I've got of it."
"Well, thar's allers some landmark to a trail, an' I used ter be a
pretty fair tracker. Speed yer hoss up a bit, Jim; we've got to ride
faster than this."
"How about the note she gave you?"
"We'll wait a while to read that. I don't want to strike no light just
yet. Maybe it had best be kept till daybreak."
The men rode steadily, and mostly in silence, a large part of the way
side by side. The animals they bestrode were fairly mated, quite
capable of maintaining their gait for several hours, and needing little
urging. The night air was cool, and a rather stiff breeze swept over
the wide extent of desert, occasionally hurling spits of loosened sand
into their faces, and causing them to ride with lowered heads. The
night gloom enveloped them completely; their strained eyes were
scarcely able to trace the dim outlines of the ridge road, but the
horses were desert broke, and held closely to the beaten track, Before
they arrived at the lone cottonwood, Westcott's pony, which carried by
far the heavier load, began to show signs of fatigue. They drew up
here, and the marshal dismounted, searching about blindly in the
"Too damn dark," he said, coming back, and catching up his rein. "A
cat couldn't find anything there; but there's firm sand. Wait a
minute; I've got a pocket compass."
He struck a match, sheltering the sputtering blaze with one hand. The
light illuminated his face for an instant, and then went out, leaving
the night blacker than before.
"That's south," he announced, snapping the compass-case shut, "and this
blame wind is southeast; that ought to keep us fairly straight."
"The ponies will do that; they'll keep where the travelling is good.
Shift this bag back of your saddle, Dan. You ride lighter, and my
horse is beginning to pant already; that will ease him a few pounds."
The transfer was made, and the two men rode out into the rear desert,
urging their animals forward, trusting largely to their natural
instinct for guidance. They would follow the hard sand, and before
long the scent of water would as certainly lead them directly toward
the spring. With reins dangling and bodies crouched to escape the
blast of the sharp wind, neither spoke as they plunged through the
gloom which circled about them like a black wall.
Yet it was not long until dawn began to turn the desert grey, gradually
revealing its forlorn desolation. Westcott lifted his head, and gazed
about with wearied eyes, smarting still from the whipping of the
sand-grit. On every side stretched away a scene of utter desolation,
unrelieved by either shrub or tree - an apparently endless ocean of
sand, in places levelled by the wind, and elsewhere piled into
fantastic heaps. There were no landmarks, nothing on which the mind
could concentrate - just sand, barren, shapeless, ever-changing form,
stretching to the far horizons. The breeze slackened somewhat as the
sun reddened the east, and the ponies threw up their heads and whinnied
slightly, increasing their speed. Westcott saw the marshal arouse
himself, straighten in the saddle, and stare about, his eyes still dull
"One hell of a view, Jim," he said disgustedly, "but I reckon we can't
be a great ways from that spring. We've been ridin' right smart."
"It's not far ahead; the ponies sniff water. Did you ever see anything
more dismal and desolate?"
"Blamed if I see how even a Mex can run cattle through here."
"They know the trails, and the water-holes - ah! there's a bunch o'
green ahead; that'll likely be Badger Springs."
Assured they were beyond pursuit, the two unsaddled, and turned the
ponies out to crop the few handfuls of wire grass which the sweet water
bubbling up from a slight depression had coaxed into stunted growth.
There was no wood to be had, although they found evidence of several
camp-fires, and consequently they were obliged to content themselves
with what they could find eatable in their bag. It was hardly a
satisfying meal, and their surroundings did not tend toward a joyful
spirit. Except for a few sentences neither spoke, until Brennan,
having partially satisfied his appetite, produced the note given him by
Miss La Rue, and deliberately slashed open the sealed envelope.
"In the name of the law," he said grimly, hauling out the enclosure.
"Now we'll see what's the row. Holy smoke! it's in Spanish! Here,
Jim, do you read that lingo?"
"I know words here and there," and Westcott bent over the paper, his
brows wrinkling. "Let's see, it's not quite clear, but the sense is
that Mendez will be paid a thousand dollars for something - I can't make
out what, only it has to do with prisoners. Lacy says he'll be there
to confer with him some time to-night."
"Where? At Sunken Valley?"
"The place is not mentioned."
"Lacy write it?"
"Yes; at least he signed it; there's a message there about cattle, too,
but I can't quite make it out."
"Well, we don't care about that. If Lacy aims to meet Mendez to-night,
he ought to be along here soon after nightfall. How'd it do to hide in
these sand-hills, and wait?"
"We can do that, Dan, if we don't hit any trail," said Westcott,
leaning over, his hand on the other's knee, "but if we can get there
earlier, I'd rather not waste time. There's no knowing what a devil
like Mendez may do. Let's take a scout around anyhow."
They started, the one going east, the other west, and made a semicircle
until they met, a hundred yards or so, south of the spring, having
found nothing. Again they circled out, ploughing their way through the
sand, and all at once Brennan lifted his hand into the air and called.
Westcott hurried over to where he stood motionless, staring down at the
track of a wagon-wheel. It had slid along a slight declivity, and left
a mark so deep as not yet to be obliterated. They traced it for thirty
feet before it entirely disappeared.
"Still goin' south," affirmed the marshal, gazing in that direction.
"Don't look like there's nothin' out there, but we might try - what do
"I vote we keep moving; that wagon is bound to leave a trail here and
there, and so long as we get the general direction, we can't go far
"I reckon you're right. Come on then; let's saddle up."
It was a blind trail, and progress was slow. The men separated, riding
back and forth, leaning forward in the saddles, scanning the sand for
the slightest sign. Again and again they were encouraged by some
discovery which proved they were on the right track - the clear print of
a horse's hoof; a bit of greasy paper which might have been tied round
a lunch, and thrown away; impresses in the sand which bore resemblance
to a man's footprints; a tin can, newly opened, and an emptied
tobacco-pouch. Twice they encountered an undoubted wheel mark, and
once traces of the whole four wheels were plainly visible. These could
be followed easily for nearly a quarter of a mile, but then as quickly
vanished as the wagon came again to an outcropping of rock. Yet this
was assured - the outfit had headed steadily southward.
This was desperately slow work, and beyond that ridge of rock they
discovered no other evidence. An hour passed, and not the slightest
sign gave encouragement. Could the wagon have turned in some other
direction? In the shadow of a sand-dune they halted finally to discuss
the situation. Should they go on? Or explore further to the east and
west? Might it not even be better to retrace their way to the springs,
and wait the coming of Lacy? All in front of them the vast sand plain
stretched out, almost as level as a floor. So far as the eye would
carry there was no visible sign of any depression or change in
conformity. Certainly there was no valley in that direction. Beyond
this dune, in whose shelter they stood, there was nothing on which the
gaze could rest; all was utter desolation, apparently endless.
Brennan was for turning back, arguing the uselessness of going further,
and the necessity of water for the ponies.
"Come on, Jim," he urged. "Be sensible; we've lost the trail, and
that's no fault o' ours. An Apache Indian couldn't trace a herd o'
steers through this sand. And look ahead thar! It's worse, an' more
of it. I'm for stalking Lacy at the springs." He stopped suddenly,
staring southward as though he had seen a vision. "Holy smoke! What's
that? By God! It's a wagon, Jim; an' it come right up out of the
earth. There wasn't no wagon there a second ago."
CHAPTER XXX: ON THE EDGE OF THE CLIFF
For a moment both men suspected that what they looked upon was a
mirage - its actual existence there in that place seemed impossible.
Yet there was no disputing the fact, that yonder in the very midst of
that desolation of sand, a wagon drawn by straining horses was slowly
moving directly toward them. Westcott was first to grasp the truth,
hastily jerking the marshal back to where the tired ponies stood with
drooping heads behind the protection of the dune.
"It's the same outfit coming back," he explained. "The Sunken Valley
must be out there - just a hole in the surface of the desert - and that's
how that wagon popped up out of the earth the way it did. I couldn't
believe my eyes."
"Nor me neither," and the marshal drew one of his guns, and held it
dangling in his hand. "I'm a bit flustered yet, but I reckon that's
about the truth. Get them ponies round a bit more, an' we'll wait and
see what's behind that canvas."
The distance must have been farther than it seemed, or else the
travelling difficult, for it was some time before the heavy wagon and
straining team drew near enough for the two watchers to determine
definitely the character of the outfit. Westcott lay outstretched on
the far side of the dune, his hat beside him, and his eyes barely able
to peer over the summit, ready to report observations to the marshal
"It's Moore's team, all right," he whispered back, "and Matt is driving
them. There isn't any one else on the seat, so I guess he must be
"We can't be sure of that," returned Brennan, wise in guarding against
surprises. "There was another fellow with him on the out trip, and he
might be lying down back in the wagon. We'd better both of us hold 'em
up. I can hear the creak of the wheels now, so maybe you best slide
down. Is the outfit loaded?"
"Travelling light, I should say," and Westcott, after one more glance,
crept down the sand-heap and joined the waiting man below. Both stood
intent and ready, revolvers drawn, listening. The heavy wheels grated
in the sand, the driver whistling to while away the dreary pull and the
horses breathing heavily. Moore pulled them up with a jerk, as two
figures leaped into view, his whistle coming to an abrupt pause.
"Hell's fire!" was all he said, staring dumbly down into Brennan's face
over the front wheel. "Where in Sam Hill did you come from?"
"I'm the one to ask questions, son," returned the little marshal, the
vicious blue barrel shining in the sunlight, "and the smarter you
answer, the less reason I shall have to hurt yer. Don't reach for that
gun! Are you travelling alone?"
Moore nodded, his hands up, but still grasping the reins.
"Then climb down over the wheel. Jim, take a look under that canvas;
Moore, here, is generally a genial sort o' liar, and we'd better be
sure. All right - hey? Then dismount, Matt, and be quick about it.
Now unbuckle that belt, and hand the whole outfit over to Westcott;
then we'll talk business together."
He shoved his own weapon back into its holster, and faced the prisoner,
who had recovered from his first shock of surprise, and whose
pugnacious temper was beginning to assert itself. Brennan read this in
the man's sulky, defiant glance, and his lips smiled grimly.
"Getting bullish, are you, Matt?" he said, rather softly. "Goin' ter
keep a close tongue in your head; so that's the game? Well, I
wouldn't, son, if I was you. Now, see here, Moore," and the voice
perceptibly hardened, and the marshal's eyes were like flints. "You
know me, I reckon, an' that I ain't much on boys' play. You never
heard tell o' my hittin' anybody just fer fun, did yer?"
There was no answer.
"An' yer never heard no one say," went on Brennan, "that I was afraid
ter hit when I needed to. I reckon also yer know what sorter man Jim
Westcott is. Now the two ov us ain't out here in this damned Shoshone
desert fer the fun of it - not by a jugful. Get that fact into yer
head, son, an' maybe it'll bring yer some sense. Do yer get me?"
"Yes," sullenly and reluctantly. "But yer haven't got nuthin' on me."
"Oh, haven't I? Well, you shut up like a clam, and find out what I've
got. You drove a young woman out here from Haskell night afore last,
for Bill Lacy. Ain't abduction no crime? An' that's only one count.
I've had an eye on you for more'n six months, an' Lacy's been makin' a
damn cat's-paw out of you all that time. Well, Lacy is playin' his
last hand right now, an' I've got the cards." The marshal paused,
fully aware that he had struck home, then added quietly: "It allers
struck me, Matt, that naturally you was a pretty decent fellow, but had
drifted in with a bad crowd. I'm offering you now a chance to get
straight again." He threw back his coat and exhibited his star. "Yer
see, I ain't just talkin' ter yer as Dan Brennan - I'm the law."
The boy, for he was scarcely more than that in years, shuffled his feet
uneasily, and his eyes wandered from Brennan to Westcott. The look of
sullen defiance had vanished.
"Whar is Lacy?" he asked.
"Back in town, but he will be at Badger Springs about dark. We've got
him corralled this time. Yer better climb inter the band-wagon, son;
it's the last call."
"Wotcher wanter ask?"
"Who was with you the out-trip, along with Miss Donovan?"
"And yer left him back there, guarding the girl?"
"He stayed; them was the orders, while I was to bring back the team;
but I reckon he won't need to do no guardin' to speak of, fer we run
inter a bunch o' fellows."
"You got the right dope, marshal, so I reckon I ain't spillin' no
beans. It was the Mex all right, an' some o' his bunch."
"And Lacy didn't know they were there?"
"I reckon not; leastways he never said so, an' they'd only come a few
"How many are they?"
"Maybe a dozen; I don't just know. I saw eight, or ten, round the
bunk-house, besides ol' Mendez an' that dude lieutenant of his, Juan
Cateras. I ain't got no use fer that duck; I allers did want ter soak
him. Then ther' was others out with the cow herd."
"They had a bunch o' cattle?"
"Maybe three hundred head, run in from Arizona. I heard that much, but
I don't talk their lingo."
"What was done with the young lady?"
Moore spat vindictively into the sand, digging a hole with his heel.
He had talked already more than he intended, but what was the
"Cateras took her," he admitted, "but I don't know whar. I rather
liked that girl; she's got a hell ov a lot o' sand, an' never put up a
whimper. I tried ter find out whar she was, but nobody'd tell me.
Then I had ter pull out."
Westcott interjected a question.
"Did you learn if there was any other prisoner there?"
"Not that I heard of. Who do yer mean?"
"A man named Cavendish."
"No, I reckon not." He turned back to the marshal.
"What are you guys goin' ter do with me?"
"That depends, Matt. When a lad is straight with me, I generally play
square with him. All this took place in Sunken Valley?"
"Yep; whar'd you hear it called that?"
"Oh, I know more'n some ov you boys think I do. That name's been
floatin' 'bout fer some time. I've even got the spot located - it's
straight south thar a ways. But you've been in it, an' I never have.
Here's whar you can serve the law, an' so get out of yer own trouble if
yer so minded. It don't make a hell ov a lot o' difference to me
whether yer speak up or not, but it's liable to ter you. What do yer
"Fire away; I reckon I'm up against it anyhow."
"What's the valley like, an' how do you get into it?"
"Well, I'd say it was just a sort o' sink in the desert, a kinder
freak. Anyhow, I never saw nuthin' like it afore. You'd never know it
was thar a hundred yards away; it kinder scares me sometimes when I
come up to it thro' all this sand. The walls is solid rock, almost
straight up an' down, but thar's a considerable stream flowin' down
thar that just bursts out a hole in the rock, an' plenty o' grass fer
quite a bunch of steers."
"How do they get down into it?"
"'Long a windin' trail on the west side. It used to be mighty rough, I
reckon, an' only good fer hikers, but they fixed it up so they can
drive cattle down, an' even a wagon if yer take it easy."
"Mendez fixed it?"
"No; I heerd that Bill Lacy sorter handled that job. The Mex can't do
nuthin' but steal."
"Then Lacy is the go-between? He sells the cattle?"
"Sure; I s'posed yer knew that. He ships them east from Bolton
Junction, an' pretends they come from his ranch over on Clear Water.
The Mexicans drive 'em in that way, an' they're all branded 'fore they
leave the valley. It's a cinch."
The marshal's eyes brightened; he was gaining the information he most
"And there is no other way to the bottom except along this trail?"
"That's 'bout all."
"Well, could Jim and I make it - say after dark?"
Moore laughed, the reckless boy in him again uppermost.
"Mebbe so; but I reckon ye'd be dead when yer got thar. Thar's allers
two Mexes on guard when Mendez is in the valley. He ain't takin' no
chances o' gettin' caught that way."
"Where are they?"
"Just below the top, whar they kin see out over the desert. Hell, yer
couldn't get within half a mile an' not be spotted. It's bull luck yer
run inter me."
Brennan and Westcott looked at each other, both uncertain as to the
next step. What were they to do with their prisoner? And how could
they proceed toward effecting the rescue of the helpless girl? It was
a problem not easy to solve, if what Moore told them was true. The
latter shuffled his feet in the sand, lifted his eyes shrewdly, and
studied the faces of his captors. He was figuring his own chance.
"You fellows want ter get down inter the valley?" he asked at last.
"Yes," and Brennan turned again quickly, "if it can be done. Of course
thar's only two of us, an' it would be sort o' foolish tryin' ter fight
a way through, even ag'in' Mexicans. Fifteen ter two is some odds, but
'tain't in my nature, or Jim's here, ter turn round an' leave that girl
in the hands o' them cusses - is it, Jim?"
"I never will," replied Westcott earnestly. "Not if I have to tackle
the whole outfit alone."
"You won't never have to do that. What's the idea, Moore?"
"Oh, I was just thinkin'," he answered, still uncertain. "She's a good
fellow, all right, an' I wouldn't mind givin' her a hand myself,
pervidin' you men do the square thing. If I show yer a way, what is
thar in it fer me?"
Brennan stiffened, his features expressing nothing.
"What do yer mean? I'm an officer o' the law?"
"I know it; I ain't asking yer ter make no promise. But yer word will
go a hell ov a ways if this ever gets in court.
"If I help yer I've got ter be protected frum Bill Lacy. He'd kill me
as quick as he'd look at me. Then I'd want yer ter tell the judge how
it all happened. If yer got the cards stacked, an' I reckon yer have,
I ain't big enough fool to try an' play no hand against 'em. But I
want ter know what's goin' ter happen ter me. You don't need ter
promise nuthin'; only say yer'll give me a show. I know ye're square,
Dan Brennan, an' whatever yer say goes."
The marshal stuck out his hand.
"That's the gospel truth, Matt," he said gravely, "an' I'm with yer
till the cows come home. What is it you know?"
"Well," with a quick breath as he took the plunge, "it's like this,
marshal; there is just one place out yonder," and he waved his hand to
indicate the direction, "on the east rim o' the valley, where yer might
get down. Ye'd have ter hang on, tooth an' toe-nail; but both of yer
are mountain men, an' I reckon yer could make the trip if yer took it
careful an' slow like. Leastwise that's the one chance, an' I don't
believe thar's another white critter who even knows thar is such a
"Have you ever been down?"
"Wunst, an' that was enough fer me," he confessed, drawling his words.
"Yer see it was this a-way. One time I was out there in that hell hole
plum' alone fer a whole week, just a waitin' fer Mendez ter show up so
I could ride into Haskell and tell Lacy he'd come. It was so damn
lonesome I explored every nook an' cranny between them rocks, an' one
day, lyin' out in front o' ther bunk-house, I happened to trace this
ol' trail. I got a notion to give it a trial, an' I did that same
afternoon. I got down all right, but it was no place fer a lady,
believe me, an' I reckon no white man ever made it afore."
"It had been used once?"
"There was some signs made me think so; Injuns, I reckon, an' a long
Westcott asked: "How can we get there safely? Can you guide us?"
Moore swept his eyes over the dull range of sand, expectorated
thoughtfully, and rammed his hands deep into his trouser-pockets. He
was slow about answering, but the two men waited motionless.
"If it was me," he said finally. "I'd take it on foot. It'll be a
jaunt ov near on to three miles, unless yer want ter risk bein' seen by
them Mexes on the main trail. You couldn't go straight, but would have
ter circle out an' travel mostly behind that ridge o' sand thar to the
left. Goin' that a-way nobody's likely ter get sight o' yer on foot.
You couldn't take no hoss, though. Here'd be my plan; lead this yere
outfit o' mine an' your ponies back inter them sand dunes whar nobody
ever goes. They're tired 'nough ter stand, an' there ain't anything
fer 'em to graze on. Then we kin hoof it over ter the place I'm
tellin' yer about, an' yer kin sorter size it up fer yerselves. That's
fair, ain't it?"
They went at it with a will, glad to have something clearly defined
before them, Brennan in his slow, efficient way, but Westcott, eager
and hopeful, spurred on by his memory of the girl, whose rescue was the
sole object which had brought him there. The team was driven into the
security of the sand drifts and unhitched. The saddles were taken from
the backs of the ponies, and what grain Moore had in the wagon was
carefully apportioned among the four animals. Satisfied these would
not stray, the men looked carefully to their supply of ammunition and
set forth on their tramp.
This proved a harder journey than either Brennan or Westcott had
anticipated, for Moore led off briskly, taking a wide circle, until a
considerable ridge concealed their movements from the south. The sand
was loose, and in places they sank deeply, their feet sliding back and
retarding progress. All three were breathing heavily from the exertion
when, under protection of the ridge, they found better walking.
Even here, however, the way was treacherous and deceiving, yet they
pressed forward steadily, following the twists and turns of the pile of
sand on their right. The distance seemed more than three miles, but at
last Moore turned sharply and plunged into what resembled a narrow
ravine through the ridge. Here they struggled knee deep in the sand,
but finally emerged on the very rim overlooking the valley.
So perfectly was it concealed they were within ten feet of the edge
before the men, their heads bent in the strenuous effort to advance,
even realised its immediate presence. They halted instantly,
awestruck, and startled into silence by the wonder of that scene
outspread below. Moore grinned as he noted the surprise depicted on
their faces, and waved his hand.
"Yer better lie down an' crawl up ter the edge," he advised. "Some
hole, ain't it?"
"I should say so," and Westcott dropped to his knees. "I never dreamed
of such a place. Why it looks like a glimpse into heaven from this
sand. Dan, ain't this an eye-opener?"
"It sure is," and the marshal crept cautiously forward. "Only it's
devils who've got possession. Look at them cattle up at the further
end; they don't look no bigger than sheep, but there's quite a bunch of
'em. What's that down below, Matt? Houses, by Jingo! Well, don't
that beat hell? - all the comforts of home."
"Two big cabins," explained Moore, rather proud of his knowledge.