The Valley of Gold

DAVID HOWARTH August 1 1921

The Valley of Gold

DAVID HOWARTH August 1 1921

The Valley of Gold

DAVID HOWARTH

CHAPTER VI,—Continued.

"GENTLEMEN!" he cried. "There is a little preliminary or two I must pull off before I can announce the winner of the threshing bout between Rob McClure and Ned Pullar. Whatever the result, I appeal to the winners and losers to take their medicine. I want the word of both bosses that they will not stand for any sorehead business or rough house. I’ll not hand out the totals until I get that word."

Butte paused significantly.

“Go ahead,” said Ned, with a grin. “We’ll be good.”

“Agreed!” exclaimed McClure. “My gang is no bunch of squealers. Spit it out.”

“Thank you gentlemen,” said Butte. “That is satisfactory. But there is another matter. Before I hand out the stakes I want you to choose two rank outsiders from this crowd who shall go into the Square Room with me and verify my figures. When they have made an audit I will come out and give you the facts.”

Speedily the arrangement was effected and the three men went in behind the Green Baize Door.

During the interim Easy Murphy shuffled close to Snoopy Bill Baird. Grinning insolently into his face he addressed him in a cavernous stage whisper.

“How’s the buttercups, Snoopy?” said he. “Ye did not consarn yersilf wid a second bokay.”

Andy Bissett, standing near, placed his hand deterringly on Easy’s shoulder.

“Steady, lad!” he whispered. “Ned’s given his word. Keep in line.”

Snoopy Bill ruffled instantly at the thrust. With a quick snatch at his breast pocket he drew out a bunch of bills and fluttered them flauntingly in Easy’s face.

“How about a bokaa-y of these nice green shamrocks?” said he, with an exasperating laugh. “Have you the eye for a fresh fifty?”

“Indade, and they are the purty flowers,” was the quick response. “They’re to be had fer the pickin’. I’m wid ye, Snoopy.”

Quickly he covered the bet, placing the stake with a bystander. The incident stimulated an emulation in the crowd, and by the time Butte appeared again the excitement had risen to the point of explosion.

“Hold your horses for a little!” he cried, smiling into the glaring eyes of the gamesters. “I’ll go right to the point. For a month past these two gangs have been hammering away to roll up a big total, and I want lj tel> you they have done it. The gangs have worked twenty-seven full days and have made the record runs of the Pellawa country.”

Butte’s deliberate manner was too slow for his strained audience.

“Cut the talk, Jack! Cough up the totals!” yelled a voice.

“Hear, hear!” came an applauding roar.

“To resume,” said Butte, bowing pleasantly, “in estimating the oats I reduced them to a total weight and then dividing by sixty, found the equivalent in weight of wheat. The total is therefore stated in terms of wheat. This was agreed upon by the two bosses. Rob McClure’s machine has turned out a total of seventy thousand, eight*hundred and twenty"^ne-iushels.”

^^T THE announcement the McClure gang and their partisans lifted a shout of elation. Above the ensuing hubbub rose the brogue of Easy Murphy:

“Shure, Johnny Butte, ’tis a swell towtal. But ye’ll hev till open yer mug wider, begobs, when ye give the Valley count.”

In spite of the extreme tension a boisterous roar greeted the defy.

“Against this,” said the stakeholder amid a breathless silence, “the Valley Outfit have rolled up the huge total of seventy-one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-five bushels -”

His words were drowned in a wild ringing cheer. Led by Murphy’s deep bass roar, the Valley Outfit let go. As the rumpus died down Andy Bissett lifted his cap and shouted:

“Three cheers for Rob McClure’s gang. They made a great run.”

Ere they could raise the shout McClure yelled:

“No! Saw off your blankety howl. We want none of it. You doped one of my men or you would never have turned the trick.”

Easy Murphy’s lips were framing a reply when Ned spoke up.

“I want to state,” said he with quiet deliberateness, “that as far as my knowledge goes, the Valley Gang has run this thing as straight as a whip. I appeal to Jack Butte. Do we win on our merits?”

A chorus of applause greeted Ned’s words.

“Gentlemen!” replied the stakeholder. “This game has been run on the square. My figures have been verified and are open to the public. The Valley Outfit are the undisputed champions of the Qu’Appelle. Come up to the counter and I’ll pay over the

The convivial spirit ran high as the wagers were collected. In the rear of the room McClure and his men held angry concourse. Suddenly they pushed their way to the counter. McClure spoke loudly, his face and eyes aflame.

“Come, Swale,” commanded he. “We set up the drinks for the house. Make it hard stuff all round.” * His manner was offensive. Ostensibly the host, he was really the bully. The Valley Outfit made no move to accept the proffered treat. Ned Pullar stepped up to his sullen opponent.

“No, Rob McClure!” was his crisp exclamation, accompanied by a flash of indignant eyes. “We don’t drink with gentlemen who insult us in the same breath. The Valley Outfit, with their little thirty-six inch mill, beat you to a frazzle. You’ll never have a chance like this again, for next fall will find the Qu’Appelle Champions capering about the finest mill on the Pellawa plains. You look, Rob, almost mad enough to fight. Very well. I have given Jack Butte my word to keep quiet. The Valley Outfit is going to get out and leave you the whole house. If you want to mix up with us, don’t let us get away. If you are afraid of mussing up Louie’s joint we’ll wait for you outside. Meanwhile, will you accommodate us, gentlemen, by clearing away from that door.?”

A'

T THE words he brushed past McClure, who stood glowering at him with eyes that streamed a liquid hate. For all his rage McClure was held from battle by a subtle enervation that baffled him.

“The Valley Outfit will leave at once,” was Ned’s cry as he flung open the door. With his hand on the knob he waited for his men to pass out before him. With surprising promptitude they complied. Easy Murphy was the last to leave. Pausing on the threshold he turned about.

“ ’Tis a braw bunch ye are, McClure, wid yer blower bunged and yer engine buckin’. Begobs, I cud put the howl gang uv ye till slape on a wathurr wagon. Come out intill the moonlight.”

With that he went out, followed by a flying flask and the curses of McClure.

“Good-night, gentlemen!” said Ned, a mocking light in his eye. “We’ll hang around outside for ten minutes or so. If you can make it, why—the Valley Outfit would be delighted.”

Once out among his men they urged him to go back. But he shook his head. »

“No, lads!” he said firmly. “I do not want to fight. If they come out we’ll sail jn. I think I’ve something better than even a good fight. I’ll put you next when we pull away from Louie’s.”

The ten minutes passed. Thedoor opened once but shut again. The Valley Gang hooted derisively. They waited five minutes longer. McClure had evidently passed up the challenge. Though his men knew it not, Ned was intensely relieved. He could scarcely understand. The fact was McClure apprised the situation exactly notwithstanding his rage. He was no coward; nor was he a fool. He knew that gang for gang Ned had him beaten in more ways than in the mere threshing. Let the Valley Outfit pull off its bluff. He would nurse his chagrin and strike—later.

When Ned got his men well out of ear-shot he addressed them in a sudden light-heartedness that surprised them.

“I want to thank you, lads, for holding yourselves so wonderfully when I know you were itching to get your hands on McClure and his oary-eyed crew. This is a great night. We’ve threshed Rob McClure twice to-night. We’ve out-milled him for a month and gathered in the wager and we’ve handed him a mighty hard punch by forcing him and his gang to funk. We are now going to pull off a little stunt that will be remembered for many a day along the Qu’Appelle. Easy will come with me. The rest of you get back to the caboose with Andy. He’ll put you next. We’ll meet you there at eleven o’clock. You will all remember that to-night’s Hallowe’en.”

By a mighty effort of self-restraint the men acceded to Ned’s request to leave the village. Eleven o’clock found them waiting with Andy, all agog for the next move.

HALLOWE’EN ON THE QU’APPELLE A T ELEVEN o’clock McClure and his men stag** gered out of Swale’s joint. For half an hour ¡they prowled the streets, alarming the village with their wild whoops. At twelve they scrambled into ¡their grain wagon and tore down the main street at a furious pace. Out to Smithers they raced, a roistering company of drunken fools.

Ned and Easy, posted among the poplars in the '¿grove north of the barn, saw them ride into the barnyard. In the light of the moon the two men could see them tumbling out of the waggon, sprawling over «ach other, noisy and ill-humored.

“I see Rob at the heads uv the horses,” said Easy. ¡¿‘He niver goes home whin he’s rale well pickled.”

“We’ve got the whole crew at home, then,” whisipered Ned. “We are in luck. Come, let us round •up the boys.”

i‘ Slipping quietly away, they arrived at their own ¡Caboose.

; Andy and the rest were awaiting them. Briefly jjNed rehearsed his plans and was gratified to find [them primed and ready to the last detail. In a few moments they set out for McClure’s caboose. They carried planks, ropes, hammers and spikes, while ¡Easy Murphy brought up the rear with his huge span of grays. The team was shrouded in great dark blankets with black nets covering their light heads. ¿Each man was masked with his bandana handkerchief, giving the marauders the appearance of a ®ang of bandits or a lynching posse.

At the edge of the grove they paused and listened [Intently. Not forty yards away stood the caboose ¡with its crew of quarrelsome men. A confusing dialogue of altercations was in progress.| After a time ¡the men settled into their bunks, where the bibulous ¿debate was drowsily maintained, finally simmering ito the thick-tongued harangue of one persistent individual.

[ At a signal from Ned the Valley Outfit crept noiselessly upon their unsuspecting prey. Arrived ¡at the caboose they made a swift survey. The ¡¡farmstead was quiet. Smithers and his men were ¡sound asleep. No interruption from that quarter. ¡The caboose was the usual midget bunkhouse, a rectangular box on truck chassis with a bow roof. At (the tongue end was a door. In the other end near fthe roof was a tiny window, too small for the exit (of a man’s body. Andy and his men stole around to the rear of the caboose. Striking one end of the ;plank solidly into the ground, they placed the other Against the middle of the door. Two men held it in place while two swung their weight on it, holding ¡the door shut as with a vise. McClure and his men ¡were trapped. Quickly a stout plank was placed across the top of the door and nailed with five-inch spikes to the corner posts. Another plank was nailed similarly across the bottom, perfectly sealing the caboose.

T>Y THIS time a com» motion had arisen within. Snoopy Bill could be heard shaking the men and dragging them out of their bunks. Above the tumult soared McClure’s heavy voice, disclosing in the angry vehemence of his curses a swift conclusion as to the identity of the assailants. Outside in the moonlight frollicked the masked figures. The excitement was intense. At Ned’s desire all audible speech was to be suppressed. Easy Murphy was in his element and wanted to holler.

“Be the ghost uv me grandfahthurr!” he whispered to Jean Benoit. “ ’Tis the happiest hour since Oi left Owld Oire-

Amid ill - suppressed laughter the freak proceeded. Backing his horses to the tongue, Easy speedily hitched on and pulled out of the barnyard. Long before Smithers and his men could

wake and realize what had happened the big grays had spirited away the caged crew, surrounded by the triumphant body-guard of Valley threshers.

Urging his horses to a trot, Easy turned into the west road and bowled merrily along over ruts and stones to the fierce accompaniment of the pandemonium from within. Once a head unwisely protruded itself through the small opening only to receive a srhart rap and to be instantly drawn in.

“Head across the Northwest Cut,” directed Ned. “We’ll run them up on Bald Hill, where they can get a good view of the lake.”

When the brow of the Cut was reached Easy reined in his horses.

“Shall we cross be the thrail,” said he in a loud whisper to Ned, “or shall we bounce sthraight on over the rocky road till Dublin?”

“Give them the rocky road,” was Ned’s grim response.

“Begobs, yer a darlin’!” cried Easy, with a muffled whoopee as he swung the grays off the prairie down the side of the Cut.

Then began a half-mile of rocking and tossing, pitching over hillocks, boulders, badger holes and stumps, the caboose lurching about like a ship in a heavy sea and thoroughly churning up its human contents. The little bunkhouse became hideously vocal as execrations came forth, vengeful chorus from its tormented interior. Easy’s eyes seemed to have uncanny vision for holes and hidden logs and jolting rocks, while the big grays, alarmed by the outrageous tumult, snorted wildly, plunging through everything with irresistible force.

The weird passage of the gulch was at length accomplished, winding up on thfc windy skull of Bald Hill.

“They’ll have a very fine stretch of the Valley to look into from here,” said Andy with a grin, as his eyes took in the sweep of the hill.

“Indade, ’tis rale illigint,” said Easy. “Rob wull be chargin’ a nickel a pape from the bay window above.”

“Unhitch the grays, Easy,” said Ned, his eyes darting mischief. “We are not going to leave the caboose here. The fun is about to begin.”

Ned’s remark was cryptic. “If we are not going to leave them here, why unhitch?” was the query in every mind.

“Ah, Ned! ’Tis a darlin’ I said ye wuz!” exclaimed Easy, seized by a sudden inspiration. He had tumbled to Ned’s dark design. “Ye wull be afthur shootin’ the shoot wid our frinds in the packin’-box ?” was his sly guess.

“Hats off to our little boss!” cried Andy softly, shaking with laughter.

“By gar, dat cabooze yump on de lake lak beeg eggspress! Ha!” Jean forthwith “went up,” venting his ecstasy in a series of handsprings.

\XTHEN he came down he did what the rest were " " doing. He took a swift, keen glance at the hill. The slope fell rapidly away, dropping evenly hundreds of feet to the sandy shingle of the beach over a quarter of a mile away. Through a wide gap in the shore bluffs could be seen the silver shimmer of the waves. There could be but one end to the proposed flight of the caboose—the cold, white bosoin of the lake.

With deliberate thoroughness the Valley men m; their preparations. The horses unhitched, the tona of the caboose was roped high and locked firmly that it could have no side swing. Then the ,men’ took their places about the wheels and rear

“Just a minute!” whispered Ned. “One of you lads had better pull a watch on this thing. This old bus is in for her record run.”

A chorus of subdued laughs rose above the noise emanating from the interior of the doomed vehicle.

“Shoulders to the wheels!” was Ned’s low order. “Now, all together! Send her a-kiting.”

Every man got down with a will and a smothered yo-heave started the caboose down the slope. With a final united shove they sent it away from their hands in mad career towards the lake. Down the hill it sped, swaying in its course like a drunken man, but heading straight for the water. In fearfully accelerated speed it shot over the short sand beach and crashed in the gleaming waves. Carried along by its great momentum it charged the lake like a racing motor-boat, throwing a huge prow wave as it ran into the deep water. Weighted with its heavy truck and human freight it sank almost half-way to the roof before coming to a standstill.

While the caboose sped down the hill the perpetrators of the deed watched its flight in breathless interest. As it plunged into the water a cheer roared down the hillside.

Meanwhile in desperate rage and no small alarm McClure with his gigantic strength had torn a hole in the roof and thrusting his shoulders upward broke through and climbed out just as the car came to rest in the bed of the lake. Looking up the moonlit hill he could plainly see the group of men crowning its height and caught the cheer that swept down. No word, however, escaped him. Thoroughly sobered, the full significance of the daring lark burst upon him, sealing his lips. There were times when Rob McClure was unexpectedly silent. Reaching down he helped his men one by one out to safety. Soon the roof was black with men.

“Dey some leetle drown rat!” exclaimed Jean Benoit, shaking with laughter at the sight. “What dey goin’ to do?”

Through the quiet air came the answer. It was McClure’s voice.

“I guess there is nothing else for it,” said he.

Instantly came the sound of a splash. Other splashes followed and then could be seen a straggling line of dark figures plunging through the surf.

“Now let them have it,” cried Ned.

With all the vigor of seventeen pairs of powerful lungs they lifted cheer after cheer.

“Enough!” cried Ned at last. “This beats a fight. We have licked the whole gang without anybody getting mussed up. The cold water will help to sober them.”

A moment later Bald Hill was bare.

VIII

THE RIVAL BOSSES

lV/fcCLURE sat in his office nursing his choler, with a face hit*

terly inexorable. The routine of threshing moved on. Looking through the window, as upon a former occasion, he saw the two lines of smoke trailing off together over the fields. The sight caused a tightening of jaws. For an hour he had sat moodily thus, plunged in gloom.

The loss of the heavy wager was not desirable and the defeat galled. But it was not this that caused the baleful smouldering with'u the eyes. He tossed away the stake with the sangfroid of ihe gamester. He would get it back when the luck turned. The thing that incensed him was not the utter rout but the manner of it. His shoulders had been pinned to the mat by the swift address of an antagonist he had despised. The conviction sank in upon him that this young and resourceful foe had toyed with him. This levity was the barb that inflamed the wound.

The episode of Hallowe’en was a cup of gall to him. The kidnapping and ducking of himself and gang was a daring act deep and wily in its deliberate insolence. He fancied he caught the mocking laugh on Pullar’s face.

Ned had used him for a public burlesque. The caboose still lay in the lake. Pellawa was highly amused and —talking. Defeat was complete and bitter. Added to this was the condemnatory voice of an inner and subtle monitor that told him he had been wrong from the start and moreover had not scrupled to foul his man. His opponent on the other hand had played fair. These facts did not trouble the conscience of Rob McClure. They nettled him. He resented the alignment of public opinion with his adversary.

He would use the same tactics again.

But he would see to it that the camouflage was perfect. The longer he brooded the deeper grew his dour morosity. Vengeance cried loudly within him. He vowed a tenfold reprisal.

Some day he would put on a burlesque himself and then -

Suddenly he was roused from his malignant reveries by a light step outside the door. In a moment it opened quietly, admitting Helen McClure. Her face so compellingly attractive had a tragic weariness in it. A close observer wondered at the acute pain that would glance at times from the clear eyes. Neither the beauty of her fragile person nor the remarkable dignity of her bearing could hide the reality of suffering. Rob McClure, man of steel though he was, secretly acknowledged the noble strength of his wife. In a soft voice she announced:

“Mr. Pullar wishes to see you, Rob.” Turning to the newcomer she smiled brightly, inviting him in. Motioning him to a chair she withdrew.

Ned remained standing,

“Sit down,” said McClure, coldly.

“No, thank you!” returned Ned courteously. “My business will be brief. Man to man I want to know whether or not you are satisfied with Jack Butte’s decision.”

McClure darted a swift look into the other's eyes. “It is a mere trifle,” said he with a deprecatory gesture. “Butte is straight. You got the lucky breaks.”

“Very good!” said Ned. “It gratifies me to hear you say it. You positively agree that the Valley Outfit win ?”

“You got the lucky breaks,” repeated McClure.

That satisfies me,” said Ned conclusively as he took a package from his breast pocket. Reaching forward he placed the bundle on the desk before McClure. His eyes flashed and his voice had a ring of steel as he said:

That is your share of the wager just as it was handed to me by Butte. You will remember, I think, that I did not desire to take up your bet. There is your cash. I will not touch the winnings. Gaming is the expedient of a lazy thief willing to take a

chance. You can keep the swag. It is yours. Or_

you can bum if. This completes my business. I wish you good-day.” i

V/fcCLURE was astounded. His eyes dropped ■lVA amazedly to the package before him. For a full minute he stared at the wad of ragged edged bills. Then into his face flooded a black tide. His hands clenched, clutching in a horrible convulsion of

“You insolent devil!” he cried fiercely, hurling the package to the floor. Turning he flashed angry eyes about, surprised to find that he was alone in

the room. He leaped to his feet, non-plussed, baffled. His eye caught a motion outside the window. It was Ned unhitching his horse from the post not thirty yards away. At sight of his enemy a fearful idea came to him. Reaching down swiftly he opened a drawer and snatched out a revolver, broke open its blue chambers. There was a gleam of brass rims.

It was loaded. With a menacing cry he stepped to the window and threw up the sash. He was dropping the sight on the tall figure when his ear caught the tripping of light feet along the hall. It was Mary coming to his room. He held the gun on his target for the briefest instant, then dropped the muzzle and thrust it covertly into his pocket. As he whirled about, Mary burst through the door, a lithe, little figure in riding boots, sombrero and habit. She looked at him, her face radiant, her eyes dancing with the joy of living. He seemed hesitant. Could it be that for once her father was inviting? With a happy cry she closed upon him. He smiled a strange, relieved smile.

“Daddy! Daddy!” she cried delightedly. “I have had such a glorious ride. Bobs pranced down the trail a thing of wildest life, making the trip from The Craggs in less than an hour.”

Throwing her arms about his neck she drew his head gently to her. Swept off his feet by the swift dénouement of the last few minutes, he submitted to her will. For the first time in years she felt the absence of chilling repulse. Holding him close in her ecstasy she kissed his forehead again and again. With a final caress she laid her cheek against his for one silent, happy moment,-then broke away and ran off to her room thrilling with pleasant emotion.

Mary McClure did not know that her glad arrival

had held her father’s hand from an unspeakable crime. He was indeed grateful to her for the interposition, though his face showed no repentance. There was, though, a regretful pang in the breast. It was caused not by any faint penitence for his evil design but by the memory of Mary’s cheek against his. The “feel” of her soft, tender touch was there. For some strange reason the memory of it sank deep. The sound of her footsteps had scarcely died away, however, when the old ruthlessness returned. The relief he now felt was that of one who had been saved from committing a violent inexpediency. Glancing through the window he saw the horseman cantering leisurely down the trail. As he watched, the hard lines drew about his mouth. He began casting about for the package of money, finding it at length near the door. Picking it up he looked at it a moment with bright eyes that acknowledged an enigma. Walking to the window he looked out, smiling secretively and shaking the wad ominously at the Valley boss.

“It will help to break you, Pullar,” was his threat.

Going to the desk he opened a large drawer and deposited the money carefully in a tin box.

Above in her room Mary watched Ned ride out of sight into the Valley. She was greatly mystified as to the purpose of his visit. She regretted missing a meeting with him, but reflected with deepest happiness on the friendliness of her father. The moment, she felt, was full of happy augury.

IX.

A LAND SHARK

REDDY SYKES had drifted into Pel lawa during the early weeks of summer. Though at first an anomaly in the little town, the citizens grew used to his presence. It was hard to define Sykes' business. He was not a lawyer, though he had a distinctly legal turn of mind. He had acquired the title of Commissioner. He began work in the village with a command of con siderable capital. His most lucrative line was real estate. He bought and sold farms and manipulated the trans

fer of large acreage blocks. A few city shingles decorated his window but the great urban boom of the West was as yet on the verge and the subdivi sional mania had not got properly under way. The ability of the new arrival in his selected field was so surprising and apparent that his presence in Pellawa was a poser to the shrewd minds of the plains. He could have made things hum in a bigger world.

Personally, Sykes was a character that invited scrutiny. He was comparatively young, still in the early thirties, possessing a full-blooded interest in life. His face was unusually hard for so young a man and wore an habitual calculating expression. He was a man of scheme and intrigue. His motion as he moved about was very like that of Reynard as he slunk through the night en ■route to Mr. Farmer’s chicken coop. He lived by his wits, searching the trail closely for tracks of his prey. His nose was always in the wind. He was alert for the lucky cast of the die that should tumble fortune into his lap. Inventive and resourceful, his mind stored a great fund of premises. He could adopt and discard twenty viewpoints in as many minutes. The stolid, commonplace farmers fought shy of Sykes, shunning his speciousness, afraid of a snare. They felt the unrelenting, unscrupulous thing in the man, though unable to detect it in his handsome face.

Notwithstanding the diffidence of the farmers to enter into free commerce with the real estate agent he had become an accepted cog in the social wheel He had made one powerful friend—Rob McClure. The two drew together like steel and magnet. The attraction fused into an implicit partnership from the very start. There was a reason for this, a matter on which Rob McClure was utterly in the dark. Only one person in the settlement had even surmised it. Reddy

Sykes was dominated by the mightiest of human motives in his facile address at fostering a strong friendship with McClure. Ned Pullar alone understood that he was at once lured by the passion of love and urged by the fell ardour of hate. The object of his regard was Mary McClure. The object of his rancour,

Ned himself. He had effected his purpose with McClure by an ingratiating cunning assisted by an unusual mutual attraction. His relations with Mary and Ned ran back into the cross currents of their university life. Of that again.

Sykes’ friendship with McClure opened to him the McClure home. He availed himself of the hospitality in a wise and restrained use of the privilege. His reception had been cordial. The two women were only too glad to promote goodwill with a friend of Rob’s. Helen McClure was always pleased to welcome the gentlemanly guest. Mary in her secret mind was very considerably perturbed, remembering certain advances made by Sykes in the past. She had turned him down on occasion and once had deservedly and effectually snubbed him. She was agreeably surprised, however, at his casual gallantries. He was courteous and companionable, but did not in the faintest degree press his attentions.

OYKES had been moving about his office studying r closely certain realty maps of local townships.

His search over, he sat down at his desk and picking ¡Up a letter read it carefully. This was the third perusal. He was pondering some undoubtedly allur-

Eng proposition. In his mouth he held an unlit cigar, oiling it around in unconscious habit, occasionally Ichewing off the end and throwing it away. Looking through the window out upon the street he saw something that brought sudden resolution into his eyes.

[Andy Bissett was dashing by with his team of blacks.

He pulled up in front of a store and hurriedly tied this horses to a post. He was about to enter the jBtore when Sykes hailed him. Andy walked over and entered the office.

! “How’s the Valley Outfit?” in| quired Sykes pleasantly.

I “Laid up with a broken shaft,” was the reply.

¡ “I’ve been looking out for you to-day, Bissett,” said Sykes affably, plunging into business. “I i^yant you to read this.”

1 He handed over the letter he ¡ had just been reading.

“This,” said he, “is a comjmunication from a farmer in Northern Alberta who is anxious to get hold of a farm in ; this settlement. He owns ¡a section and is welling to swap it for an improved •half in the Pellawa district. The full description !of the land is there. It is a big snap.”

Andy read the lette r rapidly then handed it

“I have nothing I would care to exchange for that,”

I said he quietly.

“How about the i quarters you are renting to the ¡Poles?”

I. Andy shook his head.

i “Not in the market.”

“Some of your ¡friends might conI sider the proposition.”

“No,” said An^y, decidedly, “I could not recommend the deal to any of my friends.

Personally I do not like it.”

Sykes looked up sharply with the Reynard-like movement.

“This is an A-l chance, a windfall for somebody.”

“It may be,” agreed Andy dubiously. “It seems to me unusual. Aside from that, however, it is not the ■nap it appears.”

Sykes’ voice sounded a shade metallic as he said:

“How do you make it?”

Andy noted the change in tone but continued pleas-

“In the first place this land about Pellawa is simply wonderful. That other may be good. Then again there is a pretty fast movement up in this Valley land. We are expecting it to sky-rocket. Things are promising hereabouts. I think it will be well to

“Still,” objected Sykes, “the difference in acre age is great. It covers all rise.”

“That may be. Who can tell? That point would have to be settled by a personal visit to the Dakota farm.”

Sykes shifted his cigar impatiently, biting it viciously.

“How about Pullar?” he queried carelessly. “He might swap that home quarter and have a splendid half left. He would then have a full section, half in Canada and half with the Yanks.”

“You mean Ned?” said Andy.

“Of course.”

“Ned would not consider the matter for a minute.”

“Why?”

“That land is his father’s. Ned is manager and real head, but the land is still deeded to his father. Although the old man has desired to make all or any part over to the boy, Ned would not agree.”

Sykes seemed to muse on the matter for a moment. Andy did not notice the cunning light flash into the other’s eyes. His companion’s quick mind had gathered something of great interest to him.

“The fact is,” said Andy deliberately, “I would not recommend this to any friend of mine, ps I have said.”

Suddenly a resentful light burned in Sykes’ eyes.

“Do you mean to say you will knock this deal?” said he.

“Sure,” said Andy smiling. “I’ll knock it into a cocked hat if anybody appeals to me.”

“Say!” said Sykes, the lash of sarcasm entering into his tone. “You rubes carry some side, eh? A few of you little farmers think you can chin-up to Reddy Sykes. Bah!”

He turned on his heel.

With a cheerful “Good-day!” An, dy took his departure.

T OOKING a t ■^the figure crossing the street Sykes smiled sardonically.

“Mu^ch obliged, Bissett!” was his muttered soliloquy. “You were easy. Ha! It looks pretty good! Pretty good to me!” Late that night McClure appeared in the office.

Anybody with you?” inquired Sykes, looking up as he entered. “No. I am alone,” was the response. “Took a skip in to get a line on business. Anything new?”

For answer Sykes thrust the letter into his hand. McClure recognized the source instantly. “He has located another spot,

Sykes nodded.

Looking up from the letter McClure ruminated for a moment.

“There’s good money in these transfers if we can get them going. That’s where good fishing comes

“Tried Bissett to-day,” observed Sykes ruefully. “It was no go ?”

“No.”

“Keep away from Bissett,” was McClure’s low counsel. “There are easier prospects. If not we’ll have to chuck it.”

“Chuck nothing!” was Sykes’ incisive ejaculation. “This community’s full of suckers. There are droves of easy rubes hereabouts fairly howling, ‘Come touch

For a moment McClure rubbed his chin reflectively. Sykes eyed him closely.

“I know what you are hunting down,” said he, looking McClure full in the eye. “You’re on just one trail these days. You are tracking the boss of the Valley Outfit.”

McClure looked up surprised.

“I see I’ve hit it,” resumed Sykes with a laugh. “Bissett put me next a little fact that has a whole barrelful of possibilities. He informs me that Pullar’s three-quarter sections are all in the old man’s

McClure shook his head.

“Don’t believe it. Ned’s too good a head for that.” “It’s a fact, just the same,” maintained Sykes. “Bissett told me all about it.”

“What if it is?”

“I guess you know old Ed. Pullar. Thirsty old guy at times.”

McClure laughed wisely.

“That’s the point,” said Sykes in a whisper. “We have an even chance of getting him there.”

McClure said nothing, but Sykes, watching him from the foxy crevices of his half-shut eyes, knew that he had probed a mighty impulse in his companion. The gloating of anticipated revenge looked out of Rob McClure’s great eyes. He was roused from his baleful reverie by the voice of Sykes.

“That prospect pleases you, Rob,” said he in a significant tone that drew the swift glance of McClure.

“And I am with you to the limit provided---”

He paused and looked peculiarly at the other. McClure was puzzled.

“Provided,” resumed Sykes, “you do the same with

“You have me guessing, Reddy.”

“You do not know what I am driving at?”

Continued on page 52

The Valley of Gold

Continued from page 27

McClure shook his head.

“Then I’ll set you right. For some years I have known the daughter of Rob McClure. All these years I have regarded her as the one thing desirable. That is why I am out among the rubes. She has never been more gracious than since my arrival here. You stand by me there and I’m with you. You can do a lot.”

The two men looked long into each other’s eyes. Then McClure’s gaze became abstract and far away. He was seeing something other than Sykes’ glittering eyes. He saw Mary as she burst in upon him the day of his interview with Ned. He felt the soft touch of her cheek. Suddenly he was recalled to the issue.

“Well?” was the crisp challenge.

“Go right in and win,” said he with a strange smile. “Do it right and I’m agreeable. So far as I know you have a clear field. You can count on me.”

“You think the field is open?” said

“There isn’t a doubt. I know all about my girl.”

Sykes smiled and let it go at that. There was some information he could impart to rhis cocksure father but it would be m. re serviceable later. He reflected for a moment on the effect of the disclosure that Ned Pullar was very much in the field. Then he smiled again, conscious of holding a rather high hand.

McClure could see no untoward possibility and was satisfied.

So they made the compact.

THE WATCHER stepped back into the shelter of the maples. She had emerged from them but a moment before and had been on the point of addressing the worker when her capricious will deterred her. She was looking upon the great figure of a man. He was aged, nearing the fullness of the allotted span. His shoulders, however, were square and his back straight. His form rose to a towering height, retaining its lines of strength and crowned by a shapely head with its resplendent glory of long white hair. The face was noble with a touch of gentleness. The intelligent eyes had a masterful light mingling with the dreaminess of them, while his cheeks had the soft rotundity of a child’s and the roses of a girl. Before her stood the father of Ned Pullar. Often had she heard of him. This was the first time she had really beheld him. She was very surprised, agreeably so.

The old man was busy flailing a bag of chaff. So absorbed was he in his employment that he was rudely startled when a woman’s voice accosted him gently.

“Mr. Pullar, I believe!”

Looking up suddenly he detected a small girlish figure in white. Her face was attractive with a bright friendliness that set him instantly at ease.

“I am highly honoured,” was his reply as he set down his stick and

bowed with courtly stateliness. “Is it the little teacher I have the pleasure of greeting?”

“I am Mary McClure!”

The old man walked over and held out his hand with western hospitality.

“Welcome to The Craggs, lassie. The lad, Ned, has been telling me much about you. Will you not sit down?’He placed a rustic chair before her. “I have been waiting for you to call on your new neighbour,” said Mary with a smile as she accepted the proffered chair. “But you have not favoured us yet. I am afraid you will find mt a very impatient and exacting neighbour, Mr Pullar.”

His eyes twinkled at her speech. “Well now, that is a prett" rub,” said he amusedly. “I shall have to hunt up my visiting cards and call around.”

“ Now, see that you do,” was the girl’s reply as she shook an accusing finger at him. “ But you must not entertain now, Mr. Pullar. I came over to watch you at work. I am curious to know why you were belabouring that poor sack so roundly.”

The old man laughed delightedly.

“ I will tell you all about it,” was the reply. “I am threshing the wheat that is in it.”

“But why do you have to do that with a stick? Is Ned not the best thresher along the Valley?”

A proud look came into the old man’s

“Do you think so, lass?”

“Indeed I do. And so does the whole settlement.”

“It is so, I believe,” was the frank agreement. “But Ned does not thresh this. Those bags are filled with rare wheat heads selected from our headrow plots. For them I use the flail.” He had pointed to where a line of a dozen bulging grain sacks swung on a stout rope between posts.

“Mr. Pullar,” said she engagingly, “I have heard most interesting rumors of what a wizard you are with seeds. One man told me solemnly that he believed you could grow a good crop in a field of dry dust. Is it true that you have developed a new variety of wheat?”

For a moment the old man did not answer. Instead he read earnestly the beautiful, vivacious face of the girl and the eyes deep in their intelligence.

“I believe, lassie, you would unterstand,” was his satisfied reflection. “Would you like to hear the truth about the Red Knight?”

Mary looked steadily into the eyes above her. She did not comprehend the meaning of his question but she was fascinated by the noble enthusiasm that swept over the fine old face.

“Tell me. Will you?” was her soft voiced reply.

“Come with me,” said he. “I will show you something.”

The tone of his voice deeply impressed her. She knew that she was about to venture into the sacred recesses of a life. She followed him to the porch where rested a tub. Seizing the handle he pulled it out into the sunlight. Lifting a covering he disclosed to her eyes a mass of grain—beautiful wheat,

brown-gold in colour, with the healthy red tinge that tints the peerless milling kernel. The plump, red berries suggested to her heaps of tiny, golden pebbles. She was astonished and silent.

“It is the Red Knight,” said he simply, stooping and dipping up a handful. f,he observed how fondly he held it in the palm of his great hand.

“It is very dear to you,” was her gentle remark.

Once again he studied her eyes. They looked up at him with a clear-eyed rapture that provoked his grateful confidence.

“Come, lassie! Rest while I tell you the tale of the finding of the Red Knight.

“It will be forty years, come the Maytime again, since I brought Kitty Belaire from the old East ovethe Valley of The Qu’Appelle to The Craggs Here we set up a home in the little log hut you can see at the end of the lane. In the log hut was born the first wee bairn. He did not stay with us long

and we laid him away in the dip beyond the bluffs. There, too, Ned came to us, filling the sore spot in our hearts left by his little brother. We were happy, the three of us, though we had little to do with, and the work was hard. The years were years of struggle. We fought the winds and the drought, rust, smut, hail and the frost with little success to boast about. One year we had a bumper crop with prices low. Then followed one or two without a harvest. Ned was growing to be a husky little chap when a crop grew on the place that promised us a forty-bushel yield. But one day a black cloud swept over the homestead and in ten minutes it was gone. We had no seed. On the heels of the hail came a drought year. Following it appeared a crop that filled the settlement with hope. We were getting ready to cut when a blight appeared. The rust reduced the yield from forty bushels to five. So passed the years and the battle went against us, with the frost the worst enemy of all. One terrible harvest it came to me that the seed was wrong. It matured too slowly. What we needed was a seed that would come along fast enough to harden before the blight of the rust or the nip of frost. The following harvest I set out on a quest. One day I discovered a patch of ripe heads among the filling grain. Upon shelling them I found a plump kernel fully matured. I plucked the strang-e heads and carefully preserved the wheat. When seeding time came around again I sowed them on a bit of new ground in the garden. They came up strong and far outstripped the other grain. I had great hopes. Filling time arrived and I watched developments. It was now plain to me that the new variety would ripen fully two weeks ahead of the old type. Then, in the depths of night, a crashing hailstorm and—my precious plot smashed into the earth.

“I had made the fatal mistake of not preserving a few kernels against accident. But that was the beginning. Henceforth I was alert to discover any quickly maturing plants among my fields of grain. By hand selection I began to improve the standard varieties. By use of head-row plots I was able to provide myself with a purer seed. But it took a gTeat deal of time. My neighbors began to surpass me in quantity of yield. Eventually they regarded me as luny. At last only Kitty and Ned believed in me. They never failed me. They became experts in seed selection. They helped me with their sympathy. Together we made thousands of tests. Gradually we caught our feet. One year we started cutting a full week ahead of the settlement. We had escaped the rust and showed a plump sample. We were alone in our good fortune. From that time we were the first into the binding, our yield was at the top, and under Ned’s wise management our quantity began to pull ahead, always showing a consistently high sample.

“It is four years this harvest that Kitty and the lad went out on a ‘roguing’ stalk. Perhaps you do not knov' that a ‘rogue’ is a foreign variety of grain that has appeared for some reason in your field. The task of plucking these ‘rogues’ is called ‘roguing.’ Upon their return the mother handed to me a headed plant of wheat carefully lifted from the ground. How well I remember it! She gave it into my hands with a smile.

“ ‘Here, Edward!’ she said brightly. ‘Here is your Red Knight at last. I found him growing in the twenty acre field on the little knoll.’

“I took the plant and carefully examined it. The straw was strong and erect, the roots the most perfect I had ever looked upon. But it was the head that caught my eye, as it had caught Kitty’s and Ñed’s. It was not exceptionally large but well compacted and heavy, its spikelets packed with wonderful kernels. We were not led into fond hopes by the remarkable heads, as we had tested many another apparently as perfect.”

Here the old man paused, lost a moment in reverie.

“That winter the Mother died,” re-

sumed he softly. “But she left a legacy that will forever bicss mankind. We carried out our tests. W’e have put the Red Knight through every conceivable trial and it remains pure, repeating its superior qualities each harvest. It is of the highest milling grade, grows a strong straw and erect, compact head, maturing three full weeks before any other wheat. This tub is filled from our head-row plots with the very purest Red Knight. In addition Ned has already cut and threshed a five acre field. The yield has been true to promise and will astonish the world. Red Knight, the gift, to the world of Kitty Belaire, has averaged this year over one hundred bushels to the acre.”

As the old man finished a deep silence fell on them, broken at length by Mary. At the first accents of her voice her companion looked up. He was surprised to see tears in her eyes.

“Mr. Pullar!” she said hesitantly, her voice touched with awe. “You and Ned and—his mother—are gracious benefactors. You are bringing a wonderful boon to the West—to the whole world.”

Leaning forward the old man looked eagerly into the earnest eyes before

“Ah, lassie,” he said kindly, “you are a wonderful little soul. ’Tis a vision the three of us have had. The Red Knight will mean a steady and reliable living for the farmers round about us and a sure crop for the struggling pioneer in the new places of the world. It will mean that a million homesteads will spring up in the great Northern plains where men could scarcely live beca’use of the rust and frost. It will fill up the bread-basket of the world and make cheaper food for the hard-pressed masses, for the Red Knight will push the grain belt three hundred miles nearer to the poles the whole world round.”

“Just a moment, Mr. Pullar!” exclaimed Mary, seized by a brilliant idea. “I’ve got it! I believe every word you say. It is true. Gloriously true! But the world will have to hear about it. It will take time to marshall the forces of the Red Knight and start him on his great crusade. You will have to declare him to the world. The discovery and mission of this wonderful new wheat must be nlaced before the public, and at once.”

“Ah,” said he, “you speak the truth. Ned and I have thought it over, but we have no gift of the pen whatever.”

Another deep silence fell over them. It was Mary who broke it once more.

“Do you think, Mr. Pullar,” she said diffidently, “that—that I could help you? I have done a little writing. We could get the facts into shape and some editor could put them in form for presentation to the public.”

The old man looked at her with eyes in which glowed a grateful wonder.

“You believe my story enough to do that, lassie?”

“Why, of course! It is simply wonderful! Come over to the school each day at noon and we can work at the tale of the Red Knight while the children are playing. An hour a day will accomplish a great deal in a month. Will you come?”

Her companion reflected deeply before replying.

“It is a noble offer,” he said gratefully. “But I will think it over. If I decid° it is best I will come to-morrow.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pullar!” was the pleased reply. “This has been an amazing hour. But I must be going. You will be sure and come?”

Waving good-bye she vanished through the trees.

For a long time the man reflected on the happy interview. At length he returned to the sack of unthreshed wheat. Picking up the flail he held it poised ready while his gaze grew pathetically reminiscent.

“Ah, Kitty,” he whispered. “ ’Tis an angel she is. Our dreams will come true after all, dear heart.”

XI.

THE THIRD RIDER

A/IARGARET GRANT paced the terrace, her black hair flowing. The sun flooded the Valley with a prodigal outpouring of his golden tanks. The girls eyes snapped with the vivacity of life, for the world was streaming with light and the birds were carolling in joyous abandon. Something in the bubbling wildness of the morning lent a nimbleness to her feet, and she would change her sedate walk for a tripping scurry across the lawn. She cast frequent glances over the gorge to the Peak of the Buffalo Trails in evident anticipation of some appearance there. While she waited she let her eyes sweep down the Valley, her heart and ofttimes her feet dancing with the sun.

Margaret was a child of The Qu’Appelle. The gleaming valley had nursed her through childhood, writing the beauty of hill and stream and wind and sun into the little girl, making her skin as brown as that of the metis maiden, her blood warm and red and her soul free with the purity of the flashing light. She loved the cottonwoods and the poplars and the clustering, glistening birch, while the oak and willow folk cast a spell over her. She knew the berry and cherry trees and the sun-steeped slopes where browned the sweetest hazelnuts. Ask her where coquettes the wine-black saskatoon or the wonder berry—amd she can tell. As for the flowers, the bees and Margaret were twin possessors. Equally dear were the people of feather and

The lake was a fascinating, joyous mystery, whether it lay under her eyes a thing of shimmering light or frowning shadows. Its magic swept her most powerfully, in the moments of its hush, when it became a great calm silence, rippleless and infinitely deep, a new vastness with its own blue sky and clouds and shapely hills.

Far out in the lake lay a tiny island tufted with cottonwood shrubs and one ragged scrub oak. This tree had grown out of a crevice in the rock. The island was nothing more than a huge boulder and the bower of cottonwoods and bit of turf held precariously to the smoothed surface. Here the girl enjoyed the dulcet music of the waves and the solitude, reaching the island easily by aid of her birch canoe. From ' its behaviour in time of tempest this lonely spot had received the name of The Storm Rock. Long before the waves had worked into rollers an angry cloud of white spray above the rock portended the fury of the storm.

Suddenly the girl paused in her walk and fastened her eyes on the Peak of the Buffalo Trails. A glimmer of white crowned the Peak. She gave an exclamation of delight as she defined the form of Bobs. Astride was Mary McClure. A signal passed between the girls. Turning slightly, Margaret swept the north bank with a keen glance, emitting another ejaculation as she saw a rider cantering along the shoulder of the hill making his way down into the valley.

“Ned!” she observed, with a droll tip of her head. “You are remarkably punctual, my fine fellow. You need not push Darkey so fast, however, for Flash and I are going to take a very considerable time to saddle up.”

Turning about, she glanced up at the Peak again. Bobs and his rider had disappeared. As she continued to look at the empty summit she was surprised to see another rider trot out on the hill. It was a man, and he halted his horse in the identical place where Mary had sat Bobs but a moment before. He looked over the valley toward the .Grant homestead, then turning, vanished hurriedly down the hill.

The watcher was at a loss to account for the appearance of the strange rider. She pondered a moment.

“One of Blythes’ cow-punchers!” was her conclusion. “He is probably beating up strays.”

Satisfied and relieved at her sur-

mise she ran into the house to prepare for the ride to Willc^v Glade.

Ned rode swiftly along-, skirting the lake about the Pellawa end. He had an hour of fast riding before he at length disappeared into the groves near the brook. As he broke into the Glade he saw Bobs tied to a tree and his mistress seated on the log beside the stream.

“Ho, ho! Darkey!” he cried softly. “High fortune is ours!”

Bobs tossed his head in equine friendliness, but the figure on the log was absorbed in a study of the tree-tops. Tying his horse, Ned stole up on the silent one.

“Room for another on the observation ear?” called Ned in her ear.

With a casual “Good-day, Ned!” she glanced into his eyes Her face was so irresistibly teasing that he seized her hands.

“I am welcome, Mary?” said he.

Her reply was smothered by his lips. When conditions had become normal once more she announced importantly: “I came here to-day, Ned, with the deliberate purpose of having an interview with you.”

“That is delightfully gratifying,” was the reply. “But since I know the lady so well I fear there is another reason forthcoming.”

“We are to have a chaperon,” resumed Mary. “I signalled Margaret from the Peak of the Buffalo Trails. She will be here—within—an hour or two. Flash has taken to loitering, I fear.” “Yes, we know what a sleepy nag Flash can be when Margaret has so made up her mind.”

“You speak as though there is a little plot on foot.”

“Rather on four feet, Mary.” Catching his eye Mary laughed.

“But there is another reason?” was his serious question. “Are you in trouble, Mary?”

“No,” was her reply. “I am deeply interested in some one other than Mr. Pullar, Jr. And also in a number of things—the Red Knight, for example. Why have you not come over to the school sometimes with your father?” He looked into her eyes with a frankness that satisfied her. She nodded comprehendingly.

, “You did right,” said she gently. “We agree that it was best. But I have wanted to consult you about the Red Knight. I think it is such a big, wonderful thing, and it means so much to your father. Do you——”

Further speech was suddenly interrupted by a commotion in the woods. Bobs gave a vigorous whinny to which Darkey responded in a half-frightened way while both horses moved restively about their trees, nostrils distended and ears pricked forward.

“What can be troubling the horses?” said Mary looking about.

A careful scrutiny of the trees und underbrush failed to discover anything unusual.

“Probably a fox or a wolf,” surmised Ned. “The brute was bold to come so near. The horses have become aware of some marauder.”

They let it go at that, little thinking that the horses had a surprising reason for their unrest. For five minutes past a shadow had been slipping through the dense growth running toward the lake and had chanced a flit of a half dozen yards in the open to a clump of willows within a rod of the log on which they sat. Screened in the low trees lurked the crouching figure of Reddy Sykes. It was a fox, indeed, a human fox that had agitated Bobs and his companion. The face of the agent was uncouth in its strange determination and jealousy. Waiting until quiet was restored he parted the leaves and took a glance at the objects of his bold espionage. At sight of the lovers his face went white and a wave of passion swept over him. As Mary resumed the conversation he listened with an eagerness wild and intense.

“I was saying,” said Mary, “that the Red Knight has a powerful interest for your father.”

“I am sure you discovered that easily,” returned Ned.

“ves. It is dear to him as life it-

self. No mother could lavish more fondness upon her babe than your father does upon this marvellous new

W“And because it means so much to Dad,” said Ned gently, “it means even more to me. \et I, too, am foolish over the Red Knight. I wonder can any one understand how it is that the roots of this plant go back so deep into the lives of Dad and me? It has grown out of the hard, glorious years. It is the one living thing linking our dear dead to us. Mary! It is my little mother’s forget-me-not. The tenderes t sentiment gathers about the Red

Knight.”

Mary laid her hand

“Ned,” she said, looking at him with the shine of dew in her eyes, “you will always foster this dear foolishness, will you not?”

Drawing her to him he kissed lips and cheeks and hair.

“I know you will,” was her glad

“But there is the other side,” said Ned in a little. “The Red Knight is as astonishing a discovery for the good of the world as was steam in its application to transportation and industry. This is how Dad views it. Like the discovery of a new element it should be retained for the common human good. If controlled by the commercial interests and monopolists it will be lost. The Red Knight needs the care of the keenest and surest cultural science as well as the protection of a wise government. This new variety of wheat is very precious now or will be when the great experts have repeated the tests put through by Dad and myself. By spring, should our own experiments satisfy the competent judges, every bushel of Red Knight would be worth one hundred dollars. Forty thousand dollars! It sounds fabulous to farmers who have spent a lifetime in the fight to catch their feet. Dad, however, will not sell it in that way. He intends to distribute his unique seed in such a way as to insure its preservation and reproduction. Each bushel will go to a source that meets with his entire approval. Some will pay the hundred dollars per bushel, not that a monopolist’s price may be realized but that the recipient may be impressed with the rare pricelessness of the Red Knight. Others will pay but a pittance. The great national farms will not be overlooked. It is Dad’s purpose that when harvest rolls round again there will be from thirty to forty thousand bushels of Red Knight in the hands of the National Government and a corps of splendid farmers. They will agree to keep Red Knight pure and further improve his singular qualities by faithful selection and experiments.”

As Ned finished speaking a deep silence fell on them, broken at length by Mary.

“That four hundred bushels of Red Knight is precious in many ways, Ned,” said she. “You have taken precaution to protect it from harm?”

“We are doing our best to avoid misfortune. We have broken the bin up into three. There are two hundred bushels in the house; we have one hundred in the big granary and the balance is isolated in one of our galvanized-iron, portable bins set In the centre of a large ploughed field. This should provide for the preservation of the Red Knight.”

They had fully discussed the scheme of launching the astounding fact of the discovered variety when Margaret Grant dashed into the glade with a shout and a clatter of hoofs.

“Greetings, kind friends!” she announced with a swagger. “Permit Flash, four-footed gentleman of the highroad, to join your sweet company with Gooseberry up.”

“To horse!” cried Ned, catching the conceit of the girl. “To horse! We ride with the gallant Goose!”

“The very thing!” laughed Mary.

Riding close Margaret struck vengefully. But Ned dodged and assisting Mary into the saddle swung up on Darkey and the laughing cavalcade rode out of the glade.

From his covert Reddy Sykes saw them depart. Waiting until he was

sure they were safely away he returned to his horse and mounting rode hastily back to Pellawa.

XII.

ANYTHING IS FAIR IN LOVE.

THE TROOP of three were retracing the course followed by Ned in his ride to the Glade. Trotting along the wet sand at the water’s edge they had rounded the Pellawa end of the lake and were hugging the north shore, riding into the west at a spanking gait when Ned suddenly pulled Darkey and pointed up the sheer hill. A black speck was moving along the summit far above.

“Margaret! Behold!” was Ned’s laughing shout.

The girls reined in abruptly and followed his hand.

“It is Andy!” cried Mary gaily. “I see where we lose our Gooseberry, promptly and automatically.”

As she uttered the words a shout floated down from the silhouette above and the rider sent his mount over the bank. The brave brute took the precipice with a sure nonchalance, sliding on all fours or “sitting” the perpendicular slides with swift and perilous drop.

“Lucifer hits the toboggan!” cried Ned.

“The magnificent dare-devils!” exclaimed Mary, thrilled by the sight. In a moment it was over and Andy closed in upon them at a smart trot, reining his horse on his heels but a length before them.

“A mighty fine slide!” applauded Ned.

“Margaret can’t peep,” teased Mary “Her heart’s in her modth.”

Margaret acknowledged the newcomer with a sedate bow. Her voice was. severely accusing as she said:

“Why do you find it necessary toskid that horrible hill on poor Night?"

“Just dropping into good company, Margaret,” was the bright reply. “Night likes it.”

“Very well! You are welcome to— the skidding,” was the demure impertinence.

She returned from him to glance over the lake. Had Andy caught her eyes he would have seen deep down in their dark depths a gleam of exquisite pleasure. Good riding and daring at that, could not fail to delight Margaret, and of this the wily Andy was well aware. A moment later he was enjoying her gay sallies as they rode side by side.

The four riders advanced abreast with the girls in the centre, the sound of their voices mingling with the champing of bits and the restless tramping of prancing hoofs. Suddenly, to their right, a gully opened up, winding its way into the hills. Andy caught Ned’s eye flashing him some significant message. Ned instantly realized his. intention and seizing Bobs’ bridle turned abruptly into the gully. In the meantime Andy had adroitly directed Margaret’s attention to a big loon basking in the water near the shore. They were well past the gully before she discovered that two of the party were missing. She halted Flash and looked blankly at Andy. With remarkable address he simulated her expression. She searched his nonplussed features critically, nassing their fluctuations through her mental sieve.

“Two is company!” ejaculated Andy, shrugging his shoulders and looking back upon the empty trail.

“And three a crowd!” supplemented Margaret.

“And four a multitude!” completed Andy, a tone of satisfaction betraying

Margaret tipped her head a trifle haughtily and looked thoughtfully out over the lake.

“We have good company here, at any rate,” ventured Andy.

Again Margaret gave him that searching glance. For a moment she studied him, then the glimmers of a whimsical mischief shone in her eyes and throwing back her head she laughed merrily.

“What transparent creatures you men are!” was her naive remark. “Obvious-

ly you and Ned arranged this sudden and innocent happening.”

“How do you know?” challenged Andy boldly.

“How very like a man!” she cried, laughing quietly. “There you go confessing it. How do I know ? Simply because Mary and I did not arrange it It just happened. And Mary. I wonder. Was Mary kidnapped or is she an accomplice deep-dyed in guilt? Never mind. There’s a loon on the water and two more on the shore. We’ll go ahead to the Big Stone and wait for

So came Andy’s opportunity, effected by his masterly strategy and the conniving Ned.

Their horses secured, they took seats in comfortable niches of the great stones and let their gaze sweep over the lake. A steady breeze fanned their faces and the water lapped musically about the base of the rock. It set Margaret musing.

“Do you hear it, Andy?” she cried. “I could stay here forever and dream of the sea. The sea is in my blood and —my heart—always in my heart. I have but to shut my eyes and I am a wild, free Norse-girl tossing on the deep, or—a bold pirate.”

“Pirate is better,” said Andy with a grin. “You are always stealing something from me—secrets and other things. These dead Norse maidens appear to better advantage these days among the zoological collections of infamous old boneß in famous old museums.”

Margaret looked up severe and shocked.

“Thank you!” said she with dignity. “You have an affectionate regard for my ancient ancestors.”

“None whatever!” retorted Andy. “Not a little bit. They are animals of another and stonier age. Give me a nice living girl with plenty of breath in her body and a soft heart—one with a laugh in her eyes and her soul, who can loll comfortably on a rock and revel dreamily in sheer languor and laziness; a girl for instance like Margaret Grant.” “You don’t like me when I’m poetic—

“Don’t I? How like a woman ! You want me to confess that I am mad about you. But I will not, for I am not—not the very slightest.”

Margaret glanced up curiously, a smile playing about her lips.

“The fact is, Margaret,” continued Andy, “I do like you—just you, in any mood, at any time and on any condition. It is not a foolish, mad regard; just a cool, composed, deliberate but fatal, tremendously fatal affection.” “Why fatal, Andy? I don’t like the

‘Take a look at me. Can you not see doom written all over me?”

Margaret looked. Their eyes met. She smiled whimsically.

“You look for all the world like a Norseman ready for Valhalla. But you are a very live and hopeful and preposterous Yellow-hair. In what way am I connected with this horrible doom ?”

“You are the wild Norse girl that has demented your Norseman.”

“Then you are mad after all?” Again their eyes met. A unique confusion lay behind the light in the man’s; something inscrutable behind the humorous banter in the girl’s. Yet it was a happy unembarrassed moment. Andy seized it.

“Margaret,” he said, rising and stepping toward her. “You guessed my artifice all right. I alone am to blame for sending Ned and Mary up the gully. There was no plot, only on my part. I decided that we must come to a clear understanding. Lately I have had hours of anxious reflection. I wanted to see you alone to-day. Do you think you love me, Margaret?”

The girl turned frank, open eyes upon him, all levity gone. There was something looking out of his eyes that made her tremble. A deep seriousness stole over her face. Slowly, she averted her gaze, looking out into the lake. For a long time she was silent. Then she said gently:

“I love no one else, Andy. But—I— I cannot answer your question. I

know you love* me. I am Dot sure that I love you. Du I love you? I— I cannot say. Perhaps I do. 1 have always thought I did. It may he true. It may all have come about in a way so gradual, so natural, so ordinary that I am confused. I cannot answer you—now. I do not know. Something will help us.”

Looking up she met his eyes, they were full of trouble. A wave of compunction swept over her. Holding out her hands she leaned toward him.

“Come,” she said simply, “you may kiss me, Andv. 1 love your kisses.” “How I would like to,” was his quiet return as he fought the temptation. “Hut 1 cannot. It would not be right. You have a tender heart, Margaret. 1 love you ever so much more in the last few moments. I shall wait for the right to kiss you. Perhaps it will

The girl looked up surprised, a faint flush dyeing her face. Their attachment htid obtained for years and since the engagement two years before they had enjoyed the sweet amenities of true lovers. A pang smote her as she realized that he was right.

Upon riding back they discovered the delinquent couple enjoying the shade of a giant oak just beyond the entrance to the gulley. Joining forces the troop rode homeward.

XIII.

THE RED KNIGHT SCORES

THE air was full of the merry laughter of children. It was the hour of noon and Mary McClure was busy placing some afternoon work upon the blackboard. A sound on the porch caused her to hold her flying hand. In a little there was a rap at the door and a giant form stepped in.

“Good-day, lassie,” said the deep voice of Ed. Pullar.

“Well, Mr. Pullar!” was the girl’s cordial greeting as she turned toward him. “How glad I am to see you. Have you news of the Red Knight?” The venerable face was wreathed in smiles. The happiness boded good tidings.

Bowing with cavalier grace he replied: “Here is the communication. I want you to read it, lassie.”

Stepping lightly to him she took the sheet and pored over it swiftly. Its contents were of extreme interest to her. It ran:

Dear Sir:

Doubtless you have received my letter acknowledging the safe arrival of your packages of Red Knight. The tests are proceeding apace and already we are able to report results that may be of far-reaching import to the grain growers of the world. They will assuredly be gratifying to you.

Your samples have been subjected to an exhausting series of milling tests, disclosing the presence in Red Knight of astonishing millingproperties.

Also, we have studied carefully your very complete history of the discovery and isolation of the new variety and find that throughout the germination tests up to the present stage, our observations have resulted in a remarkable parallel of your own accord.

On the afternoon of the nineteenth we are holding a Staff Conference to consult on the phases of Red Knight, referred to above, with a view to consider the speeding up of test operations. The imminency of the ensuing seed-time demands this if we are to launch comprehensive field tests in all our national farms.

At the close of the Conference an informal luncheon will be tendered to the discoverers of the Red Knight. We request the presence of yourself and your son as the honourable guests of the occasion.

I have the honour to be, sir,

Your obedient servant,

John T. C. Norrgrene, Minister of Agriculture.

As she finished Mary clasped the letter to her breast, lost in a moment’s pensiveness. Then she lifted to the earnest face above her eyes aglow with a brimming pleasure.

“You will go, Mr. Pullar!” she cried delightedly. “You will go, of course, both you and Ned.”

“Yes, I will go,” was the quiet reply. “I have no desire now to tramp abroad but I am going to do whatever I can to help these great men discover the true character of the Red Knight. Ned is coming with me. Dad Blackford will take care of the farm. It is a great moment for Ned and me.”

The gray head lifted with a perceptible pride.

"Mr. Pullar!” she cried, stepping nearer to him. “Do I look pleased?” He read the girl’s face.

“Aye! It is so. lassie. ’Tis the bonny bit you have been with your bright, loyal heart.”

“I am more than pleased,” returned Mary. “I am elated. It means that your, big noble plans will be realized. There can be no hitch now. The Red Knight is doing splendid work alone, but when you and Ned join forces with him you will be irresistible. I see glorious times ahead.”

The old man looked deep into the eyes bright with the magic of a great hope.

“Bonny Mary!” said he gently. “Bonny Mary!—that is what I have called you in my secret mind.—You have been a right wonderful blessing to me for you—you will believe in me. And your beauty and tenderness they have been recalling the past these happy hours in the wee school-house.

I cannot thank you-”

“Hush, Mr. Pullar!” was her gentle interruption. “You cannot thank people for their—their regard, for their —love. You—you just do it too. You love them back. Do you not?”

The naive, girlish innocence touched him. Placing a great hand gently on her head he stooped down and brushed her brow ever so lightly with his lips.

“God bless you, lassie!” was the reverent benediction.

She watched him go out, his face beautiful with a new light.

On the edge of the clearing he halted and looked back to the school.

“Aye! God bless you, lassie!” was his whisper. “May He keep the light o’ laughter always in your bonny eyes! Always!”

The proud form that vanished into the trees was not unlike the strong young Apollo who wooed the dainty Kitty Belaire. Old Ed. Pullar was putting up a fight, the stress of which was known to only two. Ned realized it by the insight of his great affection; and Mary by the tender intuition of her woman’s heart.

XIV

BEHIND THE GREEN BAIZE DOOR.

IT WAS December, but the balm of the bright days belied the season. The fall had elongated into a second springhood and save for a crispness in the evening air it might have been April. Then, with the sudden vagary of prairie weather, came a change. It was three days after the reception of the invitation to the luncheon. The morning opened up with the mellow warmth of Indian summer. Ned Pullar and his father carried their light overcoats upon their arms as they boarded the seventhirty for the long ride to the City. An hour later a chill breath swept down from the north and winter was on. Before their journey was half completed the yellow and black landscape had given place to a truly December white.

Winter assumed the reins of power by the grand inaugural of a considerable blizzard. The wind was not as riotous and gusty as in the dreaded storm but steady and cold, snowing heavily and driving a close, surface blow. Night drew down the curtain with the temperature slightly lower, the breeze unabated in its mild steadiness and the snow falling in a thickening sheet. With the stars blanketed by heavy clouds and the moon stark dead the night was black. The white covering of snow made little difference to the impenetrable pall.

Pellawa was unusually quiet though a few hardy pedestrians braved the deepening drifts. Louie Swale’s joint, however, boasted a small and interesting crowd. About the bar were some familiar faces, Snoopy Bill Báird, Nick Ford and other members of McClure’«

Gang. The Green Baize Door was shut. Two men occupied the privacy of the “Square Room,” sitting on opposite sides of the table, each with his amberhued flask. Rob McClure was plainly on the defensive, withstanding some daring proposition being urged by Reddy Sykes. Their frequent swigs were beginning to undermine McClure’s scepticism.

“You think this Red Knight wheat, as you call it, is no hoax,” said Rob.

“It’s the real goods,” averred Sykes positively. “Pullar has tested it for years and the experts in the University have pronounced it O. K. That is why Ned and the old man are toting into the City. It is good enough to be valued by Ned at one hundred dollars a bushel. They tell me John T. C. Norrgrene is interested in this thing himself. This wheat is due to cause a sensation with the result that Ned Pullar’s stock goes up higher in the community as well as somewhere else. Ned Pullar’s a mighty clever gink and I have a hunch that he has nothing on his old man. They’ve hit it lucky. The Red Knight is a gold mine to them.”

McClure scowled.

“Grant that there’s anything in it, how do you propose to get hold of the wheat? Four hundred bushels is a big thing to lift.”

“Easy when you go about it right. I’ve got it whittled to a hair trigger. Touch it and away she comes. You want to clap your claws on Pullar. Here is your chance to sink ’em deep. That four hundred bushels of Red Knight means more to old Ed. Pullar than his farm, stock and the whole works. He’s doting on it. That makes it mean still more to Ned. Here is your chance to hand Pullar and Son a dizzy one.”

Sykes paused a moment while he took a long drink. McClure pondered the j proposition with a face that grew craftier the longer he simmered. His cogitations were suspended suddenly, however, by an innovation in the features of his companion. The pull of liquor had provoked immediate result, altering Sykes’ countenance and causing a sudden expansion of his confidence. With his face overspread by a secretive leer he leaned closer and whispered :

“ I haven’t let it loose before, Rob, but I have a red-hot grudge against your friend Pullar. That party has cut into my trail three or four times in as many years. We’ve locked horns before but the breaks went to him. His luck takes a sag to-night. There are three ways we can beat him up. We can get him through the old man in the way we’ve been figuring. This would cripple him for fair, but we’ve got to wait for our chance. It will come. The next best bet is a raid on the Red Knight. This thing is bigger than you are reckoning. Relieve him of this bunch of seed wheat and what have we done? We take forty thousand dollars out of his pocket and smother the one big howl of the old man’s life. I am for putting over this surprise right off the bat.”

He paused. McClure waited patiently.

“Go on,” said Rob. “Give us your third bullet. It may do the trick alone. What is it?”

At the query Sykes’ face changed in a manner that surprised even his hardened colleague. The unscrupulous plotter became a fiend repulsively malicious. From his eyes shot a jealous malignity, while upon every muscle of his face outcropped the pure depravity of hate. The mask had inadvertently slipped. Instinctively Sykes caught himself and replaced it. As McClure continued to search his face he realized that his companion was wearing his usual inscrutable smile. He could scarcely believe that the fiendish thing had disclosed itself.

“Never mind number three,” said Sykes. “This is not a good time to consider it. It will be useful later.”

McClure looked at him askance. The fellow possessed a knowledge that baffled him. A vague uneasiness crept into his mind, a premonition warning him of the man. Sykes realized that he had jeopardized matters not a little and exercised all his congenial graces to destroy the effect on the mind of his companion. He turned adroitly to levity and the flask and very soon they

were on the old footing of boon companionship.

“We must get hold of the Red Knight,” said McClure, swinging suddenly in line under the spell of the odorous whiskey. “And the sooner, the better.”

“To-night!” announced Sykes with a fierce shutting of his jaws.

McClure looked surprised.

“It’s blowing a blizzard,” was his objection. “And it’s a good ten mile run."

“The kind of night I should select to kill a man,” returned the other. “I could slip up to him out of the storm, pass him out and drop into the blizzard again. The snow would obligingly cover all trails. It is now eight o’clock. Bill Baird and his men are ready, six teams all told. They will pull the little raid at twelve. Each man will have a sleigh with double box and no bells. They will slip up the Valley along Pullar’s hay trail to his barnyard, coming in from the field instead of road. The wheat is all located—two hundred bushels in the house, a hundred in the granary and the balance in a portable bin in the southeast quarter.”

“But Blackford is at the house. He’ll put up a scrap. You can’t pull Dad’s leg. He’ll make a mess of it.”

“We’ve arranged to put the old bloke away while the fun is on and it won’t need any rough work. Leave Blackford to me.”

“But they’ll drop on us instantly without a clue. They’ll search my farm and the elevators and every building in Pellawa.”

Sykes threw back his head in glee.

“You’re late coming into the game, Rob. That’s the trouble!” And he poked the other playfully on the chest. “We are not bringing the wheat in here. Oh, no. There is Old Hunt’s, the Squatter’s shack. It is water tight and drift tight and has not been used since the old geezer kicked out two years ago. The boys will drop the stuff there and we can market it by degrees through the winter. We’ll hush up the detective stunt with an alibi, an alibi that will cover the honour of eight good men. Here’s the how. The gang’s with Louie now. When we are ready they come in here for an all-night deal. Louie and the crowd see them enter. We let them out quietly through the rear into the dark. They sneak through the snow and do the job and turn up here in the wee sma’ hours. Louie will not disturb the Square Room. But he can swear that we held it for the night. We’ll make it worth his while. There you are. But the alibi will not be needed at all. The blizzard will blind the trail and pad the whole event. This storm will cover over any tracks in ten minutes. It is getting late and the men are waiting.”

Sykes paused significantly.

“Call them in,” said McClure, rubbing his hands in glee. “You are a wonder, Red! We’ll send them on the smart

The Green Baize Door opened and closed a few minutes later on the full gang of plotters . After being put through a detailed rehearsal of Sykes’ plan they drank a copious draft to the success of the adventure.

“This will be a come-back on that blankety Hallowe’en foul,” said Snoopy Bill with an avenging grin. “We’ll proceed to tap Pullar a little for his fun.”

The remark was followed by a chorus of curses that revealed the rankle of revenge. This motive was the sleeping thing Sykes had roused in his playing of the gang.

“You’ll reach Pullar’s farm around twelve,” concluded Sykes. “A halfhour should see you loaded for the haul to Hunt’s. You’ll be back here by four. Come in quietly.”

Thus adjured, Snoopy Bill and his men, stealing out through the rear, vanished into the darkness and set off on their expedition.

XV

ONE BLACK NIGHT

DAD BLACKFORD was late in doing up the chores, for the snow had presented him with some unforeseen problems, hampering greatly the bedding and

feeding. Not until everything was snug from the storm did he begin to indulge in his evening solace. While dreaming amid the blue circles of smoke there came to him Ned’s admonition about the Red Knight. It was his last word.

“See that no harm comes to tb:> Red Knight, Dad,” was Ned’s laughing caution. “It is the one thing on the farm that Dad would not part with.”

“Ah!” said the old man with sudden decision, “I maun take a turn hout to the barn. The snow moight ’arm the bonny corn.”

Lighting his lantern he went out and was gratified to find that the grain was snugly secure. When he came in he went to his room where lay the two hundred bushels. Opening the door he flashed his lantern about. Here, too, ail was weather-tight. At sight of the pile of wonderful wheat he exclaimed in admiration. Picking up a handful he held it close to the light.

“’Ee’s wealthy-loike!” said the old man, caressing the plump brown grains with his fingers. “Ee’s the fat corn und ’evvy! The old un’ll make a pile

Shutting the door he returned to his pipe and dreamed of visions of riches in store for Ned and his father, his innocent old face glowing with pleasure at the contemplation of their good fortune. Rising at length he went to the door, took a long look out into the black night, then shut it carefully and retired to his bed.

It was nearing the hour of midnight when he was aroused from sleep by a thumping upon the door. Rising he threw up the sash and looked down.

“Hello! Is that Mr. Blackford?” called an anxious voice.

“Hit be,” was the succinct response.

“I am from Jake McCarragh’s. One of his mares is down and he wants you to come over and give us a hand.”

“Ah! ’Ee’s a ’orse sick. Ah’ll coome along,” was the response.

“I’m on the hike,” said the voicj below “I’ll foot it back on tne douole quick and help Jake. You hurry after as fast as you can.”

The case was evidently urgent.

“Hal roight, go a’ead. Ah’ll be along,” replied the old man, hastening to dress.

In a short time he was ready and stepped out into the storm, trudging down the lane and off into the north with the blizzard in his face. He did not hear the muffled beat of galloping hoofs as he emerged into the road-allowance.

As we have mentioned before, there were pedestrians about the drifted streets of Pellawa. One of these venturesome wanderers was the little French bagger of the Valley Outfit, Jean Benoit. He had come to Pellawa in the morning and untoward obstructions had kept him from setting out on his return home. He was still “hung up” and was plunging impatiently through the drifts with determination to make a swift wind up of business when he heard a voice down the lane to his right.

“You are sure Pullar’s away?” came clearly through the storm.

“Went in on the morning train with the old man,” replied another voice.

Jean halted. The mention of Pullar had awakened his curiosity.

“I’d hate to run into the Valley boss. He’s a bang-up hitter.”

"No danger. We're squaring with Pullar to-night. He’ll never know who pinched his wheat.”

At this point a mutual laugli came through the darkness.

"You meet me with the others at Morrison's bluff. That’s the line, eh?” "Righto! We’ll slip into Pullar’s yard about twelve. So long.”

There was no more. The men had passed on. Jean lingered. He had not caught the full significance of the brief dialogue, for he could not hear every word and the English troubled him in places. He pieced enough together, however, to conclude that some foul work was meditated against Ned. He held his counsel and rushed through preparations for departure. As he took the South Cut in his descent into the Valley he saw a light in the Grant home. So agitated had he become in his review of the incident in the village -that he decided to lay the matter before Charles Grant.

The farmer was in bed, but at his knock a light step tripped down the stairs and Margaret opened the door. She invited him in. Grant was promptly aroused and evidenced serious perturbation at Jean’s story.

“I am afraid there is some devilment afoot,” was his comment. “You say there may be a big gang at work?” “Wan, two, tree, four! Mebbe other! I do not know. I tink many.”

“Can it be an attempt to steal Mr. Pullar’s new wheat?” ventured Margaret. “Mary has been telling me much about it. I saw her to-day. Ned and his father have gone into the City at the call of John T. C. Norrgrene.” “It may be that, lass,” agreed her father. “Jean’s tale points that way.” “They are after the Red Knight!” said Margaret with intuitive conviction. “It is a terrible night. What can poor old Dad Blackford do against a gang of daring thieves?”

“We’ll take a hand in it ourselves,” said Grant gTimly. “Jean, you take the south trail and let Easy Murphy know. I’ll dress and pick up Lawrie

“I’ll saddle Flash, Dad,” interrunted Margaret. “I’m all ready. I can ride over and let Andy know.”

Grant looked at the girl a second, considering.

“Very well, lass! Do it,” said her father with a smile. “Ye’re good for it and there is not any time to waste. Be careful, for the night is dark.” Before her father had reached the stable Margaret was in the saddle and

Andy was easily aroused and in an incredibly short time was astride Night.

“You ride back home,” directed he to Margaret. “I’ll push Night through. It is half-past eleven and we have four miles to run. I may be in time to scare them off. Your Dad and the others will be right on my heels.” With a farewell shout he plunged into the storm. The sound of Night’s speeding hoofs smote her ears then died away. Reluctantly she turned Flash for home and trotted off. They had proceeded but a few rods when she reined him in and halted abruptly, loitering irresolute.

’“Come, Flash! About!” was her stalden command. “We’ll l>e in it. too.” Wheeling her mount she sent him at a gallop after Night and his rider.

(To he Continued)