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THE REAL HERO

(Continued from Page 20)

"It is beautiful." Betty admitted. "Look at the rosy lights skipping over the shepherd clouds."

"Just like lambs at play in a daisy field," said I poetically.

Betty sighed wistfully. "I long for the arc-lights of city streets."

I broke in hastily. "There you go. City nothing. In an hour or so, there'll be a million starlights smiling down at you. And the moon will float out of the eastern sky to flood the country with a silver radiance. And I will be telling you how much I love you-"

"I can't marry you, Bob. Be a sensible fellow, and stop making love to me.”

With this she slapped her pony with the whip and went racing down the slope to the valley, where the rambling adobe ranch house and its outbuildings. clustered. I followed more leisurely, planning a new siege on her heart. But alas, I had several persevering rivals. who cut in on my love play like the dancers in a Paul Jones. I threatened to spoil their manly beauty they laughingly reminded me that I was a homely cowboy who could ride a horse, shoot a little, and rope a calf. This to humble my ardency, when they knew that I was an expert horseman, a true shot, and skillful with the lariat.

Strange how a girl will keep her wistful eyes on the distant horizon, when the man of her dreams stands beside her. Here was I on my charger, as gallant as any prince of fiction, but Betty looked away, unseeing.

T

HE next evening Betty did not ride the upland trail. I was disappointed. The song strayed from my lips, and I became indifferent to the glory of the sunset. Funny, how a man must put the face of the one girl into the picture before it is complete.

Jealousy tormented me. I nursed my misery. No doubt one of my rivals was entertaining Betty. I clenched my fist for a knock-out in a rough and ready combat, and raced across the mesa.

Tents and wagons and automobiles were scattered along the creek shore. Two days before I had come upon a motion-picture company working in the vicinity of the ranger's cabin. No doubt this same company had come to the ranch in the interest of picture making. There wasn't a prettier spot in the wide domain than Circle Bar Ranch for natural scenery. Not to mention the herds of cattle and picturesque vaqueros.

I frowned. I had planned to take Betty to a picture show at Sandstone. The Big Boss had offered me the loan of his flivver. It would be a night of full

moon. And the whole circus had come to us. Could you beat it.

As I entered the bunk house with my Mexican saddle on my arms, the boys greeted me joyously with:

"Say, Bob! There's a motion picture outfit camped in the arroyo. Goin' to take pictures of the ranch-"

"Surely you didn't promise to do the hero's movie stuff," I began.

"We declined with thanks," assured Joe. "That lady killer can do his own fancy stunts. Lord, it would tickle me pink to see that actor feller take a headon. A tumble in the dust. I'll bet he can't ride a hobby horse."

"An' the hero, the leadin' lady and adorned my tall, lanky frame in my

the villain are stoppin' at the ranch house-"

"What!" I exclaimed in sudden apprehension.

"Surest thing! Big Tom Lawson took 'em right into his family, like as if they be blood-kin. Tickled to death to see 'em, he was-"

"And the director's there. He's friend husband to the heroine-"

"An' the hero is sittin' on the veranda chinnin' Betty-"

"And she falling for him hard. He's cutting us all out—”

"He's a handsome male. Gol darn his hide-" puny

"You must lamp your eyes on him, Davis. He's a city dude- All dolled up in white flannel breeches, and a lavender silk shirt—”

"And carries a lady's watch on his manly wrist-"

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"An' he's got a flatterin' tongue-'
"And a way with women-
"A reel hero-he is."

I stared at them, speechless. So that was the reason Betty did not ride to meet me. Well, I'd cut into that city man's game like a cyclone. Betty was my girl, I'd just like to see any sissy dude take her away from me. Would she accept the actor for that Prince Charming she was talking about? Just like a girl to fall for a handsome face, curly hair, and tailored clothes.

"If he deceives our Betty girl," drawled red-headed Jerry, "we'll just naturally have a neck-tie party, an' leave that actor-feller's carcass danglin' from the looped end of a hemp rope.'

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"You're right handy with a punch, Bob," said Joe Winters, a husky cow

man.

"Betty'll be takin' that silkytongued gent for that prince chap she's been lookin' for."

"Being a modern knight-errant, his charger is a bright red racing car, built for two," laughed another. "But then, our Betty is a modern girl,"

"If ye needs any help, Bob, just call on your friends," said Jerry. "I'm just achin' to soil that hero's lily-white pants."

"Johnston, the director, was askin' if one of us would double for the hero in the rough ridin'." Joe told us. "He said he couldn't afford to risk hurtin' the high-salaried star. An accident to the picture gallant would delay production and cost a lot of money."

rodeo finery, bright plaid shirt, red kerchief tie, and fur chaps, and strolled nonchalantly over to the ranch house. The full moon cast a mystic spell of fairylike enchantment. Night birds called lovingly to their mates.

I was not surprised to find the actor gent sitting on the front porch talking to Betty. As I approached, I could see their white-clad figures side by side in the big canvas hammock. I paused and lighted a cigarette, to get firm control of my jealous anger. I wanted to rush at that hero and wipe up the earth with him. But reason told me that I must curb my fury, if I hoped to beat him to a finish in the love game.

So I said politely, as a gent to a lady: "Good evening, Betty. It's a beautiful night. Will you come for a walk with me?"

Betty made an absent excuse and declined.

But I was not so easily dismissed. I dropped down on the stoop to stay awhile. Betty comprehended my motive, and politely presented me to Mr. Claude Duval, explaining his vocation.

The actor nodded indifferently. It was evident that he was displeased at my abrupt interruption of his pleasant tete-a-tete-as they say in France. But I calmly ignored all hostile signs, though I longed to grind my spurs into that hero's good-looking features. It was a crime to mold a living man in a sculptors' cast.

I could see at a glance that Betty was infatuated with the actor's suave manners and handsome face. Romantic, she readily believed that Duval was falling in love with her. Being used to ardent admiration and honest devotion, she was easily deceived. She wouldn't know that the amorous actor's lover-like attention was but a passing fancy; something to while away the hours of a lonely country evening. Love set lightly upon such men as Duval-he would play with Betty's heart, and ride awayalone.

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Indignation riled me. "It wouldn't matter if I were hurt," I scorned.

"A good horseman takes little chance of a tumble," he flattered. "I'm an equestrian, not a rough rider."

"Sorry, sir, but you'll have to do your own stunts," I told him. "I wouldn't double for the King of England."

"Please, Bob!" Betty implored. "You're the best rider on the range."

"Nothing doing," said I. "If I were a movie hero, I'd do my own acting. I wouldn't ask a rough-neck cowboy to do the tricks for me."

"Never mind, Mr. Duval," comforted my girl. "The boys are all good horsemen. One of them will ride for you."

"Throwing me completely out of the picture, Duval turned his flattering attention to Betty, entertaining her with. narrations of his hero stuff, praising himself volubly. In his own estimation he was the greatest male star in the motion picture world. No other hero could hold a candle to his arc light. Famous scenario writers were incapable of writing stories big enough for his marvelous talent.

And Betty, the dear girl, drank it all in, like a parched dessert laps up a summer rain. To her, he was a wonderful man.

"He's a conceited ass,' " I murmured under my breath. "I'd like to mar his beauty with a punch in the nose."

I was out of the party, so I lighted another cigarette and listened in. Duval certainly had a way with women. I envied him his charm. He had a flow of small talk running from subject to subject glibly, touching lightly, but leaving the impression of a versatile conversationalist. If I could talk like that, perhaps Betty wouldn't reject my honest love. But, alas, I had the crude mannerism of the plains. I had no special talent, unless riding and shooting and roping could be so classed. Compared with the debonair Duval, I was an ungainly fellow. But I loved Betty, and I wasn't going to let a stranger rob me of my hearts' desire. I clung stubbornly to my seat, and patiently waited for the actor to retire. An hour passed slowly. I felt like a silly fool, but I was determined to stick it out. I had something to say to Betty-alone.

Guitar music, and men's voices in song, loud and husky, came from the bunk house. The boys were awaiting my return.

Duval visualized the city and its amusements for the country girl. He elaborated on his social attainments, leading Betty to believe that he was much sought after by the social elite. She accepted his statements for the gospel truth. And I could not throw the

lie into his teeth, having no proof of his horse through a trick. falsity. "What do you want?" I asked.

Duval saw through my little game. He gave up, and stretched lazily to his feet, declaring that he must get his beauty sleep. He said goodnight, and retreated.

Betty sighed happily. "Isn't he wonderful!" she eulogized; "So handsome; so gentlemanly-"

I cut in on her rapture.

"Look here, Betty. That actor is a four-flusher. It takes a man to read a man. He's so used to making love to women in pictures and out of them, that he can't resist making love to you. You're Tom Lawson's only child, his motherless daughter, and no doubt this ranch and herds looks good to him." "Doesn't it look good to you?" retorted Betty sarcastically.

"Heard you were a good rider," said Johnston. "Lawson told me you could use the lariat. Will you double for Duval in the rough stuff?"

I laughed contemptuously.

"A hero should do his own brave deeds," I declined.

"But Duval can't ride," said Johnston. "I want a real cowboy to do the broncho-breaking stunts. I was told that one of you boys would be willing to do the work for me. I'll give you a hundred dollars, Davis."

"I could use the money, and I could do the tricks, but I refused to risk my neck for a make-believe hero."

"You're cheap!" I scorned his offer. "I'll double it, Davis," pleaded Johnston. "Don't turn me down."

I flamed red at the insult. "It does not, and you know it," I snapped. "I'd love you, girl, if you were the daughter of the poorest nester on the ridge slope. But don't put your trust in Claude Duval," I went on. "His gold is only ing, he would reap the credit. polished brass. That actor knows his lines by heart. He makes the same pretty speeches to every young woman he meets-"

I sure was tempted. Two hundred dollars added to my nest egg would swell it a bit. But I flung it away contemptuosly. Let Duval do his own rid

"Goodnight!" proffered Betty, and ran into the house.

I couldn't follow her, so I returned to the bunk house cursing myself for my lack of prudence and tact. I sure had made a mess of things. I would make another attempt to show up that actor hero. He wasn't going to break up my plans for domestic happiness. I'd break his neck first.

The boys greeted me with: "Did you outsit that city gent?" "I did that," I responded sourly. "Duval is expecting one of you men to double for him.”

"He's got another think comin'!" laughed Jerry.

"You'd better stick around tomorrow, Bob," advised Joe Winters. "I'll ride the upland meadows. If that hero gets too fresh, just boot him off the ranch. Muss up his handsome face. No heman has a right to be so good lookin' ".

"He can talk like reading out of a book," I gloomed, "but his speech is all about himself. He's the greatest actor that ever lived."

"Wait 'till he takes a tumble and gets all bruised up," scorned Jerry. "He'll sing another song to a different tune."

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The director's entreaty to the other vaqueros was likewise refused.

Johnston's cheerful face clouded. "Are you boys conspiring against me?" he queried.

"Why should we risk life and limb for a half-baked actor?" sneered Jerry. "Let the gent do his own stunts."

Johnston told us that Tom Lawson had given him permission to use the cattle and the herders for some round up scenes. He wanted to know if we would ride for the long shots. To a man we were willing and eager to do that work for the camera. But to a man we refused to double for Duval.

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ICTURE making was a novelty for us. We enjoyed it hugely. And we were pleased that our efforts would be thrown upon the silver sheet. We simply surpassed ourselves in riding and roping. Johnston barked instructions from a mammoth megaphone, and the cameras unwound yards of recording film. There were long shots, and semiclose-up; full scenes, and dare-devil action in close-ups. We sure put over the atmosphere for Duval's stunts. But he Idid not ride with us.

He appeared in cowboy attire, looking for all the world like a shoe-clerk decked out in herder's masquerade, and hung around out of range, watching us. Johnston took a few close-ups of Duval and the heroine with the herd and riders in the background. But it was apparent that the reel hero expected one of the boys to do his hard work.

With evening, Duval shed his rough raiment and dolled up in a Palm Beach suit, and set about his easy task of love making.

When I tried to cut in on his play he anticipated my move and baffled my interruption by taking Betty for a moonlight ride in his high-powered car. I perched myself on the corral fence and brooded gloomily. The boys respected my misery and left me alone with it. In my jealous fury, I expressed my contempt for that picture hero in unprintabie language.

It was as plain as the nose on a face, that the actor was cutting me out. There was one consolation. The picture company would be leaving the ranch in a day or two, taking Duval with them. But would this brief interposition of my courting affect my chances to win? Betty was so romantic. She would see in the chivalrous actor, her dream ideal. His gallant attention blinded her to his selfish, shallow nature. He was a suave rascal.

THE

HE next morning Johnson made another appeal for a rider to do the actor's rough work, raising the reward. another hundred. The riding would be like play to us, keeping as we did in practice for the rodeo feats, but we resolutely refused to consider his generous offer.

The director threw up his hands in despair, and told Duval he would have to do his own stunts. They were wasting time at great expense, and he was anxious to get back to the studios.

When Duval added another hundred to Johnston's offer, we laughed him to scorn. We mocked his heroism, calling him a fraid-cat; a puny man; a makebelieve hero; a coward.

In a spirit of fictitious bravado and wrath, Duval declared that he could. and would do the daring feats. He would show the teasing herders that he was a hero.

He mounted his horse, and set the saddle with princely grace for a few close-ups.

Betty exclaimed her delight to my jealous disgust. He did look like a handsome hero, but beneath his flannel shirt his flesh was soft as putty, and to my trained eye, it was obvious that he was nervous and afraid. He reminded me of a tenderfoot on the Dude Ranch.

We laughed at him when he attempted to do the rough stuff, but it must be said to his credit that he made a brave effort to put it over. Fear of accident, however, checked the hazardous exploits. When his horse reared, he held on for dear life, his face as white as a bridal veil. We roared our mirth, which added to his discomfiture.

Betty admonished us. "For shame, boys! Why don't you encourage him? He's doing his best."

"His best is darned poor," I remarked laconically.

She flushed with indignation and promptly turned her back on me. But I could see with half an eye that she was apprehensive. If that hero got hurt, it would distress her greatly. It had reached that stage with her. I muttered darkly, and silently hoped that Duval would break his fool neck.

When the exasperated director commanded the actor to jump his horse in a race across a narrow ravine which looked exceedingly dangerous, but in reality was not much of a leap for an experienced horseman, Duval started bravely, but apparently lost his nerve. As he approached the ledge all ready for a spring he brought his mount to an abrupt halt on the very edge of the

ravine.

actor would be laid up for several days. And when you throw a romantic girl and an injured hero together like that, cupid usually gets busy with his darts. I called myself a blankity-blank fool, not sparing the oaths.

Johnson interrupted my mad cavorting.

"Say, Davis," says he, "I'll double my offer to six hundred if you'll do that fool actor's stunts. Thank goodness," he added, "I took the close-ups first. I was afraid he would make a mess of the riding."

"He sure did," I agreed.

"Will you ride to my direction?" asked Johnston, "I want to finish these scenes."

"Shoot," I consented, I, too, was anxious to be rid of that cinema company.

I jumped my racing horse over the

We howled our derision; Johnston ravine, and did a number of daring and swore inelegantly.

"You sponed that scene," the director stormed. "Go back and make another try. We're eating film."

"Go to it, hero!" tormented Jerry. "Rescue the maiden; be a manly man."

Stung by our merciless contempt, the actor decided to make that jump if it killed him. He rode back to the starting point, and braced himself for the hazardous feat.

"Ready!" yelled the director, come on-race-action—camera."

Duval urged his horse to greater speed and took the leap nicely; but in mid-air his courage failed him and he checked slightly on the rein. The horse landed on the very edge of the opposite ledge, and floundered frantically for a firm hold on the slipping sward. For a breathless space they swayed for a balance; then, in an avalanche of rocky debris swept downward from our sight.

Betty screamed as one in pain, "hurry boys! he's hurt!" she cried.

We rushed to the rescue of the reel hero and found him moaning and bleeding in the dry bed of the arroyo. It was a bad tumble, but he wasn't seriously hurt; mostly lacerations and bruises and shock. We made a stretcher of a saddle blanket and carried him to the house.

Betty raced home on her pinto and was prepared to receive the patient. By the time we arrived with the groaning actor, she had on a big white apron. At once she constituted herself a nurse, and tenderly ministered to Duval's comfort.

I sought a quiet corner of the corral and swore roundly. In my desire to humiliate the boasting actor, I had played directly into the hands of fate. If I had accepted Johnstone's handsome offer and doubled for the picture hero, there wouldn't have been any occasion for Betty's fond solicitude. Now the

thrilling feats in the interest of art. Johnston was so highly satisfied, he offered me a stock position with the company, which I declined with thanks. No movie stuff for mine.

The picture company departed, but they left their star actor behind. I snorted my disapproval, but the deed was done. I couldn't throw an injured man into the brush.

When night mantled the earth in a violet dusk, I crept stealthily up to the sitting-room window and peered shamelessly into the lighted chamber. Betty sat beside Duval's couch, placing cold compresses on his bruised face. I gritted my teeth in jealous rage. I was mad enough to kill. I envied that reel hero the devoted attention he was receiving. If Betty would be so concerned for my comfort, I'd go right out and get myself all mussed up in a cattle stampede. But I was doubtful.

A week passed slowly and agonizingly for me. Although apparently Claud Duval was fully recovered, he did not hasten his departure. To my jealous disturbance, Betty was his constant companion during his convalescing. I had no chance whatever for a word alone with the girl. But I noticed with some relief, that Betty's father did not approve of the actor's devotion to his daughter. The Big Boss hung around the house a great deal, as if keeping a watchful eye upon the young man. Did he suspect Betty's romantic interest? Did he mistrust the gentleman with the polished manners and immaculate attire? I wondered.

Then, one bright May morning, Duval took Betty for a ride in his red racing car and they failed to return.

As luck would have it, I rode in from the range just as Tom Lawson dis(Continued on Page 43)

SCRAPS OF YELLOW PAPER
(Continued from Page 14)

he was travelling in a circle. At length he found himself in a brushy gully directly below the point where he had left. his horses, and not forty yards distant.

Now wholly resolved to see the matter through, he began breaking his way up the steep incline. He had barely started when from above came the report of a pistol, followed by the sound of galloping hoofs, growing fainter in the direction of his camp. Some one, probably the person who had cut the wire, had stolen his horses and ridden off. But why, he wondered, had the person chosen that direction? Red-faced with heat and anger, Gates reached the trail. He saw that Buck had been untied. The print of the small hob-nailed boot was evidence enough. He could see where the boot had torn up the soil as its owner sprang into the saddle. Without a moment's delay he struck off in the direction of his camp. At places the soil and rocks were torn up by the hoofs of running horses. He had not gone far, however, before he concluded that there Iwas little to be gained by hasty action. Discretion might be the better course, be the culprit joker or fool, or both.

Gates became deliberate in thought as well as in action. Slipping cautiously forward he pondered over this strange affair. It might have any one of many endings. A shot from the forest might close the incident; he might ultimately be held up in the light of day; in the dead of night some madman might steal upon him, putting it his own way, he might "wake up dead." It was nearly an hour before he came to the spot from where he could see the cabin and meadow. All was as when he had departed less than two hours before, different only in that his horses were unsaddled and securely picketed. They were the only evidence of life about the place.

Throwing aside all discretion, Gates stepped from cover, and was soon striding across the meadow toward the cabin. No challenge halted him; Buck whinnied his welcome. As he approached the cabin the flutter of a scrap of yellow paper from the door lintel caught Gates' eye. He refrained from running forward to grasp it, for he was sure that somewhere in the underbrush a pair of mocking eyes watched him. He would not show that he was frightened or anxious, though to himself he acknowledged both. Taking down the paper he read: "Buddy, you sure better beat it."

"I'll be damned if I do," he blurted out before he could check the words. He looked furtively around for fear that he had been overheard, yet the next minute wished that he had been. The mes

sage was printed as neatly as that hung upon the parted wires. He compared the pieces of paper. They were identical, both apparently having been torn from a cheap memorandum pad.

Gates' next move was a hurried search of the cabin. He found it as he had left it. For all that nothing serious had occurred, it was uncanny enough. It required all his courage to step outside the cabin once more, and go about his work as if nothing had happened. As he worked he kept a covert lookout, for sight of some moving thing nearby.

The next dawn had come before Gates slept, but his vigil had been fruitless. However, he had resolved to tell Cobb nothing of the previous happening. He would stay, and work out the problem for himself. Cobb would probably laugh at him, and call him a quitter. After two hours sleep he rose and dressed. The horses were as he had left them; in fact nothing had gone amiss during the night.

The day was spent in riding the trails. Gates came home tired, rather doubting the reality of what he had seen the day before. Fatigue precluded all thought of keeping watch that night. He rose with the sun, and found that nothing had been molested; no yellow notes had been left. That day he rode to Jackson Peak, but said nothing of his fears to Jillson, the lookout there. The night was peaceful.

The following day Gates started on the longest ride he had so far undertaken. It would require the entire day, and would lead him through Leaning Tree Pass on the return journey. The pass was but a narrow cleft in a granite ridge, and took its name from a leaning spruce which rooted near the base of one of the bordering cliffs, and grew at such an angle that it extended over the trail, and not twenty feet above it.

Before entering the defile Gates had noted that Nig was following some distance behind. Gates himself was tired and sore, and paid but little heed to the way, allowing his homeward bound mount to choose his footing over a path he knew better than did his rider. Now and then Gates swung his heavy brush knife to cut some obstructing branch from the bordering brush. He was within fifty feet of the tree when the sharp crack of a rifle from the top of the cliff to his left broke the stillness. Simultaneously there was a terrible feline screech from the very branches of the leaning tree, and as Gates gripped the pommel of his saddle to prevent his being unseated by his rearing horse, he saw a tawny thing catapult itself from the upper branches

of the tree and alight in the dense underbrush below the trail.

Buck bolted straight under the tree. Shaken in every nerve, and terrified, Gates allowed his horse to run till the roughness of the trail and the animal's own fatigue caused it to slacken to a walk. Nig was close beside his companion, and as tired as they were from the hard run, the horses continued to snort with fear, and to sidestep at every sound. Gates was limp and white as he dismounted before his cabin. Unsaddling apathetically, he picketed the horses and threw himself upon his bunk-to do he knew not what. He could even in his muddled mind, account for the panther lying in wait for its prey upon the projecting trunk of the tree, but the shot from above was too much.

Before morning Gates saw the incident in the pass in the light of humor more than anything else. He was humiliated by the thought of the sight he must have made, clinging to his saddle, as his horse raced madly out of danger. He was comforted by the fact that he could not have helped this, the horse had simply taken matters into his own hands. Though his nerves were still somewhat frazzled by the mystifying happenings of the last few days, Gates' resolve to remain at his post became firmer than ever. He decided to "see this through, or bust."

Try as he would he could but attribute the shooting of the panther to the person who had left the two warnings. His reason told him that this might easily have been someone else, some hunter opportunely arriving at the top of the cliff, and seeing the beast ready to spring upon the rider, might have shot it. Gates's rapid departure from the scene had left no time for investigation. The only course was to return to the pass and find out what he could.

Not caring to make another exhibition of his horsemanship, Gates this time left the animals in camp, and set out on foot. His close escape had left its impression upon him. No longer did he travel unmindful of things about him. His eyes swept every branch within sight of the trail. He passed no thicket without first peering into it. For all his precaution he reached the end of the defile without seeing anything out of the ordinary. Here a scream from high above startled him. Looking up, he saw an immense bald eagle sitting upon the top of a blasted tree jutting from one of the upper cliffs. Directly over the pass a line of buzzards wheeled in slow patrol, their ugly red necks craned downward. Keeping close watch about him on the crests of the cliffs above,

Gates resolutely went into the narrow defile.

No foe or friend challenged his right, and only the occasional angry cry of the eagle broke the mountain silence. Gates was stepping even jauntily, and smiling as he reached a spot almost beneath the tree, then-he leapt at least six feet backwards, and raised his rifle.. From out of the underbrush not thirty feet below, came what was bedlam to Gates, snapping of twigs, the beating of great wings upon the air. A moment and he sank down dejected and disgusted as he saw at least half a score of large black buzzards whip their way out of the brush and flap hurriedly upward to join their soaring kin. His fright had been for nothing.

Crude as was Gates' woodcraft, he realized that the presence of the vultures was proof enough that there was no human about. Courage returned, and he began to survey his surroundings. Almost the first thing that caught his eye was a scrap of yellow paper attached to the trunk of the tree. In another moment he was reading:

"Partner, you almost got yours, but I saw the panther first. Anyway, you're a darned poor rider. You pulled leather. Remember from now on that all things don't live on the ground. There are eagles in the air and panthers in the trees. Watch them. So long. I will have to take the skin. Maybe you'd better not beat it. I may get to like you."

The paper was the same as the other two pieces. The note was neatly printed, properly spelled and punctuated. There was something of friendliness in it. Intangible as this was it gave Gates courage. "I might like you" he mused over and over. Could the writer be a woman, he asked himself, and replied that such could not be. This was not a woman's playground. "Partner." Something forcible about this salutation gripped him. It had been Pat Gorman's almost invariable manner of addressing his friend. Could it be that Pat Gorman's shade was back in these, perhaps his native mountains? No, shades did not shoot high power rifles, nor write notes on yellow paper, nor wear number six, hob nailed shoes. Moreover, Pat had worn number nines.

panther skin behind the saddle, mounted
and ridden off. Gates set off along the
trail. At the other end of the pass the
tracks turned sharply to the right and
into the timber. Gates had followed
them some distance around the moun-
tain side before he realized the futility.
of pursuing a trail made twenty-four
hours earlier.

It was mid-afternoon when Gates
reached camp. He noted that the horses
were as he had left them, then went to
the cabin. Being ravenously hungry, he
was about to make a fire when some-
thing foreign above the table caught
his attention.

"Dammit!" he exclaimed, "it's another note." He tore it down and read:

"Partner, shame on you for not being at home when I called. You're not nice, but I must admit that you make good bread, and your jam was good, but that doesn't count, jam comes in cans. See you again. So long." The note was signed this time with a printed initial "M".

Taking up the rifle that he had just put down, Gates rushed from the cabin, vowing as he did, "I'll find that son-ofa-gun, if it takes all night." In the soft earth near the door he found the tracks of the hob-nailed boots coming and leaving the cabin. He had no difficulty in following to where they reached the edge of the grassy sward. Keeping the general line of direction he picked up the trail on a sandy bar near the stream, but lost it hopelessly amongst the boulders farther on. With mingled anger, dejection and humiliation he returned to the cabin, certain now that he had nothing to fear, but that he was the laughable object of some practical joker.

Entering the cabin, he went direct to the can in which his bread was kept. It was empty. He vowed that it had held half a dozen biscuits, proof of the material appetite of his guest. Though his pride was hurt, and his curiosity piqued, Gates went about his work with a new spirit. This was partly because his old strength was returning, partly because he was sure of sooner or later meeting this mysterious stranger and settling accounts. For five days he made his patrols, meeting only the lookout at Jack son Peak and a party of hunters near

Gates broke his way into the tangle the headwaters of the San Bruno.

from which the vultures had flown, and found the already bloating carcass of the panther. Its pelt had been skillfully removed. About were the tracks made by the same boots as those under the cut wire. He made his way back to the trail and found the track leading to where a horse had been tied. He surmised that the hunter had lashed the

On the fifth night he retired early, intending to be up before dawn. His plans called for a long ride to the southward, for the express purpose of calling at Gorman's cattle camp. Already he had run across a few of the "G" branded cattle as he made his rounds. The day's ride would take him into territory he had not yet explored.

However, on awakening, he found the sun well up. He leaped from bed, slipped into his clothes, and kindled a fire. Next he fed grain to his horse, and ten minutes after he had sprung from bed he was upon all fours at the edge of the pond for his morning drink.

The water was crystal clear. Gates watched the reflection of a tiny white cloud pass across the water. The shape of the cliff at the pond's other side appeared vividly clear, even to the fringe of brush at its summit. Dropping further, he touched his mouth to the icy water. He closed his eyes for an instant, in the pure delight of it. The next moment they were wide open, and he had leaped backward and erect. There had been a heavy splash, and twenty feet out in the pond a circle of wavelets widened. Some object, a stone perhaps, had fallen. But from where, he asked himself. For a stone loosened from above to have fallen, ricocheting from the face of the cliff, was impossible. The cliff overhung, and was too far from the pond for any object, not thrown from above, to have landed in the spot from which the wavelets spread. Some one, doubt his nemesis, had cast the stone with the intention of frightening him. His anger rose with the helplessness of his position. Up there on the summit of the cliff, screened by the brush, some one was probably laughing at him. Suddenly he dropped to his knees, as if again to drink, but this time his eyes were open, and cast upwards. Still more quickly he sprung up. Another stone, as large as his two fists was descending. It splashed the water near where the other had struck.

no

"Damn you," he shouted to his invisible tormenter, and shook his fist aloft. "Come down and show yourself. Fight like a man." There was no reply, and he felt the humiliation of his futile rage. He turned and dashed into the cabin, grabbing his hat and rifle. Hunger was forgotten. He would settle accounts, and immediately.

To reach the top of the cliff necessitated a short, steep detour, but he was soon at the spot from which the stones had been hurled. All he saw was another the twig, he read: "You shouldn't get scrap of yellow paper. Tearing it from angry. I don't like people who cuss me." The message was not signed, and this time was not printed. It had been written hastily, and the writing so disguised that Gates could not say whether a man or woman had written it. He even doubted that it had been either, it might have been a wood nymph or mountain sprite resenting this intrusion, and taking original means of forcing his departure. But he would determine the iden

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