance of escape.

"By Jove, I'm glad it wasn't Bill, at any rate!" Abington ejaculated as he knelt to make a superficial examination. "Shot through the side," he diagnosed to himself. "Well below the heart. Serious enough, but by no means fatal with the proper care—and that is going to be something of a problem in existing conditions. Might better have made a clean job of it—glad I didn't, though.

"Well," he asked aloud, "where's your camp? If it doesn't involve too much climbing I'll try and get you home." He waited while the old man's eyes remained fixed on him with a baleful stare. "Doesn't understand, maybe."

He tried French, German and a passable Italian, keenly watching the eyes that never once changed their homicidal glare. He sat back on his haunches and studied the glowering face with less personal emotion than he would have displayed before an odd pattern of the Maya death mask, and decided that the man had understood his first question well enough and was merely stubborn.

"Of course, if you want to lie here all night, that's your privilege, I suppose," Abington said finally, standing up and glancing around at the confining walls of the dusk-filled basin. He turned the light again on the old man's forbidding countenance, made more sinister by the pain he was suffering.

"Are your field glasses equipped with night lenses?" Abington asked abruptly, and silently laughed at the startled wavering of those colorless eyes.

"Thought so! Now, since you do understand plain English, let me urge you to tell me where I'll find your camp. Of course you have one, for you're too well nourished and too well dressed to be living off the country. You won't talk? Then you are likely to catch cold in that wound, lying out here all night. And I can assure you that a bullet wound—especially in the body—can give plenty of trouble if neglected."

The thin, vindictive mouth, clamped shut in that thick unkempt beard, might have been dumb for all the sound that issued from it.

ABINGTON rose and went seeking here and there with a light hoping to discover some sign of a camp, or at least a trail that would lead to one. He did not succeed, but he did find the field glasses which had been dropped or cannily hidden under a bush, where they might have been overlooked if the light had not brought a reflection from the lenses. He was looking them over when, from up on the ridge where the sheep had disappeared, a voice that could belong to no man save Bill shouted anxiously:

"Hullo! That you down there, professor?"

Abington swung the lamp toward the sound, moving it three times up and-down, the signal to advance which they had found convenient in old caves and tunnels where a shout might bring down upon their heads a small avalanche of loose rock.

"Was that you shooting? You hurt?"

"Come on down, Bill," Abington called. "There's a path, if you can find it in the dark." And as an afterthought, he added: "No, I'm not hurt."

Good old Bill, to ask that question with just that demanding note of worry in his voice! Abington remembered what he had been thinking when he pulled and aimed his automatic, and he had the conscience to blush for the thought. Of course Bill was no traitor! His eager, hurried voice betrayed long hours of frantic searching in that maze of narrow gorges that twisted and turned and crisscrossed so bewilderingly.

Abington smiled under his beard as he listened to the clattering of small rocks on the hillside beyond the pool. Presently Bill Jonathan's familiar figure—never had Abington seen a more welcome sight!—came lurching into the light zone, half running, with that little swing of the shoulders that told of strength.

"My Lord, professor, I've been runnin' these hills like a rabid kit fox, lookin' for you!" he panted, laying both hands on Abington's shoulders and giving him an affectionate shake or two. "Why, you old vinegarroon, I've been scared to look off a cliff or into a pot hole for fear I'd see a coyote sneakin' away from your ornery carcass! Thought sure that gosh-awful thing had got you!" He stopped to breathe. "Who was doing that shootin'? You?"

Abington nodded, a bit surprised at the lump in his throat which prevented speech.

"Shootin' at the gosh-awful? You git it?" Bill's voice dropped to a vengeful whisper as he sent a wholly involuntary glance behind him.

"No, Bill, I didn't. Some one down here took a shot at me and I shot back. He's lying over here by the cliff."

"Yeah?" Astonishment pulled Bill's hand off the other's shoulder. "Who do you reckon—Was it an officer?" An indefinable change had crept into his voice.

"No, I don't think so. He isn't dead yet. Come over and take a look. We'll have to do something—get him into a shelter of some kind. These nights are too chilly for a wounded man to lie out unprotected."

Once more Abington was calm and cool and efficient. He turned and led the way back to the wounded man, Bill Jonathan following at his heels quite as if there had been neither quarrel nor separation to jar them out of the routine of the trail.


BILL got up off his knees, glanced this way and that as though looking for something of which he stood in urgent need, and turned a bleak gaze again upon the huddled figure on the ground.

"We better get a fire started," he said to Abington, unconsciously taking the initiative as if this was his own particular affair and he alone must acquit himself well in the emergency. "I'll scout around with the light. Maybe I can find a cave—his camp, if it's down in here. Don't suppose he'll jar loose any information—"

Bill continued to stare down at the man, his underjaw thrust out and in his face a certain implacable hardness that brought him a second puzzled glance from Abington.

"Where's your camp?" Bill demanded abruptly.

The man seemed to draw himself together as if he feared a blow. The murderous eyes flinched away from Bill's relentless stare. "Find out—if you think—you can!" he snarled.

"Oh, I'll find it! Don't you worry a minute," Bill said viciously. "If necessary, you'll tell where it is."

"I won't tell you. You can go ahead—kill me—be done with it—" The wounded man defied him weakly.

"Who, me?" The savage bitterness of Bill's laugh was a revelation to Abington. "Me kill you? I should sa-ay not! You mind what I told you two years ago, Jack! That still goes. Don't think you can die and duck out from under in that way. I'll nurse you like a sick baby! You'll get well, see? Well enough to travel, anyway." He turned abruptly away as if he would not trust himself to say more.

Presently a fire was crackling beside the cliff and Bill had brought water in his hat for Abington's use in cleansing the wound.

"Fix him up best you can, professor," said Bill. "Then if you can make out with the fire for light, I'll borrow the lamp and beat it over to where I cached our stuff. There's that first-aid kit we saved outa the wreck; I'll bring it and some grub. It ain't far. Just over the ridge, half a mile, maybe."

He drew Abington to one side, out of hearing of the wounded man. "That's Jack Huntley, professor. He's got to be put in shape for the trip in to Vegas. It's a matter of life and death. So do what you can—I know you're a pretty good doctor when it comes to a pinch. I'll be right back. Well—hang onto him, professor, till I get back with the stuff. Don't let him sneak out on you!"

"If he does," said Abington grimly, "it will be because he sneaks into the next world. I'll try and not let that happen, Bill, my lad."

He stood watching the round zone of white light go dancing away and up the hill without any visible means of locomotion, since Bill walked behind it, slipping from rock to rock, pausing and poising here, flitting on again like Peter Pan's good fairy Tinker Bell. A fantastic comparison in that wild glen where men of past ages had met for their wooing or their warring or to hide from strange beasts that roamed the valley; where even now the air seemed charged with a malignant kind of hate, and with fear that passed all reason—since the man called Jack Huntley had been assured of the best care they could give him.

All the while Abington sat by the fire and waited for Bill, he felt the cold malevolence of the soul behind those staring eyes and the close-shut lips. Though the fancy did not trouble him, it seemed too that the shades of those savage ones of long ago hovered inquisitively in the shadows that fringed the firelight; timid wild folk who dared not walk boldly among these strange men of a later age, yet lingered, curious to see what grim drama was about to be played here where the stage was set with the somber trappings more suited to an old Greek tragedy than of everyday life.

The return of Bill, heavily burdened and with the white light dancing impishly before him, did not spoil the illusion but served instead to deepen it; for the crudely efficient surgery was completed in silence or curt undertones that held a sinister quality of ominous reserve. The white light painted grotesque shadows on the brown-sandstone cliff beside them, gigantic caricatures of men in gruesome pantomime that might have been the enactment of a torture scene, with two fiends performing demoniac rites over some luckless victim.

Bill afterward boiled coffee and mixed a bannock in which he stirred small fragments of cold fried bacon left over from his supper. Abington ate ravenously, and afterward the two smoked beside the fire, Jack Huntley lying wrapped in their two blankets.

As the Great Dipper tilted more and more toward the polestar, fever unlocked the stubborn lips of the wounded man and he muttered endlessly, his sordid secrets betrayed with pitiless repetition. All about millions in carnetite, he babbled, and how "they" would never get it away from him, because he was too smart for them; it was crazy talk, interrupted whenever Abington bent over him ministering to his comfort, doing what he could to allay the fever.

Beside the fire Bill Jonathan brooded, lifting his head to listen when the fellow's delirium seemed to take a different turn, or some movement roused him from his somber meditations.

Dawn was beginning to work its daily miracle on hills and sky when Bill replenished the fire and turned to Abington, who was sitting with lean fingers clasped around his knees and a cold pipe dangling from between his teeth.

"What do you think of the case, professor? Think he'll get well, all right?" Bill's tone made the question seem only the preliminary to what was really in his mind.

Abington yawned. "No reason why he shouldn't, Bill. I recovered the bullet; it's a clean wound and no vital organs were injured. He should get well without much trouble—if proper care is used."

Bill turned away without a word, though it was plain that his mind was full of troubled thoughts. They cooked breakfast and ate in silence. The wounded man had fallen asleep, with the sunlight softly warm on his blanketed shoulder.

Once Bill turned his head and stared long at the man, then looked at Abington, lips parted for speech that after all was withheld. Abington lifted an eyebrow inquiringly and Bill looked away.

"What's on your mind?" Abington asked finally, setting down his empty cup. "They say confession is good for the soul."

"Yeah. So's a few other things. Come on over here on these rocks, professor. That old possum is liable to be listenin'."

"I don't think so," Abington cheerfully disagreed, but he followed Bill to a pile of boulders some distance away, where they could talk without disturbing the patient, or being overheard by him.

"Now, there's a question I'd like to ask you, professor. Who did you think you was shootin' at last night, when you ventilated Jack Huntley's liver?"

Abington's lips twitched. "At you, Bill."

"Yeah?" Bill's jaw stiffened. "Want another try?"

"No, I don't think so. This man has complicated matters, but he has also cleared up a few things for me."

"Yeah, and he'll clear up more—for me," Bill opined. "If it's a fair question, I'd like to know where you've been since yesterday."

"Well, not to relate all of my thrilling adventures, I have been wandering around through a series of caves and in the course of time I found myself in a cavern in the top of that peak up there. I judge it to be the one where I saw the reflection of the sun on field glasses. While trying to find my way out of there, I picked up a half-smoked cigarette, of the oval kind which I use."

"Yeah? One of the flat ones? Kinda backtracked yourself, eh?"

"No-o—for very good reasons I knew that I had never been there before. I thought I had crossed your trail, Bill, my lad."

"Not mine, professor." Bill shook his head. "I've been huntin' the hills over by our cave, lookin' for you. I was workin' over this way when I heard the shootin' last night."

"Yes. Well, a bit later I came across a cache of food taken from our outfit across the valley."

"The hell you did!" Bill started, and nearly dropped his cigarette. "You sure?"

"Absolutely sure. I ate two cans of our Imperial corned beef—breakfast and dinner. I expected you to show up there, but of course you didn't. It would make a splendid hideout, Bill. There's a spring, and cracks in the rock let in sunlight, a perfect retreat. Impossible to come at one from the rear—"

Abington paused and his shoulders moved involuntarily. He was thinking of the Pool of Evil Death. "I'll show you the place. When I am through in this country you'll find it useful, no doubt."

"Not unless Jack Huntley dies. If I can ever get him in somehow to the sheriff, I won't need to hide out in the hills. Unless," Bill added dubiously, "they cinch me for that car I run over the cliff." His eyes clouded. He had forgotten about the destruction of that car.

"I expect they'd hand me about five years for that," he added gloomily, after a pause. "Where's the way into that cave of yours?"

"I'd have to lead you to the spot and show you. There's time enough. I shall want to go back and make a thorough examination of the place for science."

Bill looked up. "I'll have to disappoint you about them stone men, professor, I run acrost the cañon yesterday where the hole went into the cave. There's been a big slide in there. I couldn't tell within a hundred feet, where the opening used to be. We'd have to tear down the whole mountain to find it."

Abington said nothing. Creeping into his mind again came suspicion. Had Bill ever known where there was such a cave? Surely that slide had chosen a most convenient time and place for Bill Jonathan!

"I know where it was," Bill said doggedly, as if he read the thought. "I can show you the slide; you can see it for yourself, professor."

"My college of science is not collecting slides," Abington drawled. "Well, I must be getting back to my patient. If he's awake, he may want to eat something."

He rose, but Bill had not finished, it seemed. He remained seated on the rock hunched over his cigarette and staring morosely across the little lake.

"So you think I lied to you," muttered Bill. "You think I've been stalling you along! That goes kinda tough, professor. I've been dodgin' around in the hills—yes, sure I have! But I ain't going to dodge no more and you can go to hell and hunt your own Adamses. You wait till I lead that bird in to the sheriff and make him come clean! It's him that'll take a ride to Carson—not me."

"And the car?" Abington asked softly, his beard hiding a smile.

"Aw, hell!" growled Bill, jerked back to harsh realities.

In his bitterness over the sudden frustration of his hopes, Abington would not speak a word of comfort. Not even the rich storehouse of ancient records in the labyrinth of caves could quite console him at the moment, his heart had been so set on taking back to his college a fossilized man of the Cretaceous period.

He walked moodily over to the makeshift bed of his patient and stared blankly. There was no patient. A shout brought Bill and the two nosed along the cliff like hounds baffled over a warm trail suddenly wiped out with water.

Because the man had been obliged to crawl, it was manifestly impossible for him to get far. Even so, they were a good half hour in running him down and then it was the slight indentations of his knees in a skift of sand behind a bush that gave the clue.

Bill went down on all fours and disappeared. After a minute or two, Abington followed.

It might have been an oversized badger hole, so far as outward appearances went. Even in his haste the trained mind of Abington noted a cunning arrangement of rocks deliberately piled haphazard against the cliff at some time long past, as the twisted roots of old bushes and trees clinging the twining down through the dirt-filled interstices gave mute testimony.

Yet the rock pile was in reality a solid, arched covering for the sloped entrance to another cave, in the mouth of which Jack Huntley lay sweating with the pain of his wound, as frenziedly malevolent as a rattler pinned under a rock.

Kneeling facing each other with the wounded man gasping curses between them, Abington and Bill Jonathan locked glances; Abington's eyes coldly searching; Bill's defiant, hurt and trying to cover a certain wistfulness he would have denied with much profanity.

"He's got to clear me with the law!" Bill said between clenched jaws. "He's the only man on earth that can do it. He pulled the robbery they laid onto me and if he don't come clean I'll kill him inch by inch!"

JACK HUNTLEY turned his head and sent a glance to Bill's face; shifted his eyes to Abington's, that were black as ebony and quite as hard; turned again to Bill and met a cold stare that shriveled his courage to whining cowardice.

"Don't you, Bill! I—I'm done for! You can't hurt a dying man! You wouldn't have the heart!"

"Oh, wouldn't I?" Bill's laugh was in itself a threat. "Say! I got about as much heart as them stone men we're after. You wait and see how much heart I've got for you—you hound!"

"It's murder!" Jack Huntley's voice rose to a shriek. "You wouldn't stand by and see him kill a man that—that's all shot up—" His eyes turned glassily to Abington.

"Why shouldn't I?" Never had Abington's voice been more casually brutal. "You're going to die anyway, you know."

"Yeah, and you won't die so darned peaceful, either," Bill added darkly.

"Of course you can save yourself a good deal of suffering," Abington pointed out in his calm professional tone, "by writing a full confession. In that case I should feel obliged to protect you from Bill's vengeful nature."

"It's worse than Injuns!" Huntley cried, his fear rising to panic.

"Not if you write the truth," Abington pointed out, taking from an inner pocket a water-warped notebook. "Here's a fountain pen which may contain enough ink, unless you wax overeloquent. Write the truth, Huntley. I'll take care of Bill."

"You'll have a hell of a time, professor, if he don't clean his dirty soul right down to the bottom!"

"I'll have to be raised up," whined the sick man, darting furtive glances here and there as if, even yet, he hoped by some miracle to escape.

"For legal purposes," Abington directed, holding Huntley up and giving Bill a quelling look, "begin like this: ''I, Jack Huntley, of sound mind—and of my own free will—do hereby confess—that on the—'"

It was Bill himself who named the date, snapping the words out with a savage click of the teeth.


HALTING, hating to set down in plain words the full extent of his guilt, driven to it by the relentless promptings of Bill, Jack Huntley wrote three precious pages, that would make interesting reading for the county officials, before he signed his name. Abington saw the teary warning of the pen going dry and dropping blots on the book, and signed his name as a witness before all the ink ran out. The thing was done.

Bill threw back his shoulders with an unconscious gesture of relief, and stepped away. "Now, die and be damned to you!" he said as he turned his back and walked off.

Abington looked after him grinning. "This is where he holes up, Bill. He should have a pretty fair equipment. Better explore around a little. I have carbide tied up in my handkerchief, if you need the lamp. But the place seems well lighted from above."

"Yeah, I'm sure goin' to look around. I believe he's the one poisoned our burros. I bet—"

Abington looked up, got to his feet and started toward Bill, who had given a sudden bellowing whoop.

"Well, the hound!" Bill was balancing two large mescal stalks in his hands. Light they were as cork, tough as bamboo, large at the base as Bill's muscular leg above the knee. Three feet from the base of each was a foot rest, lashed securely to the stalk.

"There's the gosh-awful!" Bill said in the incredulous tone of one who can scarcely believe his own eyes. "Look at how them sticks is cut on the bottom, professor! Sheep hoofs to a T. Stilts! And that's how the thing took such long steps and got over the country so almighty mysterious!"

"Ingenious!" Abington declared, balancing the stilts in his hands before he stood them against the wall of the cave. "Simple, too. I had a suspicion of some such thing, but dismissed it as impractical in so rough a country."

"I dunno. They're light as paper. They could be carried easy enough on rocky ground, and just used for sand and gravel." He paused. "Now I know he poisoned the burros. He seen your camp set up in plain sight, and come straddlin' over there. A feller can cover a lot of country on stilts, once he gets used to walking on them. I used to when I was a kid."

Abington, however, was not quite satisfied. There lacked the motive and he spoke of it. "If he had raided camps and carried off the supplies, I could understand it. But this attempt at terrorization, and the insane destruction of good food, does not come within the bounds of logic."

"Yeah, but you don't know that bird like I do," returned Bill. "He's what God used for a pattern when He made the first drove of hogs. You mind all that talk last night? That about having millions in carnetite, and being richer than Rockefeller? Jack thinks he's got hold of something in here and he's been trying to scare everybody off. Maybe he's got something worth holdin' on to and maybe he ain't. If he has, I sure feel I'm entitled to grab it!"

Abington was walking around the roomy chamber, flicking this thing and that thing with a glance, overlooking nothing. He stooped over a pile of whitish rock stained thickly with great blobs of bright yellow, selected a lump and looked up, seeking an opening where the strongest light fell through. He went over and stood under the light, turning the rock this way and that while he examined it through a miner's glass.

"So this is his millions in carnetite!" he said contemptuously at last, tossing the sample to Bill, who caught it dexterously as a catcher cups palms for a ball. "More than one poor devil has been fooled by limonite. That's what this is, if I am not badly mistaken, a yellow ocher, resembling carnetite. There's your revenge. Bill. Go tell him his millions in carnetite are just a dream. Tell him it's limonite. If he's greedy as you say, that will be punishment enough."

"Not when he thinks he's dying," Bill grumbled. "He won't give a darn. What's he flopping around like that for?" he asked sharply. "Something bite him, do you s'pose? If it did, it'll die," he went on sententiously.

ABINGTON ran over to where Jack Huntley lay on the ground. He could do nothing, with the primitive means at hand. Huntley had indeed been bitten—by death. Whether the wound had been more serious than Abington diagnosed it, or whether he had injured himself in crawling to the cave, they could not of course do more than guess. Within half an hour Jack Huntley lay dead on the floor of the cave.

"This means that I must go in and have a talk with the sheriff," Abington observed. "A mere formality, but one I prefer not to neglect. Want to come along, Bill? I'll pay them for the car, far as that goes."

"Yeah, I guess maybe I better go in and have it over with. I'll pay you back in work, professor, if you'll go ahead and settle for that darn car I wrecked. But don't let 'em stick you on the price of it. It wasn't worth more'n two or three hundred dollars."

"I'm a fair judge of cars," Abington remarked. "It will be all right, Bill."

"Yeah. And when we come back in here with a fresh outfit, professor, we better bring along a couple of good muckers and some powder. I believe I can maybe locate the hole into that cave, if I can take my time and have some help. Or maybe we can find another way in there. We sure oughta come fixed to spend the whole winter in here. I found a lot more carvings than I'd ever saw before."

Abington laughed to himself, and clapped a hand down on Bill's shoulder. "Bill, my lad, that's the true scientific spirit! You'll be an Adam chaser as long as you live, now you've started."

"Yeah," said Bill, staring around him at the encircling red hills. "They're in here somewhere, professor. Eight feet tall and big accordin'. No foolin'. I seen 'em myself. Well, let's bury the dead and get ready and beat it. We want to get back in here while the good weather holds."


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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