Four cowboys inclined their bodies over the barbed-wire fence which marked the dividing-line between the Centipede Ranch and their own, staring mournfully into a summer night such as only the far southwestern country knows. Big yellow stars hung thick and low—so low that it seemed they might almost be plucked by an upstretched hand—and a silent air blew across thousands of open miles of land lying crisp and fragrant under the velvet dark.

And as the four inclined their bodies, they inclined also their ears, after the strained manner of listeners who feel anguish at what they hear. A voice, shrill and human, pierced the night like a needle, then, with a wail of a tortured soul, died away amid discordant raspings: the voice of a phonograph. It was their own, or had been until one overconfident day, when the Flying Heart Ranch had risked it as a wager in a foot-race with the neighboring Centipede, and their own man had been too slow. As it had been their pride, it remained their disgrace. Dearly had they loved, and dearly lost it. It meant something that looked like honor, and though there were ten thousand thousand phonographs, in all the world there was not one that could take its place.

The sound ceased, there was an approving distant murmur of men's voices, and then the song began:

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
Lift up your voice and sing—"

Higher and higher the voice mounted until it reached again its first thin, ear-splitting pitch.

"Still Bill" Stover stirred uneasily in the darkness. "Why 'n 'ell don't they keep her wound up?" he complained. "Gallagher's got the soul of a wart-hog. It's criminal the way he massacres that hymn."

From a rod farther down the wire fence Willie answered him, in a boy's falsetto:

"I wonder if he does it to spite me?"

"He don't know you're here," said Stover.

The other came out of the gloom, a little stoop-shouldered man with spectacles.

"I ain't noways sure," he piped, peering up at his lanky foreman. "Why do you reckon he allus lets Mrs. Melby peter out on my favorite record? He done the same thing last night. It looks like an insult."

"It's nothing but ignorance," Stover replied. "He don't want no trouble with you. None of 'em do."

"I'd like to know for certain." The small man seemed torn by doubt. "If I only knew he done it a-purpose, I'd git him. I bet I could do it from here."

Stover's voice was gruff as he commanded: "Forget it! Ain't it bad enough for us fellers to hang around like this every night without advertising our idiocy by a gun-play?"

"They ain't got no right to that phonograph," Willie averred, darkly.

"Oh yes, they have; they won it fair and square."

"Fair and square! Do you mean to say Humpy Joe run that foot-race on the square?"

"I never said nothin' like that whatever. I mean we bet it, and we lost it. Listen! There goes Carara's piece!"

Out past the corral floated the announcement in a man's metallic syllables:

"The Baggage Coach Ahead, as sung by Helena Mora for the Echo Phonograph, of New York and Pa-a-aris!"

From the dusk to the right of the two listeners now issued soft
Spanish phrases.

"Madre de Dios! 'The Baggage Car in Front!' T'adora Mora! God bless 'er!"

During the rendition of this affecting ballad the two cow-men remained draped uncomfortably over the barbed-wire barrier, lost in rapturous enjoyment. When the last note had died away, Stover roused himself reluctantly.

"It's time we was turnin' in." He called softly, "Hey, Mex!"

"Si, Senor!"

"Come on, you and Cloudy. Vamos! It's ten o'clock."

He turned his back on the Centipede Ranch that housed the treasure, and in company with Willie, made his way to the ponies. Two other figures joined them, one humming in a musical baritone the strains of the song just ended.

"Cut that out, Mex! They'll hear us," Stover cautioned.

"Caramba! This t'ing is brek my 'eart," said the Mexican, sadly. "It seem like the Senorita Mora is sing that song to me. Mebbe she knows I'm set out 'ere on cactus an' listen to her. Ah, I love that Senorita ver' much."

The little man with the glasses began to swear in his high falsetto. His ear had caught the phonograph operator in another musical mistake.

"That horn-toad let Mrs. Melby die again to-night," said he. "It's sure comin' to a runnacaboo between him and me. If somebody don't kill him pretty soon, he'll wear out that machine before we git it back."

"Humph! It don't look like we'd ever get it back," said Stover.

One of the four sighed audibly, then vaulting into his saddle, went loping away without waiting for his companions.

"Cloudy's sore because they didn't play Navajo," said Willie. "Well, I don't blame 'em none for omittin' that war- dance. It ain't got the class of them other pieces. While it's devised to suit the intellect of an Injun, perhaps; it ain't in the runnin' with The Holy City, which tune is the sweetest and sacredest ever sung."

Carara paused with a hand upon the neck of his cayuse.

"Eet is not so fine as The Baggage Car in Front," he declared.

"It's got it beat a mile!" Willie flashed back, harshly.

"Here you!" exclaimed Stover, "no arguments. We all have our favorites, and it ain't up to no individual to force his likes and dislikes down no other feller's throat." The two men he addressed mounted their broncos stiffly.

"I repeat," said Willie: "The Holy City, as sung by Mrs.
Melby, is the swellest tune that ever hit these parts."

Carara muttered something in Spanish which the others could not understand.

"They're all fine pieces," Stover observed, placatingly, when fairly out of hearing of the ranch-houses. "You boys have each got your preference. Cloudy, bein' an Injun, has got his, and I rise to state that I like that monologue, Silas on Fifth Avenoo, better than all of 'em, which ain't nothin' ag'inst my judgment nor yours. When Silas says, 'The girl opened her valise, took our her purse, closed her valise, opened her purse, took out a dime, closed her purse, opened her valise, put in her purse, closed her valise, give the dime to the conductor, got a nickel in change, then opened her valise, took out her purse, closed her valise-'" Stover began to rock in his saddle, then burst into a loud guffaw, followed by his companions. "Gosh! That's awful funny!"

"Si! si!" acknowledged Carara, his white teeth showing through the gloom.

"An' it's just like a fool woman," tittered Willie. "That's sure one ridic'lous line of talk."

"Still Bill" wiped his eyes with the back of a bony hand. "I know that hull monologue by heart, but I can't never get past that spot to save my soul. Right there I bog down, complete." Again he burst into wild laughter, followed by his companions. "I don't see how folks can be so dam' funny!" he gasped.

"It's natural to 'em, like warts," said Willie; "they're born with it, the same as I was born to shoot straight with either hand, and the same as the Mex was born to throw a rope. He don't know how he does it, and neither do I. Some folks can say funny things, some can sing, like Missus Melby; some can run foot-races, like that Centipede cook—" Carara breathed an eloquent Mexican oath.

"Do you reckon he fixed that race with Humpy Joe?" inquired

"Name's Skinner," Willie observed. "It sure sounds bad."

"I'm sorry Humpy left us so sudden," said Still Bill. "We'd ought to have questioned him. If we only had proof that the race was crooked—"

"You can so gamble it was crooked," the little man averred. "Them
Centipede fellers never done nothin' on the square. They got
Humpy Joe, and fixed it for him to lose so they could get that
talkin'-machine. That's why he pulled out."

"I'd hate to think it," said the foreman, gloomily; then after a moment, during which the only sound was that of the muffled hoof-beats: "Well, what we goin' to do about it?"

"Humph! I've laid awake nights figurin' that out. I reckon we'll just have to git another foot-racer and beat Skinner. He ain't the fastest in the world."

"That takes coin. We're broke."

"Mebbe Mr. Chapin would lend a helpin' hand."

"No chance!" said Stover, grimly. "He's sore on foot-racin'. Says it disturbs us and upsets our equalubrium."

Carara fetched a deep sigh.

"It's ver' bad t'ing, Senor. I don' feel no worse w'en my gran'mother die."

The three men loped onward through the darkness, weighted heavily with disappointment.

Affairs at the Flying Heart Ranch were not all to Jack Chapin's liking. Ever since that memorable foot-race, more than a month before, a gloom had brooded over the place which even the presence of two Smith College girls, not to mention that of Mr. Fresno, was unable to dissipate. The cowboys moped about like melancholy shades, and neglected their work to discuss the disgrace that had fallen upon them. It was a task to get any of them out in the morning, several had quit, the rest were quarrelling among themselves, and the bunk-house had already been the scene of more than one encounter, altogether too sanguinary to have originated from such a trivial cause as a foot-race. It was not exactly an auspicious atmosphere in which to entertain a houseful of college boys and girls, all unversed in the ways of the West.

The master of the ranch sought his sister Jean, to tell her frankly what was on his mind.

"See here, Sis," he began, "I don't want to cast a cloud over your little house-party, but I think you'd better keep your friends away from my men."

"Why, what is the matter?" she demanded.

"Things are at a pretty high tension just now, and the boys have had two or three rows among themselves. Yesterday Fresno tried to 'kid' Willie about The Holy City; said it was written as a coon song, and wasn't sung in good society. If he hadn't been a guest, I guess Willie would have murdered him."

"Oh, Jack! You won't let Willie murder anybody, not even
Berkeley, while the people are here, will you?" coaxed Miss
Chapin, anxiously.

"What made you invite Berkeley Fresno, anyhow?" was the rejoinder. "This is no gilded novelty to him. He is a Western man."

Miss Chapin numbered her reasons sagely. "In the first place— Helen. Then there had to be enough men to go around. Last and best, he is the most adorable man I ever saw at a house-party. He's an angel at breakfast, sings perfectly beautifully—you know he was on the Stanford Glee Club—"

"Humph!" Jack was unimpressed. "If you roped him for Helen Blake to brand, why have you sent for Wally Speed?"

"Well, you see, Berkeley and Helen didn't quite hit it off, and Mr. Speed is—a friend of Culver's." Miss Chapin blushed prettily.

"Oh, I see! I thought myself that this affair had something to do with you and Culver Covington, but I didn't know it had lapsed into a sort of matrimonial round-up. Suppose Miss Blake shouldn't care for Speed after he gets here?"

"Oh, but she will! That's where Berkeley Fresno comes in. When two men begin to fight for her, she'll have to begin to form a preference, and I'm sure it will be for Wally Speed. Don't you see?"

The brother looked at his sister shrewdly. "It seems to me you learned a lot at Smith."

Jean tossed her head. "How absurd! That sort of knowledge is perfectly natural for a girl to have." Then she teased: "But you admit that my selection of a chaperon was excellent, don't you, Jack?"

"Mrs. Keap and I are the best of friends," Jack averred, with supreme dignity. "I'm not in the market, and a man doesn't marry a widow, anyhow. It's too old and experienced a beginning."

"Nonsense! Roberta Keap is only twenty-three. Why, she hardly knew her husband, even! It was one of those sudden, impulsive affairs that would overwhelm any girl who hadn't seen a man for four years. And then he enlisted in the Spanish War, and was killed."

"Considerate chap!"

"Roberta, you know, is my best friend, after Helen. Do be nice to her, Jack." Miss Chapin sighed. "It is too bad the others couldn't come."

"Yes, a small house-party has its disadvantages. By-the-way, what's that gold thing on your frock?"

"It's a medal. Culver sent it to me."


"Yes, he won the intercollegiate championship again." Miss Chapin proudly extended the emblem on its ribbon.

"I wish to goodness Covington had been here to take Humpy Joe's place," said the young cattle-man as he turned it over. "The boys are just brokenhearted over losing that phonograph."

"I'll get him to run and win it back," Jean offered, easily. Her brother laughed. "Take my advice, Sis, and don't let Culver mix up in this game! The stakes are too high. I think that Centipede cook is a professional runner, myself, and if our boys were beaten again—well, you and mother and I would have to move out of New Mexico, that's all. No, we'd better let the memory of that defeat die out as quickly as possible. You warn Fresno not to joke about it any more, and I'll take Mrs. Keap off your hands. She may be a widow, she may even be the chaperon, but I'll do it; I will do it," promised Jack—"for my sister's sake."


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