A warm wind from the Pacific, which
had swept down through the Rockies’ passes,
had mitigated the Arctic cold, and the snow lay no
more than thinly sprinkled upon the prairie.
Hetty Torrance and Miss Schuyler were riding up through
the birch bluff from the bridge of the Cedar.
It was dim among the trees, for dusk was closing in,
the trail was rough and steep, and Hetty drew bridle
at a turn of it.
“I quite fancied we would have
been home before it was dark, and my father would
be just savage if he knew we were out alone,”
she said. “Of course, he wouldn’t
have let us go if he had been at Cedar.”
Flora Schuyler looked about her with
a shiver. The wind that shook the birches had
grown perceptibly colder: the gloom beneath them
deepened rapidly, and there was a doleful wailing
amidst the swinging boughs. Beyond the bluff
the white wilderness, sinking into dimness now, ran
back, waste and empty, to the horizon. Miss Schuyler
was from the cities, and the loneliness of the prairie
is most impressive when night is closing down.
“Then one could have wished
he had been at home,” she said.
Perhaps Hetty did not hear her plainly,
for the branches thrashed above them just then.
“Oh, that’s quite right. Folks are
not apt to worry much over the things they don’t
know about,” she said.
“It was not your father I was
sorry for,” Flora Schuyler said sharply.
“The sod is too hard for fast riding, and it
will be ’most an hour yet before we get home.
I wish we were not alone, Hetty.”
Hetty sighed. “It was so
convenient once!” she said. “Whenever
I wanted to ride out I had only to send for Larry.
It’s quite different now.”
“I have no doubt Mr. Clavering
would have come,” said Miss Schuyler.
“Oh, yes,” Hetty agreed.
“Still, I’m beginning to fancy you were
right about that man. Like a good many more of
them, he’s quite nice at a distance; but there
are men who should never let anyone get too close to
“You have had quite a few opportunities
of observing him at a short distance lately.”
Hetty laughed, but there was a trace
of uneasiness in her voice. “I could wish
my father didn’t seem quite so fond of him.
Oh there’s somebody coming!”
Instinctively she wheeled her horse
into the deeper shadow of the birches and Miss Schuyler
followed. There was no habitation within a league
of them, and though the frost, which put a period
to the homesteaders’ activities, lessened the
necessity for the cattle-barons’ watchfulness,
unpleasant results had once or twice attended a chance
encounter between their partisans. It was also
certain that somebody was coming, and Hetty felt her
heart beat as she made out the tramp of three horses.
The vultures the struggle had attracted had, she knew,
much less consideration for women than the homesteaders
“Hadn’t we better ride on?” asked
“No,” said Hetty; “they
would most certainly see us out on the prairie.
Back your horse quite close to mine. If we keep
quiet they might pass us here.”
Her voice betrayed what she was feeling,
and Flora Schuyler felt unpleasantly apprehensive
as she urged her horse farther into the gloom.
The trampling came nearer, and by and by a man’s
voice reached her.
“Hadn’t you better pull
up and get down?” it said. “I’m
not much use at tracking, but somebody has been along
here a little while ago. You see, there are only
three of us!”
and they’ve found our trail,” exclaimed
Hetty, with a little gasp of dismay.
There was scarcely an opening one
could ride through between the birches behind them,
and it was evident that the horsemen could scarcely
fail to see them the moment they left their shelter.
One of them had already dismounted, and was apparently
stooping beside the prints the horse-hoofs had left
where a little snow had sifted down upon the trail.
Hetty heard his laugh, and it brought her a great
“I don’t think you need
worry, Breckenridge. There were only two of them.”
Hetty wheeled her horse. “It’s Larry,”
A minute later he saw them, and, pulling
up, took off his hat; but Flora Schuyler noticed that
he ventured on no more than this.
“It is late for you to be out
alone. You are riding home?” he said.
“Of course!” said Hetty
with, Miss Schuyler fancied, a chilliness which contrasted
curiously with the relief she had shown a minute or
“Well,” said Grant quietly,
“I’m afraid you will have to put up with
our company. There are one or two men I have
no great opinion of somewhere about this prairie.
This is Mr. Breckenridge, and as the trail is rough
and narrow, he will follow with Miss Schuyler.
I presume you don’t mind riding with him, although,
like the rest of us, he is under the displeasure of
your friends the cattle-barons?”
Miss Schuyler looked at him steadily.
“I don’t know enough of this trouble to
make sure who is right,” she said. “But
I should never be prejudiced against any American
who was trying to do what he felt was the work meant
“Well,” said Grant, with
a little laugh, “Breckenridge will feel sorry
that he’s an Englishman.”
Miss Schuyler turned to the young
man graciously, and the dim light showed there was
a twinkle in her eyes.
“That,” she said, “is
the next best thing. Since you are with Mr. Grant
you no doubt came out to this country because you thought
we needed reforming, Mr. Breckenridge?”
The lad laughed as they rode on up
the trail with Grant and Hetty in front of them, and
“No,” he said. “To
be frank, I came out because my friends in the old
one seemed to fancy the same thing of me. When
they have no great use for a young man yonder, they
generally send him to America. In fact, they send
some of them quite a nice cheque quarterly so long
as they stay there. You see, we are like the
hedgehogs, or your porcupines, if you grow them here,
Flora Schuyler smiled. “You
are young, or you wouldn’t empty the magazine
all at once in answer to a single shot.”
“Well,” said Breckenridge,
“so are you. It is getting dark, but I have
a notion that you are something else too. The
fact I mentioned explains the liberty.”
Flora shook her head. “The
dusk is kind. Any way, I know I am years older
than you. There are no little girls in this country
like the ones you have been accustomed to.”
“Now,” said Breckenridge,
“my sisters and cousins are, I firmly believe,
a good deal nicer than those belonging to most other
men; but, you see, I have quite a lot of them, and
any one so favoured loses a good many illusions.”
In the meantime Hetty, who, when she
fancied he would not observe it, glanced at him now
and then, rode silently beside Grant until he turned
“I have a good deal to thank
you for, Hetty, and for you know I was never
clever at saying the right thing I don’t
quite know how to begin. Still, in the old times
we understood just what each other meant so well that
talking wasn’t necessary. You know I’m
grateful for my liberty and would sooner take it from
you than anybody else, don’t you?”
Hetty laid a restraint upon herself,
for there was a thrill in the man’s voice, which
awakened a response within her. “Wouldn’t
it be better to forget those days?” she said.
“It is very different now.”
“It isn’t easy,”
said Grant, checking a sigh. “I ’most
fancied they had come back the night you told me how
to get away.”
Hetty’s horse plunged as she
tightened its bridle in a fashion there was no apparent
necessity for. “That,” she said chillingly,
“was quite foolish of you, and it isn’t
kind to remind folks of the things they had better
not have done. Now, you told us the prairie wasn’t
safe because of some of your friends.”
“No,” said Grant drily,
“I don’t think I did. I told you there
were some men around I would sooner you didn’t
fall in with.”
“Then they must be your partisans.
There isn’t a cattle-boy in this country who
would be uncivil to a woman.”
“I wish I was quite sure.
Still, there are men coming in who don’t care
who is right, and only want to stand in with the men
who will give them the most dollars or let them take
what they can. We have none to give away.”
“Larry,” the girl said
hotly, “do you mean that we would be glad to
“No. But they will most
of them quite naturally go over to you, which will
make it harder for us to get rid of them. We have
no use for men of that kind in this country.”
“No?” said the girl scornfully.
“Well, I fancied they would have come in quite
handy there was a thing you did.”
“You heard of that?”
“Yes,” very coldly. “It was
a horrible thing.”
Grant’s voice changed to a curious
low tone. “Did you ever see me hurt anything
when I could help it in the old days, Hetty?”
“No. One has to be honest;
I remember how you once hurt your hand taking a jack-rabbit
out of a trap.”
“And how you bound it up?”
“Well,” said Hetty, “I
don’t know, after the work you have done with
it, that I should care to do that now.”
“There are affairs you should
never hear of and I don’t care to talk about
with you,” Grant said, very quietly, “but
since you have mentioned this one you must listen
to me. Just as it is one’s duty to give
no needless pain to anything, so there is an obligation
on him to stop any other man who would do it.
Is it wrong to kill a grizzly or a rattlesnake, or
merciful to leave them with their meanness to destroy
whatever they want? Now, if you had known a quiet
American who did a tolerably dangerous thing because
he fancied it was right, and found him shot in the
back, and the trail of the man who crept up behind
him and killed him for a few dollars, would you have
let that man go?”
Hetty ignored the question. “The man was
“Well,” said Grant slowly,
“he had done a good deal for me, but that would
not have counted for very much with any one when we
made our decision.”
“No?” And Hetty glanced at him with a
Grant shook his head. “No,”
he said. “We had to do the square thing that
and nothing more; but if we had let that man go, he
would, when the chance was given him, have done what
he did again. Well, it was horrible;
but there was no law that would do the work for us
in this country then.”
Hetty shivered, but had there been
light enough Grant would have seen the relief in her
face, and as it was his pulse responded to the little
quiver in her voice. Why it was she did not know,
but the belief in him which she had once cherished
suddenly returned to her. In the old days the
man she had never thought of as a lover could, at
least, do no wrong.
“I understand.” Her
voice was very gentle. “There must be a
good deal of meanness in me, or I should have known
you only did it because you are a white man, and felt
you had to. Oh, of course, I know only
it’s so much easier to go round another way
so you can’t see what you don’t want to.
Larry, I’m sorry.”
Grant’s voice quivered.
“The only thing you ever do wrong, Hetty, is
to forget to think now and then; and by and by you
will find somebody who is good enough to think for
The girl smiled. “He would
have to be very patient, and the trouble is that if
he was clever enough to do the thinking he wouldn’t
have the least belief in me. You are the only
man, Larry, who could see people’s meannesses
and still have faith in them.”
“I am a blunderer who has taken
up a contract that’s too big for him,”
Grant said gravely. “I have never told anyone
else, Hetty, but there are times now and then when,
knowing the kind of man I am, I get ’most sick
with fear. All the poor men in this district are
looking to me, and, though I lie awake at night, I
can’t see how I’m going to help them when
one trace of passion would let loose anarchy.
It’s only right they’re wanting, that
is, most of the Dutchmen and the Americans but
there’s the mad red rabble behind them, and
the bitter rage of hard men who have been trampled
on, to hold in. It’s a crushing weight we
who hold the reins have got to carry. Still,
we were made only plain farmer men, and I guess we’re
not going to be saddled with more than we can bear.”
He had spoken solemnly from the depths
of his nature, and all that was good in the girl responded.
“Larry,” she said softly,
“while you feel just that I think you can’t
go wrong. It is what is right we are both wanting,
and though I don’t know how I
feel we will get it by and by, and then it will be
the best thing for homestead-boys and cattle-barons.
When that time comes we will be glad there were white
men who took up their load and worried through, and
when this trouble’s worked out and over there
will be nothing to stop us being good friends again.”
“Is that quite out of the question now?”
“Yes,” said Hetty simply.
“I am sorry, but, Larry, can’t you understand?
You are leading the homestead-boys, and my father the
cattle-barons. First of all I’ve got to
be a dutiful daughter.”
“Of course,” he agreed.
“Well, it can’t last for ever, and we can
only do the best we can. Other folks had the
same trouble when the boys in Sumter fired the starting
gun North and South at each other’s
throats, and both Americans!”
Hetty decided that she had gone sufficiently
far, and turned in her saddle. “What is
the Englishman telling you, Flo?” she asked.
Miss Schuyler laughed. “He
was almost admitting that the girls in this country
are as pretty as those they raise in the one he came
“Well,” said Breckenridge,
“if it was daylight I’d be sure.”
Grant fancied that it was not without
a purpose his companion checked her horse to let the
others come up, and, though it cost him an effort,
acquiesced. His laugh was almost as ready as that
of the rest as they rode on four abreast, until at
last the lights of Cedar Range blinked beside the
bluff. Then, they grew suddenly silent again as
Muller, who it seemed remembered that he had been
taught by the franc tireurs, rode past them with his
rifle across his saddle. They pulled up when his
figure cut blackly against the sky on the crest of
a rise, and Hetty’s laugh was scarcely light-hearted.
“You have been very good, and
I am sorry I can’t ask you to come in,”
she said. “Still, I don’t know that
it’s all our fault; we are under martial law
Grant took off his hat and wheeled
his horse, and when the girls rode forward sat rigid
and motionless, watching them until he saw the ray
from the open door of Cedar Range. Then, Muller
trotted up, and with a little sigh he turned homewards
across the prairie.
About the same time Richard Clavering
lay smoking, in a big chair in the room where he kept
his business books and papers. He wore, among
other somewhat unusual things, a velvet jacket, very
fine linen, and on one of his long, slim fingers a
ring of curious Eastern workmanship. Clavering
was a man of somewhat expensive tastes, and his occasional
visits to the cities had cost him a good deal, which
was partly why an accountant, famous for his knowledge
of ranching property, now sat busy at a table.
He was a shrewd, direct American, and had already
spent several days endeavouring to ascertain the state
of Clavering’s finances.
“Nearly through?” the
rancher asked, with a languidness which the accountant
fancied was assumed.
“I can give you a notion of
how you stand, right now,” he answered.
“You want me to be quite candid?”
“Oh, yes,” said Clavering,
with a smile of indifference. “I’m
in a tight place, Hopkins?”
“I guess you are any
way, if you go on as you’re doing. You see
what I consider it prudent to write off the value
of your property?”
Clavering examined the paper handed
him with visible astonishment. “Why have
you whittled so much off the face value?”
“Just because you’re going
to have that much taken away from you by and by.”
Clavering’s laugh was quietly
scornful. “By the homestead-boys?”
“By the legislature of this
State. The law is against you holding what you’re
“We make what law there is out here.”
“Well,” said Hopkins,
coolly, “I guess you’re not going to do
it long. You know the maxim about fooling the
people. It can’t be done.”
“Aren’t you talking like one of those
“On the contrary. I quite
fancy I’m talking like a business man. Now,
you want to realize on those cattle before the winter
takes the flesh off them, and extinguish the bank
loan with what you get for them.”
Clavering’s face darkened.
“That would strip the place, and I’d have
to borrow to stock again.”
“You’d have to run a light stock for a
year or two.”
“It wouldn’t suit me to
do anything that would proclaim my poverty just now,”
“Then you’ll have to do
it by and by. The interest on the bond is crippling
lighted another cigar. “I told you to be
straight. Go right on. Tell me just what
you would do if the place was in your hands.”
“Sell out those cattle and take
the big loan up. Clear off the imported horses
and pedigree brood mares. You have been losing
more dollars than many a small rancher makes over
them the last few years.”
“I like good horses round the
place,” Clavering said languidly.
“The trouble,” said Hopkins,
“is that you can’t afford to have them.
Then, I would cut down my personal expenses by at
least two-thirds. The ranch can’t stand
them. Do you know what you have been spending
in the cities?”
“No. I gave you a bundle
of bills so you could find it out.”
Hopkins’ smile was almost contemptuous.
“I guess you had better burn them when I am
through. I’ll mention one or two items.
One hundred dollars for flowers; one thousand in several
bills from Chicago jewellers! The articles would
count as an asset. Have you got them?”
“I haven’t,” said Clavering.
“They were for a lady.”
“Well,” said Hopkins,
“you know best; but one would have fancied there
was more than one of them from the bills. Here’s
another somewhat curious item: hats I
guess they came from Paris and millinery,
two hundred dollars’ worth of them!”
A little angry light crept into Clavering’s
eyes. “If I hadn’t been so abominably
careless you wouldn’t have seen those bills.
I meant to put them down as miscellaneous and destroy
the papers. Well, I’ve done with that extravagance,
any way, and it’s to hear the truth I’m
paying you quite a big fee. If I go on just as
I’m doing, how long would you give me?”
“Two years. Then the bank
will put the screw on you. The legislature may
pull you up earlier, but I can tell you more when I’ve
squared up to-morrow.”
There was a curious look in Clavering’s
dark eyes, but he laughed again.
“I guess that’s about
enough. But I’ll leave you to it now,”
he said. “It’s quite likely I’ll
have got out of the difficulty before one of those
years is over.”
He went out, and a few minutes later
stopped as he passed the one big mirror in the ranch,
and surveyed himself critically for a moment with a
dispassionate interest that was removed from vanity.
Then he nodded as if contented.
“With Torrance to back me it
might be done,” he said. “Liberty
is sweet, but I don’t know that it’s worth
at least fifty thousand dollars!”