"This doesn't look much like our storehouse, does it?" Jean paused in her task, and, seating herself upon the summit of a step-ladder, scrutinized with satisfaction the transformation wrought by a myriad of college flags, sofa cushions, colored shawls, and bunting.

Roberta Keap dropped her hammer with an exclamation of pain.

"Ouch!" she cried, "I've hurt my thumb. I can't hit where I look when people are talking."

"Why don't you pin them up?" queried Miss Blake, sweetly. "A hammer is so dangerous."

Mrs. Keap mumbled something, but her enunciation was indistinct, owing to the fact that her thumb was in her mouth. Helen finished tying a bow of ribbon upon the leg of a stool, patted it into proper form, then said:

"It looks cheerful."

"And restful," added Jean.

"I think a gymnasium should be restful, above all things," agreed Helen. "Most of them are so bare and strenuous-looking they give one a headache." She spied a Whiteley exerciser fastened against the wall, the one bit of gymnastic apparatus in the room. 'Oh, the puller!' she cried. "I mustn't forget the puller!" She selected a pink satin ribbon, and tied a chic bow upon one of the wooden handles. "There! We can let him in now."

"Oh dear!" Jean descended from her precarious position and admitted, "I'm tired out."

All that morning the three had labored, busily transforming the store-room into training-quarters for Speed, who had declared that such things were not only customary but necessary. To be sure, it adjoined the bunk-room, where the cowboys slept, and there were no gymnastic appliances to give it character, but it was the only space available, and what it lacked in horizontal bars, dumb-bells, and Indian clubs it more than compensated for by a cosey-corner, a window-seat, and many cushions. Speed had expressed his delight with the idea, and agreed to wait for a glimpse of it.

And the atmosphere at the Flying Heart Ranch was clearing. The gloom of the cowboys had given way to a growing excitement, a part of which communicated itself to the occupants of the house. The lassitude of previous days was gone, the monotony had disappeared, and Miss Chapin had cause to rejoice at the presence of her latest guest, for Speed was like a tonic. He was everywhere, he inspired them all, laughter followed in his wake. Even in the bunk-house the cowboys retailed his extravagant stories with delight. The Flying Heart had come into its own at last; the Centipede, most scorned and hated of rivals, was due for lasting defeat. Even Cloudy, the Indian, relaxed and spoke at rare intervals, while Willie worked about the place gleefully, singing snatches of Sam Bass in a tuneless falsetto. Carara had come back from the Centipede with news that gladdened the hearts of his hearers: not only would that despicable outfit consent to run a foot-race, but they clamored for it. They did not dicker over details nor haggle about terms, but consented to put up the phonograph again, and all the money at their disposal as well. The cook was in training.

Of all the denizens of the Flying Heart but two failed to enter fully into the spirit of the thing. Berkeley Fresno looked on with a cynicism which he was too wise to display before Miss Blake. Seeing the lady of his dreams monopolized by a rival, however, inspired him to sundry activities, and he spent much of his time among the cowboys, whom he found profitable to the point of mystery.

Mrs. Keap, the youthful chaperon, seemed likewise mastered by some private trouble, and puzzled her companions vaguely. Helen reported that she did not sleep, and once Jean found her crying softly. She seemed, moreover, to be apprehensive, in a tremulous, reasonless ways but when with friendly sympathy they brought the subject up, she dismissed it. In spite of secret tears, she had lent willing hands to the decoration of the gymnasium, and now nursed her swollen thumb with surprising good nature.

"Shall we let them in?" she inquired. "We have done all we can."

"Yes; we have finished."

In a flutter of anticipation Jean and Helen put the final touches to their task, while Mrs. Keap stepped to the door and called Speed.

He came at once, followed by Larry Glass, who, upon grasping the scheme of decoration, smote his brow and balanced dizzily upon his heels. Speed was lost in admiration.

"Its wonderful!" ejaculated the young athlete. "Those college flags give it just the right touch. And see the cosey-corner!"

Glass regained his voice sufficiently to murmur, sarcastically,
"Say, ain't this a swell-looking drum?"

"We've used every bit of bunting on the ranch," said Jean.

"See the Mexican shawls!" Mrs. Keap added.

"And look," cried Miss Blake, "I brought you my prayer-rug!" She displayed a small Persian rug, worn and faded, evidently a thing of great age, at which Speed uttered an exclamation. "I always carry it with me, and put it in front of my bed wherever I happen to be."

Berkeley Fresno, drawn by the irresistible magnetism of Miss
Blake's presence, wandered in and ran his eyes over the room.

Speed took the rug and examined it curiously. "It's an old-timer, isn't it? Must be one of the first settlers."

"Yes. It's thousands and thousands of years old. Father picked it up somewhere in Asia."

"How does it work?" queried Glass, feeling of it gingerly.

"It's a very holy thing," Helen explained. "The Mohammedan stands on it facing the East and cries 'Allah!'"

"Alley!" repeated the trainer. "No. Allah!"

"'Allah' is the Mohammedan divinity," explained Speed.

"I've got you." Glass was greatly interested.

"Then he makes his prayer. It is such a sacred thing that when one's feet are on it no harm can come to one."

"Well, what d'you think of that?" murmured the trainer.

Fresno laughed pleasantly. "It's too bad it isn't long enough to run this footrace on."

"Do you believe in the charm?" inquired Speed of Helen.

"Of course I do," she answered.

He laughed sceptically, whereupon Larry Glass broke in with husky accents:

"Nix on the comedy! I bet it's a wizard!"

His employer gazed warmly at the owner of the priceless treasure, and, taking the rug tenderly, pressed his lips to it.

Fresno shook his head in disgust; the brazen methods of this person were unbearable.

"Why all the colors?" asked he. "You can sing best where there is a piano. I can train best under the shadow of college emblems. I am a temperamental athlete."

"You'll be a dead athlete if you don't beat this cook." The
Californian was angry.

"Indeed!" exclaimed his rival, airily.

"That's what I remarked. Did they tell you what happened to Humpy
Joe, your predecessor?"

"It must have been an accident, judging from his name." At which Miss Blake tittered. She was growing to enjoy these passages at arms; they thrilled her vaguely.

"The only accident connected with the affair was that Still Bill and Willie didn't have their guns."

Glass started nervously. "Did these rummies want to shoot him?" he inquired.

"Certainly," said Fresno. "He lost a foot-race."

In spite of his assurance, J. Wallingford Speed felt a tremor of anxiety, but he laughed it off, saying: "One would think a foot- race in this country was a pearl necklace."

"These cowboys ain't good losers, eh?" queried Glass.

"It's win or die out here."

During the ensuing pause Mrs. Keap took occasion to call Speed aside. "I have something to contribute to the training-quarters if you will help me bring it out," said she.

The young man bowed. "Most gladly."

"We'll be back in a little while," the chaperon announced to the others, and a moment later, when she and Speed had reached the veranda of the house, she paused.

"I—I want to speak to you," she began, hesitatingly. "It was just an excuse."

Wally looked at her with concern, for it was plain that she was deeply troubled.

"What is it?"

"I have been trying to get a word alone with you ever since I heard about this foot-race." The young man chilled with apprehension as Mrs. Keap turned her dark eyes upon him searchingly.

"Why do you want to run?"

"To win back the cowboys' treasure. My heart is touched," he declared, boldly. Mrs. Keap smiled.

"I believe the latter, but are you sure you can win?"


"I didn't know you were a sprinter."

Speed shrugged his shoulders.

"Have you had experience?"

"Oceans of it!"

Mrs. Keap mused for a moment. "Tell me," said she, finally, "at what intercollegiate game did you run last?"

"I didn't run last; I ran first." It was impossible to resent the boy's smile.

"Then at what game did you last run? I hope I'm not too curious?"

"Oh no, not at all!" Speed stammered.

"Or, if it is easier, at what college games did you first run?"
Mrs. Keap was laughing openly now.

"Why the clear, ringing, rippling laughter?" asked the young man, to cover his confusion.

"Because I think it is very funny."

"Oh, you do!" Speed took refuge behind an attitude of unbending dignity, but the young widow would have none of it.

"I know all about you," said she. "You are a very wonderful person, of course; you are a delightful fellow at a house-party, and a most suitable individual generally, but you are not an athlete, in spite of those beautiful clothes in your trunk."

"Who told you?"

"Culver Covington."

"I didn't know you two were acquainted."

Mrs. Keap flushed. "He told me all about you long ago. You wear all the athletic clothes, you know all the talk, you have tried to make the team a dozen times, but you are not even a substitute. You are merely the Varsity cheer-leader. Culver calls you 'the head-yeller.'"

"Columbus has discovered our continent!" said Speed. "You are a very wise chaperon, and you must have a corking memory for names, but even a head-yeller is better than a glee-club quarter-back." He nodded toward the bunk-house, whence they had come. "You haven't told anybody?"

"Not yet."

"'Yet,'" he quoted. "The futurity implied in that word disturbs me. Suppose you and I keep it for a little secret? Secrets are very delightful at house-parties."

"Don't you consider your action deceitful?"

"Not at all. My motto is 'We strive to please.'"

"Think of Helen."

"That's it; I can't think of anything else! She's mad about athletics, and I had to do something to stand off this weight- lifting tenor."

"Is it any wonder a woman distrusts every man she meets?" mused the chaperon. "Helen might forgive you, I couldn't."

"Oh, it's not that bad. I know what I'm doing."

"You will cause these cowboys to lose a lot more money."

"Not at all. When Culver arrives—"

"Oh, that is what I want to talk over with you," Mrs. Keap broke in, nervously.

"Then it isn't about the foot-race? You are not angry?" Speed brightened amazingly.

"I'm not exactly angry; I'm surprised and grieved. Of course, I can't forgive deceit—I dare say I am more particular than most people."

"But you won't tell?" Mrs. Keap indicated in some subtle manner that she was not above making terms, whereupon her companion declared, warmly: "I'm yours for life! Ask me for my watch, my right eye, anything! I'll give it to you!"

"I assure you I sha'n't ask anything so important as that, but I shall ask a favor."

"Name it and it is yours!" Speed wrung the hand she offered.

"And perhaps I can do more than keep silent—although I don't see what good it will do. Perhaps I can help your suit."

"Gracious lady, all I ask is that you thrust out your foot and trip up Berkeley Fresno whenever he starts toward her. Put him out of the play, and I shall be the happiest man in the world."


"Now, in what way can I serve you?"

Mrs. Keap became embarrassed, while the same shadowy trouble that had been observed of late settled upon her.

"I simply hate to ask it," she said, "but I suppose I must. There seems to be no other way out of it." Turning to him suddenly, she said, in a low, intense voice: "I—I'm in trouble, Mr. Speed, such dreadful trouble!"

"Oh, I'm so sorry!" he answered her, with genuine solicitude.
"You needn't have made any conditions. I would have done anything
I could for you."

"That's very kind, for I don't like our air of conspiracy, but"— Mrs. Keap was wringing her slender hands—"I just can't tell the girls. You—you can help me."

Speed allowed her time to grow calm, when she continued:

"I—I am engaged to be married."


"Not at all," said the young widow, wretchedly. "That is the awful part of it. I am engaged to two men!" She turned her brown eyes full upon him; they were strained and tragic.

Speed felt himself impelled to laugh immoderately, but instead he observed, in a tone to relieve her anxiety:

"Nothing unusual in that; it has been done before. Even I have been prodigal with my affections. What can I do to relieve the congestion?"

"Please don't make light of it. It means so much to me. I—I'm in love with Jack Chapin."

"With Jack!"

"Yes. When I came here I thought I cared for somebody else. Why, I wanted to come here just because I knew that—that somebody else had been invited too, and we could be together."

"And he couldn't come—"

"Wait! And then, when I got here, I met Jack Chapin. That was less than a week ago, and yet in that short time I have learned that he is the only man I can ever love—the one man in all the world."

"And you can't accept because you have a previous engagement. I see! Jove! It's quite dramatic. But I don't see why you are so excited? If the other chap isn't coming—"

"But he is! That is what makes it so dreadful! If those two men should meet"—Mrs. Keap buried her face in her hands and shuddered—"there would be a tragedy, they are both so frightfully jealous." She began to tremble, and Speed laid a comforting hand upon her shoulder.

"I think you must be exciting yourself unduly," said he, "Jean's other friends didn't come. There's nobody due now but Culver Cov—"

"That's who it is!" Roberta raised her pallid face as the young man fell back.

"Culver! Great Scott! Why, he's engaged—"


"Nothing! I—I—" Speed paused, at an utter loss for words. "You see, he'll discover the truth."

"Does he know you are here?"

"No. I intended to surprise him. I was jealous. I couldn't bear to think of his being here with other girls—men are so deceitful! That's why I consented to act as chaperon to Helen. And now to think that I should have met my fate in Jack Chapin!"

"I see. You want me to break the news to Culver."

"No! no!" Mrs. Keap was aghast. "If he even suspected the truth he'd become a raging lion. Oh, I've been quite distracted ever since Jack left!"

"Well, what am I to do? You must have some part laid out for me?"

"I have. A desperate situation demands a desperate remedy. I've lost all conscience. That's why I agreed to protect you if you'd protect me."

"Go ahead."

"Culver is your friend."

"We're closer than a chord in G."

"Then you must wire him—"

"I have—"

"—not to come."

"What!" J. Wallingford Speed started as if a wasp had stung him.

"You must wire him at once not to come. I don't care what excuse you give, but stop him. Stop him!"

Speed reached for a pillar; he felt that the porch was spinning slowly beneath his feet.

"Oh, see here, now! I can't do that!"

"You promised!" cried Mrs. Keap, fiercely. "I have tried to think of something to tell him, but I'm too frightened."

"Yes, but—but I—want him here—for this foot-race." Wally swallowed bravely.

"Foot-race!" stormed the widow, indignantly. "Would you allow an insignificant thing like a foot-race to wreck a human life? Two human lives? Three?"

"Can't you—wire him?"

Mrs. Keap stamped her foot. "If he dreamed I was here he would hire a special train. No! It must come from you. You are his best friend."

"What can I say?" demanded the bewildered Speed, unhappily. "I don't care what you say, I don't care what you do—only do something, and do it quickly before he has time to leave Chicago." Then sensing the hesitation in her companion's face: "Or perhaps you prefer to have Helen know the deceit you have practiced upon her? And I fancy these cowboys would resent the joke, don't you? What do you think would happen if they discovered their champion to be merely a cheerleader with a trunkful of new clothes, who can't do a single out-door sport— not one!"

"Wait!" Speed mopped his brow with a red-and-blue silk handkerchief. "I'll do my best."

"Then I shall do my part." And Mrs. Keap, who could not bear deception, turned and went indoors while J. Wallingford Speed, a prey to sundry misgivings, stumbled down the steps, his head in a whirl.


Top of Page
Top of Page