It was on the following morning that Miss Blake made bold to request her favor from J. Wallingford Speed. They had succeeded in isolating themselves upon the vine-shaded gallery at the rear of the house, and the conversation had been largely of athletics, but this, judging from the rapt expression of the girl, was a subject of surpassing interest. Speed, quick to take a cue, plunged on.

"I would have made the Varsity basket-ball team myself if I hadn't been so tiny," said Helen. "I have always wanted to be tall, like Roberta."

"I shouldn't care for that," said the young man.

"You know she was a wonderful player?"

"So I've heard."

"Do you know," mused Helen, "I have never forgotten what you told me that first day we met. I think it was perfectly lovely of you."

"What was that?" Now it must be admitted that J. Wallingford Speed, in his relations with the other sex, frequently found himself in a position requiring mental gymnastics of a high order; but, as a rule, his memory was good, and he seldom crossed his own trail, so to speak. In this instance he was utterly without remembrance, however, and hence was non-committal.

"What you told me about your friendship for Mr. Covington. I think it is very unselfish of you."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," ventured the young man, vainly racking his brain. "Nobody could help liking Culver."

"Yes; but how many men would step aside and let their best friend win prize after prize and never undertake to compete against him?" Speed blushed faintly, as any modest man might have done.

"Did I tell you that?" he inquired.

"Indeed you did."

"Then please don't speak of it to a mortal soul. I must have said a great deal that first day, but—"

"But I have spoken of it, and I said I thought it was fine of you."

"You have spoken of it?"

"Yes; I told Jean."

The Yale man undertook to change the conversation abruptly, but
Miss Blake was a determined young lady. She continued:

"Of course, it was very magnanimous of you to always step aside in favor of your best friend; but it isn't fair to yourself—it really isn't. And so I have arranged a little plan whereby you can do something to prove your prowess, and still not interfere with Mr. Covington in the least."

Speed cleared his throat nervously. "Tell me," he said, "what it is."

And Miss Blake told him the story of the shocking treachery of Humpy Joe, together with the miserable undoing of the Flying Heart. "Why, those poor fellows are broken-hearted," she concluded. "Their despair over losing that talking-machine would be funny if it were not so tragic. I told them you would win it back for them. And you will, won't you? Please!" She turned her blue eyes upon him appealingly, and the young man was lost.

"I'll take ten chances," he said. "Where does the raffle come off?"

"Oh, it isn't a raffle, it's a foot-race. You must run with that
Centipede cook."

"I! Run a race!" exclaimed the young college man, aghast.

"Yes, I've promised that you would. You see, this isn't like a college event, and Culver isn't here yet."

"But he'll be here in a day or so." Speed felt as if a very large man were choking him; he decided his collar was too tight.

"Oh, I've talked it all over with Jean. She doesn't want Culver to run, anyhow."

"Why not?" inquired he, suspiciously.

"I don't know, I'm sure."

"If Miss Chapin doesn't want Culver to run, you surely wouldn't want me to."

"Not at all. If Mr. Covington knew the facts of the case, he would be only too happy to do it. And, you see, you know the facts."

Speed was about to shape a gracious but firm refusal of the proffered honor when Still Bill Stover appeared at the steps, doffed his faded Stetson, and bowed limply.

"Mornin', Miss Blake." To the rear Speed saw three other men—an Indian, tall, swart, and saturnine, who walked with a limp; a picturesque Mexican with a spangled hat and silver spurs, evidently the captor of Lawrence Glass on the evening previous; and an undersized little man with thick-rimmed spectacles and a heavy-hanging holster from which peeped a gun-butt. All were smiling pleasantly, and seemed a bit abashed.

"Good-morning, Mr. Stover," said Helen, pleasantly. "This is Mr. Speed, of whom I spoke to you yesterday." Stover bowed again and mumbled something about the honor of this meeting, and Miss Blake cast her eyes over the other members of the group, saying, graciously: "I'm afraid I can't introduce your friends; I haven't met them."

The loquacious foreman came promptly to the rescue, rejoicing in an opportunity of displaying his oratorical gifts.

"Then I'll make you acquainted with the best brandin' outfit in these parts." He waved a long, bony arm at the Mexican, who flashed his white teeth. "This Greaser is Aurelio Maria Carara. Need I say he's Mex, and a preemeer roper?" Carara bowed, and swept the ground with his high-peaked head-piece. "The Maduro gent yonder is Mr. Cloudy. His mother being a Navajo squaw, named him, accordin' to the rights and customs of her tribe, selecting the title of Cloudy-but-the-Sun-Shines, which same has proved a misnomer, him bein' a pessimist for fair."

Miss Blake and her companion smiled and nodded, at which Stover, encouraged beyond measure, elaborated.

"He's had a hist'ry, too. When he reaches man's real-estate the
Injun agent ropes, throws, and hog-ties him, then sends him East
to be cultivated. He spends four years kickin' a football—"
Speed interrupted, with an exclamation of genuine interest.

"Oh, it's true as gospel," the foreman averred. "When he goes lame in his off leg they ship him back, and in spite of them handicaps he has become one rustlin' savage at a round-up."

"What college did you attend?" inquired Speed, politely. The question fell upon unresponsive ears. Cloudy did not stir nor alter the direction of his sombre glance.

"He don' talk none," Stover explained. "Conversation, which I esteem as a gift deevine, is a lost art with him. I reckon he don't average a word a week. What language he did know he has forgot, and what he ain't forgot he distrusts."

Turning to the near-sighted man who had been staring at the college youth meanwhile, the spokesman took a deep breath, and said, simply yet proudly, as if describing the piece de resistance of this exhibition:

"The four-eyed gent is Willie, plain Willie, a born range-rider, and the best hip shot this side of the Santa Fe trail!"

Speed beheld an undersized man of indeterminate age, hollow- chested, thin-faced, gravely benignant. It was not alone his glasses that lent him a scholarly appearance; he had the stooped shoulders, the thoughtful intensity of gaze, the gentle, hesitating backwardness of a book-raised man. There were tutors at Yale quite as colorless, characterless and indefinite, and immensely more forceful. In place of the revolver at his belt, it seemed as if Willie should have carried a geologist's pick, a butterfly-net, or a magnifying-glass: one was prepared to hear him speak learnedly of microscopy, or even, perhaps, of settlement work. As a cowboy he was utterly out of place, and it was quite impossible to take Stover's words seriously. Nevertheless, Speed acknowledged the introduction pleasantly, while the benevolent little man blinked back of his lenses. Stover addressed himself to Miss Blake.

"I told the boys what you said, miss, and we four has come as a delegation to find out if it goes."

"Mr. Speed and I were just talking about it when you came," said Helen. "I'm sure he will consent if you add your entreaties to mine."

"It would sure be a favor," said the cow-man, at which the others drew nearer, as if hanging on Speed's answer. Even Cloudy turned his black eyes upon the young man.

The object of their co-operate gaze shifted his feet uncomfortably and felt minded to flee, but the situation would not permit of it. Besides, the affair interested him. His mind was working rapidly, albeit his words were hesitating.

"I—I'm afraid I'm not in shape to run," he ventured. But Stover would have none of this modesty, admirable as it might appear.

"Oh, I talked with your trainer just now. I told him you was tipped off to us as a sprinter."

"What did he say?" inquired Speed, with alarm.

"He said 'no' at first, till I told him who let it out; then he laughed, and said he guessed you was a runner, but you didn't work at it regular. I asked him how good you was, and he said none of the college teams would let you run. That's good enough for us, Mr. Speed."

"But I'm not in condition," objected the youth, with a sigh of gratitude at Glass's irony.

"I reckon he knows more about that than you do. We covered that point too, and Mr. Glass said you was never better than you are right now. Anyhow, you don't have to bust no records to beat this cook. He ain't so fast."

"It would sure be a kind-hearted act if you'd do it for us," said the little man in his high, boyish voice. It was a shock to discover that he spoke in a dialect. "There's a heap of sentiment connected with this affair. You see, outside of being a prize that we won at considerable risk, there goes with this phonograph a set of records, among which we all have our special favorites. Have you ever heard Madam-o-sella Melby sing The Holy City?"

"I didn't know she sang it," said Speed.

"Take it from me, she did, and you've missed a heap."

"You bet," Stover agreed, in a hushed, awed tone.

"Well, you must have heard Missus Heleney Moray in The Baggage Coach Ahead?" queried the scholarly little man. At mention of his beloved classic, Carara, the Mexican, murmured, softly:

"Ah! The Baggage Car—Te'adora Mora! God bless 'er!"

"I must confess I've never had the pleasure," said Speed, whereupon the speaker regarded him pityingly, and Stover, jealous that so much of the conversation had escaped him, inquired:

"Can it be that you never heard that monologue, Silas on Fifth

Again Speed shook his head.

As if the very memory were hilariously funny, Still Bill's shoulders heaved, and stifled laughter caused his Adam's apple to race up and down his leathern throat. Swallowing his merriment at length, he recited, in a choking voice, as follows: "Silas goes up Fifth Avenoo and climbs into a bus. There is a girl settin' opposite. He says, 'The girl opened her valise, took out 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, handed the dime to the conductor, got a nickle in change, opened her valise, took out her purse, closed her valise, opened her purse—'"

At this point the speaker fell into ungovernable hysteria and exploded, rocking back and forth, slapping his thighs and hiccoughing with enjoyment. Willie followed him, as did Carara. Even Cloudy showed his teeth, and the two young people on the porch found themselves joining in from infection. It was patent that here lay some subtle humor sufficient to convulse the Far Western nature beyond all reason; for Stover essayed repeatedly to check his laughter before gasping, finally: "Gosh 'lmighty! I never can get past that place. He! He! He! Whoo-hoo! That's sure ridic'lous, for fair." He wiped his eyes with the back of a sun-browned hand, and his frame was racked with barking coughs. "I know the whole blame thing by heart, but—I can't recite it to you. I bog down right there. Seems like some folks is the darndest fools!"

Speed allowed this good-humor to banish his trepidation, and assured the foreman that Silas on Fifth Avenue must indeed be a very fine monologue.

"It's my favorite," said Still Bill, "but we all have our picks. Cloudy here likes Navajo, which I agree is attuned to please the savage year, but to my mind it ain't in the runnin' with Silas."

"You see what the phonograph means to these gentlemen," said Miss Blake. "I think it's a crying shame that they were cheated out of it, don't you?"

Speed began to outline a plan hastily in his mind.

"I assured them that you would win it back for them, and—"

"We sure hope you will," said Willie, earnestly.

"Amen!" breathed the lanky foreman, his cheeks still wet from his tears of laughter, but his face drawn into lines of eagerness.

"Please! For my sake!" urged Helen, placing a gentle little hand upon her companion's arm.

Speed closed his eyes, so to speak, and leaped in the dark.

"All right, I'll do it!"

"Yow-ee!" yelled Stover. "We knew you would!" Willie was beaming benignantly through his glasses, while both Carara and Cloudy showed their heartfelt gratitude. "Thank you, Miss Blake. Now we'll show up that shave-tail Centipede crowd for what it is."

"Wait!" Speed checked the outburst. "I'll consent upon conditions. I'll run, provided you can arrange the race for an 'unknown.'"

"What does that mean?" Helen asked.

"It means that I don't want my name known in the matter. Instead of arranging for Mr. Whatever-the-Cook's-Name-Is to run a race with J. W. Speed, he must agree to compete against a representative of the Flying Heart ranch, name unknown."

"I don't think that is fair!" cried the girl. "Think of the honor."

"Yes, but I'm an amateur. I'd lose my standing."

"That goes for us," said Stover. "We don't care what name you run under. We'll frame the race. Lordy! but this is a glorious event."

"We can't thank you enough," Willie piped. "You're a true sport, Mr. Speed, and we aim to see that you don't get the worst of it in no way. This here race is goin' to be on the square-you hear me talk-in'. No double-cross this time." Unconsciously the speaker's hand strayed to the gun at his belt, while his smile was grim. Speed started.

"What day shall we set?" inquired Stover.

Wally rapidly calculated the date of Culver's arrival, and said: "A week from Saturday." Covington would soon be en route, and was due to arrive a few days thereafter.

"We'd like to make it to-morrow," ventured Willie.

"Oh, but I must have a chance to get in trim," said the college man.

"One week from Saturday goes," announced Stover, "and we thank you again." Turning to Carara, he directed: "Rope your buckskin, and hike for the Centipede. Tell 'em to unlimber their coin. I'll draw a month's wages in advance for every son-of-a-gun on the Flying Heart, and we'll arrange details to-night."

"Si," agreed Carara. "I go."

"And don't waste no time neither," directed Willie. "You tear like a jack-rabbit ahead of a hot wind."

Carara tossed his cigarette aside, and the sound of his spurs was lost around the corner of the house.

"This makes a boy of me," the last speaker continued. "I can hear the plaintiff notes of Madam-o-sella Melby once again."


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