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The lonely station of Manzanita stood out, sharp and unsightly, in the keen February sunlight. A mile away in a dip of the desert, lay the town, a sorry sprawl of frame buildings, patternless save for the one main street, which promptly lost itself at either end in a maze of cholla, prickly pear, and the lovely, golden-glowing roseo. Far as the eye could see, the waste was spangled with vivid hues, for the rare rains had come, and all the cacti were in joyous bloom, from the scarlet stain of the ocatilla to the pale, dream-flower of the yucca. Overhead the sky shone with a hard serenity, a blue, enameled dome through which the imperishable fires seemed magnified as they limned sharp shadows on the earth; but in the southwest clouds massed and lurked darkly for a sign that the storm had but called a truce.

East to west, along a ridge bounding the lower desert, ran the railroad, a line as harshly uncompromising as the cold mathematics of the engineers who had mapped it. To the north spread unfathomably a forest of scrub pine and piñon, rising, here and there, into loftier growth. It was as if man, with his imperious interventions, had set those thin steel parallels as an irrefragable boundary to the mutual encroachments of forest and desert, tree and cactus. A single, straggling trail squirmed its way into the woodland. One might have surmised that it was winding hopefully if blindly toward the noble mountain peak shimmering in white splendor, mystic and wonderful, sixty miles away, but seeming in that lucent air to be brooding closely over all the varied loveliness below.

Though nine o'clock had struck on the brisk little station-clock, there was still a tang of night chill left. The station-agent came out, carrying a chair which he set down in the sunniest corner of the platform. He looked to be hardly more than a boy, but firm-knit and self-confident. His features were regular, his fairish hair slightly wavy, and in his expression there was a curious and incongruous suggestion of settledness, of acceptance, of satisfaction with life as he met it, which an observer of men would have found difficult to reconcile with his youth and the obvious intelligence of the face. His eyes were masked by deeply browned glasses, for he was bent upon literary pursuits, witness the corpulent, paper-covered volume under his arm. Adjusting his chair to the angle of ease, he tipped back against the wall and made tentative entry into his book.

What a monumental work was that in the treasure-filled recesses of which the young explorer was straightway lost to the outer world! No human need but might find its contentment therein. Spread forth in its alluringly illustrated pages was the whole universe reduced to the purchasable. It was a perfect and detailed microcosm of the world of trade, the cosmogony of commerce _in petto_. The style was brief, pithy, pregnant; the illustrations--oh, wonder of wonders!--unfailingly apt to the text. He who sat by the Damascus Road of old marveling as the caravans rolled dustily past bearing "emeralds and wheat, honey and oil and balm, fine linen and embroidered goods, iron, cassia and calamus, white wool, ivory and ebony," beheld or conjectured no such wondrous offerings as were here gathered, collected, and presented for the patronage of this heir of all the ages, between the gay-hued covers of the great Sears-Roebuck Semiannual Mail-Order Catalogue. Its happy possessor need but cross the talisman with the ready magic of a postal money order and the swift genii of transportation would attend, servile to his call, to deliver the commanded treasures at his very door.

But the young reader was not purposefully shopping in this vast market-place of print. Rather he was adventuring idly, indulging the amateur spirit, playing a game of hit-or-miss, seeking oracles in those teeming pages. Therefore he did not turn to the pink insert, embodying the alphabetical catalogue (Abdominal Bands to Zither Strings), but opened at random.

"Supertoned Banjos," he read, beginning at the heading; and, running his eye down the different varieties, paused at "Pride of the Plantation, a full-sized, well-made, snappy-toned instrument at a very moderate price. 12 T 4031/4."

The explorer shook his head. Abovestairs rested a guitar (the Pearletta, 12 S 206, price $7.95) which he had purchased at the instance of Messrs. Sears-Roebuck's insinuating representation as set forth in catalogue item 12 S 01942, "Self-mastery of the Guitar in One Book, with All Chords, Also Popular Solos That Can Be Played Almost at Sight." The nineteen-cent instruction-book had gone into the fire after three days of unequal combat between it and its owner, and the latter had subsequently learned something of the guitar (and more of life) from a Mexican-American girl with lazy eyes and the soul of a capricious and self-indulged kitten, who had come uninvited to Manzanita to visit an aunt, deceased six months previously. With a mild pang of memory for those dreamy, music-filled nights on the desert, the youth decided against further experiments in stringed orchestration.

Telescopes turned up next. He lingered a moment over 20 T 3513, a nickel-plated cap pocket-glass, reflecting that with it he could discern any signal on the distant wooded butte occupied by Miss Camilla Van Arsdale, back on the forest trail, in the event that she might wish a wire sent or any other service performed. Miss Camilla had been very kind and understanding at the time of the parting with Carlotta, albeit with a grimly humorous disapproval of the whole inflammatory affair; as well as at other times; and there was nothing that he would not do for her. He made a neat entry in a pocket ledger (3 T 9901) against the time when he should have spare cash, and essayed another plunge.

Arctics and Lumberman's Overs he passed by with a grin as inappropriate to the climate. Cod Liver Oil failed to interest him, as did the Provident Cast Iron Range and the Clean-Press Cider Mill. But he paused speculatively before Punching Bags, for he had the clean pride of body, typical of lusty Western youth, and loved all forms of exercise. Could he find space, he wondered, to install 6 T 1441 with its Scientific Noiseless Platform & Wall Attachment (6 T 1476) in the portable house (55 S 17) which, purchased a year before, now stood in the clearing behind the station crammed with purchases from the Sears-Roebuck wonderbook. Anyway, he would make another note of it. What would it be like, he wondered, to have a million dollars to spend, and unlimited access to the Sears-Roebuck treasures. Picturing himself as such a Croesus, he innocently thought that his first act would be to take train for Chicago and inspect the warehoused accumulations of those princes of trade with his own eager eyes!

He mused humorously for a moment over a book on "Ease in Conversation." ("No trouble about conversation," he reflected; "the difficulty is to find anybody to converse with," and he thought first of Carlotta, and then of Miss Camilla Van Arsdale, but chiefly of the latter, for conversation had not been the strong point of the passionate, light-hearted Spanish girl.) Upon a volume kindly offering to teach astronomy to the lay mind without effort or trouble (43 T 790) and manifestly cheap at $1.10, he bestowed a more respectful attention, for the desert nights were long and lonely.

Eventually he arrived at the department appropriate to his age and the almost universal ambition of the civilized male, to wit, clothing. Deeply, judiciously, did he meditate and weigh the advantages as between 745 J 460 ("Something new--different--economical--efficient. An all-wool suit embodying all the features that make for clothes satisfaction. This announcement is of tremendous importance"--as one might well have inferred from the student's rapt expression) and 776 J 017 ("A double-breasted, snappy, yet semi-conservative effect in dark-green worsted, a special social value"), leaning to the latter because of a purely literary response to that subtle and deft appeal of the attributive "social." The devotee of Messrs. Sears-Roebuck was an innately social person, though as yet his gregarious proclivities lay undeveloped and unsuspected by himself. Also he was of a literary tendency; but of this he was already self-conscious. He passed on to ulsters and raincoats, divagated into the colorful realm of neckwear, debated scarf-pins and cuff-links, visualized patterned shirtings, and emerged to dream of composite sartorial grandeurs which, duly synthesized into a long list of hopeful entries, were duly filed away within the pages of 3 T 9901, the pocket ledger.

Footsteps shuffling along the right of way dispelled his visions. He looked up to see two pedestrians who halted at his movement. They were paired typically of that strange fraternity, the hobo, one being a grizzled, hard-bitten man of waning middle age, the other a vicious and scrawny boy of eighteen or so. The boy spoke first.

"You the main guy here?"

The agent nodded.

"Got a sore throat?" demanded the boy surlily. He started toward the door. The agent made no move, but his eyes were attentive.

"That'll be near enough," he said quietly.

"Oh, we ain't on that lay," put in the grizzled man. He was quite hoarse. "You needn't to be scared of us."

"I'm not," agreed the agent. And, indeed, the fact was self-evident.

"What about the pueblo yonder?" asked the man with a jerk of his head toward the town.

"The hoosegow is old and the sheriff is new."

"I got ya," said the man, nodding. "We better be on our way."

"I would think so."

"You're a hell of a guy, you are," whined the boy. "'On yer way' from you an' not so much as 'Are you hungry?' What about a little hand-out?"

"Nothing doing."

"Tightwad! How'd you like--"

"If you're hungry, feel in your coat-pocket."

"I guess you're a wise one," put in the man, grinning appreciatively. "We got grub enough. Panhandlin's a habit with the kid; don't come natural to him to pass a likely prospect without makin' a touch."

He leaned against the platform, raising one foot slightly from the ground in the manner of a limping animal. The agent disappeared into the station, locking the door after him. The boy gave expression to a violent obscenity directed upon the vanished man. When that individual emerged again, he handed the grizzled man a box of ointment and tossed a packet of tobacco to the evil-faced boy. Both were quick with their thanks. That which they had most needed and desired had been, as it were, spontaneously provided. But the elder of the wayfarers was puzzled, and looked from the salve-box to its giver.

"How'd you know my feet was blistered?"

"Been padding in the rain, haven't you?"

"Have you been on the hoof, too?" asked the hobo quickly.

The other smiled.

"Say!" exclaimed the boy. "I bet he's Banneker. Are you?" he demanded.

"That's my name."

"I heard of you three years ago when you was down on the Long Line Sandy," said the man. He paused and considered. "What's your lay, Mr. Banneker?" he asked, curiously but respectfully.

"As you see it. Railroading."

"A gay-cat," put in the boy with a touch of scorn.

"You hold your fresh lip," his elder rebuked him. "This gent has treated us _like_ a gent. But why? What's the idea? That's what I don't get."

"Oh, some day I might want to run for Governor on the hobo ticket," returned the unsmiling agent.

"You get our votes. Well, so long and much obliged."

The two resumed their journey. Banneker returned to his book. A freight, "running extra," interrupted him, but not for long. The wire had been practicing a seemly restraint for uneventful weeks, so the agent felt that he could settle down to a sure hour's bookishness yet, even though the west-bound Transcontinental Special should be on time, which was improbable, as "bad track" had been reported from eastward, owing to the rains. Rather to his surprise, he had hardly got well reimmersed in the enchantments of the mercantile fairyland when the "Open Office" wire warned him to be attentive, and presently from the east came tidings of Number Three running almost true to schedule, as befitted the pride of the line, the finest train that crossed the continent.

Past the gaunt station she roared, only seven minutes late, giving the imaginative young official a glimpse and flash of the uttermost luxury of travel: rich woods, gleaming metal, elegance of finish, and on the rear of the observation-car a group so lily-clad that Sears-Roebuck at its most glorious was not like unto them. Would such a train, the implanted youth wondered, ever bear him away to unknown, undreamed enchantments?

Would he even wish to go if he might? Life was full of many things to do and learn at Manzanita. Mahomet need not go to the mountain when, with but a mustard seed of faith in the proven potency of mail-order miracles he could move mountains to come to him. Leaning to his telegraph instrument, he wired to the agent at Stanwood, twenty-six miles down-line, his formal announcement.

"O. S.--G. I. No. 3 by at 10.46."

"O. K.--D. S.," came the response.

Banneker returned to the sunlight. In seven minutes or perhaps less, as the Transcontinental would be straining to make up lost time, the train would enter Rock Cut three miles and more west, and he would recapture the powerful throbbing of the locomotive as she emerged on the farther side, having conquered the worst of the grade.

Banneker waited. He drew out his watch. Seven. Seven and a half. Eight. No sound from westward. He frowned. Like most of the road's employees, he took a special and almost personal interest in having the regal train on time, as if, in dispatching it through, he had given it a friendly push on its swift and mighty mission. Was she steaming badly? There had been no sign of it as she passed. Perhaps something had gone wrong with the brakes. Or could the track have--

The agent tilted sharply forward, his lithe frame tense. A long drawn, quivering shriek came down-wind to him. It was repeated. Then short and sharp, piercing note on piercing note, sounded the shrill, clamant voice.

The great engine of Number Three was yelling for help.


Banneker came out of his chair with a spring.

"Help! Help! Help! Help! Help!" screamed the strident voice.

It was like an animal in pain and panic.

For a brief instant the station-agent halted at the door to assure himself that the call was stationary. It was. Also it was slightly muffled. That meant that the train was still in the cut. As he ran to the key and sent in the signal for Stanwood, Banneker reflected what this might mean. Crippled? Likely enough. Ditched? He guessed not. A ditched locomotive is usually voiceless if not driverless as well. Blocked by a slide? Rock Cut had a bad repute for that kind of accident. But the quality of the call predicated more of a catastrophe than a mere blockade. Besides, in that case why could not the train back down--

The answering signal from the dispatcher at Stanwood interrupted his conjectures.

"Number Three in trouble in the Cut," ticked Banneker fluently. "Think help probably needed from you. Shall I go out?"

"O. K.," came the answer. "Take charge. Bad track reported three miles east may delay arrival."

Banneker dropped and locked the windows, set his signal for "track blocked" and ran to the portable house. Inside he stood, considering. With swift precision he took from one of the home-carpentered shelves a compact emergency kit, 17 S 4230, "hefted" it, and adjusted it, knapsack fashion, to his back; then from a small cabinet drew a flask, which he disposed in his hip-pocket. Another part of the same cabinet provided a first-aid outfit, 3 R 0114. Thus equipped he was just closing the door after him when another thought struck him and he returned to slip a coil of light, strong sash-cord, 36 J 9078, over his shoulders to his waist where he deftly tautened it. He had seen railroad wrecks before. For a moment he considered leaving his coat, for he had upwards of three miles to go in the increasing heat; but, reflecting that the outward and visible signs of authority might save time and questions, he thought better of it. Patting his pocket to make sure that his necessary notebook and pencil were there, he set out at a moderate, even, springless lope. He had no mind to reach a scene which might require his best qualities of mind and body, in a semi-exhausted state. Nevertheless, laden as he was, he made the three miles in less than half an hour. Let no man who has not tried to cover at speed the ribbed treacheries of a railroad track minimize the achievement!

A sharp curve leads to the entrance of Rock Cut. Running easily, Banneker had reached the beginning of the turn, when he became aware of a lumbering figure approaching him at a high and wild sort of half-gallop. The man's face was a welter of blood. One hand was pressed to it. The other swung crazily as he ran. He would have swept past Banneker unregarding had not the agent caught him by the shoulder.

"Where are you hurt?"

The runner stared wildly at the young man. "I'll soom," he mumbled breathlessly, his hand still crumpled against the dreadfully smeared face. "Dammum, I'll soom."

He removed his hand from his mouth, and the red drops splattered and were lost upon the glittering, thirsty sand. Banneker wiped the man's face, and found no injury. But the fingers which he had crammed into his mouth were bleeding profusely.

"They oughta be prosecuted," moaned the sufferer. "I'll soom. For ten thousan' dollars. M'hand is smashed. Looka that! Smashed like a bug."

Banneker caught the hand and expertly bound it, taking the man's name and address as he worked.

"Is it a bad wreck?" he asked.

"It's hell. Look at m'hand! But I'll soom, all right. _I_'ll show'm ... Oh! ... Cars are afire, too ... Oh-h-h! Where's a hospital?"

He cursed weakly as Banneker, without answering, re-stowed his packet and ran on.

A thin wisp of smoke rising above the nearer wall of rocks made the agent set his teeth. Throughout his course the voice of the engine had, as it were, yapped at his hurrying heels, but now it was silent, and he could hear a murmur of voices and an occasional shouted order. He came into sight of the accident, to face a bewildering scene.

Two hundred yards up the track stood the major portion of the train, intact. Behind it, by itself, lay a Pullman sleeper, on its side and apparently little harmed. Nearest to Banneker, partly on the rails but mainly beside them, was jumbled a ridiculous mess of woodwork, with here and there a gleam of metal, centering on a large and jagged boulder. Smaller rocks were scattered through the _mélange_. It was exactly like a heap of giant jack-straws into which some mischievous spirit had tossed a large pebble. At one end a flame sputtered and spread cheerfully.

A panting and grimy conductor staggered toward it with a pail of water from the engine. Banneker accosted him.

"Any one in--"

"Get outa my way!" gasped the official.

"I'm agent at Manzanita."

The conductor set down his pail. "O God!" he said. "Did you bring any help?"

"No, I'm alone. Any one in there?" He pointed to the flaming debris.

"One that we know of. He's dead."

"Sure?" cried Banneker sharply.

"Look for yourself. Go the other side."

Banneker looked and returned, white and set of face. "How many others?"

"Seven, so far."

"Is that all?" asked the agent with a sense of relief. It seemed as if no occupant could have come forth of that ghastly and absurd rubbish-heap, which had been two luxurious Pullmans, alive.

"There's a dozen that's hurt bad."

"No use watering that mess," said Banneker. "It won't burn much further. Wind's against it. Anybody left in the other smashed cars?"

"Don't think so."

"Got the names of the dead?"

"Now, how would I have the time!" demanded the conductor resentfully.

Banneker turned to the far side of the track where the seven bodies lay. They were not disposed decorously. The faces were uncovered. The postures were crumpled and grotesque. A forgotten corner of a battle-field might look like that, the young agent thought, bloody and disordered and casual.

Nearest him was the body of a woman badly crushed, and, crouching beside it, a man who fondled one of its hands, weeping quietly. Close by lay the corpse of a child showing no wound or mark, and next that, something so mangled that it might have been either man or woman--or neither. The other victims were humped or sprawled upon the sand in postures of exaggerated _abandon_; all but one, a blonde young girl whose upthrust arm seemed to be reaching for something just beyond her grasp.

A group of the uninjured from the forward cars surrounded and enclosed a confused sound of moaning and crying. Banneker pushed briskly through the ring. About twenty wounded lay upon the ground or were propped against the rock-wall. Over them two women were expertly working, one tiny and beautiful, with jewels gleaming on her reddened hands; the other brisk, homely, with a suggestion of the professional in her precise motions. A broad, fat, white-bearded man seemed to be informally in charge. At least he was giving directions in a growling voice as he bent over the sufferers. Banneker went to him.

"Doctor?" he inquired.

The other did not even look up. "Don't bother me," he snapped.

The station-agent pushed his first-aid packet into the old man's hands.

"Good!" grunted the other. "Hold this fellow's head, will you? Hold it hard."

Banneker's wrists were props of steel as he gripped the tossing head. The old man took a turn with a bandage and fastened it.

"He'll die, anyway," he said, and lifted his face.

Banneker cackled like a silly girl at full sight of him. The spreading whisker on the far side of his stern face was gayly pied in blotches of red and green.

"Going to have hysterics?" demanded the old man, striking not so far short of the truth.

"No," said the agent, mastering himself. "Hey! you, trainman," he called to a hobbling, blue-coated fellow. "Bring two buckets of water from the boiler-tap, hot and clean. Clean, mind you!" The man nodded and limped away. "Anything else, Doctor?" asked the agent. "Got towels?"

"Yes. And I'm not a doctor--not for forty years. But I'm the nearest thing to it in this shambles. Who are you?"

Banneker explained. "I'll be back in five minutes," he said and passed into the subdued and tremulous crowd.

On the outskirts loitered a lank, idle young man clad beyond the glories of Messrs. Sears-Roebuck's highest-colored imaginings.

"Hurt?" asked Banneker.

"No," said the youth.

"Can you run three miles?"

"I fancy so."

"Will you take an urgent message to be wired from Manzanita?"

"Certainly," said the youth with good-will.

Tearing a leaf from his pocket-ledger, Banneker scribbled a dispatch which is still preserved in the road's archives as giving more vital information in fewer words than any other railroad document extant. He instructed the messenger where to find a substitute telegrapher.

"Answer?" asked the youth, unfurling his long legs.

"No," returned Banneker, and the courier, tossing his coat off, took the road.

Banneker turned back to the improvised hospital.

"I'm going to move these people into the cars," he said to the man in charge. "The berths are being made up now."

The other nodded. Banneker gathered helpers and superintended the transfer. One of the passengers, an elderly lady who had shown no sign of grave injury, died smiling courageously as they were lifting her.

It gave Banneker a momentary shock of helpless responsibility. Why should she have been the one to die? Only five minutes before she had spoken to him in self-possessed, even tones, saying that her traveling-bag contained camphor, ammonia, and iodine if he needed them. She had seemed a reliable, helpful kind of lady, and now she was dead. It struck Banneker as improbable and, in a queer sense, discriminatory. Remembering the slight, ready smile with which she had addressed him, he felt as if he had suffered a personal loss; he would have liked to stay and work over her, trying to discover if there might not be some spark of life remaining, to be cherished back into flame, but the burly old man's decisive "Gone," settled that. Besides, there were other things, official things to be looked to.

A full report would be expected of him, as to the cause of the accident. The presence of the boulder in the wreckage explained that grimly. It was now his routine duty to collect the names of the dead and wounded, and such details as he could elicit. He went about it briskly, conscientiously, and with distaste. All this would go to the claim agent of the road eventually and might serve to mitigate the total of damages exacted of the company. Vaguely Banneker resented such probable penalties as unfair; the most unremitting watchfulness could not have detected the subtle undermining of that fatal boulder. But essentially he was not interested in claims and damages. His sensitive mind hovered around the mystery of death; that file of crumpled bodies, the woman of the stilled smile, the man fondling a limp hand, weeping quietly. Officially, he was a smooth-working bit of mechanism. As an individual he probed tragic depths to which he was alien otherwise than by a large and vague sympathy. Facts of the baldest were entered neatly; but in the back of his eager brain Banneker was storing details of a far different kind and of no earthly use to a railroad corporation.

He became aware of some one waiting at his elbow. The lank young man had spoken to him twice.

"Well?" said Banneker sharply. "Oh, it's you! How did you get back so soon?"

"Under the hour," replied the other with pride. "Your message has gone. The operator's a queer duck. Dealing faro. Made me play through a case before he'd quit. I stung him for twenty. Here's some stuff I thought might be useful."

From a cotton bag he discharged a miscellaneous heap of patent preparations; salves, ointments, emollients, liniments, plasters.

"All I could get," he explained. "No drug-store in the funny burg."

"Thank you," said Banneker. "You're all right. Want another job?"

"Certainly," said the lily of the field with undiminished good-will.

"Go and help the white-whiskered old boy in the Pullman yonder."

"Oh, he'd chase me," returned the other calmly. "He's my uncle. He thinks I'm no use."

"Does he? Well, suppose you get names and addresses of the slightly injured for me, then. Here's your coat."

"Tha-anks," drawled the young man. He was turning away to his new duties when a thought struck him. "Making a list?" he asked.

"Yes. For my report."

"Got a name with the initials I. O. W.?"

Banneker ran through the roster in the pocket-ledger. "Not yet. Some one that's hurt?"

"Don't know what became of her. Peach of a girl. Black hair, big, sleepy, black eyes with a fire in 'em. Dressed _right_. Traveling alone, and minding her own business, too. Had a stateroom in that Pullman there in the ditch. Noticed her initials on her traveling-bag."

"Have you seen her since the smash?"

"Don't know. Got a kind of confused recklection of seeing her wobbling around at the side of the track. Can't be sure, though. Might have been me."

"Might have been you? How could--"

"Wobbly, myself. Mixed in my thinks. When I came to I was pretty busy putting my lunch," explained the other with simple realism. "One of Mr. Pullman's seats butted me in the stomach. They ain't upholstered as soft as you'd think to look at 'em. I went reeling around, looking for Miss I. O. W., she being alone, you know, and I thought she might need some looking after. And I had that idea of having seen her with her hand to her head dazed and running--yes; that's it, she was running. Wow!" said the young man fervently. "She was a pretty thing! You don't suppose--" He turned hesitantly to the file of bodies, now decently covered with sheets.

For a grisly instant Banneker thought of the one mangled monstrosity--_that_ to have been so lately loveliness and charm, with deep fire in its eyes and perhaps deep tenderness and passion in its heart. He dismissed the thought as being against the evidence and entered the initials in his booklet.

"I'll look out for her," said he. "Probably she's forward somewhere."

Without respite he toiled until a long whistle gave notice of the return of the locomotive which had gone forward to meet the delayed special from Stanwood. Human beings were clinging about it in little clusters like bees; physicians, nurses, officials, and hospital attendants. The dispatcher from Stanwood listened to Banneker's brief report, and sent him back to Manzanita, with a curt word of approval for his work.

Banneker's last sight of the wreck, as he paused at the curve, was the helpful young man perched on the rear heap of wreckage which had been the observation car, peering anxiously into its depths ("Looking for I. O. W. probably," surmised the agent), and two commercial gentlemen from the smoker whiling away a commercially unproductive hiatus by playing pinochle on a suitcase held across their knees. Glancing at the vast, swollen, blue-black billows rolling up the sky, Banneker guessed that their game would be shortly interrupted.

He hoped that the dead would not get wet.


Back in his office, Banneker sent out the necessary wires, and learned from westward that it might be twelve hours before the break in the track near Stanwood could be fixed up. Then he settled down to his report.

Like his earlier telegram, the report was a little masterpiece of concise information. Not a word in it that was not dry, exact, meaningful. This was the more to the writer's credit in that his brain was seething with impressions, luminous with pictures, aflash with odds and ends of minor but significant things heard and seen and felt. It was his first inner view of tragedy and of the reactions of the human creature, brave or stupid or merely absurd, to a crisis. For all of this he had an outlet of expression.

Taking from the wall a file marked "Letters. Private"-it was 5 S 0027, and one of his most used purchases--he extracted some sheets of a special paper and, sitting at his desk, wrote and wrote and wrote, absorbedly, painstakingly, happily. Wind swept the outer world into a vortex of wild rain; the room boomed and trembled with the reverberations of thunder. Twice the telegraph instrument broke in on him; but these matters claimed only the outer shell; the soul of the man was concerned with committing its impressions of other souls to the secrecy of white paper, destined to personal and inviolable archives.

Some one entered the waiting-room. There was a tap on his door. Raising his head impatiently, Banneker saw, through the window already dimming with the gathering dusk, a large roan horse, droopy and disconsolate in the downpour. He jumped up and threw open his retreat. A tall woman, slipping out of a streaming poncho, entered. The simplicity, verging upon coarseness, of her dress detracted nothing from her distinction of bearing.

"Is there trouble on the line?" she asked in a voice of peculiar clarity.

"Bad trouble, Miss Camilla," answered Banneker. He pushed forward a chair, but she shook her head. "A loosened rock smashed into Number Three in the Cut. Eight dead, and a lot more in bad shape. They've got doctors and nurses from Stanwood. But the track's out below. And from what I get on the wire"--he nodded toward the east--"it'll be out above before long."

"I'd better go up there," said she. Her lips grew bloodless as she spoke and there was a look of effort and pain in her face.

"No; I don't think so. But if you'll go over to the town and see that Torrey gets his place cleaned up a bit, I suppose some of the passengers will be coming in pretty soon."

She made a quick gesture of repulsion. "Women can't go to Torrey's," she said. "It's too filthy. Besides--I'll take in the women, if there aren't too many and I can pick up a buckboard in Manzanita."

He nodded. "That'll be better, if any come in. Give me their names, won't you? I have to keep track of them, you know."

The manner of the two was that of familiars, of friends, though there was a touch of deference in Banneker's bearing, too subtly personal to be attributed to his official status. He went out to adjust the visitor's poncho, and, swinging her leg across the Mexican saddle of her horse with the mechanical ease of one habituated to this mode of travel, she was off.

Again the agent returned to his unofficial task and was instantly submerged in it. Impatiently he interrupted himself to light the lamps and at once resumed his pen. An emphatic knock at his door only caused him to shake his head. The summons was repeated. With a sigh Banneker gathered the written sheets, enclosed them in 5 S 0027, and restored that receptacle to its place. Meantime the knocking continued impatiently, presently pointed by a deep--

"Any one inside there?"

"Yes," said Banneker, opening to face the bulky old man who had cared for the wounded. "What's wanted?"

Uninvited, and with an assured air, the visitor stepped in.

"I am Horace Vanney," he announced.

Banneker waited.

"Do you know my name?"


In no wise discountenanced by the matter-of-fact negative, Mr. Vanney, still unsolicited, took a chair. "You would if you read the newspapers," he observed.

"I do."

"The New York papers," pursued the other, benignly explanatory. "It doesn't matter. I came in to say that I shall make it my business to report your energy and efficiency to your superiors."

"Thank you," said Banneker politely.

"And I can assure you that my commendation will carry weight. Weight, sir."

The agent accepted this with a nod, obviously unimpressed. In fact, Mr. Vanney suspected with annoyance, he was listening not so much to these encouraging statements as to some unidentified noise outside. The agent raised the window and addressed some one who had approached through the steady drive of the rain. A gauntleted hand thrust through the window a slip of paper which he took. As he moved, a ray of light from the lamp, unblocked by his shoulder, fell upon the face of the person in the darkness, illuminating it to the astounded eyes of Mr. Horace Vanney.

"Two of them are going home with me," said a voice. "Will you send these wires to the addresses?"

"All right," replied Banneker, "and thank you. Good-night."

"Who was that?" barked Mr. Vanney, half rising.

"A friend of mine."

"I would swear to that face." He seemed quite excited. "I would swear to it anywhere. It is unforgettable. That was Camilla Van Arsdale. Was she in the wreck?"


"Don't tell me that it wasn't she! Don't try to tell me, for I won't believe it."

"I'm not trying to tell you anything," Banneker pointed out.

"True; you're not. You're close-mouthed enough. But--Camilla Van Arsdale! Incredible! Does she live here?"

"Here or hereabouts."

"You must give me the address. I must surely go and see her."

"Are you a friend of Miss Van Arsdale?"

"I could hardly say so much. A friend of her family, rather. She would remember me, I am sure. And, in any case, she would know my name. Where did you say she lived?"

"I don't think I said."

"Mystery-making!" The big man's gruffness had a suggestion of amusement in it. "But of course it would be simple enough to find out from town."

"See here, Mr. Vanney, Miss Van Arsdale is still something of an invalid--"

"After all these years," interposed the other, in the tone of one who ruminates upon a marvel.

"--and I happen to know that it isn't well for--that is, she doesn't care to see strangers, particularly from New York."

The old man stared. "Are you a gentleman?" he asked with abrupt surprise.

"A gentleman?" repeated Banneker, taken aback.

"I beg your pardon," said the visitor earnestly. "I meant no offense. You are doubtless quite right. As for any intrusion, I assure you there will be none."

Banneker nodded, and with that nod dismissed the subject quite as effectually as Mr. Horace Vanney himself could have done. "Did you attend all the injured?" he asked.

"All the serious ones, I think."

"Was there a young girl among them, dark and good-looking, whose name began--"

"The one my addle-brained young nephew has been pestering me about? Miss I. O. W.?"

"Yes. He reported her to me."

"I handled no such case that I recall. Now, as to your own helpfulness, I wish to make clear that I appreciate it."

Mr. Vanney launched into a flowery tribute of the after-dinner variety, leaning forward to rest a hand upon Banneker's desk as he spoke. When the speech was over and the hand withdrawn, something remained among the strewn papers. Banneker regarded it with interest. It showed a blotch of yellow upon green and a capital C. Picking it up, he looked from it to its giver.

"A little tribute," said that gentleman: "a slight recognition of your services." His manner suggested that hundred-dollar bills were inconsiderable trifles, hardly requiring the acknowledgment of thanks.

In this case the bill did not secure such acknowledgment.

"You don't owe me anything," stated the agent. "I can't take this!"

"What! Pride? Tut-tut."

"Why not?" asked Banneker.

Finding no immediate and appropriate answer to this simple question, Mr. Vanney stared.

"The company pays me. There's no reason why you should pay me. If anything, I ought to pay you for what you did at the wreck. But I'm not proposing to. Of course I'm putting in my report a statement about your help."

Mr. Vanney's cheek flushed. Was this composed young hireling making sport of him?

"Tut-tut!" he said again, this time with obvious intent to chide in his manner. "If I see fit to signify my appreciation--remember, I am old enough to be your father."

"Then you ought to have better judgment," returned Banneker with such candor and good-humor that the visitor was fairly discomfited.

An embarrassing silence--embarrassing, that is, to the older man; the younger seemed not to feel it--was happily interrupted by the advent of the lily-clad messenger.

Hastily retrieving his yellow-back, which he subjected to some furtive and occult manipulations, Mr. Vanney, after a few words, took his departure.

Banneker invited the newcomer to take the chair thus vacated. As he did so he brushed something to the floor and picked it up.

"Hello! What's this? Looks like a hundred-bucker. Yours?" He held out the bill.

Banneker shook his head. "Your uncle left it."

"It isn't a habit of his," replied the other.

"Give it to him for me, will you?"

"Certainly. Any message?"


The newcomer grinned. "I see," he said. "He'll be bored when he gets this back. He isn't a bad old bird, but he don't savvy some things. So you turned him down, did you?"


"Did he offer you a job and a chance to make your way in the world in one of his banks, beginning at ten-per?"


"He will to-morrow."

"I doubt it."

The other gave a thought to the bill. "Perhaps you're right. He likes 'em meek and obedient. He'd make a woolly lamb out of you. Most fellows would jump at the chance."

"I won't."

"My name's Herbert Cressey." He handed the agent a card. "Philadelphia is my home, but my New York address is on there, too. Ever get East?"

"I've been to Chicago."

"Chicago?" The other stared. "What's that got to do with--Oh, I see. You'll be coming to New York one of these days, though."


"Sure as a gun. A chap that can handle a situation like you handled the wreck isn't going to stick in a little sand-heap like this."

"It suits me here."

"No! Does it? I'd think you'd die of it. Well, when you do get East look me up, will you? I mean it; I'd like to see you."

"All right."

"And if there's anything I can do for you any time, drop me a line."

The sumptuous ripple and gleam of the young man's faultless coat, registered upon Banneker's subconscious memory as it had fallen at his feet, recalled itself to him.

"What store do you buy your clothes at?"

"Store?" Cressey did not smile. "I don't buy 'em at a store. I have 'em made by a tailor. Mertoun, 505 Fifth Avenue."

"Would he make me a suit?"

"Why, yes. I'll give you a card to him and you go in there when you're in New York and pick out what you want."

"Oh! He wouldn't make them and send them out here to me? Sears-Roebuck do, if you send your measure. They're in Chicago."

"I never had any duds built in Chicago, so I don't know them. But I shouldn't think Mertoun would want to fit a man he'd never seen. They like to do things _right_, at Mertoun's. Ought to, too; they stick you enough for it."

"How much?"

"Not much short of a hundred for a sack suit."

Banneker was amazed. The choicest "made-to-measure" in his Universal Guide, "Snappy, fashionable, and up to the minute," came to less than half of that.

His admiring eye fell upon his visitor's bow-tie, faultless and underanged throughout the vicissitudes of that arduous day, and he yearned to know whether it was "made-up" or self-confected. Sears-Roebuck were severely impartial as between one practice and the other, offering a wide range in each variety. He inquired.

"Oh, tied it myself, of course," returned Cressey. "Nobody wears the ready-made kind. It's no trick to do it. I'll show you, any time."

They fell into friendly talk about the wreck.

It was ten-thirty when Banneker finished his much-interrupted writing. Going out to the portable house, he lighted an oil-stove and proceeded to make a molasses pie. He was due for a busy day on the morrow and might not find time to take the mile walk to the hotel for dinner, as was his general habit. With the store of canned goods derived from the mail-order catalogue, he could always make shift to live. Besides, he was young enough to relish keenly molasses pie and the manufacture of it. Having concluded his cookery in strict accordance with the rules set forth in the guide to this art, he laid it out on the sill to cool over night.

Tired though he was, his brain was too busy for immediate sleep. He returned to his den, drew out a book and began to read with absorption. That in which he now sought release and distraction was not the _magnum opus_ of Messrs. Sears-Roebuck, but the work of a less practical and popular writer, being in fact the "Eve of St. Agnes," by John Keats. Soothed and dreamy, he put out the lights, climbed to his living quarters above the office, and fell asleep. It was then eleven-thirty and his official day had terminated five hours earlier.

At one o'clock he arose and patiently descended the stairs again. Some one was hammering on the door. He opened without inquiry, which was not the part of wisdom in that country and at that hour. His pocket-flash gleamed on a thin young man in a black-rubber coat who, with head and hands retracted as far as possible from the pouring rain, resembled a disconsolate turtle with an insufficient carapace.

"I'm Gardner, of the Angelica City Herald," explained the untimely visitor.

Banneker was surprised. That a reporter should come all the way from the metropolis of the Southwest to his wreck--he had already established proprietary interest in it--was gratifying. Furthermore, for reasons of his own, he was glad to see a journalist. He took him in and lighted up the office.

"Had to get a horse and ride to Manzanita to interview old Vanney and a couple of other big guys from the East. My first story's on the wire," explained the newcomer offhand. "I want some local-color stuff for my second day follow-up."

"It must be hard to do that," said Banneker interestedly, "when you haven't seen any of it yourself."

"Patchwork and imagination," returned the other wearily. "That's what I get special rates for. Now, if I'd had your chance, right there on the spot, with the whole stage-setting around one--Lordy! How a fellow could write that!"

"Not so easy," murmured the agent. "You get confused. It's a sort of blur, and when you come to put it down, little things that aren't really important come up to the surface--"

"Put it down?" queried the other with a quick look. "Oh, I see. Your report for the company."

"Well, I wasn't thinking of that."

"Do you write other things?" asked the reporter carelessly.

"Oh, just foolery." The tone invited--at least it did not discourage--further inquiry. Mr. Gardner was bored. Amateurs who "occasionally write" were the bane of him who, having a signature of his own in the leading local paper, represented to the aspiring mind the gilded and lofty peaks of the unattainable. However he must play this youth as a source of material.

"Ever try for the papers?"

"Not yet. I've thought maybe I might get a chance sometime as a sort of local correspondent around here," was the diffident reply.

Gardner repressed a grin. Manzanita would hardly qualify as a news center. Diplomacy prompted him to state vaguely that there was always a chance for good stuff locally.

"On a big story like this," he added, "of course there'd be nothing doing except for the special man sent out to cover it."

"No. Well, I didn't write my--what I wrote, with any idea of getting it printed."

The newspaper man sighed wearily, sighed like a child and lied like a man of duty. "I'd like to see it."

Without a trace of hesitation or self-consciousness Banneker said, "All right," and, taking his composition from its docket, motioned the other to the light. Mr. Gardner finished and turned the first sheet before making any observation. Then he bent a queer look upon Banneker and grunted:

"What do you call this stuff, anyway?"

"Just putting down what I saw."

Gardner read on. "What about this, about a Pullman sleeper 'elegant as a hotel bar and rigid as a church pew'? Where do you get that?"

Banneker looked startled. "I don't know. It just struck me that is the way a Pullman is."

"Well, it is," admitted the visitor, and continued to read. "And this guy with the smashed finger that kept threatening to 'soom'; is that right?"

"Of course it's right. You don't think I'd make it up! That reminds me of something." And he entered a memo to see the litigious-minded complainant again, for these are the cases which often turn up in the courts with claims for fifty-thousand-dollar damages and heartrending details of all-but-mortal internal injuries.

Silence held the reader until he had concluded the seventh and last sheet. Not looking at Banneker, he said:

"So that's your notion of reporting the wreck of the swellest train that crosses the continent, is it?"

"It doesn't pretend to be a report," disclaimed the writer. "It's pretty bad, is it?"

"It's rotten!" Gardner paused. "From a news-desk point of view. Any copy-reader would chuck it. Unless I happened to sign it," he added. "Then they'd cuss it out and let it pass, and the dear old pin-head public would eat it up."

"If it's of any use to you--"

"Not so, my boy, not so! I might pinch your wad if you left it around loose, or even your last cigarette, but not your stuff. Let me take it along, though; it may give me some ideas. I'll return it. Now, where can I get a bed in the town?"

"Nowhere. Everything's filled. But I can give you a hammock out in my shack."

"That's better. I'll take it. Thanks."

Banneker kept his guest awake beyond the limits of decent hospitality, asking him questions.

The reporter, constantly more interested in this unexpected find of a real personality in an out-of-the-way minor station of the high desert, meditated a character study of "the hero of the wreck," but could not quite contrive any peg whereon to hang the wreath of heroism. By his own modest account, Banneker had been competent but wholly unpicturesque, though the characters in his sketch, rude and unformed though it was, stood out clearly. As to his own personal history, the agent was unresponsive. At length the guest, apologizing for untimely weariness, it being then 3.15 A.M., yawned his way to the portable shack.

He slept heavily, except for a brief period when the rain let up. In the morning--which term seasoned newspaper men apply to twelve noon and the hour or two thereafter--he inquired of Banneker, "Any tramps around here?"

"No," answered the agent, "Not often. There were a pair yesterday morning, but they went on."

"Some one was fussing around the place about first light. I was too sleepy to get up. I yipped and they beat it. I don't think they got inside."

Banneker investigated. Nothing was missing from within the shack. But outside he made a distressing discovery.

His molasses pie was gone.


"To accomplish a dessert as simple and inexpensive as it is tasty," prescribes The Complete Manual of Cookery, p. 48, "take one cup of thick molasses--" But why should I infringe a copyright when the culinary reader may acquire the whole range of kitchen lore by expending eighty-nine cents plus postage on 39 T 337? Banneker had faithfully followed the prescribed instructions. The result had certainly been simple and inexpensive; presumably it would have proven tasty. He regretted and resented the rape of the pie. What aroused greater concern, however, was the presence of thieves. In the soft ground near the window he found some rather small footprints which suggested that it was the younger of the two hoboes who had committed the depredation.

Theorizing, however, was not the order of his day. Routine and extra-routine claimed all his time. There was his supplementary report to make out; the marooned travelers in Manzanita to be looked after and their bitter complaints to be listened to; consultations over the wire as to the condition and probabilities of the roadbed, for the floods had come again; and in and out of it all, the busy, weary, indefatigable Gardner, giving to the agent as much information as he asked from him. When their final lists were compared, Banneker noticed that there was no name with the initials I.O.W. on Gardner's. He thought of mentioning the clue, but decided that it was of too little definiteness and importance. The news value of mystery, enhanced by youth and beauty, which the veriest cub who had ever smelled printer's ink would have appreciated, was a sealed book to him.

Not until late that afternoon did a rescue train limp cautiously along an improvised track to set the interrupted travelers on their way. Gardner went on it, leaving an address and an invitation to "keep in touch." Mr. Vanney took his departure with a few benign and well-chosen words of farewell, accompanied by the assurance that he would "make it his special purpose to commend," and so on. His nephew, Herbert Cressey, the lily-clad messenger, stopped at the station to shake hands and grin rather vacantly, and adjure Banneker, whom he addressed as "old chap," to be sure and look him up in the East; he'd be glad to see him any time. Banneker believed that he meant it. He promised to do so, though without particular interest. With the others departed Miss Camilla Van Arsdale's two emergency guests, one of them the rather splendid young woman who had helped with the wounded. They invaded Banneker's office with supplementary telegrams and talked about their hostess with that freedom which women of the world use before dogs or uniformed officials.

"What a woman!" said the amateur nurse.

"And what a house!" supplemented the other, a faded and lined middle-aged wife who had just sent a reassuring and very long wire to a husband in Pittsburgh.

"Very much the châtelaine; grande dame and that sort of thing," pursued the other. "One might almost think her English."

"No." The other shook her head positively. "Old American. As old and as good as her name. You wouldn't flatter her by guessing her to be anything else. I dare say she would consider the average British aristocrat a little shoddy and loud."

"So they are when they come over here. But what on earth is her type doing out here, buried with a one-eyed, half-breed manservant?"

"And a concert grand piano. Don't forget that. She tunes it herself, too. Did you notice the tools? A possible romance. You've quite a nose for such things, Sue. Couldn't you get anything out of her?"

"It's much too good a nose to put in the crack of a door," retorted the pretty woman. "I shouldn't care to lay myself open to being snubbed by her. It might be painful."

"It probably would." The Pittsburgher turned to Banneker with a change of tone, implying that he could not have taken any possible heed of what went before. "Has Miss Van Arsdale lived here long, do you know?"

The agent looked at her intently for a moment before replying: "Longer than I have." He transferred his gaze to the pretty woman. "You two were her guests, weren't you?" he asked.

The visitors glanced at each other, half amused, half aghast. The tone and implication of the question had been too significant to be misunderstood. "Well, of all extraordinary--" began one of them under her breath; and the other said more loudly, "I really beg--" and then she, too, broke off.

They went out. "Châtelaine and knightly defender," commented the younger one in the refuge of the outer office. "Have we been dumped off a train into the midst of the Middle Ages? Where do you get station-agents like that?"

"The one at our suburban station chews tobacco and says 'Marm' through his nose."

Banneker emerged, seeking the conductor of the special with a message.

"He is rather a beautiful young thing, isn't he?" she added.

Returning, he helped them on the train with their hand-luggage. When the bustle and confusion of dispatching an extra were over, he sat down to think. But not of Miss Camilla Van Arsdale. That was an old story, though its chapters were few, and none of them as potentially eventful as this intrusion of Vanneys and female chatterers.

It was the molasses pie that stuck in his mind. There was no time to make another. Further, the thought of depredators hanging about disturbed him. That shack of his was full of Aladdin treasures, delivered by the summoned genii of the Great Book. Though it was secured by Little Guardian locks and fortified with the Scarem Buzz alarm, he did not feel sure of it. He decided to sleep there that night with his .45-caliber Sure-shot revolver. Let them come again; he'd give 'em a lesson! On second thought, he rebaited the window-ledge with a can of Special Juicy Apricot Preserve. At ten o'clock he turned in, determined to sleep lightly, and immediately plunged into fathomless depths of unconsciousness, lulled by a singing wind and the drone of the rain.

A light, flashing across his eyes, awakened him. For a moment he lay, dazed, confused by the gentle and unfamiliar oscillations of his hammock. Another flicker of light and a rumble of thunder brought him to his full senses. The rain had degenerated into a casual drizzle and the wind had withdrawn into the higher areas. He heard some one moving outside.

Very quietly he reached out to the stand at his elbow, got his revolver and his flashlight, and slipped to the floor. The malefactor without was approaching the window. Another flash of lightning would have revealed much to Banneker had he not been crouching close under the sill, on the inside, so that the radiance of his light, when he found the button, should not expose him to a straight shot.

A hand fumbled at the open window. Finger on trigger, Banneker held up his flashlight in his left hand and irradiated the spot. He saw the hand, groping, and on one of its fingers something which returned a more brilliant gleam than the electric ray. In his crass amazement, the agent straightened up, a full mark for murder, staring at a diamond-and-ruby ring set upon a short, delicate finger.

No sound came from outside. But the hand became instantly tense. It fell upon the sill and clutched it so hard that the knuckles stood out, white, strained and garish. Banneker's own strong hand descended upon the wrist. A voice said softly and tremulously:


The appeal went straight to Banneker's heart and quivered there, like a soft flame, like music heard in an unrealizable dream.

"Who are you?" he asked, and the voice said:

"Don't hurt me."

"Why should I?" returned Banneker stupidly.

"Some one did," said the voice.

"Who?" he demanded fiercely.

"Won't you let me go?" pleaded the voice.

In the shock of his discovery he had released the flash-lever so that this colloquy passed in darkness. Now he pressed it. A girlish figure was revealed, one protective arm thrown across the eyes.

"Don't strike me," said the girl again, and again Banneker's heart was shaken within him by such tremors as the crisis of some deadly fear might cause.

"You needn't be afraid," he stammered.

"I've never been afraid before," she said, hanging her weight away from him. "Won't you let me go?"

His grip relaxed slightly, then tightened again. "Where to?"

"I don't know," said the appealing voice mournfully.

An inspiration came to Banneker. "Are you afraid of me?" he asked quietly.

"Of every thing. Of the night."

He pressed the flash into her hand, turning the light upon himself. "Look," he said.

It seemed to him that she could not fail to read in his face the profound and ardent wish to help her; to comfort and assure an uneasy and frightened spirit wandering in the night.

He heard a little, soft sigh. "I don't know you," said the voice. "Do I?"

"No," he answered soothingly as if to a child. "I'm the station-agent here. You must come in out of the wet."

"Very well."

He tossed an overcoat on over his pajamas, ran to the door and swung it open. The tiny ray of light advanced, hesitated, advanced again. She walked into the shack, and immediately the rain burst again upon the outer world. Banneker's fleeting impression was of a vivid but dimmed beauty. He pushed forward a chair, found a blanket for her feet, lighted the "Quick-heater" oil-stove on which he did his cooking. She followed him with her eyes, deeply glowing but vague and troubled.

"This is not a station," she said.

"No. It's my shack. Are you cold?"

"Not very." She shivered a little.

"You say that some one hurt you?"

"Yes. They struck me. It made my head feel queer."

A murderous fury surged into his brain. His hand twitched toward his revolver.

"The hoboes," he whispered under his breath. "But they didn't rob you," he said aloud, looking at the jeweled hand.

"No. I don't think so. I ran away."

"Where was it?"

"On the train."

Enlightenment burst upon him. "You're sure--" he began. Then, "Tell me all you can about it."

"I don't remember anything. I was in my stateroom in the car. The door was open. Some one must have come in and struck me. Here." She put her left hand tenderly to her head.

Banneker, leaning over her, only half suppressed a cry. Back of the temple rose a great, puffed, leaden-blue wale.

"Sit still," he said. "I'll fix it."

While he busied himself heating water, getting out clean bandages and gauze, she leaned back with half-closed eyes in which there was neither fear nor wonder nor curiosity: only a still content. Banneker washed the wound very carefully.

"Does it hurt?" he asked.

"My head feels queer. Inside."

"I think the hair ought to be cut away around the place. Right here. It's quite raw."

It was glorious hair. Not black, as Cressey had described it in his hasty sketch of the unknown I.O.W.; too alive with gleams and glints of luster for that. Nor were her eyes black, but rather of a deep-hued, clouded hazel, showing troubled shadows between their dark-lashed, heavy lids. Yet Banneker made no doubt but that this was the missing girl of Cressey's inquiry.

"May I?" he said.

"Cut my hair?" she asked. "Oh, no!"

"Just a little, in one place. I think I can do it so that it won't show. There's so much of it."

"Please," she answered, yielding.

He was deft. She sat quiet and soothed under his ministerings. Completed, the bandage looked not too unworkmanlike, and was cool and comforting to the hot throb of the wound.

"Our doctor went back on the train, worse luck!" he said.

"I don't want any other doctor," she murmured. "I'd rather have you."

"But I'm not a doctor."

"No," she acquiesced. "Who are you? Did you tell me? You are one of the passengers, aren't you?"

"I'm the station-agent at Manzanita."

For a moment she looked at him wonderingly. "Are you? I don't seem to understand. My head is very queer."

"Don't try to. Here's some tea and crackers."

"I'm starved," she said.

With subtle stirrings of delight, he watched her eat the bit that he had prepared for her while heating the water. But he was wise enough to know that she must not have much while the extent of her injury was still undetermined.

"Are you wet?" he inquired.

She nodded. "I haven't been dry since the flood."

"I have a room with a real stove in it over the station. I'll build a fire, and you must take off your wet things and go to bed and sleep. If you need anything you can hammer on the floor."

"But you--"

"I'll be in my office, below. I'm on night duty to-night," said he, tactfully fabricating.

"Very well. You're awfully kind."

He adjusted the oil-stove, threw a warmed blanket over her feet, and hurried to his room to build the promised fire. When he came back she smiled.

"You are good to me! It's stupid of me--my head is so queer--did you say you were--"

"The station-agent. My name is Banneker. I'm responsible to the company for your safety and comfort. You're not to worry about it, nor think about it, nor ask any questions."

"No," she agreed, and rose.

He threw the blanket around her shoulders. At the protective touch she slipped her hand through his arm. So they went out into the night.

Mounting the stairs, she stumbled, and for a moment he felt the firm, warm pressure of her body against him. It shook him strangely.

"I'm sorry," she murmured. And, a moment later, "Good-night, and thank you."

Taking the hand which she held out, he returned her good-night. The door closed. He turned away and was halfway down the flight when a sudden thought recalled him. He tapped on the door.

"What is it?" asked the serene music of the voice.

"I don't want to bother you, but there's just one thing I forgot. Please give me your name."

"What for?" returned the voice doubtfully.

"I must report it to the company."

"Must you?" The voice seemed to be vaguely troubled. "To-night?"

"Don't give a thought to it," he said. "To-morrow will do just as well. I'm sorry to have troubled you."

"Good-night," she said again.

"Can't remember her own name!" thought Banneker, moved and pitiful.

Darkness and quiet were grateful to him as he entered the office. By sense of direction he found his chair, and sank into it. Overhead he could hear the soft sound of her feet moving about the room, his room. Quiet succeeded. Banneker, leagues removed from sleep, or the hope of it, despite his bodily weariness, followed the spirit of wonder through starlit and sunlit realms of dream.

The telegraph-receiver clicked. Not his call. But it brought him back to actualities. He lighted his lamp and brought down the letter-file from which had been extracted the description of the wreck for Gardner of the Angelica City Herald.

Drawing out the special paper, he looked at the heading and smiled. "Letters to Nobody." He took a fresh sheet and began to write. Through the night he wrote and dreamed and dozed and wrote again. When a sound of song, faint and sweet and imminent, roused him to lift his sleep-bowed head from the desk upon which it had sunk, the gray, soiled light of a stormy morning was in his eyes. The last words he had written were:

"The breast of the world rises and falls with your breathing."

Banneker was twenty-four years old, and had the untainted soul of a boy of sixteen.


Overhead she was singing. The voice was clear and sweet and happy. He did not know the melody; some minor refrain of broken rhythm which seemed always to die away short of fulfillment. A haunting thing of mystery and glamour, such mystery and glamour as had irradiated his long and wonderful night. He heard the door open and then her light footsteps on the stair outside. Hot-eyed and disheveled, he rose, staggering a little at first as he hurried to greet her.

She stood poised on the lower step.

"Good-morning," he said.

She made no return to his accost other than a slow smile. "I thought you were a dream," she murmured.

"No. I'm real enough. Are you better? Your head?"

She put a hand to the bandage. "It's sore. Otherwise I'm quite fit. I've slept like the dead."

"I'm glad to hear it," he replied mechanically. He was drinking her in, all the grace and loveliness and wonder of her, himself quite unconscious of the intensity of his gaze.

She accepted the mute tribute untroubled; but there was a suggestion of puzzlement in the frown which began to pucker her forehead.

"You're really the station-agent?" she asked with a slight emphasis upon the adverb.

"Yes. Why not?"

"Nothing. No reason. Won't you tell me what happened?"

"Come inside." He held open the door against the wind.

"No. It's musty." She wrinkled a dainty nose. "Can't we talk here? I love the feel of the air and the wet. And the world! I'm glad I wasn't killed."

"So am I," he said soberly.

"When my brain wouldn't work quite right yesterday, I thought that some one had hit me. That isn't so, is it?"

"No. Your train was wrecked. You were injured. In the confusion you must have run away."

"Yes. I remember being frightened. Terribly frightened. I'd never been that way before. Outside of that one idea of fear, everything was mixed up. I ran until I couldn't run any more and dropped down."

"And then?"

"I got up and ran again. Have you ever been afraid?"

"Plenty of times."

"I hadn't realized before that there was anything in the world to be afraid of. But the thought of that blow, coming so suddenly from nowhere, and the fear that I might be struck again--it drove me." She flung out her hands in a little desperate gesture that twitched at Banneker's breath.

"You must have been out all night in the rain."'

"No. I found a sort of cabin in the woods. It was deserted."

"Dutch Cal's place. It's only a few rods back in."

"I saw a light from there and that suggested to my muddled brain that I might get something to eat."

"So you came over here."

"Yes. But the fear came on me again and I didn't dare knock. I suppose I prowled."

"Gardner thought he heard ghosts. But ghosts don't steal molasses pie."

She looked at him solemnly. "Must one steal to get anything to eat here?"

"I'm sorry," he cried. "I'll get you breakfast right away. What will you have? There isn't much."

"Anything there is. But if I'm to board with you, you must let me pay my way."

"The company is responsible for that."

Her brooding eyes were still fixed upon him. "You actually are the agent," she mused. "That's quaint."

"I don't see anything quaint about it. Now, if you'll make yourself comfortable I'll go over to the shack and rustle something for breakfast."

"No; I'd rather go with you. Perhaps I can help."

Such help as the guest afforded was negligible. When, from sundry of the Sears-Roebuck cans and bottles, a condensed and preserved sort of meal had been derived, she set to it with a good grace.

"There's more of a kick in tea than in a cocktail, I believe, when you really need it," she remarked gratefully. "You spoke of a Mr. Gardner. Who is he?"

"A reporter who spent night before last here."

She dropped her cracker, oleomargarine-side down. "A reporter?"

"He came down to write up the wreck. It's a bad one. Nine dead, so far."

"Is he still here?"

"No. Gone back to Angelica City."

Retrieving her cracker, the guest finished her meal, heartily but thoughtfully. She insisted on lending a hand to the washing-up process, and complimented Banneker on his neatness.

"You haven't told me your name yet," he reminded her when the last shining tin was hung up.

"No; I haven't. What will you do with it when you get it?"

"Report it to the company for their lists."

"Suppose I don't want it reported to the company?'

"Why on earth shouldn't you?"

"I may have my reasons. Would it be put in the papers?"

"Very likely."

"I don't _want_ it in the papers," said the girl with decision.

"Don't you want it known that you're all right? Your people--"

"I'll wire my people. Or you can wire them for me. Can't you?"

"Of course. But the company has a right to know what has happened to its passengers."

"Not to me! What has the company done for me but wreck me and give me an awful bang on the head and lose my baggage and--Oh, I nearly forgot. I took my traveling-bag when I ran. It's in the hut. I wonder if you would get it for me?"

"Of course. I'll go now."

"That's good of you. And for your own self, but not your old company, I'll tell you my name. I'm--"

"Wait a moment. Whatever you tell me I'll have to report."

"You can't," she returned imperiously. "It's in confidence."

"I won't accept it so."

"You're a most extraordinary sta--a most extraordinary sort of man. Then I'll give you this much for yourself, and if your company collects pet names, you can pass it on. My friends call me Io."

"Yes. I know. You're I.O.W."

"How do you know that? And how much more do you know?"

"No more. A man on the train reported your initials from your baggage."

"I'll feel ever so much better when I have that bag. Is there a hotel near here?"

"A sort of one at Manzanita. It isn't very clean. But there'll be a train through to-night and I'll get you space on that. I'd better get a doctor for you first, hadn't I?"

"No, indeed! All I need is some fresh things."

Banneker set off at a brisk pace. He found the extravagant little traveling-case safely closed and locked, and delivered it outside his own door which was also closed and, he suspected, locked.

"I'm thinking," said the soft voice of the girl within. "Don't let me interrupt your work."

Beneath, at his routine, Banneker also set himself to think; confused, bewildered, impossibly conjectural thoughts not unmingled with semi-official anxiety. Harboring a woman on company property, even though she were, in some sense, a charge of the company, might be open to misconceptions. He wished that the mysterious Io would declare herself.

At noon she did. She declared herself ready for luncheon. There was about her a matter-of-fact acceptance of the situation as natural, even inevitable, which entranced Banneker when it did not appall him. After the meal was over, the girl seated herself on a low bench which Banneker had built with his own hands and the Right-and-Ready Tool Kit (9 T 603), her knee between her clasped hands and an elfish expression on her face.

"Don't you think," she suggested, "that we'd get on quicker if you washed the dishes and I sat here and talked to you?"

"Very likely."

"It isn't so easy to begin, you know," she remarked, nursing her knee thoughtfully. "Am I--Do you find me very much in the way?'"


"Don't suppress your wild enthusiasm on my account," she besought him. "I haven't interfered with your duties so far, have I?"

"No," answered Banneker wondering what was coming next.

"You see"--her tone became ruminative and confidential--"if I give you my name and you report it, there'll be all kinds of a mix-up. They'll come after me and take me away."

Banneker dropped a tin on the floor and stood, staring.

"Isn't that what you want?"

"It's evident enough that it's what _you_ want," she returned, aggrieved.

"No. Not at all," he disclaimed. "Only--well, out here--alone--I don't understand."

"Can't you understand that if one had happened to drop out of the world by chance, it might be desirable to stay out for a while?"

"For _you_? No; I can't understand that."

"What about yourself?" she challenged with a swift, amused gleam. "You are certainly staying out of the world here."

"This is my world."

Her eyes and voice dropped. "Truly?" she murmured. Then, as he made no reply, "It isn't much of a world for a man."

To this his response touched the heights of the unexpected. He stretched out his arm toward the near window through which could be seen the white splendor of Mount Carstairs, dim in the wreathing murk.

"Lo! For there, amidst the flowers and grasses, Only the mightier movement sounds and passes, Only winds and rivers, Life and death," he quoted.

Her eyes glowed with sheer, incredulous astonishment. "How came you by that Stevenson?" she demanded. "Are you poet as well as recluse?"

"I met him once."

"Tell me about it."

"Some other time. We've other things to talk of now."

"Some other time? Then I'm to stay!"

"In Manzanita?"

"Manzanita? No. Here."

"In this station? Alone? But why--"

"Because I'm Io Welland and I want to, and I always get what I want," she retorted calmly and superbly.

"Welland," he repeated. "Miss I.O. Welland. And the address is New York, isn't it?"

Her hands grew tense across her knee, and deep in her shadowed eyes there was a flash. But her voice suggested not only appeal, but almost a hint of caress as she said:

"Are you going to betray a guest? I've always heard that Western hospitality--"

"You're not my guest. You're the company's."

"And you won't take me for yours?"

"Be reasonable, Miss Welland."

"I suppose it's a question of the conventionalities," she mocked.

"I don't know or care anything about the conventionalities--"

"Nor I," she interrupted. "Out here."

"--but my guess would be that they apply only to people who live in the same world. We don't, you and I."

"That's rather shrewd of you," she observed.

"It isn't an easy matter to talk about to a young girl, you know."

"Oh, yes, it is," she returned with composure. "Just take it for granted that I know about all there is to be known and am not afraid of it. I'm not afraid of anything, I think, except of--of having to go back just now." She rose and went to him, looking down into his eyes. "A woman knows whom she can trust in--in certain things. That's her gift, a gift no man has or quite understands. Dazed as I was last night, I knew I could trust you. I still know it. So we may dismiss that."

"That is true," said Banneker, "so far as it goes."

"What farther is there? If it's a matter of the inconvenience--"

"No. You know it isn't that."

"Then let me stay in this funny little shack just for a few days," she pleaded. "If you don't, I'll get on to-night's train and go on and--and do something I'll be sorry for all the rest of my life. And it'll be your fault! I was going to do it when the accident prevented. Do you believe in Providence?"

"Not as a butt-in," he answered promptly. "I don't believe that Providence would pitch a rock into a train and kill a lot of people, just to prevent a girl from making a foo--a bad break."

"Nor I," she smiled. "I suppose there's some kind of a General Manager over this queer world; but I believe He plays the game fair and square and doesn't break the rules He has made Himself. If I didn't, I wouldn't want to play at all!... Oh, my telegram! I must wire my aunt in New York. I'll tell her that I've stopped off to visit friends, if you don't object to that description as being too compromising," she added mischievously. She accepted a pad which he handed her and sat at the table, pondering. "Mr. Banneker," she said after a moment.


"If the telegram goes from here, will it be headed by the name of the station?"


"So that inquiry might be made here for me?"

"It might, certainly."

"But I don't want it to be. Couldn't you leave off the station?"

"Not very well."

"Just for me?" she wheedled. "For your guest that you've been so insistent on keeping," she added slyly.

"The message wouldn't be accepted."

"Oh, dear! Then I won't send it."

"If you don't notify your family, I must report you to the company."

"What an irritating sense of duty you have! It must be dreadful to be afflicted that way. Can't you suggest something?" she flashed. "Won't you do a _thing_ to help me stay? I believe you don't want me, after all."

"If the up-train gets through this evening, I'll give your wire to the engineer and he'll transmit it from any office you say."

Childlike with pleasure she clapped her hands. "Of course! Give him this, will you?" From a bag at her wrist she extracted a five-dollar bill. "By the way, if I'm to be a guest I must be a paying guest, of course."

"You can pay for a cot that I'll get in town," he agreed, "and your share of the food."

"But the use of the house, and--and all the trouble I'm making you," she said doubtfully. "I ought to pay for that."

"Do you think so?" He looked at her with a peculiar expression which, however, was not beyond the power of her intuition to interpret.

"No; I don't," she declared.

Banneker answered her smile with his own, as he resumed his dish-wiping. Io wrote out her telegram with care. Her next observation startled the agent.

"Are you, by any chance, married?"

"No; I'm not. What makes you ask that?"

"There's been a woman in here before."

Confusedly his thoughts flew back to Carlotta. But the Mexican girl had never been in the shack. He was quite absurdly and inexplicably glad now that she had not.

"A woman?" he said. "Why do you think so?"

"Something in the arrangement of the place. That hanging, yonder. And that little vase--it's good, by the way. The way that Navajo is placed on the door. One feels it."

"It's true. A friend of mine came here one day and turned everything topsy-turvy."

"I'm not asking questions just for curiosity. But is that the reason you didn't want me to stay?"

He laughed, thinking of Miss Van Arsdale. "Heavens, no! Wait till you meet her. She's a very wonderful person; but--"

"Meet her? Does she live near here, then?"

"A few miles away."

"Suppose she should come and find me here?"

"It's what I've been wishing."

"Is it! Well, it isn't what I wish at all."

"In fact," continued the imperturbable Banneker, "I rather planned to ride over to her place this afternoon."

"Why, if you please?"

"To tell her about you and ask her advice."

Io's face darkened rebelliously. "Do you think it necessary to tattle to a woman who is a total stranger to me?"

"I think it would be wise to get her view," he replied, unmoved.

"Well, I think it would be horrid. I think if you do any such thing, you are--Mr. Banneker! You're not listening to me."

"Some one is coming through the woods trail," said he.

"Perhaps it's your local friend."

"That's my guess."

"Please understand this, Mr. Banneker," she said with an obstinate outthrust of her little chin. "I don't know who your friend is and I don't care. If you make it necessary, I can go to the hotel in town; but while I stay here I won't have my affairs or even my presence discussed with any one else."

"You're too late," said Banneker.

Out from a hardly discernible opening in the brush shouldered a big roan. Tossing up his head, he stretched out in the long, easy lope of the desert-bred, his rider sitting him loosely and with slack bridle.

"That's Miss Van Arsdale," said Banneker.


Seated in her saddle the newcomer hailed Banneker.

"What news, Ban? Is the wreck cleared up?"

"Yes. But the track is out twenty miles east. Every arroyo and barranca is bank-high and over."

He had crossed the platform to her. Now she raised her deep-set, quiet eyes and rested them on the girl. That the station should harbor a visitor at that hour was not surprising. But the beauty of the stranger caught Miss Van Arsdale's regard, and her bearing held it.

"A passenger, Ban?" she asked, lowering her voice.

"Yes, Miss Camilla."

"Left over from the wreck?"

He nodded. "You came in the nick of time. I don't quite know what to do with her."

"Why didn't she go on the relief train?"

"She didn't show up until last night."

"Where did she stay the night?"


"In your office?"

"In my room. I worked in the office."

"You should have brought her to me."

"She was hurt. Queer in the head. I'm not sure that she isn't so yet."

Miss Van Arsdale swung her tall form easily out of the saddle. The girl came forward at once, not waiting for Banneker's introduction, with a formal gravity.

"How do you do? I am Irene Welland."

The older woman took the extended hand. There was courtesy rather than kindliness in her voice as she asked, "Are you much hurt?"

"I'm quite over it, thank you. All but the bandage. Mr. Banneker was just speaking of you when you rode up, Miss Van Arsdale."

The other smiled wanly. "It is a little startling to hear one's name like that, in a voice from another world. When do you go on?"

"Ah, that's a point under discussion. Mr. Banneker would, I believe, summon a special train if he could, in his anxiety to get rid of me."

"Not at all," disclaimed the agent.

But Miss Van Arsdale interrupted, addressing the girl:

"You must be anxious, yourself, to get back to civilization."

"Why?" returned the girl lightly. "This seems a beautiful locality."

"Were you traveling alone?"

The girl flushed a little, but her eyes met the question without wavering. "Quite alone."

"To the coast?"

"To join friends there."

"If they can patch up the washed-out track," put in Banneker, "Number Seven ought to get through to-night."

"And Mr. Banneker in his official capacity was almost ready to put me aboard by force, when I succeeded in gaining a reprieve. Now he calls you to his rescue."

"What do you want to do?" inquired Miss Van Arsdale with lifted brows.

"Stay here for a few days, in that funny little house." She indicated the portable shack.

"That is Mr. Banneker's own place."

"I understand perfectly."

"I don't think it would do, Miss Welland. It is _Miss_ Welland, isn't it?"

"Yes, indeed. Why wouldn't it do, Miss Van Arsdale?"

"Ask yourself."

"I am quite capable of taking care of myself," returned the girl calmly. "As for Mr. Banneker, I assume that he is equally competent. And," she added with a smiling effrontery, "he's quite as much compromised already as he could possibly be by my staying."

Banneker flushed angrily. "There's no question of my being compromised," he began shortly.

"You're wrong, Ban; there is," Miss Van Arsdale's quiet voice cut him short again. "And still more of Miss Welland's. What sort of escapade this may be," she added, turning to the girl, "I have no idea. But you cannot stay here alone."

"Can't I?" retorted the other mutinously. "I think that rests with Mr. Banneker to say. Will you turn me out, Mr. Banneker? After our agreement?"

"No," said Banneker.

"You can hardly kidnap me, even with all the conventionalities on your side," Miss Welland pointed out to Miss Van Arsdale.

That lady made no answer to the taunt. She was looking at the station-agent with a humorously expectant regard. He did not disappoint her.

"If I get an extra cot for the shack, Miss Van Arsdale," he asked, "could you get your things and come over here to stay?"


"I won't be treated like a child!" cried the derelict in exactly the tone of one, and a very naughty one. "I won't! I won't!" She stamped.

Banneker laughed.

"You're a coward," said Io.

Miss Van Arsdale laughed.

"I'll go to the hotel in the town and stay there."

"Think twice before you do that," advised the woman.

"Why?" asked Io, struck by the tone.

"Crawly things," replied Miss Van Arsdale sententiously.

"Big, hungry ones," added Banneker.

He could almost feel the little rippling shudders passing across the girl's delicate skin. "Oh, I think you're _loathly_!" she cried. "Both of you."

Tears of vexation made lucent the shadowed depths of her eyes. "I've never been treated so in my life!" she declared, overcome by the self-pity of a struggling soul trammeled by the world's injustice.

"Why not be sensible and stay with me to-night while you think it all over?" suggested Miss Van Arsdale.

"Thank you," returned the other with an unexpected and baffling change to the amenable and formal "You are very kind. I'd be delighted to."

"Pack up your things, then, and I'll bring an extra horse from the town. I'll be back in an hour."

The girl went up to Banneker's room, and got her few belongings together. Descending she found the agent busy among his papers. He put them aside and came out to her.

"Your telegram ought to get off from Williams sometime to-morrow," he said.

"That will be time enough," she answered.

"Will there be any answer?"

"How can there be? I haven't given any address."

"I could wire Williams later."

"No. I don't want to be bothered. I want to be let alone. I'm tired."

He cast a glance about the lowering horizon. "More rain coming," he said. "I wish you could have seen the desert in the sunshine."

"I'll wait."

"Will you?" he cried eagerly. "It may be quite a while."

"Perhaps Miss Van Arsdale will keep me, as you wouldn't."

He shook his head. "You know that it isn't because I don't want you to stay. But she is right. It just wouldn't do.... Here she comes now."

Io took a step nearer to him. "I've been looking at your books."

He returned her gaze unembarrassed. "Odds and ends," he said. "You wouldn't find much to interest you."

"On the contrary. Everything interested me. You're a mystery--and I hate mysteries."

"That's rather hard."

"Until they're solved. Perhaps I shall stay until I solve you."

"Stay longer. It wouldn't take any time at all. There's no mystery to solve." He spoke with an air of such perfect candor as compelled her belief in his sincerity.

"Perhaps you'll solve it for me. Here's Miss Van Arsdale. Good-bye, and thank you. You'll come and see me? Or shall I come and see you?"

"Both," smiled Banneker. "That's fairest."

The pair rode away leaving the station feeling empty and unsustained. At least Banneker credited it with that feeling. He tried to get back to work, but found his routine dispiriting. He walked out into the desert, musing and aimless.

Silence fell between the two women as they rode. Once Miss Welland stopped to adjust her traveling-bag which had shifted a little in the straps.

"Is riding cross-saddle uncomfortable for you?" asked Miss Van Arsdale.

"Not in the least. I often do it at home."

Suddenly her mount, a thick-set, soft-going pony shied, almost unseating her. A gun had banged close by. Immediately there was a second report. Miss Van Arsdale dismounted, replacing a short-barreled shot-gun in its saddle-holster, stepped from the trail, and presently returned carrying a brace of plump, slate-gray birds.

"Wild dove," she said, stroking them. "You'll find them a welcome addition to a meager bill of fare."

"I should be quite content with whatever you usually have."

"Doubted," replied the other. "I live rather a frugal life. It saves trouble."

"And I'm afraid I'm going to make you trouble. But you brought it upon yourself."

"By interfering. Exactly. How old are you?"


"Good Heavens! You have the aplomb of fifty."

"Experience," smiled the girl, flattered.

"And the recklessness of fifteen."

"I abide by the rules of the game. And when I find myself--well, out of bounds, I make my own rules."

Miss Van Arsdale shook her firmly poised head. "It won't do. The rules are the same everywhere, for honorable people."

"Honorable!" There was a flash of resentful pride as the girl turned in the saddle to face her companion.

"I have no intention of preaching at you or of questioning you," continued the calm, assured voice. "If you are looking for sanctuary"--the fine lips smiled slightly--"though I'm sure I can't see why you should need it, this is the place. But there are rules of sanctuary, also."

"I suppose," surmised the girl, "you want to know why I don't go back into the world at once."


"Then I'll tell you."

"As you wish."

"I came West to be married."

"To Delavan Eyre?"

Again the dun pony jumped, this time because a sudden involuntary contraction of his rider's muscles had startled him. "What do you know of Delavan Eyre, Miss Van Arsdale?"

"I occasionally see a New York newspaper."

"Then you know who I am, too?"

"Yes. You are the pet of the society column paragraphers; the famous 'Io' Welland." She spoke with a curious intonation.

"Ah, you read the society news?"

"With a qualmish stomach. I see the names of those whom I used to know advertising themselves in the papers as if they had a shaving-soap or a chewing-gum to sell."

"Part of the game," returned the girl airily. "The newcomers, the climbers, would give their souls to get the place in print that we get without an effort."

"Doesn't it seem to you a bit vulgar?" asked the other.

"Perhaps. But it's the way the game is played nowadays."

"With counters which you have let the parvenues establish for you. In my day we tried to keep out of the papers."

"Clever of you," approved the girl. "The more you try to keep out, the more eager the papers are to print your picture. They're crazy over exclusiveness," she laughed.

"Speculation, pro and con, as to who is going to marry whom, and who is about to divorce whom, and whether Miss Welland's engagement to Mr. Eyre is authentic, 'as announced exclusively in this column'--more exclusiveness--; or whether--"

"It wasn't Del Eyre that I came out here to marry."


"No. It's Carter Holmesley. Of course you know about him."

"By advertisement, also; the society-column kind."

"Really, you know, he couldn't keep out of the papers. He hates it with all his British soul. But being what he is, a prospective duke, an international poloist, and all that sort of thing, the reporters naturally swarm to him. Columns and columns; more pictures than a popular _danseuse_. And all without his lifting his hand."

"_Une mariage de reclame_," observed Miss Van Arsdale. "Is it that that constitutes his charm for you?"

Miss Van Arsdale's smile was still instinct with mockery, but there had crept into it a quality of indulgence.

"No," answered the girl. Her face became thoughtful and serious. "It's something else. He--he carried me off my feet from the moment I met him. He was drunk, too, that first time. I don't believe I've ever seen him cold sober. But it's a joyous kind of intoxication; vine-leaves and Bacchus and that sort of thing 'weave a circle 'round him thrice'--_you_ know. It _is_ honey-dew and the milk of Paradise to him." She laughed nervously. "And charm! It's in the very air about him. He can make me follow his lead like a little curly poodle when I'm with him."

"Were you engaged to Delavan Eyre when you met him?"

"Oh, engaged!" returned the girl fretfully. "There was never more than a sort of understanding. A _mariage de convenance_ on both sides, if it ever came off. I _am_ fond of Del, too. But he was South, and the other came like a whirlwind, and I'm--I'm queer about some things," she went on half shamefacedly. "I suppose I'm awfully susceptible to physical impressions. Are all girls that way? Or is that gross and--and underbred?"

"It's part of us, I expect; but we're not all so honest with ourselves. So you decided to throw over Mr. Eyre and marry your Briton."

"Well--yes. The new British Ambassador, who arrives from Japan next week, is Carty's uncle, and we were going to make him stage-manage the wedding, you see. A sort of officially certified elopement."

"More advertisement!" said Miss Van Arsdale coldly. "Really, Miss Welland, if marriage seems to you nothing more than an opportunity to create a newspaper sensation I cannot congratulate you on your prospects."

This time her tone stung. Io Welland's eyes became sullen. But her voice was almost caressingly amiable as she said:

"Tastes differ. It is, I believe, possible to create a sensation in New York society without any newspaper publicity, and without at all meaning or wishing to. At least, it was, fifteen years ago; so I'm told."

Camilla Van Arsdale's face was white and lifeless and still, as she turned it toward the girl.

"You must have been a very precocious five-year-old," she said steadily.

"All the Olneys are precocious. My mother was an Olney, a first cousin of Mrs. Willis Enderby, you know."

"Yes; I remember now."

The malicious smile on the girl's delicate lips faded. "I wish I, hadn't said that," she cried impulsively. "I hate Cousin Mabel. I always have hated her. She's a cat. And I think the way she, acted in--in the--the--well, about Judge Enderby and--".

"Please!" Miss Van Arsdale's tone was peremptory. "Here is my place." She indicated a clearing with a little nest of a camp in it.

"Shall I go back?" asked Io remorsefully.


Miss Van Arsdale dismounted and, after a moment's hesitancy, the other followed her example. The hostess threw open the door and a beautiful, white-ruffed collie rushed to her with barks of joy. She held out a hand to her new guest.

"Be welcome," she said with a certain stately gravity, "for as long as you will stay."

"It might be some time," answered Io shyly. "You're tempting me."

"When is your wedding?"

"Wedding! Oh, didn't I tell you? I'm not going to marry Carter Holmesley either."

"You are not going--"

"No. The bump on my head must have settled my brain. As soon as I came to I saw how crazy it would be. That is why I don't want to go on West."

"I see. For fear of his overbearing you."

"Yes. Though I don't think he could now. I think I'm over it. Poor old Del! He's had a narrow escape from losing me. I hope he never hears of it. Placid though he is, that might stir him up."

"Then you'll go back to him?"

The girl sighed. "I suppose so. How can I tell? I'm only twenty, and it seems to me that somebody has been trying to marry me ever since I stopped petting my dolls. I'm tired of men, men, men! That's why I want to live alone and quiet for a while in the station-agent's shack."

"Then you don't consider Mr. Banneker as belonging to the tribe of men?"

"He's an official. I could always see his uniform, at need." She fell into thought. "It's a curious thing," she mused.

Miss Van Arsdale said nothing.

"This queer young cub of a station-agent of yours is strangely like Carter Holmesley, not as much in looks as in--well--atmosphere. Only, he's ever so much better-looking."

"Won't you have some tea? You must be tired," said Miss Van Arsdale politely.


Somewhere within the soul of civilized woman burns a craving for that higher power of sensation which we dub sensationalism. Girls of Io Welland's upbringing live in an atmosphere which fosters it. To outshine their rivals in the startling things which they do, always within accepted limits, is an important and exciting phase of existence. Io had run away to marry the future Duke of Carfax, partly through the charm which a reckless, headlong, and romantic personality imposed upon her, but largely for the excitement of a reckless, headlong, and romantic escapade. The tragic interposition of the wreck seemed to her present consciousness, cooled and sobered by the spacious peace of the desert, to have been providential.

Despite her disclaimer made to Banneker she felt, deep within the placid acceptances of subconsciousness, that the destruction of a train was not too much for a considerate Providence to undertake on behalf of her petted and important self. She clearly realized that she had had a narrow escape from Holmesley; that his attraction for her was transient and unsubstantial, a surface magnetism without real value or promise.

In her revulsion of feeling she thought affectionately of Delavan Eyre. There lay the safe basis of habitude, common interests, settled liking. True, he bored her at times with his unimpeachable good-nature, his easy self-assurance that everything was and always would be "all right," and nothing "worth bothering over."

If he knew of her escapade, that would at least shake him out of his soft and well-lined rut. Indeed, Io was frank enough with herself to admit that a perverse desire to explode a bomb under her imperturbable and too-assured suitor had been an element in her projected elopement. Never would that bomb explode. It would not even fizzle enough to alarm Eyre or her family. For not a soul knew of the frustrated scheme, except Holmesley and the reliable friend in Paradiso whom she was to visit; not her father, Sims Welland, traveling in Europe on business, nor her aunt, Mrs. Thatcher Forbes, in whose charge she had been left. Ostensibly she had been going to visit the Westerleys, that was all: Mrs. Forbes's misgivings as to a twenty-year-old girl crossing the continent alone had been unavailing against Io's calm willfulness.

Well, she would go back and marry Del Eyre, and be comfortable ever after. After all, liking and comprehension were a sounder foundation for matrimony than the perishable glamour of an attraction like Holmesley's. Any sensible person would know that. She wished that she had some older and more experienced woman to talk it out with. Miss Van Arsdale, if only she knew her a little better....

Camilla Van Arsdale, even on so casual an acquaintance, would have told Io, reckoning with the slumbering fire in her eyes, and the sensitive and passionate turn of the lips, but still more with the subtle and significant emanation of a femininity as yet unawakened to itself, that for her to marry on the pallid expectancies of mere liking would be to invite disaster and challenge ruin.

Meantime Io wanted to rest and think.

Time enough for that was to be hers, it appeared. Her first night as a guest had been spent in a semi-enclosed porch, to which every breeze wafted the spicy and restful balm of the wet pines. Io's hot brain cooled itself in that peace. Quite with a feeling of welcome she accepted the windy downpour which came with the morning to keep her indoors, as if it were a friendly and opportune jailer. Reaction from the mental strain and the physical shock had set in. She wanted only, as she expressed it to her hostess, to "laze" for a while.

"Then this is the ideal spot for you," Miss Van Arsdale answered her. "I'm going to ride over to town."

"In this gale?" asked the surprised girl.

"Oh, I'm weather-proof. Tell Pedro not to wait luncheon for me. And keep an eye on him if you want anything fit to eat. He's the worst cook west of the plains. You'll find books, and the piano to amuse you when you get up."

She rode away, straight and supple in the saddle, and Io went back to sleep again. Halfway to her destination, Miss Van Arsdale's woods-trained ear caught the sound of another horse's hooves, taking a short cut across a bend in the trail. To her halloo, Banneker's clear voice responded. She waited and presently he rode up to her.

"Come back with me," she invited after acknowledging his greeting.

"I was going over to see Miss Welland."

"Wait until to-morrow. She is resting."

A shade of disappointment crossed his face. "All right," he agreed. "I wanted to tell her that her messages got off all right."

"I'll tell her when I go back."

"That'll be just as well," he answered reluctantly. "How is she feeling?"

"Exhausted. She's been under severe strain."

"Oughtn't she to have a doctor? I could ride--"

"She won't listen to it. And I think her head is all right now. But she ought to have complete rest for several days."

"Well, I'm likely to be busy enough," he said simply. "The schedule is all shot to pieces, and, unless this rain lets up, we'll have more track out. What do you think of it?"

Miss Van Arsdale looked up through the thrashing pines to the rush of the gray-black clouds. "I think we're in for a siege of it," was her pronouncement.

They rode along single file in the narrow trail until they emerged into the open. Then Banneker's horse moved forward, neck and neck with the other. Miss Van Arsdale reined down her uneasy roan.



"Have you ever seen anything like her before?"

"Only on the stage."

She smiled. "What do you think of her?"

"I hardly know how to express it," he answered frankly, though hesitantly. "She makes me think of all the poetry I've ever read."

"That's dangerous. Ban, have you any idea what kind of a girl she is?"

"What kind?" he repeated. He looked startled.

"Of course you haven't. How should you? I'm going to tell you."

"Do you know her, Miss Camilla?"

"As well as if she were my own sister. That is, I know her type. It's common enough."

"It can't be," he protested eagerly.

"Oh, yes! The type is. She is an exquisite specimen of it; that's all. Listen, Ban. Io Welland is the petted and clever and willful daughter of a rich man; a very rich man he would be reckoned out here. She lives in a world as remote from this as the moon."

"Of course. I realize that."

"It's well that you do. And she's as casual a visitant here as if she had floated down on one moonbeam and would float back on the next."

"She'll have to, to get out of here if this rain keeps up," observed the station-agent grimly.

"I wish she would," returned Miss Van Arsdale.

"Is she in your way?"

"I shouldn't mind that if I could keep her out of yours," she answered bluntly.

Banneker turned a placid and smiling face to her. "You think I'm a fool, don't you, Miss Camilla?"

"I think that Io Welland, without ill-intent at all, but with a period of idleness on her hands, is a dangerous creature to have around. She's too lovely and, I think, too restless a spirit."

"She's lovely, all right," assented Banneker.

"Well; I've warned you, Ban," returned his friend in slightly dispirited tones.

"What do you want me to do? Keep away from your place? I'll do whatever you say. But it's all nonsense."

"I dare say it is," sighed Miss Van Arsdale. "Forget that I've said it, Ban. Meddling is a thankless business."

"You could never meddle as far as I'm concerned," said Banneker warmly. "I'm a little worried," he added thoughtfully, "about not reporting her as found to the company. What do you think?"

"Too official a question for me. You'll have to settle that for yourself."

"How long does she intend to stay?"

"I don't know. But a girl of her breeding and habits would hardly settle herself on a stranger for very long unless a point were made of urging her."

"And you won't do that?"

"I certainly shall not!"

"No; I suppose not. You've been awfully good to her."

"Hospitality to the shipwrecked," smiled Miss Van Arsdale as she crossed the track toward the village.

Late afternoon, darkening into wilder winds and harsher rain, brought the hostess back to her lodge dripping and weary. On a bearskin before the smouldering fire lay the girl, her fingers intertwined behind her head, her eyes half closed and dreamy. Without directly responding to the other's salutation she said:

"Miss Van Arsdale, will you be very good to me?"

"What is it?"

"I'm tired," said Io. "So tired!"

"Stay, of course," responded the hostess, answering the implication heartily, "as long as you will."

"Only two or three days, until I recover the will to do something. You're awfully kind." Io looked very young and childlike, with her languid, mobile face irradiated by the half-light of the fire. "Perhaps you'll play for me sometime."

"Of course. Now, if you like. As soon as the chill gets out of my hands."

"Thank you. And sing?" suggested the girl diffidently.

A fierce contraction of pain marred the serenity of the older woman's face. "No," she said harshly. "I sing for no one."

"I'm sorry," murmured the girl.

"What have you been doing all day?" asked Miss Van Arsdale, holding out her hands toward the fire.

"Resting. Thinking. Scaring myself with bogy-thoughts of what I've escaped." Io smiled and sighed. "I hadn't known how worn out I was until I woke up this morning. I don't think I ever before realized the meaning of refuge."

"You'll recover from the need of it soon enough," promised the other. She crossed to the piano. "What kind of music do you want? No; don't tell me. I should be able to guess." Half turning on the bench she gazed speculatively at the lax figure on the rug. "Chopin, I think. I've guessed right? Well, I don't think I shall play you Chopin to-day. You don't need that kind of--of--well, excitation."

Musing for a moment over a soft mingling of chords she began with a little ripple of melody, MacDowell's lovely, hurrying, buoyant "Improvisation," with its aeolian vibrancies, its light, bright surges of sound, sinking at the last into cradled restfulness. Without pause or transition she passed on to Grieg; the wistful, remote appeal of the strangely misnamed "Erotique," plaintive, solemn, and in the fulfillment almost hymnal: the brusque pursuing minors of the wedding music, and the diamond-shower of notes of the sun-path song, bleak, piercing, Northern sunlight imprisoned in melody. Then, the majestic swing of Åse's death-chant, glorious and mystical.

"Are you asleep?" asked the player, speaking through the chords.

"No," answered Io's tremulous voice. "I'm being very unhappy. I love it!"

Bang! It was a musical detonation, followed by a volley of chords and then a wild, swirling waltz; and Miss Van Arsdale jumped up and stood over her guest. "There!" she said. "That's better than letting you pamper yourself with the indulgence of unhappiness."

"But I want to be unhappy," pouted Io. "I want to be pampered."

"Naturally. You always will be, I expect, as long as there are men in the world to do your bidding. However, I must see to supper."

So for two days Io Welland lolled and lazed and listened to Miss Van Arsdale's music, or read, or took little walks between showers. No further mention was made by her hostess of the circumstances of the visit. She was a reticent woman; almost saturnine, Io decided, though her perfect and effortless courtesy preserved her from being antipathetic to any one beneath her own roof. How much her silence as to the unusual situation was inspired by consideration for her guest, how much due to natural reserve, Io could not estimate.

A little less reticence would have been grateful to her as the hours spun out and she felt her own spirit expand slowly in the calm. It was she who introduced the subject of Banneker.

"Our quaint young station-agent seems to have abandoned his responsibilities so far as I'm concerned," she observed.

"Because he hasn't come to see you?"

"Yes. He said he would."

"I told him not to."

"I see," said Io, after thinking it over. "Is he a little--just a wee, little bit queer in his head?"

"He's one of the sanest persons I've ever known. And I want him to stay so."

"I see again," stated the girl.

"So you thought him a bit unbalanced? That _is_ amusing." That the hostess meant the adjective in good faith was proved by her quiet laughter.

Io regarded her speculatively and with suspicion. "He asked the same about me, I suppose." Such was her interpretation of the laugh.

"But he gave you credit for being only temporarily deranged."

"Either he or I ought to be up for examination by a medical board," stated the girl poutingly. "One of us must be crazy. The night that I stole his molasses pie--it was pretty awful pie, but I was starved--I stumbled over something in the darkness and fell into it with an awful clatter. What do you suppose it was?"

"I think I could guess," smiled the other.

"Not unless you knew. Personally I couldn't believe it. It felt like a boat, and it rocked like a boat, and there were the seats and the oars. I could feel them. A steel boat! Miss Van Arsdale, it isn't reasonable."

"Why isn't it reasonable?'

"I looked on the map in his room and there isn't so much as a mud-puddle within miles and miles and miles. Is there?"

"Not that I know of."

"Then what does he want of a steel boat?"

"Ask him."

"It might stir him up. They get violent if you question their pet lunacies, don't they?"

"It's quite simple. Ban is just an incurable romanticist. He loves the water. And his repository of romance is the catalogue of Sears, Roebuck and Co. When the new issue came, with an entrancing illustration of a fully equipped steel boat, he simply couldn't stand it. He had to have one, to remind him that some day he would be going back to the coast lagoons.... Does that sound to you like a fool?"

"No; it sounds delicious," declared the girl with a ripple of mirth. "What a wonderful person! I'm going over to see him to-morrow. May I?"

"My dear; I have no control over your actions."

"Have you made any other plans for me to-morrow morning?" inquired Miss Welland in a prim and social tone, belied by the dancing light in her eyes.

"I've told you that he was romantic," warned the other.

"What higher recommendation could there be? I shall sit in the boat with him and talk nautical language. Has he a yachting cap? Oh, do tell me that he has a yachting cap!"

Miss Van Arsdale, smiling, shook her head, but her eyes were troubled. There was compunction in Io's next remark.

"I'm really going over to see about accommodations. Sooner or later I must face the music--meaning Carty. I'm fit enough now, thanks to you."

"Wouldn't an Eastern trip be safer?" suggested her hostess.

"An Eastern trip would be easier. But I've made my break, and it's in the rules, as I understand them, that I've got to see it through. If he can get me now"--she gave a little shrug--"but he can't. I've come to my senses."

Sunlight pale, dubious, filtering through the shaken cloud veils, ushered in the morning. Meager of promise though it was, Io's spirits brightened. Declining the offer of a horse in favor of a pocket compass, she set out afoot, not taking the trail, but forging straight through the heavy forest for the line of desert. Around her, brisk and busy flocks of piñon jays darted and twittered confidentially. The warm spice of the pines was sweet in her nostrils. Little stirrings and rustlings just beyond the reach of vision delightfully and provocatively suggested the interest which she was inspiring by her invasion among the lesser denizens of the place. The sweetness and intimacy of an unknown life surrounded her. She sang happily as she strode, lithe and strong and throbbing with unfulfilled energies and potencies, through the springtide of the woods.

But when she emerged upon the desert, she fell silent. A spaciousness as of endless vistas enthralled and, a little, awed her. On all sides were ranged the disordered ranks of the cacti, stricken into immobility in the very act of reconstituting their columns, so that they gave the effect of a discord checked on the verge of its resolution into form and harmony, yet with a weird and distorted beauty of its own. From a little distance, there came a murmur of love-words. Io moved softly forward, peering curiously, and from the arc of a wide curving ocatilla two wild doves sprang, leaving the branch all aquiver. Bolder than his companions of the air, a cactus owl, perched upon the highest column of a great green candelabrum, viewed her with a steady detachment, "sleepless, with cold, commemorative eyes." The girl gave back look for look, into the big, hard, unwavering circles.

"You're a funny little bird," said she. "Say something!"

Like his congener of the hortatory poem, the owl held his peace.

"Perhaps you're a stuffed little bird," said Io, "and this not a real desert at all, but a National Park or something, full of educational specimens."

She walked past the occupant of the cactus, and his head, turning, followed her with the slow, methodical movement of a toy mechanism.

"You give me a crick in my neck," protested the intruder plaintively. "Now, I'll step over behind you and you'll _have_ to move or stop watching me."

She walked behind the watcher. The eyes continued to hold her in direct range.

"Now," said Io, "I know where the idea for that horrid advertisement that always follows you with its finger came from. However, I'll fix you."

She fetched a deliberate circle. The bird's eyes followed her without cessation. Yet his feet and body remained motionless. Only the head had turned. That had made a complete revolution.

"This is a very queer desert," gasped Io. "It's bewitched. Or am I? Now, I'm going to walk once more around you, little owl, or mighty magician, whichever you are. And after I've completely turned your head, you'll fall at my feet. Or else..."

Again she walked around the feathered center of the circle. The head followed her, turning with a steady and uninterrupted motion, on its pivot. Io took a silver dime from her purse.

"Heaven save us from the powers of evil!" she said appreciatively. "Aroint thee, witch!"

She threw the coin at the cactus.

"Chrr-rr-rrum!" burbled the owl, and flew away.

"I'm dizzy," said Io. "I wonder if the owl is an omen and whether the other inhabitants of this desert are like him; however much you turn their heads, they won't fall for you. Charms and counter-charms!... Be a good child, Io," she admonished herself. "Haven't you got yourself into enough trouble with your deviltries? I can't help it," she defended herself. "When I see a new and interesting specimen, I've just _got_ to investigate its nature and habits. It's an inherited scientific spirit, I suppose. And he is new, and awfully interesting--even if he is only a station-agent." Wherefrom it will be perceived that her thoughts had veered from the cactus owl, to another perplexing local phenomenon.

The glaring line of the railroad right-of-way rose before her feet, a discordant note of rigidity and order in the confused prodigality of desert growth. Io turned away from it, but followed its line until she reached the station. No sign of life greeted her. The door was locked, and the portable house unresponsive to her knocking. Presently, however, she heard the steady click of the telegraph instrument and, looking through the half-open office window, saw Banneker absorbed in his work.

"Good-morning," she called.

Without looking up he gave back her greeting in an absent echo.

"As you didn't come to see me, I've come to see you," was her next attempt.

Did he nod? Or had he made no motion at all?

"I've come to ask important questions about trains," she pursued, a little aggrieved by his indifference to her presence.

No reply from the intent worker.

"And 'tell sad stories of the death of kings,'" she quoted with a fairy chuckle. She thought that she saw a small contortion pass over his features, only to be banished at once. He had retired within the walls of that impassive and inscrutable reserve which minor railroad officials can at will erect between themselves and the lay public. Only the broken rhythms of the telegraph ticker relieved the silence and furnished the justification.

A little piqued but more amused, for she was far too confident of herself to feel snubbed, the girl waited smilingly. Presently she said in silken tones:

"When you're quite through and can devote a little attention to insignificant me, I shall perhaps be sitting on the sunny corner of the platform, or perhaps I shall be gone forever."

But she was not gone when, ten minutes later, Banneker came out. He looked tired.

"You know, you weren't very polite to me," she remarked, glancing at him slantwise as he stood before her.

If she expected apologies, she was disappointed, and perhaps thought none the less of him for his dereliction.

"There's trouble all up and down the line," he said. "Nothing like a schedule left west of Allbright. Two passenger trains have come through, though. Would you like to see a paper? It's in my office."

"Goodness, no! Why should I want a newspaper here? I haven't time for it. I want to see the world"--she swept a little, indicating hand about her; "all that I can take in in a day."

"A day?" he echoed.

"Yes. I'm going to-morrow."

"That's as may be. Ten to one there's no space to be had."

"Surely you can get something for me. A section will do if you can't get a stateroom."

He smiled. "The president of the road might get a stateroom. I doubt if anybody else could even land an upper. Of course I'll do my best. But it's a question when there'll be another train through."

"What ails your road?" she demanded indignantly. "Is it just stuck together with glue?"

"You've never seen this desert country when it springs a leak. It can develop a few hundred Niagaras at the shortest notice of any place I know."

"But it isn't leaking now," she objected.

He turned his face to the softly diffused sunlight. "To be continued. The storm isn't over yet, according to the way I feel about it. Weather reports say so, too."

"Then take me for a walk!" she cried. "I'm tired of rain and I want to go over and lean against that lovely white mountain."

"Well, it's only sixty miles away," he answered. "Perhaps you'd better take some grub along or you might get hungry."

"Aren't you coming with me?"

"This is my busy morning. If it were afternoon, now--"

"Very well. Since you are so urgent, I _will_ stay to luncheon. I'll even get it up myself if you'll let me into the shack."

"That's a go!" said Banneker heartily. "What about your horse?"

"I walked over."

"No; did you?" He turned thoughtful, and his next observation had a slightly troubled ring. "Have you got a gun?"

"A gun? Oh, you mean a pistol. No; I haven't. Why should I?"

He shook his head. "This is no time to be out in the open without a gun. They had a dance at the Sick Coyote in Manzanita last night, and there'll be some tough specimens drifting along homeward all day."

"Do you carry a gun?"

"I would if I were going about with you."

"Then you can loan me yours to go home with this afternoon," she said lightly.

"Oh, I'll take you back. Just now I've got some odds and ends that will take a couple of hours to clear up. You'll find plenty to read in the shack, such as it is."

Thus casually dismissed, Io murmured a "Thank you" which was not as meek as it sounded, and withdrew to rummage among the canned edibles drawn from the inexhaustible stock of Sears-Roebuck. Having laid out a selection, housewifely, and looked to the oil stove derived from the same source, she turned with some curiosity to the mental pabulum with which this strange young hermit had provided himself. Would this, too, bear the mail-order imprint and testify to mail-order standards? At first glance the answer appeared to be affirmative. The top shelf of the home-made case sagged with the ineffable slusheries of that most popular and pious of novelists, Harvey Wheelwright. Near by, "How to Behave on All Occasions" held forth its unimpeachable precepts, while a little beyond, "Botany Made Easy" and "The Perfect Letter Writer" proffered further aid to the aspiring mind. Improvement, stark, blatant Improvement, advertised itself from that culturous and reeking compartment. But just below--Io was tempted to rub her eyes--stood Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy"; a Browning, complete; that inimitably jocund fictional prank, Frederic's "March Hares," together with the same author's fine and profoundly just "Damnation of Theron Ware"; Taylor's translation of Faust; "The [broken-backed] Egoist"; "Lavengro" (Io touched its magic pages with tender fingers), and a fat, faded, reddish volume so worn and obscured that she at once took it down and made explorative entry. She was still deep in it when the owner arrived.

"Have you found enough to keep you amused?"

She looked up from the pages and seemed to take him all in anew before answering. "Hardly the word. Bewildered would be nearer the feeling."

"It's a queerish library, I suppose," he said apologetically.

"If I believed in dual personality--" she began; but broke off to hold up the bulky veteran. "Where did you get 'The Undying Voices'?"

"Oh, that's a windfall. What a bully title for a collection of the great poetries, isn't it!"

She nodded, one caressing hand on the open book, the other propping her chin as she kept the clear wonder of her eyes upon him.

"It makes you think of singers making harmony together in a great open space. I'd like to know the man who made the selections," he concluded.

"What kind of a windfall?" she asked.

"A real one. Pullman travelers sometimes prop their windows open with books. You can see the window-mark on the cover of this one. I found it two miles out, beside the right-of-way. There was no name in it, so I kept it. It's the book I read most except one."

"What's the one?"

He laughed, holding up the still more corpulent Sears-Roebuck catalogue.

"Ah," said she gravely. "That accounts, I suppose, for the top shelf."

"Yes, mostly."

"Do you like them? The Conscientious Improvers, I mean?"

"I think they're bunk."

"Then why did you get them?"

"Oh, I suppose I was looking for something," he returned; and though his tone was careless, she noticed for the first time a tinge of self-consciousness.

"Did you find it there?"

"No. It isn't there."

"Here?" She laid both hands on the "windfall."

His face lighted subtly.

"It _is_ there, isn't it! If one has the sense to get it out."

"I wonder," mused the girl. And again, "I wonder." She rose, and taking out "March Hares" held it up. "I could hardly believe this when I saw it. Did it also drop out of a car window?"

"No. I never heard of that until I wrote for it. I wrote to a Boston bookstore that I'd heard about and told 'em I wanted two books to cheer up a fool with the blues, and another to take him into a strange world--and keep the change out of five dollars. They sent me 'The Bab Ballads' and this, and 'Lavengro.'"

"Oh, how I'd like to see that letter! If the bookstore has an ounce of real bookitude about it, they've got it preserved in lavender! And what do you think of 'March Hares'?"

"Did you ever read any of the works of Harvey Wheelwright?" he questioned in turn.

"Now," thought Io, "he is going to compare Frederic to Wheelwright, and I shall abandon him to his fate forever. So here's his chance ... I have," she replied aloud.

"It's funny," ruminated Banneker. "Mr. Wheelwright writes about the kind of things that might happen any day, and probably do happen, and yet you don't believe a word of it. 'March Hares'--well, it just couldn't happen; but what do you care while you're in it! It seems realer than any of the dull things outside it. That's the literary part of it, I suppose, isn't it?"

"That's the magic of it," returned Io, with a little, half-suppressed crow of delight. "Are you magic, too, Mr. Banneker?"

"Me? I'm hungry," said he.

"Forgive the cook!" she cried. "But just one thing more. Will you lend me the poetry book?"

"It's all marked up," he objected, flushing.

"Are you afraid that I'll surprise your inmost secrets?" she taunted. "They'd be safe. I can be close-mouthed, even though I've been chattering like a sparrow."

"Take it, of course," he said. "I suppose I've marked all the wrong things."

"So far," she laughed, "you're batting one hundred per cent as a literary critic." She poured coffee into a tin cup and handed it to him. "What do you think of my coffee?"

He tasted it consideringly; then gave a serious verdict. "Pretty bad."

"Really! I suppose it isn't according to the mail-order book recipe."

"It's muddy and it's weak."

"Are you always so frank in your expression of views?"

"Well, you asked me."

"Would you answer as plainly whatever I asked you?"

"Certainly. I'd have too much respect for you not to."

She opened wide eyes at this. Then provocatively: "What do you think of me, Mr. Banneker?"

"I can't answer that."

"Why not?" she teased.

"I don't know you well enough to give an opinion."

"You know me as well as you ever will."

"Very likely."

"Well, a snap judgment, for what it's worth.... What are you doing there?"

"Making more coffee."

Io stamped her foot. "You're the most enraging man I ever met."

"It's quite unintentional," he replied patiently, but with no hint of compunction. "You may drink yours and I'll drink mine."

"You're only making it worse!"

"Very well; then I'll drink yours if you like."

"And say it's good."

"But what's the use?"

"And say it's good," insisted Io.

"It's marvelous," agreed her unsmiling host.

Far from being satisfied with words and tone, which were correctness itself, Io was insensately exasperated.

"You're treating me like a child," she charged.

"How do you want me to treat you?"

"As a woman," she flashed, and was suddenly appalled to feel the blood flush incredibly to her cheeks.

If he noted the phenomenon, he gave no sign, simply assenting with his customary equanimity. During the luncheon she chattered vaguely. She was in two minds about calling off the projected walk. As he set aside his half-emptied cup of coffee--not even tactful enough to finish it out of compliment to her brew--Banneker said:

"Up beyond the turn yonder the right-of-way crosses an arroyo. I want to take a look at it. We can cut through the woods to get there. Are you good for three miles?"

"For a hundred!" cried Io.

The wine of life was potent in her veins.


Before the walk was over, Io knew Banneker as she had never before, in her surrounded and restricted life, known any man; the character and evolution and essence of him. Yet with all his frankness, the rare, simple, and generous outgiving of a naturally rather silent nature yielding itself to an unrecognized but overmastering influence, he retained the charm of inner mystery. Her sudden understanding of him still did not enable her to place him in any category of life as she knew it to be arranged.

The revelation had come about through her description of her encounter with the queer and attentive bird of the desert.

"Oh," said Banneker. "You've been interviewing a cactus owl."

"Did he unwind his neck carefully and privately after I had gone?"

"No," returned Banneker gravely. "He just jumped in the air and his body spun around until it got back to its original relation."

"How truly fascinating! Have you seen him do it?"

"Not actually seen. But often in the evenings I've heard them buzzing as they unspin the day's wind-up. During the day, you see, they make as many as ten or fifteen revolutions until their eyes bung out. Reversing makes them very dizzy, and if you are around when they're doing it, you can often pick them up off the sand."

"And doesn't it ever make _you_ dizzy? All this local lore, I mean, that you carry around in your head?"

"It isn't much of a strain to a practiced intellect," he deprecated. "If you're interested in natural history, there's the Side-hill Wampus--"

"Yes; I know. I've been West before, thank you! Pardon my curiosity, but are all you creatures of the desert queer and inexplicable?"

"Not me," he returned promptly if ungrammatically, "if you're looking in my direction."

"I'll admit that I find you as interesting as the owl--almost. And quite as hard to understand."

"Nobody ever called me queer; not to my face."

"But you are, you know. You oughtn't to be here at all."

"Where ought I to be?"

"How can I answer that riddle without knowing where you have been? Are you Ulysses--"

"'Knowing cities and the hearts of men,'" he answered, quick to catch the reference. "No; not the cities, certainly, and very little of the men."

"There, you see!" she exclaimed plaintively. "You're up on a classical reference like a college man. No; not like the college men I know, either. They are too immersed in their football and rowing and too afraid to be thought high-brow, to confess to knowing anything about Ulysses. What was your college?"

"This," he said, sweeping a hand around the curve of the horizon.

"And in any one else," she retorted, "that would be priggish as well as disingenuous."

"I suppose I know what you mean. Out here, when a man doesn't explain himself, they think it's for some good reason of his own, or bad reason, more likely. In either case, they don't ask questions."

"I really beg your pardon, Mr. Banneker!"

"No; that isn't what I meant at all. If you're interested, I'd like to have you know about me. It isn't much, though."

"You'll think me prying," she objected.

"I think you a sort of friend of a day, who is going away very soon leaving pleasant memories," he answered, smiling. "A butterfly visit. I'm not much given to talking, but if you'd like it--"

"Of course I should like it."

So he sketched for her his history. His mother he barely remembered; "dark, and quite beautiful, I believe, though that might be only a child's vision; my father rarely spoke of her, but I think all the emotional side of his life was buried with her." The father, an American of Danish ancestry, had been ousted from the chair of Sociology in old, conservative Havenden College, as the logical result of his writings which, because they shrewdly and clearly pointed out certain ulcerous spots in the economic and social system, were denounced as "radical" by a Board of Trustees honestly devoted to Business Ideals. Having a small income of his own, the ex-Professor decided upon a life of investigatory vagrancy, with special reference to studies, at first hand, of the voluntarily unemployed. Not knowing what else to do with the only child of his marriage, he took the boy along. Contemptuous of, rather than embittered against, an academic system which had dispensed with his services because it was afraid of the light--"When you cast a light, they see only the resultant shadows," was one of his sayings which had remained with Banneker--he had resolved to educate the child himself.

Their life was spent frugally in cities where they haunted libraries, or, sumptuously, upon the open road where a modest supply of ready cash goes a long way. Young Banneker's education, after the routine foundation, was curiously heterodox, but he came through it with his intellectual digestion unimpaired and his mental appetite avid. By example he had the competent self-respect and unmistakable bearing of a gentleman, and by careful precept the speech of a liberally educated man. When he was seventeen, his father died of a twenty-four hours' pneumonia, leaving the son not so much stricken as bewildered, for their relations had been comradely rather than affectionate. For a time it was a question whether the youngster, drifting from casual job to casual job, would not degenerate into a veritable hobo, for he had drunk deep of the charm of the untrammeled and limitless road. Want touched him, but lightly; for he was naturally frugal and hardy. He got a railroad job by good luck, and it was not until he had worked himself into a permanency that his father's lawyers found and notified him of the possession of a small income, one hundred dollars per annum of which, they informed him, was to be expended by them upon such books as they thought suitable to his circumstances, upon information provided by the deceased, the remainder to be at his disposal.

Though quite unauthorized to proffer advice, as they honorably stated, they opined that the heir's wisest course would be to prepare himself at once for college, the income being sufficient to take him through, with care--and they were, his Very Truly, Cobb & Morse.

Banneker had not the smallest idea of cooping up his mind in a college. As to future occupation, his father had said nothing that was definite. His thesis was that observation and thought concerning men and their activities, pointed and directed by intimate touch with what others had observed and set down--that is, through books--was the gist of life. Any job which gave opportunity or leisure for this was good enough. Livelihood was but a garment, at most; life was the body beneath. Furthermore, young Banneker would find, so his senior had assured him, that he possessed an open sesame to the minds of the really intelligent wheresoever he might encounter them, in the form of a jewel which he must keep sedulously untarnished and bright. What was that? asked the boy. His speech and bearing of a cultivated man.

Young Banneker found that it was almost miraculously true. Wherever he went, he established contacts with people who interested him and whom he interested: here a brilliant, doubting, perturbed clergyman, slowly dying of tuberculosis in the desert; there a famous geologist from Washington who, after a night of amazing talk with the young prodigy while awaiting a train, took him along on a mountain exploration; again an artist and his wife who were painting the arid and colorful glories of the waste places. From these and others he got much; but not friendship or permanent associations. He did not want them. He was essentially, though unconsciously, a lone spirit; so his listener gathered. Advancement could have been his in the line of work which had by chance adopted him; but he preferred small, out-of-the-way stations, where he could be with his books and have room to breathe. So here he was at Manzanita. That was all there was to it. Nothing very mysterious or remarkable about it, was there?

Io smiled in return. "What is your name?" she asked.

"Errol. But every one calls me Ban."

"Haven't you ever told this to any one before?"


"Why not?"

"Why should I?"

"I don't know really," hesitated the girl, "except that it seems almost inhuman to keep one's self so shut off."

"It's nobody else's business."

"Yet you've told it to me. That's very charming of you."

"You said you'd be interested."

"So I am. It's an extraordinary life, though you don't seem to think so."

"But I don't want to be extraordinary."

"Of course you do," she refuted promptly. "To be ordinary is--is--well, it's like being a dust-colored beetle." She looked at him queerly. "Doesn't Miss Van Arsdale know all this?"

"I don't see how she could. I've never told her."

"And she's never asked you anything?"

"Not a word. I don't quite see Miss Camilla asking any one questions about themselves. Did she ask you?"

The girl's color deepened almost imperceptibly. "You're right," she said. "There's a standard of breeding that we up-to-date people don't attain. But I'm at least intelligent enough to recognize it. You reckon her as a friend, don't you?"

"Why, yes; I suppose so."

"Do you suppose you'd ever come to reckon me as one?" she asked, half bantering, half wistful.

"There won't be time. You're running away."

"Perhaps I might write you. I think I'd like to."

"Would you?" he murmured. "Why?"

"You ought to be greatly flattered," she reproved him. "Instead you shoot a 'why' at me. Well; because you've got something I haven't got. And when I find anything new like that, I always try to get some of it for myself."

"I don't know what it could be, but--"

"Call it your philosophy of life. Your contentment. Or is it only detachment? That can't last, you know."

He turned to her, vaguely disturbed as by a threat. "Why not?"

"You're too--well, distinctive. You're too rare and beautiful a specimen. You'll be grabbed." She laughed softly.

"Who'll grab me?"

"How should I know? Life, probably. Grab you and dry you up and put you in a case like the rest of us."

"Perhaps that's why I like to stay out here. At least I can be myself."

"Is that your fondest ambition?"

However much he may have been startled by the swift stab, he gave no sign of hurt in his reply.

"Call it the line of least resistance. In any case, I shouldn't like to be grabbed and dried up."

"Most of us are grabbed and catalogued from our birth, and eventually dried up and set in our proper places."

"Not you, certainly."

"Because you haven't seen me in my shell. That's where I mostly live. I've broken out for a time."

"Don't you like it outside, Butterfly?" he queried with a hint of playful caress in his voice.

"I like that name for myself," she returned quickly. "Though a butterfly couldn't return to its chrysalis, no matter how much it wanted to, could it? But you may call me that, since we're to be friends."

"Then you do like it outside your shell."

"It's exhilarating. But I suppose I should find it too rough for my highly sensitized skin in the long run.... Are you going to write to me if I write to you?"

"What about? That Number Six came in making bad steam, and that a west-bound freight, running extra, was held up on the siding at Marchand for half a day?"

"Is that all you have to write about?"

Banneker bethought himself of the very private dossier in his office. "No; it isn't."

"You _could_ write in a way all your own. Have you ever written anything for publication?"

"No. That is--well--I don't really know." He told her about Gardner and the description of the wreck.

"How did you happen to do that?" she asked curiously.

"Oh, I write a lot of things and put them away and forget them."

"Show me," she wheedled. "I'd love to see them."

He shook his head. "They wouldn't interest you." The words were those of an excuse. But in the tone was finality.

"I don't think you're very responsive," she complained. "I'm awfully interested in you and your affairs, and you won't play back the least bit."

They walked on in silence for a space. He had, she reflected, a most disconcerting trick of silence, of ignoring quite without embarrassment leads, which in her code imperatively called for return. Annoyance stirred within her, and the eternal feline which is a component part of the eternal feminine asserted itself.

"Perhaps," she suggested, "you are afraid of me."

"No; I'm not."

"By that you mean 'Why should I be'?"

"Something of the sort."

"Didn't Miss Van Arsdale warn you against me?"

"How did you know that?" he asked, staring.

"A solemn warning not to fall in love with me?" pursued the girl calmly.

He stopped short. "She told you that she had said something to me?"

"Don't be idiotic! Of course she didn't."

"Then how did you know?" he persisted.

"How does one snake know what another snake will do?" she retorted. "Being of the same--"

"Wait a moment. I don't like that word 'snake' in connection with Miss Van Arsdale."

"Though you're willing to accept it as applying to me. I believe you are trying to quarrel with me," accused Io. "I only meant that, being a woman, I can make a guess at what another woman would do in any given conditions. And she did it!" she concluded in triumph.

"No; she didn't. Not in so many words. But you're very clever."

"Say, rather, that _you_ are very stupid," was the disdainful retort. "So you're not going to fall in love with me?"

"Of course not," answered Banneker in the most cheerfully commonplace of tones.

Once embarked upon this primrose path, which is always an imperceptible but easy down-slope, Io went farther than she had intended. "Why not?" she challenged.

"Brass buttons," said Banneker concisely.

She flushed angrily. "You _can_ be rather a beast, can't you!"

"A beast? Just for reminding you that the Atkinson and St. Philip station-agent at Manzanita does not include in his official duties that of presuming to fall in love with chance passengers who happen to be more or less in his care."

"Very proper and official! Now," added the girl in a different manner, "let's stop talking nonsense, and do you tell me one thing honestly. Do you feel that it would be presumption?"

"To fall in love with you?"

"Leave that part of it out; I put my question stupidly. I'm really curious to know whether you feel any--any difference between your station and mine."

"Do you?"

"Yes; I do," she answered honestly, "when I think of it. But you make it very hard for me to remember it when I'm with you."

"Well, I don't," he said. "I suppose I'm a socialist in all matters of that kind. Not that I've ever given much thought to them. You don't have to out here."

"No; you wouldn't. I don't know that _you_ would have to anywhere.... Are we almost home?"

"Three minutes' more walking. Tired?"

"Not a bit. You know," she added, "I really would like it if you'd write me once in a while. There's something here I'd like to keep a hold on. It's tonic. I'll _make_ you write me." She flashed a smile at him.


"By sending you books. You'll have to acknowledge them."

"No. I couldn't take them. I'd have to send them back."

"You wouldn't let me send you a book or two just as a friendly memento?" she cried, incredulous.

"I don't take anything from anybody," he retorted doggedly.

"Ah; that's small-minded," she accused. "That's ungenerous. I wouldn't think that of you."

He strode along in moody thought for a few paces. Presently he turned to her a rigid face. "If you had ever had to accept food to keep you alive, you'd understand."

For a moment she was shocked and sorry. Then her tact asserted itself. "But I have," she said readily, "all my life. Most of us do."

The hard muscles around his mouth relaxed. "You remind me," he said, "that I'm not as real a socialist as I thought. Nevertheless, that rankles in my memory. When I got my first job, I swore I'd never accept anything from anybody again. One of the passengers on your train tried to tip me a hundred dollars."

"He must have been a fool," said Io scornfully.

Banneker held open the station-door for her. "I've got to send a wire or two," said he. "Take a look at this. It may give some news about general railroad conditions." He handed her the newspaper which had arrived that morning.

When he came out again, the station was empty.

Io was gone. So was the newspaper.


Deep in work at her desk, Camilla Van Arsdale noted, with the outer tentacles of her mind, slow footsteps outside and a stir of air that told of the door being opened. Without lifting her head she called:

"You'll find towels and a bathrobe in the passageway."

There was no reply. Miss Van Arsdale twisted in her chair, gave one look, rose and strode to the threshold where Io Welland stood rigid and still.

"What is it?" she demanded sharply.

The girl's hands gripped a folded newspaper. She lifted it as if for Miss Van Arsdale's acceptance, then let it fall to the floor. Her throat worked, struggling for utterance, as it might be against the pressure of invisible fingers.

"The beast! Oh, the beast!" she whispered.

The older woman threw an arm over her shoulders and led her to the big chair before the fireplace. Io let herself be thrust into it, stiff and unyielding as a manikin. Any other woman but Camilla Van Arsdale would have asked questions. She went more directly to the point. Picking up the newspaper she opened it. Halfway across an inside page ran the explanation of Io's collapse.


read the caption, in the glaring vulgarity of extra-heavy type, and below;

_Ducal Heir Offers Private Reward to Dinner Party of Friends_

After an estimating look at the girl, who sat quite still with hot, blurred eyes, Miss Van Arsdale carefully read the article through.

"Here is advertising enough to satisfy the greediest appetite for print," she remarked grimly.

"He's on one of his brutal drunks." The words seemed to grit in the girl's throat. "I wish he were dead! Oh, I wish he were dead!"

Miss Van Arsdale laid hold on her shoulders and shook her hard. "Listen to me, Irene Welland. You're on the way to hysterics or some such foolishness. I won't have it! Do you understand? Are you listening to me?"

"I'm listening. But it won't make any difference what you say."

"Look at me. Don't stare into nothingness that way. Have you read this?"

"Enough of it. It ends everything."

"I should hope so, indeed. My dear!" The woman's voice changed and softened. "You haven't found that you cared for him, after all, more than you thought? It isn't that?"

"No; it isn't that. It's the beastliness of the whole thing. It's the disgrace."

Miss Van Arsdale turned to the paper again.

"Your name isn't given."

"It might as well be. As soon as it gets back to New York, every one will know."

"If I read correctly between the lines of this scurrilous thing, Mr. Holmesley gave what was to have been his bachelor dinner, took too much to drink, and suggested that every man there go on a separate search for the lost bride offering two thousand dollars reward for the one who found her. Apparently it was to have been quite private, but it leaked out. There's a hint that he had been drinking heavily for some days."

"My fault," declared Io feverishly. "He told me once that if ever I played anything but fair with him, he'd go to the devil the quickest way he could."

"Then he's a coward," pronounced Miss Van Arsdale vigorously.

"What am I? I didn't play fair with him. I practically jilted him without even letting him know why."

Miss Van Arsdale frowned. "Didn't you send him word?"

"Yes. I telegraphed him. I told him I'd write and explain. I haven't written. How could I explain? What was there to say? But I ought to have said something. Oh, Miss Van Arsdale, why didn't I write!"

"But you did intend to go on and face him and have it out. You told me that."

A faint tinge of color relieved the white rigidity of Io's face. "Yes," she agreed. "I did mean it. Now it's too late and I'm disgraced."

"Don't be melodramatic. And don't waste yourself in self-pity. To-morrow you'll see things clearer, after you've slept."

"Sleep? I couldn't." She pressed both hands to her temples, lifting tragic and lustrous eyes to her companion. "I think my head is going to burst from trying not to think."

After some hesitancy Miss Van Arsdale went to a wall-cabinet, took out a phial, shook into her hand two little pellets, and returned the phial, carefully locking the cabinet upon it.

"Take a hot bath," she directed. "Then I'm going to give you just a little to eat. And then these." She held out the drug.

Io acquiesced dully.

Early in the morning, before the first forelight of dawn had started the birds to prophetic chirpings, the recluse heard light movements in the outer room. Throwing on a robe she went in to investigate. On the bearskin before the flickering fire sat Io, an apparition of soft curves.

"D--d--don't make a light," she whimpered. "I've been crying."

"That's good. The best thing you could do."

"I want to go home," wailed Io.

"That's good, too. Though perhaps you'd better wait a little. Why, in particular do you want to go home?"

"I w-w-w-want to m-m-marry Delavan Eyre."

A quiver of humor trembled about the corners of Camilla Van Arsdale's mouth. "Echoes of remorse," she commented.

"No. It isn't remorse. I want to feel safe, secure. I'm afraid of things. I want to go to-morrow. Tell Mr. Banneker he must arrange it for me."

"We'll see. Now you go back to bed and sleep."

"I'd rather sleep here," said Io. "The fire is so friendly." She curled herself into a little soft ball.

Her hostess threw a coverlet over her and returned to her own room.

When light broke, there was no question of Io's going that day, even had accommodations been available. A clogging lassitude had descended upon her, the reaction of cumulative nervous stress, anesthetizing her will, her desires, her very limbs. She was purposeless, ambitionless, except to lie and rest and seek for some resolution of peace out of the tangled web wherein her own willfulness had involved her.

"The best possible thing," said Camilla Van Arsdale. "I'll write your people that you are staying on for a visit."

"Yes; they won't mind. They're used to my vagaries. It's awfully good of you."

At noon came Banneker to see Miss Welland. Instead he found a curiously reticent Miss Van Arsdale. Miss Welland was not feeling well and could not be seen.

"Not her head again, is it?" asked Banneker, alarmed.

"More nerves, though the head injury probably contributed."

"Oughtn't I to get a doctor?"

"No. All that she needs is rest."

"She left the station yesterday without a word."

"Yes," replied the non-committal Miss Van Arsdale.

"I came over to tell her that there isn't a thing to be had going west. Not even an upper. There was an east-bound in this morning. But the schedule isn't even a skeleton yet."

"Probably she won't be going for several days yet," said Miss Van Arsdale, and was by no means reassured by the unconscious brightness which illumined Banneker's face. "When she goes it will be east. She's changed her plans."

"Give me as much notice as you can and I'll do my best for her."

The other nodded. "Did you get any newspapers by the train?" she inquired.

"Yes; there was a mail in. I had a letter, too," he added after a little hesitation, due to the fact that he had intended telling Miss Welland about that letter first. Thus do confidences, once begun, inspire even the self-contained to further confidences.

"You know there was a reporter up from Angelica City writing up the wreck."


"Gardner, his name is. A nice sort of fellow. I showed him some nonsense that I wrote about the wreck."

"You? What kind of nonsense?"

"Oh, just how it struck me, and the queer things people said and did. He took it with him. Said it might give him some ideas."

"One might suppose it would. Did it?"

"Why, he didn't use it. Not that way. He sent it to the New York Sphere for what he calls a 'Sunday special,' and what do you think! They accepted it. He had a wire."

"As Gardner's?"

"Oh, no. As the impressions of an eye-witness. What's more, they'll pay for it and he's to send me the check."

"Then, in spite of a casual way of handling other people's ideas, Mr. Gardner apparently means to be honest."

"It's more than square of him. I gave him the stuff to use as he wanted to. He could just as well have collected for it. Probably he touched it up, anyway."

"The Goths and Vandals usually did 'touch up' whatever they acquired, I believe. Hasn't he sent you a copy?"

"He's going to send it. Or bring it."

"Bring it? What should attract him to Manzanita again?"

"Something mysterious. He says that there's a big sensational story following on the wreck that he's got a clue to; a tip, he calls it."

"That's strange. Where did this tip come from? Did he say?"

Miss Van Arsdale frowned.

"New York, I think. He spoke of its being a special job for The Sphere."

"Are you going to help him?"

"If I can. He's been white to me."

"But this isn't white, if it's what I suspect. It's yellow. One of their yellow sensations. The Sphere goes in for that sort of thing."

Miss Van Arsdale became silent and thoughtful.

"Of course, if it's something to do with the railroad I'd have to be careful. I can't give away the company's affairs."

"I don't think it is." Miss Van Arsdale's troubled eyes strayed toward the inner room.

Following them, Banneker's lighted up with a flash of astonished comprehension.

"You don't think--" he began.

His friend nodded assent.

"Why should the newspapers be after her?"

"She is associated with a set that is always in the lime-light," explained Miss Van Arsdale, lowering her voice to a cautious pitch. "It makes its own lime-light. Anything that they do is material for the papers."

"Yes; but what has she done?"


"Not at all. She sent back messages. So there can't be any mystery about it."

"But there might be what the howling headlines call 'romance.' In fact, there is, if they happen to have found out about it. And this looks very much as if they had. Ban, are you going to tell your reporter friend about Miss Welland?"

Banneker smiled gently, indulgently. "Do you think it likely?"

"No; I don't. But I want you to understand the importance of not betraying her in any way. Reporters are shrewd. And it might be quite serious for her to know that she was being followed and hounded now. She has had a shock."

"The bump on the head, you mean?"

"Worse than that. I think I'd better tell you since we are all in this thing together."

Briefly she outlined the abortive adventure that had brought Io west, and its ugly outcome.

"Publicity is the one thing we must protect her from," declared Miss Van Arsdale.

"Yes; that's clear enough."

"What shall you tell this Gardner man?"

"Nothing that he wants to know."

"You'll try to fool him?"

"I'm an awfully poor liar, Miss Camilla," replied the agent with his disarming smile. "I don't like the game and I'm no good at it. But I can everlastingly hold my tongue."

"Then he'll suspect something and go nosing about the village making inquiries."

"Let him. Who can tell him anything? Who's even seen her except you and me?"

"True enough. Nobody is going to see her for some days yet if I can help it. Not even you, Ban."

"Is she as bad as that?" he asked anxiously.

"She won't be any the better for seeing people," replied Miss Van Arsdale firmly, and with that the caller was forced to be content as he went back to his own place.

The morning train of the nineteenth, which should have been the noon train of the eighteenth, deposited upon the platform Gardner of the Angelica City Herald, and a suitcase. The thin and bespectacled reporter shook hands with Banneker.

"Well, Mr. Man," he observed. "You've made a hit with that story of yours even before it's got into print."

"Did you bring me a copy of the paper?"

Gardner grinned. "You seem to think Sunday specials are set up and printed overnight. Wait a couple of weeks."

"But they're going to publish it?"

"Surest thing you know. They've wired me to know who you are and what and why."

"Why what?"

"Oh, I dunno. Why a fellow who can do that sort of thing hasn't done it before or doesn't do it some more, I suppose. If you should ever want a job in the newspaper game, that story would be pretty much enough to get it for you."

"I wouldn't mind getting a little local correspondence to do," announced Banneker modestly.

"So you intimated before. Well, I can give you some practice right now. I'm on a blind trail that goes up in the air somewhere around here. Do you remember, we compared lists on the wreck?"


"Have you got any addition to your list since?"

"No," replied Banneker. "Have you?" he added.

"Not by name. But the tip is that there was a prominent New York society girl, one of the Four Hundred lot, on the train, and that she's vanished."

"All the bodies were accounted for," said the agent.

"They don't think she's dead. They think she's run away."

"Run away?" repeated Banneker with an impassive face.

"Whether the man was with her on the train or whether she was to join him on the coast isn't known. That's the worst of these society tips," pursued the reporter discontentedly. "They're always vague, and usually wrong. This one isn't even certain about who the girl is. But they think it's Stella Wrightington," he concluded in the manner of one who has imparted portentous tidings.

"Who's she?" said Banneker.

"Good Lord! Don't you ever read the news?" cried the disgusted journalist. "Why, she's had her picture published more times than a movie queen. She's the youngest daughter of Cyrus Wrightington, the multi-millionaire philanthropist. Now did you see anything of that kind on the train?"

"What does she look like?" asked the cautious Banneker.

"She looks like a million dollars!" declared the other with enthusiasm. "She's a killer! She's tall and blonde and a great athlete: baby-blue eyes and general rosebud effect."

"Nothing of that sort on the train, so far as I saw," said the agent.

"Did you see any couple that looked lovey-dovey?"


"Then, there's another tip that connects her up with Carter Holmesley. Know about him?"

"I've seen his name."

"He's been on a hell of a high-class drunk, all up and down the coast, for the last week or so. Spilled some funny talk at a dinner, that got into print. But he put up such a heavy bluff of libel, afterward, that the papers shied off. Just the same, I believe they had it right, and that there was to have been a wedding-party on. Find the girl: that's the stunt now."

"I don't think you're likely to find her around here."

"Maybe not. But there's something. Holmesley has beaten it for the Far East. Sailed yesterday. But the story is still in this country, if the lady can be rounded up.... Well, I'm going to the village to make inquiries. Want to put me up again for the night if there's no train back?"

"Sure thing! There isn't likely to be, either."

Banneker felt greatly relieved at the easy turn given to the inquiry by the distorted tip. True, Gardner might, on his return, enter upon some more embarrassing line of inquiry; in which case the agent decided to take refuge in silence. But the reporter, when he came back late in the evening disheartened and disgusted with the fallibility of long-distance tips, declared himself sick of the whole business.

"Let's talk about something else," he said, having lighted his pipe. "What else have you written besides the wreck stuff?"

"Nothing," said Banneker.

"Come off! That thing was never a first attempt."

"Well, nothing except random things for my own amusement."

"Pass 'em over."

Banneker shook his head. "No; I've never shown them to anybody."

"Oh, all right. If you're shy about it," responded the reporter good-humoredly. "But you must have thought of writing as a profession."

"Vaguely, some day."

"You don't talk much like a country station-agent. And you don't act like one. And, judging from this room"--he looked about at the well-filled book-shelves--"you don't look like one. Quite a library. Harvey Wheelwright! Lord! I might have known. Great stuff, isn't it?"

"Do you think so?"

"Do I think so! I think it's the damndest spew that ever got into print. But it sells; millions. It's the piety touch does it. The worst of it is that Wheelwright is a thoroughly decent chap and not onto himself a bit. Thinks he's a grand little booster for righteousness, sweetness and light, and all that. I had to interview him once. Oh, if I could just have written about him and his stuff as it really is!"

"Why didn't you?"

"Why, he's a popular literary hero out our way, and the biggest advertised author in the game. I'd look fine to the business office, knocking their fat graft, wouldn't I!"

"I don't believe I understand."

"No; you wouldn't. Never mind. You will if you ever get into the game. Hello! This is something different again. 'The Undying Voices.' Do you go in for poetry?"

"I like to read it once in a while."

"Good man!" Gardner took down the book, which opened in his hand. He glanced into it, then turned an inquiring and faintly quizzical look upon Banneker. "So Rossetti is one of the voices that sings to you. He sang to me when I was younger and more romantic. Heavens! he can sing, can't he! And you've picked one of his finest for your floral decoration." He intoned slowly and effectively:

"Ah, who shall dare to search in what sad maze Thenceforth their incommunicable ways Follow the desultory feet of Death?"

Banneker took the book from him. Upon the sonnet a crushed bloom of the sage had left its spiced and fragrant stain. How came it there? Through but one possible agency of which Banneker could think. Io Welland!

After the reporter had left him, Banneker bore the volume to his room and read the sonnet again and again, devout and absorbed, a seeker for the oracle.


"Wouldn't you like to know when I'm going home?"

Io Welland looked up from beneath her dark lashes at her hostess with a mixture of mischief and deprecation.

"No," said Miss Van Arsdale quietly.

"Ah? Well, I would. Here it is two full weeks since I settled down on you. Why don't you evict me?"

Miss Van Arsdale smiled. The girl continued:

"Why don't I evict myself? I'm quite well and sane again--at least I think so--thanks to you. Very well, then, Io; why don't you go home?"

"Instinct of self-preservation," suggested the other. "You're better off here until your strength is quite restored, aren't you?"

The girl propped her chin in her hand and turned upon her companion a speculative regard. "Camilla Van Arsdale, you don't really like me," she asserted.

"Liking is such an undefined attitude," replied the other, unembarrassed.

"You find me diverting," defined Io. "But you resent me, don't you?"

"That's rather acute in you. I don't like your standards nor those of your set."

"I've abandoned them."

"You'll resume them as soon as you get back."

"Shall I ever get back?" The girl moved to the door. Her figure swayed forward yieldingly as if she would give herself into the keeping of the sun-drenched, pine-soaked air. "Enchantment!" she murmured.

"It is a healing place," said the habitant of it, low, as if to herself.

A sudden and beautiful pity softened and sobered Io's face. "Miss Van Arsdale," said she with quiet sincerity; "if there should ever come a time when I can do you a service in word or deed, I would come from the other side of the world to do it."

"That is a kindly, but rather exaggerated gratitude."

"It isn't gratitude. It's loyalty. Whatever you have done, I believe you were right. And, right or wrong, I--I am on your side. But I wonder why you have been so good to me. Was it a sort of class feeling?"

"Sex feeling would be nearer it," replied the other. "There is something instinctive which makes women who are alone stand by each other."

Io nodded. "I suppose so. Though I've never felt it, or the need of it before this. Well, I had to speak before I left, and I suppose I must go on soon."

"I shall miss you," said the hostess, and added, smiling, "as one misses a stimulant. Stay through the rest of the month, anyway."

"I'd like to," answered Io gratefully. "I've written Delavan that I'm coming back--and now I'm quite dreading it. Do you suppose there ever yet was a woman with understanding of herself?"

"Not unless she was a very dull and stupid woman with little to understand," smiled Miss Van Arsdale. "What are you doing to-day?"

"Riding down to lunch with your paragon of a station-agent."

Miss Van Arsdale shook her head dubiously. "I'm afraid he'll miss his daily stimulant after you've gone. It has been daily, hasn't it?"

"I suppose it has, just about," admitted the girl. "The stimulus hasn't been all on one side, I assure you. What a mind to be buried here in the desert! And what an annoying spirit of contentment! It's that that puzzles me. Sometimes it enrages me."

"Are you going to spoil what you cannot replace?" The retort was swift, almost fierce.

"Surely, you won't blame me if he looks beyond this horizon," protested Io. "Life is sure to reach out in one form or another and seize on him. I told him so."

"Yes," breathed the other. "You would."

"What were you intending to do with him?"

There was a hint of challenge in the slight emphasis given to the query.

"I? Nothing. He is under no obligation to me."

"There you and he differ. He regards you as an infallible mentor." A twinkle of malice crept into the slumbrous eyes. "Why do you let him wear made-up bow ties?" demanded Io.

"What does it matter?"

"Out here, nothing. But elsewhere--well, it does define a man, doesn't it?"

"Undoubtedly. I've never gone into it with him."

"I wonder if I could guess why."

"Very likely. You seem preternaturally acute in these matters."

"Is it because the Sears-Roebuck mail-order double-bow knot in polka-dot pattern stands as a sign of pristine innocence?"

In spite of herself Miss Van Arsdale laughed. "Something of that sort."

Io's soft lips straightened. "It's rotten bad form. Why shouldn't he be right? It's so easy. Just a hint--"

"From you?"

"From either of us. Yes; from me, if you like."

"It's quite an intimate interest, isn't it?"

"'But never can battle of men compare With merciless feminine fray'"-- quoted Io pensively.

"Kipling is a sophomore about women," retorted Miss Van Arsdale. "We're not going to quarrel over Errol Banneker. The odds are too unfair."

"Unfair?" queried Io, with a delicate lift of brow.

"Don't misunderstand me. I know that whatever you do will be within the rules of the game. That's the touchstone of honor of your kind."

"Isn't it good enough? It ought to be, for it's about the only one most of us have." Io laughed. "We're becoming very serious. May I take the pony?"

"Yes. Will you be back for supper?"

"Of course. Shall I bring the paragon?"

"If you wish."

Outside the gaunt box of the station, Io, from the saddle sent forth her resonant, young call:

"Oh, Ban!"

"'Tis the voice of the Butterfly; hear her declare, 'I've come down to the earth; I am tired of the air'"

chanted Banneker's voice in cheerful paraphrase. "Light and preen your wings, Butterfly."

Their tone was that of comrades without a shade of anything deeper.

"Busy?" asked Io.

"Just now. Give me another five minutes."

"I'll go to the hammock."

One lone alamo tree, an earnest of spring water amongst the dry-sand growth of the cactus, flaunted its bright verdency a few rods back of the station, and in its shade Banneker had swung a hammock for Io. Hitching her pony and unfastening her hat, the girl stretched herself luxuriously in the folds. A slow wind, spice-laden with the faint, crisp fragrancies of the desert, swung her to a sweet rhythm. She closed her eyes happily ... and when she opened them, Banneker was standing over her, smiling.

"Don't speak to me," she murmured; "I want to believe that this will last forever."

Silent and acquiescent, he seated himself in a camp-chair close by. She stretched a hand to him, closing her eyes again.

"Swing me," she ordered.

He aided the wind to give a wider sweep to the hammock. Io stirred restlessly.

"You've broken the spell," she accused softly. "Weave me another one."

"What shall it be?" He bent over the armful of books which he had brought out.

"You choose this time."

"I wonder," he mused, regarding her consideringly.

"Ah, you may well wonder! I'm in a very special mood to-day."

"When aren't you, Butterfly?" he laughed.

"Beware that you don't spoil it. Choose well, or forever after hold your peace."

He lifted the well-worn and well-loved volume of poetry. It parted in his hand to the Rossetti sonnet. He began to read at the lines:

"When Work and Will awake too late, to gaze After their life sailed by, and hold their breath."

Io opened her eyes again.

"Why did you select that thing?"

"Why did you mark it?"

"Did I mark it?"

"Certainly, I'm not responsible for the sage-blossom between the pages."

"Ah, the sage! That's for wisdom," she paraphrased lightly.

"Do you think Rossetti so wise a preceptor?"

"It isn't often that he preaches. When he does, as in that sonnet--well, the inspiration may be a little heavy, but he does have something to say."

"Then it's the more evident that you marked it for some special reason."

"What supernatural insight," she mocked. "Can you read your name between the lines?"

"What is it that you want me to do?"

"You mean to ask what it is that Mr. Rossetti wants you to do. I didn't write the sonnet, you know."

"You didn't fashion the arrow, but you aimed it."

"Am I a good marksman?"

"I suppose you mean that I'm wasting my time here."

"Surely not!" she gibed. "Forming a link of transcontinental traffic. Helping to put a girdle 'round the earth in eighty days--or is it forty now?--enlightening the traveling public about the three-twenty-four train; dispensing time-tables and other precious mediums of education--"

"I'm happy here," he said doggedly.

"Are you going to be, always?"

His face darkened with doubt. "Why shouldn't I be?" he argued. "I've got everything I need. Some day I thought I might write."

"What about?" The question came sharp and quick.

He looked vaguely around the horizon.

"Oh, no, Ban!" she said. "Not this. You've got to know something besides cactuses and owls to write, these days. You've got to know men. And women," she added, in a curious tone, with a suspicion of effort, even of jealousy in it.

"I've never cared much for people," he said.

"It's an acquired taste, I suppose for some of us. There's something else." She came slowly to a sitting posture and fixed her questioning, baffling eyes on his. "Ban, don't you want to make a success in life?"

For a moment he did not answer. When he spoke, it was with apparent irrelevance to what she had said. "Once I went to a revival. A reformed tough was running it. About every three minutes he'd thrust out his hands and grab at the air and say, 'Oh, brothers; don't you yearn for Jesus?'"

"What has that to do with it?" questioned Io, surprised and impatient.

"Only that, somehow, the way you said 'success in life' made me think of him and his 'yearn for Jesus.'"

"Errol Banneker," said Io, amused in spite of her annoyance, "you are possessed of a familiar devil who betrays other people's inner thoughts to you. Success _is_ a species of religion to me, I suppose."

"And you are making converts, like all true enthusiasts. Tell, tell me. What kind of success?"

"Oh, power. Money. Position. Being somebody."

"I'm somebody here all right. I'm the station-agent of the Atkinson and St. Philip Railroad Company."

"Now you're trying to provoke me."

"No. But to get success you've got to want it, haven't you?" he asked more earnestly. "To want it with all your strength."

"Of course. Every man ought to."

"I'm not so sure," he objected. "There's a kind of virtue in staying put, isn't there?"

She made a little gesture of impatience.

"I'll give you a return for your sonnet," he pursued, and repeated from memory:

"What else is Wisdom? What of man's endeavor Or God's high grace, so lovely and so great? To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait; To hold a hand uplifted over Hate. And shall not Loveliness be loved forever?"

"I don't know it. It's beautiful. What is it?"

"Gilbert Murray's translation of 'The Bacchae.' My legal mentors had a lapse of dry-as-dustness and sent it to me."

"'To stand from fear set free, to breathe and wait,'" murmured the girl. "That is what I've been doing here. How good it is! But not for you," she added, her tone changing from dreamy to practical. "Ban, I suspect there's too much poetry in your cosmos."

"Very probably. Poetry isn't success, is it?"

Her face grew eager. "It might be. The very highest. But you've got to make yourself known and felt among people."

"Do you think I could? And how does one get that kind of desire?" he asked lazily.

"How? I've known men to do it for love; and I've known them to do it for hate; and I've known them to do it for money. Yes; and there's another cause."

"What is it?"


"That's ambition with its nerves gone bad, isn't it?"

Again she smiled. "You'll know what it is some day."

"Is it contagious?" he asked solicitously.

"Don't be alarmed. I haven't it. Not now. I'd love to stay on and on and just 'breathe and wait,' if the gods were good."

'"Dream that the gods are good,'" he echoed. "The last thing they ever think of being according to my reading."

She capped his line;

"We twain, once well in sunder, What will the mad gods do--'"

she began; then broke off, jumping to her feet. "I'm talking sheer nonsense!" she cried. "Take me for a walk in the woods. The desert glares to-day."

"I'll have to be back by twelve," he said. "Excuse me just a moment."

He disappeared into the portable house. When he rejoined her, she asked:

"What did you go in there for? To get your revolver?"


"I've carried one since the day you told me to. Not that I've met a soul that looked dangerous, nor that I'd know how to shoot or when, if I did."

"The sight of it would be taken as evidence that you knew how to use it," he assured her.

For a time, as they walked, she had many questions to put about the tree and bird life surrounding them. In the midst of it he asked her:

"Do you ever get restless?"

"I haven't, here. I'm getting rested."

"And at home I suppose you're too busy."

"Being busy is no preventive. Somebody has said that St. Vitus is the patron saint of New York society."

"It must take almost all the time those people have to keep up with the theaters and with the best in poetry and what's being done and thought, and the new books and all that," he surmised.

"I beg your pardon; what was that about poetry and books?"

"Girls like you--society girls, I mean--read everything there is, don't they?"

"Where do you get that extraordinary idea?"

"Why, from knowing you."

"My poor, innocent Ban! If you were to try and talk books and poetry, 'Shakespeare and the musical glasses,' to the average society girl, as you call her, what do you suppose would happen?"

"Why, I suppose I'd give myself away as an ignoramus."

"Heaven save you for a woolly lambkin! The girl would flee, shrieking, and issue a warning against you as a high-brow, a prig, and a hopeless bore. They don't read books, except a few chocolate-cream novels. They haven't the time."

"But you--"

"Oh, I'm a freak! I get away with it because I'm passably good-looking and know how to dress, and do what I please by the divine right of--well, of just doing it. But, even so, a lot of the men are rather afraid of me in their hearts. They suspect the bluestocking. Let 'em suspect! The market is plenty good enough," declared Io flippantly.

"Then you just took up books as a sort of freak; a side issue?" The disappointment in his face was almost ludicrous.

"No." A quiet gravity altered her expression. "I'll tell you about me, if you want to hear. My mother was the daughter of a famous classical scholar, who was opposed to her marriage because Father has always been a man of affairs. From the first, Mother brought me up to love books and music and pictures. She died when I was twelve, and poor Father, who worshiped her, wanted to carry out her plans for me, though he had no special sympathy with them. To make things worse for him, nobody but Mother ever had any control over me; I was spoiled and self-willed and precocious, and I thought the world owed me a good time. Dad's business judgment of human nature saved the situation, he thoroughly understood one thing about me, that I'd keep a bargain if I made it. So we fixed up our little contract; I was to go through college and do my best, and after I graduated, I was to have a free hand and an income of my own, a nice one. I did the college trick. I did it well. I was third in my class, and there wasn't a thing in literature or languages that they could stop me from getting. At eighteen they turned me loose on the world, and here I am, tired of it, but still loving it. That's all of me. Aren't I a good little autobiographer. Every lady her own Boswell! What are you listening to?"

"There's a horse coming along the old trail," said Banneker.

"Who is it?" she asked. "Some one following us?"

He shook his head. A moment later the figure of a mounted man loomed through the brush. He was young, strong-built, and not ill-looking. "Howdy, Ban," he said.

Banneker returned the greeting.

"Whee-ew!" shrilled the other, wiping his brow. "This sure does fetch the licker outen a man's hide. Hell of a wet night at the Sick Coyote last night. Why wasn't you over?"

"Busy," replied Banneker.

Something in his tone made the other raise himself from his weary droop. He sighted Io.

"Howdy, ma'am," he said. "Didn't see there was ladies present."

"Good-morning," said Io.

"Visitin' hereabouts?" inquired the man, eyeing her curiously.


"Where, if I might be bold to ask?"

"If you've got any questions to ask, ask them of me, Fred," directed Banneker.

While there was nothing truculent in his manner, it left no doubt as to his readiness and determination.

Fred looked both sullen and crestfallen.

"It ain't nothin'," he said. "Only, inquiries was bein' made by a gent from a Angelica City noospaper last week."

"Somebody else meant," asserted Banneker. "You keep that in mind, will you? And it isn't necessary that you should mention this lady at all. Savvy, Fred?"

The other grunted, touched his sombrero to Io and rode on.

"Has a reporter been here inquiring after me?" asked Io.

"Not after you. It was some one else."

"If the newspapers tracked me here, I'd have to leave at once."

"They won't. At least, it isn't likely."

"You'd get me out some way, wouldn't you, Ban?" she said trustfully.


"Ban; that Fred person seemed afraid of you."

"He's got nothing to be afraid of unless he talks too much."

"But you had him 'bluffed.' I'm sure you had. Ban, did you ever kill a man?"


"Or shoot one?"

"Not even that."

"Yet, I believe, from the way he looked at you, that you've got a reputation as a 'bad man'?"

"So I have. But it's no fault of mine."

"How did you get it?"

"You'll laugh if I tell you. They say I've got a 'killer's' eye."

The girl examined his face with grave consideration. "You've got nice eyes," was her verdict. "That deep brown is almost wasted on a man; some girl ought to have it. I used to hear a--a person, who made a deep impression on me at the time, insist that there was always a flaw in the character of a person with large, soft brown eyes."

"Isn't there a flaw in every character?"

"Human nature being imperfect, there must be. What is yours; suppressed murderousness?"

"Not at all. My reputation is unearned, though useful. Just before I came here, a young chap showed up from nowhere and loafed around Manzanita. He was a pretty kind of lad, and one night in the Sick Coyote some of the old-timers tried to put something over on him. When the smoke cleared away, there was one dead and six others shot up, and Little Brownie was out on the desert, riding for the next place, awfully sore over a hole in his new sombrero. He was a two-gun man from down near the border. Well, when I arrived in town, I couldn't understand why every one looked so queerly at my eyes, until Mindle, the mail-driver, told me they were exactly like the hair-trigger boy's. Cheap and easy way to get a reputation, isn't it?"

"But you must have something back of it," insisted the girl. "Are you a good shot?"

"Nothing fancy; there are twenty better in town."

"Yet you pin some faith to your 'gun,'" she pointed out.

He glanced over his shoulder to right and left. Io jumped forward with a startled cry. So swift and secret had been his motion that she hardly saw the weapon before--PLACK--PLACK--PLACK--the three shots had sounded. The smoke drifted around him in a little circle, for the first two shots had been over his shoulder and the third as he whirled. Walking back, he carefully examined the trunks of three trees.

"I'd have only barked that fellow, if he'd been a man," he observed, shaking his head at the second mark.

"You frightened me," complained Io.

"I'm sorry. I thought you wanted to see a little gun-play. Out here it isn't how straight you can shoot at a bull's-eye, but how quick you can plant your bullets, and usually in a mark that isn't obliging enough to be dead in line. So I practice occasionally, just in case."

"Very interesting. But I've got luncheon to cook," said Io.

They returned through the desert. As he opened the door of the shack for her, Banneker, reverting to her autobiographical sketch, remarked thoughtfully and without preliminary:

"I might have known there couldn't be any one else like you."


Although the vehicle of his professional activities had for some years been a small and stertorous automobile locally known as "Puffy Pete," Mr. James Mindle always referred to his process of postal transfer from the station to the town as "teamin' over the mail." He was a frail, grinny man from the prairie country, much given to romantic imaginings and an inordinate admiration for Banneker.

Having watched from the seat of his chariot the brief but ceremonial entry of Number Three, which, on regular schedule, roared through Manzanita at top speed, he descended, captured the mail-bag and, as the transcontinental pulled out, accosted the station-agent.

"What'd she stop for, Ban?"

"Special orders."

"Didn't say nothin' about havin' a ravin' may-ni-ac aboard, did theh?"


"Ban, was you ever in the State of Ohio?"

"A long time ago."

"Are Ohio folks liable to be loony?"

"Not more than others, I reckon, Jimmy."

"Pretty enthoosiastic about themselves, though, ain't theh?"

"Why, I don't know. It's a nice country there, Jimmy."

"There was one on Number Three sure thought so. Hadn't scarcely come to a stop when off he jumps and waves his fins and gives three cheers for it."

"For what?"

"Ohio. I'm tellin' you. He ramps across the track yippin' 'Ohio! Ohio! Ohio!' whoopity-yoop. He come right at me and I says, 'Watch yehself, Buddy. You'll git left.'"

"What did he say to that?" asked Banneker indulgently.

"Never looked at me no more than a doodle-bug. Just yelled 'Ohio!' again. So I come back at him with 'Missourah.' He grabs me by the shoulder and points to your shack. 'Who owns that little shed?' says he, very excited. 'My friend, Mr. Banneker,' says I, polite as always to strangers. 'But I own that shoulder you're leanin' on, and I'm about to take it away with me when I go,' I says. He leaned off and says, 'Where did that young lady come from that was standin' in the doorway a minute ago?' 'Young lady,' Ban. Do you get that? So I says, 'You're lucky, Bud. When I get 'em, it's usually snakes and bugs and such-like rep-tyles. Besides,' I says, 'your train is about to forgit that you got off it,' I says. With that he gives another screech that don't even mean as much as Ohio and tails onto the back platform just in time."

Said Ban, after frowning consideration:

"You didn't see any lady around the shack, did you, Jimmy?"

"Not on your life," replied the little man indignantly. "I ain't had anything like that since I took the mail-teamin' contract."

"How good time do you think Puffy Pete could make across-desert in case I should want it?" inquired the agent after a pause.

The mail-man contemplated his "team," bubbling and panting a vaporous breath over the platform. "Pete ain't none too fond of sand," he confessed. "But if you want to _git_ anywhere, him and me'll git you there. You know that, Ban."

Banneker nodded comradely and the post chugged away.

Inside the shack Io had set out the luncheon-things. To Banneker's eyes she appeared quite unruffled, despite the encounter which he had surmised from Jimmy's sketch.

"Get me some flowers for the table, Ban," she directed. "I want it to look festive."

"Why, in particular?"

"Because I'm afraid we won't have many more luncheons together."

He made no comment, but went out and returned with the flowers. Meantime Io had made up her mind.

"I've had an unpleasant surprise, Ban."

"I was afraid so."

She glanced up quickly. "Did you see him?"

"No. Mindle, the mail transfer man, did."

"Oh! Well, that was Aleck Babson. 'Babbling Babson,' he's called at the clubs. He's the most inveterate gossip in New York."

"It's a long way from New York," pointed out Banneker.

"Yes; but he has a long tongue. Besides, he'll see the Westerleys and my other friends in Paradiso, and babble to them."

"Suppose he does?"

"I won't have people chasing here after me or pestering me with letters," she said passionately. "Yet I don't want to go away. I want to get more rested, Ban, and forget a lot of things."

He nodded. Comfort and comprehension were in his silence.

"You can be as companionable as a dog," said Io softly. "Where did you get your tact, I wonder? Well, I shan't go till I must.... Lemonade, Ban! I brought over the lemons myself."

They lunched a little soberly and thoughtfully.

"And I wanted it to be festive to-day," said Io wistfully, speaking out her thoughts as usual. "Ban, does Miss Camilla smoke?"

"I don't know. Why?"

"Because if she does, you'll think it all right. And I want a cigarette now."

"If you do, I'll _know_ it's all right, Butterfly," returned her companion fetching a box from a shelf.

"Hold the thought!" cried Io gayly. "There's a creed for you! 'Whatever is, is right,' provided that it's Io who does it. Always judge me by that standard, Ban, won't you?... Where in the name of Sir Walter Raleigh's ghost did you get these cigarettes? 'Mellorosa' ... Ban, is this a Sears-Roebuck stock?"

"No. It came from town. Don't you like it?"

"It's quite curious and interesting. Never mind, my dear; I won't tease you."

For all that Io's "my dear" was the most casual utterance imaginable, it brought a quick flush to Banneker's face. Chattering carelessly, she washed up the few dishes, put them away in the brackets, and then, smoking another of the despised Mellorosas, wandered to the book-shelves.

"Read me something out of your favorite book, Ban.... No; this one."

She handed him the thick mail-order catalogue. With a gravity equal to her own he took it.

"What will you have?"

"Let the spirit of Sears-Roebuck decide. Open at random and expound."

He thrust a finger between the leaves and began:

"Our Special, Fortified Black Fiber Trunk for Hard Travel. Made of Three-Ply Ven--"

"Oh, to have my trunks again!" sighed the girl. "Turn to something else. I don't like that. It reminds me of travel."

Obedient, Banneker made another essay:

"Clay County Clay Target Traps. Easily Adjusted to the Elevation--"

"Oh, dear!" she broke in again. "That reminds me that Dad wrote me to look up his pet shot-gun before his return. I don't like that either. Try again."

This time the explorer plunged deep into the volume.

"How to Make Home Home-like. An Invaluable Counselor for the Woman of the Household--"

Io snatched the book from the reader's hand and tossed it into a corner. "Sears-Roebuck are very tactless," she declared. "Everything they have to offer reminds one of home. What do you think of home, Ban? Home, as an abstract proposition. Home as the what-d'you-call-'em of the nation; the palladium--no, the bulwark? Home as viewed by the homing pigeon? Home, Sweet Home, as sung by--Would you answer, Ban, if I stopped gibbering and gave you the chance?"

"I've never had much opportunity to judge about home, you know."

She darted out a quick little hand and touched his sleeve. The raillery had faded from her face. "So you haven't. Not very tactful of me, was it! Will you throw me into the corner with Mr. Sears and Mr. Roebuck, Ban? I'm sorry."

"You needn't be. One gets used to being an air-plant without roots."

"Yet you wouldn't have fitted out this shack," she pointed out shrewdly, "unless you had the instincts of home."

"That's true enough. Fortunately it's the kind of home I can take along when they transfer me."

Io went to the door and looked afar on the radiant splendor of the desert, and, nearer, into the cool peace of the forest.

"But you can't take all this," she reminded him.

"No. I can't take this."

"Shall you miss it?"

A shadow fell upon his face. "I'd miss something--I don't know what it is--that no other place has ever given me. Why do you talk as if I were going away from it? I'm not."

"Oh, yes; you are," she laughed softly. "It is so written. I'm a seeress." She turned from the door and threw herself into a chair.

"What will take me?"

"Something inside you. Something unawakened. 'Something lost beyond the ranges.' You'll know, and you'll obey it."

"Shall I ever come back, O seeress?"

At the question her eyes grew dreamy and distant. Her voice when she spoke sank to a low-pitched monotone.

"Yes, you'll come back. Sometime.... So shall I ... not for years ... but--" She jumped to her feet. "What kind of rubbish am I talking?" she cried with forced merriment. "Is your tobacco drugged with hasheesh, Ban?"

He shook his head. "It's the pull of the desert," he murmured. "It's caught you sooner than most. You're more responsive, I suppose; more sens--Why, Butterfly! You're shaking."

"A Scotchman would say that I was 'fey.' Ban, do you think it means that I'm coming back here to die?" She laughed again. "If I were fated to die here, I expect that I missed my good chance in the smash-up. Fortunately I'm not superstitious."

"There might be worse places," said he slowly. "It is the place that would call me back if ever I got down and out." He pointed through the window to the distant, glowing purity of the mountain peak. "One could tell one's troubles to that tranquil old god."

"Would he listen to mine, I wonder?"

"Try him before you go. You can leave them all here and I'll watch over them for you to see that they don't get loose and bother you."

"Absolution! If it were only as easy as that! This _is_ a haunted place.... Why should I be here at all? _Why_ didn't I go when I should? Why a thousand things?"


"Is there any such thing? Why can't I sleep at night yet, as I ought? Why do I still feel hunted? What's happening to me, Ban? What's getting ready to happen?"

"Nothing. That's nerves."

"Yes; I'll try not to think of it. But at night--Ban, suppose I should come over in the middle of the night when I can't sleep, and call outside your window?"

"I'd come down, of course. But you'd have to be careful about rattlers," answered the practical Ban.

"Your friend, Camilla, would intercept me, anyway. I don't think she sleeps too well, herself. Do you know what she's doing out here?"

"She came for her health."

"That isn't what I asked you, my dear. Do you know what she's doing?"

"No. She never told me."

"Shall I tell you?"


"It's interesting. Aren't you curious?"

"If she wanted me to know, she'd tell me."

"Indubitably correct, and quite praiseworthy," mocked the girl. "Never mind; you know how to be staunch to your friends."

"In this country a man who doesn't is reckoned a yellow dog."

"He is in any decent country. So take that with you when you go."

"I'm not going," he asserted with an obstinate set to his jaw.

"Wait and see," she taunted. "So you won't let me send you books?" she questioned after a pause.


"No, I thank you," she prompted.

"No, I thank you," he amended. "I'm an uncouth sort of person, but I meant the 'thank you.'"

"Of course you did. And uncouthness is the last thing in the world you could be accused of. That's the wonder of it.... No; I don't suppose it really is. It's birth."

"If it's anything, it's training. My father was a stickler for forms, in spite of being a sort of hobo."

"Well, forms make the game, very largely. You won't find them essentially different when you go out into the--I forgot again. That kind of prophecy annoys you, doesn't it? There is one book I'm going to send you, though, which you can't refuse. Nobody can refuse it. It isn't done."

"What is that?"

Her answer surprised him. "The Bible."

"Are you religious? Of course, a butterfly should be, shouldn't she? should believe in the release of the soul from its chrysalis--the butterfly's immortality. Yet I wouldn't have suspected you of a leaning in that direction."

"Oh, religion!" Her tone set aside the subject as insusceptible of sufficient or satisfactory answer. "I go through the forms," she added, a little disdainfully. "As to what I believe and do--which is what one's own religion is--why, I assume that if the game is worth playing at all, there must be a Judge and Maker of the Rules. As far as I understand them, I follow them."

"You have a sort of religious feeling for success, though, haven't you?" he reminded her slyly.

"Not at all. Just human, common sense."

"But your creed as you've just given it, the rules of the game and that; that's precisely the Bible formula, I believe."

"How do you know?" she caught him up. "You haven't a Bible in the place, so far as I've noticed."

"No; I haven't."

"You should have."

"Probably. But I can't, somehow, adjust myself to that advice as coming from you."

"Because you don't understand what I'm getting at. It isn't religious advice."

"Then what is it?"

"Literary, purely. You're going to write, some day. Oh, don't look doubtful! That's foreordained. It doesn't take a seeress to prophesy that. And the Bible is the one book that a writer ought to read every day. Isaiah, Psalms, Proverbs. Pretty much all the Old Testament, and a lot of the New. It has grown into our intellectual life until its phrases and catchwords are full of overtones and sub-meanings. You've got to have it in your business; your coming business, I mean. I know what I'm talking about, Mr. Errol Banneker--_moi qui parle_. They offered me an instructorship in Literature when I graduated. I even threatened to take it, just for a joke on Dad. _Now_, will you be good and accept my fully explained and diagrammed Bible without fearing that I have designs on your soul?"


"And will you please go back to your work at once, and by and by take me home and stay to supper? Miss Van Arsdale told me to ask you."

"All right. I'll be glad to. What will you do between now and four o'clock?"

"Prowl in your library and unearth more of your secrets."

"You're welcome if you can find any. I don't deal in 'em."

When Banneker, released from his duties until evening train time, rejoined her, and they were riding along the forest trail, he said:

"You've started me to theorizing about myself."

"Do it aloud," she invited.

"Well; all my boyhood I led a wandering life, as you know. We were never anywhere as much as a month at a time. In a way, I liked the change and adventure. In another way, I got dead sick of it. Don't you suppose that my readiness to settle down and vegetate is the reaction from that?"

"It sounds reasonable enough. You might put it more simply by saying that you were tired. But by now you ought to be rested."

"Therefore I ought to be stirring myself so as to get tired again?"

"If you don't stir, you'll rust."

"Rust is a painless death for useless mechanism."

She shot an impatient side-glance at him. "Either you're a hundred years old," she said, "or that's sheer pose."

"Perhaps it is a sort of pose. If so, it's a self-protective one."

"Suppose I asked you to come to New York?"

Intrepid though she was, her soul quaked a little at her own words, foreseeing those mail-order-cut clothes and the resolute butterflyness of the tie greeting her on Fifth Avenue.

"What to do?"

"Sell tickets at the Grand Central Station, of course!" she shot back at him. "Ban, you _are_ aggravating! 'What to do?' Father would find you some sort of place while you were fitting in."

'No. I wouldn't take a job from you any more than I'd take anything else."

"You carry principles to the length of absurdity. Come and get your own job, then. You're not timid, are you?"

"Not particularly. I'm just contented."

At that provocation her femininity flared. "Ban," she cried with exasperation and appeal enchantingly mingled, "aren't you going to miss me at all when I go?"

"I've been trying not to think of that," he said slowly.

"Well, think of it," she breathed. "No!" she contradicted herself passionately. "Don't think of it. I shouldn't have said that.... I don't know what is the matter with me to-day, Ban. Perhaps I _am_ fey." She smiled to him slantwise.

"It's the air," he answered judicially. "There's another storm brewing somewhere or I'm no guesser. More trouble for the schedule."

"That's right!" she cried eagerly. "_Be_ the Atkinson and St. Philip station-agent again. Let's talk about trains. It's--it's so reliable."

"Far from it on this line," he answered, adopting her light tone. "Particularly if we have more rain. You may become a permanent resident yet."

Some rods short of the Van Arsdale cabin the trail took a sharp turn amidst the brush. Halfway on the curve Io caught at Banneker's near rein.

"Hark!" she exclaimed.

The notes of a piano sounded faintly clear in the stillness. As the harmonies dissolved and merged, a voice rose above them, resonant and glorious, rose and sank and pleaded and laughed and loved, while the two young listeners leaned unconsciously toward each other in their saddles. Silence fell again. The very forest life itself seemed hushed in a listening trance.

"Heavens!" whispered Banneker. "Who is it?"

"Camilla Van Arsdale, of course. Didn't you know?"

"I knew she was musical. I didn't know she had a voice like that."

"Ten years ago New York was wild over it."

"But why--"

"Hush! She's beginning again."

Once more the sweep of the chords was followed by the superb voice while the two wayfarers and all the world around them waited, breathless and enchained. At the end, Banneker said dreamily:

"I've never heard anything like that before. It says everything that can't be said in words alone, doesn't it? It makes me think of something--What is it?" He groped for a moment, then repeated:

"'A passionate ballad, gallant and gay, Singing afar in the springtime of life, Singing of youth and of love And of honor that cannot die.'"

Io drew a deep, tremulous breath. "Yes; it's like that. What a voice! And what an art to be buried out here! It's one of her own songs, I think. Probably an unpublished one."

"Her own? Does she write music?"

"She is Royce Melvin, the composer. Does that mean anything to you?"

He shook his head.

"Some day it will. They say that he--every one thinks it's a he--will take Massenet's place as a lyrical composer. I found her out by accidentally coming on the manuscript of a Melvin song that I knew. That's her secret that I spoke of. Do you mind my having told you?"

"Why, no. It'll never go any further. I wonder why she never told me. And why she keeps so shut off from the world here."

"Ah; that's another secret, and one that I shan't tell you," returned Io gravely. "There's the piano again."

A few indeterminate chords came to their ears. There followed a jangling disharmony. They waited, but there was nothing more. They rode on.

At the lodge Banneker took the horses around while Io went in. Immediately her voice, with a note of alarm in it, summoned him. He found her bending over Miss Van Arsdale, who lay across the divan in the living-room with eyes closed, breathing jerkily. Her lips were blue and her hands looked shockingly lifeless.

"Carry her into her room," directed Io.

Banneker picked up the tall, strong-built form without effort and deposited it on the bed in the inner room.

"Open all the windows," commanded the girl. "See if you can find me some ammonia or camphor. Quick! She looks as if she were dying."

One after another Banneker tried the bottles on the dresser. "Here it is. Ammonia," he said.

In his eagerness he knocked a silver-mounted photograph to the floor. He thrust the drug into the girl's hand and watched her helplessly as she worked over the limp figure on the bed. Mechanically he picked up the fallen picture to replace it. There looked out at him the face of a man of early middle age, a face of manifest intellectual power, high-boned, long-lined, and of the austere, almost ascetic beauty which the Florentine coins have preserved for us in clear fidelity. Across the bottom was written in a peculiarly rhythmic script, the legend:

"Toujours à toi. W."

"She's coming back," said Io's voice. "No. Don't come nearer. You'll shut off the air. Find me a fan."

He ran to the outer room and came back with a palm-leaf.

"She wants something," said Io in an agonized half-voice. "She wants it so badly. What is it? Help me, Ban! She can't speak. Look at her eyes--so imploring. Is it medicine?... No! Ban, can't you help?"

Banneker took the silver-framed portrait and placed it in the flaccid hand. The fingers closed over it. The filmiest wraith of a smile played about the blue lips.

An hour later, Io came out to Banneker waiting fearfully in the big room.

"She won't have a doctor. I've given her the strychnia and she insists she'll be all right."

"Don't you think I ought to go for the doctor, anyway?"

"She wouldn't see him. She's very strong-willed.... That's a wonderful woman, Ban." Io's voice shook a little.


"How did you know about the picture?"

"I saw it on the dresser. And when I saw her eyes, I guessed."

"Yes; there's only one thing a woman wants like _that_, when she's dying. You're rather a wonderful person, yourself, to have known. That's her other secret, Ban. The one I said I couldn't tell you."

"I've forgotten it," replied Banneker gravely.


Attendance upon the sick-room occupied Io's time for several days thereafter. Morning and afternoon Banneker rode over from the station to make anxious inquiry. The self-appointed nurse reported progress as rapid as could be expected, but was constantly kept on the alert because of the patient's rebellion against enforced idleness. Seizures of the same sort she had suffered before, it appeared, but none hitherto so severe. Nothing could be done, she told Io, beyond the administration of the medicine, for which she had full directions. One day an attack would finish it all; meantime, in spite of her power of self-repression, she chafed at the monotony of her imprisonment.

In the late afternoon of the day after the collapse, while Io was heating water at the fireplace, she heard a drawer open in the sick-room and hurried back to find Miss Van Arsdale hanging to the dresser, her face gray-splotched and her fingers convulsively crushing a letter which she had taken from under lock. Alarmed and angry, the amateur nurse got her back to bed only half conscious, but still cherishing her trove. When, an hour later, she dared leave her charge, she heard the rustle of smoothed-out paper and remained outside long enough to allow for the reading. On her return there was no sign of the letter. Miss Van Arsdale, a faint and hopeful color in her cheeks, was asleep.

For Banneker these were days of trial and tribulation. Added to the anxiety that he felt for his best friend was the uncertainty as to what he ought to do about the developments affecting her guest. For he had heard once more from Gardner.

"It's on the cards," wrote the reporter, "that I may be up to see you again. I'm still working, on and off, on the tip that took me on that wild-goose chase. If I come again I won't quit without some of the wild goose's tail feathers, at least. There's a new tip locally; it leaked out from Paradise. ["The Babbling Babson," interjected the reader mentally.] It looks as though the bird were still out your way. Though how she could be, and you not know it, gets me. It's even a bigger game than Stella Wrightington, if my information is O.K. Have you heard or seen anything lately of a Beautiful Stranger or anything like that around Manzanita?... I enclose clipping of your story. What do you think of yourself in print?"

Banneker thought quite highly of himself in print as he read the article, which he immediately did. The other matter could wait; not that it was less important; quite the contrary; but he proposed to mull it over carefully and with a quiet mind, if he could ever get his mind back to its peaceful current again: meantime it was good for him to think of something quite dissociated from the main problem.

What writer has not felt the conscious red tingle in his cheeks at first sight of himself in the magnified personification of type? Here is something, once himself, now expanded far beyond individual limits, into the proportions of publicity, for all the world to measure and estimate and criticize. Ought it to have been done in just that way? Is there not too much "I" in the presentation? Would not the effect have been greater had the method been less personal? It seemed to Banneker that he himself stood forth in a stark nakedness of soul and thought, through those blatantly assertive words, shameless, challenging to public opinion, yet delightful to his own appreciation. On the whole it was good; better than he would have thought he could do.

What he had felt, in the writing of it, to be jerks and bumps were magically smoothed out in the finished product. At one point where the copy-reader's blue pencil had elided an adjective which the writer had deemed specially telling, he felt a sharp pang of disappointed resentment. Without that characterization the sentence seemed lifeless. Again, in another passage he wished that he had edited himself with more heed to the just word. Why had he designated the train as "rumbling" along the cut? Trains do not rumble between rock walls, he remembered; they move with a sustained and composite roar. And the finger-wringing malcontent who had vowed to "soom"; the editorial pencil had altered that to "sue 'em," thereby robbing it of its special flavor. Perhaps this was in accordance with some occult rule of the trade. But it spoiled the paragraph for Banneker. Nevertheless he was thrilled and elate.... He wanted to show the article to Io. What would she think of it? She had read him accurately: it _was_ in him to write. And she could help him, if only by--well, if only by being at hand.... But Gardner's letter! That meant that the pursuit was on again, more formidably this time. Gardner, the gadfly, stinging this modern Io out of her refuge of peace and safety!

He wrote and dispatched a message to the reporter in care of the Angelica City Herald:

Glad to see you, but you are wasting your time. No such person could be here without my knowing it. Thanks for article.

That was as near an untruth as Banneker cared to go. In his own mind he defended it on the ground that the projected visit would, in fact, be time wasted for the journalist since he, Banneker, intended fully that Gardner should not see Io. Deep would have been his disgust and self-derision could he have observed the effect of the message upon the cynical and informed journalist who, however, did not receive it until the second day after its transmission, as he had been away on another assignment.

"The poor fish!" was Gardner's comment. "He doesn't even say that she isn't there. He's got to lie better than that if he goes into the newspaper game."

Further, the reporter had received a note from the cowman whom Ban and Io had encountered in the woods, modestly requesting five dollars in return for the warranted fact that a "swell young lady" had been seen in Banneker's company. Other journalistic matters were pressing, however; he concluded that the "Manzanita Mystery," as he built it up headline-wise in his ready mind, could wait a day or two longer.

Banneker, through the mechanical course of his office, debated the situation. Should he tell Io of the message? To do so would only add to her anxieties, probably to no good purpose, for he did not believe that she would desert Miss Van Arsdale, ill and helpless, on any selfish consideration. Fidelity was one of the virtues with which he had unconsciously garlanded Io. Then, too, Gardner might not come anyway. If he did Banneker was innocently confident of his own ability to outwit the trained reporter and prevent his finding the object of his quest. A prospective and possible ally was forecast in the weather. Warning of another rainfall impending had come over the wire. As yet there was no sign visible from his far-horizoned home, except a filmy and changeful wreath of palest cloud with which Mount Carstairs was bedecked. Banneker decided for silence.

Miss Van Arsdale was much better when he rode over in the morning, but Io looked piteously worn and tired.

"You've had no rest," he accused her, away from the sick woman's hearing.

"Rest enough of its kind, but not much sleep," said Io.

"But you've got to have sleep," he insisted. "Let me stay and look after her to-night."

"It wouldn't be of any use."

"Why not?"

"I shouldn't sleep anyway. This house is haunted by spirits of unrest," said the girl fretfully. "I think I'll take a blanket and go out on the desert."

"And wake up to find a sidewinder crawling over you, and a tarantula nestling in your ear. Don't think of it."

"Ban," called the voice of Camilla Van Arsdale from the inner room, clear and firm as he had ever heard it.

He went in. She stretched out a hand to him. "It's good to see you, Ban. Have I worried you? I shall be up and about again to-morrow."

"Now, Miss Camilla," protested Banneker, "you mustn't--"

"I'm going to get up to-morrow," repeated the other immutably. "Don't be absurd about it. I'm not ill. It was only the sort of knock-down that I must expect from time to time. Within a day or two you'll see me riding over.... Ban, stand over there in that light.... What's that you've got on?"

"What, Miss Camilla?"

"That necktie. It isn't in your usual style. Where did you get it?"

"Sent to Angelica City for it. Don't you like it?" he returned, trying for the nonchalant air, but not too successfully.

"Not as well as your spotty butterflies," answered the woman jealously. "That's nonsense, though. Don't mind me, Ban," she added with a wry smile. "Plain colors are right for you. Browns, or blues, or reds, if they're not too bright. And you've tied it very well. Did it take you long to do it?"

Reddening and laughing, he admitted a prolonged and painful session before his glass. Miss Van Arsdale sighed. It was such a faint, abandoning breath of regret as might come from the breast of a mother when she sees her little son in his first pride of trousers.

"Go out and say good-night to Miss Welland," she ordered, "and tell her to go to bed. I've taken a sleeping powder."

Banneker obeyed. He rode home slowly and thoughtfully. His sleep was sound enough that night.

Breakfast-getting processes did not appeal to him when he awoke in the morning. He walked over, through the earliest light, to the hotel, where he made a meal of musty eggs, chemical-looking biscuits, and coffee of a rank hue and flavor, in an atmosphere of stale odors and flies, sickeningly different from the dainty ceremonials of Io's preparation. Rebuking himself for squeamishness, the station-agent returned to his office, caught an O.S. from the wire, took some general instructions, and went out to look at the weather. His glance never reached the horizon.

In the foreground where he had swung the hammock under the alamo it checked and was held, absorbed. A blanketed figure lay motionless in the curve of the meshwork. One arm was thrown across the eyes, warding a strong beam which had forced its way through the lower foliage. He tiptoed forward.

Io's breast was rising and falling gently in the hardly perceptible rhythm of her breathing. From the pale yellow surface of her dress, below the neck, protruded a strange, edged something, dun-colored, sharply defined and alien, which the man's surprised eyes failed to identify. Slowly the edge parted and flattened out, broadwise, displaying the marbled brilliance of the butterfly's inner wings, illumining the pale chastity of the sleeping figure as if with a quivering and evanescent jewel. Banneker, shaken and thrilled, closed his eyes. He felt as if a soul had opened its secret glories to him. When, commanding himself, he looked again, the living gem was gone. The girl slept evenly.

Conning the position of the sun and the contour of the sheltering tree, Banneker estimated that in a half-hour or less a flood of sunlight would pour in upon the slumberer's face to awaken her. Cautiously withdrawing, he let himself into the shack, lighted his oil stove, put on water to boil, set out the coffee and the stand. He felt different about breakfast-getting now. Having prepared the arrangements for his prospective guest, he returned and leaned against the alamo, filling his eyes with still delight of the sleeper.

Youthful, untouched, fresh though the face was, in the revealing stillness of slumber, it suggested rather than embodied something indefinably ancient, a look as of far and dim inheritances, subtle, ironic, comprehending, and aloof; as if that delicate and strong beauty of hers derived intimately from the wellsprings of the race; as if womanhood, eternal triumphant, and elusive were visibly patterned there.

Banneker, leaning against the slender tree-trunk, dreamed over her, happily and aimlessly.

Io opened her eyes to meet his. She stirred softly and smiled at him.

"So you discovered me," she said.

"How long have you been here?"

She studied the sun a moment before replying. "Several hours."

"Did you walk over in the night?"

"No. You told me not to, you know. I waited till the dawn. Don't scold me, Ban. I was dead for want of sleep and I couldn't get it in the lodge. It's haunted, I tell you, with unpeaceful spirits. So I remembered this hammock."

"I'm not going to scold you. I'm going to feed you. The coffee's on."

"How good!" she cried, getting to her feet. "Am I a sight? I feel frowsy."

"There's a couple of buckets of water up in my room. Help yourself while I set out the breakfast."

In fifteen minutes she was down, freshened and joyous.

"I'll just take a bite and then run back to my patient," she said. "You can bring the blanket when you come. It's heavy for a three-mile tramp.... What are you looking thoughtful and sober about, Ban? Do you disapprove of my escapade?"

"That's a foolish question."

"It's meant to be. And it's meant to make you smile. Why don't you? You _are_ worried. 'Fess up. What's happened?"

"I've had a letter from the reporter in Angelica City."

"Oh! Did he send your article?"

"He did. But that isn't the point. He says he's coming up here again."

"What for?"


"Does he know I'm here? Did he mention my name?"

"No. But he's had some information that probably points to you."

"What did you answer?"

Ban told her. "I think that will hold him off," he said hopefully.

"Then he's a very queer sort of reporter," returned Io scornfully out of her wider experience. "No; he'll come. And if he's any good, he'll find me."

"You can refuse to see him."

"Yes; but it's the mere fact of my being here that will probably give him enough to go on and build up a loathsome article. How I hate newspapers!... Ban," she appealed wistfully, "can't you stop him from coming? Must I go?"

"You must be ready to go."

"Not until Miss Camilla is well again," she declared obstinately. "But that will be in a day or two. Oh, well! What does it all matter! I've not much to pack up, anyway. How are you going to get me out?"

"That depends on whether Gardner comes, and how he comes."

He pointed to a darkening line above the southwestern horizon. "If that is what it looks like, we may be in for another flood, though I've never known two bad ones in a season."

Io beckoned quaintly to the far clouds. "Hurry! Hurry!" she summoned. "You wrecked me once. Now save me from the Vandal. Good-bye, Ban. And thank you for the lodging and the breakfast."

Emergency demands held the agent at his station all that day and evening. Trainmen brought news of heavy rains beyond the mountains. In the morning he awoke to find his little world hushed in a murky light and with a tingling apprehension of suspense in the atmosphere. High, gray cloud shapes hurried across the zenith to a conference of the storm powers, gathering at the horizon. Weather-wise from long observation, Banneker guessed that the outbreak would come before evening, and that, unless the sullen threat of the sky was deceptive, Manzanita would be shut off from rail communication within twelve hours thereafter. Having two hours' release at noon, he rode over to the lodge in the forest to return Io's blanket. He found the girl pensive, and Miss Van Arsdale apparently recovered to the status of her own normal and vigorous self.

"I've been telling Io," said the older woman, "that, since the rumor is out of her being here, she will almost certainly be found by the reporter. Too many people in the village know that I have a guest."

"How?" asked Banneker.

"From my marketing. Probably from Pedro."

"Very likely from the patron of the Sick Coyote that you and I met on our walk," added the girl.

"So the wise thing is for her to go," concluded Miss Van Arsdale. "Unless she is willing to risk the publicity."

"Yes," assented Io. "The wise thing is for me to go." She spoke in a curious tone, not looking at Banneker, not looking at anything outward and visible; her vision seemed somberly introverted.

"Not now, though," said Banneker.

"Why not?" asked both women. He answered Io.

"You called for a storm. You're going to get it. A big one. I could send you out on Number Eight, but that's a way-train and there's no telling where it would land you or when you'd get through. Besides, I don't believe Gardner is coming. I'd have heard from him by now. Listen!"

The slow pat-pat-pat of great raindrops ticked like a started clock on the roof. It ceased, and far overhead the great, quiet voice of the wind said, "Hush--sh--sh--sh--sh!", bidding the world lie still and wait.

"What if he does come?" asked Miss Van Arsdale

"I'll get word to you and get her out some way."

The storm burst on Banneker, homebound, just as he emerged from the woodland, in a wild, thrashing wind from the southwest and a downpour the most fiercely, relentlessly insistent that he had ever known. A cactus desert in the rare orgy of a rainstorm is a place of wonder. The monstrous, spiky forms trembled and writhed in ecstasy, heat-damned souls in their hour of respite, stretching out exultant arms to the bounteous sky. Tiny rivulets poured over the sand, which sucked them down with a thirsting, crisping whisper. A pair of wild doves, surprised and terrified, bolted close past the lone rider, so near that his mount shied and headed for the shelter of the trees again. A small snake, curving indecisively and with obvious bewilderment amidst the growth, paused to rattle a faint warning, half coiled in case the horse's step meant a new threat, then went on with a rather piteous air of not knowing where to find refuge against this cataclysm of the elements.

Lashing in the wind, a long tentacle of the giant ocatilla drew its cimeter-set thong across Ban's horse which incontinently bolted. The rider lifted up his voice and yelled in sheer, wild, defiant joy of the tumult. A lesser ocatilla thorn gashed his ear so that the blood mingled with the rain that poured down his face. A pod of the fishhook-barbed cholla drove its points through his trousers into the flesh of his knee and, detaching itself from the stem, as is the detestable habit of this vegetable blood-seeker, clung there like a live thing of prey, from barbs which must later be removed delicately and separately with the cold steel. Blindly homing, a jack-rabbit ran almost beneath the horse's hooves, causing him to shy again, this time into a bulky vizcaya, as big as a full-grown man, and inflicting upon Ban a new species of scarification. It did not matter. Nothing mattered. He rode on, knees tight, lines loose, elate, shouting, singing, acclaiming the storm which was setting its irrefragable limits to the world wherein he and Io would still live close, a few golden days longer.

What he picked from the wire when he reached it confirmed his hopes. The track was threatened in a dozen places. Repair crews were gathering. Already the trains were staggering along, far behind their schedule. They would, of course, operate as far as possible, but no reliance was to be placed upon their movements until further notice. Through the night traffic continued, but with the coming of the morning and the settling down of a soft, seeping, unintermittent pour of gray rain, the situation had clarified. Nothing came through. Complete stoppage, east and west. Between Manzanita and Stanwood the track was out, and in the other direction Dry Bed Arroyo was threatening. Banneker reported progress to the lodge and got back, soaked and happy. Io was thoughtful and content.

Late that afternoon the station-agent had a shock which jarred him quite out of his complacent security. Denny, the operator at Stanwood, wired, saying:

Party here anxious to get through to Manzanita quick. Could auto make upper desert?

No (clicked Banneker in response). Describe party.

The answer came back confirming his suspicion:

Thin, nice-spoken, wears goggles, smokes cork-tips. Arrived Five from Angelica held here.

Tell impossible by any route (instructed Banneker). Wire result.

An hour later came the reply:

Won't try to-night. Probably horse to-morrow.

Here was a problem, indeed, fit to chill the untimely self-congratulations of Banneker. Should the reporter come in--and come he would if it were humanly possible, by Banneker's estimate of him--it would be by the only route which gave exit to the west. On the other side the flooded arroyo cut off escape. To try to take Io out through the forest, practically trackless, in that weather, or across the channeled desert, would be too grave a risk. To all intents and purposes they were marooned on an island with no reasonable chance of exit--except! To Banneker's feverishly searching mind reverted a local legend. Taking a chance on missing some emergency call, he hurried over to the village and interviewed, through the persuasive interpretation of sundry drinks, an aged and bearded wreck whose languid and chipped accents spoke of a life originally far alien to the habitudes of the Sick Coyote where he was fatalistically awaiting his final attack of delirium tremens.

Banneker returned from that interview with a map upon which had been scrawled a few words in shaky, scholarly writing.

"But one doesn't say it's safe, mind you," had warned the shell of Lionel Streatham in his husky pipe. "It's only as a sporting offer that one would touch it. And the courses may have changed in seven years."

Denny wired in the morning that the inquiring traveler had set out from Manzanita, unescorted, on horseback, adding the prediction that he would have a hell of a trip, even if he got through at all. Late that afternoon Gardner arrived at the station, soaked, hollow-eyed, stiff, exhausted, and cheerful. He shook hands with the agent.

"How do you like yourself in print?" he inquired.

"Pretty well," answered Banneker. "It read better than I expected."

"It always does, until you get old in the business. How would you like a New York job on the strength of it?"

Banneker stared. "You mean that I could get on a paper just by writing that?"

"I didn't say so. Though I've known poorer stuff land more experienced men."

"More experienced; that's the point, isn't it? I've had none at all."

"So much the better. A metropolitan paper prefers to take a man fresh and train him to its own ways. There's your advantage if you can show natural ability. And you can."

"I see," muttered Banneker thoughtfully.

"Where does Miss Van Arsdale live?" asked the reporter without the smallest change of tone.

"What do you want to see Miss Van Arsdale for?" returned the other, his instantly defensive manner betraying him to the newspaper man.

"You know as well as I do," smiled Gardner.

"Miss Van Arsdale has been ill. She's a good deal of a recluse. She doesn't like to see people."

"Does her visitor share that eccentricity?"

Banneker made no reply.

"See here, Banneker," said the reporter earnestly; "I'd like to know why you're against me in this thing."

"What thing?" fenced the agent.

"My search for Io Welland."

"Who is Io Welland, and what are you after her for?" asked Banneker steadily.

"Apart from being the young lady that you've been escorting around the local scenery," returned the imperturbable journalist, "she's the most brilliant and interesting figure in the younger set of the Four Hundred. She's a newspaper beauty. She's copy. She's news. And when she gets into a railroad wreck and disappears from the world for weeks, and her supposed fiancé, the heir to a dukedom, makes an infernal ass of himself over it all and practically gives himself away to the papers, she's big news."

"And if she hasn't done any of these things," retorted Banneker, drawing upon some of Camilla Van Arsdale's wisdom, brought to bear on the case, "she's libel, isn't she?"

"Hardly libel. But she isn't safe news until she's identified. You see, I'm playing an open game with you. I'm here to identify her, with half a dozen newspaper photos. Want to see 'em?"

"No, thank you."

"Not interested? Are you going to take me over to Miss Van Arsdale's?"


"Why not?"

"Why should I? It's no part of my business as an employee of the road."

"As to that, I've got a letter from the Division Superintendent asking you to further my inquiry in any possible way. Here it is."

Banneker took and read the letter. While not explicit, it was sufficiently direct.

"That's official, isn't it?" said Gardner mildly.



"And this is official," added Banneker calmly. "The company can go to hell. Tell that to the D.S. with my compliments, will you?"

"Certainly not. I don't want to get you into trouble. I like you. But I've got to land this story. If you won't take me to the place, I'll find some one in the village that will. You can't prevent my going there, you know."

"Can't I?" Banneker's voice had grown low and cold. A curious light shone in his eyes. There was an ugly flicker of smile on his set mouth.

The reporter rose from the chair into which he had wetly slumped. He walked over to face his opponent who was standing at his desk. Banneker, lithe, powerful, tense, was half again as large as the other; obviously more muscular, better-conditioned, more formidable in every way. But there is about a man, singly and selflessly intent upon his job in hand, an inner potency impossible to obstruct. Banneker recognized it; inwardly admitted, too, the unsoundness of the swift, protective rage rising within, himself.

"I don't propose to make trouble for you or to have trouble with you," said the reporter evenly. "But I'm going to Miss Van Arsdale's unless I'm shot on the way there."

"That's all right," returned the agent, mastering himself. "I beg your pardon for threatening you. But you'll have to find your own way. Will you put up here for the night, again?"

"Thanks. Glad to, if it won't trouble you. See you later."

"Perhaps not. I'm turning in early. I'll leave the shack unlocked for you."

Gardner opened the outer door and was blown back into the station by an explosive gust of soaking wind.

"On second thought," said he, "I don't think I'll try to go out there this evening. The young lady can't very well get away to-night, unless she has wings, and it's pretty damp for flying. Can I get dinner over at the village?"

"Such as it is. I'll go over with you."

At the entrance to the unclean little hotel they parted, Banneker going further to find Mindle the "teamer," whom he could trust and with whom he held conference, brief and very private. They returned to the station together in the gathering darkness, got a hand car onto the track, and loaded it with a strange burden, after which Mindle disappeared into the storm with the car while Banneker wired to Stanwood an imperative call for a relief for next day even though the substitute should have to walk the twenty-odd miles. Thereafter he made, from the shack, a careful selection of food with special reference to economy of bulk, fastened it deftly beneath his poncho, saddled his horse, and set out for the Van Arsdale lodge. The night was pitch-black when he entered the area of the pines, now sonorous with the rush of the upper winds.

Io saw the gleam of his flashlight and ran to the door to meet him.

"Are you ready?" he asked briefly.

"I can be in fifteen minutes." She turned away, asking no questions.

"Dress warmly," he said. "It's an all-night trip. By the way, can you swim?"

"For hours at a time."

Camilla Van Arsdale entered the room. "Are you taking her away, Ban? Where?"

"To Miradero, on the Southwestern and Sierra."

"But that's insanity," protested the other. "Sixty miles, isn't it? And over trailless desert."

"All of that. But we're not going across country. We're going by water."

"By water? Ban, you _are_ out of your mind. Where is there any waterway?"

"Dry Bed Arroyo. It's running bank-full. My boat is waiting there."

"But it will be dangerous. Terribly dangerous. Io, you mustn't."

"I'll go," said the girl quietly, "if Ban says so."

"There's no other way out. And it isn't so dangerous if you're used to a boat. Old Streatham made it seven years ago in the big flood. Did it in a bark canoe on a hundred-dollar bet. The Arroyo takes you out to the Little Bowleg and that empties into the Rio Solano, and there you are! I've got his map."

"Map?" cried Miss Van Arsdale. "What use is a map when you can't see your hand before your face?"

"Give this wind a chance," answered Banneker. "Within two hours the clouds will have broken and we'll have moonlight to go by.... The Angelica Herald man is over at the hotel now," he added.

"May I take a suitcase?" asked Io.

"Of course. I'll strap it to your pony if you'll get it ready. Miss Camilla, what shall we do with the pony? Hitch him under the bridge?"

"If you're determined to take her, I'll ride over with you and bring him back. Io, think! Is it worth the risk? Let the reporter come. I can keep him away from you."

A brooding expression was in the girl's deep eyes as she turned them, not to the speaker, but to Banneker. "No," she said. "I've got to get away sooner or later. I'd rather go this way. It's more--it's more of a pattern with all the rest; better than stupidly waving good-bye from the rear of a train."

"But the danger."

"_Che sará, sará_," returned Io lightly. "I'll trust him to take care of me."

While Ban went out to prepare the horses with the aid of Pedro, strictly enjoined to secrecy, the two women got Io's few things together.

"I can't thank you," said the girl, looking up as she snapped the lock of her case. "It simply isn't a case for thanking. You've done too much for me."

The older woman disregarded it. "How much are you hurting Ban?" she said, with musing eyes fixed on the dim and pure outline of the girlish face.

"I? Hurt him?"

"Of course he won't realize it until you've gone. Then I'm afraid to think what is coming to him."

"And I'm afraid to think what is coming to me," replied the girl, very low.

"Ah, you!" retorted her hostess, dismissing that consideration with contemptuous lightness. "You have plenty of compensations, plenty of resources."

"Hasn't he?"

"Perhaps. Up to now. What will he do when he wakes up to an empty world?"

"Write, won't he? And then the world won't be empty."

"He'll think it so. That is why I'm sorry for him."

"Won't you be sorry a little for me?" pleaded the girl. "Anyway, for the part of me that I'm leaving here? Perhaps it's the very best of me."

Miss Van Arsdale shook her head. "Oh, no! A pleasantly vivid dream of changed and restful things. That's all. Your waking will be only a sentimental and perfumed regret--a sachet-powder sorrow."

"You're bitter."

"I don't want him hurt," protested the other. "Why did you come here? What should a girl like you, feverish and sensation-loving and artificial, see in a boy like Ban to charm you?"

"Ah, don't you understand? It's just because my world has been too dressed up and painted and powdered that I feel the charm of--of--well, of ease of existence. He's as easy as an animal. There's something about him--you must have felt it--sort of impassioned sense of the gladness of life; when he has those accesses he's like a young god, or a faun. But he doesn't know his own power. At those times he might do anything."

She shivered a little and her lids drooped over the luster of her dreaming eyes.

"And you want to tempt him out of this to a world where he would be a wretched misfit," accused the older woman.

"Do I? No; I think I don't. I think I'd rather hold him in my mind as he is here: a happy eremite; no, a restrained pagan. Oh, it's foolish to seek definitions for him. He isn't definable. He's Ban...."

"And when you get back into the world, what will you do, I wonder?"

"I won't send for him, if that's what you mean."

"But what _will_ you do, I wonder?"

"I wonder," repeated Io somberly.


Silently they rode through the stir and thresh of the night, the two women and the man. For guidance along the woods trail they must trust to the finer sense of their horses whose heads they could not see in the closed-in murk. A desultory spray fell upon them as the wind wrenched at the boughs overhead, but the rain had ceased. Infinitely high, infinitely potent sounded the imminent tumult of the invisible Powers of the night, on whose sufferance they moved, tiny, obscure, and unharmed. It filled all the distances.

Debouching upon the open desert, they found their range of vision slightly expanded. They could dimly perceive each other. The horses drew closer together. With his flash covered by his poncho, Banneker consulted a compass and altered their course, for he wished to give the station, to which Gardner might have returned, a wide berth. Io moved up abreast of him as he stood, studying the needle. Had he turned the light upward he would have seen that she was smiling. Whether he would have interpreted that smile, whether, indeed, she could have interpreted it herself, is doubtful.

Presently they picked up the line of telegraph poles, well beyond the station, just the faintest suggestion of gaunt rigor against the troubled sky, and skirted them, moving more rapidly in the confidence of assured direction. A very gradual, diffused alleviation of the darkness began to be felt. The clouds were thinning. Something ahead of them hissed in a soft, full, insistent monosonance. Banneker threw up a shadowy arm. They dismounted on the crest of a tiny desert clifflet, now become the bank of a black current which nuzzled and nibbled into its flanks.

Io gazed intently at the flood which was to deliver her out of the hands of the Philistine. How far away the other bank of the newborn stream might be, she could only guess from the vague rush in her ears. The arroyo's water slipped ceaselessly, objectlessly away from beneath her strained vision, smooth, suave, even, effortless, like the process of some unhurried and mighty mechanism. Now and again a desert plant, uprooted from its arid home, eddied joyously past her, satiated for once of its lifelong thirst; and farther out she thought to have a glimpse of some dead and whitish animal. But these were minor blemishes on a great, lustrous ribbon of silken black, unrolled and re-rolled from darkness into darkness.

"It's beckoning us," said Io, leaning to Banneker, her hand on his shoulder.

"We must wait for more light," he answered.

"Will you trust yourself to _that_?" asked Camilla Van Arsdale, with a gesture of fear and repulsion toward the torrent.

"Anywhere!" returned Io. There was exaltation in her voice.

"I can't understand it," cried the older woman. "How do you know what may lie before you?"

"That is the thrill of it."

"There may be death around the first curve. It's so unknown; so secret and lawless."

"Ah, and I'm lawless!" cried Io. "I could defy the gods on a night like this!"

She flung her arms aloft, in a movement of sweet, wild abandon, and, as if in response to an incantation, the sky was reft asunder and the moon rushed forth, free for the moment of the clutching clouds, fugitive, headlong, a shining Maenad of the heavens, surrounded by the rush and whirl that had whelmed earth and its waters and was hurrying them to an unknown, mad destiny.

"Now we can see our way," said Banneker, the practical.

He studied the few rods of sleek, foamless water between him and the farther bank, and, going to the steel boat which Mindle had brought to the place on the hand car, took brief inventory of its small cargo. Satisfied, he turned to load in Io's few belongings. He shipped the oars.

"I'll let her go stem-first," he explained; "so that I can see what we're coming to and hold her if there's trouble."

"But can you see?" objected Miss Van Arsdale, directing a troubled look at the breaking sky.

"If we can't, we'll run her ashore until we can."

He handed Io the flashlight and the map.

"You'll want me in the bow seat if we're traveling reversed," said she.

He assented. "Good sailorwoman!"

"I don't like it," protested Miss Van Arsdale. "It's a mad business. Ban, you oughtn't to take her."

"It's too late to talk of that," said Io.

"Ready?" questioned Banneker.


He pushed the stern of the boat into the stream, and the current laid it neatly and powerfully flat to the sheer bank. Io kissed Camilla Van Arsdale quickly and got in.

"We'll wire you from Miradero," she promised. "You'll find the message in the morning."

The woman, mastering herself with a difficult effort, held out her hand to Banneker.

"If you won't be persuaded," she said, "then good--"

"No," he broke in quickly. "That's bad luck. We shall be all right."

"Good luck, then," returned his friend, and turned away into the night.

Banneker, with one foot in the boat, gave a little shove and caught up his oars. An unseen hand of indeterminable might grasped the keel and moved them quietly, evenly, outward and forward, puppets given into the custody of the unregarding powers. Oars poised and ready, Ban sat with his back toward his passenger, facing watchfully downstream.

Leaning back into the curve of the bow, Io gave herself up to the pulsing sweep of the night. Far, far above her stirred a cosmic tumult. The air might have been filled with vast wings, invisible and incessant in the night of wonders. The moon plunged headlong through the clouds, now submerged, now free, like a strong swimmer amidst surf. She moved to the music of a tremendous, trumpeting note, the voice of the unleashed Spring, male and mighty, exulting in his power, while beneath, the responsive, desirous earth thrilled and trembled and was glad.

The boat, a tiny speck on the surface of chaos, darted and checked and swerved lightly at the imperious bidding of unguessed forces, reaching up from the depths to pluck at it in elfish sportiveness. Only when Ban thrust down the oar-blades, as he did now and again to direct their course or avoid some obstacle, was Io made sensible, through the jar and tremor of the whole structure, how swiftly they moved. She felt the spirit of the great motion, of which they were a minutely inconsiderable part, enter into her soul. She was inspired of it, freed, elated, glorified. She lifted up her voice and sang. Ban, turning, gave her one quick look of comprehension, then once more was intent and watchful of their master and servitor, the flood.

"Ban," she called.

He tossed an oar to indicate that he had heard.

"Come back and sit by me."

He seemed to hesitate.

"Let the boat go where it wants to! The river will take care of us. It's a good river, and so strong! I think it loves to have us here."

Ban shook his head.

"'Let the great river bear us to the sea,'" sang Io in her fresh and thrilling voice, stirring the uttermost fibers of his being with delight. "Ban, can't you trust the river and the night and--and the mad gods? I can."

Again he shook his head. In his attitude she sensed a new concentration upon something ahead. She became aware of a strange stir that was not of the air nor the water.

"Hush--sh--sh--sh--sh!" said something unseen, with an immense effect of restraint and enforced quiet.

The boat slewed sharply as Banneker checked their progress with a downthrust of oars. He edged in toward the farther bank which was quite flat, studying it with an eye to the most favoring spot, having selected which, he ran the stern up with several hard shoves, leapt out, hauled the body of the craft free from the balked and snatching current, and held out a hand to his passenger.

"What is it?" she asked as she joined him.

"I don't know. I'm trying to think where I've heard that noise before." He pondered. "Ah, I've got it! It was when I was out on the coast in the big rains, and a few million tons of river-bank let go all holds and smushed down into the stream.... What's on your map?"

He bent over it, conning its detail by the light of the flash which she turned on.

"We should be about here," he indicated, touching the paper, "I'll go ahead and take a look."

"Shan't I go with you?"

"Better stay quiet and get all the rest you can."

He was gone some twenty minutes. "There's a big, fresh-looking split-off in the opposite bank," he reported; "and the water looks fizzy and whirly around there. I think we'll give her a little time to settle. A sudden shift underneath might suck us down. The water's rising every minute, which makes it worth while waiting. Besides, it's dark just now."

"Do you believe in fate?" asked the girl abruptly, as he seated himself on the sand beside her. "That's a silly, schoolgirl thing to say, isn't it?" she added. "But I was thinking of this boat being there in the middle of the dry desert, just when we needed it most."

"It had been there some time," pointed out Banneker. "And if we couldn't have come this way, I'd have found some other."

"I believe you would," crowed Io softly.

"So, I don't believe in fate; not the ready-made kind. Things aren't that easy. If I did--"

"If you did?" she prompted as he paused.

"I'd get back into the boat with you and throw away the oars."

"I dare you!" she cried recklessly.

"We'd go whirling and spinning along," he continued with dreams in his voice, "until dawn came, and then we'd go ashore and camp."


"How should I know? In the Enchanted Canyon where it enters the Mountains of Fulfillment.... They're not on this map."

"They're not on any map. More's the pity. And then?"

"Then we'd rest. And after that we'd climb to the Plateau Beyond the Clouds where the Fadeless Gardens are, and there..."

"And there?"

"There we'd hear the Undying Voices singing."

"Should we sing, too?"

"Of course. 'For they who attain these heights, through pain of upward toil and the rigors of abstention, are as the demigods, secure above evil and the fear thereof.'"

"I don't know what that is, but I hate the 'upward toil' part of it, and the 'abstention' even more. We ought to be able to become demigods without all that, just because we wish it. In a fairy-tale, anyway. I don't think you're a really competent fairy-tale-monger, Ban."

"You haven't let me go on to the 'live happy ever after' part," he complained.

"Ah, that's the serpent, the lying, poisoning little serpent, always concealed in the gardens of dreams. They don't, Ban; people don't live happy ever after. I could believe in fairy-tales up to that point. Just there ugly old Experience holds up her bony finger--she's a horrid hag, Ban, but we'd all be dead or mad without her--and points to the wriggling little snake."

"In my garden," said he, "she'd have shining wings and eyes that could look to the future as well as to the past, and immortal Hope for a lover. It would be worth all the toil and the privation."

"Nobody ever made up a Paradise," said the girl fretfully, "but what the Puritan in him set the road with sharp stones and bordered it with thorns and stings.... Look, Ban! Here's the moon come back to us.... And see what's laughing at us and our dreams."

On the crest of a sand-billow sprawled a huge organ-cactus, brandishing its arms in gnomish derision of their presence.

"How can one help but believe in foul spirits with that thing to prove their existence?" she said. "And, look! There's the good spirit in front of that shining cloud."

She pointed to a yucca in full, creamy flower; a creature of unearthly purity in the glow of the moon, a dream-maiden beckoning at the gates of darkness to a world of hidden and ineffable beauty.

"When I saw my first yucca in blossom," said Banneker, "it was just before sunrise after I had been riding all night, and I came on it around a dip in the hills, standing alone against a sky of pearl and silver. It made me think of a ghost, the ghost of a girl who had died too young to know womanhood, died while she was asleep and dreaming pale, soft dreams, never to be fulfilled."

"That's the injustice of death," she answered. "To take one before one knows and has felt and been all that there is to know and feel and be."

"Yet"--he turned a slow smile to her--"you were just now calling Experience bad names; a horrid hag, wasn't it?"

"At least, she's life," retorted the girl.

"Yes. She's life."

"Ban, I want to go on. The whole universe is in motion. Why must we stand still?"

They reëmbarked. The grip of the hurrying depths took them past crinkly water, lustrously bronze in the moonlight where the bank had given way, and presently delivered them, around the shoulder of a low, brush-crowned bluff, into the keeping of a swollen creek. Here the going was more tricky. There were shoals and whirls at the bends, and plunging flotsam to be avoided. Banneker handled the boat with masterly address, easing her through the swift passages, keeping her, with a touch here and a dip there, to the deepest flow, swerving adroitly to dodge the trees and brush which might have punctured the thin metal. Once he cried out and lunged at some object with an unshipped oar. It rolled and sank, but not before Io had caught the contour of a pasty face. She was startled rather than horrified at this apparition of death. It seemed an accessory proper to the pattern of the bewitched night.

Through a little, silvered surf of cross-waves, they were shot, after an hour of this uneasy going, into the broad, clean sweep of the Little Bowleg River. After the troubled progress of the lesser current it seemed very quiet and secure; almost placid. But the banks slipped by in an endless chain. Presently they came abreast of three horsemen riding the river trail, who urged their horses into a gallop, keeping up with them for a mile or more. As they fell away, Io waved a handkerchief at them, to which they made response by firing a salvo from their revolvers into the air.

"We're making better than ten miles an hour," Banneker called over his shoulder to his passenger.

They shot between the split halves of a little, scraggly, ramshackle town, danced in white water where the ford had been, and darted onward. Now Banneker began to hold against the current, scanning the shores until, with a quick wrench, he brought the stern around and ran it up on a muddy bit of strand.

"Grub!" he announced gayly.

Languor had taken possession of Io, the languor of one who yields to unknown and fateful forces. Passive and at peace, she wanted nothing but to be wafted by the current to whatever far bourne might await her. That there should be such things as railway trains and man-made schedules in this world of winds and mystery and the voice of great waters, was hard to believe; hardly worth believing in any case. Better not to think of it: better to muse on her companion, building fire as the first man had built for the first woman, to feed and comfort her in an environment of imminent fears.

Coffee, when her man brought it, seemed too artificial for the time and place. She shook her head. She was not hungry.

"You must," insisted Ban. He pointed downstream where the murk lay heavy. "We shall run into more rain. You will need the warmth and support of food."

So, because there were only they two on the face of the known earth, woman and man, the woman obeyed the man. To her surprise, she found that she was hungry, ardently hungry. Both ate heartily. It was a silent meal; little spoken except about the chances and developments of the journey, until she got to her feet. Then she said:

"I shall never, as long as I live, wherever I go, whatever I do, know anything like this again. I shall not want to. I want it to stand alone."

"It will stand alone," he answered.

They met the rain within half an hour, a wall-like mass of it. It blotted out everything around them. The roar of it cut off sound, as the mass of it cut off sight. Fortunately the boat was now going evenly as in an oiled groove. By feeling, Io knew that her guide was moving from his seat, and guessed that he was bailing. The spare poncho, put in by Miss Van Arsdale, protected her. She was jubilant with the thresh of the rain in her face, the sweet, smooth motion of the boat beneath her, the wild abandon of the night, which, entering into her blood, had transmuted it into soft fire.

How long she crouched, exultant and exalted, under the beat of the storm, she could not guess. She half emerged from her possession with a strange feeling that the little craft was being irresistibly drawn forward and downward in what was now a suction rather than a current. At the same time she felt the spring and thrust of Banneker's muscles, straining at the oars. She dipped a hand into the water. It ridged high around her wrists with a startling pressure. What was happening?

Through the uproar she could dimly hear Ban's voice. He seemed to be swearing insanely. Dropping to her hands and knees, for the craft was now swerving and rocking, she crept to him.

"The dam! The dam! The dam!" he shouted. "I'd forgotten about it. Go back. Turn on the flash. Look for shore."

Against rather than into that impenetrable enmeshment of rain, the glow dispersed itself ineffectually. Io sat, not frightened so much as wondering. Her body ached in sympathy with the panting, racking toil of the man at the oars, the labor of an indomitable pigmy, striving to thwart a giant's will. Suddenly he shouted. The boat spun. Something low and a shade blacker than the dull murk about them, with a white, whispering ripple at its edge, loomed. The boat's prow drove into soft mud as Banneker, all but knocking her overboard in his dash, plunged to the land and with one powerful lift, brought boat and cargo to safety.

For a moment he leaned, gasping, against a stump. When he spoke, it was to reproach himself bitterly.

"We must have come through the town. There's a dam below it. I'd forgotten it. My God! If we hadn't had the luck to strike shore."

"Is it a high dam?" she asked.

"In this flood we'd be pounded to death the moment we were over. Listen! You can hear it."

The rain had diminished a little. Above its insistence sounded a deeper, more formidable beat and thrill.

"We must be quite close to it," she said.

"A few rods, probably. Let me have the light. I want to explore before we start out."

Much sooner than she had expected, he was back. He groped for and took her hand. His own was steady, but his voice shook as he said:


"It's the first time you've called me that. Well, Ban?"

"Can you stand it to--to have me tell you something?"


"We're not on the shore."

"Where, then? An island?"

"There aren't any islands here. It must be a bit of the mainland cut off by the flood."

"I'm not afraid, if that's what you mean. We can stand it until dawn."

A wavelet lapped quietly across her foot. She withdrew it and with that involuntary act came understanding. Her hand, turning in his, pressed close, palm cleaving to palm.

"How much longer?" she asked in a whisper.

"Not long. It's just a tiny patch. And the river is rising every minute."

"How long?" she persisted.

"Perhaps two hours. Perhaps less. My good God! If there's any special hell for criminal fools, I ought to go to it for bringing you to this," he burst out in agony.

"I brought you. Whatever there is, we'll go to it together."

"You're wonderful beyond all wonders. Aren't you afraid?"

"I don't know. It isn't so much fear, though I dread to think of that hammering-down weight of water."

"Don't!" he cried brokenly. "I can't bear to think of you--" He lifted his head sharply. "Isn't it lightening up? Look! Can you see shore? We might be quite near."

She peered out, leaning forward. "No; there's nothing." Her hand turned within his, released itself gently. "I'm not afraid," she said, speaking clear and swift. "It isn't that. But I'm--rebellious. I hate the idea of it, of ending everything; the unfairness of it. To have to die without knowing the--the realness of life. Unfulfilled. It isn't fair," she accused breathlessly. "Ban, it's what we were saying. Back there on the river-bank where the yucca stands. I don't want to go--I can't bear to go--before I've known ... before...."

Her arms crept to enfold him. Her lips sought his, tremulous, surrendering, demanding in surrender. With all the passion and longing that he had held in control, refusing to acknowledge even their existence, as if the mere recognition of them would have blemished her, he caught her to him. He heard her, felt her sob once. The roar of the cataract was louder, more insistent in his ears ... or was it the rush of the blood in his veins?... Io cried out, a desolate and hungry cry, for he had wrenched his mouth from hers. She could feel the inner man abruptly withdrawn, concentrated elsewhere. She opened her eyes upon an appalling radiance wherein his face stood out clear, incredulous, then suddenly eager and resolute.

"It's a headlight!" he cried. "A train! Look, Io! The mainland. It's only a couple of rods away."

He slipped from her arms, ran to the boat.

"What are you going to do?" she called weakly. "Ban! You can never make it."

"I've got to. It's our only chance."

As he spoke, he was fumbling under the seat. He brought out a coil of rope. Throwing off poncho, coat, and waistcoat, he coiled the lengths around his body.

"Let me swim with you," she begged.

"You're not strong enough."

"I don't care. We'd go together ... I--I can't face it alone, Ban."

"You'll have to. Or give up our only chance of life. You must, Io. If I shouldn't get across, you may try it; the chances of the current might help you. But not until after you're sure I haven't made it. You must wait."

"Yes," she said submissively.

"As soon as I get to shore, I'll throw the rope across to you. Listen for it. I'll keep throwing until it strikes where you can get it."

"I'll give you the light."

"That may help. Then you make fast under the forward seat of the boat. Be sure it's tight."

"Yes, Ban."

"Twitch three times on the rope to let me know when you're ready and shove out and upstream as strongly as you can."

"Can you hold it against the current?"

"I must. If I do, you'll drift around against the bank. If I don't--I'll follow you."

"No, Ban," she implored. "Not you, too. There's no need--"

"I'll follow you," said he. "Now, Io."

He kissed her gently, stepped back, took a run and flung himself upward and outward into the ravening current.

She saw a foaming thresh that melted into darkness....

Time seemed to have stopped for her. She waited, waited, waited in a world wherein only Death waited with her.... Ban was now limp and lifeless somewhere far downstream, asprawl in the swiftness, rolling a pasty face to the sky like that grisly wayfarer who had hailed them silently in the upper reach of the river, a messenger and prophet of their fate. The rising waters eddied about her feet. The boat stirred uneasily. Mechanically she drew it back from the claim of the flood. A light blow fell upon her cheek and neck.

It was the rope.

Instantly and intensely alive, Io tautened it and felt the jerk of Ban's signal. With expert hands she made it fast, shipped the oars, twitched the cord thrice, and, venturing as far as she dared into the deluge, pushed with all her force and threw herself over the stern.

The rope twanged and hummed like a gigantic bass-string. Io crawled to the oars, felt the gunwale dip and right again, and, before she could take a stroke, was pressed against the far bank. She clambered out and went to Banneker, guiding herself by the light. His face, in the feeble glow, shone, twisted in agony. He was shaking from head to foot. The other end of the rope which had brought her to safety was knotted fast around his waist.... So he would have followed, as he said!

Through Io's queer, inconsequent brain flitted a grotesque conjecture: what would the newspapers make of it if she had been found, washed up on the river-bank, and the Manzanita agent of the Atkinson and St. Philip Railroad Company drowned and haltered by a long tether to his boat, near by? A sensational story!...

She went to Banneker, still helplessly shaking, and put her firm, slight hands on his shoulders.

"It's all right, Ban," she said soothingly. "We're out of it."


"Arrived safe" was the laconic message delivered to Miss Camilla Van Arsdale by Banneker's substitute when, after a haggard night, she rode over in the morning for news.

Banneker himself returned on the second noon, after much and roundabout wayfaring. He had little to say of the night journey; nothing of the peril escaped. Miss Welland had caught a morning train for the East. She was none the worse for the adventurous trip. Camilla Van Arsdale, noting his rapt expression and his absent, questing eyes, wondered what underlay such reticence.... What had been the manner of their parting?

It had, indeed, been anti-climax. Both had been a little shy, a little furtive. Each, perhaps feeling a mutual strain, wanted the parting over, restlessly desiring the sedative of thought and quiet memory after that stress. The desperate peril from which they had been saved seemed a lesser crisis, leading from a greater and more significant one; leading to--what? For his part Banneker was content to "breathe and wait." When they should meet again, it would be determined. How and when the encounter might take place, he did not trouble himself to consider. The whole universe was moulded and set for that event. Meantime the glory was about him; he could remember, recall, repeat, interpret....

For the hundredth time--or was it the thousandth?--he reconstructed that last hour of theirs together in the station at Miradero, waiting for the train. What had they said to each other? Commonplaces, mostly, and at times with effort, as if they were making conversation. They two! After that passionate and revealing moment between life and death on the island. What should he have said to her? Begged her to stay? On what basis? How could he?.... As the distant roar of the train warned them that the time of parting was close, it was she who broke through that strange restraint, turning upon him her old-time limpid and resolute regard.

"Ban; promise me something."


"There may be a time coming for us when you won't understand."

"Understand what?"

"Me. Perhaps I shan't understand myself."

"You'll always understand yourself, Io."

"If that comes--when that comes--Ban, there's something in the book, _our_ book, that I've left you to read."

"'The Voices'?"

"Yes. I've fastened the pages together so that you can't read it too soon."

"When, then?"

"When I tell you ... No; not when I tell you. When--oh, when you must! You'll read it, and afterward, when you think of me, you'll think of that, too. Will you?"




"No matter what happens?"

"No matter what happens."

"It's like a litany." She laughed tremulously.... "Here's the train. Good-bye, dear."

He felt the tips of slender fingers on his temples, the light, swift pressure of cold lips on his mouth.... While the train pulled out, she stood on the rear platform, looking, looking. She was very still. All motion, all expression seemed centered in the steady gaze which dwindled away from him, became vague ... featureless ... vanished in a lurch of the car.

Banneker, at home again, planted a garden of dreams, and lived in it, mechanically acceptant of the outer world, resentful of any intrusion upon that flowerful retreat. Even of Miss Van Arsdale's.

Not for days thereafter did the Hunger come. It began as a little gnawing doubt and disappointment. It grew to a devastating, ravening starvation of the heart, for sign or sight or word of Io Welland. It drove him out of his withered seclusion, to seek Miss Van Arsdale, in the hope of hearing Io's name spoken. But Miss Van Arsdale scarcely referred to Io. She watched Banneker with unconcealed anxiety.

... Why had there been no letter?...

Appeasement came in the form of a package addressed in her handwriting. Avidly he opened it. It was the promised Bible, mailed from New York City. On the fly-leaf was written "I.O.W. to E.B."--nothing more. He went through it page by page, seeking marked passages. There was none. The doubt settled down on him again. The Hunger bit into him more savagely.

... Why didn't she write? A word! Anything!

... Had she written Miss Van Arsdale?

At first it was intolerable that he should be driven to ask about her from any other person; about Io, who had clasped him in the Valley of the Shadow, whose lips had made the imminence of death seem a light thing! The Hunger drove him to it.

Yes; Miss Van Arsdale had heard. Io Welland was in New York, and well. That was all. But Banneker felt an undermining reserve.

Long days of changeless sunlight on the desert, an intolerable glare. From the doorway of the lonely station Banneker stared out over leagues of sand and cactus, arid, sterile, hopeless, promiseless. Life was like that. Four weeks now since Io had left him. And still, except for the Bible, no word from her. No sign. Silence.

Why that? Anything but that! It was too unbearable to his helpless masculine need of her. He could not understand it. He could not understand anything. Except the Hunger. That he understood well enough now....

At two o'clock of a savagely haunted night, Banneker staggered from his cot. For weeks he had not known sleep otherwise than in fitful passages. His brain was hot and blank. Although the room was pitch-dark, he crossed it unerringly to a shelf and look down his revolver. Slipping on overcoat and shoes, he dropped the weapon into his pocket and set out up the railroad track. A half-mile he covered before turning into the desert. There he wandered aimlessly for a few minutes, and after that groped his way, guarding with a stick against the surrounding threat of the cactus, for his eyes were tight closed. Still blind, he drew out the pistol, gripped it by the barrel, and threw it, whirling high and far, into the trackless waste. He passed on, feeling his uncertain way patiently.

It took him a quarter of an hour to find the railroad track and set a sure course for home, so effectually had he lost himself.... No chance of his recovering that old friend. It had been whispering to him, in the blackness of empty nights, counsels that were too persuasive.

Back in his room over the station he lighted the lamp and stood before the few books which he kept with him there; among them Io's Bible and "The Undying Voices," with the two pages still joined as her fingers had left them. He was summoning his courage to face what might be the final solution. When he must, she had said, he was to open and read. Well ... he must. He could bear it no longer, the wordless uncertainty. He lifted down the volume, gently parted the fastened pages and read. From out the still, ordered lines, there rose to him the passionate cry of protest and bereavement:

"............................Nevermore Alone upon the threshold of my door Of individual life I shall command The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand Serenely in the sunshine as before, Without the sense of that which I forbore--Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine With pulses that beat double. What I do And what I dream include thee, as the wine Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue God for myself, He hears that name of thine And sees within my eyes the tears of two."

Over and over he read it with increasing bewilderment, with increasing fear, with slow-developing comprehension. If that was to be her farewell ... but why! Io, the straightforward, the intrepid, the exponent of fair play and the rules of the game!... Had it been only a game? No; at least he knew better than that.

What could it all mean? Why that medium for her message? Should he write and ask her? But what was there to ask or say, in the face of her silence? Besides, he had not even her address. Miss Camilla could doubtless give him that. But would she? How much did she understand? Why had she turned so unhelpful?

Banneker sat with his problem half through a searing night; and the other half of the night he spent in writing. But not to Io.

At noon Camilla Van Arsdale rode up to the station.

"Are you ill, Ban?" was her greeting, as soon as she saw his face.

"No, Miss Camilla. I'm going away."

She nodded, confirming not so much what he said as a fulfilled suspicion of her own. "New York is a very big city," she said.

"I haven't said that I was going to New York."

"No; there is much you haven't said."

"I haven't felt much like talking. Even to you."

"Don't go, Ban."

"I've got to. I've got to get away from here."

"And your position with the railroad?"

"I've resigned. It's all arranged." He pointed to the pile of letters, his night's work.

"What are you going to do?"

"How do I know! I beg your pardon, Miss Camilla. Write, I suppose."

"Write here."

"There's nothing to write about."

The exile, who had spent her years weaving exquisite music from the rhythm of desert winds and the overtones of the forest silence, looked about her, over the long, yellow-gray stretches pricked out with hints of brightness, to the peaceful refuge of the pines, and again to the naked and impudent meanness of the town. Across to her ears, borne on the air heavy with rain still unshed, came the rollicking, ragging jangle of the piano at the Sick Coyote.

"Aren't there people to write about there?" she said. "Tragedies and comedies and the human drama? Barrie found it in a duller place."

"Not until he had seen the world first," he retorted quickly. "And I'm not a Barrie.... I can't stay here, Miss Camilla."

"Poor Ban! Youth is always expecting life to fulfill itself. It doesn't."

"No; it doesn't--unless you make it."

"And how will you make it?"

"I'm going to get on a newspaper."

"It isn't so easy as all that, Ban."

"I've been writing."

In the joyous flush of energy, evoked under the spell of Io's enchantment, he had filled his spare hours with work, happy, exuberant, overflowing with a quaint vitality. A description of the desert in spate, thumb-nail sketches from a station-agent's window, queer little flavorous stories of crime and adventure and petty intrigue in the town; all done with a deftness and brevity that was saved from being too abrupt only by broad touches of color and light. And he had had a letter. He told Miss Van Arsdale of it.

"Oh, if you've a promise, or even a fair expectation of a place. But, Ban, I wouldn't go to New York, anyway."

"Why not?"

"It's no use."

His strong eyebrows went up. "Use?"

"You won't find her there."

"She's not in New York?"


"You've heard from her, then? Where is she?"

"Gone abroad."

Upon that he meditated. "She'll come back, though."

"Not to you."

He waited, silent, attentive, incredulous.

"Ban; she's married."


The telegraph instrument clicked in the tiny rhythm of an elfin bass-drum. "O.S. O.S." Click. Click. Click-click-click. Mechanically responsive to his office he answered, and for a moment was concerned with some message about a local freight. When he raised his face again, Miss Van Arsdale read there a sick and floundering skepticism.

"Married!" he repeated. "Io! She couldn't."

The woman, startled by the conviction in his tone, wondered how much that might imply.

"She wrote me," said she presently.

"That she was married?"

"That she would be by the time the letter reached me."

("You will think me a fool," the girl had written impetuously, "and perhaps a cruel fool. But it is the wise thing, really. Del Eyre is so safe! He is safety itself for a girl like me. And I have discovered that I can't wholly trust myself.... Be gentle with him, and make him do something worth while.")

"Ah!" said Ban. "But that--"

"And I have the newspaper since with an account of the wedding.... Ban! Don't look like that!"

"Like what?" said he stupidly.

"You look like Pretty Willie as I saw him when he was working himself up for the killing." Pretty Willie was the soft-eyed young desperado who had cleaned out the Sick Coyote.

"Oh, I'm not going to kill anybody," he said with a touch of grim amusement for her fears. "Not even myself." He rose and went to the door. "Do you mind, Miss Camilla?" he added appealingly.

"You want me to leave you now?"

He nodded. "I've got to think."

"When would you leave, Ban, if you do go?"

"I don't know."

On the following morning he went, after a night spent in arranging, destroying, and burning. The last thing to go into the stove, 67 S 4230, was a lock of hair, once glossy, but now stiffened and stained a dull brown, which he had cut from the wound on Io's head that first, strange night of theirs, the stain of her blood that had beaten in her heart, and given life to the sure, sweet motion of her limbs, and flushed in her cheeks, and pulsed in the warm lips that she had pressed to his--Why could they not have died together on their dissolving island, with the night about them, and their last, failing sentience for each other!

The flame of the greedy stove licked up the memento, but not the memory.

"You must not worry about me," he wrote in the note left with his successor for Miss Van Arsdale. "I shall be all right. I am going to succeed."