Helen Blake was undeniably bored. The sultry afternoon was very long—longer even than Berkeley Fresno's autobiography, and quite as dry. It was too hot and dusty to ride, so she took refuge in the latest "best seller," and sought out a hammock on the vine- shaded gallery, where Jean Chapin was writing letters, while the disconsolate Fresno, banished, wandered at large, vaguely injured at her lack of appreciation.

Absent-mindedly, the girls dipped into the box of bonbons between them. Jean finished her correspondence and essayed conversation, but her companion's blond head was bowed over the book in her lap, and the effort met with no response. Lulled by the somniferous droning of insects and lazy echoes from afar, Miss Chapin was on the verge of slumber, when she saw her guest rapidly turn the last pages of her novel, then, with a chocolate between her teeth, read wide-eyed to the finish. Miss Blake closed the book reluctantly, uncurled slowly, then stared out through the dancing heat-waves, her blue eyes shadowed with romance.

"Did she marry him?" queried Jean.

"No, no!" Helen Blake sighed, blissfully. "It was infinitely finer. She killed herself."

"I like to see them get married."

"Naturally. You are at that stage. But I think suicide is more glorious, in many cases."

Miss Chapin yawned openly. "Speaking of suicides, isn't this ranch the deadest place?"

"Oh, I don't think so at all." Miss Blake picked her way fastidiously through the bonbons, nibbling tentatively at several before making her choice. "Oh yes, you do, and you needn't be polite just because you're a guest." "Well, then, to be as truthful as a boarder, it is a little dull. Not for our chaperon, though. The time doesn't seem to drag on her hands. Jack certainly is making it pleasant for her."

"If you call taking her out to watch a lot of bellowing calves get branded, entertainment," Miss Chapin sighed.

"I wonder what makes widows so fascinating?" observed the youthful Miss Blake.

"I hope I never find out." Jean clutched nervously at the gold medal on her dress. "Wouldn't that be dreadful!"

"My dear, Culver seems perfectly healthy. Why worry?"

"I—I wish he were here."

Miss Blake leaned forward and read the inscription on her companion's medal. "Oh, isn't it heavy!" feeling it reverently.

"Pure gold, like himself! You should have seen him when he won it. Why, at the finish of that race all the men but Culver were making the most horrible faces. They were simply dead."

Miss Blake's hands were clasped in her lap. "They all make faces," said she. "Have you told Roberta about your engagement?"

"No, she doesn't dream of it, and I don't want her to know. I'm so afraid she'll think, now that mother has gone, that I asked her here just as a chaperon. Perhaps I'll tell her when Culver comes."

"I adore athletes. I wouldn't give a cent for a man who wasn't athletic."

"Does Mr. Speed go in for that sort of thing?"

"Rather! The day we met at the Yale games he had medals all over him, and that night at the dance he used the most wonderful athletic language—we could scarcely understand him. Mr. Covington must have told you all about him; they are chums, you know."

Miss Chapin furrowed her brows meditatively.

"I have heard Culver speak of him, but never as an athlete. Have you and Mr. Speed settled things between you, Helen? I mean, has he—said anything?"

Miss Blake flushed.

"Not exactly." She adjusted a cushion to cover her confusion, then leaned back complacently. "But he has stuttered dangerously several times."

A musical tinkle of silver spurs sounded in the distance, and around the corner of the cook-house opposite came Carara, the Mexican, his wide, spangled sombrero tipped rakishly over one ear, a corn-husk cigarette drooping from his lips. Evidently his presence was inspired by some special motive, for he glanced sharply about, and failing to detect the two girls behind the distant screen of vines, removed his cigarette and whistled thrice, like a quail, then, leaning against the adobe wall, curled his black silken mustaches to needle-points.

"It's that romantic Spaniard!" whispered Helen. "What does he want?"

"It's his afternoon call on Mariedetta, the maid," said Jean.
"They meet there twice a day, morning and afternoon."

"A lovers' tryst!" breathed Miss Blake, eagerly. "Isn't he graceful and picturesque! Can we watch them?"

"'Sh-h! There she comes!"

From the opposite direction appeared a slim, swarthy Mexican girl, an Indian water-jug balanced upon her shoulders. She was clad in the straight-hanging native garment, belted in with a sash; her feet were in sandals, and she moved as silently as a shadow.

During the four days since Miss Blake's arrival at the Flying Heart Ranch she had seen Mariedetta flitting noiselessly here and there, but had never heard her speak. The pretty, expressionless face beneath its straight black hair had ever retained its wooden stolidity, the velvety eyes had not laughed nor frowned nor sparkled. She seemed to be merely a part of this far southwestern picture; a bit of inanimate yet breathing local color. Now, however, the girl dropped her jug, and with a low cry glided to her lover, who tossed aside his cigarette and took her in his arms. From this distance their words were indistinguishable.

"How perfectly romantic," said the Eastern girl, breathlessly. "I had no idea Mariedetta could love anybody."

"She is a volcano," Jean answered.

"Why, it's like a play!"

"And it goes on all the time."

"How gentle and sweet he is! I think he is charming. He is not at all like the other cowboys, is he?"

While the two witnesses of the scene were eagerly discussing it, Joy, the Chinese cook, emerged from the kitchen bearing a bucket of water, his presence hidden from the lovers by the corner of the building. Carara languidly released his inamorata from his embrace and lounged out of sight around the building, pausing at the farther corner to waft her a graceful kiss from the ends of his fingers, as with a farewell flash of his white teeth he disappeared. Mariedetta recovered her water-jug and glided onward into the court in front of the cook-house, her face masklike, her movements deliberate as usual. Joy, spying the girl, grinned at her. She tossed her head coquettishly and her step slackened, whereupon the cook, with a sly glance around, tapped her gently on the arm, and said:

"Nice l'il gally."

"The idea!" indignantly exclaimed Miss Blake from her hammock.

But Mariedetta was not offended. Instead she smiled over her shoulder as she had smiled at her lover an instant before.

"Me like you fine. You like pie?" Joy nodded toward the door to the culinary department, as if to make free of his hospitality, at the instant that Carara, who had circled the building, came into view from the opposite side, a fresh cigarette between his lips. His languor vanished at the first glimpse of the scene, and he strode toward the white-clad Celestial, who dove through the open door like a prairie dog into its hole. Carara followed at his heels.

"It serves him right!" cried Miss Blake, rising. "I hope Mr.

A din of falling pots and pans issued from the cook-house, mingled with shrill cries and soft Spanish imprecations; then, with one long-drawn wail, the pandemonium ceased as suddenly as it had commenced, and Carara issued forth, black with anger.

"Ha!" said he, scowling at Mariedetta, who had retreated, her hand upon her bosom. He exhaled a lungful of cigarette smoke through his nostrils fiercely. "You play wit' me, eh?"

"No! no!" Mariedetta ran to him, and, seizing his arm, cooed amorously in Spanish.

"Bah! Vamos!" Carara flung her from him, and stalked away.

"Well, of all the outrageous things!" said Miss Blake. "Why, she was actually flirting with that Chinaman."

"Mariedetta flirts with every man she can find," said Jean, calmly, "but she doesn't mean any harm. She'll marry Carara some time—if he doesn't kill her."

"Kill her!" Miss Blake's eyes were round. "He wouldn't do that!"

"Indeed, yes. He is a Mexican, and he has a terrible temper."

Miss Blake sank back into the hammock. "How perfectly dreadful!
And yet—it must be heavenly to love a man who would kill you."

Miss Chapin lost herself in meditation for an instant. "Culver is almost like that when he is angry. Hello, here comes our foreman!"

Stover, a tall, gangling cattle-man with drooping grizzled mustache, came shambling up to the steps. His weather-beaten chaps were much too short for his lengthy limbs, the collar of his faded flannel shirt lacked an inch of meeting at the throat, its sleeves were shrunken until his hairy hands hung down like tassels. He was loose and spineless, his movements tempered with the slothfulness of the far Southwest. His appearance gave one the impression that ready-made garments are never long enough. He dusted his boots with his sombrero and cleared his throat.

"'Evening, Miss Jean. Is Mr. Chapin around?"

"I think you'll find him down by the spring-house. Can I do anything for you?"

"Nope!" Stover sighed heavily, and got his frame gradually into motion again.

"You're not looking well, Stover. Are you ill?" inquired Miss

"Not physical," said the foreman, checking the movement which had not yet communicated itself the entire length of his frame. "I reckon my sperret's broke, that's all."

"Haven't you recovered from that foot-race?"

"I have not, and I never will, so long as that ornery Centipede outfit has got it on us."

"Nonsense, Stover!"

"What have they done?" inquired Miss Blake, curiously. "I haven't heard about any foot-race."

"You tell her," said the man, with another sigh, and a hopeless gesture that told the depth of his feelings.

"Why, Stover hired a fellow a couple of months ago as a horse-wrangler. The man said he was hungry, and made a good impression, so we put him on."

Here Stover slowly raised one booted foot and kicked his other calf. "The boys nicknamed him Humpy Joe—"

"Why, poor thing! Was he humpbacked?" inquired Helen.

"No," answered Still Bill. "Humpback is lucky. We called him Humpy Joe because when it came to running he could sure get up and hump himself."

"Soon after Joseph went to work," Jean continued, "the Centipede outfit hired a new cook. You know the Centipede Ranch—the one you see over yonder by the foot-hills."

"It wasn't 'soon after,' it was simuletaneous," said Stover, darkly. "We're beginnin' to see plain at last." He went on as if to air the injury that was gnawing him. "One day we hear that this grub-slinger over yonder thinks he can run, which same is as welcome to us as the smell of flowers on a spring breeze, for Humpy Joe had amused us in his idle hours by running jack-rabbits to earth—"

"Not really?" said Miss Blake.

"Well, no, but from what we see we judge he'd ought to limp a hundred yards in about nothing and three-fifths seconds, so we frame a race between him and the Centipede cook."

"As a matter of fact, there has been a feud for years between the two outfits," Jean offered.

"With tumulchous joy we bet our wages and all the loose gear we have, and in a burst of childish enthusiasm we put up—the talking-machine."

"A phonograph?"

"Yes. An Echo Phonograph," said Miss Chapin.

"Of New York and Paris," added Stover.

"Our boys won it from this very Centipede outfit at a bronco-busting tournament in Cheyenne."

"Wyoming." Stover made the location definite.

"The Centipede crowd took their defeat badly on Frontier Day, and swore to get even."

"And was Humpy Joe defeated?" asked Helen.

"Was he?" Still Bill shook his head sadly, and sighed for a third time. "It looked like he was running backward, miss."

"But really he was only beaten a foot. It was a wonderful race. I saw it," said Jean. "It made me think of the races at college."

Miss Blake puckered her brows trying to think.

"Joseph," she said. "No, I don't think I have seen him."

Stover's lips met grimly. "I don't reckon you have, miss. Since that race he has been hard to descry. He passed from view hurriedly, so to speak, headed toward the foot-hills, and leaping from crag to crag like the hardy shamrock of the Swiss Yelps."

Miss Blake giggled. "What made him hurry so?"

"Us!" Stover gazed at her solemnly. "We ain't none of us been the same since that foot-race. You see, it ain't the financial value of that Echo Phonograph, nor the 'double-cross' that hurts: it's the fact that the mangiest outfit in the Territory has trimmed us out of the one thing that stands for honor and excellence and 'scientific attainment,' as the judge said when we won it. That talking-machine meant more to us than you Eastern folks can understand, I reckon."

"If I were you I would cheer up," said Miss Blake, kindly, and with some importance. "Miss Chapin has a college friend coming this week, and he can win back your trophy."

Stover glanced up at Jean quickly.

"Is that right, Miss Chapin?"

"He can if he will," Jean asserted.

"Can he run?"

"He is the intercollegiate champion," declared that young lady, with proud dignity.

"And do you reckon he'd run for us and the Echo Phonograph of New
York and Paris, if we framed a race? It's an honor!"

But Miss Chapin suddenly recalled her brother's caution of the day before, and hesitated.

"I—I don't think he would. You see, he is an amateur—he might be out of training—"

"The idea!" exclaimed Miss Blake, indignantly. "If Culver won't run, I know who will!" She closed her lips firmly, and turned to the foreman. "You tell your friends that we'll see you get your trophy back."

"Helen, I—"

"I mean it!" declared Miss Blake, with spirit.

Stover bowed loosely. "Thank you, miss. The very thought of it will cheer up the gang. Life 'round here is blacker 'n a spade flush. I think I'll tell Willie." He shambled rapidly off around the house.

"Helen dear, I don't want Culver to get mixed up in this affair," explained Miss Chapin, as soon as they were alone. "It's all utterly foolish. Jack doesn't want him to, either."

"Very well. If Culver doesn't feel that he can beat that cook running, I know who will try. Mr. Speed will do anything I ask. It's a shame the way those men have been treated."

"But Mr. Speed isn't a sprinter."

"Indeed!" Miss Blake bridled. "Perhaps Culver Covington isn't the only athlete in Yale College. I happen to know what I'm talking about. Naturally the two boys have never competed against each other, because they are friends—Mr. Speed isn't the sort to race his room-mate. Oh! he wouldn't tell me he could run if it were not true."

"I don't think he will consent when he learns the truth."

"I assure you," said Miss Blake, sweetly, "he will be delighted."


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