When A Man's A Man by Harold Bell Wright
Chapter XVI. The Sky Line.
Before their late breakfast was over at the Cross-Triangle Ranch, Helen Manning came across the valley meadows to help with the work of the household. Jimmy brought her, but when she saw that she was really needed, and that Mrs. Baldwin would be glad of her help, she told Jimmy that she would stay for the day. Someone from the Cross-Triangle, the Dean said, would take her home when she was ready to go.
The afternoon was nearly gone when Curly returned from the lower end of the valley with a woman who would relieve Mrs. Baldwin of the housework, and, as her presence was no longer needed, Helen told the Dean that she would return to the Reid home.
"I'll just tell Patches to take you over in the buckboard," said the Dean. "It was mighty kind of you to give us a hand to-day; it's been a big help to Stella and Kitty."
"Please don't bother about the buckboard, Mr. Baldwin. I would enjoy the walk so much. But I would be glad if Mr. Patches could go with me--I would really feel safer, you know," she smiled.
Mrs. Baldwin was sleeping and Kitty was watching beside Phil, so the Dean himself went as far as the wash with Helen and Patches, as the two set out for their walk across the meadows. When Helen had said good-by to the Dean, with a promise to come again on the morrow, and he had turned back toward the house, she said to her companion, "Oh, Larry, I am so glad for this opportunity; I wanted to see you alone, and I couldn't think how it was to be managed. I have something to tell you, Larry, something that I must tell you, and you must promise to be very patient with me."
"You know what happened this morning, do you?" he asked gravely, for he thought from her words that she had, perhaps, chanced to hear of some further action to be taken by the suspicious cattlemen.
"It was terrible--terrible, Larry. Why didn't you tell them who you are? Why did you let them--" she could not finish.
He laughed shortly. "It would have been such a sinful waste of words. Can't you imagine me trying to make those men believe such a fairy story--under such circumstances?"
For a little they walked in silence; then he asked, "Is it about Jim Reid's suspicion that you wanted to see me, Helen?"
"No, Larry, it isn't. It's about Kitty," she answered.
"Kitty told me all about it, to-day," Helen continued. "The poor child is almost beside herself."
The man did not speak. Helen looked up at him almost as a mother might have done.
"Do you love her so very much, Larry? Tell me truly, do you?"
Patches could not--dared not--look at her.
"Tell me, Larry," she insisted gently. "I must know. Do you love Kitty as a man ought to love his wife?"
The man answered in a voice that was low and shaking with emotion. "Why should you ask me such a question? You know the answer. What right have you to force me to tell you that which you already know--that I love you--another man's wife?"
Helen's face went white. In her anxiety for Kitty she, had not foreseen this situation in which, by her question, she had placed herself.
"Larry!" she said sharply.
"Well," he retorted passionately, "you insisted that I tell you the truth."
"I insisted that you tell me the truth about Kitty," she returned.
"Well, you have it," he answered quickly.
"Oh, Larry," she cried, "how could you--how could you ask a woman you do not love to be your wife? How could you do it, Larry? And just when I was so proud of you; so glad for you that you had found yourself; that you were such a splendid man!"
"Kitty and I are the best of friends," he answered in a dull, spiritless tone, "the best of companions. In the past year I have grown very fond of her--we have much in common. I can give her the life she desires--the life she is fitted for. I will make her happy; I will be true to her; I will be to her everything that a man should be to his wife."
"No, Larry," she said gently, touched by the hopelessness in his voice, for he had spoken as though he already knew that his attempt to justify his engagement to Kitty was vain. "No, Larry, you cannot be to Kitty everything that a man should be to his wife. You cannot, without love, be a husband to her."
Again they walked in silence for a little way. Then Helen asked: "And are you sure, Larry, that Kitty cares for you--as a woman ought to care, I mean?"
"I could not have asked her to be my wife if I had not thought so," he answered, with more spirit.
"Of course," returned his companion gently, "and Kitty could not have answered, 'yes,' if she had not believed that you loved her."
"Do you mean that you think Kitty does not care for me, Helen?"
"I know that she loves Phil Acton, Larry. I saw it in her face when we first learned that he was hurt. And to-day the poor girl confessed it. She loved him all the time, Larry--has loved him ever since they were boy and girl together. She has tried to deny her heart--she has tried to put other things above her love, but she knows now that she cannot. It is fortunate for you both that she realized her love for Mr. Acton before she had spoiled not only her own life but yours as well."
"But, how could she promise to be my wife when she loved Phil?" he demanded.
"But, how could you ask her when you--" Helen retorted quickly, without thinking of herself. Then she continued bravely, putting herself aside in her effort to make him understand. "You tempted her, Larry. You did not mean it so, perhaps, but you did. You tempted her with your wealth--with all that you could give her of material luxuries and ease and refinement. You tempted her to substitute those things for love. I know, Larry--I know, because you see, dear man, I was once tempted, too."
He made a gesture of protest, but she went on, "You did not know, but I can tell you now that nothing but the memory of my dear father's teaching saved me from a terrible mistake. You are a man now, Larry. You are more to me than any man in the world, save one; and more than any man in the world, save that one, I respect and admire you for the manhood you have gained. But oh, Larry, Larry, don't you see? 'When a man's a man' there is one thing above all others that he cannot do. He cannot take advantage of a woman's weakness; he cannot tempt her beyond her strength; he must be strong both for himself and her; he must save her always from herself."
The man lifted his head and looked away toward Granite Mountain. As once before this woman had aroused him to assert his manhood's strength, she called now to all that was finest and truest in the depth of his being.
"You are always right, Helen," he said, almost reverently.
"No, Larry," she answered quickly, "but you know that I am right in this."
"I will free Kitty from her promise at once," he said, as though to end the matter.
Helen answered quickly. "But that is exactly what you must not do."
The man was bewildered. "Why, I thought--what in the world do you mean?"
She laughed happily as she said, "Stupid Larry, don't you understand? You must make Kitty send you about your business. You must save her self-respect. Can't you see how ashamed and humiliated she would be if she imagined for a moment that you did not love her? Think what she would suffer if she knew that you had merely tried to buy her with your wealth and the things you possess!"
She disregarded his protest.
"That's exactly what your proposal meant, Larry. A girl like Kitty, if she knew the truth of what she had done, might even fancy herself unworthy to accept her happiness now that it has come. You must make her dismiss you, and all that you could give her. You must make her proud and happy to give herself to the man she loves."
"But--what can I do?" he asked in desperation.
"I don't know, Larry. But you must manage somehow--for Kitty's sake you must."
"If only the Dean had not interrupted the proceedings this morning, how it would have simplified everything!" he mused, and she saw that as always he was laughing at himself.
"Don't, Larry; please don't," she cried earnestly.
He looked at her curiously. "Would you have me lie to her, Helen--deliberately lie?"
She answered quietly. "I don't think that I would raise that question, if I were you, Larry--considering all the circumstances."
On his way back to the Cross-Triangle, Patches walked as a man who, having determined upon a difficult and distasteful task, is of a mind to undertake it without delay.
After supper that evening he managed to speak to Kitty when no one was near.
"I must see you alone for a few minutes to-night," he whispered hurriedly. "As soon as possible. I will be under the trees near the bank of the wash. Come to me as soon as it is dark, and you can slip away."
The young woman wondered at his manner. He was so hurried, and appeared so nervous and unlike himself.
"But, Patches, I--"
"You must!" he interrupted with a quick look toward the Dean, who was approaching them. "I have something to tell you--something that I must tell you to-night."
He turned to speak to the Dean, and Kitty presently left them. An hour later, when the night had come, she found him waiting as he had said.
"Listen, Kitty!" he began abruptly, and she thought from his manner and the tone of his voice that he was in a state of nervous fear. "I must go; I dare not stay here another day; I am going to-night."
"Why, Patches," she said, forcing herself to speak quietly in order to calm him. "What is the matter?"
"Matter?" he returned hurriedly. "You know what they tried to do to me this morning."
Kitty was shocked. It was true that she did not--could not--care for this man as she loved Phil, but she had thought him her dearest friend, and she respected and admired him. It was not good to find him now like this--shaken and afraid. She could not understand. For the moment her own trouble was put aside by her honest concern for him.
"But, Patches," she said earnestly, "that is all past now; it cannot happen again."
"You do not know," he returned, "or you would not feel so sure. Phil might--" He checked himself as if he feared to finish the sentence.
Kitty thought now that there must be more cause for his manner than she had guessed.
"But you are not a cattle thief," she protested. "You have only to explain who you are; no one would for a moment believe that Lawrence Knight could be guilty of stealing; it's ridiculous on the face of it!"
"You do not understand," he returned desperately. "There is more in this than stealing."
Kitty started. "You don't mean, Patches--you can't mean--Phil--" she gasped.
"Yes, I mean Phil," he whispered. "I--we were quarreling--I was angry. My God! girl, don't you see why I must go? I dare not stay. Listen, Kitty! It will be all right. Once I am out of this country and living under my own name I will be safe. Later you can come to me. You will come, won't you, dear? You know how I want you; this need make no change in our plans. If you love me you--"
She stopped him with a low cry. "And you--it was you who did that?"
"But I tell you we were quarreling, Kitty," he protested weakly.
"And you think that I could go to you now?" She was trembling with indignation. "Oh, you are so mistaken. It seems that I was mistaken, too. I never dreamed that you--nothing--nothing, that you could ever do would make me forget what you have told me. You are right to go."
"You mean that you will not come to me?" he faltered.
"Could you really think that I would?" she retorted.
"But, Kitty, you will let me go? You will not betray me? You will give me a chance?"
"It is the only thing that I can do," she answered coldly. "I should die of shame, if it were ever known that I had thought of being more to you than I have been; but you must go to-night."
And with this she left him, fairly running toward the house.
Alone in the darkness, Honorable Patches smiled mockingly to himself.
When morning came there was great excitement at the Cross-Triangle Ranch. Patches was missing. And more, the best horse in the Dean's outfit--the big bay with the blazed face, had also disappeared.
Quickly the news spread throughout the valley, and to the distant ranches. And many were the wise heads that nodded understandingly; and many were the "I told you so's." The man who had appeared among them so mysteriously, and who, for a year, had been a never-failing topic of conversation, had finally established his character beyond all question. But the cattlemen felt with reason, because of the Dean's vigorous defense of the man when they would have administered justice, that the matter was now in his hands. They offered their services, and much advice; they quietly joked about the price of horses; but the Dean laughed at their jokes, listened to their advice, and said that he thought the sheriff of Yavapai County could be trusted to handle the case.
To Helen only Kitty told of her last interview with Patches. And Helen, shocked and surprised at the thoroughness with which the man had brought about Kitty's freedom and peace of mind, bade the girl forget and be happy.
When the crisis was passed, and Phil was out of danger, Kitty returned to her home, but every day she and Helen drove across the meadows to see how the patient was progressing. Then one day Helen said good-by to her Williamson Valley friends, and went with Stanford to the home he had prepared for her. And after that Kitty spent still more of her time at the house across the wash from the old Acton homestead.
It was during those weeks of Phil's recovery, while he was slowly regaining his full measure of health and strength, that Kitty learned to know the cowboy in a way that she had never permitted herself to know him before. Little by little, as they sat together under the walnut trees, or walked slowly about the place, the young woman came to understand the mind of the man. As Phil shyly at first, then more freely, opened the doors of his inner self and talked to her as he had talked to Patches of the books he had read; of his observations and thoughts of nature, and of the great world movements and activities that by magazines and books and papers were brought to his hand, she learned to her surprise that even as he lived amid the scenes that called for the highest type of physical strength and courage, he lived an intellectual life that was as marked for its strength and manly vigor.
But while they came thus daily into more intimate and closer companionship they spoke to no one of their love. Kitty, knowing how her father would look upon her engagement to the cowboy, put off the announcement from time to time, not wishing their happy companionship to be marred during those days of Phil's recovery.
When he was strong enough to ride again, Kitty would come with Midnight, and together they would roam about the ranch and the country near by. So it happened that Sunday afternoon. Mr. and Mrs. Reid, with the three boys, were making a neighborly call on the Baldwins, and Phil and Kitty were riding in the vicinity of the spot where Kitty had first met Patches.
They were seated in the shade of a cedar on the ridge not far from the drift fence gate, when Phil saw three horsemen approaching from the further side of the fence. By the time the horsemen had reached the gate, Phil knew them to be Yavapai Joe, Nick Cambert and Honorable Patches. Kitty, too, had, by this time, recognized the riders, and with an exclamation started to rise to her feet.
But Phil said quietly, "Wait, Kitty; there's something about that outfit that looks mighty queer to me."
The men were riding in single file, with Yavapai Joe in the lead and Patches last, and their positions were not changed when they halted while Joe, without dismounting, unlatched the gate. They came through the opening, still in the same order, and as they halted again, while Patches closed the gate, Phil saw what it was that caused them to move with such apparent lack of freedom in their relative positions, and why Nick Cambert's attitude in the saddle was so stiff and unnatural. Nick's hands were secured behind his back, and his feet were tied under the horse from stirrup to stirrup, while his horse was controlled by a lead rope, one end of which was made fast to Yavapai Joe's saddle horn.
Patches caught sight of the two under the tree as he came through the gate, but he gave no sign that he had noticed them. As the little procession moved slowly nearer, Phil and Kitty looked at each other without a word, but as they turned again to watch the approaching horsemen, Kitty impulsively grasped Phil's arm. And sitting so, in such unconscious intimacy, they must have made a pleasing picture; at least the man who rode behind Nick Cambert seemed to think so, for he was trying to smile.
When the riders were almost within speaking distance of the pair under the tree, they stopped; and the watchers saw Joe turn his face toward Patches for a moment, then look in their direction. Nick Cambert did not raise his head. Patches came on toward them alone.
As they saw that it was the man's purpose to speak to them, Phil and Kitty rose and stood waiting, Kitty with her hand still on her companion's arm. And now, as they were given a closer and less obstructed view of the man who had been their friend, Kitty and Phil again exchanged wondering glances. This was not the Honorable Patches whom they had known so intimately. The man's clothing was soiled with dirt, and old from rough usage, with here and there a ragged tear. His tall form drooped with weariness, and his unshaven face, dark and deeply tanned, and grimed with sweat and dirt, was thin and drawn and old, and his tired eyes, deep set in their dark hollows, were bloodshot as though from sleepless nights. His dry lips parted in a painful smile, as he dismounted stiffly and limped courteously forward to greet them.
"I know that I am scarcely presentable," he said in a voice that was as worn and old as his face, "but I could not resist the temptation to say 'Howdy'. Perhaps I should introduce myself though," he added, as if to save them from embarrassment. "My name is Lawrence Knight; I am a deputy sheriff of this county." A slight movement as he spoke threw back his unbuttoned jumper, and they saw the badge of his office. "In my official capacity I am taking a prisoner to Prescott."
Phil recovered first, and caught the officer's hand in a grip that told more than words.
Kitty nearly betrayed her secret when she gasped, "But you--you said that you--"
With his ready skill he saved her, "That my name was Patches? I know it was wrong to deceive you as I did, and I regret that it was necessary for me to lie so deliberately, but the situation seemed to demand it. And I hoped that when you understood you would forgive the part I was forced to play for the good of everyone interested."
Kitty understood the meaning in his words that was unknown to Phil, and her eyes expressed the gratitude that she could not speak.
"By the way," Patches continued, "I am not mistaken in offering my congratulations and best wishes, am I?"
They laughed happily.
"We have made no announcement yet," Phil answered, "but you seem to know everything."
"I feel like saying from the bottom of my heart 'God bless you, my children.' You make me feel strangely old," he returned, with a touch of his old wistfulness. Then he added in his droll way, "Perhaps, though, it's from living in the open and sleeping in my clothes so long. Talk about horses, I'd give my kingdom for a bath, a shave and a clean shirt. I had begun to think that our old friend Nick never would brand another calf; that he had reformed, just to get even with me, you know. By the way, Phil, you will be interested to know that Nick is the man who is really responsible for your happiness."
"How?" demanded Phil.
"Why, it was Nick who fired the shot that brought Kitty to her senses. My partner there, Yavapai Joe, saw him do it. If you people would like to thank my prisoner, I will permit it."
When they had decided that they would deny themselves that pleasure, Patches said, "I don't blame you; he's a surly, ill-tempered beast, anyway. Which reminds me that I must be about my official business, and land him in Prescott to-night. I am going to stop at the ranch and ask the Dean for the team and buckboard, though," he added, as he climbed painfully into the saddle. "Adios! my children. Don't stay out too late."
Hand in hand they watched him rejoin his companions and ride away behind the two Tailholt Mountain men.
The Dean and Mrs. Baldwin, with their friends from the neighboring ranch, were enjoying their Sunday afternoon together as old friends will, when the three Reid boys and Little Billy came running from the corral where they had been holding an amateur bronco riding contest with a calf for the wild and wicked outlaw. As they ran toward the group under the walnut trees, the lads disturbed the peaceful conversation of their elders with wild shouts of "Patches has come back! Patches has come back! Nick Cambert is with him--so's Yavapai Joe!"
Jim Reid sprang to his feet. But the Dean calmly kept his seat, and glancing up at his big friend with twinkling eyes, said to the boys, with pretended gruffness, "Aw, what's the matter with you kids? Don't you know that horse thief Patches wouldn't dare show himself in Williamson Valley again? You're havin' bad dreams--that's what's the matter with you. Or else you're tryin' to scare us."
"Honest, it's Patches, Uncle Will," cried Littly Billy.
"We seen him comin' from over beyond the corral," said Jimmy.
"I saw him first," shouted Conny. "I was up in the grand stand--I mean on the fence."
"Me, too," chirped Jack.
Jim Reid stood looking toward the corral. "The boys are right, Will," he said in a low tone. "There they come now."
As the three horsemen rode into the yard, and the watchers noted the peculiarity of their companionship, Jim Reid muttered something under his breath. But the Dean, as he rose leisurely to his feet, was smiling broadly.
The little procession halted when the horses evidenced their dislike of the automobile, and Patches came stiffly forward on foot. Lifting his battered hat courteously to the company, he said to the Dean, "I have returned your horse, sir. I'm very much obliged to you. I think you will find him in fairly good condition."
Jim Reid repeated whatever it was that he had muttered to himself.
The Dean chuckled. "Jim," he said to the big cattleman, "I want to introduce my friend, Mr. Lawrence Knight, one of Sheriff Gordon's deputies. It looks like he had been busy over in the Tailholt Mountain neighborhood."
The two men shook hands silently. Mrs. Reid greeted the officer cordially, while Mrs. Baldwin, to the Dean's great delight, demonstrated her welcome in the good old-fashioned mother way.
"Will Baldwin, I could shake you," she cried, as Patches stood, a little confused by her impulsive greeting. "Here you knew all the time; and you kept pesterin' me by trying to make me believe that you thought he had run away because he was a thief!"
It was, perhaps, the proudest moment of the Dean's life when he admitted that Patches had confided in him that morning when they were so late to breakfast. And how he had understood that the man's disappearance and the pretense of stealing a horse had been only a blind. The good Dean never dreamed that there was so much more in Honorable Patches' strategy than he knew!
"Mr. Baldwin," said Patches presently, "could you let me have the team and buckboard? I want to get my prisoners to Prescott to-night, and"--he laughed shortly--"well, I certainly would appreciate those cushions."
"Sure, son, you can have the whole Cross-Triangle outfit, if you want it," answered the Dean. "But hold on a minute." He turned with twinkling eyes to his neighbor. "Here's Jim with a perfectly good automobile that don't seem to be busy."
The big man responded cordially. "Why, of course; I'll be glad to take you in."
"Thank you," returned Patches. "I'll be ready in a minute."
"But you're goin' to have something to eat first," cried Mrs. Baldwin. "I'll bet you're half starved; you sure look it."
Patches shook his head. "Don't tempt me, mother; I can't stop now."
"But you'll come back home to-night, won't you?" she asked anxiously.
"I would like to," he said. "And may I bring a friend?"
"Your friends are our friends, son," she answered.
"Of course he's comin' back," said the Dean. "Where else would he go, I'd like to know?"
They watched him as he went to his prisoner, and as, unlocking the handcuff that held Nick's right wrist, he re-locked it on his own left arm, thus linking his prisoner securely to himself. Then he spoke to Joe, and the young man, dismounting, unfastened the rope that bound Nick's feet. When Nick was on the ground the three came toward the machine.
"I am afraid I must ask you to let someone take care of the horses," called Patches to the Dean.
"I'll look after them," the Dean returned. "Don't forget now that you're comin' back to-night; Jim will bring you."
Jim Reid, as the three men reached the automobile, said to Patches, "Will you take both of your prisoners in the back seat with you, or shall I take one of them in front with me?"
Patches looked the big man straight in the eyes, and they heard him answer with significant emphasis, as he placed his free hand on Yavapai Joe's shoulder, "I have only one prisoner, Mr. Reid. This man is my friend. He will take whatever seat he prefers."
Yavapai Joe climbed into the rear seat with the officer and his prisoner.
It was after dark when Mr. Reid returned to the ranch with Patches and Joe.
"You will find your room all ready, son," said Mrs. Baldwin, "and there's plenty of hot water in the bathroom tank for you both. Joe can take the extra bed in Curly's room. You show him. I'll have your supper as soon as you are ready."
Patches almost fell asleep at the table. As soon as they had finished he went to his bed, where he remained, as Phil reported at intervals during the next forenoon, "dead to the world," until dinner time. In the afternoon they gathered under the walnut trees--the Cross-Triangle household and the friends from the neighboring ranch--and Patches told them his story; how, when he had left the ranch that night, he had ridden straight to his old friend Stanford Manning; and how Stanford had gone with him to the sheriff, where, through Manning's influence, together with the letter which Patches had brought from the Dean, he had been made an officer of the law. As he told them briefly of his days and nights alone, they needed no minute details to understand what it had meant to him.
"It wasn't the work of catching Nick in a way to ensure his conviction that I minded," he said, "but the trouble was, that while I was watching Nick day and night, and dodging him all the time, I was afraid some enthusiastic cow-puncher would run on to me and treat himself to a shot just for luck. Not that I would have minded that so much, either, after the first week," he added in his droll way, "but considering all the circumstances it would have been rather a poor sort of finish."
"And what about Yavapai Joe?" asked Phil.
Patches smiled. "Where is Joe? What's he been doing all day?"
The Dean answered. "He's just been moseyin' around. I tried to get him to talk, but all he would say was that he'd rather let Mr. Knight tell it."
"Billy," said Patches, "will you find Yavapai Joe, and tell him that I would like to see him here?"
When Little Billy, with the assistance of Jimmy and Conny and Jack, had gone proudly on his mission, Patches said to the others, "Technically, of course, Joe is my prisoner until after the trial, but please don't let him feel it. He will be the principal witness for the state."
When Yavapai Joe appeared, embarrassed and ashamed in their presence, Patches said, as courteously as he would have introduced an equal, "Joe, I want my friends to know your real name. There is no better place in the world than right here to start that job of man-making that we have talked about. You remember that I told you how I started here."
Yavapai Joe lifted his head and stood straighter by his tall friend's side, and there was a new note in his voice as he answered, "Whatever you say goes, Mr. Knight."
Patches smiled. "Friends, this is Mr. Joseph Parkhill, the only son of the distinguished Professor Parkhill, whom you all know so well."
If Patches had planned to enjoy the surprise his words caused, he could not have been disappointed.
Presently, when Joe had slipped away again, Patches told them how, because of his interest in the young man, and because of the lad's strange knowledge of Professor Parkhill, he had written east for the distinguished scholar's history.
"The professor himself was not really so much to blame," said Patches. "It seems that he was born to an intellectual life. The poor fellow never had a chance. Even as a child he was exhibited as a prodigy--a shining example of the possibilities of the race, you know. His father, who was also a professor of some sort, died when he was a baby. His mother, unfortunately, possessed an income sufficient to make it unnecessary that Everard Charles should ever do a day's real work. At the age of twenty, he was graduated from college; at the age of twenty-one he was married to--or perhaps it would be more accurate to say--he was married by--his landlady's daughter. Quite likely the woman was ambitious to break into that higher life to which the professor aspired, and caught her cultured opportunity in an unguarded moment. The details are not clear. But when their only child, Joe, was six years old, the mother ran away with a carpenter who had been at work on the house for some six weeks. A maiden aunt of some fifty years, who was a worshiper of the professor's cult, came to keep his house and to train Joe in the way that good boys should go.
"But the lad proved rather too great a burden, and when he was thirteen they sent him to a school out here in the West, ostensibly for the benefit of the climate. The boy, it was said, being of abnormal mentality, needed to pursue his studies under the most favorable physical conditions. The professor, unhampered by his offspring, continued to climb his aesthetic ladder to intellectual and cultured glory. The boy in due time escaped from the school, and was educated by the man Dryden and Nick Cambert."
"And what will become of him now?" asked the Dean.
Patches smiled. "Why, the lad is twenty-one now, and we have agreed that it is about time that he began to make a man of himself--I can help him a little, perhaps--I have been trying occasionally the past year. But you see the conditions have not been altogether favorable to the experiment. It should be easy from now on."
During the time that intervened before the trial of the Tailholt Mountain man, Phil and Patches re-established that intimate friendship of those first months of their work together. Then came the evening when Phil went across the meadow to ask Jim Reid for his daughter.
The big cattleman looked at his young neighbor with frowning disapproval.
"It won't do, Phil," he said at last. "I'm Kitty's father, and it's up to me to look out for her interests. You know how I've educated her for something better than this life. She may think now that she is willin' to throw it all away, but I know better. The time would come when she would be miserable. It's got to be somethin' more than a common cow-puncher for Kitty, Phil, and that's the truth."
The cowboy did not argue. "Do I understand that your only objection is based upon the business in which I am engaged?" he asked coolly.
Jim laughed. "The business in which you are engaged? Why, boy, you sound like a first national bank. If you had any business of your own--if you was the owner of an outfit, an' could give Kitty the--well--the things her education has taught her to need, it would be different. I know you're a fine man, all right, but you're only a poor cow-puncher just the same. I'm speakin' for your own good, Phil, as well as for Kitty's," he added, with an effort at kindliness.
"Then, if I had a good business, it would be different?"
"Yes, son, it would sure make all the difference in the world."
"Thank you," said the cowboy quietly, as he handed Mr. Reid a very legal looking envelope. "I happen to be half owner of this ranch and outfit. With my own property, it makes a fairly good start for a man of my age. My partner, Mr. Lawrence Knight, leaves the active management wholly in my hands; and he has abundant capital to increase our holdings and enlarge our operations just as fast as we can handle the business."
The big man looked from the papers to the lad, then back to the papers. Then a broad smile lighted his heavy face, as he said, "I give it up--you win. You young fellers are too swift for me. I've been wantin' to retire anyway." He raised his voice and called, "Kitty--oh, Kitty!"
The girl appeared in the doorway.
"Come and get him," said Reid. "I guess he's yours."
Helen Manning was sitting on the front porch of that little cottage on the mountain side where she and Stanford began their years of home-building. A half mile below she could see the mining buildings that were grouped about the shaft in picturesque disorder. Above, the tree-clad ridge rose against the sky. It was too far from the great world of cities, some would have said, but Helen did not find it so. With her books and her music, and the great out-of-doors; and with the companionship of her mate and the dreams they dreamed together, her woman heart was never lonely.
She lowered the book she was reading, and looked through the open window to the clock in the living-room. A little while, and she would go down the hill to Stanford, for they loved to walk home together. Then, before lifting the printed page again, she looked over the wide view of rugged mountain sides and towering peaks that every day held for her some new beauty. She had resumed her reading when the sound of horses' feet attracted her attention.
Patches and Yavapai Joe were riding up the hill.
They stopped at the gate, and while Joe held Stranger's bridle rein, Patches came to Helen as she stood on the porch waiting to receive him.
"Surely you will stay for the night," she urged when they had exchanged greetings, and had talked for a little while.
"No," he answered quietly. "I just came this way to say good-by; I stopped for a few minutes with Stan at the office. He said I would find you here."
"But where are you going?" she asked.
Smiling he waved his hand toward the mountain ridge above. "Just over the sky line, Helen."
"But, Larry, you will come again? You won't let us lose you altogether?"
"Perhaps--some day," he said.
"And who is that with you?"
"Just a friend who cares to go with me. Stan will tell you."
"Oh, Larry, Larry! What a man you are!" she cried proudly, as he stood before her holding out his hand.
"If you think so, Helen, I am glad," he answered, and turned away.
So she watched him go. Sitting there at home, she watched him ride up the winding road. Now he was in full view on some rocky shoulder of the mountain--now some turn carried him behind a rocky point--again she glimpsed him through the trees--again he was lost to her in the shadows. At last, for a moment, he stood out boldly against the wide-arched sky--and then he had passed from sight--over the sky line, as he had said.