MURPHY really looked as though about to have a stroke. His red face purpled deeply, and his plastered right hand gave a slight, spasmodic jerk.

"You want to watch that there hand real careful," said Robinson with a solictous air. "Real careful! Don't let it jerk thataway; it's a right bad sign, Mr. Murphy! Step up and have a seat, won't you? Hello—you must ha' scratched that hand or hurt it somehow; all plastered up, ain't it?"

"I—I didn't expect to be findin' you here," said Murphy, glaring viciously.

"Don't doubt it," was the cheerful response, while Stella Shumway looked from one to the other with suspicious scrutiny. "That's my specialty, bein' where I ain't expected. But don't let me interrupt your business talk none whatever. I'll just set quiet and be a good feller. Mr. Murphy's an old friend of mine, Stella; known him since yesterday afternoon. Set and rest yourself, Murphy. No ceremony here."

Murphy compressed his thick lips, removed his hat, and finally shook his head.

"I ain't settin', thanks," he returned, then faced the girl. "You don't mind if I look over the place a bit, ma'am? Ain't aiming to make myself obnoxious none, if——"

"Why, certainly," faltered Estella, handing back the paper she had taken. "Since you bought the mortgage, you have a right to look over the property."

"Wait a minute," broke in Robinson. "It's awful to have a tongue like mine; just can't keep quiet two minutes. You started in a while ago, Murphy, to say something, then you switched off and started to look over the place. Let's finish and get cleaned up all fine. What was it you started to orate about the mortgage?"

Murphy gave him a savage glance.

"I was goin' to say," he said sullenly, "that we could make arrangements about it's bein' paid off at the Pahrump bank."

"Oh!" Robinson stretched out comfortably. His hand caressed the gun at his belt, and Murphy watched that hand with attention. "Oh! But s'pose it can't be paid off? Was you about to offer to renew the note?"

"I'm right sorry," and Murphy ignored his questioner, addressing himself to Estella Shumway. "Right sorry, ma'am, but I can't very well renew. Ye see——"

"Never mind goin' into the matter, feller," said Robinson. His voice had a sting to it. "You turn around and address them remarks to me. It looks mighty funny about you bein' so anxious to look around the place, after you got a glimpse o' me settin' here. What's your rush to look at land, huh? What you tryin' to kill time for? Expectin' to meet somebody else here?"

Murphy regarded him with veiled hatred.

"I dunno what you're talkin' about, Robinson," he said. "I rode over here square and open to transact business. That business ain't with you——"

"Oh, ain't it?" jeered Robinson. "Look here, you! I don't like your looks, and I don't like the name you're sailin' under, savvy? If I'd known as much yesterday as I know now, I wouldn't ha' scratched that hand of yours, not a bit of it! I was a blamed fool. Now, if you expect me to turn my back on you any more, you got another guess coming. You're the one that's going to turn your back, and do it pronto!"

"Are you threatening me?" demanded Murphy belligerently.

"Threaten you? My gosh, no!" Robinson chuckled. "You ain't worth it, you red hawg! I want to see you ridin' away from here in a hurry. Oh, never you mind, Stella! This gent isn't going to act as mad as he looks. That isn't his style. Murphy, go grab for your gun if you want; I'll give you till you grab it. Hurry up! Grab for it!"

Murphy looked down into those deadly blue eyes and made no move for his gun. His fat red features were perspiring a trifle. Robinson mocked at him.

"Oh, you ain't reachin' for it, huh? S'pose ye'd like me to turn my back, would ye? Nope, not no more, feller. Besides, they's ladies present, and I sure hate to expose my back and start you to shootin'."

"Two men coming up the road," intervened Estella quickly.

At these words a flash crossed the face of Murphy—a flash of untold relief. Robinson did not miss the look. Then he glanced at the road, and saw the corduroy-clad figure of Buck, followed by another rider.

"Don't mind if I smoke, Stella?" he drawled. "Thanks. Set down, Murphy. I'm real anxious to hear what Buck has to say to you."

Murphy did not sit down, but eyed the approaching riders uneasily. Buck slid from his horse, looking visibly excited, and strode toward the veranda. He glanced at Robinson without surprise, then his gaze fell on Murphy. He doffed his hat to Estella.

"Morning," ma'am! You sure look fresh as ever. Got visitors, I see."

A smile on her lips, Estella stepped forward and shook hands.

"Just in time for lunch, Mr. Buck. Yes, we have visitors. My friend, Mr. Robinson, from the south, and this is Mr. Murphy——"

Buck glanced at Robinson, then turned to Murphy suddenly. A look of recognition came into his eyes. He was acting his part well.

"Murphy!" he said slowly. "That ain't the name you went under when I seen you before. What you doin' here?"

At this challenge, the girl started in astonishment. Robinson smiled thinly.

"Me?" Murphy faced the rancher aggressively. "None of your business, is it? But if you want to know, I done bought a mortgage on this place, and I aim to foreclose if she ain't cleared off first of the month."

"Oh, you do!" Buck's hand flashed down and his gun looked at Mr. Murphy. "All I got to say to you is—git, and git quick! The mortgage'll be paid. I'll lend Miss Shumway the money my ownself. Git, you varmint!"

Murphy turned and strode down the steps, passed to his horse, and rode away.

Buck gazed after him with narrowed eyes until he was well away. Then, without a bit of warning, he whirled and threw down his gun at Robinson.

"Hands up, you! Quick!"

There was deadly intent in his voice. Robinson, absolutely surprised, put up his hands. Buck leaned forward and jerked away his gun.

"Here! How dare you, Mr. Buck!" exclaimed Stella, darting forward. "What do you mean by this——"

"Miss Stella," said Buck gravely, "I got mighty bad news for you. Me and two of my riders was comin' here this morning by way of the spring. We were up on that knoll behind it when we crossed the track of a horseman, and a moment later we seen this gent," he motioned toward Robinson with his ready gun, "ridin' up to the spring. Cervantes was standin' there smokin' a cigarette. What passed we dunno. All we heard was two shots, and then this gent rode away quick. When we got up, Cervantes was dead. We come on here quick."

Horror filled the eyes of the girl, and a terrible grief.

"Dead—Miguel dead?"

"Shot twice, Miss Stella," answered the latter, regret in his tone. "We seen the whole thing. I left 'Chuck' Hansome to bring Miguel in, then I come on. Ye see, ma'am, we'd been lookin' for this gent since yesterday. Seems like he met my foreman, Matt Brady, and shot him down, out o' pure cussedness."

"Don't forget Knute," intervened Robinson, smiling a thin smile. "Don't forget him, Buck."

"Oh!" Estella turned to the speaker swiftly. "Tell me—tell him, you must! This isn't true!"

"Sho, of course it ain't true," said Robinson calmly. "Sure's my name's Jack Robinson, it ain't got a word of truth—except maybe that poor Miguel's dead. That's liable to be true."

The girl shrank away from him; then, with a burst of tears, ran from the veranda.

Instantly the manner of Robinson changed. He looked at Buck from narrowed steely eyes that burned.

"Buck," he said softly, "I'm tellin' you here and now—you'd better shoot while you got me, for you ain't goin' to have me long. You'd better shoot, Buck. I'm warnin' you, it's your best chance. After this, you and me——"

"None of your big talk, Robinson," sneered the rancher. "We have you dead to rights, and we'll see that the law attends to you. Hey, there! Come up and rope this gent! We'll take him in to the sheriff right off."

Buck's companion swung from the saddle, took his lariat, and came to the veranda. From inside the house came a shrill high scream of grief; the señora had learned the news. Then Estella appeared again, and saw the puncher with the rope.

"Oh, you mustn't!" she cried out, running forward. "He didn't do it; he couldn't have done it, Mr. Buck! Why——"

"Ma'am, we seen the whole thing," said Buck regretfully. "And this gent is mighty slick, but we'll turn him in to the law to be dealt with. That's all we aim to do."

"Oh, tell them, tell them!" Estella turned her tear-stained eyes to Robinson. "You can make them believe when——"

"I'm afraid Mr. Buck is right stubborn and set in his ways," sighed Robinson. "Nope, they ain't a bit o' use in me spillin' any talk to him, Stella! Sure's my name's Jack Robinson, there ain't. I met Miguel on the way here, as I said, but——"

Buck nodded to his rider, who approached Robinson and deftly knotted his wrists behind his back.

"Put him on my horse," said Buck quietly, "and take him into town. Hand him over to Sheriff Tracy—and see that nothing happens to him. Don't tell any one but the sheriff what's happened, savvy? We don't want to rouse up any necktie party in town. This is a matter for the law—open-and-shut case."

"Quite so," observed Robinson ironically. "Quite so! We'll get to town all right, Buck—won't we, cowboy? Lead on, and don't pull too hard on that cord. My wrists is real tender lately. See you later, Stella; don't you worry none whatever about this deal. Trust Jake Harper to see that the cards are dealt honest."

The girl stared after him, stricken in her grief.

Without attempt at protest, Robinson mounted into the saddle of Buck, and allowed {he puncher to tie his ankles beneath the horse. Then the puncher mounted, and started for town. The two figures rode away from the ranch, and lessened in the distance.

Buck, meantime, was speaking to Estella Shumway.

"This is a terrible thing, Stella," he said, his voice soft and pleading. "Poor Miguel and my boys has had some trouble, but it wa'n't nothing to mention. Gosh, this is pretty bad! And then this feller Murphy comin' along.

"Now look-a-here, Stella! You got to let me handle things for you a spell. I'll get rid o' this cuss Murphy in a hurry. Don't let the money part of it bother you a mite. I'll send in to town to-day and git the preacher, and we'll attend to a real funeral for poor Miguel, savvy? There ain't nothin' I wouldn't do for you, li'l girl, and you know it."

"Oh!" The girl turned to him desperately. "Are you sure-—are you sure about what you saw? It isn't possible, I tell you!"

Her vehemence shook Buck despite himself.

"Why, Stella! You ain't friends with this gunman Robinson? He's a stranger up here—sure, you don't know him?"

The girl shivered slightly and turned away. She was silent for a moment; then:

"No," she said. "I never saw Robinson before to-day, Mr. Buck—only he seemed such a nice man! And he knew some friends of ours——"

A flash of relief crossed the features of Buck.

"Well, looks is deceivin'," he averred stoutly. "Now, Stella, you leave things to me. Chuck will be in pretty quick with the body, and I'll take care of it. Poor Miguel! This here news will be a mighty big shock to everybody who knowed him. Want me to send for Jake Harper? Him and me ain't overly friendly, but he's mighty true to you, I guess. We'll overlook our differences and 'tend to your affairs."

"It's—it's good of you, Mr. Buck," and the girl glanced at him quickly, then turned to the doorway. "Yes, send for him, please. You—you must excuse me now; I'll have to be with poor Tia Maria——"

She vanished into the house.

For a moment Buck stood motionless. His gaze followed the tiny dots that were the figures of his puncher and Robinson, and a smile curved his wide lips. Then he glanced down and picked up one of the doughnuts that Robinson had dropped. He regarded it, then bit strongly into it.

"Gosh, these is sure fine doughnuts!" he observed. "I'll sure be playin' in luck when Stella comes to cook for me. Lucky catchin' Robinson thataway, too, y' understand. And darned lucky Stella didn't think to look if his gun'd been fired twice. Plumb lucky!"