15 Collected Westerns of Zane Grey - Zane Grey - E-Book

15 Collected Westerns of Zane Grey E-Book

Zane Grey

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Beschreibung

Zane Gray was an American author, known on both sides of the ocean for his Westerns – popular novels and adventure stories that represented a solid, idealized image of the Old West. From his pen came out over 60 books of westerns, on which more than 100 films were shot. The multibook includes the most read novels of the author, such as: «Forlorn River», «Nevada», «Arizona Ames», «Majesty’s Rancho», «Knights of the Range», «Under the Tonto Rim», «The Thundering Herd», «West of the Pecos», «The Hash Knife Outfit», «Twin Sombreros», «Lost Pueblo», «The Trail Driver», «The Drift Fence», «Valley of Wild Horses», «The Wilderness Trek».

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Contents

Forlorn River

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

Nevada

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

Arizona Ames

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

Majesty’s Rancho

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

Knights of the Range

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

Under the Tonto Rim

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

The Thundering Herd

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

West of the Pecos

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

The Hash Knife Outfit

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

Twin Sombreros

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

Lost Pueblo

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

The Trail Driver

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

The Drift Fence

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

CHAPTER NINETEEN

CHAPTER TWENTY

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Valley of Wild Horses

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

CHAPTER TEN

CHAPTER ELEVEN

CHAPTER TWELVE

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The Wilderness Trek

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

Forlorn River

CHAPTER I

BEN IDE named this lonely wandering stream Forlorn River because it was like his life.

Ben was well-born and had attended school until sixteen years of age, but from the time he had given up to his passion for the open country and the chase of wild horses he had gotten nowhere. That seemed the way of Forlorn River. It had its beginning in Clear Lake, a large body of surface water lying amid the Sage Mountains of northwestern California. It had begun well enough at its source under the beautiful rounded bare mountains of gray sage, and flowed bravely on for a few miles, then suddenly it became a lost river. That was what it was called by the Indians.

It meandered around under the foothills with their black fringe of juniper, into the wide gray valleys where thousands of wild horses roamed; to and fro across the open country as if seeking escape, on toward the dark pine-timbered ranges of Nevada; and back again, a barren little stream without creeks or springs to freshen it, a wilderness waterway, dear to the Indian and horse-hunter and cowboy; slackened by the thirsty Clay Flats to the west, and crowded away on the north by the huge red bluff that blocked entrance into Wild Goose Basin, forced at last to describe a wandering hundred-mile circle and find on the other side of the sage-hills, not far from its source, a miserable sand-choked outlet into the vast level ranch and pasture-land which had once been the bottom of Tule Lake.

Ben’s gray weather-beaten cabin partook somewhat of the melancholy austerity of the country, yet it was most picturesquely located on the south shore of the big lake, on the only elevated and wooded cape that jutted out into the wind-ruffed waters. Forlorn River was born just under his door, for his cabin did not face the lake, but the river and the west. Ben could watch the aimless windings of the stream for many a mile. Scattered juniper trees saved this slight eminence of land from the baldness of the irregular shore line. Clear Lake was ten miles round, and everywhere but at this point the gray sage reached down to the white high-water line. Back from the cabin where the cape widened stood a large well-built barn, which adjoined an enormous corral. Spirited horses kicked up the dust, and whistled, perhaps to their wild kindred in plain sight on the distant gray slopes, swelling toward the blue sky. Barn and corral, presenting such marked contrast to the little gray cabin, might have told an observant eye that Ben Ide loved horses and thought little of himself.

Spring had come late, the dryest of six successive dry springs. Clear Lake was lower than ever before in the memory of the Modoc Indians, who had lived there always. The white baked earth spread a long distance down from the sage line to the water. Flocks of ducks dotted the yellow surface of the lake. Wild geese tarried here on the way north, and every hour of day or night Ben heard their resonant and melodious honk, honk, honk. It was high country. Frost glistened on the roof of the barn and ice glinted along the shores of Forlorn River. Snow peaks notched the blue sky above the black-timbered range of Nevada mountains. The air was cold and crisp, fragrant with the scent of sage.

Ben Ide came out on the porch to gaze across the river and the long gray slope that led up to a pass between two of the Sage Mountains. His keen eye followed the winding thread that was a trail disappearing over the notch.

“No use to worry. But they ought to have got back last night,” he muttered, as he again scanned the trail.

Then from force of habit he looked on up the vast heave and bulge of the mountain, so softly and beautifully gray and purple in the morning sunlight. Here he did not meet with disappointment. Nine wild horses were in sight, two pure white that shone wonderfully in the clear air, and the rest all black. They lived on that mountain-top. They had been there all the four years Ben had lived at Forlorn River. During the first year of his sojourn there he had often chased them, as much for sport as for profit. But the advantage had always been theirs, and as they could not be driven from the great dome of this mountain, he let them alone, and came at last to watch for them in pleasure and love. When there was snow on the slopes they never left the mountain, and in summer, when they ventured down to the lake to drink, it was always at night. They never raised a colt and never took a strange horse into their band.

Just the mere sight of them had power to thrill Ben Ide. He hailed them gayly, as if they were as near as his own whistling horses in the corral. He gloried in their beauty, freedom, and self-sufficiency. He understood them. They were like eagles. They could look far away and down, and see their kindred, and their enemy, man. Years had taught them wisdom.

“Oh, you wild horses, just how long will you last up there?” he cried, poignantly. “Another dry year means your doom! Nothing to eat but sage, and the water going fast!”

That reminded Ben of his own long-unrealized hopes. If he were ever to catch a valuable string of wild horses and prove to his father that wild-horse hunting was not profitless, not the calling of a wanderer and outlaw, he must do it this year. If he were ever to catch California Red, the sorrel stallion that more than anything had lured him into this wild lonely life, he must accomplish the almost hopeless task before another dry season killed all the horses or drove them far out of the country.

Fifteen thousand wild horses grazed in that sage country between the gray California mountains and the Nevada ranges. They were the bane of the cattlemen who had begun to work back into the wild country. Horses were so plentiful and cheap in Oregon and California that there was no sale for any except good stock. Ben Ide was chasing a rainbow and he knew it. Yet something irresistible bound him. He would rather catch one beautiful wild mustang and keep it for himself than sell a hundred common horses at a profit. That very failing had ruined him. Ranchers had made attractive deals with Ben Ide, deals calculated to earn him money and free their ranges from these pests of wild horses, but Ben had always fallen short of success. At the crucial times he had loved the horses, not the money. He could not be brutal to the fiercest stallion, and he could not kill the meanest mustang.

Along the winding trail below the notch between the Sage Mountains appeared low rolling clouds of yellow dust.

“Nevada and Modoc. Good!” ejaculated Ben, as he watched with squinting eyes. “Traveling along right pert, too. That means they’ve sold my horses…. Wonder if I’ll hear from home.”

Ben Ide had never failed to look and hope for some word from home, though seldom indeed did he get any. Sometimes his sister Hettie, who alone remained true to him, contrived to send him a letter. The last one had been received six months ago. With the return of spring dormant feelings seemed to revive in Ben. During the long cold winter he had lived somewhat like a hibernating bear. The honk of the wild geese and the new fragrance of sage, the gray slopes coming out of the snow, and the roving bands of wild horses–these stirred in his heart the old wandering urge to get into the hills, and along with it awakened keener memories of mother and sister, of his stern father, of the old ranch home and spring school days.

He sat on the porch, bareheaded, and watched the moving clouds of dust come down to a level and fade into the gray sage along the lake. Black dots appeared and grew in size, and at length took the shape of horses. Watching them, Ben experienced a familiar old thrill–the vague boyish emotion he had learned to associate with sight of the wild lonely country and the smell of sage and whistle of mustangs, sunrise and the long day ahead. But happiness no more attended this fleeting state. He had thought too much; he had grown older; he had realized that he must find something more significant to live for. Not that the wild open country did not suffice! But he was unsatisfied and could not divine why.

Horsemen and pack-horses wound along the gray sage-slope shore line, splashed through the shallow mouth of Forlorn River, and climbed to the level shady patch in front of the cabin.

A stout square-faced Indian, dressed like a cowboy and wearing his hair short, was in the lead. The other rider was a striking figure. He sat in his saddle as if he had grown there. His hair was long and black, showing under a dilapidated old sombrero. He had a lean face, clean and brown, a long nose, and piercing dark eyes, and an expression of reckless good nature. He wore a checkered blouse, a flowing scarf of red, a silver-buckled belt about his lean waist, and rough leather chaps. From a pocket of these, low down, protruded the brown handle of a heavy gun.

“Howdy, Ben!” he called, as he slid out of his saddle. “Made a jim-dandy deal with the hosses. Paid all your debts an’ got six months’ grub. How about that, old timer?”

“Nevada, if you’re not lying, it’s sure great,” replied Ben, heartily.

“It’s true, Ben, I’m darn glad to say,” said Nevada. “An’ here’s a letter from your sister. I just rode over to the ranch, sent a kid in to tell Hettie, an’ waited.”

“Oh, but you’re a life-saver!” declared Ben, as he eagerly grasped the thick envelope Nevada held out. “I was feeling pretty blue.”

“We had supper in town, an’ have been ridin’ ever since,” returned Nevada, wearily.

“Say, you must be tired and hungry…. And how’re you, Modoc?”

“Bad. Town no good for Indian,” replied the Modoc, with a grin.

“Ben, I wouldn’t trade this camp for any town on earth,” declared Nevada.

“Neither would I, if you and Modoc were here. It’s been lonesome,” said Ben, as he set to the task of unpacking the three laden horses. Presently Modoc led away the smoking wet animals.

“Nevada, this is an awful lot of stuff,” continued Ben, surveying the large assortment of boxes, bags, and bales.

“Bought every darn thing I could think of,” rejoined Nevada, mildly.

“First time I’ve felt rich for years. Now I’ll pack this outfit inside and then get some breakfast.”

It took all of the small storeroom, the kitchen shelves, and half of the loft of Ben’s cabin to hold the new supplies. While Ben worked at this task Nevada lay on one of the narrow red-blanketed couches and talked.

“Got an all-fired lot of news,” he said, complacently, “if I can only remember. Reckon though it won’t make any difference how it comes…. Ben, your dad has made a pile of money. Sold two thousand acres that used to be under water, they said. The drainin’ of Tule Lake made your dad rich. But he ain’t the only one. Hart Blaine had the most of that low land. I loafed around Hammell in the saloons an’ stores, waitin’ for it to get dark, so’s I could sneak over to your dad’s ranch. An’ I shore asked questions. All the ranchers livin’ away from Tule Lake drains have been hard hit by the drought. Stock poor an’ grass scarce. It’s an ill wind that blows nobody good. This dry spell hasn’t hurt your dad or Blaine, or any of them farmers in the middle of the basin. But if Forlorn River dries up this summer they’re goin’ to be in the same boat with the others…. I run into that McAdam guy an’ he wasn’t overly civil askin’ about you. I strung him good an’ plenty when all the time I wanted to slam him on his slick jaw. One of the waitresses told me he had a cinch on the Blaine girl–I forgot her name–the one that’s been away to school. An’–”

“Was it Ina?” interrupted Ben, quickly.

“Yep, shore was. Sort of pretty little handle to Blaine, huh?”

“Ina Blaine,” said Ben, dreamily, pausing in his task. “She ought to be nineteen now.”

“Pard, was this Ina Blaine an old girl of yours?” queried Nevada, with great interest. But as there was no reply forthcoming he went on: “Reckon she was only a kid when you left home…. Well, to resoom, I hired a lad to take me over to your dad’s place, while Modoc rode on with the pack outfit. Smart little fellar, keen about wild-hoss huntin’. No use talkin’, Ben, there’s somethin’ about a wild hoss that gets even a boy. He rode behind me an’ we got to the ranch before dark. I hid outside in a grove of trees an’ sent the kid in. It was just a gamble, you know, because there was ten to one he’d run into somebody else beside Hettie. But, by golly! she came to the door, he said, an’ we waited. Hettie slipped out with the letter I gave you…. Ben, she’s grown up. I couldn’t see her as well as I’d have liked, but it was enough. She was nice, Ben, soft-voiced an’ sweet–an’ it got me. Reckon I’d better not pull this letter stunt for you again. But she asked me to come an’ I was fool enough to promise…. So I took the kid back to Hammell, an’ hung around some more…. Ben, there’s an outfit of wild-hoss hunters over here between Silver Meadow an’ the Nevada line that’s takin’ to stealin’ cattle.”

“Who said so?” demanded Ben, suspiciously.

“Common gossip round Hammell,” continued Nevada. “But after buyin’ some drinks for two cowboys I got a hunch who’d branded wild-hoss hunters as cattle thieves. Nobody else but Less Setter. You know we run into some of his deals last summer, an’ he rode right in here one day when you was away. Ben, I’m tellin’ you Less Setter is not on the level.”

“How do you know?” queried Ben, sharply.

“How do you know a hoss that’s thoroughbred from one that ain’t? But it’s only fair for me to admit that I knowed Less Setter before he came to California.”

“Ahuh!” ejaculated Ben, with intent gaze on his friend’s masklike face. That statement of Nevada’s was absolutely the first he had ever made in reference to his past. Years before, one night back in the sage hills, Nevada had ridden up to Ben’s lonely campfire. He had a wound in his arm; he was exhausted and almost starved; his horse limped. Ben expressed himself twice: “Get down and come in, stranger,” and, “Where are you from?” The answer had been “Nevada.” Ben had succored this rider and had never asked another question. Nevada had become attached to Ben and had never mentioned his past.

“What’s more to the point,” went on Nevada, calmly, “Less Setter knowed me. An’ it’s a good bet he has never gabbed about me. If he had–your folks might reckon I wasn’t fit company for you.”

“Ha! Ha!” laughed Ben, bitterly. “Nevada, don’t talk in riddles. Tell me anything or not, just as you like. I love you for what you are, not what you might have been.”

“Ben, you’re talkin’ strong,” said Nevada, with his piercing eyes softening. “Reckon no one ever loved me in all my life till now–if you really do. I wouldn’t want you to throw around such talk careless, you know.”

“Well, I do,” declared Ben, stoutly.

“All right, pard,” replied Nevada, and there was a beautiful light in the gaze he bent on Ben. “We make a good or bad pair to draw to, accordin’ to the draw…. I get queer hunches sometimes. Not many, but when I get one I can tie to it. An’ I’ve had a hunch your bad luck has changed. It came to me when Hettie put that letter in my hands. Funny feelin’, Ben. It’s not a thought. It just comes from somewhere outside.”

At this moment the Indian entered with his slow silent tread and taking up the water pails he went out. Ben replenished the fire in the wide stone fireplace, and then set swiftly to the preparation of biscuits, coffee, bacon. His mind worked as swiftly as his hands.

“I’d like to believe the tide of my fortune has turned,” he said, seriously. “It sure was lucky I sent you. I’m no fellow to sell or buy, to make deals and carry them out. But you’re as smart as a whip, Nevada, and for me at least you drive good bargains.”

“Ben, have you noticed anythin’ particular about me?” inquired Nevada, complacently.

“Can’t say I do,” returned Ben, looking up from his work. “You’ve got a nice clean shave an’ a new scarf.”

“No good. You lose. Ben, I didn’t have one single solitaree drink at Klamath or Hammell. The reason was I had a hunch I might see your sister Hettie, an’ I didn’t want her to smell whisky on me.”

“That’s to your credit, Nevada. I’ll bet it would please Hettie…. But what about it?”

“Nothin’, only I feel better. Reckon I’ll quit drinkin’,” rejoined Nevada, thoughtfully. “Ben, if I ketch California Red for you–”

“What?” shouted Ben, jumping as if he had been struck.

“Excoose me, pard. I meant if I help you ketch that darned wild stallion you’re so dotty about will you listen to some sense?”

“Yes, Nevada. I’ll listen to that right now. But see here, you’ve heard something about California Red.”

“Sure have an’ it’ll keep. I want some breakfast an’ if I told you where that red hoss is you’d chuck everythin’ an’ run.”

Ben thrilled at the words and at the bright light in Nevada’s eyes, but he smothered his burning eagerness.

“Reckon I don’t know whether this is sense or the hunch I mentioned,” said Nevada. “But it’s got me, pard. Now listen. We’ve homesteaded three hundred an’ twenty acres of this sage. There are three homesteads we can buy for almost nothin’. That acreage takes in the best of Forlorn River Valley an’ gives control of the range beyond. Right here under our noses is a big cattle country. Let’s go in for cattle, Ben…. Damn! Don’t look like that. I tell you I’ve had a hunch. Now’s the time to buy cattle, when there’s no water or grass. Let’s make up our minds an’ get the money afterwards. When the rains come this Clear Lake country is goin’ to boom. The wild hosses have got to go. You admit that, Ben. Well, let’s ketch California Red an’ a thousand head, an’ keep them for ourselves, an’ settle down to ranchin’ on a big scale.”

“Nevada, you said you didn’t have one drink.”

“I swear I hadn’t.”

“What’s got into you then?”

“Sense an’ hunch.”

“Nevada, how long did you talk to my sister?” queried Ben, gravely.

“It seemed like a few swift seconds, but I reckon it might have been longer,” replied Nevada, with unconscious revelation of enchantment.

“What did Hettie say?” continued Ben, hungrily.

“She remembered me, but all the same she asks, ‘You’re Ben’s Friend, Nevada?’ an’ I answers I was. Then she fired a beltful of questions at me, all about how you were, an’ I shore answered quick. After that she looked square up at me–reckon it was then I fell–an’ she asks, ‘Nevada, if you’re Ben’s friend you’re mine, too. Tell the truth. Are you an’ Ben livin’ honest?’ An’ I says, ‘Miss Hettie, I wouldn’t lie to no girl, let alone you. Me an’ Ben are shore livin’ honest!’ … She squeezed my hands an’ cried. It was awful for me. Then she fired up. ‘Aren’t you two boys ashamed to be thought–what you are? This is a new country. It’ll be big. You’re young, strong. You’re great riders. Why don’t you do somethin’? Chase wild hosses, if you must, but ketch them. Sell them. Buy cattle. Homestead land. Study an’ think an’ plan, an’ work. Fool these hard-shelled old people! Make big ranchmen out of yourselves.’ … Pard Ben, you could have roped me with a cobweb. An’ there I stood, burstin’ to talk, but couldn’t say a word. She told me how to fetch word from you an’ then she ran off.”

“Hettie! God bless her!” exclaimed Ben, heartily. “I’m not surprised. Even as a kid she was bighearted. Hettie has grown up. She’s sixteen. And to think I’ve not seen her for two years!”

Modoc returned with the pails of water. Ben soon had breakfast ready, and when his companions sat down at the rude table he went outside to read Hettie’s letter. He threw himself in the shade and with trembling fingers tried to open the envelope quickly yet not tear it.

The Ranch.

Dearest Ben:

I’m in a terrible rush and won’t be able to write half what I want to, as the little boy said “Nevada” is waiting for me outside and I must hurry. Oh, how I wish it were you!

Dad is away. He went to Klamath Falls with Mr. Setter. They’re making big cattle deals. So many poor ranchers are failing on account of the dry season. I think it’d be more to dad’s credit if he helped some of these little fellows, instead of taking advantage of their bad luck. I don’t like Mr. Setter, and when I see you I’ll tell you why.

Ben, it’s a long time since I wrote you last. Nearly a year. I’m through high school. Dad wants me to go to college and mother wants me to stay home. Dad and Mr. Blaine and several more of the old lake pioneers have made an awful lot of money since the government drained Tule Lake. I don’t know whether it’s good or not. In a few ways it’s nice, but there’s something gone. Dad always was hard, you know, and now he has gotten “stuck up.” And I’m afraid I must tell you that your brothers and sisters (except me) are almost as bad. I’d like to write you just what they do, but you must wait until I can tell you. And that brings me to the important thing in this letter.

Mother is not well, Ben. There’s no use to dodge the truth. She’s failing. It breaks my heart. You were her favorite, Ben, and she has pined in secret. I believe dad’s bitter hardness about you, his injustice to you, has broken mother. Anyway, she is ailing and I know longs to see you. She’d obey dad, of course, and not ask you to come. But you can surprise her. And, Ben, dearest, if you could only prove to mother that you were not wasting your life–that these vile things Mr. Setter and others have told dad are lies–I think she might improve. So the day you get this ride in to the ranch. I’ll be looking for you down the lane just about dusk. You can see mother for a little, and then you and I will go out in the grove and have a long, long talk.

I’ve a lot to tell you, Ben, about what’s going on here. And I’m going to put some pretty plain questions to you. Dare say you’ll know some of them before you see me, because if I have a minute with this “Nevada” I’ll sure put some to him.

Ben, I mustn’t end this without a word about Ina Blaine. She’s home from school. I was afraid to meet her, but, oh! Ben, she’s as sweet and nice as ever she was when you and she were kid sweethearts and I was forever pestering you. And she’s lovely. School has improved her, that’s certain, and if it weren’t for mother I’d grasp my opportunity and go.

I’ve seen Ina three times. I believe we’re going to be friends. We think the same about a lot of things. Ina isn’t crazy about money, and I’ll miss my guess if she goes in for the town gayety that has struck the Blaine family.

Ben, she remembers you. I’m not in her confidence yet, but I can feel how she feels. She likes you, Ben. I don’t believe the years of school have made any difference in her, except to improve. The difference in her looks, though, is tremendous. You’ll not know Ina. Already she’s heard this village gossip about you. For she asked me straight out. I told her no, that you had your choice and took it. She wants to help you, and says we are arch plotters. She was awfully curious about that terrible wild horse they say you’re mad to catch. Brother, you know I wouldn’t mislead you, and I’m telling you I couldn’t make a mistake about how I feel–or mother–or Ina Blaine. And if we care for you still you’ve got to do something. She’ll be the richest and most popular girl in this whole valley of towns and ranches. Do you imagine that’ll ever change her? No! Ben, you’ve more to catch around these sage hills than a beautiful wild mustang. You’ve your boyhood’s sweetheart, Ina Blaine. So there!

I must close now, but it’s hard. Don’t let anything keep you from coming. I’m quite capable of riding out to Forlorn River.

With love, Hettie.

When Ben finished the letter his eyes were blurred and he had a hard dry contraction of his throat, a pang deep in his breastbone. Wave after wave of emotion had swept over him. And then he sat there motionless, the open letter in his hands, his gaze across the gray melancholy river to the dim gray hills of sage. He did not see them. The eyes of his mind were fixed on the dear familiar scenes of boyhood, home and mother, and freckled-faced Hettie with her big loving blue eyes, on the miles of wind-swept swamp land along Tule Lake, on the schoolhouse at Hammell, and the long lane that led from the Ide ranch down to Blaines’. He saw a girl of fourteen with a chestnut braid down her back, a white pearly skin that even the summer sun could not tan, and dark eyes of velvet softness. Then the heart-numbing pictures faded for the stalwart figure of his father, iron of muscle and of mind, the gray clear eye like sunlight on ice, and the weathered wrinkled face, a record of labor and strife.

*     *

*

A second and more thoughtful perusal of Hettie’s letter fixed Ben’s mind upon the most poignant and unavoidable fact of it–that pertaining to his mother. She was failing. What a terrible sickening shock ran through him! Then he was gripped in the cruel clutches of remorse. It was a bitter moment, but short because his decision to go was almost instantaneous. Folding Hettie’s letter, Ben went into the cabin.

“Modoc, saddle the gray,” he said, shortly.

The Indian laid down pan and dishcloth and abruptly glided out. Nevada looked up quickly from his task, with swift curious gleam of eyes searching Ben’s face.

“Bad news, pard?” he queried.

“Yes. Hettie says mother is–is failing, and I must come in to see her,” returned Ben, getting down his spurs and chaps. “It’d hurt like hell, Nevada, in any case, but to realize I’ve broken mother’s heart–it’s–it’s–”

With bowed head he slouched to the bed, dragging his chaps and dropping the clinking spurs, and sat down heavily.

“Ben, it’s tough news, but don’t look on the dark side,” said Nevada, with swift hand going to Ben’s shoulder. “Your mother’s not old. Seein’ you will cheer her. She’ll get well. Don’t be downcast, Ben. That’s been your disease as drink was mine. Let’s make an end to both of them…. Shake on it, pard!”

“By Heaven! Nevada, you’ve got something in your mind that you must drive into mine,” replied Ben, rising with violence, and jerking up his head he wrung Nevada’s hand. “I’ve got to get over not caring. Oh, it’s not that. It was that I cared too much.”

“Ben, you can’t care too much,” went on Nevada. “When you don’t care you’re no good. I never cared–till I rode into your camp on Forlorn River…. Let’s brace up an’ fool the whole country.”

“If I only had in–in me what Hettie believes–what you believe–” muttered Ben, thickly, struggling for self-control. He flung his chaps on and buckled them with shaking hands. There seemed to be a tight painful knot in his breast that must burst before he could feel relief.

“Ben, I felt this comin’ to us six months back,” said Nevada, soft-voiced, hovering around Ben like a woman. “Reckon I didn’t know what it was. But Hettie gave me the hunch. I tell you our luck has changed…. Mebbe I’ll have to kill Less Setter, but that’s neither here nor there…. You ride in to see your mother an’ sister. Make them happy for havin’ faith in you. While you’re gone I’ll do a heap of thinkin’. But come back to-morrow night.”

“What’ll you think so hard about?” asked Ben, curiously.

“Wal, most about California Red,” replied Nevada, with utmost seriousness. “Ben, that red-skinned mustang has wintered over here at Mule Deer Lake.”

“Nevada!” expostulated Ben, suddenly transfixed.

“It’s a fact, unless all them cowmen was lyin’. An’ I don’t see why they should lie. Red is pretty darn smart. We thought he was rangin’ round the lava beds an’ Modoc caves, where there was so many wild hosses, or else over in that big country east of Wild Goose Lake. But the son-of-a-gun wasn’t ten miles from here all winter. Nobody chased him. Reckon those who knew didn’t think there was any chance. But I say winter’s the best time to ketch wild hosses. I’ll prove it to you yet.”

“Too late now. Here’s spring and summer coming fast. You and Modoc ride over to Mule Deer Lake to-morrow.”

“Shore will. I hate to tell you, Ben, there’ll likely be more’n one outfit after California Red from now on.”

“Why now, more than last winter or summer?” queried Ben, sharply.

“Wal, I heard a lot of talk in the saloons,” replied Nevada. “One of them new-rich lake ranchers, Blaine it was, has offered three thousand dollars for California Red, sound an’ well broke.”

“Blaine!” ejaculated Ben, in amaze. “That’s Hart Blaine. There’s only one. He’s a neighbor of my father’s…. Three thousand dollars! Why, that’s a fortune! He used to be so stingy he wouldn’t give a boy an apple out of his orchard. All that money!”

“You ought to be tickled to death,” declared Nevada. “For no one else but you will ever ketch Red.”

“I didn’t think of the money. But what could Blaine want that wild horse for? Sound and well broke!”

“Say, any rancher in northern California would go broke for Red,” rejoined Nevada. “Some cowboy said Less Setter offers more than three thousand. If he pays it I’m goin’ to think money’s comin’ easy, an’ you can bet I’ll look around on the ranges…. Yes, I mean just that, Ben Ide. But the fellows at Hammell reckon Blaine wants California Red for his daughter.”

The idea struck Ben so strangely that he uttered a loud laugh. California Red, that wild fleet sorrel mustang for sweet little Ina Blaine! It seemed so ridiculous. Yet Ina Blaine was the only person Ben could have allowed to possess the great stallion, even in thought. California Red was his, by right of discovery–for Ben had been the first to see the red-flashing colt on the sage–and by the years of watching and striving.

CHAPTER II

HONK! honk! honk! The coarse wild notes pierced Ina Blaine’s slumbers. She opened her eyes, and in the dim room with cool gray dawn at the window she did not recognize where she was. Honk! honk! honk!

“Oh, wild geese!” she cried out suddenly, with rapturous recognition. “Oh, I’m home–home!”

All the time Ina had been away at school she had never heard the melodious cry of a wild goose. She had forgotten, perhaps, the most significant feature of the wild life about Tule Lake. But once the loved honk penetrated her mind, what hosts of sweet memories, stretching back to childhood! It was a welcome home. The sound offered some little compensation for the loss of the lake. Ina had been astounded and dismayed to see vast green and yellow and brown fields, crisscrossed by irrigation ditches, where once Tule Lake had rippled and smiled, a great shining oval of water lying between the gray sage hills and the black lava beds. Tule Lake was gone. It seemed to change even the towering white glory of Mount Shasta.

Ina lay there watching the dawn brighten through the casement. This large luxurious room was not the one in which she had spent her childhood and girlhood. That had been a tiny one, whitewashed, with a low slanted ceiling and one small window. “The days that are no more,” she whispered. That dear room, sacred to her dreams, was gone as Tule Lake was gone. The childhood days, so sweet and stinging now in memory, had passed away forever. Her old home was not the same. Father, mother, sisters, and brothers had changed. She realized all this with sadness. While she had been away at school, growing up, nothing at home had stood still.

The sun rose red over the sage hills and streamed in at her window, gilding the new furniture. A cool breath of morning, with a hint of frost, made her snuggle down under the warm blankets. She had awakened happily, but there had come with memory and thought a check to her joy. She had not anticipated change. Yet all was changed. Even she? Yet the honk of wild geese had found her heart true to the old life, the old order.

Ina Blaine was the third child of a family of four boys and three girls, the favorite of a Kansas farmer who had emigrated to northern California and had taken up a great tract of marshland along Tule Lake. In wet seasons his land was under water. He had labored there, along with several other farsighted pioneers. And when the government drained Tule Lake it was as if their fortunes had been touched by the magic of Aladdin.

But he had sent Ina to a Kansas college long before fortune had smiled upon him. He had a brother at Lawrence, in whose home Ina was welcome during the period of her schooling. It had not been his intention to leave Ina there all this time. But one thing and another, including lack of funds and illness in her uncle’s family, had prevented Ina from spending a vacation at home. So she had been away four years, during which wealth had come, as if overnight, to the Blaines.

To revel in being home, to delight in her freedom, to play a little after the long years of study, to put off the inevitable settling down to the serious things of life–these had been Ina’s cherished hopes.

“I must see the funny side of it,” she soliloquized, with a little laugh. “For it is funny. Dad so important and pompous–mother fussed over a multitude of new fandangles–Archie impressed with his destiny as the eldest son of a cattle king–Fred and Bob leaning away from farm work to white collars and city girls. Kate engaged to a Klamath lawyer! I really can’t savvy her. The kids, though, will make up for much. We’ll get along, when once they remember me.

“To begin, then,” said Ina, resolutely, and she got up on the right side of the bed. She was home. Whatever had been the changes in country and family, here was where she had longed to be and meant to live and serve. She had spent time in St. Louis, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, the last of which she had found most interesting. But she would never be happy in the confines of a city. She loved northern California–the vastness of it, the great white mountains, the ranges of soft round sage hills, lakes and rivers and streams, and in the midst of them the little villages here and there, not too close together, and the green flat ranches, still few in number.

“Last night when I said I’d teach school some day, didn’t dad roar?” she mused. “And mother looked offended. What has happened to my dear parents? I fear they must suffer for my education. I wonder what they have in mind. Heigho! I feel tremendously old and learned…. Back to the tomboy days for Ina! I’ll slide down the haymow with Dall. I’ll fish and ride and swim with Marvie. How keen he was to ask me that! … And Ben Ide? … Not a letter from him all these years. Dear old Ben! I seem to have forgotten much until now. How time flies! They wrote me Ben had gone to the bad. I never believed it–I think I didn’t. Ben was queer, not like the other boys, but he was good…. Has he forgotten me? Ben was a year younger than Archie. He’s twenty-four now. Quite a man! Five years didn’t make such difference when I was fifteen.”

Ina peeped out of her window. The east above the gray range blazed brightly gold, and the glow of the spring morning shone over the level waving plain where Tule Lake had once shimmered. Flocks of ducks dotted the rosy sky, and a triangle of wild geese headed toward the dim blue swamp land under the black lava mounds. Old Mount Shasta stood up majestically, snow-crowned and sunrise-flushed. The fresh keen air vibrated with sounds–honk of geese, song of spring birds, bawl of calf and low of cow. The pasture was alive with horses, cattle, pigs. Cocks were crowing, and out by the jumble of barns a cowboy whistled merrily.

Ina went downstairs and through the wide new hallway that connected with what had been the old house. Her father had made the mistake of erecting a large frame structure as an addition to the old half-log, half-stone house. It was significant that despite his rise in the ranching world he could not quite forsake his humble abode. And indeed he had his room and office there still. A kitchen had been added to the living room, which evidently, from the long tables and benches, was now a dining room for her father’s horde of cowboys.

Ina peeped into this dining room before she ventured farther. It was empty. Then she heard her mother in the kitchen. Ina ran through to surprise Mrs. Blaine helping the man-cook.

“Good morning, Mother. Where’s everybody?” cried Ina, gayly.

“Bless your heart, how you scared me!” ejaculated her mother, quite manifestly embarrassed. She was a large woman, gray-haired and somewhat hard-featured. “Nobody’s up yet, except me an’ your father.”

“Well! Why, Mother, Archie used to clean out the horse stalls, and Kate used to milk the cows!” retorted Ina, laughingly.

“They don’t any more,” replied Mrs. Blaine, shortly.

“I shall try, at least, to milk the cows.”

“Ina, your father didn’t give you a college education for that,” protested her mother, in vague alarm.

“But you used to milk cows and I’d never be above what you did,” said Ina, sweetly, and embraced her mother.

“Father has some big hopes for you, Ina,” returned Mrs. Blaine, dubiously. She did not quite know this long-lost, grown-up daughter. She seemed bewildered by circumstances of monumental importance, but which were unnatural.

“The cow-hands will be comin’ in for breakfast any minute,” she said. “You’d better go.”

“Why? I’d like to see them.”

“Your father said he’d not have any cowboys gallivantin’ round after you.”

“Indeed! But suppose I liked it,” retorted Ina, merrily. “You married dad when he was a cowboy.”

“But that was different, Ina.”

“I’d like to know how.”

“My child, I was a milkmaid on the Kansas farm where Hart Blaine was a hand. You’re the daughter of a rancher who will be a millionaire some day.”

“Mother, that last is very high-sounding, but it doesn’t impress me,” returned Ina, with seriousness. “Dad and I are going to have some arguments.”

“Ina, you were our most obedient child,” said Mrs. Blaine, divided between conjecture and doubt.

“I’ll still be, Mother dear–with reservations. And I’ll begin now by running off so the interesting cowboys will not get to see me, this time.”

Ina returned to the other part of the house, with a thoughtfulness edging into her happy mood. Her mother was plodding amid perplexities and complexities beyond her ken. The old simple hard-working farm life seemed to have been disrupted. Ina went to the sitting room, which she had explored yesterday and had found attractive in spite of its newness. There were some sticks of burning wood in the open fireplace. Ina liked that. A familiar fragrance, not experienced for a long time, assailed her nostrils. How warm and stirring the emotions it roused! Her girlhood again, trails and ponies and camp fires!

Ina curled up in a big chair before the fire, as she had been wont to do as a dreamy child, and was about to give herself up to the pleasure of retrospection when Dall came bounding in, pursued by Marvie. Sight of Ina interrupted hostilities. Dall was a gawky, growing girl of twelve and Marvie a handsome lad of fourteen, tow-headed and blue-eyed, as were all the Blaines except Ina. An animated conversation ensued, in which Dall reverted to her endless queries about college, Kansas, towns, and travel, while Marvie tried to tell about his horse and that on Saturday Ina must ride with him and go fishing.

In due time the oldest girl, Kate, came down wearing a dress rather unsuited to morning, Ina thought, and certainly not becoming. Kate Blaine was twenty-two, tall and spare, resembling her mother somewhat, but sharper of face and eye. She had not manifested any great delight in Ina’s return. Yesterday Ina had become aware of Kate’s close observance, flattering, yet somehow vaguely disconcerting. Ina’s consciousness had never been crossed by a thought other than loving all her people. She had been compelled to thrust something away from her mind.

“Marvie, you an’ Dall needn’t eat Ina,” said Kate, with a sniff. “She’s home for good. An’ ma says you’re to hurry up with breakfast, or be late for school.”

Ina followed them into the dining room, where Mrs. Blaine was waiting. It was a cheerful sunny room, well appointed, though elaborate for a rancher’s home.

“Where are dad and the boys?” asked Ina, as she seated herself.

“Bob an’ Fred have early breakfast with the cow-hands,” replied Mrs. Blaine, then added, reluctantly, “an’ sometimes your father does, too.”

Dall and Marvie sat one on each side of Ina, and she felt that they would save any situation for her. They were still too young to be greatly affected by whatever it was that had changed the elder Blaines. Ina sensed happily that she could bring much to her younger sister and brother. As for her mother and Kate, they began to force Ina to face the establishing of ideas that would be far from humorous.

“Ina, we ride in a buggy to school,” announced Dall, with just a hint of the importance so obvious in the others.

“I used to have to walk,” declared Ina. “Oh, maybe I don’t remember that long muddy road in the winter–dusty in summer!”

“Aw, I like the ridin’, but I hate the hitchin’ up,” said Marvie. “Say, Ina, paw lets me have the horse and buggy on Saturdays. Day after to-morrow is Saturday.”

“I’ll go anywhere with you,” replied Ina. “I want to ride horseback, too, Marvie. Has dad any saddle horses?”

“Say, where have your eyes been?” demanded the boy. “Pasture’s full of horses. So’s the corral and barn. An’ the cowboys tell me paw has ranches full of horses. He’s gone in with a big horse dealer, Less Setter, who has outfits all over the country. I’ve got two horses. Dall has a pony. Bob an’ Fred have a whole string. Just you tell paw you want California Red an’ see what happens.”

“Who’s California Red?” asked Ina, with interest. “Is he a cowboy or a horse?”

“He’s a wild stallion, the swiftest an’ beautifulest ever heard of. Red as fire! Too smart for all the wild-horse hunters…. Aw, Ina, I’d sure like to see you get California Red.”

“Marvie, you thrill me, but I want a tame horse, one I can saddle myself and ride and pet.”

“Wild mustangs make wonderful pets, once they’re broke proper.”

“Well, then, just for fun I’ll tell dad I want California Red, to see what happens.”

It was Kate who broke up this conversation and hurried Marvie and Dall to get ready for school. Ina went out with them, and made them let her ride as far as the end of the lane, to their immense delight.

The long lane had not changed. She remembered it, and the trees and rocks and bushes that bordered it. Facing back, she saw the green grove half hiding the white house, and the cluster of barns, new and old, and all around and beyond the wonderful level ranch land that had once been under water. Spring was keen in the morning air. Flocks of blackbirds swooped low and high. From somewhere came the honk of wild geese. Far beyond the level expanse rose the brown lava mounds, rising to the dignity of hills, step by step, until they changed their hard bronze for the green of pine. Above them white Shasta gleamed like a sharp cloud, piercing the blue. To the south and east the soft gray sage mountains barred the way to the wild country beyond. Ina breathed it all in, color and fragrance and music, the sweet freedom of that ranch surrounded by wild mountains. It filled her heart to overflowing. Here she had been born. The dear sad happy memories of childhood flooded her mind. She realized now that she had never changed. All she had learned had only strengthened her hold upon the simple natural things that had come to her first.

Ina lingered long in the grove of pines and maples that, happily for her, had not been touched in the improvement of Tule Lake Ranch. The fork of a gnarled old maple seemed precisely the same as when she had perched there in her bare legs and feet. And the spreading pines gave no hint of the passing of years. It frightened her to realize the growth and change in herself while these beloved trees had remained the same as in her earliest remembrance. How incredible the power of a few years over human life! There was one pine, her favorite, a great old monarch that split just above the ground and rose in separate trunks, sending low branches spreading down, affording the shelter of a natural tent. Many a storm she had weathered there.

Suddenly another memory picture flashed upon her inward eye. She and Ben Ide had quarreled only once and this had been the scene of that youthful difference. What had been the cause? Ina blushed as she leaned between the tree trunks. It had been because of Ben’s one and only departure from their tranquil Platonic comradeship. The thought held a pervading sweet melancholy, somehow disturbing. She would meet Ben presently, as she expected to meet all her other schoolmates. And she wanted to, yet, as far as Ben was concerned, she guessed she would rather not see him very soon. About the old pine tree clung vague haunting scenes, dim and imperfect, all of which Ben shared.

Ina’s prolonged walk brought her at length to the picturesque old corral and barn, which, strange to note, had not been altered with the advent of newer structures. Hart Blaine had, unconsciously perhaps, preserved some of the old atmosphere of Tule Lake Ranch.

She espied her father’s tall spare form, not quite familiar in severe shiny black. She remembered him in soiled overalls and top boots. He was bareheaded now and his gray locks waved in the breeze. He was talking to a man seated in a buckboard, holding the reins of a spirited team. They did not observe Ina’s approach. The several cowboys near by, however, were keen to see her, and as she passed them, frankly interested in their presence, they appeared to be strangely disrupted from their work.

“… tell you, Setter, it’s a deal I don’t like,” her father was saying, impatiently, as Ina approached.

Then the man in the buckboard sat up quickly and Blaine turned to see Ina. His seamed hard face lost its craggyness in a smile of surprise, love, pride. Ina was the apple of his eye.

“Hello, Dad!” she said, gayly. “I’m poking around to see what you’ve done to my Tule Lake Ranch.”

“Mawnin’, lass,” he replied, extending his long arm. He had big gray eyes, still keen, a hooked nose like the beak of an eagle, and a large mouth, showing under a grizzled mustache.

“Ina, this is one of my pardners, Less Setter, from Nevada,” went on Blaine. Then he faced the man, drawing Ina forward with arm round her shoulder. “My blue-ribbon lass, just home from school.”

“Proud to meet you, Miss Ina,” returned Setter, gallantly, with a gloved hand touching his sombrero. As Ina acknowledged the introduction she looked up into a yellow-bearded mask of a face, with almond-shaped, heavily-lidded eyes that seemed to devour her. Setter did not appear young, yet he looked vigorous, intense, different from men Ina had been in the habit of seeing. Even in that casual moment, when she was not interested, he made such impression upon her that it broke her mood of gayety. She felt instant distrust of her father’s partner, and she had impatiently to force herself from intuitive womanly convictions. Suddenly Marvie’s talk about horses flashed into her mind, and she grasped with relief at something to say.

“Dad, I want a saddle horse,” she said, brightly, turning to him.

“Lass, you can have a string of horses,” he replied. “We’ve got in a lot of stock. Mr. Setter just sold me a hundred head, all from Nevada, an’ some of them are beauties. I’ve a big order from Seattle, so you must take your pick.”

“But, Dad, I always dreamed of a really grand horse,” went on Ina, which was telling the truth.

“Lass, I don’t recollect you bein’ keen over any kind of horses,” observed her father.

“We were very poor,” she said, softly. “You must recollect that I walked to school, winter and summer.”

“Haw! Haw! Yes, Ina, I sure do, an’ somehow it’s good to think of…. Wal, my daughter, we’re not poor now, an’ if you want the best hoss in all this country you’re only to say so.”

“Dad, I want California Red,” she rejoined, swiftly.

“What! That wild stallion?” ejaculated Blaine, in amaze. “Why, lass, all the hoss outfits in three States have swallowed the dust of that sorrel.”

“Oh, he must be grand!” exclaimed Ina, now thrilled about what had grown out of a joke.

“Miss Ina, he is indeed a grand horse,” interposed Setter. “I saw him once, two years ago. He’s a racy, fine, clean-limbed animal, red as fire, with a mane like a flame. An’ he’s not a killer of horses, as so many stallions are. Most of the riders an’ hunters think he’d break gentle. So you get your dad to promise…. I’m witness, Blaine, mind you, of your word.”

“California Red is yours, Ina, if he can be caught,” replied her father.

“He can be, I reckon,” said Setter, meditatively. “There’s only a few outfits after him. That is they claim to be wild-horse hunters, but it’s only a blind to hide their thieving of cattle and range horses. Hall an’ his outfit are workin’ close to Silver Meadow now. Probably the only hunters really chasin’ Red are this Ide boy an’ his pards. They’re leanin’ to crooked deals, too, but I reckon Ide wants Red so bad–”

“Ide!” interrupted Ina, quickly. “Do you mean Ben Ide?”

“Yes, his name’s Ben,” replied Setter.

“You lie! Ben Ide is no horse thief,” flashed Ina, hotly.

“See here, lass, easy, easy,” interposed her father. “You’ve been away from home a long time. Much has happened to others, as well as to your folks. Bad as well as good!”

Then he addressed Setter.

“You see, Less, it’s news to Ina. She an’ Ben went to school together. They used to play here as kids. An’ I reckon it’s a kind of a blow to learn–”

“Dad, I don’t believe it,” spoke up Ina, still with heat, her voice breaking.

“It’s too bad, Miss Ina,” said Setter. “I’m sorry I was the one to hurt your feelin’s. But it does appear your boy schoolmate has gone to the bad.”

Ina turned her back upon Setter, suddenly gripped by an unfamiliar fury and pain. Surprise at these feelings had a part in her agitation.

“Dad,” she said, striving to hide it, “has any–any dishonest thing ever been traced to Ben Ide?”

“Lass, there’s been a lot of talk,” replied her father. “Soon after you left home Ben took to the hills, crazy about wild hosses. Amos Ide, if you remember, was a religious man, an’ I reckon Ben represented to him somethin’ you do to me. Anyway, Amos couldn’t break the boy–make him settle down to work. They had a final quarrel. Ben’s been gone ever since. I’ve never seen him, though others have. Mrs. Ide takes it hard, they say. I drop in to see them now an’ then. But Ben’s name ain’t never mentioned. The last two years we’ve begun to run cattle out in the valleys an’ flat along Forlorn River. Ben lives over there. An’ a good many cattle an’ hosses have–wal, disappeared. So Ben had worse said about him. But I can’t say anythin’ has ever been proved.”

“It’s not easy to fix rustlin’ an’ hoss stealin’ on any one in an unsettled country,” cut in the cold voice of Setter, with its note of authority. “Stock missed by your father or other ranchers is never seen again. That means it goes over the line into Nevada or down across the high Sierras.”

“All the more reason a young man of good family–once a neighbor and–and friend of ours should not be accused of being a–”

As Ina halted over the unspeakable word Setter flicked the ashes from his cigar and then bent his inscrutable colorless eyes upon her.

“Any man is known by the company he keeps,” he asserted. “Young Ide lives with a renegade Modoc Indian, an’ a cowboy who was run out of Nevada for bein’ a horse thief.”

The pointed positiveness of the man struck Ina strangely even while his information made her heart sick. She stared at Setter until his cool assurance seemed slightly to change. Ina caught a glimpse of what hid behind that mask. She was fascinated by something impossible to grasp. Forced to listen to damning statements, she was unconsciously peering, with a woman’s strange inconsistency, at a man whose face and voice and look struck antagonism from her. There was no reason in the attitude of her mind.

“Dad, what Mr. Setter said does not strike me quite right,” she declared, frankly. “It makes me remember Ben Ide more than I thought I did. Dad, I don’t believe Ben would steal to save his life. How could any boy change so in a few years?”

Then she deliberately faced her father’s new partner.

“Mr. Setter, if I remember Ben Ide at all you will have to prove what you say. I shall certainly see him and tell him.”

“Ina, what’re you talkin’ about?” queried Blaine, impatiently. “That’s ‘most an insult to Setter. An’ you can’t hunt up this Ide boy. I wouldn’t let you be seen talkin’ to him.”

“I should think you would take me to see Ben, so I–”

Ina saw the leap of red to her father’s craggy face and suddenly remembered his temper; she also saw several cowboys that had edged closer and now stood gaping.

“Girl, you’ve come back with queer ideas,” declared Blaine. “If that’s all school’s done for you I’m sorry I sent you.”