"Heat me up an' I'll burn. Soil wood."
"You're pretty familiar with the Western country?"
"I get around."
"Perhaps you'd recognize this."
He took a scroll from his breast pocket and unrolled the photograph of
the forest and the ranchhouse with the two mountains in the distance.
Wilkes considered it unperturbed.
"Them are the Little Brothers."
"Ah! Then all I have to do is to travel to the foot of the Little
"No, about sixty miles from 'em." "Impossible! Why, the mountains almost
overhang that house."
Wilkes handed back the picture and resumed his eating without reply. It
was not a sullen resentment; it was hunger and a lack of curiosity. He
was not "heated up."
"Any one," said Anthony, to lure the other on, "could see that."
"Sure; any one with bad eyes."
"But how can you tell it's sixty miles?"
"I've been there."
"Well, at least the big tree there and the ranchhouse will not be very
hard to find. But I suppose I'll have to travel in a circle around the
Little Brothers, keeping a sixty-mile radius?"
"If you want to waste a pile of time. Yes."
"I suppose you could lead me right to the spot?"
"That's about fifty-five miles straight north-east of the Little
"How the devil can you tell that, man?"
"That ain't hard. They's a pretty steady north wind that blows in them
parts. It's cold and it's strong. Now when you been out there long
enough and get the idea that the only things that live is because God
loves 'em. Mostly it's jest plain sand and rock. The trees live because
they got protection from that north wind. Nature puts moss on 'em on the
north side to shelter 'em from that same wind. Look at that picture
close. You see that rough place on the side of that tree - jest a shadow
like the whiskers of a man that ain't shaved for a week? That's the
moss. Now if that's north, the rest is easy. That place is north-east of
the Little Brothers."
"By Jove! how did you get such eyes?"
"The reason I'd like to find the house is because - "
"Reasons ain't none too popular with me."
"Well, you're pretty sure that your suggestion will take me to the
"I'm sure of nothing except my gun when the weather's hot."
"Reasonably sure, however? The pine trees and the house - if I don't find
one I'll find the other."
"The house'll be in ruins, probably."
"That picture was taken a long time ago."
"Do you read the mind of a picture, Mr. Wilkes?"
"The tree, however, will be there."
"No, that's chopped down."
"That's going a bit too far. Do you mean to say you know that this
particular tree is down?"
"That's first growth. All that country's been cut over. D'you think
they'd pass up a tree the size of that?"
"It's going to be hard," said Anthony with a frown, "for me to get used
to the West."
"I can ride and shoot pretty well, but I don't know the people, I
haven't worn their clothes, and I can't talk their lingo."
"The country's mostly rocks when it ain't ground; the people is pretty
generally men and women; the clothes they wear is cotton and wool, the
lingo they talk is English."
It was like a paragraph out of some book of ultimate knowledge. He was
not entirely contented with his statement, however, for now he qualified
it as follows: "Maybe some of 'em don't talk good book English. Quite a
pile ain't had much eddication; in fact there ain't awful many like me.
But they can tell you how much you owe 'em an' they'll understand you
when you say you're hungry. What's your business? Excuse me; I don't
generally ask questions."
"That's all right. You've probably caught the habit from me. I'm simply
going out to look about for excitement."
"A feller gener'ly finds what he's lookin' for. Maybe you won't be
disappointed. I've knowed places on the range where excitement growed
like fruit on a tree. It was like that there manna in the Bible. You
didn't have to work none for it. You jest laid still an' it sort of
dropped in your mouth."
He added with a sigh: "But them times ain't no more."
"That's hard on me, eh?"
"Don't start complainin' till you miss your feed. Things are gettin'
pretty crowded, but there's ways of gettin' elbow room - even at a bar."
"And you really think there's nothing which distinguishes the Westerner
from the Easterner?"
"Just the Western feeling, partner. Get that an' you'll be at home."
"If you were a little further East and said that, people might be
inclined to smile a bit."
"Partner, if they did, they wouldn't finish their smile. But I heard a
feller say once that the funny thing about men east and west of the
Rockies was that they was all - "
He paused as if trying to remember.
"Americans, Mr. Bard."
"THIS PLACE FOR REST"
As the white heat of midday passed and the shadows lengthened more and
more rapidly to the east, the sheep moved out from the shade and from
the tangle of the brush to feed in the open, and the dogs, which had
laid one on either side of the man, rose and trotted out to recommence
their vigil; but the shepherd did not change his position where he sat
cross-legged under the tree.
Alternately he stroked the drooping moustache to the right and then to
the left, with a little twist each time, which turned the hair to a
sharp point in its furthest downward reach near his chin. To the right,
to the left, to the right, to the left, while his eyes, sad with a
perpetual mist, looked over the lake and far away to the white tops of
the Little Brothers, now growing blue with shadow.
Finally with a brown forefinger he lifted the brush of moustache on his
upper lip, leaned a little, and spat. After that he leaned back with a
sigh of content; the brown juice had struck fairly and squarely on the
centre of the little stone which for the past two hours he had been
endeavouring vainly to hit. The wind had been against him.
All was well. The spindling tops of the second-growth forest pointed
against the pale blue of a stainless sky, and through that clear air the
blatting of the most distant sheep sounded close, mingled with the light
clangour of the bells. But the perfect peace was broken rudely now by
the form of a horseman looming black and large against the eastern sky.
He trotted his horse down the slope, scattered a group of noisy sheep
from side to side before him, and drew rein before the shepherd.
"Own this land?"
"No; rent it."
"Could I camp here?"
The shepherd lifted his moustache again and spat; when he spoke his eyes
held steadily and sadly on the little stone, which he had missed again.
"Can't think of nobody who'd stop you."
"That your house over there? You rent that?"
He pointed to a broken-backed ruin which stood on the point of land that
jutted out onto the waters of the lake, a crumbling structure slowly
blackening with time.
A shadow of a frown crossed the face of the stranger and was gone again
more quickly than a cloud shadow brushed over the window on a windy city
"Well," he said, "this place looks pretty good to me. Ever fish those
"Don't eat fish."
"I'll wager you're missing some first-class trout, though. By Jove, I'd
like to cast a couple of times over some of the pools I've passed in the
last hour! By the way, who owns that house over there?"
"Same feller that owns this land."
"That so? What's his name?"
The other lifted his shaggy eyebrows and stared at the stranger.
"Ain't been long around here, eh?"
"William Drew, he owns that house."
"William Drew?" repeated the rider, as though imprinting the word on his
memory. "Is he home?"
"I'll ride over and ask him if he can put me up."
"Wait a minute. He may be home, but he lives on the other side of the
"Very far from here?"
"How'll I know him when I see him?"
"Big feller - grey - broad shoulders."
"Ah!" murmured the other, and smiled as though the picture pleased him.
"I'll hunt him up and ask him if I can camp out in this house of his for
"Well, that's your party."
"Don't you think he'd let me?"
"Maybe; but the house ain't lucky."
"Sure. There's a grave in front of it."
"A grave? Whose?"
"Well, it doesn't worry me. I'll drop over the hill and see Drew."
"Maybe you'd better wait. You'll be passin' him on the road, like as
"He comes over here on Tuesdays once a month; to-morrow he's about due."
"Good. In the meantime I can camp over there by that stream, eh?"
"Don't know of nobody who'd stop you."
"By the way, what brings Drew over here every month?"
"Never asked him. I was brung up not to ask questions."
The stranger accepted this subtle rebuke with such an open, infectious
laugh that the shepherd smiled in the very act of spitting at the stone,
with the result that he missed it by whole inches.
"I'll answer some of the questions you haven't asked, then. My name is
Anthony Bard and I'm out here seeing the mountains and having a bully
time in general with my rod and gun."
The sad eyes regarded him without interest, but Bard swung from his
horse and advanced with outstretched hand.
"I may be about here for a few days and we might as well get acquainted,
eh? I'll promise to lay off the questions."
"Glad to know you, Mr. Logan."
"Same t'you. Don't happen to have no fine-cut about you?"
"So'm I. Ran out an' now all I've got is plug. Kind of hard on the teeth
an' full of molasses."
"I've some pipe tobacco, though, which might do."
He produced a pouch which Logan opened, taking from it a generous pinch.
"Looks kind of like fine-cut - smells kind of like the real thing" - here
he removed the quid from his mouth and introduced the great pinch of
tobacco - "an' I'll be damned if it don't taste a pile the same!"
The misty eyes centred upon Bard and a light grew up in them.
"Maybe you'd put a price on this tobacco, stranger?"
"It's yours," said Bard, "to help you forget all the questions I've
The shepherd acted at once lest the other might change his mind, dumping
the contents of the pouch into the breast pocket of his shirt. Afterward
his gaze sought the dim summits of the Little Brothers, and a sad, great
resolution grew up and hardened the lines of his sallow face.
"You can camp with me if you want - partner."
A cough, hastily summoned, covered Bard's smile.
"Thanks awfully, but I'm used to camping alone - and rather like it that
"Which I'd say, the same goes here," responded the shepherd with
infinite relief, "I ain't got much use for company - away from a bar. But
I could show you a pretty neat spot for a camp, over there by the
"Thanks, but I'll explore for myself."
He swung again into the saddle and trotted whistling down the slope
toward the creek which Logan had pointed out. But once fairly out of
sight in the second-growth forest, he veered sharply to the right,
touched his tough cattle-pony with the spurs, and headed at a racing
pace straight for the old ruined house.
Even from a distance the house appeared unmistakably done for, but not
until he came close at hand could Bard appreciate the full extent of the
ruin. Every individual board appeared to be rotting and crumbling toward
the ground, awaiting the shake of one fierce gust of wind to disappear
in a cloud of mouldy dust. He left his horse with the reins hanging over
its head behind the house and entered by the back door. One step past
the threshold brought him misadventure, for his foot drove straight
through the rotten flooring and his leg disappeared up to the knee.
After that he proceeded more cautiously, following the lines of the
beams on which the boards were nailed, but even these shook and groaned
under his weight. A whimsical fancy made him think of the fabled boat of
Charon which will float a thousand bodiless spirits over the Styx but
which sinks to the water-line with the weight of a single human being.
So he passed forward like one in a fabric of spider-webs almost fearing
to breathe lest the whole house should puff away to shreds before him.
Half the boards, fallen from the ceiling, revealed the bare rafters
above; below there were ragged holes in the flooring. In one place a
limb, torn by lightning or wind from its overhanging tree, had crashed
through the corner of the roof and dropped straight through to the
At last he reached a habitable room in the front of the house. It was a
new shell built inside the old wreck, with four stout corner-posts
supporting cross-beams, which in turn held up the mouldering roof. In
the centre was a rude table and on either side a bunk built against the
wall. Perhaps this was where Drew lived on the occasions of his visits
to the old ranchhouse.
Out of the gloom of the place, Bard stepped with a shrug of the
shoulders, like one who shakes off the spell of a nightmare. He strode
through the doorway and took the slant, warm sun of the afternoon full
in his face.
He found himself in front of the only spot on the entire premises which
showed the slightest care, the mound of a grave under the shelter of two
trees whose branches were interwoven overhead in a sort of impromptu
roof. From the surface of the mound all the weeds and grasses had been
carefully cleared away, and around its edge ran a path covered with
gravel and sand. It was a wellbeaten path with the mark of heels still
comparatively fresh upon it.
The headstone itself bore not a vestige of moss, but time had cracked it
diagonally and the chiselled letters were weathered away. He studied it
with painful care, poring intently over each faint impression. He who
cared for the grave had apparently been troubled only to keep the stone
free from dirt - the lettering he must have known by heart. At length
Bard made out this inscription:
WIFE OF WILLIAM DREW
SHE CHOSE THIS PLACE FOR REST
A BIT OF STALKING
It seemed as if the peaceful afternoons of Logan were ended forever, for
the next day the scene of interruption was repeated under almost
identical circumstances, save that the tree under which the shepherd sat
was a little larger. Larger also was the man who rode over the brow of
the hill to the east. The most durable cattle-pony would have staggered
under the bulk of that rider, and therefore he rode a great,
patient-eyed bay, with shoulders worthy of shoving against a
work-collar; but the neck tapered down small behind a short head, and
the legs, for all their breadth at shoulder and hip, slipped away to
small hoofs, and ankles which sloped sharply to the rear, the sure sign
of the fine saddle-horse.
Yet the strong horse was winded by the burden he bore, a mighty figure,
deep-chested, amply shouldered, an ideal cavalier for the days when
youths rode out in armour-plate to seek adventures and when men of
fifty still lifted the lance to run a "friendly" course or two in the
At sight of him Logan so far bestirred himself as to uncoil his long
legs, rise, and stand with one shoulder propped against the tree.
"Evening, Mr. Drew," he called.
"Hello, Logan. How's everything with you?"
He would have ridden on, but at Logan's reply he checked his horse to a
"Busy. Lots of company lately, Mr. Drew."
"Yes, there's a young feller come along who says he wants to see you.
He's over there by the creek now, fishin' I think. I told him I'd holler
if I seen you, but I guess you wouldn't mind ridin' over that way
Drew brought his horse to a halt.
"What does he want of me?"
"Dunno. Something about wanting to hunt and fish on your streams here."
"Why didn't you tell him he was welcome to do what he liked? Must be an
"Wants to bunk in the old house, too. Seems sort of interested in it."
"That so? What sort of a fellow is he?"
"All right. A bit talky. Green; but he rides damn well, an' he smokes
His hand automatically rose and touched his breast pocket.
"I'll go over to him," said Drew, and swung his horse to the left, but
only to come again to a halt.
He called over his shoulder: "What sort of a looking fellow?"
"Pretty keen - dark," answered Logan, slipping down into his original
position. "Thin face; black eyes."
"Ah, yes," murmured Drew, and started at a trot for the creek.
Once more he imitated the actions of Bard the day before, however, for
no sooner had the trees screened him thoroughly from the eyes of Logan
than he abandoned his direct course for the creek. He swung from the
saddle with an ease surprising in a man of such age and bulk and tossed
the reins over the head of the horse.
Then he commenced a cautious stalking through the woods, silent as an
Indian, stealthy of foot, with eyes that glanced sharply in all
directions. Once a twig snapped under foot, and after that he remained
motionless through a long moment, shrinking against the trunk of a tree
and scanning the forest anxiously in all directions. At length he
ventured out again, grown doubly cautious. In this manner he worked his
way up the course of the stream, always keeping the waters just within
sight but never passing out on the banks, where the walking would have
been tenfold easier. So he came in sight of a figure far off through the
If he had been cautious before, he became now as still as night.
Dropping to hands and knees, or crouching almost as prone, he moved from
the shadow of one tree to the next, now and then venturing a glance to
make sure that he was pursuing the right course, until he manoeuvred to
a point of vantage which commanded a clear view of Bard.
The latter was fishing, with his back to Drew. Again and again he cast
his fly out under an overhanging limb which shadowed a deep pool. The
big grey man set his teeth and waited with the patience of a stalking
beast of prey, or a cat which will sit half the day waiting for the
mouse to show above the opening of its hole.
Apparently there was a bite at length. The pole bent almost double and
the reel played back and forth rapidly as the fisher wore down his
victim. Finally he came close to the edge of the stream, dipped his net
into the water, and jerked it up at once bearing a twisting, shining
trout enwrapped in the meshes. Swinging about as he did so, Drew caught
his first full glimpse of Anthony's face, and knew him for the man who
had ridden the wild horse at Madison Square Garden those weeks before.
Perhaps it was astonishment that moved the big man - surely it could not
have been fear - yet he knelt there behind the sheltering tree
grey-faced, wide, and blank of eye, as a man might look who dreamed and
awoke to see his vision standing before him in full sunlit life. What
his expression became then could not be said, for he buried his face in
his hands and his great body shook with a tremor. If this was not fear
it was something very like.
And very like a man in fear he stole back among the trees as cautiously
as he had made his approach. Resuming his horse he rode straight for
"Couldn't find your young friend," he said, "along the creek."
"Why," said Logan, "I can reach him with a holler from here, I think."
"Never mind; just tell him that he's welcome to do what he pleases on
the place; and he can bunk down at the house if he wants to. I'd like to
know his name, though."
"That's easy. Anthony Bard."
"Ah," said Drew slowly, "Anthony Bard!"
"That's it," nodded Logan, and fixed a curious eye upon the big grey
As if to escape from that inquiring scrutiny, Drew wheeled his horse and
spurred at a sharp gallop up the hill, leaving Logan frowning behind.
"No stay over night," muttered the shepherd. "No fooling about that
damned old shack of a house; what's wrong with Drew?"
He answered himself, for all shepherds are forced by the bitter
loneliness of their work to talk with themselves. "The old boy's
worried. Damned if he isn't! I'll keep an eye on this Bard feller."
And he loosened the revolver in its holster.
He might have been even more concerned had he seen the redoubled speed
with which Drew galloped as soon as the hilltop was between him and
Logan. Straight on he pushed his horse, not exactly like one who fled
but rather more like one too busy with consuming thoughts to pay the
slightest heed to the welfare of his mount. It was a spent horse on
which he trotted late that night up to the big, yawning door of his
"Where's Nash?" he asked of the man who took his horse.
"Playing a game with the boys in the bunk-house, sir."
So past the bunk-house Drew went on his way to his dwelling, knocked,
and threw open the door. Inside, a dozen men, seated at or standing
around a table, looked up.
"On the jump, Nash. I'm in a hurry."
There rose a man of a build much prized in pugilistic circles. In those
same circles he would have been described as a fellow with a fighting
face and a heavy-weight above the hips and a light-weight below - a
handsome fellow, except that his eyes were a little too small and his
lips a trifle too thin. He rose now in the midst of a general groan of
dismay, and scooped in a considerable stack of gold as well as several
bright piles of silver; he was undoubtedly taking the glory of the game
"Is this square?" growled one of the men clenching his fist on the edge
of the table.
The sardonic smile hardened on the lips of Nash as he answered: "Before
you've been here much longer, Pete, you'll find out that about
everything I do is square. Sorry to leave you, boys, before you're
broke, but orders is orders."
"But one more hand first," pleaded Pete.
"You poor fool," snarled Nash, "d'you think I'll take a chance on
keepin' _him_ waiting?"
The last of his winnings passed with a melodious jingling into his
pockets and he went hurriedly out of the bunk-house and up to the main
building. There he found Drew in the room which the rancher used as an
office, and stood at the door hat in hand.
"Come in; sit down," said "_him_." "Been taking the money from the boys
again, Steve? I thought I talked with you about that a month ago?"
"It's this way, Mr. Drew," explained Nash, "with me stayin' away from
the cards is like a horse stayin' off its feed. Besides, I done the
square thing by the lot of those short-horns."
"I showed 'em my hand."
"Told them you were a professional gambler?"
"Sure. I explained they didn't have no chance against me."
"And of course that made them throw every cent they had against you?"
"It can't go on, Nash."
"Look here, Mr. Drew. I told 'em that I wasn't a gambler but just a
The big man could not restrain his smile, though it came like a shadow
of mirth rather than the sunlight.
"After all, they might as well lose it to you as to someone else."
"Sure," grinned Nash, "it keeps it in the family, eh?"
"But one of these days, Steve, crooked cards will be the end of you."
"I'm still pretty fast on the draw," said Steve sullenly.
"All right. That's your business. Now I want you to listen to some of
"Your own line."
"That," said Nash, with a smile of infinite meaning, "sounds like the
dinner bell to me. Let her go, sir!"
THE QUEST BEGINS
"You know the old place on the other side of the range?"
"Like a book. I got pet names for all the trees."
"There's a man there I want."
"No. His name is Bard."
"H-m! Any relation of the old bird that was partners with you back about
the year one?"
"I want Anthony Bard brought here," said. Drew, entirely overlooking the
"Easy. I can make the trip in a buckboard and I'll dump him in the back
"No. He's got to _ride_ here, understand?"
"A dead man," said Nash calmly, "ain't much good on a hoss."
"Listen to me," said Drew, his voice lowering to a sort of musical
thunder, "if you harm a hair of this lad's head I'll-I'll break you in
two with my own hands."
And he made a significant gesture as if he were snapping a twig between
his fingers. Nash moistened his lips, then his square, powerful jaw
"Which the general idea is me doing baby talk and sort of hypnotizing
this Bard feller into coming along?"
"More than that. He's got to be brought here alive, untouched, and