SHE was the first to break the silence after her announcement.
"What's the matter? You look as if you had seen a ghost."
He had. The ghost of a dreadful day had leaped at him out of the past. Men on murder bent were riding down the street toward their victim. At the head of that company rode her father; the one they were about to kill was his. A wave of sickness shuddered through him.
"It—it's my heart," he answered in a smothered voice. "Sometimes it acts queer. I 'll be all right in a minute."
The young woman drew the horse to a halt and looked down at him. Her eyes, for the first time since they had met, registered concern.
"The altitude, probably. We're over nine thousand feet high. You 're not used to walking in the clouds. We 'll rest here."
She swung from the saddle and trailed the reins.
"Sit down," the girl ordered after she had seated herself tailor-fashion on the moss.
Reluctantly he did as he was told. He clenched his teeth in a cold rage at himself. Unless he conquered that habit of flying into panic at every crisis, he was lost.
Beulah leaned forward and plucked an anemone blossom from a rock cranny. "Is n't it wonderful how brave they are? You would n't think they would have courage to grow up so fine and delicate among the rocks without any soil to feed them."
Often, in the days that followed, he thought of what she had said about the anemones and applied it to herself. She, too, had grown up among the rocks spiritually. He could see the effect of the barren soil in her suspicious and unfriendly attitude toward life. There was in her manner a resentment at fate, a bitterness that no girl of her years should have felt. In her wary eyes he read distrust of him. Was it because she was the product of heredity and environment? Her people had outlawed themselves from society. They had lived with their hands against the world of settled order. She could not escape the law that their turbulent sins must be visited upon her.
Young Beaudry followed the lead she had given him. "Yes, that is the most amazing thing in life—that no matter how poor the soil and how bad the conditions fine and lovely things grow up everywhere."
The sardonic smile on her dark face mocked him. "You find a sermon in it, do you?"
She plucked the wild flower out by the roots. "It struggles—and struggles—and blooms for a day—and withers. What's the use?" she demanded, almost savagely. Then, before he could answer, the girl closed the door she had opened for him. "We must be moving. The sun has already set in the valley."
His glances swept the park below. Heavily wooded gulches pushed down from the roots of the mountains that girt Huerfano to meet the fences of the ranchers. The cliffs rose sheer and bleak. The panorama was a wild and primitive one. It suggested to the troubled mind of the young man an eagle's nest built far up in the crags from which the great bird could swoop down upon its victims. He carried the figure farther. Were these hillmen eagles, hawks, and vultures? And was he beside them only a tomtit? He wished he knew.
"Were you born here?" he asked, his thoughts jumping back to the girl beside him.
"And you 've always lived here?"
"Except for one year when I went away to school."
The thing he was thinking jumped into words almost unconsciously.
"Do you like it here?"
"Like it?" Her dusky eyes stabbed at him. "What does it matter whether I like it? I have to live here, don't I?"
The swift parry and thrust of the girl was almost ferocious.
"I ought n't to have put it that way," he apologized. "What I meant was, did you like your year outside at school?"
Abruptly she rose. "We 'll be going. You ride down. My foot is all right now."
"I would n't think of it," he answered promptly. "You might injure yourself for life."
"I tell you I'm all right," she said, impatience in her voice.
To prove her claim she limped a few yards slowly. In spite of a stubborn will the girl's breath came raggedly. Beaudry caught the bridle of the horse and followed her.
"Don't, please. You might hurt yourself," he urged.
She nodded. "All right. Bring the horse close to that big rock."
From the boulder she mounted without his help. Presently she asked a careless question.
"Why do you call him Cornell? Is it for the college?"
"Yes. I went to school there a year." He roused himself to answer with the proper degree of lightness. "At the ball games we barked in chorus a rhyme: 'Cornell I yell—yell—yell—Cornell.' That's how it is with this old plug. If I want to get anywhere before the day after to-morrow, I have to yell—yell—yell."
The young woman showed in a smile a row of white strong teeth. "I see. His real name is Day-After-To-Morrow, but you call him Cornell for short. Why not just Corn? He would appreciate that, perhaps."
"You 've christened him, Miss Rutherford. Corn he shall be, henceforth and forevermore."
They picked their way carefully down through the cañon and emerged from it into the open meadow. The road led plain, and straight to the horse ranch. Just before they reached the house, a young man cantered up from the opposite direction.
He was a black-haired, dark young giant of about twenty-four. Before he turned to the girl, he looked her companion over casually and contemptuously.
"Hello, Boots! Where's your horse?" he asked.
"Bolted. Has n't Blacky got home yet?"
"Don't know. Have n't been home. Get thrown?"
"No. Stepped into one of your wolf traps." She turned to include Beaudry. "This gentleman—Mr.—?"
Caught at advantage, Roy groped wildly for the name he had chosen. His mind was a blank. At random he snatched for the first that came. It happened to be his old Denver address.
"Cherokee Street," he gasped.
Instantly he knew he had made a mistake.
"That's odd," Beulah said. "There's a street called Cherokee in Denver. Were you named for it?"
He lied, not very valiantly. "Yes, I—I think so. You see, I was born on it, and my parents—since their name was Street, anyhow,—thought it a sort of distinction to give me that name. I 've never much liked it."
The girl spoke to the young man beside her. "Mr. Street helped me out of the trap and lent me his horse to get home. I hurt my leg." She proceeded to introductions. "Mr. Street, this is my brother, Jeff Rutherford."
Jeff nodded curtly. He happened to be dismounting, so he did not offer to shake hands. Over the back of the horse he looked at his sister's guest without comment. Again he seemed to dismiss him from his mind as of no importance. When he spoke, it was to Beulah.
"That's a fool business—stepping into wolf traps. How did you come to do it?"
"It does n't matter how. I did it."
She swung from the saddle and limped a few steps. "Nothing to make any fuss about. Dad home?"
"Yep. Set the trap again after you sprung it, Boots?"
"No. Set your own traps," she flung over her shoulder. "This way, Mr. Street."
Roy followed her to the house and was ushered into a room where a young man sat cleaning a revolver with one leg thrown across a second chair. Tilted on the back of his head was a cowpuncher's pinched-in hat. He too had black hair and a black mustache. Like all the Rutherfords he was handsome after a fashion, though the debonair recklessness of his good looks offered a warning of temper.
"’Lo, Boots," he greeted his sister, and fastened his black eyes on her guest.
Beaudry noticed that he did not take off his hat or lift his leg from the chair.
"Mr. Street, this is my brother Hal. I don't need to tell you that he has n't been very well brought up."
Young Rutherford did not accept the hint. "My friends take me as they find me, sis. Others can go to Guinea."
Beulah flushed with annoyance. She drew one of the gauntlets from her hand and with the fingers of it flipped the hat from the head of her brother. Simultaneously her foot pushed away the chair upon which his leg rested.
He jumped up, half inclined to be angry. After a moment he thought better of it, and grinned.
"I'm not the only member of the family shy on manners, Boots," he said. "What's the matter with you? Showing off before company?"
"I'd have a fine chance with you three young rowdies in the house," she retorted derisively. "Where's dad?"
As if in answer to her question the door opened to let in a big, middle-aged rancher with a fine shock of grizzled hair and heavy black eyebrows. Beulah went through the formula of introduction again, but without it Beaudry would have known this hawk-nosed man whose gaze bored into his. The hand he offered to Hal Rutherford was cold and clammy. A chill shiver passed through him.
The young woman went on swiftly to tell how her guest had rescued her from the wolf trap and walked home beside her while she rode his horse.
"I 'll send for Doc Spindler and have him look at your ankle, honey," the father announced at once.
"Oh, it's all right—bruised up a bit—that's all," Beulah objected.
"We 'll make sure, Boots. Slap a saddle on and ride for the Doc, Hal." When the young man had left the room, his father turned again to Roy. His arm gathered in the girl beside him. "We 're sure a heap obliged to you, Mr. Street. It was right lucky you happened along."
To see the father and daughter together was evidence enough of the strong affection that bound them. The tone in which he had spoken to his son had been brusque and crisp, but when he addressed her, his voice took on a softer inflection, his eyes betrayed the place she held in his heart.
The man looked what he was—the chief of a clan, the almost feudal leader of a tribe which lived outside the law. To deny him a certain nobility of appearance was impossible. Young Beaudry guessed that he was arrogant, but this lay hidden under a manner of bluff frankness. One did not need a second glance to see from whom the younger Rutherfords had inherited their dark, good looks. The family likeness was strong in all of them, but nature had taken her revenge for the anti-social life of the father. The boys had reverted toward savagery. They were elemental and undisciplined. This was, perhaps, true of Beulah also. There were moments when she suggested in the startled poise of her light body and the flash of her quick eyes a wild young creature of the forest set for night. But in her case atavism manifested itself charmingly in the untamed grace of a rich young personality vital with life. It was an interesting speculation whether in twenty years she would develop into a harridan or a woman of unusual character.
The big living-room of the ranch house was a man's domain. A magnificent elk head decorated one of the walls. Upon the antlers rested a rifle and from one of the tines depended a belt with a six-shooter in its holster. A braided leather quirt lay on the table and beside it a spur one of the boys had brought in to be riveted. Tossed carelessly into one corner were a fishing-rod and a creel. A shotgun and a pair of rubber waders occupied the corner diagonally opposite.
But there were evidences to show that Beulah had modified at least her environment. An upright piano and a music-rack were the most conspicuous. Upon the piano was a padded-covered gift copy of "Aurora Leigh." A similar one of "In Memoriam" lay on the mantel next to a photograph of the girl's dead mother framed in small shells. These were mementoes of Beulah's childhood. A good copy of Del Sarto's John the Baptist hanging from the wall and two or three recent novels offered an intimation that she was now beyond shell frames and padded-leather editions.
Miss Rutherford hobbled away to look after her ankle and to give orders for supper to the ranch cook. Conversation waned. The owner of the place invited Roy out to look over with him a new ram he had just imported from Galloway. The young man jumped at the chance. He knew as much about sheep as he did of Egyptian hieroglyphics, but he preferred to talk about the mange rather than his reasons for visiting Huerfano Park.
Just at present strangers were not welcome in the park. Rutherford himself was courteous on account of the service he had done Beulah, but the boys were frankly suspicious. Detectives of the express company had been poking about the hills. Was this young fellow who called himself Street a spy sent in by the Western? While Beaudry ate supper with the family, he felt himself under the close observation of four pairs of watchful eyes.
Afterward a young man rode into the ranch and another pair of eyes was added to those that took stock of the guest. Brad Charlton said he had come to see Ned Rutherford about a gun, but Ned's sister was the real reason for his call. This young man was something of a dandy. He wore a Chihuahua hat and the picturesque trappings with which the Southwest sometimes adorns itself. The fine workmanship of the saddle, bridle, and stirrups was noticeable. His silk handkerchief, shirt, and boots were of the best. There was in his movements an easy and graceful deliberation, but back of his slowness was a chill, wary strength.
Roy discovered shortly that Charlton was a local Admirable Crichton. He was known as a crack rider, a good roper, and a dead shot. Moreover, he had the reputation of being ready to fight at the drop of the hat. To the Rutherford boys he was a hero. Whether he was one also to Beulah her guest had not yet learned, but it took no wiseacre to guess that he wanted to be.
As soon as the eyes of Charlton and Beaudry met there was born between them an antagonism. Jealousy sharpened the suspicions of the young rancher. He was the sort of man that cannot brook rivalry. That the newcomer had been of assistance to Miss Rutherford was enough in itself to stir his doubts.
He set himself to verify them.