In a daze, Speed saw his friend mount the porch painfully; in a daze, he shook his hand. Subconsciously he beheld Lawrence Glass come panting into view, throw up his hands at sight of Covington, and cry out in a strange tongue. When he regained his faculties he broke into the conversation harshly.

"What have you done to yourself?"

"I broke a toe," explained the athlete.

"You broke a toe?"

"He broke a toe!" wailed Glass, faintly.

"If it's nothing but a toe, it won't hurt your running." Speed seized eagerly upon the faintest hope.

"No. I'll be all right in a few weeks." Covington spoke carelessly, his eyes bent upon Jean Chapin. "You've g-got to run to-morrow."

"What!" Covington dragged his glance away from the cheeks of his sweetheart.

"I—I'm sick. You'll have to."

"Don't be an idiot, Wally. I can't walk!"

Helen explained, with the pride of one displaying her own handiwork: "Mr. Speed defends the Flying Heart to-morrow. You are just in time to see him."

"When did you learn to box, Wally?" Covington was genuinely amazed.

"I'm not going to box. It's a footrace. I'm training—been training ever since I arrived."

In his first bewilderment the latecomer might have unwittingly betrayed his friend had not Jean suddenly inquired:

"Where is Roberta?"

"Roberta!" Covington tripped over one of his crutches. "Roberta who?"

"Why, Roberta Keap, of course! She's chaperoning us while mother is away."

The hero of countless field-days turned pale, and seemed upon the point of hobbling back to "Nigger Mike's" buck-board.

"You and she are old friends, I believe?" Helen interposed.

"Yes! Oh yes!" Culver flashed his chum a look of dumb entreaty, but Speed was staring round-eyed into space, striving to read the future.

Helen started to fetch her just as the pallid chaperon was entering the door.

She shook hands with Covington. She observed that he was too deeply affected at sight of her to speak, and it awakened fresh misgivings in her mind.

"H-how d'y do! I didn't know you were—here!" he stammered.

"I thought it would surprise you!" Roberta smiled wanly, amazed at her own self-control, then froze in her tracks as Jean announced:

"Jack will be home to-night, Culver. He'll be delighted to see you!"

J. Wallingford Speed offered a diversion by bursting into a hollow laugh. Now that the world was in league to work his own downfall, it was time someone else had a touch of suffering. To this end he inquired how the toe had come to be broken.

"I broke it in Omaha—automobile accident." Culver was fighting to master himself.

"Omaha! Did you stop in Omaha?" inquired Jean.

"A city of beautiful women," Speed reflected, audibly. "Somebody step on your foot at a dance?"

"No, of course not! I don't know anybody in Omaha! I went motoring—"


"Not at all."

"Who was with you?" Miss Chapin's voice was ominously sweet.

"N—nobody I knew."

"Does that mean that you were alone?"

"Yes. I stopped off between trains to view the city, and took a
'Seeing Omaha' ride. The yap wagon upset, and—I broke my toe."

"You left Chicago ten days ago," said Speed accusingly.

"Of course, but—when I broke my toe I had to stay. It's a beautiful city—lots of fine buildings." "How did you like the jail?"

"What in the world are you boys talking about?" queried Miss

"Mr. Speed seems amused at Culver's accident." Roberta gave him a stinging look. "Now we'd better let Culver go to his room and freshen up a bit. I want to talk to you, Helen," and Speed drooped at the meaning behind her words. But it was time for a general conference; events were shaping themselves too rapidly for him to cope with. Once the three were alone he lost no time in making his predicament known, the while his friend listened in amazement.

"But is it really so serious?" the latter asked, finally.

"It's life or death. There's a homocidal maniac named Willie guarding me daytimes, and a pair of renegades who keep watch at my window all night. The cowboys bathe me in ice-water to toughen me, and feed me raw meat to make me wild. In every corner there lurks an assassin with orders to shoot me if I break training, every where I go some low-browed criminal feels my biceps, pinches my legs, and asks how my wind is. I tell you, I'm going mad."

"And the worst part of it is," spoke Glass, sympathetically, "they'll bump me off first. It's a pipe."

"But, Wally, you can't run."

"Don't I know it?"

"Don't I?" seconded the trainer.

"Then why attempt the impossible? Call the race off."

"It's too late. Don't you understand? The bets are made, and its 'pay or play.' The cowboys have mortgaged their souls on me."

"He was makin' a play for that little doll—"

"Don't you call Miss Blake a doll, Larry! I won't stand for it!"

"Well, 'skirt,' then."

"Why don't you cut it? There's a train East at midnight."

"And leave Helen—like that? Her faith in me has weakened already; she'd hate me if I did that. No! I've got to face it out!"

"They'll be singin' hymns for both of us," predicted the fat man.

"I don't care. They can boil me in oil—I won't let her think I'm a coward."

"Larry doesn't have to stay."

"Of course not. He can escape."

"Not a chance," said the trainer. "They watch me closer 'n they do him."

Covington considered for a moment. "It certainly looks bad, but perhaps the other fellow can't run either. Who is he?"

"A cook named Skinner."

"Happy name! Well, two-thirds of a sprint is in the start. How does Wally get in motion, Lawrence?"

"Like a sacred ox." Glass could not conceal his contempt.

"I'll give him some pointers; it will all help." But Speed was nervous and awkward—so awkward, in fact, that the coach finally gave it up as a bad job, saying:

"It's no use, Wally, you've got fool feet."

"I have, eh? Well, I didn't break them getting out of jail."

"The less said about that jail the better. I'm in trouble myself."

Speed might have explained that his chum's dilemma was by no means so serious as he imagined, had not watchman Willie thrust his head through the open window at that moment with the remark:

"Time to get busy!"

"We'll be right with you!" Glass seized his protege by the arm and bore him away, muttering: "Stick it out, brother, we're nearin' the end!"

Again Speed donned his running-suit and took to the road for his farewell practise. Again Willie followed at a distance on horseback, watching the hills warily. But all hope had fled from the Yale man now, and he returned to his training-quarters disheartened, resigned.

He was not resigned, however, to the visit he received later from Miss Helen Blake. That young lady rushed in upon him like a miniature cyclone, sweeping him off his feet by the fury of her denunciation, allowing him no opportunity to speak, until, with a half-sob, she demanded:

"Why—why did you deceive me?"

"I love you!" Wally said, as if no further explanation were necessary.

"That explains nothing. You made sport of me! You couldn't love me and do that!"


"I thought you were so fine, so strong, but you lied—yes, that is what you did! You fibbed to me the first day I met you, and you've been fibbing ever since. I could never, never care for a man who would do that."

"Who has told you these things?"

"Roberta, for one. She opened my eyes to your—baseness."

"Well, Roberta has a grudge against my sex. She's engaged to all the men she hasn't already married. Marriage is a habit with her. It has made her suspicious—"

"But you did deceive me, didn't you?"

"Will you marry me?" asked J. Wallingford Speed.

"The idea!" Miss Blake gasped. "Will you?"

"Please don't speak that way. When a man cares for a woman, he doesn't deceive her—he tells her everything. You told me you were a great runner, and I believed you. I'll never believe you again. Of course, I shall behave to you in a perfectly friendly manner, but underneath the surface I shall be consumed with indignation." Miss Blake commenced to be consumed. "See! You don't acknowledge your perfidy even now."

"What's the use? If I said I couldn't run, and then beat the cook, you'd believe I deceived you again. And suppose that I can't beat him?"

"Then I shall know they have told me the truth."

"And if, on the other hand, I should win"—Miss Blake's eyes fell—"Helen, would you marry me?" Speed started toward her, but she had fled out into the twilight.

Dusk was settling over stretches of purple land, and already the room was peopled by shadows. Work was over; there were sounds of cheerful preparations for supper; from the house came faint chords of laughter; a Spanish song floated in, as Carara told his love to the tune of Mariedetta's guitar:

"'Adios! adios! adios! por siempre,
Adios! coqueta, mi amor;
Adios! adios! adios! por siempre,
Adios! coqueta, mi amor!'"

It was the hush that precedes the evening as it does the dawn; the hour of reverie, in which all music is sweet, and forgotten faces arise to haunt.

Speed stood where the girl had left him, miserable, hopeless, helpless; the words of the Spanish song seemed sung for a lost love of his. And certainly his love was lost. He had stayed on in the stubborn superstitious belief that something would surely happen to relieve him from his predicament—fortune had never failed him before—and instead, every day, every incident, had served to involve him deeper. Now she knew! It was her golden heart that had held her true thus far, but could any devotion survive the sight of humiliation such as he would suffer on the morrow? Already he heard the triumphant jeers of the Centipede henchmen, the angry clamor of the Flying Heart, the mocking laughter of his rival.

He groaned aloud. Forsooth, a broken toe! Of all the countless tens of thousands of toes in Christendom, the one he had hung his salvation upon had proven weaker than a reed. What cruel jest of Fate was this? If Fate had wished to break a toe, why had she not selected, out of all the billions at her disposal, that of some other athlete than Culver Covington—even his own.

J. Wallingford Speed started suddenly and paled. He had remembered that no one could force a crippled man to run.

"By Jove," he exclaimed, "I'll do it!"

He crossed quickly to the bunk-house door and looked in. The room was empty. The supper-bell pealed out, and he heard the cow-men answer it. Now was the appointed moment; he might have no other. With cat-like tread he slipped into the sleeping-quarters, returning in a moment with a revolver. He stared thankfully at the weapon—better this than dishonor.

"Why didn't I think of it before? It's perfectly simple. I'll accidentally shoot myself—in the foot."

But even as he gazed at the gun he saw that the muzzle was as large as a gopher-hole. A bullet of that size would sink a ship, he meditated in a panic, and as for his foot—what frightful execution it would work! But—it were better to lose a foot than a foot-race, under present conditions, so he began to unlace his shoe. Then realizing the value of circumstantial evidence, he paused. No! His disability must bear all the earmarks of an accident. He must guess the location of his smallest and least important toe, and trust the rest to his marksmanship. Visions of blood-poisoning beset him, and when he pressed the muzzle against the point of his shoe his hand shook with such a palsy that he feared he might miss. He steeled himself with the thought that other men had snuffed out life itself in this manner, then sat down upon the floor and cocked the weapon a second time. He wondered if the shock might, by any chance, numb him into unconsciousness. If so, he might bleed to death before assistance arrived. But he had nothing to do with that. The only question was, which foot. He regarded them both tenderly. They were nice feet, and had done him many favors. He loved every toe; they were almost like innocent children. It was a dastardly deed to take advantage of them thus, but he advanced the revolver until it pressed firmly against the outside of his left foot, then closed his eyes, and called upon his courage. There came a great roaring in his ears.

How long he sat thus waiting for the explosion he did not know, but he opened his eyes at length to find the foot still intact, and the muzzle of the weapon pointing directly at his instep. He altered his aim hurriedly, when, without warning of any sort, a man's figure appeared silhouetted against the window.

The figure dropped noiselessly to the floor inside the room, and cried, in a strange voice:

"Lock those doors! Quick!"

Finding that it was no hallucination, Speed rose, calling out:

"Who are you?"

"Sh-h-h!" The stranger darted across the room and bolted both doors, while the other felt a chill of apprehension at these sinister precautions. He grasped his revolver firmly while his heart thumped. The fellow's appearance was anything but reassuring: he was swarthy and sun-browned, his clothes were ragged, his overalls were patched; instead of a coat, he wore a loosely flapping vest over a black sateen shirt, long since rusted out to a nondescript brown.

"I've been trying to get to you for a week," announced the mysterious visitor hoarsely.

"W-what do you want? Who are you?"

"I'm Skinner, cook for the Centipede."

"The man I race?"

"Not so loud." Skinner was training for the faintest sound from the direction of the mess-house.

"I'll kill him!" exulted the Eastern lad. But the other forestalled a murder by running on, rapidly:

"Listen, now! Humpy and I jobbed this gang last month; we're pardners, see? He's got another race framed at Pocatello, and I want to make a get-away—"

"Yes! yes! y-you needn't stay here—on my account."

"Now don't let's take any chances to-morrow, see? We're both out for the coin. What do you want to do—win or lose?" Skinner jumped back to the door and listened.


"Don't stall!" the stranger cried, impatiently. "Will I win or will you? What's it worth?" He clipped his words short, his eyes darted furtive glances here and there.

"Can I win?" gasped Speed.

"You can if there's enough in it for me. I'm broke, see? You bet five hundred, and we'll cut it two ways."

"I-I haven't that much with me."

"Borrow it. Don't be a boob. Meet me in Albuquerque Sunday, and we'll split there."

"Is that all I have to do?"

"Certainly. What's the matter with you, anyhow?" Skinner cast a suspicious glance at his companion.

"I-I guess I'm rattled—it's all so sudden."

"Of course you'll have to run, fast enough so we don't tip off."

"How fast is that?"

"Oh, ten-four," carelessly. "That's what Humpy and I did."

"Ten and four-fifths-seconds?"

"Certainly. Don't kid me! They're liable to break in on us." Skinner stepped to the window, but Speed halted him with a trembling hand and a voice of agony.

"Mr. Skinner, I-I can't run that fast. F-fifteen is going some for me."

"What!" Skinner stared at his opponent strangely. "That's right.
I'm a lemon."

"Ain't you the Yale champ? The guy that goes under 'even time'?"

Wally shook his head. "I'm his chum. I couldn't catch a cramp."

The brown face of the Centipede sprinter split into a grin, his eyes gleamed. "Then I'll win," said he. "I'm the sucker, but I'll make good. Get your money down, and I'll split with you."

"No, no! Not you! Me! I must win!" Speed clutched his caller desperately.

"All right, I'll frame anything; but I can't run any slower than
I did with Joe and make a live of it. They'd shoot us both."

"But there's a girl in this-a girl I love. It means more than mere life."

Skinner was plainly becoming nervous at the length of the interview.

"Couldn't you fall down?" inquired the younger man, timidly.

The cook laughed derisively. "I could fall down twice and beat you in fifteen." After an instant's thought:

"Say, there's one chance, if we don't run straight away. There's a corral out where we race; you insist on running around it, see? There's nothing in the articles about straight-aways. That'll kid 'em on the time. If I get too far ahead, I'll fall down."

"B-but will you stay down? Till I catch up?"

"Sure! Leave it to me."

"You won't forget, or anything like that?"

"Certainly not. But no rough work in front of the cowboys, understand? Sh-h!"

Skinner vaulted lightly through the window, landing in the dirt outside without a sound. "Somebody coming," he whispered. "Understand Merchants' Hotel, Albuquerque, noon, Sunday." And the next instant he had vanished into the dusk, leaving behind him a youth half hysterical with hope.

Out of the blackest gloom had come J. Wallingford Speed's deliverance, and he did not pause to consider the ethics involved. If he had he would have told himself that by Skinner's own confession the Centipede had won through fraud at the first race; if they were paid back in their own coin now it would be no more than tardy justice. With light heart he hastened to replace the borrowed revolver in the bunk-room just as voices coming nearer betokened the arrival of his friends from the house. As he stepped out into the night he came upon Jack Chapin.

"Hello, Wally!"

"Hello, Jack!" They shook hands, while the owner of the Flying
Heart continued.

"I've just got in, and they've been telling me about this foot- race. What in the deuce is the matter with you, anyhow? Why didn't you let me know?"

The girls drew closer, and Speed saw that Miss Blake was pale.

"I wouldn't have allowed it for a minute. Now, of course, I'm going to call it off."

"Oh, Jack, dear, you simply can't!" exclaimed his sister. "You've no idea the state the boys are in."

"They'll never let you, Chapin," supplemented Fresno.

The master laughed shortly. "They won't, eh? Who is boss here,
I'd like to know?"

"They've bet a lot of money. And you know how they feel about that phonograph."

"It's the most idiotic thing I ever heard of. Whatever possessed you, Wally? If the men make a row, I'll have to smuggle you and Glass over to the railroad to-night."

"I'm for that," came the voice of Larry.

"I suppose it's all my fault," Miss Blake began wretchedly, whereat the object of their general solicitude took on an aspect of valor.

"Say, what is all this fuss about? I don't want to be smuggled anywhere, thank you!"

"I may not be able to square my men," Chapin reiterated. "It may have gone too far."

"Square! Square! Why should you do any squaring? I'm not going to run-away." Miss Blake clasped her hands and breathed a sigh. "I've got to stay here and run a foot-race to-morrow."

"Don't be a fool, Wally!" Covington added his voice to the others.

Speed whirled angrily. "I don't need your advice—convict!" The champion hobbled hastily out of range. "I know what I'm doing. I'm going to run to-morrow, and I stand a good chance to win."

Mr. Fresno, if he had been a girl, would have been said to have giggled.

"All right, Dearie! I'll bet you five hundred dollars—" as there emerged from the darkness, whence they had approached unseen, Stover, and behind him the other men.

"Evenin'! What's all the excitement?" greeted the leader, softly.

The master of the ranch stepped forward.

"See here, Bill, I'm sorry, but I won't stand for this foot- race."

"Why not?" queried the foreman.

"I just won't, that's all. You'll have to call it off."

"I'm sorry, too."

"You refuse?" The owner spoke ominously.

"You bet he does!" Willie pushed himself forward. "This foot-race is ordained, and it comes off on time. I make bold to inquire if you're talkin' for our runner?"

"Gentlemen, I can only say to you that for myself I want to run!" declared Speed.

"Then you'll run."

"I refuse to allow it," Chapin declared, and instantly there was an angry murmur; but before it could take definite form, Speed spoke up with equal decisiveness.

"You can't refuse to let me run, Jack. There are reasons"—he searched Miss Blake's countenance—"why I must run—and win. And win I shall!" Turning, he stalked away into the darkness, and there followed him a shout of approbation from the ranchmen.

Jack Chapin threw up his hands.

"I've done my best."

"The man's mad!" cried Covington, but Fresno was nearer the truth. "Nothing of the sort," he remarked, and struck a match; "he's bluffing!"

As for Helen Blake, she shook her fair head and smiled into the night.

"You are all wrong," she said. "I know!"


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