Roy Glashan's Library
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First book edition: Faber & Faber, London, England, 1938

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The Age, Melbourne, Australia, 19 Jul-6 Sep 1937
The Nothern Star, Lismore, NSW, Australia, 16 May-14 Jul 1938
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The Glen Innes Examiner, NSW, Australia, 8 Oct-31 Dec 1938
The Maitland Daily Mercury, NSW, Australia, 20 July-6 Sep 1938

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The Glen Innes Examiner, NSW, Australia, 6 October 1938

TO spend one's youth fending for oneself, working on a New Mexico ranch, undergoing thrilling adventures and coming through them safely, to return to Britain, having inherited a baronetcy and a fortune, is an eventful beginning to a career.

Sir James Chernocke. formerly Jim Preston, cowboy, besides having these experiences, is wanted for killing a man. Only his friend and secretary, Bill Beverley, knows that, as a boy of twenty, Jim was mixed up in a shooting affray at Loomis, in New Mexico. His partner, Bart Chandler, had been framed on a rustling charge. In rescuing him, Jim Chernocke had shot a man. Hunted, he escaped through the pluck and cleverness of Bart's 16-year-old sister, Joan. He has never forgotten his debt.

Who would return to New Mexico after that?

Yet Sir James Chernocke is prepared to do so to find Joan Chandler, in gratitude for her help. He is engaged to Nita Vaughan. who approves of his decision. Not so Bill Beverley, who is left at home to look after Nita.

These are the facts which face the reader in the opening instalment of Second Time West, by T.C. Bridges, which the "Examiner" has secured for its next serial story....

This powerful story of adventure and romance in two hemispheres presents exciting scenes and battles in a modern setting. Readers may remember from Mr Bridges's previous stories, such as The Hidden Enemy, Gay Venture, etc.. that the author has the art of presenting such tales to perfection. Second Time West will rank among his best.



"DON'T forget to be back to dinner, Jim. I know what you are when you get on the river. Remember that Nita and her mother will be here by seven."

Bill Beverley's warning came back to Jim Chernocke as he glanced at his wrist watch and saw to his disgust that it was already twenty past six. He was nearly three miles from the lodge and it would be a near thing to get back in time to meet his fiance and her mother.

"One more cast," he said to himself as he pulled line off the reel. He was completely unaware that this—as he thought— momentary delay was going to alter the whole course of his life.

He began to reel in and, as he did so, a fish rose across the pool straight in front of him.

Jim—perhaps we had better give his full title—Sir James Chernocke—was a good shot and a good man on a horse, but as a fisherman he was in the first-class, and the small "Peter Ross" dropped with delicate precision just up stream from the spot where the fish had showed. Up it came again like a flash, Jim struck and the reel screamed as the fish fled upstream.

"Three pounds if he's an ounce," Jim muttered as he ran along the bank, and just then a bar of living silver nearly two feet long flashed out of the water to fall in again with a resounding splash, and Jim realised that this was no brown trout, but a clean-run sea trout of nearly five pounds.

To handle a fish of such size on his very light tackle meant using every ounce of skill he possessed, and for some time he did not try to hold the fish, merely followed it while it tore up stream as if it never meant to stop.

Jim came to a low stone wall which was the boundary of his own water, but the fish carried on and so did Jim, and they were a hundred yards the wrong side of the wall before the big fellow began to show signs of turning. Jim tightened his line and for the next five minutes every second was full of blazing excitement.

At long last Jim got the fish on to the bank, slipped the net under and lifted him out.

"A nice fish," came a voice behind him, "but I suppose you know you are trespassing."

Jim quickly to find himself facing a girl of twenty-one or twenty-two. A perfectly adorable girl, who wore a plain tweed coat and skirt, carried a light trout rod, and regarded him with clear brown eyes. Instead of apologising, Jim stood and stared. The girl, too, stared, and for a few seconds the pair faced one another in silence. Jim was the first to speak.

"Joan! It can't be you."

"Jim!" she said in a voice of equal amazement. "How do you come here?"

"On my two feet from Kilcomen. That's where I'm living."

"Living? You mean you are staying there?"

"It's mine, Joan. And I have a house in town and other things. Uncle Andrew died and I am his heir. But never mind about me. It's you I want to know about. Why did you never write?"

"I did write," Joan's voice was a little sharp. "I wrote when Bart died."

"I got that letter and I wrote by return of post. I'd have cabled if I'd had the money, but that was before I came into all this. When you didn't answer I wrote again to the ranch and to old Colliver as well, but there was no reply."

"Colliver died, Jim. It was pneumonia. But I can't think why I didn't get your letter unless"—her lips tightened a little— "unless Mr. Bignal suppressed it."

"Bignal," repeated Jim sharply, "you don't mean Vincent Bignal?" Joan nodded.

"He married mother," she said flatly. Jim looked horrified.

"That fellow! How come, Joan?"

"He got round her. He is good looking, you know, and clever with woman."

"Then he got the ranch?"

"No. That was where he blundered. The ranch belonged to Bart, and he left it to me."

"I'm glad of that, Joan. Is your mother alive? Joan shook her head sadly.

"She died three years ago. No, Mr. Bignal was not actually unkind to her, but, of course, she realised why he had married her, and she just had not the will to live. After her death came two years' drought and the big spring—you remember, at the head of the Pronghorn failed. The cattle died, and I was stranded.

"I can ride and I can cook, but I'm pretty useless off a ranch. In the old days the Western girl who was at a loose end taught school but now you require a certificate to get work of that sort."

"You poor dear!" said Jim quickly.

"What did you do?"

"I worked in Mr. Bignal's store. He has the big store in Loomis in partnership with a man named Farne." Jim bit his lip.

"And I never knew. But Joan that doesn't explain how you come to be in Scotland."

"Mr. Bignal brought me over. He and Mr. Farne had business in London. They are trying to raise money for something, but what it is I have no idea. Then Mr. Farne, who claims to be a Scot, insisted on coming up here for a holiday. He took Muir Cottage for a month. I love the country but I don't love Mr. Farne."

"Does he want you to?" Jim asked. Joan pursed her lips.

"So he says. He's been worrying me to marry him for months past."

"The brute!" Jim said angrily.

"He is not a nice person," Joan answered, "but don't worry, Jim. Nothing would induce me to marry him." She glanced at her wrist-watch. "I must be getting back. We have only a daily maid, and I have to see to the evening meal."

"I'll walk with you," Jim had completely forgotten his guests. Meeting Joan Chandler had switched him back six years to his early days on the Circle O, Bart Chandler's ranch in New Mexico. Joan hesitated.

"I can't ask you to the house, Jim."

"It isn't the house I want to see. It's you," said Jim as he fell into step beside her. The evening light was on her face, showing a charming profile and an exquisite complexion. Jim marvelled that the slim freckled little girl of his remembrances could have become such a beauty. "Listen, Joan," he went on. "You did me the biggest service one person can do for another. You saved my life, and you took a big risk in doing it. I've never forgotten it and I'm never likely to. I want you to give me a chance of repaying a small part of my debt."

"Don't talk nonsense about debts," Joan said sharply. "You saved Bart by shooting Wesley Garnett. The least I could do was help you out when you were in trouble."

"And how many girls of sixteen would have had the pluck or the sense to do what you did? But we won't talk about debts if you don't want to. Bart was my friend. You are his sister. I want you to let me stand in Bart's place." Joan stopped and faced him.

"You put it nicely, Jim, but I won't take money, even from you."

"Then let me find you work." She laughed.

"That's charity, too, Jim—unless you want a cook."

"Don't talk nonsense!" Jim was quite angry. "There are dozens of posts a girl like you could fill."

"We shall have to discuss them some other time, Jim. Here comes Murray Farne." Glancing up, Jim saw a man walking down the bank towards them. He was as tall as Jim, who was only a fraction of an inch under six feet, and very much broader and heavier. His suit of black and white check made him look even bigger than he was.

"There's plenty of him, anyhow!" Jim remarked, and was surprised to see the look on Joan's face.

"He may recognise you, Jim," she in said in a quick, low voice. "Remember you were never cleared."

"Not he!" Jim said. "I forgot to tell you I've gone back to my own name. I'm not Jim Preston any longer—I'm Sir James Chernocke. Its not likely the ex-cowboy with—with—"

"The wealthy baronet," Joan added. I hope you're right, Jim, but it's a bit of a risk, and I'd better tell you that Farne hates to see me speak to another man.


BY the scowl on Murray Farne's face, Jim realised that Joan was not exaggerating. Farne was good-looking in a coarse way, but beginning to run to fat. Even so, he was formidable, with his thick shoulders, bull neck and tremendous chest.

"I reckon that you know you're trespassing," was his first remark.

"So Miss Chandler has explained to me," Jim answered, politely. "I hooked a fish on my own water and he took me up into yours."

"This is Mr. James Chernocke—Mr. Farne," Joan said in her clear voice. "He is the owner of Kilcomen." Farne's attitude did not change. He was still frowning.

"That did not make it right for him to catch fish on my part of the river." Jim felt that he had never disliked a man more intensely, but for Joan's sake he choked down his disgust.

"The fish was hooked on my own a water," he explained. "It is customary in this country for one owner to allow another to follow a hooked fish as I have done."

"It's a custom I never heard of," returned Farne, unpleasantly. "Let's see the fish." Jim's eyes narrowed, a white spot showed on each of his cheek bones. Joan saw it, and knew that he was near explosive point. She interfered.

"You are being detestably rude, Mr. Farne!" she said. "I happen to know that Sir James is right." Farne swung upon her.

"You keep out of this, Joan!" he ordered roughly. "It ain't any business of yours."

"You are right, Mr. Farne," said Jim with dangerous quietness. "This is entirely my business. Let me tell you that your ignorance of British customs does not excuse your lack of decent manners."

Farne stared—glared would be a better word. He had been so accustomed to ride roughshod over all and sundry, so unused to opposition, that it took a moment or two for the fact to sink in, that this quietly-spoken man was defying him. Then he took a step forward.

"You're going to give me that fish?" he demanded.

"No," Jim answered flatly and now there was a dancing devil in his eyes, which ought to have warned Farne but didn't. Instead he lost his temper.

"Then I'll take it," he shouted and made a snatch at the creel. It was a tactical error on Farne's part, for Jim was watching him and was twice as quick on his feet as Farne. He sprang away, at the same time flinging his rod aside. Joan flung herself between them.

"Are you quite crazy, Mr. Farne?" she cried.

Farne pushed her away so roughly she almost fell, and Jim saw red. He had managed to rid himself of his creel and now he jumped in and let Farne have it as hard as he could hit. A man who has spent his youth on a cattle ranch is bound to know how to use his fists, and if that blow had landed on Farne's jaw, big as he was, it would have ended the fight. But Farne was ducking as it came, and Jim first got him square on the nose, almost flattening it.

There are few things more exquisitely painful than a blow flush on the nose, but such a blow is not a knock-out. It's result was to drive Farne into a mad fury. Flinging his great arms wide, he ran at Jim, and, regardless of an upper-cut which split his lip, grasped him round the body.

His strength was prodigious. All the breath was squeezed out of Jim's lungs, and he felt as if his ribs were cracking under the python-like pressure of those tremendous arms. Farne's face was close against his. It was covered with blood, and the man's greenish eyes glowed opalescently with savage fire. Jim realised that a very few seconds of this sort of squeezing would see his finish. He did the only thing left to him.

Twisting his right leg around Farne's left, he flung his whole weight forward.

It worked, Farne staggered, made a desperate effort to recover his balance but, catching his heel against a stone, went over backwards. Not that he cared. He had his hold, and knew that he could finish Jim as easily on the steps of the porch ground as standing up. Jim had other ideas. As they fell, he rolled over and next instant both were over the edge of the bank and had dropped into about eight feet of bitterly cold water.

The ice shock broke Farne's hold, and Jim had just strength left to kick himself to the surface. Luckily for him there was no current here, and he managed to grasp a root and hold on. Next moment Joan had hold of him and, with surprising strength dragged him up. Jim laughed as he gained his feet.

"Thanks, Joan. And now where is my fat friend?"

"You need not worry about him," said Joan scornfully. "He can swim." Sure enough, Farne was swimming towards the lower end of the pool where the water was shallow. He gained his feet, and came floundering out. His nose was still bleeding, and the water streamed off him.

"That suit will never be the same again," said Jim. "Hulloa, I believe he wants to resume hostilities."

"Don't Jim. Don't fight any more unless you have to," begged Joan in a low, intense voice.

"Indeed I won't unless I have to. He nearly cracked my ribs for me as it was."

Farne came up to them and he was not a pretty sight. He was blue with cold, and it was clear that his plunge into the river had shaken him badly. It had done something else, for it had cooled his temper as well as his body. Jim faced him warily. He wondered what was coming. He was not in the least afraid because he had got his wind back, and knew that he was now much fitter of the two. Farne spoke.

"You had luck, Chernocke. Maybe next time it will be different." Jim would have clearly liked to finish it then and there, but for Joan's sake restrained himself.

"Any time you say, Mr. Farne. You know my address." Farne looked at him and the malice in his pale eyes was horrible.

"It will come," he said. "No man ever ran against me without being sorry for it." Before Jim could think of anything to say, Farne turned and walked away up the fishing path. Jim spoke to Joan.

"Joan, that settles it. You must come home with me." Joan looked at him quickly.

"Have you a wife, Jim?"

"No." Jim hesitated. Somehow he hated to tell Joan that he was engaged, but he had to do it. "No, but my fiance. Nita Vaughan, and her mother are staying at Kilcomen. Also I have an excellent housekeeper. You'll be well looked after." Joan laughed.

"I'm sure I should, but I'm not coming, Jim."

"Joan, you can't possibly go back to the house Farne is living in."

"I've been there nearly a month," Joan said quietly. "So far I've come to no harm.

"But he pushed you—almost struck you. It's impossible. Come with me." Joan laughed again.

"I think I see Mrs. Vaughan's face when you turned up with me in tow. You see, I know of the lady. No, Jim, nothing doing. I'm going back to Muir Cottage to cook supper. Her tone left no room for argument, and Jim gave up the direct issue.

"But I must see you again, Joan," he pleaded.

"Not at Muir Cottage. Mr. Bignal would be certain to recognise you, and that would be dangerous."

"Then you'll meet me here to-morrow."

"I can't promise, but, if I am able, I will walk this way about four to-morrow afternoon."

"By that time I shall have found a job for you. You will let me do that, Joan. I should be miserable to feel that you were tied to the horrible Bignal." He was so desperately in earnest that Joan relented a little. Besides she could not hide from herself that it would be heaven to be independent of her step-father.

"We'll talk about that to-morrow. Now you must get back. As it is, you will be late for dinner."

"Damn dinner," Jim exploded. "I meet the best pal I ever had, and have a thousand things to say to her and she tells me to go home to dinner." Joan laid a hand on his arm.

"You shall say all those things to-morrow. I don't want more unpleasantness when I get home. Good-night, Jim." She turned and walked quickly away, and Jim watched her till she was out of sight. Then he picked up his rod and creel and started home.

"Hang everything!" he said bitterly, but the reason for this sudden outburst he did not allow himself to analyse.


"YOU'RE a nice chap," came a clear ringing voice as Jim plodded up the steep drive leading to Kilcomen. Looking up be saw a tiny, dainty figure in an evening gown of black and silver standing.

"Hulloa, Nita!" he said. "Sorry to be late."

"Late! Why, what's the matter?" Her tone changed. "Have you been swimming?" Jim laughed. It was a forced laugh and that did not escape Nita, who was sharp as a needle.

"I have. I had a little trouble with a gentleman who said I was poaching. That's why I'm so late. I'm terribly sorry, Nita."

"My dear, I don't mind. It's only mother. She raised Cain when she found you weren't here to meet us. However, Bill soothed her with a cocktail and she has survived. But tell me who threw you in." She caught him by the arm. "No don't wait to tell me now. You're all wet. Go and change. The story will do to pacify mother at dinner." Jim looked at her gratefully.

"You're a dear, Nita. I can't kiss you because I should ruin that pretty frock. I'll go and change but don't wait dinner for me. I'll trust you to explain." She gave him a little pat.

"Hurry, Jim."

Nita must have done a good job in explaining, for when Jim arrived, having dressed in record time, Mrs. Vaughan accepted his apologies with as much grace as was in her.

"Nita says you had a fight with a man," she said in her high, quick voice. "Do tell us. I hope you thrashed him. Let us hear all about it."

"It didn't amount to much," Jim answered. "I followed a fish on to the Muir Cottage water, and the lessee came up and objected. He wanted the fish. So we had a row and it ended in both of us going into the river. That cooled us off and we both went home. That's all there is to it."

"Ah!" Nita mocked. "Jim, you may be a good fisherman, but you're the world's worst story teller."

"I've got the fish anyhow," said Jim. "A five pound sea trout. You shall eat it to-morrow." Nita was not to be put off.

"I don't care whether it was a sea trout or a red herring," she retorted. "Who was this man you put in the water?"

"An American by his voice. Big beefy chap with arms on him like a grimly. It was just as well for me we did go over the bank or he'd have cracked my ribs."

"An American!" exclaimed Nita's mother. "How can Scottish lairds rent their lodges to such people?"

"You couldn't call Muir Cottage a lodge," Jim answered. "And it's owned by a Dundee tradesman. I don't suppose the man will stay long, so it's not likely there'll be any more trouble."

"I shall go fishing with you next time, Jim," declared Nita. "And take my camera." Jim laughed and managed to turn the conversation into less dangerous channels, but later, when Nita and her mother had gone to bed, he told Bill Beverley the whole story.

"And see here, Bill," he ended. "You've got to take Nita off my hands to-morrow afternoon for I'm going to meet Joan. It makes me simply sick to think of her living under the same roof with that swine, Farne," Bill Beverley wrinkled his nose, a trick he had when puzzled or interested. He was a tall lean young man, with a thin tanned face and keen dark eyes. Between him and Jim Chernocke was an almost perfect friendship.

"Why don't you tell Nita?" he asked abruptly. Jim's eyes widened.

"About Joan? She—she wouldn't understand."

"She'd understand perfectly," Bill said. Jim shook his head.

"I couldn't do that, Bill. Imagine what her mother would think—and say?"

"Her mother needn't know anything about it. But if you won't tell Nita we shall have to fix up something. You could have a cold after your ducking."

"Nita knows I never have a cold. That's one of the few things I boast about," Jim objected.

"Then it'll have to be a wire from McGowan at Perth. I'll 'phone him in the morning and tell him to send one saying he must see you at once."

"But we shall have to get Nita and her mother out of the way."

"That's all right. It's the sheep-dog trials at Pittochdy to-morrow. I'll take them in the car."

"Trust you to settle things, Bill," said Jim gratefully. He ground out the stub of his cigarette in the ash tray and got up.

"I'm going to bed. So long."

Bill Beverley's ruse worked to perfection, and at four next afternoon, Jim was awaiting Joan at his own boundary wall. Time passed, there was no sign of her and Jim began to get restless. He had begun to feel that there was no one in the world, whom he wanted to see as badly as Joan, and that quite apart from his keen desire to help her. This worried his simple soul for it seemed disloyal to Nita.

"Hang it all," he said to himself. "A man can't be in love with two girls at once." He looked at his watch. It was a risk for Bignal was more than likely to recognise him, but Jim felt he had to take the risk.

The river curved and there was Muir Cottage, a small white house standing on a piece of rising ground, with a garden running down to the water. No one was about, the front door was closed, the blinds were down, and the deserted look of the place gave Jim a thrill of dismay.

He waited a long time, and at last a man came out of the back door, went up into the field above the house, and began to drive down a cow. Jim recognised him as the hind, John Macdonald and went straight across.

"Is Miss Chandler at home, Macdonald?" he asked.

"She's left, Sir James. Mr. Bignal and Mr. Farne and Miss Chandler left by car just after breakfast this morning."


NOW that Macdonald had told him what had happened, Jim Chernocke felt that he had known it ever since he had first set eyes on the closed house. For all that, the shock was a heavy one.

"Where have they gone? Have they left an address?" he asked Macdonald.

"They didn't leave any address, Sir James. The rent was paid for the whole month, and they could leave any time they were wishing to."

"What road did they take?"

"They took the Perth road. I'm thinking they'll have caught the fast train which leaves for the South at eleven." Jim saw curiosity in the man's eyes, and thought best to explain.

"Miss Chandler is an old friend of mine, Macdonald. I met her on the river yesterday, and she wished to see me again." A slow smile appeared on Macdonald's lips.

"Maybe ye met yon Farne, Sir James, as well as the leddy."

"Yes, I met him, and we had some trouble about a fish which I hooked on my water, and landed on his."

"And ye put him in the river?"

"As a matter of fact, we both went in," Jim told him.

Macdonald chuckled openly.

"The peety is ye didna leave him there. The warld would ha' been the cleaner."

"You don't like him, Macdonald?"

"I ha' never met a men I liked less," said the other drily. Jim couldn't help smiling.

"He's a nasty piece of work, Macdonald. But tell me—did Miss Chandler leave any message for me?"

"Not with me, Sir James—but then she hadn't the chance. They went so sudden—she'll maybe write," he added.

"There's a chance she might have left a note in the house," Jim said.

"Aye, there's the chance," agreed Macdonald, and led the way to the house. It was quite small a sitting-room, dining-room, and kitchen below stairs, four bedrooms above. In the sitting-room were vases of flowers no doubt picked by Joan herself, but though he searched everywhere, Jim found no letter or anything that might give him the clue he needed. A pile of ash in the grate showed that Farne or Bignal had burned a quantity of papers.

As a last hope he went upstairs.

Joan's room, in spite of signs of hurried packing, was the neatest in the house. Jim looked round. He could see no letter, but he noticed a book lying on the little table by the bed. It was Stevenson's "Kidnapped." He picked it up, opened it, and a letter fell out. His heart gave a jump as he saw the envelope bore his name.

"I have it, Macdonald," he said, as he tore it open. This is what he read:—

Dear Jim,

I know you will come to the house when you miss me, and I hope you will find this. I have had to hide it because Farne is suspicious. He and my stepfather had a violent quarrel last evening. Mr. Bignal told him that he had been a fool to attack you, as he did, and that you might summon him for assault. In the end they decided to leave. I have no idea where we are going. It may be Liverpool, so I can give you no address. In any case you had better forget me, Jim. I am grateful for your wish to help me, but I don't think you can do so. Be sure I shan't marry Farne—if that is any comfort to you. All my good wishes and hopes that you will be happy.



Jim bit his lip. The letter disappointed him, but it did not in the least change his determination to get Joan away from Bignal and Farne. He turned to Macdonald.

"No telephone here, is there?"

"No, Sir James. Yours is the nearest." Jim nodded and took a note from his pocket book.

"You'll let me know if you hear anything, Macdonald."

"I will that," promised the other. "I'm thanking ye. Sir James."

Jim walked back in forty minutes, and went straight to the telephone. He called up Perth Station, and, after some delay, learned that Bignal's party had left for London. Before he could make up his mind what best to do he heard the car on the drive, and went out to meet Nita and her mother. As soon as possible he got Bill aside and told him everything.

"What do you want to do about it?" Bill asked bluntly.

"I want to follow them and get Joan out of the clutches of these two brutes."

"Then you'll have to tell Nita," said Bill flatly.

"I don't mind telling her, for I think she'd understand. But her mother won't."

"We can find a lie for her," Bill answered. "You have some property in America."

"That homestead I took up. I've paid the taxes and it's still mine."

"Good enough. Tell her that someone wants to buy it, and you have to see about it."

"But we can't turn her out. I asked her for a fortnight. Will you stay and look after her and Nita?" Bill frowned, and Jim wondered what was passing in his mind.

"I suppose I shall have to," Bill said at last. "But I'll lay you'll get into trouble messing about on your own. Whatever you do, don't go to New Mexico. Then Bignal will have you all ends up."

"I hope to catch them before they start, and get Joan away from them. I shall go down by the midnight train, Bill. I'll see Nita now."

Nita was not only charmingly pretty: she was a generous-minded girl and had common sense beyond her twenty-one years. She listened to Jim's account of his meeting with Joan with the greatest interest, and at once said: "Of course you must go, Jim. You'd never forgive yourself, and I don't think I'd forgive you either, if you didn't get Joan." She paused and looked at Jim with widening eyes.

"Did you really kill a man, Jim? You never told me." He shrugged.

"It isn't the sort of thing one cares to talk about. I had to do it or he would have killed Bart."

"And Bart's sister saved you?"

"She rode nearly twenty miles on a pitch dark, stormy night to tell me that the Sheriff was after me. If she had not warned me I should not have had a chance, for Garnett, the man I shot, was the Sheriff's own brother, and the Sheriff was as big a crook as he."

"Joan must be a wonderful girl. I should like to meet her," Nita said. "Go to-night, Jim, and mind you keep me posted."

"I will," said Jim, as he kissed her "If I have any luck I ought to catch them before they leave for America, but if I don't I shall have to follow them." He glanced at the clock. "Time to dress for dinner, my dear—I needn't go till half-past ten. Bill will take me to the train." Nita nodded, and went up, and Jim went to the telephone to book a sleeper.

Bill drove him to Perth.

"What are you going to do, Jim, when you get to London?" he asked, as they neared the station.

"Inquire at the steamship offices, I suppose," Jim answered.

"And before you've been round half of them the party will have sailed," Bill retorted.

"Why, there are only three or four offices."

"Listen to the man!" jeered Bill. "There are lines to New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, to say nothing of Quebec. And Bignal might go from London, Southhampton, Bristol, or Liverpool. What you have to do is to employ a private inquiry agent, and luckily I know one. His name is Martin Bissett, and his office is 63, John-street. He will put half a dozen men on the job if necessary. 'Phone him from Euston, then go and see him."

"I'll do it," Jim promised.

"And wire me the minute you hear anything," said Bill, as he pulled up.

He came into the station with Jim, got his ticket for him, and saw him into the train.

"I wish I were going with you," were his last words. "I'm not easy about this fellow, Farne. He's dangerous, and you might not have the same luck next time you run into him. You're a bull-headed chap, Jim, and much too apt to jump into a row without thinking of consequences."

The train began to move, there was no time to say more, but as Bill Beverley walked back to the car, his spirits were oddly low, nor did he recover them as he drove back through the night to Kilcomen.


MARTIN BISSETT was a quiet, middle-aged man going rather bald. He was more like a solicitor, Jim thought, than a private detective.

But he evidently knew his job. He listened to all Jim had to say, asked searching questions, and then said:

"I think I can promise the information before to-night, Sir James. That is, if these people are sailing by any recognised line. If they are going by some cargo boat that may cause delay. Where are you staying?"

"At the Cosmopolis."

"I shall hope to ring you up not later than one o'clock."

"Splendid!" said Jim and left. He walked down to the junction of Gray's Inn and Theobald's Roads and waited for an Embankment tram. His idea was to go as far as Charing Cross and walk the rest of the way. He had time to kill and it was a lovely morning.

A tram stopped, he pushed way through the crowd and took a vacant seat at the rear. The tram was almost full and Jim idly ran his eyes over the passengers. Then he started sharply and hastily unfolded his newspaper.

From behind the shelter of this he looked again and a thrill ran through him. Those broad shoulders which he had glimpsed in the front of the vehicle belonged to no one else but Murray Farne.

Jim could hardly believe his luck. To run across the one man for whom he was searching among all the millions of London seemed beyond belief. It seemed too extraordinary to be pure coincidence, and yet stranger coincidences had occurred. He looked again to make sure that Farne had not seen him, but Farne was busy reading what looked like a list of sailings.

Jim could see his profile and smiled to himself as he noticed that Farne's nose was a full size larger than natural and badly discoloured. All the way up Theobald's Road, all through the Kingsway tunnel Jim watched the other like a cat, but Farne did not move or take his eyes off what he was reading.

The tram emerged, went along Embankment and stopped in the shadow of Charing Cross Bridge. Farne rose and Jim saw that he would pass him as he came out. He hid his head behind his paper and hoped fervently that Farne would not notice him. Apparently he did not. He got out and Jim followed.

Farne started across towards the Underground Station. This was the danger point, for Jim dared not wait or the heavy traffic would cut him off. Fortune was kind. Farne did not look back, and Jim followed him through the passage on the east side of the station into Villiers Street. He saw Farne hail a taxi and get in. A second taxi was handy, and under Jim's instructions it shot away in pursuit.

"I don't want him to spot me," Jim said through the speaking tube, and the driver nodded.

They went up Northumberland Avenue into Cockspur Street, where Farne's taxi stopped at the door of a shipping office. Jim felt elated. This was easy. Now all he had to do was follow Farne to his destination and the odds were that this was where Joan and her step-father were staying.

The delay was short. Farne got in again and was driven up St. Martin's Lane. Jim's driver followed skilfully. They crossed Oxford Street and still kept north. They cut through Regent's Park and went on to St. John's Wood.

Farne's taxi stopped at last opposite the gate of a detached house in Suffolk Avenue, and Jim's man cleverly turned into a side street before stopping.

"You saw where he went, sir," he said to Jim. "Third house above this. The number should be 27."

"I saw," Jim answered, and handed the man a pound note. "No, I don't want any change. You've earned it!"

"Thank you, sir." The man was really grateful. "Like me to wait and take you back. I'll do it for nothing."

"That's decent of you," said Jim, smiling, "but I don't know how long I shall be. I have to wait till that man comes out again."

"Then wait in the cab, sir, and I'll watch for him. Maybe you wouldn't want him to recognise you." Jim smiled.

"Good idea. You're sure you'll know him?"

"Couldn't mistake him, sir. Specially his nose," he added with a grin.

Jim's wait was not a long one. It was barely a quarter of an hour before his driver came hurrying back.

"He's out. He's gone up the street, walking. Want to follow him?"

"No. I want him out of the way. It's some one else I want to see." He dismissed the cab and walked straight to No 27.

The house stood back from the road, and was separated from it by a fence and thick laurel hedges. A paved walk ran to the front door. Jim rang, and the door was answered by a middle-aged woman with a thin face and pale eyes.

"Is Miss Chandler at home?" Jim asked.

"Yes, sir. What name shall I say?"

"Sir James Chernocke."

"Please come in," said the woman. "This way, sir." As Jim followed her down the hall passage he was wondering what would happen if he encountered Bignal. He might have to handle him, but he would do so without compunction if the need came. Joan wasn't going back to America in Farne's company if he could help it. The woman was opening a door.

"Will you come in here, sir. I'm sorry it's the back room, but the sitting room is being cleaned. I'll tell Miss Chandler you are here."

Jim found himself in a pokey room which looked like an office. There was little furniture except a roll-top desk and a couple of chairs, and the carpet was much worn. The woman went out, closing the door behind her. Jim sat down and waited. He hoped Joan wouldn't be long. So far things had gone wonderfully well, but there was always the danger that Farne might return.

Time passed, and there was no sign of Joan or of anybody else. The house was very quiet. Jim at last lost patience, got up, and went to the door. The handle turned but the door would not open. He tried again, vainly using all his strength, before he realised that the door was locked, and that he was a prisoner.

For a moment Jim was so angry he could not think clearly. To be tricked like this—locked in by a woman! But if he had a hot temper he had also plenty of self-control, and in a few moments was himself again. He turned to the window. It was high up, until and now Jim saw—what he had not noticed before—that it was barred.

Even if he smashed the glass, that was no good, for a big, old yew grew in front of it, completely blocking the view. No one could possibly see from the street any signal he might make. He was properly caught, and—what made it more bitter—it was his own fault. He had walked into the trap like any young and innocent mouse.

There was still the door, there were also chairs, mid Jim could supply more muscle power than most men. He picked up the heavier of the two chairs and swung it with all his force against the right-hand top panel. The chair broke to bits, but the door seemed little the worse.

"That wont do you no good," came a voice from outside. Farne's, of course. "It ain't the first time this room's been used as a jail, and that door is covered with sheet iron. Take dynamite to shift it, and that's one thing you haven't got. You haven't got much else either, come to think of it. No food, nothing to drink one chair left to sit on, and no bed to lie on."

Farne laughed and the laugh was so full of gloating malice it sent a chill through Jim. The man went on. "Nothing to say," he jeered. "Feeling a bit sore, ain't you? You didn't believe me when I told you no one ever hit Murray Farne without being sorry for it."

"And I'll hit you again if you come inside," Jim retorted. "Only of course you won't, you yellow dog."

"I'd come in and break your neck for you if I had the time," said Farne savagely, "but Joan's waiting for me, and when you next see her, if you ever do, she'll be Mrs. Murray Farne."

"She won't," Jim told him "She has just about as much use for you as I have, you dirty crook." He heard Farne breathe heavily and hoped against hope that he would open the door. But the American was too clever for that.

"Trying to bait me," he sneered, "but it won't work, mister. I've got you where I want you and there I'll keep you. The pretty part is the way you walked into the trap. You thought I didn't see you on the tram. Why, you fool, I had a man watching for you at Euston. He 'phoned me and I was waiting for you outside that agent's office. And you followed like a lamb." He laughed again and Jim prickled all over with impotent fury. Once more Farne spoke.

"The woman who let you in has gone. When I leave there won't be no one in the house. You may yell your head off, Sir James Chernocke, but I doubt anyone will hear you. Now I'm going and you can sit there and think of me sharing a cabin with Joan on the way home."

Farne's last taunt was not so effective as Farne no doubt expected it would be, for Jim very well knew that Joan would sooner throw herself overboard than share a room with Farne. Yet as Jim heard the front door close with a bang he felt as sick and savage as man could feel.

"The pretty part is the way you walked into the trap," Farne had sneered, and this was true, for, at the moment when he had spotted Farne in the tram, he had never had the faintest suspicion that the whole thing was planned. It was bitter to feel what a fool he had been and the consequences of his foolishness threatened to be serious though, to do Jim justice—it was of Joan he was thinking—not himself.

But Jim Chernocke was not the sort to sit still and moan over his misfortunes. Farne was hardly out of the house before Jim was hunting for a way out of his prison. The door was hopeless, for if, as Farne had said, it was covered with sheet iron, it was no use trying to cut through a panel.

He turned to the window, and, as it would not open, smashed the glass with a leg of the broken chair, and tried the bars. There were three of these cemented firmly into the sill, and no rust about them, either. He tried the cement with the point of his knife, but it was hard as iron. The only other way of escape was the fireplace, but a very brief inspection proved that the chimney was far too narrow for anything larger than a small monkey.

Still, Jim did not give up. There might be a cellar under the room. He pulled up the drugget and set to work on the floor. The boards were thick and solid, and he could not get his knife blade between them.

By this time he was getting hot and bothered. He sat down on the one remaining chair and began to consider the chances of outside help. They were not rosy. Somewhere about lunch-time Bissett would 'phone the Cosmopolis, and finding him out, would probably start inquiries.

In the long run he might possibly get hold of the taxi-driver, but, even if he did so, and found where Jim was imprisoned, it would be many hours before there was any hope of release, and by that time Farne, Bignal, and Joan would be well on their way to America.

"Of all the darn fools I'm surely the worst!" Jim groaned, and in despair he pushed the chair to the window, got on it, and shouted through the bars.

"That you, sir?" The reply was so unexpected that Jim nearly fell off his chair, but he recovered quickly, and called loudly in reply. With intense relief he saw his sturdy taxi-man pushing his way beneath the thick branches of the big yew.

"What's up, sir? You hurt?" the man inquired.

"Not hurt. I'm locked in."

"Huh, I thought something was wrong," replied the other. "First I seed that big blighter come back, and I knowed you wasn't wanting him. Then I seed a woman come out carrying a bag, and after that the big chap hisself, in the devil's own hurry. When you didn't show up I reckoned it were time to get around."

"Thank God, you did!" said Jim. "See here—by the way, what's your name?"

"Trant, sir—Noah Trant."

"Listen, Trant! You've got to get me out quickly, and I don't want the police in this. Every minute counts."

"Perlice! Who wants perlice? I'll have yer out in two ticks! He was turning when Jim stopped him.

"It's no use trying the door. The front door is locked, and the door of this room is sheet iron. The window is the only way, and I don't know how you'll make it. The bars are solid and set in cement."

"Don't you worry," replied Trant, reassuringly. "I'll have them bars out all right. Just wait a jiffy till I get something to shift 'em." He was off, and for a heavy man, it was wonderful how quickly he moved. Jim had hardly time to wonder what Trant would do when he was back carrying an old packing-case and a heavy crowbar.

"Bit o' luck!" he remarked. "Found this here bar in the out-house. Saved me going back to the garridge." He climbed on the case, and, inserting the crowbar between one of the window-bars and the wall, put his weight on it. The window bar bent, he took a fresh grip, tried again, and, with a sharp crack, the bar broke away from the fastenings, and fell with a clatter.

"Can you make it, sir?" Trant asked, but the question was hardly out of his mouth before Jim was half-way out. Trant gave him a hand, and Jim jumped safely to the ground.

"Wot next?" Trant asked.

"Nearest telephone," Jim said briefly, and in a very few minutes was in a kiosk, ringing up Martin Bissett.

"He is out, Sir James," was the answer in a feminine voice.

"Out!" Jim repeated. "When will he be in?"

"I can't say. It may be an hour. He didn't tell me when he'd be back." Jim swore under his breath. Every minute counted. Trant had said that Farne was in the devil of a hurry. For all Jim knew he and Joan and Bignal might already be on their way to a port.


JIM spoke again through the 'phone.

"I'll come to the office and wait for Mr. Bissett. It's urgent. If he comes in before I arrive ask him to wait for me." He hung up, hurried back to the waiting taxi and gave Trant the address in John-street. Arrived at Bissett's office he told him to wait.

"I may be some time," he added.

"That don't matter, sir," Trant answered, and by the tone was evidently enjoying the excitement.

Bissett was not in, and there was no word of him, so Jim sat down to wait. It seemed an hour, but was actually only 20 minutes, before the door opened and the enquiry agent came in. Jim did not waste an instant in telling what had happened, and Martin Bissett's eyes widened a little as he listened.

"It was the Mermaid Line Office Farne visited," Jim ended.

"That was probably a blind," said Bissett. "I don't know yet what line Farne has booked by, but I am hoping to hear at any minute. The odds are that, if he is leaving to-day, he is going by the Ruritania from Southampton. There is no fast boat before the Berlin on Friday." He paused and looked at Jim "But you have him all ends up, sir James," he went on. "Shutting you up like that is a pretty serious offence. If I'd been you I should have gone straight to the nearest police station." Jim got rather red.

"And a pretty fool I should have looked, Mr. Bissett." A shadow of a smile showed on the other's solemn face.

"That's true," he began, and just then the telephone bell rang. Bissett listened a moment.

"All right, Wharton," he said and replaced the receiver. "It is the Ruritania," he told him. "And if you want to catch the boat train you'll have to hurry. It leaves Waterloo at 11.30." Jim glanced at the clock. It was just on the quarter past. He sprang up and grabbed his hat.

"I have a taxi. We may just make it."

"I'll come with you," said Bissett. "I don't want you getting into more trouble." He, too, seized his hat and reached the street as quickly as Jim.

"Waterloo," said Jim to Trant. "Can you do it in a quarter of an hour?"

"It ain't possible—not with the traffic there is now. Best thing is to take you to Tottenham Court Road station. You can do it by tube in 10 minutes."

"All right," Jim answered. "Go ahead."

At the station Jim waited just long enough to tell Trant to come to Waterloo, and, if they had left, to call later at Bissett's office. Then he and Bissett rattled down the steps. Luck was against them, for, as they reached the platform, a train went out. They had to wait three minutes for the next, and, when they reached Waterloo, the boat train had just left. Jim did not waste time in groaning.

"We must have a special." he declared.

"Not at this hour. There's too much traffic. Ask if you like, but I'm sure."

"Then a 'plane," said Jim. "We'll ring up Croydon." He hurried off and rang up Croydon Aerodrame. After a little delay he was told that he could have a taxi-'plane, but that the weather report spoke of thunderstorms along the South Coast, and he was warned that a 'plane might be delayed.

"Better try a car," Bissett said when Jim told him. "The ship doesn't sail till two. It's only 75 miles by road, and with any luck we may do it." Jim merely nodded and ran out. Just as they got outside Trant drove up.

"We want a fast car in a hurry," Jim told him.

"Jump in," was all Trant said, and whirled them off to a garage in Waterloo-road.

"Got the Superspeed, Joe?" he asked of the proprietor.

"She's in. You wanting her?"

"And quick," said Trant briefly. He turned to Jim. "Southampton, ain't it?"

"That's it. Think we can do it by two?"

"If you let me drive."

"I've handled a racing car, myself," said Jim.

"But not in traffic, sir. And I know the road."

"All right," Jim answered.

The Superspeed was not new, but she was in good order, and Trant certainly knew how to handle her. The way in which he slipped through the traffic stirred Bissett's admiration.

"Something out of the usual for a taxi driver," he remarked to Jim. "Where did you find him?"

"Quite by chance."

"You were lucky," said Bissett briefly and Jim agreed. But it was not yet that he knew quite how lucky he had been in picking up Noah Trant.

Clear of London Trant put his foot down and the needle began to touch sixty, but it was not until they were past Woking that he really let her out. Jim had never driven or been driven at eighty on the open road, but he was doing it now and quite happy about it, for Trant's control of the big car was perfect, and he seemed to know the road as well as he knew Piccadilly.

The morning had been fine, but very hot, and now ominous clouds in the south-west reminded Jim of the Croydon warning.

"Good job we didn't try flying," he said to Bissett. Bissett nodded.

"Yes, that's a bad storm," he said briefly, and as he spoke a crooked streak of fire split the piled up purple and a little later came the air-shaking rumble of the first peal. Jim hoped against hope that they might escape it, but soon he could see a grey wall ahead while the rumble turned to an almost continuous roar.

Ten miles on the London side of Winchester they hit it. Jim had seen electric storms in New Mexico, but never one to beat this. It wasn't rain, but hail, and the rattle of it on the road and the roof of the car drowned the thunder. It grey almost dark, but a darkness lit by long lines of darting fire of blinding intensity.

Trant switched on the headlights but the only result was to turn the hail into a white wall through which it was impossible to see. He spoke to Jim.

"No use, sir. I'll have to slack up."

"Better stop," Jim said. "It can't last."

"I'll shift on a few yards. Don't like these trees," Trant answered, and the words were not out of his month before there was a white-hot blaze, a report like a shell bursting overhead followed by a rending crash. Trant stepped on the brake and stooped the car just as a great fir topper across the road in front of them, so close that one of the smaller branches actually struck the bonnet.


BISSETT passed his hand across his eye.

"That's about as close as I like it," he said drily.

"It don't strike twice in the same place," Trant told him. "It's all right. Car ain't hurt."

"But the road's blocked," Jim said anxiously.

The hail ceased or rather turned to rain, and Trant backed the car. But Jim was right. The road was blocked, for the tree was all across it. They had to turn and make a detour. The rain came down in such torrents that anything like fast driving was out of the question.

Twice they had to drop to bottom gear and push through flooded stretches, and the clock on the dashboard showed two before they reached the outskirts of Southampton. Jim insisted on pushing on to the docks, but the Ruritania was already out of sight in the mist.

"I'm real sorry, sir," said Trant, and he looked so downcast that Jim had to swallow his disappointment and laugh.

"I think lunch is indicated," said the practical Bissett, so they drove to an hotel and fed excellently. Jim ate in silence and Bissett saw that he was upset.

"There's no need to worry," he said. "You can catch the Berlin on Friday and be in New York less than a day after the Ruritania. Meantime why not send a cable to Miss Chandler telling her to meet you in New York?"

"But she has no money," Jim objected.

"That's easily settled. We can cable a credit to my agent to New York. I can have her met at the pier if you like." Jim cheered up.

"We'll cable money, but we had better not have her met at the pier. Farne would know that it was my doing."

"Very well. You can explain it all to Miss Chandler in your cable." Jim frowned.

"Suppose Farne gets hold of the message."

"That's quite simple. Warn the operator to be sure the message is put into Miss Chandler's hands when she is alone.

"There are a lot of things you know and I don't," Jim said ruefully.

"And quite a few the other way on," replied Bissett. "For instance, I couldn't rope a steer or use a pistol." Jim smiled. The staid Bissett on a cow pony, wearing chaps and a two-gallon hat, would be amusing. Bissett finished the apple which was his dessert and got up.

"I've got to be back at the office by five. Shall we be moving?"

Jim paid the bill, and presently they were in the car again. The rain had stopped, the sun shone, the country looked very lovely. If Jim had not been so anxious he would have enjoyed the drive. They took Bissett to his office, where Jim wrote the cable for Joan. It was to be sent later that night so that Joan would get it first thing in the morning. Then Trant drove Jim back to the Cosmopolis.

"Haven't enjoyed a day so much for years," said Trant rather wistfully as Jim got out, "but I wish I'd caught that there boat for you."

"No fault of yours," Jim answered, then paused as a sudden idea seized him. "Trant, are you married?" he said.

"Not me," said Trant with a grin.

"Are you keen on your job?"

"There's worse," Trant answered, laconically, "but not many."

"How would you like to go to America?"

"Me?" Trent's eyes glowed. Jim hadn't realised that the man could show so much excitement. "You means along with you?"

"That's the idea," Jim said. "I've only known you a few hours, but you strike me as a useful chap in a tight place, and there's a chance of trouble if I go to New York."

"With that fat crook, sir?" Jim nodded.

"If he's fat he's useful in a scrap," he said.

"Gimme an eighteen-inch spanner and I'll lay he won't give no more trouble to you or anyone else," Trant declared. Jim laughed.

"Here's ten pounds. Take the car back and settle for it and come and see me in the morning."

"I'll be here," Trant promised, and Jim went in to write a full account of his doings to Bill and another, not quite so full, to Nita.

Forty-eight hours later he and Trant were aboard the Berlin steaming down channel. Not wanting to run into acquaintances, Jim had booked second cabin under the name of Freeland. After dinner he was enjoying a pipe in the smoking room when he noticed a long gaunt American sitting at a table at a little distance.

There was something vaguely familiar about the man and Jim was looking at him when the other turned and saw Jim. He stared a moment then got up and strode across the room.

"Dog-gone if it ain't Jim Preston," he drawled. "Jim, don't say you've forgot Ward Haskell."

"It's the boiled shirt put me off," said Jim, as he shook hands cordially. "Last time we met you were wearing blue overalls, a pair of blucher boots, and a Stetson that had seen better days." Haskell nodded.

"Down at the Loomis cattle pens. Hot as hell, and you was helping load 200 head of stock into box cars. Gee, but I can hear 'em bawling. Them were good days." He turned and beckoned a steward. "This here meeting calls for something special. What'll be, Jim?"

"Whisky and soda, Ward."

"What about a bottle o' bubbly?" Jim shook his head.

"Not at this hour of the night." Rather regretfully Haskell ordered two highballs. Jim spoke.

"What brings you over here, Ward?"

"Business, Jim. I've got on right smart last few years. I been buying Hereford bulls. Prize stock. Paid up to 3000 dollars apiece, but, by gum, they're worth it. I've a ranch of my own now, the old S. Bar S. Remember it?"

"Rather! I congratulate you, Ward." Haskell raised his glass.

"Here's how, Jim." He drank, then laid down his glass, and looked hard at Jim. "But you ain't going back to New Mex.," he said in a changed tone.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Jim confessed.

"Don't you dare to think of going back that way," said Haskell sharply. "Grant Garnett is still sheriff, the durned crook, and he ain't forgot you. Let him get his dirty hands on you and your life ain't worth that." He snapped his strong, bony fingers. Jim was silent a moment or two. He liked Haskell and trusted him, and it seemed that the best thing was to tell him the whole story.

"I don't want to go back to Loomis, Ward," he said, "but it's on the cards I may have to. You remember Joan Chandler?"

"I'd say I do. A fine girl that. I saw her no more'n six months ago—and pretty, Jim! Why you wouldn't believe that long-legged, freckled kid could change so. She's a beauty."

"I know, I saw her less than a week ago. Now listen." If Nita had been listening she would have reversed her verdict as to Jim being a rotten story teller. Anyhow, Haskell forgot his drink, and let his cigar go out, he was so interested.

"So you see, Ward," Jim ended. "It's up to me to save her from those two crooks," Haskell nodded emphatically.

"That's a fact, Jim. You couldn't do nothing else. She's a fine girl, and she's had a crooked deal. That land of her's didn't go dry by any act of God." Jim's eyes widened.

"What do you mean?"

"That Pronghorn Spring. You remember. Came out of the limestone like a river."

"I remember. I've been up there dozens of times. There was enough water to irrigate half the county."

"Jest so. And the water comes out of a sink way back in the hills. Farne or one of his gang dynamited the bank of that sink, and let every drop o' water out. It's running down the Eastern Divide into Elbow Creek."

"What a foul trick! And Joan doesn't know?"

"Hasn't a notion. I only got to know jest before I sailed. Kay Warner, one of my hands, was hunting a lobo up in them hills, and he come on the dry sink. I don't need tell you they're after. Farne aims to marry Joan, and after that he'll fill in the sink, run the water back, and it's all his for nothing." He paused, took another drink, relit his cigar, and went on.

"See here, Jim. You don't need to go there at all. Joan will have had your cable, and be waiting for you in New York. You take her back to England." He paused again and looked at Jim.

"You aiming to marry her?" he asked abruptly.


THE question gave Jim a jolt, but he did not hesitate with his answer.

"I am already engaged, Ward, but Miss Vaughan, my fiance is as keen as I that Joan should be got away from Bignal and Farne."

"And what do you reckon to do with her back in England?"

"Find her work that she will like. I'm a rich man, Ward, and I think I can find her a job that will suit her and make her independent. All the same I hate to think of her being swindled out of her property in America."

"Maybe you could send out an agent to buy up that land of hers," said Haskell shrewdly.

"What would be the use? She couldn't live there."

"Not right now," Haskell told him, "but that Garnett ain't going last for ever."

"The West's moving, Jim. They got fine motor roads right down through the South-east and decent folk ain't going to stand for being bossed by a gang of crooks. It'll maybe take time, for Loomis is away back in the hills but, take my word for it, there'll be a bust-up sooner or later. Maybe sooner.

"I'd like to be there when it comes," said Jim.

"And I'd like to have you alongside when it do come," Haskell declared. "Anyways I'll keep you posted."

The two talked till late and next day Haskell got moved to Jim's table. He also met Trant, and the two men, so utterly unlike, took to one another at once.

"You done well, Jim," said Haskell, "when you took that bozo. He's the sort will go through hell and high water."

"I've no ambition to go through either," said Jim with a laugh. "The sooner I get back to my place in Scotland the better I'll be pleased. I've some Highland cattle there that you'd like, Ward, and nearly two thousand sheep." Ward looked horrified.

"Don't tell me you've turned sheep man!" Jim laughed again.

"Sheep are all right on their native hills. We don't despise them in Scotland as you do in the West."

It was very good for Jim to have Haskell with him. It kept Jim from thinking too much and Jim's thoughts when alone were not happy ones. The image of Joan was always in his mind. Jim was, at bottom, a simple, straightforward soul, and felt it was disloyal to Nita to think so much of Joan. He didn't sleep too well during that crossing.

The night before they reached New York, Haskell asked Jim about his plans, and Jim told him that he meant to go straight to the Broadway office of Franklyn Slatter, Bissett's New York agent. "In my cable, I asked Joan to leave a note there, and tell me where I could see her," he said.

"What I'm hoping is that she has cut loose from her step-father and that I shall be able to take her straight back."

"I sure hope so," said Haskell with unusual gravity. "You don't want to run into Murray Farne again. He's poison."

Jim's only baggage was a suitcase, and when they docked at ten in the morning, Haskell agreed to take it with him to the Brevoort, where he was staying. Trant, too, would go with Haskell. Jill was to meet them there later.

Meantime Jim took a taxi to Slatter's office which was on the 17th floor of a tall building to which Jim was shot up in a fast elevator, and Slatter proved to be a large, genial man who sat in his shirt items in a large airy room at a desk of appropriate size. He gave Jim a powerful grip.

"I been expecting you, Mr. James. My partner cabled me you were coming. Yes, I got the letter you were expecting. Read it right away," he added. "I guess I know just how you are feeling."

Jim stared doubtfully at the envelope. This queer, childish hand in which the address was written was not in the least like Joan's. He tore It open hastily. The letter was short, and written in the same unformed writing. This is what he read.

Dear Jim,

I have had a fall and sprained my right wrist. I am trying to write with my left hand. I told you not to bother about me, but since you have come so far, I cannot refuse to see you. I will meet you at four on Thursday afternoon at Mr. Slatter's office.



Jim saw Slatter watching him anxiously.

"It's all right, Mr. Slatter," he said. "The writing bothered me, but Miss Chandler explains that she sprained her right wrist, and that she will meet me here this afternoon at four. Will that suit you?"

"Sure, Sir James! Anything I can do for you now?"

"Not a thing at present, thank you. I have to get to my hotel and meet a friend who came over in the Berlin. He is a cattle man, Ward Haskell—I knew him in New Mexico, and he's given me a deal of information about the state of things down there."

"I guess I needn't tell you to be careful, Sir James," said Slatter. "You're up against a tough crowd."

"I'll be very careful," Jim assured him and left. He drove straight to the Brevoort and told Haskell about Joan's letter.

"Sprained her wrist, eh?" said Haskell, "you're sure she wrote that letter?"

"It read just as she would have written it, and, anyhow, I can't come to any harm if I'm meeting her in Slatter's office."

"That's a fact," Haskell agreed. "I've booked our rooms, and Trant's getting acquainted with the staff. Say, he takes to it all like a duck to water. Guess it's lunch-time, and I'm hungry."

Jim was not hungry; he was too anxious, and the hours dragged badly till it was time to return to Slatter's office.

"Same floor, suh?" said the negro attendant, recognising Jim as he entered the lift.

"Seventeenth," Jim answered. The lift started, the bell rang, and it stopped at the seventh, where two men got in. Jim paid no special attention to them; he was too engrossed with the idea of meeting Joan again. The lift started again, and suddenly Jim felt something hard prodding him in the ribs.

"Better stand right still, mister, if you wants to live," came the nasal voice in his ear. It was an automatic that he held thrust against Jim's side, and one glance was enough to show that the second man and the lift attendant were both accomplices.


A MAN without experience of America might easily have made the mistake of resenting the gunman's ugly sarcasm. Jim knew a killer when he saw one, and made no such mistake. He stood perfectly quiet as the lift shot up past the seventeenth and finally came to a stop at the thirtieth, the top floor of the building. His captor spoke.

"Get out and walk between the two of us. Don't get the notion I won't shoot if you make any trouble. There's a silencer on this gat and there's ain't a soul would hear through one of these doors."

Jim knew that the man meant exactly what he said, and that his life hung on a thread, so, although he was seething inwardly at having once more been trapped, did as he was ordered, and walked down a long passage between the two men.

Even if any one had come out—and no one did—they would not have noticed anything out of the way. At the end was a door opening upon a short flight of stairs. The second man opened the door, and went ahead of Jim. The man with the gun walked up behind him.

At the head of the stairs they were on the flat lead roof of the building, some two hundred and fifty above the street. They could not be seen from below, because of the parapet wall surrounding the roof.

In the centre of the great expanse of leads was a small building of the sort known as a penthouse. Into this Jim was led and marched into a room furnished with a couch, chairs, table and a gas stove.

"Put out your hands," the man ordered, and stood by with his pistol still against Jim's ribs while his companion tied Jim's wrists with a length of blind cord. Jim was then ordered to lie down on the couch, and his ankles were tied. A gag was produced and for the first time since his capture Jim spoke.

"I don't know what you are being paid for this, but I'll pay double if you let me go." The hard-eyed man grinned sourly.

"Nothing doing, pal. Pete and me, when we take a job, we finish it.

"There's a gent wants a heart-to-heart talk with you, and we've fixed you right for him. Open your mouth if you don't want me to pry it open with a knife." There was no help for it. Jim was gagged as well as tied, and lay helpless as a baby.

"That's right, Pete," said the first man, "Guess we'll go. So long, pal. Glad for your sake you didn't try to get gay, for we had orders to bump you off if you did."

They left and Jim at once began to try to free himself. It was no use. These man had known their job far too well, and blind cord does not stretch like some other forms of rope. It was the first time in his life that Jim had ever been tied like this, and impotence filled him with such fury that he struggled until he was exhausted.

At last he was forced to lie still, and then his thoughts tortured him. Yet he did not see that he could blame himself. It had not occurred to him, or even to that wise bird, Ward Haskell, that there could be any danger in visiting Slatter's office.

With an effort he calmed himself, and tried to consider his chances. His thoughts were not comforting. True, Slatter would presently begin to wonder why he and Joan had not turned up, but what could he do about it?

Jim had not even told him the name of his hotel, though he had mentioned Haskell to him. Plainly, there was no hope from Slatter. Later, Haskell and Trant would begin to wonder why he had not returned. They might come in search of him but that would be too late. Farne would have finished him long before they turned up.

Jim had no illusions about Farne. Farne had certainly not gone to all this trouble and expense for nothing. He must have paid good money for the rent of this penthouse and the services of the two killers, to say nothing of a substantial bribe to the liftman.

He realised plainly that Farne could not afford to let him go. This was New York, not London. New York in whose underworld murders are done daily without penalty, where a mere bumping off is thought little more of than the theft of a wallet.

Add to that the fact that Farne hated him with a bitter and deadly hatred and the outcome was obvious. He would be killed and left here while Farne moved on to New Mexico. His body would not be found until the lease of the penthouse was up.

And Joan—what of Joan? Now that he had got down to bed-rock, so to speak, Jim knew definitely that Joan's fate was more important to him than his own. The most bitter part of dying would be the knowledge that Joan was left without money or friends.

He lay still. From far below the roar of New York's tremendous traffic came to his ears, muted by distance. The afternoon sun shone brightly through the one window of his prison. It was probably the last sunlight he would ever see.

Yes, here was Farne. There was no mistaking his quick yet heavy steps. The footfalls came across the leads, the door opened and Jim's enemy was standing over him.

"So you walked into it once more," the man said, and his lips parted in a smile. But there was no smile in his green-grey eyes. Jim noticed that he was quietly dressed in a dark grey flannel suit, and that his nose, though it would never be quite what it once was, had resumed normal proportions.

"Of all the born fools I ever run across you take the biscuit," Farne went on. "I though as you might get out of that London house, but I hardly reckoned you'd follow us to America. Still, if you did I guessed you'd come by the Berlin, so I had a man watching for you at Southhampton. He cabled me you was coming, so I fixed up for you."

He stopped and laughed, and the laugh grated on Jim's raw nerves worse than the man's voice.

"You think you're the only one as knows how to use money," Farne went on with a sneer, "You with your cables and agents! I had to use a bit myself, but it's money well spent, for It's rid me of you and your foolishness for ever.

"Yes, Joan got your cable delivered just like you said but Bignal saw the woman taking it into her cabin, and next night Joan slept a bit sounder than usual and Bignal got it for me, then put it back again. After that it was easy. Knowing as this was the first place you'd come to, I rented the penthouse and fixed up things the way you've seen. Pete and Louie know their job, and neither of 'em tells tales out of school." He broke off.

"Yes, you may glare at me all you like, but that won't do you no good. I'm fed up with you, and I'd bump you off this minute if it wasn't that there's a safer way of finishing you. You're going to finish yourself, Sir James Chernocke." He chuckled again.

"There's the scheme. I lift you off that couch, put your head up against the stove and turn on the gas. Then when you're finished I come back and take the ropes off." He took a letter from his pocket, and held it in front of Jim, so that he could see it was addressed exactly in the same way as the previous letter which he had had that morning.

"That goes in your pocket," he said gloatingly. "In it Joan says that she doesn't love you. She can't marry you. Think of the headlines! 'Wealthy English Baronet Commits Suicide for Love of Beautiful Western Girl.' The public will eat it!"

Once more the big brute chuckled. It was plain he was visualising the headlines of which he spoke, thoroughly enjoying the idea of not only murdering his enemy, but also blasting his reputation when dead.


THE veins in Jim's head felt as if they were bursting.

He would have given everything he possessed, even life itself, to be free for a single minute. He struggled so convulsively that he fell off the couch on to the floor. He got no pity from Farne.

"In a hurry, are you? All right!" He stooped, and grasping Jim by the shoulders dragged him across to the stove. He laid his head as close as possible to the front of the stove and turned on the Jets full. He closed the window. It was a sash window and fitted firmly. He pulled a rug across the floor so that it would fall against the door. Then he stopped a moment.

"You'll have just about time to remember that it don't pay to run against Murray Farne," he said viciously, and, turning, went out, closing the door behind him and locking it.

The sickly sweet taste of the gas was already in Jim's throat, but he was not going to die without a struggle to save himself. Even with feet and hands tied he was able to roll, and with desperate effort worked himself over in the direction of the door.

He managed to push the mat aside and lay with his lips as close as possible to the bottom of the door. But this penthouse was new, the door fitted so closely that hardly any air could pass. Jim felt it was a vain hope, and that his efforts could only prolong his life for a few minutes.

He looked round the room for anything sharp on which he might saw the cords off his wrists but there was nothing. It was maddening to know that he had a knife in his pocket, which he could not by any possibility reach.

Wait! There was something he could reach. His wrist watch. Good heavens! Why has he not thought of it before? He banged it against the floor, breaking the glass.

With the gag in his mouth. It was impossible to hold the glass between his teeth, but he managed to wedge it into a crack between two floor-boards and began to saw the cord with the sharp edge.

Given time, he would have done it, but now the gas having filled the upper part of the room was mixing with the lower layer of air and, do what he would, Jim could not help inhaling it. His head began to swim, his eyes felt as if they were bursting out of their sockets, then the glass fell out of the crack and he had to wedge it in again. It was only his fierce resolve to live—that and his natural strength and magnificent health—which gave Jim strength to continue until the first cord snapped, and in a trice his hands were free.

Snatching out his knife he cut away the cords that held his ankles, then, without waiting to remove the gag, staggered to his feet, reached the window, and, falling against it, broke a pane with his elbow.

Never before had Jim realised how delicious was the feeling of filling his lungs with fresh air and, as he took one deep breath after another, his head cleared and his strength came back. In a few moments he was almost himself again except for the feeling of sickness from the gas he had already swallowed.

The first thing he did was to cut the gag away, the next to cover his mouth and nostrils with his handkerchief; then swiftly crossing the room, he turned off the gas.

The door, he knew, was locked, but he could get out of the window. He was on the point of doing so when a new thought struck him. He did not know where Joan was; Farne did. Why not then wait for Farne, catch him unawares, knock him out and force him to give Joan's address?

The mere thought of getting another smack at Farne made him tingle all over. Jim was not a revengeful person, but what he had been through at Farne's hands during the last half hour and what Joan might endure in the future filled him with a cold anger which was much more dangerous than mere rage.

At the same time Jim realised clearly that at close quarters he was no match for the huge American, especially as he was still nauseated with the gas. So he looked round quickly for some weapon, But a gas stove needs no poker and it was with dismay he recognised that there was nothing in the room except a chair which he could use against his enemy.

It came to him that it might be wiser to clear out and wait below for Farne. He could call on Slatter, he could even ring up the police. Farne had tried to murder him. He had a case against him. He heard a sound. Steps. It was too late. Farne's head was visible above the opening of the stairs.

Three quick, quiet steps took Jim to the door. He stood with his back to the wall, on the latch side of the door. The few seconds before he heard the key turn in the lock were long as minutes, then, as the door swung open, Jim drove a blow with all his strength at the angle of Farne's jaw.

His fist smacked home with a force that jarred Jim's arm and sent the man's big body crashing against the half open door. He slid down and lay flat on his back on the floor.

He ought to have been out, but wasn't, yet the mental shock, the surprise of being attacked by a man he had fully believed to be dead was so great that for the moment Farne was paralysed. There was fear as well as amazement in the eyes which stared up at Jim.

If Jim had been wiser, if he had known Farne better and realised the enormous vitality of the man, he would have got out of the room in a hurry, locking the door behind him, and gone for help.

He never thought of it, for his whole mind was set upon getting Joan's address. He stood over Farne fists clenched, ready to knock him down again if he moved.

This gave the other his chance to recover from the first stunning shock of the unexpected blow and suddenly his right hand slipped into his coat pocket and Jim realised instinctively that he was pulling a pistol.

Instantly he flung himself on Farne. His weight coming full on Farne's chest drove the breath out of his body with an explosive gasp, but even this did not finish the man, and next second his enormous arms closed round Jim's body and flattened him down with bone-cracking force.

Jim saw the glare of triumph in Farne's eyes and realised that his blunder was fatal. Here was no rough ground on which he could get toe hold, no friendly bank over which he could twist his opponent.

Everything was in Farne's favour. Yet Jim put up a terrific resistance. His left arm was free and with his left flat he battered Farne's face. They were only short jabbing blows, but they cut the skin and bruised the flesh.

Jim hoped to force Farne to release his hold, but Farne was too wise for that. He knew that, if he hung on, the end was certain. If anything, he increased the pressure and moment by moment Jim's lungs were squeezed flatter and flatter and he felt his strength draining out of him as lack of oxygen poisoned his blood.

There was gas still in the room and that made things even worse. Now he cursed his own idiocy in giving away the advantage he had gained! His senses were leaving him, his blows lacked power, flashes of light began to dance across his bulging eyeballs, then, when almost at the last gasp, he heard a crash behind him as someone leaped through the window and alighted heavily on the floor.

He heard a panting breath, then came a sound like a mallet striking wood and instantly the awful pressure ceased and Farne's great body went limp as meat. Then to Jim all went black and he knew no more until he was roused by the sting of strong spirit in his throat.


HE opened his eyes, and found himself on the couch. Two men were in the room beside him. They were Noah Trant and Ward Haskell. Trant was leaning over him with a flask in his hand. Haskell was watching Farne who lay without moving with his eyes closed and breathing heavily.

There was a singularly grim look on Haskell's long, thin face. It did Jim good to see the relief in Trant's eyes as he opened his own.

"Thought you was done in, sir," said Trant.

"I wasn't far off it," Jim admitted. "But how on earth did you come here?"

"Got a bit uneasy, sir, you was so long. So I rang up Mr. Slatter and he said as you hadn't been in at all. That were enough for Mr. Haskell and me. We got a taxi and come running."

"Thank God, you did," said Jim, "but even so I don't see how you found me."

"Well, that were a bit o' luck, sir. Seems that Mr. Slatter were worried like we were, so he went out of his office and asked the liftman if he'd seed you, and the chap—a nigger—he got rattled and that made Mr. Slatter suspicious.

"So Mr. Slatter said he was going to call a cop, and then this here liftman were so scared he run off. Mr. Slatter were asking the door porter if he'd seed you when his secretary come down to say we was ringing up. He told us to come along and meantime he talked again to the porter and heard as you'd been in.

"We come along just after he found that out and then I asked the porter if he seed Farne. Course I described him. He told me as he'd took this here sky parlour so, after that, it didn't take long to put two and two together, and we come up fast as the lift would take us."

"Between you, you saved my life," said Jim.

"It's Trant you got to thank," said Haskell. "He rang up a long time before I'd have thought of it. But how did they get you here, Jim?"

Jim took another sip of the whisky, then told them the whole story. When he described how Farne had left him to die by gas poisoning he saw Trant's face go white with anger. His big fists clenched, and the look he gave the still unconscious Farne was murderous.

"I didn't hit him hard enough," he muttered.

"If you'd hit him any harder you'd have killed him," said Haskell "As it is, he'll live to go to the pen. Say, Jim, I reckon I'd better ring up the police."

"Not on your life," said Jim sharply. "Farne is the only person who can tell us where to find Joan. And the threat of police is the only way to force him to talk."

"That's true," said Haskell slowly. "Trant, you look around for some cold water and we'll persuade this here beauty to talk."

"Have you got his gun?" Jim asked.

"You bet. Got one myself, too. Don't you worry, Jim. Well handle the dirty dog."

Farne was already stirring, but it took cold water—and whisky—to get him back to his senses. He was not a pretty sight, for his face was fairly pulped, and he had a bad cut on the back of his head, where Trant had hit him.

The look in his eyes reminded Jim of a trapped wolf. Farne was all brute, but he had the ferocious courage of the brute. Jim spoke. He put it to Farne plainly.

"Either you will go up for attempted murder, and there's plenty of evidence to give you a long sentence, or you will take us straight to Miss Chandler, and hand her over to us," he said. Farne stared at him, and his look was murderous. With a visible effort he fought down his fury and spoke.

"And if I do," he got out.

"If you hand her over unhurt, you can go free," said Jim firmly. "But you don't take Miss Chandler's ranch. I am sending an agent to buy that up and manage it for her."

Again came that savage look into Farne's eyes, yet, when he replied, he had full control of his voice.

"I give in I guess. I can't do anything else. But—"

"Cut the threats," Jim said sternly. "I have had enough of them, and of you." He turned to Haskell.

"There's a 'phone here. I saw it in the hall. Call up Slatter, tell him what we are doing and ask him to have a taxi ready for us." Haskell did this, and when he came back said that the taxi would be waiting. Jim spoke to Farne.

"No need to tell you to behave. You know what's coming to you if you don't." Farne's lips drew back in a snarl, but he made no protest. They went down in a lift, and found Franklyn Slatter himself waiting with the taxi.

"Come up to the Brevoort later and we'll tell you all about it," Jim said in his ear. "Now were going to fetch Miss Chandler. What is the address, Mr. Farne?"

"Thirty-seven, Anson Avenue. It's in the Bronx," Farne answered.

None of them knew where the Bronx was, but Jim had an idea that it was not a very savoury suburb. But the taximan knew the way, and they drove off. Jim and Haskell both had pistols while Trant grasped the wrench with which he had knocked out Farne.

They drove in grim and watchful silence. To Jim it seemed as if they passed through miles of mean streets, but Anson Avenue was a road of villa-like houses which resembled a London suburb, and No. 37 proved to be a fairly decent-looking semi-detached house which stood with its fellow house a little back from the road with some pretence at a garden in front. The driver pulled up, and Jim told him to wait. Trant got out first, then ordered Farne to descend.

"Keep a right smart eye on him," Haskell whispered to Jim. "He's tricky as a fox." Farne overheard.

"How in Hades do you think I can trick you?" he asked with savage sarcasm.

"I don't know," said Jim calmly, "but I do know you will if you get half a chance. Ward, suppose you wait in the front, while Trant and I go with him."

They went up to the door which Farne opened with a latchkey. Inside was a fairly wide hall passage with two doors on the left. Beyond them stairs ran up and the passage ended in a door which probably led to the kitchen.

"Joan's upstairs." said Farne. "She's locked in her room, the one on the right. Here's the key." He handed it to Jim. Jim hesitated.

"Where's Bignal?"

"Out. He went down town to fix up for our tickets, and said he wouldn't be back till late." Jim was mad to find Joan, but did not show it.

"Can you manage him, Trant?"

"I'll manage him," said Trant ominously. "Anyway the front door's open and Mr. Haskell's watching." Jim waited no longer. He ran upstairs.

"Joan!" he called, but there was no answer. He fitted his key in the lock, but before he could even turn it there came a sharp sound like the slam of a door, then a yell of dismay from Trant.

"He's gone!"


FORGETTING even Joan, Jim raced downstairs to find Trant crazily hammering on the right-hand wall of the passage with his wrench.

"He's gone!" he cried again as he saw Jim. "Went right through the wall. There's a door if I could find the thing."

There was a door. Jim saw it now, though the wallpaper which covered it had hidden it. Ward Haskell had rushed in.

"Ain't no use looking for the catch," he snapped. "Take too long. Farne's gone through into the next house. Did you get Joan, Jim?"

"Didn't even wait to open her door."

"Go and fetch her. Trant and I'll try next door." Jim fled upstairs again. The door opened into a decently furnished bedroom, but there was no one there.

"Might have known it," he muttered bitterly as he turned, and once more went downstairs full pell. Haskell was pounding on the front door of the next house, but there was no answer.

"Locked," he told Jim. "Wait right here, Trant. We'll go round back." But the back door, too, was fast and the windows closed.

"Looks like the house was empty," he told Jim.

"Farne's here somewhere. I'm going in," Jim said and, muffling his hand in his soft hat, smashed a window. He got at the fastening, opened the casement and climbed through into the kitchen. Haskell was right. The house was uninhabited: dust was thick over everything. The two hurried into the front room and examined the wall.

"Here it is," said Jim. "Here's the door."

"And here are the marks of Farne's feet in the dust," Haskell added sharply. "He came through and out the back way and locked the door behind him. Guess he's half a mile away by now."

Jim looked at his friend in silent despair. After all he had gone through that afternoon, after making so completely certain that he was going to find Joan again, the disappointment was almost too much for him.

"No use to look like that, Jim," said Haskell. "We ain't lost that fellow fer good. Keep your mind on this—that Farne and Bignal has got to go to New Mex., and likely Joan'll go along too."

"I can't see Joan going with them after she had my cable, and knew I was coming," Jim said. Haskell shrugged.

"How could she help herself? You know darn well she never got the money. Besides I reckon they kept her pretty close. Let's go back and look at the other house. She might have left a note or something."

There was no note; Jim and Haskell searched the whole house, but found nothing except proof that the house had been occupied by Bignal, Farne, and Joan. Trant meantime discovered the catch of the hidden door and opened it, but that didn't help. Trant was very upset. "I've fell down again," he said, "you'd better send me back to London. Taxi-driving's all I'm fit for."

"Do you want to go and leave me alone?" Jim asked.

"I don't want to leave you at all, sir, but the trouble is I ain't no use to you."

"That's for me to judge. We're only at the beginning of things yet, Trant. I'll want more help where I'm going than I ever did in New York." Haskell looked at Jim.

"You ain't going West, Jim?" he said sharply.

"Where do you think I'm going?" Jim retorted—"back home?" Haskell shook his head.

"Guess we better go and talk to Slatter," he said, and they followed him out to the waiting cab.

When he had heard their story, Slatter was all for ringing up the police, but Jim wouldn't hear of it.

"What can they do?" he asked. "All the odds are that Farne is on his way this minute, and before the New York police can move he will be outside the State and out of their jurisdiction altogether. Besides that, they'd want to hold me here as a witness. Once we're tied up with the law we're done. It's up to me to finish this job."

"But you can't go to New Mexico, Sir James," Slatter put in. "You've told me yourself there's a judgment out against you in that State." Jim's face hardened.

"I'll have to chance it. As Haskell says, the crooked sheriff isn't going to last for ever. There are decent folk in Loomis as well as crooks. Anyhow, Mr. Slatter, you can see for yourself that Miss Chandler can't be left in Farne's hands."

Slatter looked worried. Though he had only met Jim a few hours earlier he had taken a liking to him. Besides, being Bissett's partner, he felt in a way responsible for him. Haskell spoke.

"It ain't a bit o' use arguing, Mr. Slatter. I knowed Jim out West when he were just a cowboy. He's pig headed, Jim is. Hell or high water, he'll go after Joan. Only thing for us is to help him best way we can. You're a wise bird. Maybe you got some plan to put up." A frown creased Slatter's forehead, he thought, a moment before he spoke.

"If I was in Sir James's place I'd hire a dozen strong arms out of the Tenderloin and send them down to Loomis to shoot up Farne and this crook sheriff; but he being an Englishman, I don't reckon that notion would appeal to him."

"You're right!—it wouldn't," said Jim with a smile. "If it comes to shooting, I prefer doing my own. Anyhow, I have two stout fellows with me."

"And Farne and Garnett have got a score," put in Haskell. "If we're to do any good down in Loomis we got to do it by using our brains."

"You hit it!" said Slatter. "You've got to fool Farne into thinking that Sir James here has given it up as a bad job. Here's my notion. We send some fellow back to England under Sir James's name, and see that it's reported in the papers. I know one of the boys on the 'Tribune,' so that's easily fixed. Then I'd suggest that you three go West by air. That way you'll reach Loomis two or three days ahead of Farne. Sir James'll have to be disguised some way so this sheriff won't know him, and Trant will have to be fixed up so Farne won't recognise him." Haskell smacked his knee with a hard palm.

"I said you was the wise one, Mr. Slatter," he declared admiringly. "But how's Jim here going to be changed the way you say?"

"That's easy," Slatter answered. "I'll give you the address of a man who will fix him up so he won't know himself. What's worrying me is where he'll stay and what he'll do when he gets to your cow town. I don't reckon you have many strangers there."

"That's a fact," Haskell agreed, "but why wouldn't he and Trant stay at my place? I could take 'em on as hands." Jim spoke.

"Farne will be watching you, Ward, and if you had new hands he'd be suspicions. I've thought of a better scheme than that. Does Dave Condon still own the Painted Cross?" Haskell nodded quickly.

"Sure, he does. He's a queer old cuss but he don't like Garnett no better than I do. We'll try if he won't take you and Trant and get it all fixed before Farne arrives." At this moment there was a knock and a telegraph boy entered and handed a message to Slatter. He tore it open. A look of amazement crossed his face.

"It's from Miss Chandler," he explained. "She says: 'Am safe. Please tell Jim on no account to follow.'"

"What's the address?" Jim asked sharply. Slatter shook his head.

"No address, Sir James. Reckon she sent it from the train."


THE car bumped over an apology for a road and Trant wrenched the steering wheel to avoid a huge pot hole.

"If this here is a sample of New Mexico I don't think a lot of it," he remarked.

"It ain't all like this," Haskell informed him. "There's right nice country round Loomis."

"Then I hopes we get there pretty soon," Trant answered, changing down to low gear as the track dipped steeply over the edge of a cliff that crumbled down into the desert.

To the right lay a maze of barren ridges in front and beneath a vast stretch of sage-covered plains reaching to a range of bills which made a wall against the distant sky. The sun blazed down with such force that the land seemed red-hot, crickets whirred unceasingly and rattlesnakes basked in the heat or crawled sluggishly among the cactus on the ledges. There was no shade anywhere, no water, no escape from the hot wind that blew unceasingly across the waste and, wherever there was a bare spot, raised sand devils which spun for a few moments then fell soundlessly.

Jim and his two companions were on the last stage of their journey. They had flown as far as Jimson, which lies about 70 miles from Loomis, and there bought the second-hand car in which they were making for Painted Cross. Of the three, Ward Haskell was the only one who resembled his former self. Slatter had told no more than the truth when he said that his make-up man would alter Jim so that he wouldn't know himself. Jim had worn a close-cropped moustache. That was gone and his fair skin had been turned to the colour of mahogany, while his hair, formerly brown, was now black. But the really clever touch was a scar which ran from the corner of his left eye near to his ear and give him a slightly sinister appearance. As for clothes, his were exactly what a cowboy wears all through the West, a pair of blue jean trousers tucked into high boots, a dark blue flannel shirt, laced, not buttoned, a silk handkerchief round his neck and a Stetson hat which looked as if it had seen years of heavy weather. And he wore these things as if he had worn them all his life. Except for his height and breadth of shoulder no one would have looked at him twice in a crowd.

Trant, who was actually thirty-five, had been made to look nearly twenty years older. A cleverly fitted wig of iron-grey hair and wrinkles worked in artistically around his eyes had done the trick and the artist had assured him that these wrinkles would last for at least a month. The neat grey suit which Trant had worn in New York bad been exchanged for brown overalls stained with oil, and his hat was an imitation Panama of coarse straw.

For a long hour the car bumped along the sandy track which lay like a ribbon across the plain, then came a steep gradient winding endlessly upwards into the hills. The air grew cooler. There were clumps of trees here and there, and once they forded a shallow stream, its banks bordered by cottonwoods where canyon wrens fluttered in and out. The road began to descend. To the right was a deep ravine, to the left a slope covered with coarse grass and clumps of wind-stunted trees. Haskell, who had been lounging in the back of the car, smoking endless cigarettes, suddenly sat up.

"Guess you'll see something soon, Trant," he said. The words were hardly out of his mouth before there came the sharp flat crack of a rifle, followed by the cry of a hurt man. Then two more shots in rapid succession. Down the slope through the trees a horse came galloping wildly. On his back was a man who must have been badly hurt, for the reins had dropped from his nerveless fingers and he lay forward, clinging feebly with both arms round the neck of the maddened beast.

At the sound of the shots, Trant had stopped the car. Jim who had been sitting in front with Trant, was on his feet and out over the door all in one act. He landed on his toes and sprinted desperately down the steep trail.

When he had first seen the runaway it was no more than a hundred paces from the road and some fifty ahead of the car. It was heading straight for the ravine and to the breathless watchers it looked as if horse and rider must both be over the edge before Jim could possibly reach them. Yet Jim made it. With a superb effort he reached the horse just as it arrived on the road. Haskell who was out of the car and running hard behind Jim, held his breath. He knew that, if Jim tried to stop the horse, he would go over the edge and share the fate of the frantic animal and its rider.

Jim knew that too, and instead of grasping the reins, reached up and flung his arms round the rider. Haskell raw him stagger backwards and fall flat on the road, at the same moment the horse went over the rim of the gulch to fall with a thudding crash into its rocky depths. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that Jim had the wounded man in his arms.


BEFORE Haskell could reach Jim two mounted men came tearing down the slope, pulled up on the road, and flung themselves off. One lifted the wounded man, the other, a fresh-faced young follow of about twenty-three, pulled him to his feet.

"Good work, cowboy," he said. "That sure took nerve. I never reckoned you'd do it. Are you hurt?"

"No, just winded," Jim answered. "But that chap is badly hurt. Who shot him?"

"Never did see the dirty skunk," growled the second man who had laid the wounded one on the side of the road and was stripping off his shirt, "but I'll lay it was that yellow-faced breed, Diego Lopez. Ain't no one else would bush-whack a kid this way."

Jim looked at the wounded man and he was only a boy, not more than eighteen years old. A good-looking lad, but now his face was white as paste and his eyes closed. Ward Haskell came up.

"Why, it's Bud Condon!" he exclaimed. He turned and shouted to Trant. "Bring that first-aid case out of the car. Here, let me take on, Mart. I've had more experience of gun-shot wounds than you." The man called Mart looked up.

"Dog-gone if it ain't Ward Haskell," he said, "I'm sure glad to see you. Is Bud badly hurt?" Haskell was already examining the wound which was in the boy's right side. There was relief in his face as he saw where the bullet had come out.

"Not near so bad as I thought. It hit a rib and glanced. It's shock and loss of blood knocked him out." Trant arrived with the first-aid case and Mart brought water. With capable fingers Haskell washed and disinfected the wound, plugged it and tied it up, putting a tight bandage round the boy's body. Bud was already coming round and a nip of whisky from Haskell's flask brought a touch of colour back to his cheeks. He looked round in puzzled fashion.

"Say, I thought I was dead. I sure ought to have been. Who got me off that bronc?"

"Here's the fellow that did it," Haskell said. "Grant Andrews his name is." Bud looked up at Jim.

"I'll do as much for you if the chance comes," was all he said, but Jim knew that, if ever the pinch did come, this boy would do exactly as he had promised.

"Glad I was there," was all he said, and spoke to Mart.

"Ward and I are on our way to your place. We can take Bud here along in the car."

"That's fine," said Mart, whose other name was Dowling, and who was a stocky, reliable looking fellow of about forty. He added to a lower voice: "Dave'll be real grateful. Bud's his grandson and the apple of his eye."

Trant brought up the car, they lifted Bud in and made him comfortable, then drove on slowly. Mart Dowling and the younger man, whose name was Nat Vedder, riding after.

The road curved around a great tower of red rock and there was the Painted Cross. Even Trant opened his eyes. He could hardly believe that such a paradise could exist in this country of deserts. Below was a wide valley which looked to be ten or twelve miles long. It was green as an English meadow and dotted with clumps of trees. Through it, like a silver snake, wound a sizeable stream, and everywhere cattle grazed. To the right rose broken cliffs seamed with deep canyons, and above these was the peak which gave the place its name. High against its rugged side was an outcrop of white quartz in the shape of an almost perfect cross. To the left—that is the east—the valley was bounded by tall hills, the lower slopes of which were heavily timbered.

The ranch itself lay on a flat bench above the valley. The big comfortable looking house built of abode, Mexican fashion, was surrounded by stables, barns and store houses, and great cottonwoods gave welcome shade.

"Gosh, it might almost be England," Trant muttered.

Mart Dowling and Nat Vedder galloped ahead and when the car, driven slowly for Bud's sake, pulled up in front of the ranch house Dave Condon himself was awaiting. It gave Jim a thrill to see the fine old fellow again. Dave was long past seventy but still straight as a lance. With his face the colour of old teak, bright blue eyes and mop of snow-white hair, he was as fine a sample of the old type Westerner as could be found anywhere.

"Ward, I'm glad to see you," were his first words. He looked at Jim. "I reckon you're the man as saved Bud."

"Just luck," Jim said. "Never mind about me, Mr. Condon. Let's get Bud inside and to bed." He picked up Bud gently and lifted him out of the car, went into the house and straight through the wide hall.

"Steady!" whispered Haskell close behind. "You ain't supposed to knew the house." Sam Loy, the Chinese cook, came running and opened the door.

"You plis put him in here. I take care him." Sam was as good a nurse as any woman, so they left Bud in his charge and went back into the hall. It was a fine room with a vast fireplace and skins of bear, panther and wolf on the floor. Dave brought out rye whisky and cool water in a red olla and courteously helped his guests. Haskell spoke.

"Who's this dirty bush-whacker, Dave? The boys say Diego Lopez, but that's a new name to me."

"He's new since you went away, Ward," the old man answered. "Murray Farne hired him just before he left and half a dozen other tough characters as well. Farne's out to run this country and run us all out of it, I reckon." Ward nodded.

"I've knowed for a long time that was his ambition. He and Bignal will be back here in a few days. They was leaving New York when we come through." Old Dave's blue eyes widened.

"Then how in sense did you beat them here?"

"Flew," said Ward. He looked round to make sure they were alone.

"Can you do with a couple of extra hands?"

"I could do with a dozen if I could find the right ones. There's storm over the valley, Ward."

"How'd an English baronet and a London taxi-driver suit you?" The old man frowned.

"You gone plumb crazy, Ward?"

"I guess not. Let me introduce you. This here gent in the blue shirt is Sir James Andrew Chernocke who owns a ranch in Scotland pretty nigh as big as this spread. The other is Mr. Noah Trant, late of London. He can drive any sort of auto, and is right handy in a fight. Only he don't use a gun. A monkey wrench is the weapon he prefers." Dave Condon passed the fingers of his right hand through his thick white hair. His expression of bewilderment was almost ludicrous.

"You don't need to look so bothered, Dave," said Ward. "Sir James here is an old friend of yours. Only, when you knowed him, he called himself Jim Preston." Dave stiffened and stared at Jim.

"Jim Preston," he repeated, "him as killed Wesley Garnett! I surely wouldn't know him."

"I'm glad of that, Dave," said Jim. "I got myself fixed up in New York so that I shouldn't be recognised." Dave thrust out his hand.

"Shake, Jim. I know you now, by your voice. But you're taking a terrible big risk, coming back to Loomis." He turned to Ward.

"Reckon there's more to all this than I know about. I'd like to hear."

"So you shall," said Haskell. "Maybe Jim had better tell you." Like Haskell, Jim looked round to make certain there were no listeners, then he gave Condon a brief account of everything that had happened since his escape after the shooting of Garnett. The old man leaned forward, his blue eyes glistening with interest, and when Jim had finished his story he spoke quickly and decisively.

"You done exactly right, Jim, You got to get Joan Chandler away from Bignal and Farne and you can count on me to help you all I can. Anyway the showdown is due, and what happened to-day proves I couldn't keep out of it even if I wanted to. I'll take you and Trant on as ordinary hands. You ride, Trant?"

"I ain't much use on a horse, sir," Trant said, "but I seed a mowing machine as I come in. That's more my line."

"Fine!" said Dave. "We need a chap to handle our machinery and that automobile may come in mighty handy. Only thing is you'll both have to keep under cover. Even the boys in the bunk house mustn't know who you are. What do you reckon to call yourselves?"

"I'm Grant Andrews," said Jim, "and Trant is Chip Wilson."

"Good, but, Jim, you'll have to be mighty careful not to run into any of Farne's crowd that might know you."

As he spoke there was the sound of a horse cantering up to the front of the house. They all looked out of the house.

"Darned if it ain't the Sheriff!" Haskell exclaimed in sudden dismay. "Jim, you get out of this, quick." Jim shook his head.

"What's the use? I'm bound to meet him sooner or later. This is the chance to see if my disguise is good."


THERE was no time to say more, for Grant Garnett was off his horse and coming up the steps on to the piazza. Dave Condon rose to meet him. Though he disliked and despised the man, he would not show it in his own house. That was against his code.

The Sheriff came in. He was tall, and wore whipcord breeches, expensive boots and a tweed coat that certainly was not made in New Mexico. His spurs were silver and his shirt of silk. His big nose was contradicted by a weak mouth partly hidden by a large moustache, and his small eyes were deep-set under immensely thick eyebrows. He believed himself to be good looking, but Jim had always thought him a most repulsive person.

"Howdy, Mr. Condon?" was his greeting. "Howdy, Mr. Haskell?"

"I get around still," said Dave, drily. "Will you have a drink, Mr. Garnett?" Garnett took a stiff drink and put it away.

"Got company, I see," he remarked.

"Two hands I'm hiring. This is Grant Andrews and this is Chip Wilson." There was not the slightest change in Jim's expression as he nodded to the Sheriff but inwardly he was nervous. Garnett however, did not show any sign that he had ever seen him before, and Jim felt relieved. Garnett spoke to Dave.

"I come to see you about that water hole up beyond Red Butte. Buck Coulton complains as you've fenced it."

"And why shouldn't I fence it?" Dave Condon's voice was suddenly hard. "It's on my own land."

"Buck claims the line runs through the pool, so Farne's got as much right to it as you."

"If Buck, would study his map he'd see his line runs a hundred paces and more on the north side of that hole," said Dave, drily. He went on: "It's Buck Coulton's fault. I never wanted to be unneighbourly, but he's pushed five hundred head or more over on that south strip—twice as many as the land will carry. Consequence is they're all the time straying on my range and eating down my grass. I've warned him twice about it, but he didn't pay no attention, so I'm fencing the whole line." The Sheriff frowned.

"I reckon you're wrong about that there boundary, Mr. Condon. Farne showed me his map before he went away, and the line runs plumb through the centre of the hole."

"Farne's been here four years—I've been here more than forty. Don't you reckon I know more about it than he does?" Garnett opened his mouth to speak, but Dave stopped him with a sharp question. "And listen here, Garnett! Only an hour ago some black-souled bush whacker shot my grandson when he was up on the line and nigh killed him. One of Farne's men it was—and I can give you his name if you want it. You go out and catch that dirty murderer, and after that you can come and talk about the water hole."

Garnett pulled his moustache. His eyes narrowed.

"Did anyone see this fellow as shot Bud?" he asked.

"No, because he was hidden up in the scrub, but I'll tell you this, he used a .38 Marlin rifle, and he rode a paint pony. If that ain't evidence enough for you to make an arrest it's a pity." Garnett scowled.

"There's more than one uses a Marlin around here, and a dozen as rides paint ponies."

"But only one does both," retorted Dave, "and you know who that is as well as I do." The Sheriff shook his head.

"That ain't evidence to kill a cat. Besides everyone knows as there's trouble between you and Farne."

"Just as everyone knows which side you take in that trouble," answered Dave Condon. The Sheriff drew himself up.

"Are you accusing me of favouring folk?" he blustered. "That's a dangerous thing to say, Dave Condon."

"It's what everyone is saying round here except you and Farne and Vincent Bignal and you don't need say it for you know it." Garnett slammed his glass down on the table with a force that broke it.

"If you wasn't an old man," he began furiously. Condon cut him short.

"No need to hesitate on that account, Garnett. I ain't as spry as I was twenty years ago, but I'm still game to draw against you." Garnett bit his lip. In his heart he was afraid of this old fire-eater. He ducked out.

"I ain't such a fool as to start a war with you in your own house, but I tell you straight, threatening a law officer won't get you anywhere, Condon."

"Then we will wait till you are no longer a law man, Garnett," said Dave sweetly, "and maybe that won't be very long."

It was too much for Garnett. With an oath he picked up his hat and stamped out of the room. Another few seconds and he was in the saddle and, ramming in his spurs, rode off at a gallop.

"You kind of nettled him, Dave," said Ward Haskell.

"I meant to," replied the old man "He can't hate me any more than he does already. He's Farne's dog and a yellow dog at that." Haskell shook his head.

"Looks like I've come home to a range war, Dave. Well you can count on me and my boys when the trouble breaks."

"And break it will before long," said the old man gravely. He turned to Jim.

"Garnett didn't spot you, Jim. That's one sure thing."

"I didn't speak," Jim said. "He might know me by my voice."

"That's a fact. You'll have to be careful that way. But I don't reckon anyone would recognise you apart from that. It ain't only the way they've fixed you up but you've filled out a lot. You were only a kid when you were here before. You're a man now." He smiled. "It's nigh supper time. Ill take you down to the bunk house. I'd like to have you in the house, but it might cause talk."

"Don't think twice about that, Dave. I'm a cowboy from now on." The old man laughed outright.

"It's surely one peach of a business, me engaging an English baronet as cow-nurse." Jim laughed, too.

"You'll find I haven't forgotten my job, Dave," he said as he followed the other out to the bunk house.


DAVE CONDON had ten riders, all picked men. Jim needed no introduction. Mart Dowling and Nat Vedder had already spread the story of how he had saved Bud, and Jim was at once accepted as one of the crowd. They didn't ask him who he was or where he came from. Personal questions of that sort are not considered good manners in the West. One man showed him an empty bunk, another pointed out where to wash and offered the loan of a clean towel. To Trant they were equally civil though they at once spotted him as a Britisher.

Supper came in. Beef steaks fried, baked sweet potatoes and plenty of green stuff and raw tomatoes. Dave had a good garden. There were canned peaches and coffee, and the "biscuits" (baking powder scones) were hot and crisp from the oven. A rough meal but a good one, and Jim enjoyed it. Afterwards some of the men helped Sam to collect the dishes and wash up, two went down to the corrals to do various chores and four started a game of penny ante poker.

Jim was ready to help, but Mart, who was foreman, said he was to lay off, so Jim and Trant went outside, where they sat on a bench in the cool of the evening and lit their pipes.

"They're all right, these chaps, Sir James," said Trant.

"As fair a lot as you could meet, Trant, but for God's sake don't call me Sir James. I'm Grant Andrews, and you're Chip Wilson in future and so long as we stay in this country." Trant looked shocked.

"You mean I got to call you Grant?"

"You jolly well have to, and the sooner you get accustomed to it the better. One mistake on your part may bust up everything." Trant looked so serious that Jim almost laughed.

"I'll watch out," he said. He gazed at the great stretch of shadowed valley below and at the tall peak of The Painted Cross now reddened by the last rays of the invisible sun.

"Blowed if it ain't, just like the movies!" he remarked. "I never knowed them pictures could be real-like. I thought it were all made up so to speak."

"The old West isn't dead yet," Jim told him. "Motor roads and dude ranches haven't changed it all. And here we are on the raw edge of things."

"You're surely right, Grant," came a voice behind him, and Mart Dowling, smoking a corn-cob filled with Bull Durham, took a seat beside them. "Trouble's been brewing here ever since Murray Farne bought the Kettle Drum. Things wasn't too good before with Garnett as Sheriff, but with him and Farne and Vincent Bignal in cahoots the storm's due to break. Dave just told me he'd heard as Farne and Bignal is back from England. I reckon they've been gathering money there to buy up more land. They ain't got no conscience, those fellows. They'll buy if they can buy cheap and steal if they can't. They aims to own all this country.

"But they can't do it so long as old timers like Dave and Ward Haskell sit tight," said Jim. Mart puffed a cloud of smoke into the still air, then took his pipe from his mouth.

"It ain't as easy as that, Grant. Farne's got money and no more conscience than a wolf. His men are hired killers. Worse'n that, the Sheriff's his man, body and soul, and between 'em they run Loomis. You seed what happened to-day about that water hole." Jim shrugged.

"This isn't 1890. You've got railroads and motor roads and telephones. The whole thing's too old fashioned for these times."

"You're wrong," Mart answered, "This here neck o' woods is right off the beaten track. There ain't no law here except what the Sheriff makes, and I reckon you know what sort of law that is. It's true there's some decent folk in Loomis but they're scared to open their mouths. The small men haven't a chance and, if any of 'em dare say what they think, they're either ruined or run out. There was a case a few years ago. Young Bart Chandler of the Circle O tried to buck them. They set a gun-man after him— Wesley Garnett he was, the Sheriff's own brother—and if it hadn't been for a chap called Jim Preston, one of Bart's hands, Bart would have been killed. Jim shot Wesley and got away. But that didn't help Bart any. They got him in the long run."

Jim only just managed to repress a start for Joan had told him that Bart had been killed in an accident.

"How did they get him?" he asked quickly.

"Doped his horse with marijuana or some stuff. The beast went plumb crazy and kicked Bart to death."

"Devils!" exclaimed Jim so hotly that Mart stared at him.

"They're devils right enough," he agreed, "And all hell's going to pop shortly." Jim's jaw set hard.

"I hope I'll be here when it does pop. I'll enjoy being on the side of the angels." Mart looked at the tall young man with approval. Then he grinned.

"Don't know so much about angels," he said, "but If it comes to war I'll sure like to have you alongside me, Grant. You'll do to tie to." Jim flushed a little. It was a very real compliment this hard-bitten foreman had paid him. But he said nothing. The two smoked a while in silence, then Mart said he reckoned he'd turn in and Jim followed him into the bunk-house.

Next day Jim rode the range. At first everything seemed strange. The American saddle with high cantle and rawhide seat, the broad wooden stirrups with their long leathers, the heavy curb bit the lope of his pony so different from the trot of an English horse. But within a very few hours it had all come back and, if it had not been for his cruel anxiety on Joan's account, Jim would have been thoroughly enjoying himself. He took the opportunity of a little practice with his rope and this, too, came back as easily almost as the rest. Most of the day he rode with Nat Vedder and knew that he was being watched, yet felt by evening that he had passed muster.

There was not a great deal to do. It was not yet the season for the round up and on the Painted Cross the grazing was so good that the cattle did not range much. A few of the young beasts strayed up the "draws," the short box canyons running into the hills, and these Jim and Nat drove out. Most of the boys were busy on the North fence but Dave Condon had suggested to Matt that the new hand should ride round for a day or two and learn the lay of the land. Dave knew that Jim would wish to get his "saddle legs"—so to speak.

When he came back that evening Jim learned that all had been quiet during the day and that Bud Condon was getting on well as could be expected. Ward Haskell had gone off to his own ranch, the S. Bar S., but promised to come back and bring his boys if there was trouble. As for Noah Trant, he had been busy all day on an old reaper which had broken down. There was a forge on the place and Trant had made an excellent job of the repairs. He seemed to be quite at home and happy.

The rest of the week passed quietly and Jim began to feel that he had never been anything else but a cow-hand. He rode all day, ate like a horse and slept like a log. Each day he felt himself growing harder and fitter.

Friday came and that evening Jim managed to get a word aside with Dave.

"I want to go to town to-morrow," he told the old man. Dave stared.

"Are you crazy?" he demanded.

"I shall be if I don't go," Jim answered. "Listen, Mr. Condon. Nearly all the boys are riding in to-morrow. They'll think it funny if I don't go with them. Anyhow, I'll have to go sooner or later, and I'd better go before Farne gets back."

"He may he back right now."

"If he is I'll keep clear of him. In any case you have to remember that he believes me to be in England. He'd never dream I had come here."

"If he sees you he'll recognise you," the old man said gravely. "There's two things makes a man's eyes keen. They're love and hate, and Murray Farne surely hates you worse than anyone in the world."


JIM was not dismayed, nor was he to be turned from his purpose, and in the end Dave gave his consent. So on Saturday afternoon Jim, with six others of the ranch crew, rode across the hills to the East. His pony was Gray Boy, one of the best beasts in old Dave's corrals. Dave had wanted to give Jim the horse, but Jim had insisted on paying a fair price.

"It isn't as if I couldn't afford it," he said with a smile.

Loomis had not changed much. Just a few new buildings, but it all seemed familiar enough to Jim, and he had to be careful not to betray to the others how well he knew it. The biggest building in the place bore Bignal's name. It was half store, half saloon, though the two were quite separate, one from the other.

Drink had always been obtained at Bignal's place, even in prohibition days, but then in a den at the back to which only those known were admitted; now Bignal had a handsomely fitted bar room with all kinds of drinks, both "soft" and "hard."

"But If some of the drinks were soft that was more than could be said for the faces of the men who lined the front of the bar. Those were gun men, most of them, and as he glanced round Jim remembered what Mart Dowling had told him.

Prominent among them was one of the most devilishly handsome men Jim had ever seen. He wasn't particularly big, but he looked all wire and whipcord. His face was deep bronze, he had an eagle nose, a jutting chin and long narrow dark eyes set under perfectly shaped brows. His hair was jet black and it didn't need a second glance to make certain he was half Indian.

"Lopez," Nat Vedder whispered in Jim's ear. "The coldest-blooded murderer in New Mexico."

At that moment Lopez turned and, though it was quite impossible that he could have heard Nat's whispered words, fixed his eyes on Nat and Jim. He did not scowl or smile, but Jim felt a shudder of repulsion run through him. Those eyes were worse than the stony orbs of a rattlesnake.

Jim's shudder was succeeded by a hot wave of anger. So this was the man who had dry-gulched Bud Condon. He took a step forward, but Nat had him by the arm.

"Go slow, Grant," he muttered. "This ain't no time for a fuss."

He was right. Jim knew he was right. He pulled himself together, and he and Nat moved slowly up to the bar and got their schooners of beer from the tight-lipped bartender. The beer was good and cool. Jim enjoyed it after his long, hot ride. He had just laid down his glass when a door behind the bar opened, and there came a stout middle-aged man who must once have been remarkably good looking, but had now run sadly to seed.

Jim stiffened as he recognised Vincent Bignal. He stood perfectly still, but Bignal was not looking at him. He was speaking to one of the two bartenders, then he went back through the door by which he had come.

"That's old Bignal," said Nat, "the one as married Bart Chandler's mother."

"I thought it must be," Jim managed to say. He was quivering with inward excitement for, if Bignal was back, so was Joan. He spoke to Nat.

"I'm going round to the store to buy some smoking tobacco. I'll find you here when I get back."

"I reckon," Nat answered and Jim slipped away. As he reached the store he found himself shaking like a school boy. This would never do, and he deliberately stopped and took a couple of deep breaths before entering the place.

Two long counters ran the length of the building. One side was given up to hardware, everything from barbed wire to cartridges; the other to groceries, flour, sugar, coffee, canned stuff of every description. There were two men at each of these. At the far end was a shorter cross counter where clothes and "notions" were displayed, and here Joan was in charge.

Jim stood a moment watching her. Wearing a plain white overall, with her shining hair in natural curls on her perfectly shaped head, she looked so lovely that Jim caught his breath. Then he pulled himself together and walked steadily forward. At the moment Joan had no customer. Jim came to the counter.

"Packet of Bull Durham, please, Miss," he said, speaking in a deeper tone than his usual voice.

Joan looked at him, and he saw her face change. Surprise, joy, then sheer terror showed in her eyes in swift succession. Yet she did not lose her head. Turning, she took the packet from a shelf and laid it on the counter. Jim put down a dollar, and as she made change she spoke in a tense whisper.

"Oh, Jim, I told you not to come."

"I'm perfectly safe," Jim answered in an equally low voice, "No one but you has recognised me. And I'm not leaving till I've had a talk with you. When and where can I see you?" Joan glanced round. A customer was coming up the centre aisle; there was no time for more than a word.

"Live Oak Spring. Eight to-night," she said swiftly.

"I'll be there," Jim answered, and picking up his change, walked straight out.

Eight o'clock, and it was not yet six. To Jim those two hours stretched like an eternity, and just then Nat came out of the saloon.

"I reckoned I was tough, but that crowd's too tough for me," he told Jim. "What say if we feed?" Excitement had deprived Jim of his usual appetite, but Nat's talk would help to pass the time. He agreed, and Nat led the way to a restaurant kept by a Chinaman, where, said Nat, "they sure know how to grill a tender loin."

The steak was excellent, so were the fried potatoes and the coffee. Nat ordered a tin of peaches, the cowman's favourite sweet. He talked. He had been using his ears in the saloon and was convinced that trouble was brewing.

"With Bignal and Farne back it'll break mighty soon," he told him. "But I wish I knowed just what was happening. Them tellers is tight-mouthed. The more they drinks they less they says."

They sat and smoked and at half-past seven Jim excused himself on the plea that he wanted to give Gray Boy a feed before riding home.

The livery stable was behind Bignal's building, but separated from it by a broad road. It belonged to Farne and Bignal, but was run by a man named Clem Hoskins, formerly a cowboy but now too crippled to ride. He, however, was not in the office nor was there anyone else in the big dusky building as Jim went in. Gray Boy nickered at sight of his master and Jim petted him, then just as he was in the act of lifting the bridle off its peg, he heard footsteps.

Glancing round the corner of the stall, he saw two men entering. There was light enough to recognise one as the half-breed Lopez, while the other was Murray Farne.

Jim swore beneath his breath. The one man in the whole town he wanted to avoid, for Farne, he felt certain, would recognise him. And Lopez with him—that was worse still, for Lopez was a killer. Jim glanced in the other direction to see if there was any way out. There was none. He was in a blind alley hopelessly trapped.


JIM decided that his only chance of escaping Farne's eyes was to duck down under the manger. It was a slim chance, for, if either of the men should stop to look at Gray Boy—and the horse was worth looking at—he could hardly fail to see Jim. Then as he turned Jim noticed that the trap above the stall, leading to the loft, was open.

Quick as a flash, he stepped on the manger, reached up, caught the timbers above with both hands, and drew himself silently up. By the time Farne and Lopez, were opposite the stall Jim was lying flat on his stomach in the deep hay.

Sure enough, Farne stopped.

"That's a mighty nice horse," he remarked to Lopez.

"Looks like one of Dave Condon's string," replied the other. His voice was as hard and clean cut as his appearance and, unlike most breeds, he spoke excellent English. "Most of his crowd are in town to-day. Heard he'd hired two men." Farne swore.

"Looks like he was getting wise," he growled. Lopez laughed.

"Be a fool if he wasn't after all the fuss there's been over that water hole." Farne turned on him.

"And a sweet mess you and Buck have made of it," he said harshly. "If you was going to start a war why didn't you do it properly. Young Bud's going to get well and Condon's hiring fresh hands and Buck says he's fencing the whole North range."

"Don't blame me," Lopez answered with a faint sneer. "You left Buck in charge and I did what he said. And Bud would have been dead right enough if it hadn't been for a fellow that happened along and stopped his horse just as it was going over into Cross Canyon."

"What did you want to shoot at Bud for?" Farne demanded. "If you'd put a bullet through Mart Dowling there'd have been some sense in it."

"You're wrong there, Farne. With Bud dead, the old man would lose heart. Like as not he'd quit." Farne grunted.

"You may be right, but I don't think so. Dave Condon's old, but he's a fighter and I reckon he'll fight to the end." He paused. "I ain't going to wait much longer. Fishlock was here to-day. You know what that means."

He had lowered his voice, and instinctively Jim pushed his head a little further over the edge of the trap in order not to miss a word. Suddenly the piled hay on which he was lying began to slip. He felt himself falling and he knew he could not stop. He was going to drop almost on top of Farne and Lopez.

Instinctively he reached out for the far side of the trap, and his fingers clutched the rim. Then, even as he fell, he saw his chance. Farne, hearing the rustle overhead, was in the act of turning when the toe of Jim's right boot driven by the whole weight of his swinging body, caught the big man under the jaw. The force of the blow was irresistible, and Farne folded up, fell against Lopez and brought him to the ground. At the same time Jim landed almost on top of the two.

Jim was aware that Lopez was quick as a rattlesnake and twice as dangerous, but he was hardly prepared for the lightning-like speed with which the man, still flat on the floor, went for his gun. Jim hadn't even time to stoop. All he could do was to kick. The gun flew out of Lopez' hand and rattled across the cobbles. Lopez came to his feet like a coiled spring, but Jim was taking no chances, and, before the breed could get set, hit him with all his strength. His fist cracked home with a force that jarred his whole arm up to the shoulder. Lopez' eyes glazed, he slumped backwards and fell with a heavy thud.

Jim watched for a second or two, but the man was as completely out as Farne. Jim took one glance down the stable, but nothing moved. He turned to the terrified Gray Boy, soothed him, then quickly saddled and bridled him and led him out. Within two minutes he was outside the town and riding sharply towards his rendezvous with Joan. He was laughing a little as he rode. The thrill of his swift short battle still ran through his veins. Luck was with him. Farne had not recognised him, and Lopez' description would not help Farne to identify him. Best of all, he was going to see Joan again.

Live Oak Spring lay a couple of miles outside the town. Here a strong stream burst from the limestone in the centre of a grove of leathery-leaved ilex. It was a perfect spot for a meeting, for the ground all round was bare and open so that no one could approach without being seen or heard. Jim rode to the edge of the grove, dismounted tied Gray Boy and walked forward. The moon was well up and by its light he saw Joan standing close to the source where the bright water gushed silently from a gap in the rocks. She heard him, turned and gave him both hands.

"Oh, Jim!" she said, "why did you come?" Jim laughed. He was so glad to see her again that he did not want to speak. It was enough just to stand and hold her hands. She released herself gently. "What made you come?" she asked again. In her anxiety she looked so charming that Jim had a crazy impulse to fling his arms round her and say, "You darling." He remembered Nita and took hold of himself.

"That's a silly question, Joan," he said, "for you know the answer, I came to get you away from Bignal and Farne."

"I'm not afraid of them," Joan said.

"Then you're either very brave or very foolish," Jim retorted. "You must know that Farne is mad about you, and that he is as dangerous and unscrupulous as any man in the West."

"He can't make me marry him against my will."

"I wouldn't put it past him," Jim told her. "There's no more law and order here than there was five years ago—less, if anything. So long as you're in Loomis you're in danger." Anxiety clouded her eyes.

"But so are you, Jim—much worse danger than I. Why, I saw through your disguise in a minute and so will Farne."

"I don't propose to give him the chance," Jim said. "I'm living in the Painted Cross and this is the first time I've been to town. Besides, Farne believes that I am in England. I had my return announced in the New York papers." Joan was not convinced.

"The wonder is you didn't run into him to-day."

"I did," Jim answered.

"And he saw you?"

"He saw my feet but not my face." He told her of his encounter with Farne and Lopez in the livery stable and laughed. Joan did not laugh. She was terribly troubled.

"This is worse than anything, Jim. Now Lopez will never rest till he has got even with you. That man is a devil."

"You can't tell me anything worse about Lopez than I know already, Joan. He shot Bud Condon in the back." Joan wrung her hands.

"And he will do the same with you. He will know you by your horse. Oh, Jim, why couldn't you have stayed at home? Even if you don't think of yours you might consider Miss Vaughan."

"Nita was the first to tell me to bring you back," Jim answered. "After all, your mother was British, Joan. England is as much your country as America." Joan lifted her head.

"You would have me run away, Jim—leave our ranch to Farne or anyone who chooses to steal it."

"But surely it has gone already to the State for taxes," Jim said.

"It has, but I have been saving every penny from my salary. I have nearly five hundred dollars. I mean to buy it at the next tax sale. I am not going to give up the ranch that my father worked so hard to make." Jim shook his head.

"Farne means to have your land, Joan. He will outbid you." Joan's eyes widened.

"Why should he want it? It is valueless, without water."

"I can tell you," Jim said and quickly explained what Ward Haskell had told him about Farne's diverting the big spring. Joan listened in silence. When Jim had finished her face was bitter.

"So that is why he wants to marry me," she said slowly.

"To be fair, I believe that Farne is as much in love with you as he can be with anyone but himself," Jim said, "but it is the land he is after. He wants to own the whole country. That man's ambitions are boundless." He stopped as memory of Farne's words to Lopez came back to him. "Joan, who is Fishlock?" he asked suddenly.

"Someone coming," she said swiftly. "Get to your horse."


"THERE'S no time," said Jim as he drew Joan behind the trunk of a great tree. "Besides, that's not Lopez or any of his crowd. He wouldn't be riding like that."

The rider, whoever he was, came up at a hard gallop and rode right into the grove. Jim stepped out from behind the tree.

"Hulloa, Nat, what's the trouble?"

"Hell's loose, Grant," snapped back Nat. "I don't know what you done to him, but that son of a dog, Diego Lopez, is out to get you." He saw Joan and stopped short, lifting his hat. "Beg pardon, Miss Chandler. Hadn't notion you was here."

"Never mind me. Get Jim away." A puzzled look crossed Nat's face, but he made no comment on this new name for his friend. "Where is Lopez?" Joan went on.

"Can't say for sure, but it's a bet he's watching the road back to Painted Cross."

"Then you'll have to ride round by Last Chance Canyon," Joan said, swiftly.

"That's what I reckoned on doing," Nat answered.

"But you, Joan?" Jim said anxiously.

"They won't hurt me," Joan assured him. "I go for a ride most evenings. They'll never dream I've seen you. Go—go quickly, Jim."

"But we haven't settled anything," Jim protested. "When and where can I see you again?"

"I'll write. I'll let you know. But go—go now. There's always the chance some one may have followed Nat." She ran towards her horse.

"She's right, Grant," said Nat, "Sooner we get going the healthier for both of us. And it's a hell of a long way around by the Pass." In spite of Nat's urging, Jim waited until Joan had started. Then he flung himself into the saddle and followed Nat, who headed almost due south. Both kept looking back over their shoulders, but there was no sign of pursuit, and presently they pulled their beasts to a steady, mile-eating lope, and swung in a sou'-westerly direction towards a line of hills, whose peaks were etched black against the moon-lit sky. Last Chance Pass for which they were making cut through the hills near the southern end of the valley of the Painted Cross. It was a long way round, and meant more than twenty miles of hard riding before they reached the ranch.

Jim knew that Nat was burning with curiosity to know how this stranger cowboy, Grant Andrews, came to be on such intimate terms with Joan Chandler, and that he was equally puzzled as to why she had called him Jim. He knew, too, that Nat would rather die than ask either question. The code of the cowboy is simple but strict. He decided that the best—indeed the only—course was to tell Nat everything. He would go far before he found a better friend or one more dependable than Nat Vedder. But he waited until they reached the foot of the Pass and eased their horses to a walk, before speaking.

"Nat," he said. "I'd like to know how you found me."

"I seed you as you rode out of the town, and watched the way you was going. I'd seed Miss Joan riding that way a few minutes before." Jim laughed.

"And you put two and two together, and found yourself right. Nat, you never saw me till last week, but you may have heard of Jim Preston." It took a good deal to startle the hard-bitten Nat, but for once he was struck speechless. "I'm Jim Preston," Jim went on, and then Nat found his voice.

"The fellow that shot Wesley Garnett?"

"I couldn't help that," said Jim. Nat turned and looked at him.

"And you come all the way back here to help out Miss Joan. And risked hanging to do it. I reckoned you was white first time I seed you. Now I know it." He paused. "Does Dave know."

"Dave knows, and the chap we call Chip Wilson. And, of course, Ward Haskell. But I don't want it spread around." Nat nodded.

"Reckon you know what you're bucking," he said presently.

"I know," said Jim gravely. "And I wish I hadn't happened to run against Farne and Lopez to-day."

"How come?" Nat asked. "Lopez looked like a horse had kicked him in the face. Did you do that?" For a second time Jim related his encounter with Farne and Lopez in the livery stable. Nat chuckled delightedly.

"Knocked 'em both out. Gee, why wasn't I there to see? Only pity is you didn't hit a bit harder, Grant. If you'd broke Lopez' neck you'd have saved a heap of trouble."

"I may get the chance yet," said Jim quietly. "Anyhow I gave him something to remember me by."

"I'll say you did," agreed Nat, and then the pass became so steep and narrow the two could no longer ride abreast. Nat took the lead and Gray Boy struggled after. The trail was a mere ledge cutting across the face of a precipice. To the left was a chasm so steep the moonbeams failed to penetrate it, to the right was cliff broken by deep chasms. The whole of this towering mass of limestone was riddled with caves many of which were once used as dwelling places by the strange race of cave people who preceded the North American Indians. They lived in the lower caves and used the upper ones for burial places. At the Painted Cross ranch house were some of their baskets woven centuries ago from cactus fibre, but still in perfect preservation.

Jim remembered that he had not yet asked Nat whether he knew of the identity of the mysterious Fishlock, but decided to wait till they reached better ground before doing so. At present he and Nat had their work cut out to keep the path at all. Gray Boy was good as gold. He picked his way as cleverly as a mule, but Nat's beast, younger and less experienced, was scared.

"He ain't never done any of this work," Nat said over his shoulder. "Reckon I'll get off and lead him the last piece." He swung out of the saddle, and as he did so the crack of a rifle split the silence and Nat's horse, shot through the head, fell over sideways and went crashing down into the depths.

The sound had hardly reached Jim's ears before he was off. His quickness probably saved his life for a second bullet hissed overhead, struck a rock and ricochetted away with a vicious ping. Before their unseen assailant could fire a third time Nat, Jim and Gray Boy were behind the shelter of a projecting spur.

"So them hounds got ahead of us," said Nat.

"Outguessed us," said Jim. He glanced round. "Might be worse, Nat. There's a cave mouth just behind us."

"Deep pit," growled Nat. "It's a Hades of a place. Goes plumb down into the middle of the earth."

"It's shelter anyhow, and I can lead Gray Boy in."

"Come on, then," said Nat, "but I warn you it's a bad place."

There was no more firing. Their attackers were not wasting ammunition, and between them Jim and Nat managed to drag Gray Boy up rocks so steep they were like a flight of broken stairs, into the mouth of the cave.

Once inside, it was of course dark as pitch, but Nat struck a match and its glimmer showed a tunnel sloping downwards into the mountain. The cave seemed to be about twenty feet high. The floor was littered with fragments fallen from the roof, the walls were cut with deep crevices.

Into one of these Jim led his horse, and pulled the reins over his head. The match went out, and all that he and Nat could see was the faint patch of moonlight which marked the opening.

"We're safe enough here," said Jim in a low voice. "We can pile rocks and plug anyone who shows up against the light."

"Which is just what them Kettle Drum fellows ain't going to do," Nat answered, and there was in his voice a tone of gloom which Jim did not like at all.

"What will they do?" he asked.

"Keep us penned up here till the moon sets, then creep in on us. Likely there are half-a-dozen of 'em, and they don't mean us to get out alive."

Jim was silent for a while. He was thinking hard, and the more he thought the more uncomfortable he felt. The moon would set about two, and then there would be no light for shooting. And with odds which were probably three to one his chance and Nat's were slim. There was no possible hope of help from the ranch, for no one except Joan knew where they were, and it would not occur to her that they could have been ambushed in this fashion. If they were to get out with their lives from this trap they had to do it themselves. The urgent question was whether this was possible. Presently he spoke again.

"We've got to outsmart them, Nat. You stay here and keep guard while I go in a bit further and have a look round."

"That won't do you no good," Nat told him. "The cave ends in a pit that ain't got no bottom."

"How do you know? Have you been in to the end?"

"I never been in, but an old chap, a 'arkee' something he called himself, came to the ranch one day and told me about it. If you go in, go cautious."

Jim went cautious, but all the same, he was nearly trapped. The slope grow steeper, and the floor changed to a mass of loose rubble. Suddenly he was on the rim of a black pit; one more step, and nothing could have saved him. He lit another match and saw the pit dropping apparently to the very bowels of the earth.

He looked around and noticed a rock shelf about ten feet up in the left-hand wall. He climbed to it, and found there was room there for a dozen men. Then he came down, made his way back to Nat, and told him what he had found.

"We'll be safe enough up there," he said, "and if they came in after us we've got them all ends up."

"It's a chance," Nat agreed, but he did not seem very hopeful.

"What's the trouble?" Jim demand.

"Trouble is we ain't got no grub or water, son. Some of 'em may come in after us, but it ain't likely they'll all come. And so long as any is outside we got to stay where we are."

"It's no use worrying about that," Jim told him. "Thing is to pack ourselves up on the shelf without delay." The shelf was nearly six feet wide, and after moving aside some loose rocks the two were able to spread themselves comfortably. They lay in silence. They dared not talk for fear of betraying their hiding-place. Nor did they dare to smoke. Both had pistols and a fair supply of cartridges. If they had only had a canteen they could have held out for some days, but both knew that sooner or later thirst would drive them out.

Jim's thoughts went back to Joan. That chance meeting by the river—it seemed an age ago instead of less than a fortnight. What a difference it had made to his life. He wondered what Nita would say or think, could she see him crouched here in the blackness of this Western cave, besieged by ruthless enemies. A good little pal was Nita, but Jim was honest with himself. He knew now that he had never been really in love with her, that their engagement was Mrs. Vaughan's doing, and that he had never known what love was until his second meeting with Joan. Nat nudged him.

"What you groaning about—cramp or stomach ache?"

"Just thinking," Jim answered.

"Don't think so loud, Grant, or them scallawags are liable to hear you."

Jim laughed softly.

"All right, Nat."

Time passed; the patch of faint light which showed the cave mouth dimmed. The moon was setting. Before long the attack would come. The minutes dragged by but nothing happened. Jim glanced at the luminous dial of his wrist watch. It was nearly half-past two.

Suddenly he heard a slight scraping sound. Nat heard it, too, for Jim felt him move slightly. Then silence again, but that sound had been enough. Both knew that Kettle Drum men were inside the cave. Jim drew a deep breath. He was glad the waiting was over. Anything was preferable to this long drawn suspense. He did not envy those men crawling on the floor below. He felt sure that if they had known of the astonishing quantity of broken rock which littered the place, they would never have risked an advance through it. Another thing that made their task more difficult was the utter silence which reigned inside the cave. Although these men of Farne's were doing their best to avoid making any sound a series of tiny clicks and rustlings betrayed their steady advance.

Nat moved restlessly, and Jim know he was longing to start the war. He caught his companion's arm. In his fingers with a strong, steady pleasure, and felt the other relax. Still the enemy came on. They were, of course, expecting to run into a barricade. Then they would leap into action, flash a light and trust to their guns to finish off the two defenders.

The enemy were immediately below them. Then the sounds stopped altogether, and for some moments the pair strained their ears without hearing anything at all. Jim knew what had happened. The invaders had passed the rocks and reached the shale. They were puzzled and uncertain, and well they might be, for the slope was so steep that Jim thought they would hardly dare risk going further. Seconds passed before there was any fresh round, then Nat turned and put his lips against Jim's ear.

"They're turning; they're clearing out," he said in the lowest possible whisper.

Jim acted instantly. He got both hands against a great lump of rock which he had ready beside him, and launched it over the ledge. It fell with a deep crunching sound into the shale below, and the sound of its fall was followed by a noise resembling that of shingle being dragged down a beach by a retreating wave.

Yells of terror rose and echoed hideously along the vaulted roof. It is a strange thing that men who will risk death by bullet go all to pieces when caught by unknown peril.

"Jim, what have you done?" gasped Nat in horror-stricken voice.

"Started a slide," Jim answered. "I knew that stuff was loose. That's why I wouldn't let you shoot."

The rattle rose to a roar drowning the cries of the victims. From their safe perch Jim and Nat could hear the stuff cascading into the depths of the pit, carrying with it the bodies of the killers. Before the sound had finished Jim was on his feet.

"Now's our chance. The men outside will be properly rattled. They won't know what's happened and we'll get them before they can find out."


JIM led the way along the shelf back towards the mouth of the cave and Nat followed. It was perilous work in the black dark, with nothing to guide them but the patch of dim light at the entrance. They stumbled over rocks and barked their shins but the rumble of the shale still pouring into that bottomless pit drowned the lesser noises they made.

The shelf ended so suddenly that Jim nearly took a fall. He saved himself just in time and swung down to the floor of the pit and he and Nat crept along as quickly as they dared, keeping close under the wall. Gray Boy was still where they had left him, badly frightened but unhurt and, passing behind him, Jim paused and peered around the shoulder of rock. The last of the loosened shale had fallen into the depths and the silence was uncanny after the long-drawn thunder of sound. From just outside the mouth came a voice thin and sharp with fright.

"What's happened, Bolan? Sounded like the bottom of the cave fell out."

"Just about what did happen," was the grim reply. "Reckon they've all been killed together." Two men were plainly outlined against the star-shine. Jim could not see any other.

"Not all," he said curtly. "Put your hands up. You're covered."

The man called Bolan, trusting no doubt to the dim light and to the fact that his gun was actually in his hand, raised it swiftly and fired. A burning pain shot across Jim's forehead and he dropped. Half consciously he heard Nat's heavy pistol roar in his ear. Five shots followed one another with almost the speed of a machine gun.

"Got 'em both," he heard Nat say with fierce satisfaction. Then he was bending over Jim.

"How bad is it, son?" he asked in a very different tone. Jim tried to answer but his voice failed and he slipped away into unconsciousness.

He came to with the welcome coolness of water splashing on his face. His head ached vilely but he was able to open his eyes. A small fire of piñon cones was burning and the red light shone on Nat's anxious face. Nat had his hat full of water and with a handkerchief was wiping blood from Jim's forehead.

"He didn't hit you," Nat said, "but you surely had a close call. The bullet struck the rock just level with your head and a splinter of stone or lead cut you across the forehead. You lost a lot of blood but the wound ain't anything to worry about."

"Give me a drink and I'll be all right," Jim told him and, as the cold water flowed down his parched throat, he felt his strength come back. He looked round and saw two bodies flat on the ledge outside the cave.

"Good shooting, Nat," he said gravely.

"Lucky I'd call it," Nat replied. "Specially in this light. We've come out of this mighty well, Jim. There was three came into the cave and there's the other two, so Farne's short of five gunmen. All I hope is he didn't get any of the other boys."

"We'd better go and see," Jim said as he sat up. Then his face fell. "I forgot. We've only one horse."

"You're dreaming," Nat retorted. "We got six. That is, if the noise ain't scared them Kettle Drum drones. You lie here and rest while I round me up a mount."

He walked away up the pass but Jim could not keep still. He got up and looked at the dead men. He shivered—not from any feeling of remorse, for these men were human wolves, but because the sight brought back that day, years ago, when he had stood over the dead body of Wesley Garnett and realised that now he would have to flee for his life. So Nat found him when he returned leading a sturdy skewbald.

"I took the saddles and bridles off the others and turned them loose," he told Jim. "They'll find their way home, but what are we going to do with these?"—pointing to the bodies. "Bad as they be, it don't seem right to leave 'em to the buzzards."

"Carry them into the cave and pile rocks over them," Jim suggested, and this they did. Nat took a flask out of his pocket.

"Found this in one of the saddle bags," he said. "Reckon a swallow won't hurt us."

It was corn whisky, almost pure alcohol, the sort known as "forty-rod," and one mouthful was enough for Jim. Yet it gave him just the stimulus he needed, and presently the two ware in the saddle and had reached the crest of the pass. The trail widened and they were able to ride abreast.

"What comes now?" Jim asked.

"War," was the grim answer.

"That's started already, I'm asking what Farne will do when he finds he's lost five of his killers."

"Hire fifteen more, I reckon."

"Can he get them?"

"Sure he can, so long as he's got the money to pay them."

"He'll use 'em?"

"Attack us, you mean?"

"Right away," said Nat. Jim considered a little.

"Then wouldn't it be a good notion to get in first whack?" Nat turned in his saddle and looked at Jim.

"It might," he agreed slowly. "With our lot and Haskell's we could make it hot for them. Reckon we better put it up to Dave." They turned a corner and the great valley, deep, dark, and mysterious lay beneath them.

"What's that?" Jim's voice was sharp as he pointed to a glare of blood-red light in the distance. Nat pulled up short.

"It's the ranch! Farne has got in the first whack." He touched his horse with the spur and the beast sprang forward. Jim followed and the two rode hell for leather down the pass.

Lucky for them that the trail was fairly good and that their mounts were surefooted as two goats. They were still together when they reached the level floor of the valley, and neck and neck they raced over the wide grasslands towards the ever-mounting plume of flame. As they came nearer the faint pop-pop of shots was heard and Nat chocked a moment.

"It ain't the ranch. It's a rick," he said to Jim in a tone of intense relief. "And Dave's holding 'em off. See the flashes from the windows. Take a pull on your horse. No use running into it bull-headed."

The advice was good. Not one rick but three were burning, and the blaze lit up everything for hundreds of yards round. Fortunately these ricks stood on lower ground than the ranch house and its surrounding buildings; fortunately, too, there was no wind, so, though sparks rose to a great height, the buildings were in no particular danger.

"Better leave our horses in the cottonwoods by the river," Jim suggested. "Then we can slip up afoot and get round to the back of Farne's crowd. They're in behind the waggon sheds." Nat agreed, so they left their sweating horses in the trees, slackened the girths, then forded the stream and went round to the left, towards the horse corral. They had to crawl across a short pace of open ground, then, reaching a belt of timber which shaded the western edge of the corral, were able to get to their feet again. Nat was for running, but Jim checked him.

"They may have men this side," he whispered. "If Lopez is in charge they're almost sure to. He's cunning as a fox."

"You may be right at that," Nat agreed and, guns in hand, the two slipped quietly from tree to tree. All the time firing went on—not continuously but in short bursts. It seemed to Jim that the attacking party were trying to creep up on the east side of the house under cover of the buildings.

It was Jim who spotted the enemy. One of the stacks collapsed, a great uprush of flame made everything for a moment as light as day and revealed a man with a rifle sheltering behind a tree trunk. His back was to Jim and Nat, and he was watching the house. Jim caught Nat by the arm and pointed to the fellow.

"Wait! I'll get him," he whispered, and before Nat could reply was creeping forward.

Intent on the house, the fellow never dreamed of danger from behind, and Jim was within a yard before the other heard him and turned. He opened his month to yell, but the yell was never uttered, for Jim's heavy pistol swept downward, and the barrel cracked across the man's skull. He crumpled and dropped without a sound.

"That's six," said Nat as he set to work to tie and gag the fellow. "We're sure getting a tally." They left him where he lay and, moving on cautiously, gained the rough rocky hillside behind the terrace on which the ranch house stood. Here they found plenty of cover and moving in an easterly direction among the rocks and bushes reached a spot just above the outbuildings. They were in shadow, but were able to see the enemy or some of them sheltering behind the buildings and firing at the house.

"Hell! there's a dozen of 'em," growled Nat disgustedly. "More, most likely, for we can't see 'em all. We can't run in on 'em, for there's too much light. And we're too far off to make any sort of shooting with short guns. Looks like we've took all this trouble for nothing." Jim looked round.

"Where do you reckon they've put their horses?" he asked.

"Horses," repeated Nat, then chuckled suddenly. "You're the lad with the brains. You mean we find 'em and turn 'em loose."

"That's the idea," Jim agreed modestly. "I was cowboy long enough to know how it rattles a man to be set afoot." Nat considered, then pointed to a clump of trees a couple of hundred yards away in an easterly direction.

"That's the likeliest spot."

"Then let's try it. If we can stampede the lot Lopez' men are bound to see or hear 'em. Some will go after them, and then we get our chance."

"We'll do that very thing," Nat declared joyously, and off they went.

There was nothing difficult in reaching the trees, and, sure enough, there were the horses—fifteen in all so far as they could count. Nat frowned.

"Dog-gone if he ain't brought an army. Farne's sure hoping to make a job of it," he said in Jim's ear. "But you're right, Jim. If we turn this cavvy adrift that's going to rattle 'em bad."

"Go slow," Jim advised. "There may be a guard with them."

There was no guard and the horses were ground hitched—that is, they stood with the reins hanging over their heads. Western horses are trained to stand in that way. It was a matter of moments only to slip the bridle off each horse in turn. Then Nat gave one sharp slap on the flank with his open hand and the beast threw up its head and galloped off, followed at once by the rest. All in a bunch, they went pounding down the slope, their hoofs beating the turf like a squadron of cavalry. As they swept out into the wide patch of light flung by the burning ricks, yells came from Farne's men.

"Horses are loose. Get on after 'em," roared a stentorian voice.

"That's Buck Coulton," said Nat. "Let's get out, Jim. This place ain't going to be any health resort in the near future."

The two bolted up the hill again, but here their luck deserted them. Some of the Kettle Drum men running out from the buildings spotted them, firing crashed out, and Nat went down like a shot rabbit.


"GOT me in the leg," Nat explained swiftly. "Leave me right here. I'll lay still and they'll think I'm a goner. You get back to the house and tell 'em what we done. Leave me here, I tell you," he repeated, but Jim, stooping swiftly, swung him up on his back and ran for shelter. Bullets whizzed and hummed like wasps, but Jim gained a rock and dropped Nat behind it. As men came running towards them he and Nat opened fire. In the red light of the dancing flames anything like accurate shooting was impossible. To make it still more difficult their attackers were spread out widely.

"Get in above 'em," shouted Buck Coulton. "They're the ones as set our horses adrift. Shoot the stuffing out of 'em."

Jim saw two men swing to the left and dive in among the rocks and bushes on the slope. He sent a couple of swift shots but failed to stop them. His spirits sank for there was nothing to protect him and Nat from the rear. In spite of his wound Nat had his wits about him.

"Creep back a bit, Jim, and try and get 'em before they spot you. I'll hold these fellers off in front."

It was good advice, and Jim took it. He had to crawl on his belly like a snake to reach a clump of bushes a dozen paces behind the rock, but he got there unseen, and lay waiting, watching keenly. Behind him the firing was heavier. Three men at least were trying to get Nat, bullets pinged off the rock, and lead splattered through the foliage just above his own head. But Nat's steady shooting kept his opponents at a distance.

Jim saw a bush move and plugged a quick shot into it. A yell told him that his bullet had got home. Next instant his pistol was wrenched from his hand with a shock that numbed his whole arm. The second man, firing at the flash, had been lucky enough to hit Jim's weapon.

Now all that Jim could do was to lie as flat as possible. He knew that it was only a matter of moments before the raider would realise what had happened, then the end was certain. Again there was a quivering in the wiry branches of a desert shrub. The fellow was creeping up. Nat was still shooting, but his shots were less frequent. He must, Jim knew, be losing a lot of blood, and, plucky as he was, it was not likely he could hold out much longer. The bush shook again, and the red firelight showed the crown of a hat. Jim knew that the fellow was trying the old trick of raising his hat on a stick. Probably he believed that he had finished Jim, but wished to make sure.

Behind Jim the firing ceased altogether. Either Nat had collapsed or he had used his last cartridge—most likely the former. The idea came to Jim of making a dash back to Nat and getting his gun. It was almost certain death, but anything was better than lying where he was and waiting for the shot that must surely end his life.

"Rush 'em! They're finished!" came Coulton's voice. Jim turned his head and saw three men running towards the rock where Nat lay. At the same moment the Kettle Drum man in front of him raised his pistol.

Before the latter could pull a trigger a thundering report roared out. Screams of agony came from the three running men. Two toppled, the third swung and fired wildly. A square figure plunged out of the bush above. He flung a shotgun to his shoulder and fired again. The third man went down, then picked himself up, and bolted for his life.

"I'll learn you!" shouted the man with the gun, and Jim almost laughed as he recognised the familiar voice of Noah Trant. It is an odd fact that a man who will stand like a rock against pistol fire can't stick a shotgun. The fellow opposite Jim got the wind up, sprang to his feet, and, bent double, raced away among the bush. Jim let him go. He was only too glad to see the last of him.

"This way!" Jim shouted to Trant "Nat's hurt."

Nat, Jim found, had fainted, and, small wonder, for there was a regular pool of blood where he had been lying.

"The dirty dogs!" growled Tract, as he started tying up Nat's leg with his handkerchief. "Looks like they got you, too," he added, as he noticed the bloodstained handkerchief round Jim's head.

"Nothing to signify," Jim told him. "Can we get Nat back to the house?"

"There ain't no one to stop us far as I know. Them as ain't dead is running after their horses." He looked up at Jim. "You did a good job when you turned them horses loose."

"And you did a better with your old scatter gun," Jim told him. "There was a fellow drawing a bead on me when you let loose."

"I can't handle them pistols nohow," Trant told him, "But I done a bit o' rabbit shooting when I were a nipper." He looked up. "Here come some of the chaps. Now we'll he all right." Two of the Painted Cross boys came running. They picked up Nat and carried him in. Jim and Trant followed. Dave Condon met Jim at the door.

"I'm mighty glad to see you alive," were his first words. "I made sure them hounds had got you. Come right in." He drew Jim into the big hall-sitting room and poured him a badly needed drink.

"Grub's ready," he added. "While you eat you can tell me what happened. Sam will look after Nat." Jim found himself ravenous and, while he put away stewed beef and vegetables, gave Dave a full account of the whole business.

"You got five of 'em up the Pass," said Dave. "Gee, but that's good news! And turning them horses loose just about saved us. Looks like we've given Farne a nasty knock." Jim laughed.

"I certainly gave him one with the toe of my boot when I fell out of the loft. Is that what started him on this raid?"

"I wouldn't wonder. You see he made sure of getting you and Nat and he did get two of our boys. He had fellows laying for you on both roads, and Jack Brill and Tom Stanton rode right into the other lot." Jim's eyes went hard.

"Killed them?" he naked harshly. Dave nodded.

"Riddled them. Young Burney got away and brought the news. They followed him and, knowing we'd be short handed, I reckon they thought they'd rush the place afore we could stop them. Mistake they made was firing them ricks. That gave us a chance to get our guns. Still it's odds they'd have had us if you and Nat hadn't come along when you did. They was working up to fire the house." Jim's face was pinched. The death of Brill and Stanton had hit him hard. Dave realised what he was feeling, and laid a kindly hand on his shoulder.

"It wasn't your fault, son. The trouble was bound to come. And thanks to you we've won the first round. The lose of those five men is going to cripple Farne quite a bit."

"He's lost more than that," Jim said. "Trant got two with his gun, I shot another and—I'd almost forgotten—there's one lying out, tied, by the horse corral. We crept upon him and rapped him over the head. I'll go get him." Dave pushed him back into his chair.

"Stay right where you are and finish your grub. Mart will bring him in." He shouted for Mart and Mart who had been in helping Sam to dress Nat's leg, went out. In a few minutes he was back driving the prisoner before him. The man had thick lips, a broad nose and bilious yellowish eyes, while a livid blue scar running all across his left cheek did nothing to improve his appearance. Dave looked him over.

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Go to Hades and find out," retorted the fellow defiantly.

"Good advice I've no doubt," said Dave drily. "The devil knows the names of his servants. Lock him down in the potato cellar, Mart. We'll keep him there till he's ready to talk."

"You turn me loose if you know what's good for you," the fellow threatened. "Farne will have your scalps for this."

"Farne's too busy saving his own to worry about you," Mart told him. "We got seven of your crowd already and you'll be the eighth if you don't mind your step. Get on!" He drove him out of the room, and presently they heard the trap of the cellar fall with a crash. Sam Loy came in.

"Nat all light," he remarked. "Now I see your head, Tlant." There and then he took off the handkerchief which Mat had tied over Jim's head, and set to work to cleanse and dress the ragged cut on Jim's forehead. He finished the job as neatly as any doctor, stood back and looked at Jim.

"You all tiled out You go light to bed."

"Sam's right," said Dave. "Turn in, Grant. We'll fix things up in the morning."

"It's morning already," Jim said as he glanced at the clock, the hands of which showed ten past three. He went out to the bunkhouse, got to bed at once and, in spite of his anxieties, slept soundly.

The sun was blazing in through the bunkhouse windows when he woke and everyone else was up and out. A bit stiff but otherwise fresh enough. Jim got up, sluiced himself with cold water, dressed and went across to the house. Everything was quiet and peaceful and, but for the black ashes of the three ricks and some bullet-smashed windows, there was no sign of the battle of the previous night. Sam met him.

"You all light, Tlant?"

"Fine," said Jim. "How's Nat?"

"Him sleep like a coon in a log. Bleakfast leady."

"And I'm ready for breakfast," Jim assured him. Dave came in just as Jim finished his meal and told him that he had been down to the cellar to see the prisoner.

"He's plum tame this morning. I reckon he'll do most anything to earn his breakfast."

"Will he talk," Jim asked.

"He'll talk right enough. Mart's bringing him up."

A minute later Mart came in with the prisoner. A night in the dark chill of the cellar without food or tobacco had taken all the starch out of the fellow, and, as Dave has said, he was quite tame. He looked hungrily at the laden table and sniffed the rich scent of the fried bacon.

"You'll get your grub if you talk," Dave told him. "What's your name?"

"Clancy," the man answered.

"I know him now," Mart put in. "Fat-lips Clancy they call him. He's wanted for a rustling job in Arizona. He was one of Parson Jake's crowd."

"We know where to send him, then," said Dave, drily. Clancy's thick cheeks went white; there was terror in his yellow eyes.

"I ain't going back there," he vowed. Dave's eyes hardened.

"Then you'll talk," he said harshly, "How long have you been with Farne?"

"Three or four weeks."

"How many men has he got?"

"There was twenty-two sleeping in the bunkhouse."

"And how many came here last night?"

"Fifteen, I reckon."

"Was the raid planned beforehand?"

"I don't reckon so. Lopez came out to the ranch just afore dark and told us to get our guns and come with him."

"Did you all come together?"

"No. Five was sent round by Last Chance Pass. Lopez reckoned as two men from here might be going round that way." Jim cut in.

"How did he know that?"

"I ain't sure, but I heard Bolan say as they got word through Miss Chandler." Jim's face flamed.

"The liar!" he exclaimed so fiercely that Clancy fell back a step. Dave spoke.

"No need to get heated up, Grant. Of course, Joan didn't give you away. What likely happened is that Bignal or someone saw you going out and her coming in and put two and two together." The hot colour faded from Jim's cheeks.

"But that means they suspect her." He turned to Clancy.

"Did you see or hear anything of Miss Chandler before you left?" Clancy hesitated.

"If I tell you do I get your word as I won't be sent back to Arizona?" he asked.

"I'll promise you that much," Dave said. Clancy's face showed his relief.

"I didn't see her, but I heard Farne tell Bignal he was going to marry her on Friday, and Bignal was to keep her shut up till then." Horror dawned in Jim's eyes.

"And to-day is Thursday," he said.


"TAKE him away, Mart," said Dave. "But keep him locked up. Tell Sam to give him some food." As soon as Clancy was out of the room Dave turned to Jim.

"Don't look so worried. They can't make Joan marry against her will."

"You don't know Farne as I do, Dave," Jim answered, and the very quietness of his voice told of the strain upon him. "There's no limit to what he would do. He might even drug her." Dave pursed his lips.

"Loomis is a tough place but there are limits. Farne daren't try anything like that." Jim's face was like stone.

"You heard what Clancy said—that Farne was marrying her on Friday. That's to-morrow. Dave, I must get her out of Loomis before then." Dave shook his head.

"You haven't a hope, son. Every trail will be watched. Still, if you've made up your mind to go I'll come along." Then as Jim stared at him. "No, I ain't taking the boys. Wouldn't be fair. Odds is too long."

Jim's face changed, softened. He understood that Dave Condon was offering his life to the man who had saved his grandson. Clearly Dave had no belief that Joan could be rescued from Farne—at least by force. But Jim had no notion of letting Dave ride with him. Joan's rescue was his own business and nobody else's. He spoke again as quietly as before.

"There's no hurry, Dave. It's no use starting before dark. And there's something I meant to ask you. I'd have asked last night, but the excitement put it out of my mind. Who is Fishlock?"

"Fishlock?" Dave's eyes widened. "What's he got to do with it?"

"That's what I want to know. Farne told Lopez that Fishlock was coming to Loomis to-day. Who is he?"

"The oil expert. The agent for Southern Oil. But there ain't no oil around here."

"I'm not so sure," Jim said slowly. "I don't know much about oil, but I remember a bit of bog in the southwest corner of the Circle O. that always had an iridescent scum on the water, and that old prospector, Mike Grundy, once told me it looked like oil. I was a kid then and didn't give it two thoughts, but it comes up clearly now." Dave's forehead creased, his lips tightened.

"If you're right, Jim, this explains a mighty lot which has had me guessing a long time. I never could think that Murray Farne would have taken the chances he has taken just for the sake of a couple o' thousand acres of fairly good cow land. But if it's oil there'd be millions in it."

"Then that's what it is. Dave, we can't let him get away with this steal."

"We ain't going to," Dave answered with decision. "And the first thing is to let Ward know. I'll send him a letter right away."

"Too risky. A letter might fall into the wrong hands. See here! I'll ride over there to-night and see Ward." Dave shook his head.

"You couldn't do it. You wouldn't stand no more chance than an icicle in a furnace."

"Yet you were ready to come with me to Loomis," Jim reminded him.

"If you was set on going I reckon I had to go with you," Dave said simply. There was silence a moment, then Jim spoke again.

"How were you going to get the letter to Ward Haskell?"

"By that Mex boy, Luiz. He'd find his way over the hills afoot by night, and no one would ever see him no more than they would a coyote."

"And he'd go to-night?" Jim questioned.

"That's so. And I'll lay Ward will have the letter by sunup to-morrow morning." Jim nodded.

"But if Ward does get the letter, how does that help? Between us we have barely a score of men, while Farne and Bignal can collect two or three times as many. Loomis is full of their toughs. Also they have the Sheriff with them."

"It's no use thinking of tackling them in the town," Dave admitted. "But if we struck at the Kettle Drum that might be different." His fine old face hardened. "We've got to do it, Jim. We got to carry the war right to Farne. We can't risk another raid like last night. It mightn't end up so well for us."

"We have to do it—I see that plainly," Jim agreed. "But how we're going to do it is another thing. You say yourself all the trails will be watched."

"The trails to Loomis," Dave corrected.

"We don't have to go near Loomis to reach the Kettle Drum."

"That's a fact," Jim said. "Then fix it up for to-morrow night." Dave shot a quick glance at the other.

"That'll be too late according to your reckoning." Jim shrugged.

"We shall kill Farne. Joan will be a widow before she's been a wife." It sounds brutal, but Dave nodded approvingly.

"If we have the luck to finish Farne I can see the end of all this trouble. Bignal don't amount to much without Farne backing him. And as for Grant Garnett, he's nothing but a windbag. I'll write the letter straight away. If you sees Luiz send him in to me."

Jim had every intention of seeing Luiz, he found him working on the North fence, and the two walked back to the ranch together. Luiz was a slim brown lad, tough as wire, loathed Farne, who had driven him and his sister and mother off the patch of ground on Silver Creek where they had squatted, but had an intense admiration of Jim, because he had heard how Jim had knocked out Farne on the previous evening. The two talked hard all the way down, and before they parted, Luiz had agreed to guide Jim over the hills that night and show him a short cut to Loomis. He had also promised not to let Dave or anyone else into the secret of Jim's plan.

Jim took things easy that day, for he had a notion there was a pretty strenuous time ahead. Later he went to the corral, roped a sturdy brown gelding, saddled him, and picketed him out among the trees. It wouldn't do to ride Gray Boy. His colour made him too conspicuous. Before supper Jim wrote a note for Dave, and left it in his bedroom. He knew he would not find it until late.

All worked according to plan and a little after dark Jim and Luiz were riding together across the flats. Luiz was to ride the first few miles, then turn his beast loose and go on afoot. Usually it is cool after sunset in these high valleys. To-night the air was sultry and long streaks of filmy cloud dulled the stars. Luiz said rain was coming and Jim was glad. The darker the night the better for his purpose. Luiz led out of the valley up through the trees, The trail, no wider than a goat path, grew steeper and still more steep. It was like a rock ladder up the hill face. Luiz pulled up and got off.

"Here I send horse back," he told Jim. "You lead yours, Señor."

Western horses are sure footed and the brown gelding climbed like a mountain sheep. But his coat was black with sweat before the top was reached, and Jim, too, was dripping. Luiz pointed to a glow of light far below.

"That Loomis," he said. "Here I leave you. Vaya con Bios, Señor." He turned and was gone like a ghost. Jim smiled rather grimly as he started down the long, steep slope. "Go with God," the boy had said. It seemed to him that he would need all the help Providence could give him, for Farne was certainly the devil.

It was hard going yet very much worth while for he reached the outskirts of Loomis without encountering a soul. He couldn't ride into the town so the first thing was to find a hiding place for his horse, and in the darkness this was difficult. Then a flicker of sheet lightning showed a thick clump of mesquite and here he left his mount ground-hitched.

At that moment a drop of warm rain struck his check so he unstrapped his slicker from the back of the saddle and put it on. The slicker was black and, with the collar turned up around his chin, Jim did not think he would be easily recognised. He walked away in the direction of the town.

By the time he reached it the rain was falling heavily, turning the red dust into mud. Jim's spirits rose, for this downpour would drive everyone to cover. It would also keep Joan within doors though, after what Clancy had said, he strongly suspected that, even if it was fine, Bignal would not allow her to take her usual evening ride. Bignal's house was behind the store. Jim could see lights in the windows. There was a fenced yard at the back of the house, but the gate was not locked and Jim went straight through. With the rain pounding down there was no danger of being heard and not much of being seen. The only risk was from the occasional flashes of lightning.

Jim had to chance these and presently reached the back wall of the house. It was an ordinary square frame-built house with the back door in the middle and two windows on each side. The two windows to the right were dark but from those on the left light streamed out. Jim gained the nearest and found it open. Peeping cautiously over the sill, he looked into a fair-sized kitchen lit by an oil lamp which stood on a central table. To one side was an oil stove over which a girl stood, wearing a blue overall. She was stirring something in a small saucepan. Although her back was turned to him Jim knew instantly that she was Joan Chandler. For a moment he stood watching her firm, graceful figure. Again he felt that choking sensation which had assailed him when he saw her behind the counter in the store. It was no use trying to deceive himself. Joan was the girl he loved. For him no other woman existed.

"Joan!" he called softly. The drum of the rain drowned his voice. He spoke a little louder and Joan turned. Her checks were slightly flushed with the heat of the stove, but her eyes were troubled as she looked round. Suddenly she saw him and saucepan in hand came swiftly across.

"Oh, Jim. You're safe. I have been so anxious." Jim's heart thumped. This was a glimpse of the real Joan. He could see at once that she had been anxious, and realised at that moment that her feeling for him was more than friendship. He longed to spring in through the window and take her in his arms. But this was no time for sentiment.

"I'm perfectly safe, Joan. It's yourself you have to worry about. Is anyone likely to come into the kitchen?"

"No, Mr. Bignal is still in the store. He is busy, and asked for supper at nine. But you Jim! Why did you come back here after getting safe away?"

"I had to, Joan. Listen!" In a few quick sentences he told her of the ambush on the Pass and the attack by Farne's men upon the Painted Cross, of the capture of Clancy and what the prisoner had said. Then he went on to speak of the oil.

"You see now why Farne intends to marry you to-morrow, Joan. Once you are his wife, all he has to do is to pay up the back taxes on the Circle O. and he is in control. The State law allows him to do that, and there will be no auction."

"But I won't marry him," Joan said sharply. "I have told you that time and again. No man can force a women to marry him." Jim leaned forward. He spoke very earnestly:

"Joan, supposing Farne came in here to-night and carried you off to the Kettle Drum. You might have to marry him."

"I'd kill myself first," replied Joan with a shudder of disgust.

"There is no need for anything so desperate. I have a horse for you outside. I can put you on a secret path over the hills. You will go to the Painted Cross where Dave Condon will look after you."

"How long would that last? Farne would very soon find out where I was. Then he would bring an army. He can raise fifty men at least and Dave and all of you would be wiped out."

"No," Jim answered. "To-morrow night our crowd and Ward Haskell's men are going for Farne. We shall attack the Kettle Drum, and finish the business before Farne can get reinforcements."

"Which same is right interesting news," came a voice from the rain-swept darkness close beside Jim, and, turning swiftly, he looked right into the muzzle of a revolver held by a man whose skin was so dark he might have been a negro.

"Right interesting," repeated this man with a malicious chuckle, "and Farne will be pleased to hear it. No, don't move, stranger. If you do it's likely to be fatal."


THE man's voice and his face made Jim realise that the threat was perfectly genuine. He stood still as a rock. He was furious for allowing himself to be trapped in this fashion and every sense was alert for a chance to even up. He knew that, if word reached Farne of this attempted attack on the part of Dave and Ward Haskell, it was fatal. Farne would have time to collect all his forces, and the invaders of the Kettle Drum would be ambushed and wiped out. At that moment Jim would willingly have given his own life in exchange for that of his dark-faced adversary. Yet if he went for his own gun the other's bullet would smash through his body before he had time to draw.

Help came from the last quarter from which he had expected it. Joan's arm moved swiftly and the dark-faced man screamed as the almost boiling contents of the saucepan swept his face. He dropped his pistol and clapped both hands to his burning eyes. It was no time for mercy. Jim swiftly pulled his own gun and the heavy barrel thudded on the other's head and dropped him in a limp heap on the muddy ground.

"Thanks, Joan," Jim said. "You've saved everything. Now come at once. Someone may have heard him yell, and there isn't a moment to waste."

"But like this?" exclaimed Joan. "Can't I get a hat and a coat?"

"Not a thing, You can have my slicker."

Joan did not remonstrate. She sprang on the sill and Jim lifted her down. For an instant she was in his arms, and he thrilled as he held her. Then he ripped off his slicker and wrapped her in it. She was quite calm and pointed to the man on the ground.

"What will you do with him? He is Oram—Black Oram, one of Farne's men. He may come round."

"Not for a while," Jim said. "Come, Joan. I can't do anything until you are safe out of the way."

The rain was slackening but still thick enough to hide them as Jim led the way to the clump of mesquite. His horse stood with drooped head, streaming with water. Jim lifted Joan on to the wet saddle, and led the horse to the bottom of the pass. There he stopped.

"Keep straight up, Joan. The brown horse knows the way. When you reach the rocks get off and lead him. From the top you'll see the lights of The Cross, but you can let the horse find his own way."

"But you, Jim. What about you? I can't leave you here, afoot."

"I must go back and attend to Black Oram. I have to put him in some place where he can't talk. When I've done that I shall walk out to the S Bar S. It's not so far by half as the Painted Cross and Ward will look after me."

"Let me wait for you here," Joan begged.

"No, it's not safe. Go ahead. I shall he all right." Joan put out a hand.

"You're a pal, Jim," she said softly. "Prosperity hasn't spoiled you as it does most folk. Take care of yourself. I should never be happy if anything happened to you."

"I shall be all right," Jim repeated firmly. He gave her hand one squeeze and turned quickly away. His head was in a whirl and he dared not stay with Joan a moment longer.

It was still raining when he arrived back at Bignal's house, and he was relieved to see that Oram lay where he had fallen. The big question was what to do with the man. It was no use tying and gagging him for someone was sure to find him. Somehow he had to hide him where Farne would not find him, and how he was to do that he had not the faintest notion. Oram lay very still and Jim stooped quickly and laid his hand over the man's heart.

"He's dead!" he muttered. For an instant he felt sick. He had never before killed a man in this way. He felt Oram's head, where the blow had fallen, but the bone was not damaged.

"Heart failure," he whispered. He knelt there in the rain, and as the shock passed his brain began to work again. After all this was the best thing that could have happened, for Oram's mouth was now sealed for ever.

The next thing was to get rid of the body. Where it lay it could be plainly seen by anyone who happened to look out of the window. With an effort he hoisted the dead man on to his back and carried him back through the gate. He reached the nearest patch of mesquite and dropped his gruesome burden among them. It was the best he could do.

From the house came a man's voice.

"Joan, Joan, where are you?" So Bignal was back. Another minute and Bignal would make certain that Joan was not in the house. Then the hunt would be up and dozens of men searching in every direction. It was no use dreaming of getting away afoot. Jim knew that he must have a horse and have one quickly. Wet as the night was, there would be horses tied to the hitch rail outside the saloon. He must take the first one handy and risk getting away on it.

There was a lane between Bignal's yard fence and a warehouse. It led into the main street. Keeping close under the wall of Bignal's house Jim hurried onwards. In the lane it was dark enough but the lights from the stove window and from the saloon made the main street bright. Too bright, Jim thought for his purpose. He reached the corner and standing in the deep shadow, peered round.

To his dismay not a single saddle horse was tied to the rack. Being Thursday night, it was not likely that many hands would visit the town from the neighbouring ranches, and those who had come in must have put their horses in the livery stable out of the rain. The only thing in sight was a light four-wheel waggon with two horses, which stood against the verandah of Bignal's store and which two men were loading with cases of groceries. Jim recognised one of them as Ross Carson, Ward Haskell's foreman. It was late for the store to be open, but Jim realised that it was likely Ward had sent in late in the evening on purpose that they might avoid interference from Kettle Drum men. As for Bignal, anyone's money was good enough for him.

Jim stood where he was. When the waggon moved he would got aboard it. He only hoped it wouldn't be long before it started. Once Bignal made certain that Joan was gone trouble was going to start.

It started sooner than he expected. Three men came out of the saloon. Jim didn't recognise any of them, but one glance was enough to make him certain that they were gunmen. They were all at least half-drunk, swaggering, taking loudly. Their leader, a squat man built like a bull and with a great, square, ill-shaven face, spotted the waggon, swung round and stared at it.

"If it ain't Ross Carson! Of all the gall I ever heard—him coming into town!" He strode across and his two precious companions followed. Jim bit his lip. Here was trouble, bad trouble. And what could he do about it?

Carson went on with his loading. Jim knew him for a man with a fine record, but he was older than this gunman and no match for him physically. His companion was a mere boy though a sturdy one.

"What you doing here?" demanded the squat man insultingly of Carson.

"You got eyes. Bastin," replied Carson quietly. "You can see what I'm doing."

Now Jim knew whom Carson was up against. This was Bull Basin, a bully of an ugly and dangerous type.

"None o' your lip!" snarled Bastin. "Don't you know as Haskell's men aint's allowed in this here town?"

"Whose orders are they—Grant Garnett's or Murray Farne's?" Carson asked.

"Mine's enough for you. Drop that case and drive right out of town and tell your boss if he or any o' your crowd show up here again there'll be real trouble." Jim saw Carson's face harden. Yet he kept his temper.

"If you're pulling a joke on me, Bastin, you best lay off, I'm busy."

"You're busy," sneered Bastin. "Now I'm going to learn you this ain't no joke. I'll give you while I count three and if you ain't in the waggon by then, why it'll be just too bad for you." Jim saw the man's hand, drop to his holster and swiftly drew his own gun. But Carson acted first. Without any hesitation he flung the case of canned goods he was holding straight at Bastin. It hit him in the chest and he and it together crashed to the wooden side walk. His gun went off as he fell, but the bullet ploughed the sky. Bastin lay helpless, but Jim saw both his companions pull their guns.

Like a flash Jim leaped forward. Whatever happened he had to save Carson from cold-blooded murder.


ROSS CARSON saw what was coming. There was no time to draw his own gun. He doubled up, plunged forward and butted his nearest assailant in the stomach. The other would have had him but for Jim.

Jim reached the scene just in time to knock the man's arm up. He was not in time to stop the fellow from pulling trigger, but the bullet crashed into the front of Bignal's store.

The mm swung furiously upon Jim. He was big and thick-set but too slow to be dangerous to a boxer like the Englishman. A smashing right to the jaw crumpled him and he fell to the street almost under the waggon. Carson's younger companion was having all he could do to hold the terrified horses.

"Thanks, partner," said Carson, briefly. "Guess we better get out of this. Them shots will have roused the town."

"I'll come with you," Jim began, then the door of the saloon burst open, out poured half a dozen of the Kettle Drum toughs, and swept down on Carson and himself. Jim sprang aside and the first of their assailants got his fist under the ear with a force that knocked him kicking. Before Jim could do anything else thick fingers clutched his left arm from behind and at the same moment something hard and round was jammed between his ribs.

"Grab the sky, stranger!" came the voice of Grant Garnett in his ear.

Jim froze. He did not know whether Garnett had recognised him, but the Sheriff's voice told him that the man was excited—and scared. There is nothing more dangerous than a frightened man with a gun, and Jim was taking no risks.

"What's the charge?" he asked in a voice which he strove to make different from his own.

"Brawling in the streets. Didn't I see you hit that fellow?" Jim was sure now that Garnett had not recognised him. After all the Sheriff had only seen him once since his return and he would never dream that a Painted Cross man had ventured into Loomis, alone. He felt better.

"He was coming for me, mister," he remarked mildly. "It were self-defence."

"Self-defence be damned! You come along with me. This here means ninety days—that's the penalty."

"Can't I pay a fine instead?" Jim asked. He was so meek that Garnett believed him to be frightened. His grip on Jim's wrist relaxed, the gun ceased prodding. Like a flash Jim stiffened, he wrenched his wrist free with a sudden force that staggered the Sheriff. Then before Garnett well knew what was happening Jim drove a blow at his jaw putting all the weight of his body behind it. Garnett's eyes glazed, his knees sagged, he collapsed on the wet planking.

The delay had been fatal to Carson. He and his companion had been dragged away by the Kettle Drum mob who were taking them to the gaol. A man was tying the heads of the waggon horses to the hitch rail. Jim glanced at the horses. He wondered whether it would be possible to unfasten them and drive off with the waggon but a second's reflection showed that this was impossible. The shooting had brought all sorts of people out into the street, and there were also shouts from Bignal's house. Bignal himself was roaring for Oram. If he, Jim, was found standing over the insensible body of the sheriff there wasn't much doubt as to the result, and from Jim's point of view it would be anything but a pleasant result. No, it behoved him to get away—and quickly—if he was to save his skin. He turned and ducked back into the dark lane.

A man bumped into him. A large, stout man.

"Who are you?" demanded the latter, and Jim instantly realised that this was Bignal. He couldn't hit a man so much older than himself, he simply kicked one leg from under him and sent him sprawling in the mud. It was a mistake. The moment he had done it he know it was a mistake, for Bignal started yelling blue murder, and instantly there was a rush of feet along the side walk. Jim took to his heels and went straight down the alley. There was nowhere else to go.

He was too late. He heard a roar behind him and knew that men had seen him. Bignal's shouts for help had brought a whole pack of his jackals, and they were already on the trail. It was no use making straight out into the country. The rain had almost ceased and stars were showing. Some of the men were bound to see him and ride him down. If he only had a horse, but he hadn't a notion where to find one. He whirled to the right, round the back of the warehouse, but one of his pursuers spotted him.

"There he goes! Up the cross alley. Some o' you go round the other way. Then we got him. He's the chap as has killed the Sheriff." They were all shouting at once, and at any rate Jim was warned. Not that this did him much good. It seemed to him that he was properly trapped.

A man reached the entrance to the alley, unlimbered his gun and began blazing away. A foolish move on his part, for he could not see Jim while he, the shooter, was plainly outlined against the light that leaked from Bignal's house opposite. Jim, close against the wall of the warehouse, rapped an answering shot. With a yell of pain his rash antagonist dropped his revolver and staggered back.

"Look out!" he bellowed. "He's shot me. Keep back there or he'll fill you all with lead."

"Cut round behind," came another voice. "You, Saul and you, Hayman." Jim decided to take a chance and started back the way he had come. They couldn't see him, for there was no light in the alley. It turned out as he had hoped. No one was guarding the entrance to the alley. He darted across and ran along behind the fence of Bignal's yard. For a moment he thought he had tricked them, but two flashes of flame and heavy reports undeceived him.

"There he is! He's back-tracked. Gone round behind Bignal's. Let him have it. Gun him down!"

Bullets sang a spiteful song as Jim, keeping close under the fence, gave a good imitation of a hare with a pack of harriers at its heels. He had not the faintest idea where he was going. His only hope now seemed to be to gain open country and hide as best he could in the mesquite. He was going so fast that he soon outran his pursuers who had hardly yet got into their stride, but he heard their yells behind him and knew what a mob like this would do to a fugitive.

He saw another opening to his left, but it was no use turning up it. That would take him back into the main street. Beyond was a low flat-roofed shed and Jim saw a possible refuge. He jumped for it, caught the gutter, dragged himself up by sheer muscle power, flung himself flat and lay, panting, as the hunt streamed by below.

It was only a respite. He knew that. He felt, too, he ought to be doing something, but just what he could not decide. If he only knew where to find a horse!! In the whole situation there was only one grain of comfort. Joan was safe. Two men came back close beneath the shed. They were talking angrily.

"Darn the feller! He's gone!" growled one. "Bignal will raise Hades when he hears we missed him."

"It ain't Bignal I'm worrying about," returned the other. "It's Lopez."

"Where did the sucker come from?" asked the first. "Reckon he's one o' the Painted Cross boys."

"I wouldn't wonder. Likely the same chap as night broke Farne's jaw last night."

"And knocked out Lopez," added the other in an awed tone. "Gee, I wouldn't be in his shoes if Lopez ever gets hands on him. He'll burn him alive."

"I'd burn him, myself," was the vicious reply, "giving us all this trouble."

"Sweet creatures," muttered Jim as he watched them pass. They had not gone twenty paces when two other men met them.

"Where do you think you're going?" came a clean-cut voice which Jim instantly recognised as that of Lopez. Peering over he could see the man vaguely and a second with him.

"We're hunting the chap as tackled Bignal a while back," was the answer.

"You're working right hard," said Lopez with grating sarcasm.

"We been running all round the town," remonstrated the other.

"Running the wrong way," sneered Lopez. "If some of you don't find him pretty soon it's likely you'll be sorry, and what's the good of working in the dark? Get some lanterns." His voice snapped with such ferocity that those two bad men fairly ran. Lopez came on.

"It's Andrews," he said to his companion, "the same who stopped Bud Condon's horse. I haven't a doubt of it. We must get him, Shadley. We must get him before he does more mischief."

"He couldn't have got far," said Shadley. "He's got no horse."

"Unless he had one tied out. But my own impression is that he gave the Chandler girl his horse." He chuckled harshly. "Farne will be pleased when he hears Joan has gone."

"But what would Andrews come back for?" questioned the man called Shadley. "You'd think he'd have gone with the girl."

"I don't know," said Lopez shortly. "He had some object. Make no mistake about that. This fellow has more brains than most. I'd say he was an educated man."

Educated! So, too, was Lopez, Jim thought, and that was what made him so dangerous. He fingered his pistol and knew that the best thing he could possibly do was to put a bullet through Lopez' head. Were their positions reversed Lopez would have had no hesitation whatever in shooting down Jim, but Jim unfortunately could not bring himself to that sort of cold-decking.

Lopez and his companion had stopped in the mouth of the alley way and Lopez spoke again.

"I have a hunch the fellow isn't far from here. He has too much sense to go running around and exhausting himself. The odds are he's hiding somewhere. He might even be in Bignal's house."

"Gosh, he wouldn't go there," returned Shadley. "But I tell you where he might be. That's up on a roof somewheres."

"That's a notion," said Lopez. "Quite a notion." He lowered his voice. "He might even be on this roof. There's a stable behind. He could have gone over the roof into that. Give me a leg up, Shadley."

"You be careful," said Shadley. "He's a shooting son-of-a-gun."

Jim flattened himself against the roof and lay listening. All he hoped was that Lopez' head would appear within arm's length of him. The men moved a few steps and Jim, though he could not see, could hear. He crawled in the same direction and lay crouched and waiting.

"This'll do," came Shadley's voice. "Step on my shoulders. Up you go!" There was just light enough for Jim to see a pair of hands hooked over the gutter, then the head of Lopez rose into view. For an Instant Lopez' eyes stared into those of Jim, and Jim saw the look of amazement in them. At the same moment Lopez' lips parted, but whatever sound he was going to make was never uttered, for down swept Jim's right hand grasping his heavy pistol.

Lopez crumpled like a wet rag, his limp hands relaxed their grip, and he dropped on top of Shadley.

"What's the matter?" came Shadley's half smothered voice. "Did you slip—?" Then he seemed to realise that this was no accident, and scrambled up, pulling his gun as he came. Before he reached his feet, Jim jumped. He landed right on top of Shadley, smashing him down into the mud with pile-driving force. Jim caught the man by the throat and lifted his fist to silence him. There was no need, Shadley was as completely out as Lopez.

Jim got to his feet and stood a moment, glancing warily around. There was no one near. He did not waste a moment, but, rolling Shadley over disarmed him, flinging his pistols to a distance. Lopez' guns, he took and threw away. Shadley was wearing a yellow-slicker, Jim peeled this off him and put it on. He took Shadley's hat, and flung his own up on to the roof. Then he turned swiftly down the alley. So far his luck had held. He was going to strain it a bit further.


LOPEZ was out of it. He would not be able to organise pursuit for some hours to come. Farne, so far as Jim knew, was not in town, and as for Bignal, he hardly counted as a fighting man. Jim was tired of ducking and dodging. Reckoning on the fact that he now had some sort of a disguise and that no one but Farne was likely to recognise him, he decided to look for Shadley's horse— or somebody else's—and go straight out to the S. Bar S.

When he came into the main street he found it almost deserted. The Kettle Drum punchers were scattered in all directions, no doubt still searching for him. Jim smiled grimly at the thought of their dismay when they discovered Lopez—then he saw something which abruptly switched his thoughts in another direction— Carson's waggon was still tied outside Bignal's store. No one stood near it and Jim felt sure that he could drive it off without interference. But that meant abandoning Ross Carson and his companion and Jim did not relish the idea of having to tell Ward that his foreman was in prison and that he had left him there. He began to wonder if a rescue was possible.

The idea was not as crazy as it might seem. The gaol was simply four cells at the back of the sheriff's office. The building stood at the far end of the street, well away from the lights of the saloon and the stores, and the odds were long that Garnett was not in the office. More likely to be in bed. There would be a guard of some sort but not more than one man and the last thing he would expect would be any attempt at rescue.

"Darned if I don't try it!" said Jim to himself and set off up the street, keeping as much as possible out of the light.

A man came out of a side alley, a hard-faced person who looked like one of Farne's gunmen. Jim stumbled artistically and came staggering onwards, giving a realistic imitation of a tipsy man. The other pulled up.

"Where you going, fellow?"

"Thatsh Bignal's businesh, not yours," Jim retorted with drunken dignity. The man laughed harshly.

"Bignal's whisky, more like," he said and went on his way.

Jim reached the prison without further adventure. The office door was closed but through the open window he saw a stout man reclining in the sheriff's chair with his feet on the desk and a corn-cob pipe between his blubbery lips. Jim recognised him as Fatty Skaggs, a supporter of the sheriff, who had been rewarded with the job of gaoler.

No trouble with him. The only difficulty was that the man knew and might possibly recognise him so, before going in, Jim quickly took the silk handkerchief from round his throat and tied it over the lower part of his face. Then, pistol in hand, he kicked the door open and walked in.

"Put up your hands!" he ordered, "and don't say a word if you want to live."

Skagg's fat face went the colour of sour paste. His hands shot up in such a hurry that he lost his balance and his chair went over backwards. Jim caught it and eased it down. He didn't want any noise. Kneeling on Skaggs, he took a couple of buckskin thongs from his pocket and tied him. Then he gagged him with his own neck-cloth. He helped himself to the keys of the cells, went through and called softly to Carson.

"Here. We're in here," Carson answered. Then as Jim unlocked the door Carson's eyes popped.

"Dog-gone if you ain't the chap that knocked out Garnett. Say, son, I never reckoned to see you alive again."

"I'm Grant Andrews—working for Dave Condon. Come on out. Staggs is tied and most of Farne's men are out in the country, looking for me. Where are your guns?"

"In the office, I reckon," Carson answered. "Come, Ab." He hurried out, followed by the younger man. They found their pistols in a corner of the office and both strapped them on. "That feels better," Carson went on as he settled his cartridge belt round his waist. "What do we do now, Andrews?"

"Get along back to the waggon and drive out," Jim told him.

"Reckon they'll let us go?"

"Not if they see us, and not if we go all together. I'd better go first: you two come on quietly after me and keep on the dark side of the street. I'm wearing Shadley's slicker and hat so if they do see me loosing the horses, they'll probably think I'm acting on orders from Lopez."

"But Lopez—where's he?"

"Asleep, down an alley," said Jim.


"Yes, and not likely to wake up for a while, I socked him with a gun barrel."

"Dog-gone! You got him as well as Garnett?"

"I got him, but If we stop chinning any longer, it's likely he'll get us."

"You're right, Andrews. Push on. We'll follow."

The sky had clouded again and outside the lamp-lit patches it was very dark. Jim met no one on his way down the street, he unhitched the horses and as he climbed into the waggon Ross Carson and Ab caught up and got in.

"Too derned easy," growled Carson.

"Not kicking, are you?" Jim said.

"I ain't anyhow," agreed Ab, speaking for the first time since Jim had met him.

Carson took the reins and the horses, anxious to get home, settled into their collars and went off at a trot. Jim sat quite still, but his eyes roved anxiously from side to side. This was, as Carson had said, too easy. They were almost outside the town, before the shout came.

"Seems like they'd missed us," said Carson drily.

"More likely they've found Lopez and Shadley," Jim answered. "It'll be five minutes—ten perhaps—before anyone notices the waggon's gone."

"Then they'll be after us," said Carson and his black snake whip cracked above the two sturdy beasts. They broke into a canter and the light waggon rocked and rattled along the stony track. "And what chance will we stand then?" he added. Jim did not answer. Men on horseback would travel twice the pace of harnessed horses and there was still six long miles between them and S. Bar S. ranch house. The taciturn Ab spoke.

"We'd ought to fetch Crazy Woman Pass afore they overtakes us."

In Jim's mind rose a picture of a narrow trail cut in the face of an almost sheer mountain side. Cliff to the right, to the left a terrific drop into the dark canyon where Crazy Woman Creek boiled and roared.

"You're right, Ab," he said quickly. "And if we had a stick of dynamite we could say good-bye to an army."

"We ain't got dynamite, but there's rocks," Ab answered briefly.

"You mean we could block the pass?"

"Better than that. One could take the waggon on, other two lay up on a ledge and start a slide."

"Sounds good to me," said Carson.

"Right!" Jim said. "Carson, you'll take the waggon. Ab and I will go up the hill."

"Ain't you a bit previous, Andrews?" Carson asked. "Likely we'll get through afore they catches up with us."

"If we do get over the pass ahead of them they'll catch us before we reach the ranch," Jim answered. "Or even if we did get to the house they'd be on top of us before we could get organised. It's up to us to stop them."

"Maybe you're right," Carson agreed slowly and as he spoke the horses slowed to a walk as a steep ascent rose in front of them. None of the three spoke. They were all straining their ears for sound of pursuit.

Minutes passed as the horses tolled upwards, and Jim was beginning to wonder whether Farne's men were ever coming when Ab Granard stiffened.

"I hear 'em," he said. "Pull up, Carson. The place is right here where we can climb."

"Don't wait for us, Carson," Jim said. "Get right on to the ranch and tell Ward what's doing. And it that Mex boy, Luiz, hasn't come along by the time you get there let Ward know that Dave Condon means to tackle the Kettle Drum to-morrow night."

"What about you and Ab?" Carson asked. "How you going to get home?"

"If Ward likes to picket a couple of saddle horses in the mouth of the blind canyon under Blue Butter we'll find 'em."

"I'll do that," Carson promised, then drove on and Jim found himself crawling like a fly up the rock face at the heels of Ab Granard. Alone, Jim could never have got feet above the trail but Ab knew the rocks as a cat knows her own garden wall. Zig-zagging from cleft to cranny, he went steadily up and Jim had only to follow. At the end of five minutes of very stiff scrambling the two arrived on a broad ledge which was peppered all over with boulders, great and small, weathered from the cliffs above.

By this time pursuit was much nearer. The pounding of horses' hoofs along the trail came clearly through the quiet night.

"We ain't got much time," said Ab. "Help me roll some of them big stones to the edge." They got two great lumps of stone each weighing four or five hundred pounds to the edge and were toiling to shift a third when they heard the first of their pursuers galloping up the pass. Jim left the stone to peer over the edge, but it was too dark to see anything below.

"Watch out!" came a sharp warning from Ab. "She's rolling. I can't hold her." Jim sprang to his help but it was too late. The ledge sloped slightly outwards and the boulder, breaking away from them, rolled towards the rim. There was no stopping it and over it went. A moment of utter silence was followed by a crash like a shell exploding as the mass of rock struck the road a hundred feet below. Sparks flew in the darkness as the great stone hopped like a marble from the hard surface of the road and shot over into the chasm beyond.

"That's torn it," Jim muttered.

"Maybe they'll think it's a slide," Ab suggested, but any hope Jim might have had on that score was scattered by a great voice from below.

"Watch out! That rock didn't fall by itself. Keep back you fools. There's men up the mountain."

"It's Farne," whispered Jim and seizing Ab's arm, dragged him back.

Just in time for next moment fire flashed from the muzzles of a dozen pistols and bullets spattered the rock face all around the ledge. Jim's spirits sank.

"Carson said the luck was too good to last," he muttered. "Now we're properly treed."

"They can't do anything," growled Ab. "They can't even see us."

"It's only about four hours to sunrise," Jim said grimly. "What's going to happen then?"


SUNRISE brought welcome warmth to the two shivering prisoners on the ledge. For hours they had sat huddled together, speaking only in whispers. Ab, bold climber, had volunteered to try to scale the cliff behind them but Jim had made him admit that he had never been to the top and that it was, most of it, sheer as a wall. Feeling that it was suicide, Jim had put his foot down and told the boy he wouldn't have it.

"Ward will send help," he told Ab.

"He can't do it," said Ab flatly. "Long afore this Farne has blocked the road both ways. We're in a tight, Andrews."

It was true. Jim knew it was true. He had never been in a tighter place, not even when he lay on that shed roof, earlier in the night. They had no food or water, the sun shone full on this cliff face and, though its rays at present were only pleasantly warm, in a couple of hours the rock would be almost red hot and there was no shade, or shelter. A voice from below—Farne's.

"You fellows, you can't get away and you know it. Come on down and you shall have a fair trial. There won't be any lynching, even if you deserve it. I give you my word on that."

"Answer him," Jim whispered to Ab. "Tell him to go to hades."

"You can talk better'n me," Ab objected.

"But he knows my voice, Ab, and I don't want him to recognise me. There's more to this than I can tell you at present." Ab gave Jim a quick glance.

"I'll do it," he said.

"Don't show yourself more than you can help," Jim warned him. "Farne's a treacherous dog." Ab nodded and crawled over. He sheltered behind one of the loose boulders.

"Come and get us if you want us," he called harshly to Farne. Farne laughed.

"Don't be a fool, boy. The sun'll get you without our bothering. Before mid-day you'll both be crazy with thirst."

"Both! There ain't only one here, and that's myself," Ab answered. Farne laughed again.

"I might swallow that yarn if it hadn't been for the rock. Takes two or more to shift that. Tell Andrews to come to the edge and talk to me."

"Andrews was back at the S. Bar S. hours ago," Ab lied valiantly. "He drove on with Carson."

"All right," said Farne. "Well, there's nothing serious against you except assaulting the Sheriff and raising Cain in the town. Likely, you'll get off with thirty days. So come on down."

"Not me, Farne. I ain't trusting myself with any Kettle Drum killers."

"Then stay and burn," snapped Farne. He fired as he spoke but that was exactly what Ab was expecting and he drew back as the bullet spanged on the rock just beneath him. Ab crept back to Jim.

"You heard what he said, Andrews?" Jim grinned.

"You told a good lie, Ab, but he didn't swallow it. He knows I'm up here. Now, listen. He's right about our burning and without shade we'll both be dead by night. I've been looking round and it seems to me there's enough rocks here to build some sort or shelter. It we can last out till night we're all right, for to-night Dave and Ward are tackling the Kettle Drum and Farne will have something else to do than watch us."

"It might be done," Ab said, "But I don't reckon Farne will wait. He'll send some of his chaps up the cliff to pick us off. There's other ledges besides this one."

"All the more reason for us to build a shelter," Jim argued. Ab shrugged.

"Well try it if you say so," he answered, and he and Jim began to move stones. There were plenty of stones but mostly small. The two had been at work for some time, and had a parapet about three feet high when a rifle cracked and a bullet clipped past so close that Jim felt the wind of it. Both flung themselves flat.

"Told you," Ab said briefly. "And once they get higher than us we haven't a hope. Our short guns ain't no good for that distance."

It was true that Jim began to feel that their last hope was gone. He and Ab lay as flat as they could behind their wall but both knew it would not protect them if Farne's man reached a higher ledge. Each moment they expected another shot, but none came. Ab pointed. Now they could see a man climbing with his rifle slung over his shoulders, but he was far out of revolver range.

"Looks like our finish," Ab said calmly. The boy was plucky as they make them. The words were hardly out of his mouth before there was a dull crash from far above.

"Look!" yelled Ab pointing to a huge stone which came thundering down from the summit of the cliff. The gunman saw it coming. He made a leap to one side to escape it, failed to reach the projection for which he was aiming and fell backwards. He screamed once, then came the thud as his body dropped on the road far beneath.

"It's Ward," said Ab. Ward it was or some of his men, for suddenly rocks began to pour off the top of the cliff and there were yells of terror as Farne's men ran for their lives. Then shots, the reports crashing along the cliff face, the sound of horses galloping, and presently silence.

"Watch out for a rope," came a hail from the heights, and a length of stout rope came snaking down. "Quicker to come up this way," shouted Ross Carson.

Ab went up first, then Jim. Lucky for him that he had a good head for heights, for, even with the rope, it was a tough scramble. At the top was Carson with half a dozen of the S. Bar S. men and a couple of spare horses.

"We'd have been here sooner," Carson apologised, "but we had to ride round to get here."

"You were in time. That's all that matters," Jim said. "Did you get any of Farne's lot besides the man that fell?"

"I don't reckon we did. It's hard shooting downhill. But we scared the guts out of 'em. How we'll ride. I reckon you and Ab are needing your breakfast."

"Did Luiz reach you?" asked Jim.

"Sure he did. And started right back with word from Ward that we'd be at the head of the pass by Slaughter Creek at midnight. Ward's all for it. Says if we can whip the Kettle Drum crowd he reckons the trouble will be over."

"There's ten of us, and maybe a couple more will come in. All I hope is that Farne himself is at the Kettle Drum. If we get him there's no one else counts."

Jim liked Carson's confidence. All his men were equally keen. They were a hard-bitten lot and Jim felt fairly certain if they could only surprise the Kettle Drum killers, they would wipe them out.

As Carson had said, it was a long way round. It was ten before they reached the ranch house, where Ward Haskell was waiting for them.

"I'm sure glad to see you," was all he said, but the look in his eyes and his powerful grip spoke more strongly than words. He led Jim into the dining-room and set him down to steaks, fried eggs, hot bread, and coffee.

"Don't say a word till you've eaten," Ward ordered. "Then I want the whole story."

Jim made an enormous breakfast, and afterwards he and Ward talked. Jim described his adventures of the previous night and Ward chuckled when Jim told of jumping off the roof on top of Shadley. Then he turned grave.

"Jim, you've had all the luck in the world. Not that you ain't deserved it, because you have. All I hope is that it will hold for another 24 hours. If it does and we can bust the Kettle Drum outfit we're on velvet. Now I reckon you better go and catch up on some sleep. It's one sure thing you won't get a lot to-night."

Jim slept till five and woke feeling quite fresh. Outside, the best horses in the corral had been caught and saddled, men were cleaning revolvers and rifles and filling cartridge belts. Everyone was quietly busy. Ward, Carson and Jim had supper together in the house and while they ate two more men rode up. They were Lance Capson and Dirk Major, owners of small outfits east of the S. Bar S. Like Haskell, they were threatened by Farne and had thrown in against him.

"That makes thirteen," said Ward cheerfully.

It came to Jim that this was an unlucky number but he was careful not to say so. At ten they started. The night was like the previous one, the sky clouded, a soggy feel in the air and sheet lightning flickering pink and white over the mountains. But there was no rain or even the faintest mutter of thunder. Orders were that no one was to smoke, that they were to keep together and ride quietly. These orders were strictly obeyed.

It was just after half-past eleven when they reached the head of the pass where they were to meet the Painted Cross outfit. There was no one there but that was not surprising for Ward's party were early.

The Kettle Drum ranch house lay in a bowl-shaped valley into which Slaughter Creek broke through a cut in the hills. The road, a rough waggon track, ran beside the Creek with low cliffs on either side. The pass was a death trap if the enemy had been warned, for they could line the heights and shoot down on the invaders. Ward, however, had no idea of running blindly into the danger and one of his men, Ben Cottle, who had formerly been in the Texas Rangers, and was a first-rate scout, had agreed to go forward and spy out the land. He started at once while the rest picketed their horses among a cluster of rocks at a little distance from the head of the pass and each stood by his animal, ready to pinch its nose in case it started to whinny at the approach of the Painted Cross party. Jim was alongside Ward and the two talked in whispers.

"Ward, if anything happens to me in this show," said Jim, "I've left a letter at your place, addressed to Bill Beverley. He has power of attorney and I've asked him to take care that Joan is properly provided for. You'll see that he gets it?"

"I'll see to it," Ward answered, "but don't go getting fool ideas into your head, Jim. You got your luck with you and it's Farne better be making his will." He glanced at his wrist-watch. "Nearly 12," he added. "Time Dave's boys were coming." The others were thinking the same.

"Hope nothing ain't gone wrong," Jim heard Carson mutter uneasily.

Minutes dragged by and still no sound or sign of The Painted Cross people. Ben Cottle came slipping back, soundless as a ghost. He came up to Ward.

"All's quiet at Farne's place. No lights in the bunk-house or in the house itself. Looks like they was all asleep." Carson stepped closer.

"Let's go, boss. The boys is raring to fight."

"No!" Ward's tone was firm. "There ain't enough of us to clean up and we can't afford to lose men. It's plain to me as Luiz ain't got through with that message I give him."

"But Dave said he'd be here anyhow," Jim put in. "Hanged if I can understand it."

"We'll wait a while longer," Ward said. "But if they don't show up pretty soon we'll go home." Carson stiffened.

"They're coming. I hear 'em." An instant later they all heard them, then out of the night to westward horses came cantering, spaced out in a wide line.

"They're making a sight too much noise," Ward grumbled and, as he spoke, the advancing line pulled up. Next instant the darkness was cut by flashes of flame, guns crashed and a gust of lead heat upon Ward and his men.


BUT for the rocks among which they had tied their horses and where the men were still standing, that volley would have pretty well finished the whole lot of Ward Haskell's party. As it was three men went down and five horses. Jim and Ward both escaped though a bullet lifted Jim's hat from his head. They and the other survivors flung themselves down in what shelter they could find and opened a return fire. It was chancy shooting in the dark and at men spaced out as widely as their attackers, but some damage was done for two horses raced past with empty saddles. The rest of Farne's men started galloping, Indian fashion, to a circle round the stones, firing as they rode.

"Trapped like jack rabbits," Ward said bitterly. "They must have got the Mex boy, learned what we was doing, and fixed up this ambush. Don't look like any of us'll get out, alive."

"It's not that bad," Jim answered. "We have some cover and they have to come pretty close to see us."

"The moon'll be up in an hour," Ward told him. "That'll see our finish."

"It will cut both ways," Jim declared.

"It won't. They're three to one. I know what I'm saying, son."

Jim could find no answer. Ward was right, they were trapped and it seemed certain that not one of them would live to see another sunrise. Farne had his chance and would make the most of it. Once he had wiped out Ward's lot, he could concentrate against the Painted Cross and destroy it. This meant that Joan would fall again into Farne's hands and this time he would never let her go; nor would there be anyone left to help her. The thought made Jim wince.

Round and round went the Kettle Drum killers, pelting bullets upon the men penned in the centre of the circle. There were few return shots for Ward had passed the word for all to lie flat and take what shelter they could find. So far as Jim knew, no more had been hit since the first volley, but by this time all the horses were down. The screams of one that had been wounded echoed terribly through the night until Carson crawled near enough to put a merciful bullet through its head.

It was intolerable to lie there, waiting for death, and Jim racked his brain for any way out, but could not find one. By this time he had given up all hope of Dave Condon coming to the rescue, and certainly there was no one else who could do so. His thoughts kept going back to Joan, and he blamed himself bitterly for not having written full details to Bill Beverley. He knew Bill well enough to be sure that, if called on, he would move heaven and earth to save Joan from Farne.

A bullet that spattered earth in his face brought him out of his black thoughts. He raised his rifle and took a snap shot at a dim shadow that whirled past. It struck him that it was darker than ever. Then, all of a sudden, a great drop of warm rain splashed upon his cheek and next instant the very cisterns of Heaven were emptied upon them.

Like a flash Jim turned to Ward. "Here's our chance. Pass the word to clear out."

"But our horses are dead. This rain won't last long. Then they'll ride us down."

"Yes, if we take to the open. Make for the gorge. That's the last place they'll look for us."

"By gum, it's a notion! But can we find it? It's dark as dirt."

"Ben Cottle can do it. Tell him. Don't waste a minute. As you say, this is too heavy to last. And warn the boys not to shoot. One shot will give the whole show away." Ward hesitated no longer. He passed the word and Ben Cottle crept up.

"Yes, reckon t can find it," he said. "It's a good notion, Ward. If we can fetch the ranch house afore they know what were up to we'll be on top."

He led and the rest followed. In single file they slipped away from the cluster of rocks. Jim walked last of all. His heart was thumping. If they got through Farne's men, the battle was more than half won. But a single shot would betray them and that would be the end. There was no wind, the rain fell perfectly straight, drumming on the ground with a steady roar of sound. It was so dark that it was barely possible to see a hand lifted in front of one's face and Jim had to follow almost on the heels of the man ahead in order not to lose him.

There were no shots and Jim's spirits began to rise. By the feel of the ground, they were going down hill, which meant they were already in the gorge. What a triumph if they could reach the Kettle Drum buildings without Farne realising that they had escaped! The odds were that the house would be deserted except for the cook and, once inside, Farne's men would have a job to get them out.

Full of these cheering thoughts, Jim realised of a sudden that he had lost his guide. He paused a moment straining his eyes through the wet darkness, then hearing something a little to the right started quickly in that direction.

The ground gave way beneath him, he made a frantic effort to recover himself, but failed. Instantly he knew what had happened. He had walked over the edge of the creek bank. He expected to plunge into swift water; instead he crashed upon hard ground. His head struck rock, sparks flashed before his eyes and after that he knew no more.

* * * * *

WHEN Jim's senses came back the rain had ceased, the moon was up and though he lay in shadow there was light to see his surroundings. As he had suspected, he had fallen over the creek bank. He lay on a mass of rocks and earth which made a little promontory at the bottom of the bank. His feet were in the water which swirled past, roaring sullenly. The creek was rising rapidly, swollen by the storm.

Jim took some minutes to absorb these details for he was still in a very dazed condition and his senses were functioning sluggishly. It occurred to him that it was time he moved, for the water was coming up fast and would very soon cover the stone on which he lay. He tried to rise only to fall back with a groan. The stab of pain which shot through his head was sheer agony. He rested a few moments, breathing deeply, then made a second attempt and this time struggled to his feet. He was so giddy he had to cling to a twisted root projecting from the bank.

The giddiness passed by degrees and Jim put a hand to the back of his head. His hair was matted with blood and his head so sore he could hardly bear to touch it. A man less fit than Jim Chernocke would have been unable to help himself, but Jim was tough as leather and presently felt equal to the task of climbing the bank.

It was steep, but there were plenty of hand holds and in a short time he was safe on top. He looked round but there was no one in sight, nor could he hear anything except the river rushing past. He wondered greatly what had happened to Ward and his men. If they had reached the Kettle Drum there ought to be sounds of firing; if they had failed the odds were that everyone of them was dead.

For the life of him Jim could not decide what to do. It was no use dreaming of finding his way to the Painted Cross. The distance was at least 10 miles and in his present state he doubted if he could walk one. It would be equally impossible to return to Ward Haskell's place. Opposite, in the face of the bluff, he saw the mouth of more than one cave. The sensible course seemed to be to take refuge in one of these and lie there until he felt stronger. Then when the next night came, he might be fit for the long tramp.

He staggered across, found shelter and sat down, yet in less than 10 minutes was on his feet again. Those few minutes had each seemed like an hour and the idea of spending the rest of the night and all to-morrow in this suspense was flatly out of the question. He must know what had happened to Ward and the rest. He made up his mind to go down the gorge and see if he could steal a horse from the Kettle Drum corral. The odds were all against finding a saddle, yet if he could get a mount of any sort that hardly mattered. He started down the slope.

It was the craziest venture, more especially since he had lost his pistol and was unarmed, but at this moment Jim Chernocke was in no condition to give reasonable consideration to what was before him. The blow on his head, added to his intense anxiety, had quite upset his powers of judgment.

The sharp pain in his head had dulled to a steady ache, his strength was coming back and he found himself able to walk. Presently he rounded a curve and saw a light beneath him. It was a window with a lighted lamp behind it. So far as Jim could see all the other windows were dark. His watch had stopped but by the height of the moon he judged that nearly two hours had elapsed since the rainstorm broke and it looked as if all the excitement was over and Farne's men had gone to their bunks. If that was so the chances of getting a horse seemed fairly good.

Jim went on quietly, keeping as much as possible in the shadow. There was one thing in his favour. In the old days he had visited the Kettle Drum more than once, so he knew the lie of the land. The house stood on rising ground on the west bank of the creek, and in front was a solidly built bridge, and there was a row of shedding close by with stables, sheds and harness-room. The harness-room would probably be locked, but Jim hoped to find a rope in the sheds.

He reached the shadow at the back of the sheds without trouble and stood looking at the house. Not a sound came from it or from the large bunk-house close by and again he wondered what had become of the S. Bar S. men. It was too ghastly to think that they had all been finished. Yet since it seemed clear that they were not in the ranch-house, what else could have happened?

More anxious than ever, Jim crept along the sheds and rounded the eastern end, the one furthest from the house. The moon shone brightly here, and Jim hesitated before venturing out of the shadow. Yet all was so quiet that he gained confidence, and, slipping round the end of the building, found an unlatched door, and went inside. Luckily, he still had his flashlight, which had escaped injury in his fall, and, switching it on, looked round. His relief was great when he saw a lasso rope hanging against the wall. He was still more pleased to find a bridle, old but still serviceable. Now, if nothing interfered, he could catch a horse and ride it. Carrying his spoil, he was leaving the shed when, through the quiet night came a sound of horses travelling fast. He stopped and listened. About a dozen horses were coming, and they were coming down the gorge. It was almost certain that they were Kettle Drum men, and Jim felt an unpleasant chill down his spine.

Since fight was out of the question, he must hide, but the question was where. There was no loft here as there had been in the stable at Loomis; there was no hiding place of any sort. He started out and tried another door. This was not locked, and entering, he found himself in a feed room. Wired bales of hay were stacked against the walls, and on one side sacks of oats were piled. He squeezed in behind the sacks and crouched down. It was a poor sort of refuge, but better than none.

Next minute the riders had arrived, and he heard them reining in their horses and springing to the ground. The curious thing was that none of them spoke. All Jim could hear was the heavy breathing of hard-ridden horses. At last came a voice.

"This is a mess, Buck!" A quiver ran through Jim. The speaker was Farne himself.

"It's no fault of mine," retorted Buck Coulton, sharply. "If it hadn't been for that storm we had them all ends up."

"We've lost them now," said Farne, grimly. "You, Kinney, give my horse a feed of oats. As soon as I've had a drink I must go straight to Loomis." A man entered the feed room. Jim heard him open the food bin.

"Curse—it's empty!" he growled, and slammed the lid down. Then he turned to the pile of sacks behind which Jim was hidden.


IT was no use waiting where he was, for in moving the top sack the man was bound to see him. Jim came out of his hiding place like a bullet from a gun and flung himself at the Kettle Drum puncher. Before the astonished Kinney could even raise his hands Jim had him by the throat. The two fell heavily together on the clay floor of the shed.

Kinney, half stunned as he was, still struggled and tried hard to shout but Jim choked him till his face was blue and his body went limp.

"Hey, Kinney, going to be all night? What are you doing?" someone shouted angrily, and, as Jim struggled to his feet, he was faced by Buck Coulton. Buck's eyes widened. For a moment sheer surprise held him speechless and Jim seized the chance to charge him and drive a blow at his jaw.

If Jim had been himself that blow would have knocked out the burly foreman. As it was, it staggered him but, as he stumbled back, he gave a yell. Jim dodged past, made for the door and ran slap into Murray Farne himself. Farne's great arms closed around him and Jim was helpless as a fish in a net. Exhausted, his head, spinning, his lungs crushed by Farne's mighty grip, he soon ceased to struggle.

"Who the—" began Farne, then—

"By thunder, it's Andrews. If this ain't luck. Pretty nigh makes up for Haskell getting away," Buck Coulton came out.

"Andrews! I might have knowed it. The swine nigh broke my jaw. Let him loose, Farne, and I'll learn him what it means to run his damned nose into our business."

"Not to-night, Buck," Farne told him. "He's meat for your masters." Jim struggled again.

"Let me loose, Farne. I've still got enough to knock out your paid bully." Farne laughed.

"You got guts, Andrews. I'll say that for you. And If it wasn't that I need you up at the house I'd let Buck settle you. But I reckon you're worth more to me alive than dead, so walk along."

There was no help for it and, with Farne's great fingers holding his arm in a vice-like grip, Jim went with him across the bridge to the house. Jim's spirits were in the depths. So far Farne had not recognised him. He thought he was merely Grant Andrews, Dave Condon's most troublesome follower. But at the house, in strong light, Jim could not hope for such luck to continue.

By the time they reached the house Jim was so done that he was reeling. Farne saw it, showed him into a chair, then gave him a stiff drink.

"Here's bad luck," said Jim recklessly as he poured it down his throat. He saw Farne stiffen. The big man came a step nearer and stared at him. Into his eyes came a look of incredulous amazement. Then his great hand smacked upon his thigh.

"Chernocke!" he cried, and for an instant his eyes went red like those of a wolf so that Jim believed his last moment had come. But Farne was not the sort to allow empty vengeance to interfere with his plans. The glare died.

"You fooled me," he said. "I own you fooled me. I didn't believe that even you would be crazy enough to come back to Loomis with that charge hanging over you." He laughed. "'British Baronet Hanged For Murder.' Say, that'll make headlines for your London newspapers." He paused, then spoke in a lower lone. "On second thoughts you'll hang as Jim Preston. We don't want to focus too much attention on this neck of woods."

"You've done that already," Jim told him. "Ward Haskell and Dave Condon aren't dumb." Farne's lip curled.

"Them! They don't count. I've strength to wipe them off the face of this State and that's what I'm going to do before I'm a week older. Jim laughed.

"You talk big, Farne. Dave's crowd licked you so badly night before last you lost nearly half your men and I heard you confess just now that Ward got away after you thought you had him trapped." The red glare showed afresh in Murray Farne's eyes, but again he controlled his fury.

"The best generals blunder once, Chernocke. But not twice. At the Painted Cross it was you who foiled my plans but that won't happen again; to-night it was the luck of the weather saved Ward Haskell. If it hadn't been for that storm not one of you would have been alive this minute." Jim said nothing. He knew it was true. Farne went on boastfully. "You were expecting Condon's crowd. You never knew I'd caught your Mex boy and read the note Haskell gave him. The note Luiz actually took to the Painted Cross told Condon that Haskell could not collect his men in time, and put the attack off until to-morrow night. To-morrow the Painted Cross will start and, while they're away, my men will burn the ranch and bring Joan back to me."

Jim sprang furiously from his chair only to be met by the threatening muzzle of Farne's revolver.

"If you want to live to be hanged I reckon you'd better sit still," sneered the big man.

Jim dropped back. He was furious with himself for losing his temper. Farne grinned sardonically.

"Seems to me I heard you were already engaged to some British girl. Don't want two wives, do you? Even the Mormons ain't allowed more than one these days."

Jim clamped hack the fierce retort that rose to his lips. He wasn't going to betray himself a second time. Farne, feeling master of the situation and of the man whom he hated so savagely, went on.

"Yes. Joan will be here to-morrow and that's the chief reason I'm keeping you alive. You're the hostage, Chernocke. You may remember you smacked Lopez in the jaw and knocked him out. You'd have done better to shoot him. Lopez is half Mex and a Dago never forgives a blow. If Joan don't show herself willing to marry me I shall tell her that I'm handing you over to Lopez and what he will do to you I don't need to describe." He laughed again and Jim had never heard an uglier sound. He had to bite his lips to keep down the rage that consumed him. Farne grew angry at Jim's silence.

"Lost your tongue," he sneered. "You had plenty to say when you though you were top dog. But to-morrow I'll hear you howl for mercy." Jim had got hold of himself.

"Aren't you a little previous?" he asked. "You have a lot to do before you're top dog, even here. You may murder me as you murdered Joan's brother, but you might remember I have friends who will make sure you don't profit by it."

For a third time that night Farne's eyes shone red. His forefinger twitched on his pistol and Jim stiffened, believing that a bullet was about to crash through his body. It did not come. Farne's lips stretched in a mirthless grin.

"Trying to bait me into finishing you, eh?" he said. "Afraid of what Lopez will do to you. But you don't get off as cheaply as that."

"March!" he ordered, plodding Jim with the barrel of his gun. "Up the stairs. That's where your prison is. And I'll lay you won't be so chippy this time to-morrow."

The room into which he forced Jim was small and bare, and the one window was guarded by stout iron bars.

"Sweet dreams!" Farne sneered as he went out, locking the door behind him.

Done to the world, Jim dropped on the straw mattress against the wall. There he lay while his tired brain grappled with one problem after another. What could have happened to Ward and his men? Where were they? How had they escaped? Surely, if they had escaped, the first thing Ward would do was to warn Dave Condon, yet Farne seemed sure of trapping Dave next night. Such thoughts drummed through his aching head until at last he dropped off into a stupor of sleep, nor did he move until he was roused by the door opening. The surly-faced fellow who entered carried a tray in one head and a gun in the other.

"Grub," he said, "and make the most of it. It's all you'll get to-day."

The food was a pile of tortillas, flat maize-meal pancakes, and a jug of water, but Jim was too hungry to be critical. He ate half the soggy cakes and left the rest till later. Then he set himself to examine his prison. Window and door were hopeless, and he turned to the floor. He found a board that had warped so that the nails were loose, and managed to raise one end a little. If he had had a tool of any sort he might have levered it up, but it was lignum vitae, almost as hard as iron, and though he toiled till his finger tips bled and the sweat ran down him, he could do nothing.

He went to the window to get what air there was, and saw a man riding down the gulch. The fellow flung himself off at the door and ran in. He must have news of some sort, and Jim longed to hear it. He remembered his floor board, and put his ear to the crack, but to his disgust could hear only a murmur of voices. All he could tell was that one voice was Farne's, and that it was raised in anger. Presently the man rode off again, carrying a sack which looked as if it held food.

The day dragged terribly for Jim, and his prison under the roof was suffocatingly hot. Men came and went, but what was happening Jim could only guess. At last the sun dropped behind the western mountains, and Jim saw that horses were being saddled and guns cleaned. Farne was going to attack the Painted Cross, and Jim would have given anything to be able to warn Dave. Tortured by his fears he paced up and down until at last, long after dark, he heard the whole force ride away into the night.

Hours passed, hours of such anxiety as Jim has never known. Once he distinctly heard shots in the distance, and wondered what they could be. Certainly not at the Painted Cross, for a whole range of bills lay between that ranch and the Kettle Drum. Worn out by anxiety Jim lay down and tried to sleep. He had dropped off into a restless doze when he was roused by the pounding of hoofs. Farne's force had returned, but it was far too dark to see anything outside. Yet he had not long to wait. Heavy steps rattled on the stairs, his door was flung open and by the light of a candle which he carried. Jim saw the heavy, brutal face of Buck Coulton. And, behind him, a second man, with a pistol in his hand.

"Come on out of that," Coulton ordered harshly. Jim sat on the cot and pulled on his boots. He wondered vaguely what was going to happen. For all he knew they were going to murder him. Or perhaps they had Joan and were going to use him to force her into marriage with Farne. If he had to die all he hoped was that he would end up decently. Yet the thought of Lopez made him shiver.


JOAN CHANDLER sat in the great living room at the Painted Cross. She wore the same plain blue cotton frock in which she had ridden away from Loomis, and there was not a touch of powder or lip-stick on her face, yet old Dave, seated opposite, thought her the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

"I can't understand it," she was saying anxiously. "Jim told me definitely that Ward's men would join you to-night." Dave shrugged.

"You've seen Ward's note. He's putting it off till to-morrow so as to bring a bigger force. Don't worry, my dear. They'll be along, and Jim with them."

"I—I hope you're right, but I'm uneasy." She paused then went on with a rush. "Mr. Condon, I can't stay here." Dave looked at her. He was a wise old man.

"On account of Jim?" he asked. She nodded.

"I can tell you because I know you would never tell anyone else. That is it. I must not meet him again." Dave looked troubled.

"I'm right sorry Joan for, if I'm not mistaken, he's as fond of you as any man can be of a girl. And you two—what a match you'd make!" Joan bit her lip.

"He is engaged. You know that. And Nita Vaughan is a lovely girl." Dave sighed.

"It's a hell of a mix-up, but I see your trouble, Joan. You can go to my nephew, Mark Logan, at Piedra. He'll find you a job in his store. Anyways, you'll be safe from Farne." He rose. "Now I got to get busy. You don't need to leave till to-morrow."

Joan went out and strolled by the river. Her thoughts were all of Jim and they were not happy thoughts. She was desperately anxious for his safety and would have given much to know that he had got away from Loomis. She thrilled at the thought he might be back at the Painted Cross next day, then her spirits sank to the depths as she realised that she would have left.

"It isn't far," she said aloud. "Dave is right and Jim loves me as I love him. Oh, why could we not have met again a little sooner?"

"Miss Joan! Miss Joan!" The shout roused her from her troubles and she saw Rash Weedon, one of the Painted Cross men, hurrying towards her. "Luiz, he've been hit by a ground rattler," Rash told her. "Reckon you can do anything? he's bad."

Joan ran like a hare to find Luiz lying in the bunk-house with a couple of men by him. They were dosing him with whisky. She sent one flying to the house for permanganate. Luiz had trodden on the snake in the thick grass and it had struck him in the calf of his left leg. Luckily he had been close to the ranch and hardly five minutes had elapsed since he had been struck, otherwise nothing could have saved him.

Joan ligatured the leg, then opened the wound with a clean razor blade and injected permanganate. Within half an hour the boy was out of danger. Joan told him so, but brown-faced Luiz lay silent, looking so wretched Joan was puzzled.

"What is it, Luiz?" she asked. "You need not be afraid. You are going to get well."

"I ought to die. I deserve to die," was the despairing answer. Joan was puzzled.

"Why do you say that, Luiz? You have done well. We are all grateful to you for carrying that message. It was fine work." Luiz only groaned and Joan bent over him.

"Something is troubling you," she said very gently and saw the boy's face twist with agony.

"I don't know what to do. If I tell, Farne will kill my mother and Inez."

Joan's lips tightened. She began to suspect the truth. She looked round but there was no one about. Then she began to talk and presently she had the truth out of Luiz. He told her that two of Farne's men had caught him and dragged him to the Kettle Drum. There Farne had read Ward's note and had forged another asking Dave Condon to put off coming until the following night.

"You'll take that to Condon," he had ordered, "and you won't say a word. If you do, if Condon comes to-night, you'll never see your mother or your sister again. I've sent two men to bring them in." The boy paused then went on with a jerk. "So I did it and now I reckon Ward and all of 'em is killed."

All the strength went out of Joan so that she could hardly stand. So Ward and his men—and Jim, too—had been surrounded and shot down.

"You'd ought to have let me die," said Luiz miserably, but Joan refused to blame him.

"It wasn't your fault," she said softly. "Lie still and get well." Then she hurried away to Dave.

He was terribly upset. The thought that Ward Haskell would believe he had let him down hurt him desperately.

"Ward would never believe that," Joan told him, "but what can we do?" Dave pulled himself together.

"Question is what Farne will do," he said grimly. "If he's finished Ward he'll think we're easy prey." He stood frowning, thinking hard, then spoke again.

"Ward's no fool. Odds are, when he found we weren't there he cleared out."

"But Farne was expecting him. He would be laying for him," Joan answered.

"That's true, but even so I'm not giving up hope. Ward would try and hole up somewhere—maybe in those caves in the gorge."

"Then we must go to his help."

Dave glanced at the sun, which was still three hours high. He shook his grizzled head.

"No use, Joan. We got to wait till dark. See here, Farne's expecting us at midnight. He reckons to ambush us. We'll get there an hour early and it'll be Farne who'll run into the trap." Joan gazed at him.

"But Jim—Jim," she cried in a voice of agony, and covered her face with her hands.

"Don't cry, my dear." Dave's voice was very tender. "I'm sending Mart Dowling out to scout around. You'll have news before dark." Five minutes later the foreman, mounted on the best horse in the string, rode away.

The sun had just set when he came back. Joan, running to meet him, saw that his horse was black with sweat. He pulled up.

"Some of 'em's safe," he told her. "It's what Dave said. They've holed up in Painted Butte."

"Painted Butte—in the cave?" Joan asked quickly.

"That's it, Miss Joan. I didn't see none of them, but some of Farne's men are up on the ledge opposite the cave mouth. I saw three and I reckon there are more. That's all to the good for as we're concerned for it means Farne won't have so many out against us."

"But Ward's men—are they safe?" Joan questioned.

"Safe so long as they stay inside. I reckon they'll hold out until we can help 'em." Joan sighed with relief.

"That's splendid. Ride on, Mart, and tell Mr. Condon. He will be as glad as I am." Joan followed Mart back to the ranch. His news had given her fresh hope. There was a fair chance that Jim was safe.

Supper was a quiet meal. Dave's men knew the task before them, but they knew, too, that there was no peace until Farne and his gunman had been wiped out. At ten they rode away, taking extra horses for Ward's men. Trant and Sam Loy were left with Joan at the ranch. But Condon, of course, was still laid up, and Nat's leg was not yet well enough to allow him to ride.

"You go to bed and get a good sleep, Joan," were Dave's last words as he rode away, but Joan was far too anxious to sleep. The hours dragged by. When the old clock in the living room struck midnight Joan could stand the house no longer. She went out, climbed the hill and sat with her back against a rock. The night was clear and cool and not a breath of wind stirred. Joan strained her ears for sounds of horses' hoofs, but all she heard was the murmur of the creek far below her lofty perch.

Time paused, Joan grew so cold that she got up and had just reached the house when suddenly came the sound she had longed for. Horses thundering across the high pasture above the valley.

Dave rode up to the door and beside him was Ward Haskell. With a glad cry she ran forward.

"So you got them! You have saved them."

"We got Ward and eight of his men," Dave answered slowly.

"Jim! Don't say you have not got Jim?" The pain in Joan's voice hurt Dave Condon like a stab. He slipped off his horse and put an arm around her.

"We haven't got Jim, my dear," he said gently. "But don't be too scared. Far as Ward knows he ain't dead. Come in and Ward will tell you about it."

In a sort of daze Joan listened to Ward's story—the surprise, the sudden storm, Jim's suggestion that they should attack the Kettle Drum, their struggle down the gorge.

"We were half way down when we missed Jim," he went on. "We stopped and looked but couldn't find him. The rain was clearing and we'd lost our chance to go down to the Kettle Drum. Ben Cottle pulled us out. He knew a way up over the cliff. Farne's chaps spotted us, but they had to ride a long way round and we holed up in the cave at Painted Butte, and there we lay till Dave here came."

Joan said nothing. Her face was like carven stone. For a time there was silence, then Trant asked a question.

"Looks like you licked Farne, Mr. Condon?" Dave nodded.

"We licked him all right. Caught him just like he caught Ward last night, and knocked out four of his killers with the first volley. Rest turned and rode for their lives."

"Did you get Farne?" Trant asked eagerly. Dave shook his head.

"The devil looks after his own," he said bitterly. "He got clear away. We'd have followed only we had to go and find Ward's chaps." He turned to Joan. "Go to bed, girl. You're all in. We'll find Jim for you to-morrow."

"She's hit bad," said Dave to Ward, after Joan had gone. "Do you reckon there's any chance he's alive?"

"Mighty little," said Ward sadly. "It's my notion Jim fell over the creek bank in the dark of that storm. If he did there ain't a hope."

All their triumph at the victory over Farne was quenched by sorrow for Jim's fate, for already everyone had come to like him, and next morning the whole place was curiously quiet. Joan stayed in her room. Dave's promise had failed to cheer her. She felt there was no hope and her heart was dead within her.

Dave and Ward talked long over breakfast. They were anxious to follow up their victory, but wanted more men so as to make certain of finishing the job.

About eleven a rider was seen approaching the house. Someone recognised him as Jake Starr, one of Farne's hands. He was alone and unarmed, and, as he came near, showed a white handkerchief on the end of a stick. Dave went out to meet him.

"White flag, eh?" he said drily. "Come to ask for terms?"

"Come to bring a letter," Starr retorted. "Maybe there's terms in it." Dave took the letter, which was addressed in Farne's hand, to Joan. He called to her, and she came down. It wrung Dave's heart to see how white and worn she looked.

"Better go inside to read it," he advised.

She went in, and he followed. She tore open the envelope, and, as she read, her face changed and lighted with a sort of inner radiance.

"He's alive!" she cried. "Jim's alive!"

"Alive!" Dave repeated. "That's the best news ever. But where is he?"

"In gaol at Loomis. And—and Farne has recognised him. But he says that no one knows who he is, and that he will not tell if I promise to marry him." Dave's blue eyes flamed.

"The dog!" he said. "Ward and I will go right in and take that gaol to pieces. And Farne, too!"

"No—not yet!" Joan begged. "He's given me a week."

"More'n we'll give him," Dave answered. "You stay right here. I'm going to talk to Ward."

He went, and for the next hour he, Ward and Mart Dowling discussed the situation. Then he went back to tell Joan what they had decided.

Joan was not there. He told Sam Loy to find her.

"She gone!" Sam answered. "She ride away on horseback long time ago." Dave's face went gaunt, and his shout brought Ward running.

"She's gone, Ward! She's gone to give herself up to Farne so as to save Jim!"

Sam Loy interrupted.

"Missee Joan, she write letter," he said in his flat voice.

"Then why didn't you give it to me?" growled Dave, as he tore it open.

"She ain't gone to Loomis, Ward—she's gone to Piedra." Ward's eyes widened.

"What for?"

"She don't say." Dave frowned. "It's a long ride, Ward."

"Joan's range bred. She'll do it all right. But I'd like to know what notion she's got in that pretty head of hers."

"We'll know to-morrow," Dave told him. "She's coming back right away."

"But where'll she stay?" Ward wanted to know.

"With my nephew, Mark Logan, and his wife. I gave her a letter to 'em this morning." He lowered his voice. "She didn't want to stay here when she thought Jim was coming back." Ward nodded.

"It's a dirty shame, Dave! She and Jim is just made for one another."

"That's a fact," Dave said simply. "But you know how Jim's fixed."

"I know all about that," Ward answered, "but it don't look like any girl will get him if we don't do something about it."

"Farne won't give him up very easy, Ward. I reckon they got that gaol well guarded."

"And the trails," Ward added "Do you reckon it's any use writing to the Governor of the State, Dave?" Dave shook his head.

"He can't interfere with a regular trial Ward. And seeing as Farne has given Joan a week it looks like he was going to stage this business to make it seem legal. Him and that snide sheriff will fix it. They got plenty evidence to hang Jim for shooting Wesley Garrett." Ward shrugged.

"Likely you're right, Dave. Then all we got to do is to hire every good man we can find and make a fight for it."

"We'll start right away," Dave agreed. "All I hopes is that Farne ain't lying when he says he'll give Joan a week."

"He ain't," said Ward. "I just remembered that the tax-sale is Friday next. That's a week to-morrow. Farne wants that off his mind before he starts anything else. With Jim in prison and us kept out of Loomis, he reckons there won't be no competition."

It was not till late next day that Joan returned. She was tired, and no wonder, for in all she had ridden more than seventy miles. Dave waited to hear what she had to say, but all she told him was that she had seen Mark Logan and his wife, and liked them both, and that Mark had promised to find work for her. Yet there was about her an air of subdued excitement which puzzled Dave. He, however, was too busy to think much of anything else. They couldn't do much. All the country to the south was desert, and the few small ranchers to the north and west were too scared of Farne to come in against him. The whole force that Dave and Ward could raise between them was only a score, while Farne had double that number of gunmen, to say nothing of his hangers-on in Loomis.

Luiz, the Mex boy, rapidly recovered from the snake bite. On the following Tuesday he had a talk with Joan, after which he disappeared. He was away all night, but returned in the morning. He had been to Loomis and brought news that the gaol was heavily guarded, and Farne's gunmen in force in the town. For the rest, all was quiet. The tax sale was at midday on Friday. He had arranged with another young Mexican, Francisco Morales, to watch the sale and bring news of it.

Ward suggested that they raid the town on Thursday night, but, to his surprise, Joan was against it. For some reason of her own she wanted to wait until Morales arrived. Ward and Dave both noticed that Joan's excitement had increased. She ate little and slept badly.

An hour before sunset on Friday, Joan, sitting on a rock high above the house, saw a lone rider coming across the valley. She ran down had reached the door just as a slim young Mexican slipped out of the saddle. Dave and Ward came out of the house, but Joan hardly seemed to see them.

"You have news?" Joan asked breathlessly. The boy's dark face was alive with excitement.

"Great news, Señorita! A tall Englishman came this morning in an airplane and with him an American señor. The sale began. These men stood by themselves, no one troubling them. The ranch of the Circle O. was put up for sale, and the Señor Farne bid five hundred dollars. The tall Englishman said quietly five thousand, all looked at him. Farne's face went red; there was fury in his eyes."

Morales paused. Like all Mexicans, he had a strong sense of the dramatic. He went on.

"Farne cried ten thousand, and the Englishman answered fifteen thousand. Farne said twenty thousand, and the crowd were so silent I could hear my own heart beating. And so they bid, one against another, until the price reached fifty thousand. Then, with a great oath, Farne ceased to bid, and the ranch was given to the Englishman."

"Fifty thousand for the Circle O!" cried Dave. "Who was this crazy bidder?"

"Bill Beverley," Joan answered, her lovely face flushed with excitement. "He is Jim's friend and agent. I cabled him a week ago."

"But how in sense did he get here?"

"In the German airship to New York—then on by 'plane. Don't forget that Jim is a millionaire, Mr. Condon."

"I wonder Farne let him get away with it," said Ward.

"Farne couldn't do any thing," Joan said, "Ezra Holmes, the State Attorney, was with Bill."

"Gee!—that was smart!" declared Dave. "Maybe Holmes can do something about getting Jim out of prison." Morales spoke.

"Señor Holmes and the Señor Englishman have gone away in their airplane. They say they go to Santa Fe."

"Gone to register the sale, I reckon," said Dave, but Joan looked disappointed. At that moment a dull thunder came out of the sky, and Joan gave a cry of delight as she pointed to a 'plane coming at a great height out of the North.

"Here they are! I knew Bill would come. Now we shall have news."

The big 'plane side-slipped down on the flat below the house, and Joan hurried to greet Bill Beverley.

"I knew you would come, Mr. Beverley," she said. "I am Joan Chandler. Let me introduce you to Mr. Dave Condon and Mr. Ward Haskell."

"I know you both for Jim's friends," Bill said warmly as he shook hands. "Well, Miss Chandler, got here in time to buy the ranch, but that doesn't help much. If anything, it's made things worse, for Farne is foaming and, since he can't take it out on anyone else, he'll take it out on Jim. I don't know whether lynching parties are still in fashion in this part of the world but, if I'm not badly mistaken, that's what's in Farne's mind this minute."

Joan went white and looked as If she would faint. Dave put an arm round her.

"That's just about what the dirty dog will do," Dave said harshly. "Ward, we got to get going right away."


WITHIN an hour the Painted Cross party were on their way. Bill Beverley was with them, and Joan, too, insisted on coming. Noah Trant had begged to come, but he was no horseman, and Dave pointed out that they had to ride hard. They rode by Last Chance Pass, and they rode fast.

Aware that the Pass would be guarded they paused at the foot while Ben Cottle with Luiz and Mart Dowling went on afoot. They were to climb the heights above the pass and ambush the ambushers. To the rest the wait seemed endless, but at last firing was heard, and Dave gave the order to move on. Ben Cottle met them.

"We shot two," he told Dave, "but there was three and one's got away. Mart says he's wounded, but that won't make no odds if he gets to town afore us." Dave's lips tightened.

"We got to beat him to it. Come on, boys. Only don't go too fast over the pass or some o' you will break your necks. Remember we need every one of you. Ward and I will lead. Beverley, you take care of Joan."

That desperate ride up the narrow winding, rock-floored pass was the most terrifying experience Bill Beverley had known. There was no moon, but the night was clear, and by the light of stars Dave's little army climbed to the summit, then slid and scrambled down the far side. Once on the level Dave drove in spurs, and he and the rest galloped hard across the desert towards the glow which was Loomis.

All were hoping for sight of the scout who had got away, but there was no sign. A mile from the town Dave pulled up.

"That fellow's got clear away," he told his men. "I reckon he's warned Farne. That means they'll he laying for us this side of town. Ward and me think the best thing we can do is to circle round and come in from the east."

"That's right, boss," came several voices, then they were riding again. The men were grimly silent, but all knew that the fact that Farne had been warned cut their chances by a full half. Joan was desperately anxious. By her wrist-watch it was nearly ten. If Farne really intended to lynch Jim it might be already too late to save him.

Dave's party reached the East side of the town without meeting a soul. He halted them again a few hundred yards from the nearest buildings. He, Ward and Mart talked in low voices.

"They haven't spotted us yet," Bill said to Joan. "Probably they're waiting for us on the West side. I'm wondering if we can't rush the gaol, pull Jim out and hook it before they get wise."

"It would take time to break in," Joan answered. "And there's no shelter. They would shoot us down." She slopped. "Listen!" she said sharply.

Through the cool, crisp night air came an ugly sound—the hoarse roar of many angry voices.

"A mob!" Bill muttered. "That's a crazy crowd, Joan. I'd say most of 'em drunk."

"It's the lynching crowd," said Joan with deadly calm. "They're started."

Dave and the rest knew as well as Joan what the clamour meant. Bignal and Farne had been priming their men with liquor and stirring them to rush the gaol. Ward spoke.

"We got to work quick, Dave, if we want to save Jim's neck."

"If we rides in behind them we might stampede them," Dave said. "Looks like it's our only chance."

"Let's go!" came from the men, who were ready to take any risk to save Jim.

"All right, boys," Dave said. He turned to Bill.

"Beverley, you stay with Joan," he ordered.

Bill bit his lip. He was longing to go to Jim's help, yet too good a man to disobey. Then Dave gave the word, and he and his score of followers were off. Joan caught Bill by the sleeve.

"Dave said you were to stay with me. He didn't say we were to stay here. Come!" Before Bill could find an answer Joan was off, circling away towards the North of the town.

"What's in your mind, Joan?" Bill asked as he came alongside. "The gaol's at the other end of the town."

"And the rest of the town will be deserted," Joan answered in a quick, intense voice. "Listen, Bill. The odds are long against Dave and Ward. But if we could draw some of Farne's men off, our folk stand a chance. There's just one thing will do it, and that I'm going to try."

"But, Joan! You may be killed."

"As if I cared!" was all Joan said, then they were in the town. Joan wheeled her pony into an alley to the right of the main street, then again to the left. Gunfire crashed and roared in the direction of the gaol, but Joan did not slack. She pulled her pony to a skidding halt behind a building and sprang off.

"Have your gun ready," she said to Bill as he came out of the saddle, and Bill saw the starlight reflected on the blued barrel of an automatic in Joan's hand. She ran up the alley, stopped at a door, pushed it open and entered. Bill following, found himself in a store room where barrels and crates of bottles stood around the wall. The place was lit by an oil lamp swung from the ceiling.

"This is the back of Bignal's saloon," Joan whispered. "We are going to set it afire."

"Oh, you are?" came a harsh voice and a blunt-faced man, coatless and with shirt sleeves rolled up, rose from behind a barrel with a pistol which he pointed straight at Bill. Bill leaped sideways. Two guns roared as one. The barkeeper's shot missed Bill, but Joan's bullet, aimed at the lamp, struck the container and at the same time cut away one of the chains holding it. The lamp tipped sideways and burning oil sprayed outwards, falling to the floor in a spout of flame. With a howl of rage the bartender let fly shot after shot, but Joan had already flung herself into shelter behind a barrel and Bill, too, was under cover.

Little flames licked across the floor and suddenly the barman leaped to his feet and bolted for the door leading into the saloon. Bill caught Joan by the arm and dragged her into the open. There were shouts from the saloon, a sound of pounding feet and Joan ran like a hare for the spot where they had left their horses. She flung herself into the saddle and galloped in the direction of the gaol. Bill followed. He could not stop her.

The space outside the gaol was full of men, some mounted, some afoot. Shots rattled like machine-gun fire, and the air was thick with powder smoke. Two of Dave's punchers were working on the door of the gaol with iron bars, trying to break it down. In a flash Joan saw what had happened. Dave's men had ridden down the lynchers but, before they could enter the gaol, Farne's mounted men had arrived. A desperate battle was in progress. Dave's men were outnumbered, several were down, others were firing from behind their dead horses. Without help Dave's little force was doomed. Joan did not hesitate.

"Ride them down, Bill," she cried, and galloped furiously into the rear of Farne's men.


BILL'S heart was in his mouth, but all he could do was ride with her. Yelling like a fiend, he crashed in alongside her.

Their impact split Farne's force. Bill's flaming gun emptied two saddles. Then Joan's mount, shot through the head, dropped like a stone. She fell clear, and Bill, leaping down, pulled her behind her horse's body and dropped beside her.

From somewhere in the distance came a tremendous crash and instantly the night was lit with a blood-red glare.

"Fire!" came a yell. "Fire! The whole town's burning," shouted other voices, and for a moment the blazing guns were silent. A number of men turned and ran back in the direction of the fire.

"Let her burn!" The thunderous order came from Farne himself. "Fight!" Bill caught a glimpse of their chief enemy through the crush, and flung a swift shot. With a scream Farne's horse reared and fell backwards.

"Farne's down," shouted one of Dave's men, and came charging across. He was shot down, but the rest followed, and the fight raged more fiercely than ever. Farne struggled up again, rallying his men. They crowded round the Painted Cross punchers, and Bills heart sank as he thrust fresh cartridges into his pistol. Joan's ruse had failed, and defeat seemed certain.

All was not yet lost. The roar of a motor engine was heard and, in the glare of the mounting flames, a large car came racing down the main street. The driver was protected by a sort of iron shield.

"Trant," breathed Joan and, even as she spoke, the car was up.

"But what can he do?" Bill asked.

The answer came swiftly. With a grinding of brakes the car jerked to a stop, two double barrelled shot-guns were thrust out, and four charges of buck shot smashed into Farne's followers. Packed as they were, hardly one escaped. Men yelled in agony, horses reared and screamed. Dave's men poured in a hail of bullets, and from their shelter behind the dead horse Jim and Joan fired swiftly and with deadly effect.

In a matter of seconds half of Farne's force was down and the rest, paralysed by this unexpected attack, dropped their guns and threw up their hands. Joan scrambled to her feet and ran towards the gaol. Bill followed. He was as anxious as she for Jim's safety. One of the men who had been trying to force the door was down, but the other had finished the job. Joan fled through the opening with Bill Beverley at her heels. Fatty Skaggs, green with fright, cowered against the wall. Bill caught the fat man by the throat.

"The keys!" he demanded. Skaggs was shaking so that he could hardly drag them from his pocket.

"Jim," Bill shouted, as he and Joan hurried into the back of the building.

"Here," came the answer from a cell, and in a trice Bill had the door open, and Jim stepped out into the light. He saw Joan and his eyes lit.

"You!" he exclaimed, and his arms went out. Then they dropped to his sides and he stopped short. Bill spoke.

"Joan got you out, Jim. She set the town on fire to do it, and she's been shooting as well as any man."

"I got you into trouble, Jim, so it was up to me to help you out," Joan said lightly.

"You're not out yet, Chernocke," came a hoarse voice from behind them. They turned and faced Farne. Bleeding from a wound above his left eye, covered with dirt and blood, Murray Farne grasped a pistol in his right hand and glared at the three with murder in his burning eyes. "You're not out yet," he repeated, "and you'll not live to marry Joan." He raised his pistol, pointing straight at Jim's chest.

Without a sound Joan sprang between. The gun crashed, Joan fell. Before her body reached the ground Jim sprang at Farne like a tiger. So swift and furious was his onslaught that Farne went over backwards. His head struck the edge of the steel door of the cell with a sound like a breaking egg, and his great body went limp. Jim did not give him another look. He flung himself down beside Joan. The agony on his face brought a lump to Bill's throat. Quickly Bill knelt and examined the girl.

"She's not dead, Jim," he said. "The bullet went high. Get a doctor."

Jim sprang to obey. As he rushed out Dave came to with Ward Haskell.

"Farne's got away?" Dave began, then he saw Joan lying with blood staining her left shoulder and stopped in horror.

"Farne was trying to shoot Jim," Bill explained swiftly. "She jumped between. Jim killed Farne. He's gone for the doctor. Help me get Joan to bed."

Between them they lifted Joan very carefully and carried her into Skagg's room. It was a rough, untidy place, but the bed was clean. Urban, the old doctor, was already on the spot, and got busy at once. He came out.

"No need to worry," he told the men, who stood anxiously outside. "Her collar-bone's broken and she's lost a lot of blood, but she'll pull through."

"Thank God," said Jim in a low voice, and Bill laid a kindly hand on his shoulder. The doctor went out to attend to the wounded men. Then Dave spoke.

"Farne's dead, so is Lopez, Buck Coulton is dying, and as for Bignal, he's burned out and bust. Looks like the job's finished at last, Jim."

"But what about the charge against Jim?" Bill asked anxiously.

"You don't need to worry about that any more," Dave answered. "We just found Chick Barchard among the wounded. Seems he saw the shooting of Wesley Garnett and is ready to swear Jim acted in self-defence. Says he'd like to have spoke before but was too scared of Farne and Lopez. We've took a signed statement from him, so Jim's safe."

"That's fine," Bill declared, but Jim showed no elation. Dave shook his grizzled head and went out to help the doctor.

* * * * *

ON a blazing afternoon a fortnight later Joan sat with Jim in the pleasant shade of the broad verandah at the Painted Cross. Joan's arm was in a sling and she still looked thin and pale. As for Jim, his brown face was almost gaunt and his eyes had a haunted look.

"It's madness," he was saying. "Do you mean to work all your life for wages when you are really a rich woman? It isn't as if you were going to owe me anything. You can repay me what I paid for the Circle O. Great Southern are offering a quarter of a million for the land." Joan shook her head.

"The land is yours, Jim. You bought it. I have no title in it. So the profit, whatever it is, is yours."

"I don't want it." Jim's voice was sharp. He stopped, drew a quick breath, then went on. "I'm asking you as a favor to take it. It's the last thing I shall ask you. I'm leaving to-morrow." Joan's head fell back, her face went dead white.

"I—I didn't know you were going so soon, Jim." In spite of herself her voice shook and Jim turned away. He dared not look at her. He knew that if he did his last vestige of self-control would snap. He spoke again.

"Joan, I came here to try and clear things up for you. It's Dave and Ward and you who have done the job, yet anyhow it's done. But all the work is wasted if you won't take back the Circle O."

"I can't, Jim. I can't," Joan's voice was a cry of agony. "Don't you see. I can't take anything from you?"

"I don't see it," Jim answered doggedly. "We are friends, aren't we?" Joan said nothing, but her eyes were piteous. Jim's lips were tight. He was trying to think what to say, but his thoughts were whirling. He and Joan both were so wrapped in misery that they never heard a light step behind them. Now came a voice, clear and sweet.

"Don't look so sad, Jim." Jim sprang to his feet.

"Nita!" he said hoarsely.

Nita it was, small, slim, smiling, a vision of delight in her neat riding kit, her delicate skin slightly tanned by the southern sun. "There's really no need to look so worried, my dear," she went on. "You know you never wanted to marry me. Mother just pushed us into it. Bill's my man."

"Bill!" Jim gasped. Nita laughed.

"Of course, only you never saw it. If you don't believe me, ask him. Here he is." Bill Beverley came from the door.

"Do you mind, Jim?" he asked with a smile. Jim looked from one to the other. He saw it was true. He seized Nita and kissed her, then he grasped Bill's hand. Nita turned to Joan and kissed her.

"You dear, foolish girl," she said softly, "But now we are all going to be happy." Bill spoke.

"What about a double wedding, Jim? After that we can tackle the oil field."

"Topping idea," Jim answered. "And since Joan won't have the Circle O. I'm going to deed it to you and Nita as a wedding present. What about it, Joan?"

"The very thing I was going to suggest," said Joan happily.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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