A soft wind swept the prairie, which
was now bare of snow. Larry rode down the trail
that led through the Cedar Bluff. He was freely
sprinkled with mire, for spring had come suddenly,
and the frost-bleached sod was soft with the thaw;
and when he pulled up on the wooden bridge to wait
until Breckenridge, who appeared among the trees,
should join him, the river swirled and frothed beneath.
It had lately burst its icy chains, and came roaring
down, seamed by lines of foam and strewn with great
fragments of half-melted snow-cake that burst against
the quivering piles.
“Running strong!” said
Breckenridge. “Still, the water has not
risen much yet, and as I crossed the big rise I saw
two of Torrance’s cow-boys apparently screwing
up their courage to try the ford.”
“It might be done,” said
Larry. “We have one horse at Fremont that
would take me across. The snow on the ranges
is not melting yet, and the ice will be tolerably
firm on the deep reaches; but it’s scarcely likely
that we will want to swim the Cedar now.”
“No,” said Breckenridge,
with a laugh, “the bridge is good enough for
me. By the way, I have a note for you.”
“A note!” said Larry,
with a slight hardening of his face, for of late each
communication that reached him had brought him fresh
“Well,” said Breckenridge
drily, “I scarcely think this one should worry
you. From the fashion in which it reached me I
have a notion it’s from a lady.”
There was a little gleam in Larry’s
eyes when he took the note, and Breckenridge noticed
that he was very silent as they rode on. When
they reached Fremont he remained a while in the stable,
and when at last he entered the house Breckenridge
glanced at him questioningly.
“You have something on your
mind,” he said. “What have you been
Grant smiled curiously. “Giving
the big bay a rub down. I’m riding to Cedar
“Have you lost your head?”
Breckenridge stared at him. “Muller saw
the Sheriff riding in this morning, and it’s
more than likely he is at the Range. You are
wanted rather more badly than ever just now, Larry.”
Grant’s face was quietly resolute
as he took out the note and passed it to his companion.
“I have tried to do my duty by the boys; but
I am going to Cedar to-night.”
Breckenridge opened the note, which
had been written the previous day, and read, “In
haste. Come to the bluff beneath the Range alone nine
Then, he stared at the paper in silence
until Grant, who watched him almost jealously, took
it from him. “Yes,” he said, though
his face was thoughtful, “of course, you must
go. You are quite sure of the writing?”
Grant smiled, as it were, compassionately.
“I would recognize it anywhere!”
“Well,” said Breckenridge
significantly, “that is perhaps not very astonishing,
though I fancy some folks would find it difficult.
The ’In haste’ no doubt explains the thing,
but it seems to me the last of it does not quite match
“It is smeared thrust into the envelope
wet,” Larry said.
Breckenridge rose, and walked, with
no apparent purpose, across the room. “Larry,”
he said, “Tom and I will come with you.
No you wait a minute. Of course, I
know there are occasions on which one’s friends’
company is superfluous distinctly so; but
we could pull up and wait behind the bluff quite
a long way off, you know.”
“I was told to come alone.” Larry
turned upon him sharply.
Breckenridge made a gesture of resignation.
“Then I’m not going to stay here most
of the night by myself. It’s doleful.
I’ll ride over to Muller’s now.”
“Will it be any livelier there?”
Breckenridge wondered whether Larry
had noticed anything unusual in his voice, and managed
to laugh. “A little,” he said.
“The fraeulein is pretty enough in the lamplight
to warrant one listening to a good deal about Menotti
and the franc tireurs. She makes really excellent
coffee, too,” and he slipped out before Grant
could ask any more questions.
Darkness was just closing down when
the latter rode away. There was very little of
the prairie broncho in the big horse beneath
him, whose sire had brought the best blood that could
be imported into that country, and he had examined
every buckle of girth and headstall as he fastened
them. He also rode, for lightness, in a thin
deerskin jacket which fitted him closely, with a rifle
across his saddle, gazing with keen eyes across the
shadowy waste when now and then a half-moon came out.
Once he also drew bridle and sat still a minute listening,
for he fancied he heard the distant beat of hoofs,
and then went on with a little laugh at his credulity.
The Cedar was roaring in its hollow and the birches
moaning in a bluff, but as the damp wind that brought
the blood to his cheeks sank, there was stillness
save for the sound of the river, and Grant decided
that his ears had deceived him.
It behooved him to be cautious, for
he knew the bitterness of the cattle-men against him,
and the Sheriff’s writ still held good; but Hetty
had sent for him, and if his enemies had lain in wait
in every bluff and hollow he would have gone.
While he rode, troubled by vague apprehensions,
which now and then gave place to exultation that set
his heart throbbing, Hetty sat with Miss Schuyler
in her room at Cedar Range. An occasional murmur
of voices reached them faintly from the big hall below
where Torrance and some of his neighbours sat with
the Sheriff over their cigars and wine, and the girls
knew that a few of the most daring horsemen among the
cow-boys had their horses saddled ready. Hetty
lay in a low chair with a book she was not reading
on her knee, and Miss Schuyler, glancing at her now
and then over the embroidery she paid almost as little
attention to, noticed the weariness in her face and
the anxiety in her eyes. She laid down her needle
when Torrance’s voice came up from below.
“What can they be plotting,
Hetty?” she said. “Horses ready, that
most unpleasant Sheriff smiling cunningly as he did
when I passed him talking to Clavering, and the sense
of expectancy. It’s there. One could
hear it in their voices, even if one had not seen
their faces, and when I met your father at the head
of the stairs he almost frightened me. Of course,
he was not theatrical he never is but
I know that set of his lips and look in his eyes,
and have more than a fancy it means trouble for somebody.
I suppose he has not told you anything in
fact, he seems to have kept curiously aloof from both
of us lately.”
Hetty turned towards her with a little
spot of colour in her cheek and apprehension in her
“So you have noticed it, too!”
she said very slowly. “Of course, he has
been busy and often away, while I know how anxious
he must be; but when he is at home he scarcely speaks
to me and then, there is something in his
voice that hurts me. I’m ’most afraid
he has found out that I have been talking to Larry.”
Miss Schuyler smiled. “Well,”
she said, “that alone would
not be such a very serious offence.”
The crimson showed plainer in Hetty’s
cheek and there was a faint ring in her voice.
“Flo,” she said, “don’t make
me angry I can’t bear it to-night.
Something is going to happen I can feel
it is and you don’t know my father
even yet. He is so horribly quiet, and I’m
afraid of as well as sorry for him. It is a long
while ago, but he looked just as he does now only
not quite so grim during my mother’s
last illness. Oh, I know there is something worrying
him, and he will not tell me though he
was always kind before, even when he was angry.
Flo, this horrible trouble can’t go on for ever!”
Hetty had commenced bravely, but she
faltered as she proceeded, and Miss Schuyler, who
saw her distress, had risen and was standing with one
hand on her shoulder when the maid came in. She
cast a hasty glance at her mistress, and appeared,
Flora Schuyler fancied, embarrassed, and desirous
of concealing it.
“Mr. Torrance will excuse you
coming down again,” she said. “He
may have some of the Sheriff’s men and one or
two of the cow-boys in, and would sooner you kept
your room. Are you likely to want me in the next
“No,” said Hetty.
“No doubt you are anxious to find out what is
The maid went out, and Miss Schuyler
fixed anxious eyes on her companion. “What
is the matter with the girl, Hetty?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Did you notice anything?”
“Yes. I think she had something
on her mind. Any way, she was unexplainably anxious
to get away from you.”
Hetty smiled somewhat bitterly.
“Then she is only like the rest. Everybody
at Cedar is anxious about something now.”
Flora Schuyler rose, and, flinging
the curtains behind her, looked out at the night.
The moon was just showing through a rift in the driving
cloud, and she could see the bluff roll blackly down
to the white frothing of the river. She also
saw a shadowy object slipping through the gloom of
the trees, and fancied it was a woman; but when another
figure appeared for a moment in the moonlight the
first one came flitting back again.
“I believe the girl has gone
out to meet somebody in the bluff,” she said.
Hetty made a little impatient gesture.
“It doesn’t concern us, any way.”
Miss Schuyler sat down again and made
no answer, though she had misgivings, and five or
ten minutes passed silently, until there was a tapping
at the door, and the maid came in, very white in the
face. She clutched at the nearest chair-back,
and stood still, apparently incapable of speech, until,
with a visible effort, she said: “Somebody
must go and send him away. He is waiting in the
Hetty rose with a little scream, but
Flora Schuyler was before her, and laid her hand upon
the maid’s arm.
“Now, try to be sensible,”
she said sternly. “Who is in the bluff?”
The girl shivered. “It
is not my fault I didn’t know what
they wanted until the Sheriff came. I tried to
tell him, but Joe saw me. Go right now, and send
Hetty was very white and trembling,
but Flora Schuyler nipped the maid’s arm.
“Keep quiet, and answer just
what we ask you!” she said. “Who is
in the bluff?”
“Mr. Grant,” said the
girl, with a gasp. “But don’t ask
me anything. Send him away. They’ll
kill him. Oh, you are hurting me!”
Flora Schuyler shook her. “How did he come
“I took Miss Torrance’s
letter, and wrote the rest of it. I didn’t
know they meant to do him any harm, but they made
me write. I had to he said he would
The maid writhed in an agony of fear,
but she stood still shivering when Hetty turned towards
her with a blanched face that emphasized the ominous
glow in her dark eyes.
“You wicked woman!” she said. “How
dare you tell me that?”
“I mean Mr. Clavering. Oh !”
The maid stopped abruptly, for Flora
Schuyler drove her towards the door. “Go
and undo your work,” she said. “Slip
down at the back of the bluff.”
“I daren’t I
tried,” and the girl quivered in Miss Schuyler’s
grasp. “If I could have warned him I would
not have told you; but Joe saw me, and I was afraid.
I told him to come at nine.”
It was evident that she was capable
of doing very little just then, and Flora Schuyler
drew her out into the corridor.
“Go straight to your room and
stay there,” she said, and closing the door,
glanced at Hetty. “It is quite simple.
This woman has taken your note-paper and written Larry.
He is in the bluff now, and I think she is right.
Your friends mean to make him prisoner or shoot him.”
“Stop, and go away,” said
Hetty hoarsely. “I am going to him.”
Flora Schuyler placed her back to
the door, and raised her hand. “No,”
she said, very quietly. “It would be better
if I went in place of you. Sit down, and don’t
lose your head, Hetty!”
Hetty seized her arm. “You
can’t how could I let you? Larry
belongs to me. Let me go. Every minute is
worth ever so much.”
“There are twenty of them yet.
He has come too early,” said Flora Schuyler,
with a glance at the clock. “Any way, you
must understand what you are going to do. It
was Clavering arranged this, but your father knew
what he was doing and I think he knows everything.
If you leave this house to-night, Hetty, everybody
will know you warned Larry, and it will make a great
difference to you. It will gain you the dislike
of all your friends and place a barrier between you
and your father which, I think, will never be taken
Hetty laughed a very bitter laugh,
and then grew suddenly quiet.
“Stand aside, Flo,” she
said. “Nobody but Larry wants me now.”
Miss Schuyler saw that she was determined,
and drew aside. “Then,” she said,
with a little quiver in her voice, “because I
think he is in peril you must go, my dear. But
we must be very careful, and I am coming with you
as far as I dare.”
She closed the door, and then her
composure seemed to fail her as they went out into
the corridor; and it was Hetty who, treading very softly,
took the lead. Flitting like shadows, they reached
the head of the stairway, and stopped a moment there,
Hetty’s heart beating furiously. The passage
beneath them was shadowy, but a blaze of light and
a jingle of glasses came out of the half-opened door
of the hall, where Torrance sat with his guests; and
while they waited, they heard his voice and recognized
the vindictive ring in it. Hetty trembled as she
grasped the bannister.
“Flo,” she said, “they
may come out in a minute. We have got to slip
They went down the stairway with skirts
drawn close about them, in swift silence, and Hetty
held her breath as she flitted past the door.
There was a faint swish of draperies as Flora Schuyler
followed her, but the murmur of voices drowned it;
and in another minute Hetty had opened a door at the
back of the building. Then, she gasped with relief
as she felt the cold wind on her face, and, with Miss
Schuyler close behind her, crept through the shadow
of the house towards the bluff. When the gloom
of the trees closed about them, she clutched her companion’s
“No,” she said hoarsely,
“not that way. Joe is watching there.
We must go right through the bluff and down the opposite
side of it.”
They floundered forward, sinking ankle-deep
in withered leaves and clammy mould, tripping over
rotting branches that ripped their dresses, and stumbling
into dripping undergrowth. There was no moon now,
and it was very dark, and more than once Flora Schuyler
valiantly suppressed the scream that would have been
a vast relief to her, and struggled on as silently
as she could behind her companion; but it seemed to
her that anybody a mile away could have heard them.
Then, a little trail led them out of the bluff on
the opposite side to the house, and the roar of the
river grew louder as they hastened on, still in the
gloom of the trees, until something a little blacker
than the shadows behind it grew into visibility; and
when it moved a little, Flora Schuyler touched Hetty’s
“Yes,” she said.
“It is Larry. If I didn’t know the
kind of man he is, I would not let you go. Kiss
Hetty stood still a second, for she
understood, and then very quietly put both hands on
Flora Schuyler’s shoulders and kissed her.
“It can’t be very wrong;
and you have been a good friend, Flo,” she said.
She turned, and Flora Schuyler, standing
still, saw her slim figure flit across a strip of
frost-bleached sod as the moon shone through.