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Held Up By Mr Kelly








From: Her Prairie Knight

"'Traveler, what lies over the hill?'" questioned a mischievous voice.

Keith, dreaming along a winding, rock-strewn trail in the canyon, looked
up quickly and beheld his Heart's Desire sitting calmly upon her horse,
ten feet before Redcloud's nose, watching him amusedly. Redcloud must
have been dreaming also, or he would have whinnied warning and welcome,
with the same breath.

"'Traveler, tell to me,'" she went on, seeing Keith only stared.

Keith, not to be outdone, searched his memory hurriedly for the reply
which should rightly follow; secretly he was amazed at her sudden
friendliness.

"'Child, there's a valley over there'--but it isn't 'pretty and wooded
and shy'--not what you can notice. And there isn't any 'little town,'
either, unless you go a long way. Why?" Keith rested his gloved hands,
one above the other, on the saddle horn, and let his eyes riot with the
love that was in him. He had not seen his Heart's Desire for a week. A
week? It seemed a thousand years! And here she was before him, unusually
gracious.

"Why? I discovered that hill two hours ago, it seems to me, and it
wasn't more than a mile off. I want to see what lies on the other side.
I feel sure no man ever stood upon the top and looked down. It is my
hill--mine by the right of discovery. But I've been going, and going,
and I think it's rather farther away, if anything, than it was before."

"Good thing I met you'" Keith declared, and he looked as if he meant it.
"You're probably lost, right now, and don't know it. Which way is home?"

Beatrice smiled a superior smile, and pointed.

"I thought so," grinned Keith joyously. "You're pointing straight toward
Claggett."

"It doesn't matter," said Beatrice, "since you know, and you're here.
The important thing is to get to the top of that hill."

"What for?" Keith questioned.

"Why, to be there!" Beatrice opened her big eyes at him. "That," she
declared whimsically, "is the top of the world, and it is mine. I found
it. I want to go up there and look down."

"It's an unmerciful climb," Keith demurred hypocritically, to strengthen
her resolution.

"All the better. I don't value what comes easily."

"You won't see anything, except more hills."

"I love hills--and more hills."

"You're a long way from home, and it's after one o'clock."

"I have a lunch with me, and I often stay out until dinner time."

Keith gave a sigh that shook the saddle, making up, in volume, what
it lacked in sincerity. The blood in him was a-jump at the prospect of
leading his Heart's Desire up next the clouds--up where the world was
yet young. A man in love is fond of self-torture.

"I have not said you must go." Beatrice answered with the sigh.

"You don't have to," he retorted. "It is a self evident fact. Who wants
to go prowling around these hills by night, with a lantern that smokes
an' has an evil smell, losing sleep and yowling like a bunch of coyotes,
hunting a misguided young woman who thinks north is south, and can't
point straight up?"

"You draw a flattering picture, Mr. Cameron."

"It's realistic. Do you still insist upon getting up there, for the
doubtful pleasure of looking down?" Secretly, he hoped so.

"Certainly."

"Then I shall go with you."

"You need not. I can go very well by myself, Mr. Cameron."

Beatrice was something of a hypocrite herself.

"I shall go where duty points the way."

"I hope it points toward home, then."

"It doesn't, though. It takes the trail you take."

"I never yet allowed my wishes to masquerade as Disagreeable Duty, with
two big D's," she told him tartly, and started off.

"Say! If you're going up that hill, this is the trail. You'll bump up
against a straight cliff if you follow that path."

Beatrice turned with seeming reluctance and allowed him to guide her,
just as she had intended he should do.

"Dick tells me you have been away," she began suavely.

"Yes. I've just got back from Fort Belknap," he explained quietly,
though he must have known his absence had been construed differently.
"I've rented pasturage on the reservation for every hoof I own. Great
grass over there--the whole prairie like a hay meadow, almost, and
little streams everywhere."

"You are very fortunate," Beatrice remarked politely.

"Luck ought to come my way once in a while. I don't seem to get more
than my share, though."

"Dick will be glad to know you have a good range for your cattle, Mr.
Cameron."

"I expect he will. You may tell him, for me, that Jim Worthington--he's
the agent over there, and was in college with us--says I can have my
cattle there as long as he's running the place."

"Why not tell him yourself?" Beatrice asked.

"I don't expect to be over to the Pool ranch for a while." Keith's tone
was significant, and Beatrice dropped the subject.

"Been fishing lately?" he asked easily, as though he had not left her
that day in a miff. "No. Dorman is fickle, like all male creatures.
Dick brought him two little brown puppies the other day, and now he can
hardly be dragged from the woodshed to his meals. I believe he would eat
and sleep with them if his auntie would allow him to."

The trail narrowed there, and they were obliged to ride single file,
which was not favorable to conversation. Thus far, Beatrice thought, she
was a long way from winning her wager; but she did not worry--she looked
up to where the hill towered above them, and smiled.

"We'll have to get off and lead our horses over this spur," he told her,
at last. "Once on the other side, we can begin to climb. Still in the
humor to tackle it?"

"To be sure I am. After all this trouble I shall not turn back."

"All right," said Keith, inwardly shouting. If his Heart's Desire wished
to take a climb that would last a good two hours, he was not there to
object. He led her up a steep, rock-strewn ridge and into a hollow. From
there the hill sloped smoothly upward.

"I'll just anchor these cayuses to a rock, to make dead-sure of them,"
Keith remarked. "It wouldn't be fun to be set afoot out here; now, would
it? How would you like the job of walking home, eh?"

"I don't think I'd enjoy it much," Beatrice said, showing her one dimple
conspicuously. "I'd rather ride."

"Throw up your hands!" growled a voice from somewhere.

Keith wheeled toward the sound, and a bullet spatted into the yellow
clay, two inches from the toe of his boot. Also, a rifle cracked
sharply. He took the hint, and put his hands immediately on a level with
his hat crown.

"No use," he called out ruefully. "I haven't anything to return the
compliment with."

"Well, I've got t' have the papers fur that, mister," retorted the
voice, and a man appeared from the shelter of a rock and came slowly
down to them--a man, long-legged and lank, with haggard, unshaven face
and eyes that had hunger and dogged endurance looking out. He picked his
way carefully with his feet, his eyes and the rifle fixed unswervingly
at the two. Beatrice was too astonished to make a sound.

"What sort of a hold-up do you call this?" demanded Keith hotly, his
hands itching to be down and busy. "We don't carry rolls of money around
in the hills, you fool!"

"Oh, damn your money!" the man said roughly. "I've got money t' burn.
I want t' trade horses with yuh. That roan, there, looks like a stayer.
I'll take him."

"Well, seeing you seem to be head push here, I guess it's a trade,"
Keith answered. "But I'll thank you for my own saddle."

Beatrice, whose hands were up beside her ears, and not an inch higher,
changed from amazed curiosity to concern. "Oh, you mustn't take Redcloud
away from Mr. Cameron!" she protested. "You don't know--he's so fond
of that horse! You may take mine; he's a good horse--he's a perfectly
splendid horse, but I--I'm not so attached to him."

The fellow stopped and looked at her--not, however, forgetting Keith,
who was growing restive. Beatrice's cheeks were very pink, and her eyes
were bright and big and earnest. He could not look into them without
letting some of the sternness drop out of his own.

"I wish you'd please take Rex--I'd rather trade than not," she coaxed.
When Beatrice coaxed, mere man must yield or run. The fellow was but
human, and he was not in a position to run, so he grinned and wavered.

"It's fair to say you'll get done," he remarked, his eyes upon the
odd little dimple at the corner of her mouth, as if he had never seen
anything quite so fetching.

"Your horse won't cr--buck, will he?" she ventured doubtfully. This was
her first horse trade, and it behooved her to be cautious, even at the
point of a rifle.

"Well, no," said the man laconically; "he won't. He's dead."

"Oh!" Beatrice gasped and blushed. She might have known, she thought,
that the fellow would not take all this trouble if his horse was in a
condition to buck. Then: "My elbows hurt. I--I think I should like to
sit down."

"Sure," said the man politely. "Make yourself comfortable. I ain't used
t' dealin' with ladies. But you got t' set still, yuh know, and not try
any tricks. I can put up a mighty swift gun play when I need to--and
your bein' a lady wouldn't cut no ice in a case uh that kind."

"Thank you." Beatrice sat down upon the nearest rock, folded her hands
meekly and looked from him to Keith, who seethed to claim a good deal of
the man's attention. She observed that, at a long breath from Keith, his
captor was instantly alert.

"Maybe your elbows ache, too," he remarked dryly. "They'll git over it,
though; I've knowed a man t' grab at the clouds upwards of an hour, an'
no harm done."

"That's encouraging, I'm sure." Keith shifted to the other foot.

"How's that sorrel?" demanded the man. "Can he go?"

Keith hesitated a second.

"Indeed he can go!" put in Beatrice eagerly. "He's every bit as good as
Redcloud."

"Is that sorrel yours?" The man's eyes shifted briefly to her face.

"No-o." Beatrice, thinking how she had meant to own him, blushed.

"That accounts for it." He laughed unpleasantly. "I wondered why you was
so dead anxious t' have me take him."

The eyes of Beatrice snapped sparks at him, but her manner was demure,
not to say meek. "He belongs to my brother," she explained, "and my
brother has dozens of good saddle-horses. Mr. Cameron's horse is a pet.
It's different when a horse follows you all over the place and fairly
talks to you. He'll shake hands, and--"

"Uh-huh, I see the point, I guess. What d'yuh say, kid?"

Keith might seem boyish, but he did not enjoy being addressed as "kid."
He was twenty-eight years old, whether he looked it or not.

"I say this: If you take my horse, I'll kill you. I'll have twenty-five
cow-punchers camping on your trail before sundown. If you take this
girl's horse, I'll do the same."

The man shut his lips in a thin line.

"No, he won't!" cried Beatrice, leaning forward. "Don't mind a thing he
says! You can't expect a man to keep his temper with his hands up in the
air like that. You take Rex, and I'll promise for Mr. Cameron."

"Trix--Miss Lansell!"--sternly.

"I promise you he won't do a thing," she went on firmly. "He--he isn't
half as fierce, really, as--as he looks."

Keith's face got red.

The man laughed a little. Evidently the situation amused him, whether
the others could see the humor of it or not. "So I'm to have your
cayuse, eh?"

Keith saw two big tears tipping over her lower lids, and gritted his
teeth.

"Well, it ain't often I git a chance t' please a lady," the fellow
decided. "I guess Rex'll do, all right. Go over and change saddles,
youngster--and don't git gay. I've got the drop, and yuh notice I'm
keeping it."

"Are you going to take his saddle?" Beatrice stood up and clenched her
hands, looking very much as if she would like to pull his hair. Keith in
trouble appealed to her strangely.

"Sure thing. It's a peach, from the look of it. Mine's over the hill a
piece. Step along there, kid! I want t' be movin'."

"You'll need to go some!" flared Keith, over his shoulder.

"I expect t' go some," retorted the man. "A fellow with three sheriff's
posses campin' on his trail ain't apt t' loiter none."

"Oh!" Beatrice sat down and stared. "Then you must be--"

"Yep," the fellow laughed recklessly. "You ca, tell your maw yuh met up
with Kelly, the darin' train-robber. I wouldn't be s'prised if she close
herded yuh fer a spell till her scare wears off. Bu I've hung around
these parts long enough. I fooled them sheriffs a-plenty, stayin' here.
Gee! you'r' swift--I don't think!" This last sentence was directed at
Keith, who was putting a snail to shame, and making it appear he was in
a hurry.

"Git a move on!" commanded Kelly, threatening with his eyes.

Keith wisely made no reply--nor did he show any symptoms of haste,
despite the menacing tone Slowly he pulled his saddle off Redcloud,
and carefully he placed it upon the ground. When a fellow lives in
his saddle, almost, he comes to think a great deal of it, and he is
reluctant under any circumstances, to surrender it to another; to have
a man deliberately confiscate it with the authority which lies in a lump
of lead the size of a child thumb is not pleasant.

Through Keith's brain flashed a dozen impracticable plans, and one that
offered a slender--very slender--chance of success. If he could get
a little closer! He moved over beside Rex an unbuckling the cinch of
Beatrice's saddle, pulled it sullenly off.

"Now, put your saddle on that there Rex horse, and cinch it tight!"

Keith picked up the saddle--his saddle, and threw it across Rex's back,
raging inwardly at his helplessness. To lose his saddle worse, to let
Beatrice lose her horse. Lord! a pretty figure he must cut in her eyes!

"Dry weather we're havin'," Kelly remarked politely to Beatrice;
without, however, looking in her direction. "Prairie fires are gittin'
t' be the regular thing, I notice."

Beatrice studied his face, and found no ulterior purpose for the words.

"Yes," she agreed, as pleasantly as she could, in view of the
disquieting circumstances. "I helped fight a prairie-fire last week over
this way. We were out all night."

"Prairie-fires is mean things t' handle, oncet they git started. I
always hate t' see 'em git hold of the grass. What fire was that you
mention?"

Beatrice glanced toward Keith, and was thankful his back was turned to
her. But a quick suspicion had come to her, and she went steadily on
with the subject.

"It was the Pine Ridge country. It started very mysteriously."

"It wasn't no mystery t' me." Kelly laughed grimly. "I started that
there blaze myself accidentally. I throwed a cigarette down, thinkin'
it had gone out. After a while I seen a blaze where I'd jest left, but
I didn't have no license t' go back an' put it out--my orders was to git
out uh that. I seen the sky all lit up that night. Kid, are yuh goin' t'
sleep?"

Keith started. He had been listening, and thanking his lucky star that
Beatrice was listening also. If she had suspected him of setting the
range afire, she knew better now. A weight lifted off Keith's shoulders,
and he stood a bit straighter; those chance words meant a great deal
to him, and he felt that he would not grudge his saddle in payment. But
Rex--that was another matter. Beatrice should not lose him if he could
prevent it; still, what could he do?

He might turn and spring upon Kelly, but in the meantime Kelly would
not be idle; he would probably be pumping bullets out of the rifle into
Keith's body--and he would still have the horse. He stole a glance at
Beatrice, and went hot all over at what he thought he read in her eyes.
For once he was not glad to be near his Heart's Desire; he wished her
elsewhere--anywhere but sitting on that rock, over there, with her
little, gloved hands folded quietly in her lap, and that adorable,
demure look on her face--the look which would have put her mother
instantly upon the defensive--and a gleam in her eyes Keith read for
scorn.

Surely he might do something! Barely six feet now separated him from
Kelly. If one of those lumps of rock that strewed the ground was in
his hand--he stooped to reach under Rex's body for the cinch, and could
almost feel Kelly's eyes boring into his back. A false move--well, Keith
had heard of Kelly a good many times; if this fellow was really the
man he claimed to be, Keith did not need to guess what would follow a
suspicious move; he knew. He looked stealthily toward him, and Kelly's
eyes met his with a gleam sinister.

Kelly grinned. "I wouldn't, kid," he said softly.

Keith swore in a whisper, and his fingers closed upon the cinch. It was
no use to fight the devil with cunning, he thought, bitterly.

Just then Beatrice gave an unearthly screech, that made the horses'
knees bend under them. When Keith whirled to see what it was, she was
standing upon the rock, with her skirts held tightly around her, like
the pictures of women when a mouse gets into the room.

"Oh, Mr. Cameron! A sn-a-a-ke!"

Came a metallic br-r-r, the unmistakable war cry of the rattler. Into
Kelly's eyes came a look of fear, and he sidled gingerly. The buzz had
sounded unpleasantly close to his heels. For one brief instant the cold
eye of his rifle regarded harmlessly the hillside. During that instant a
goodly piece of sandstone whinged under his jaw, and he went down, with
Keith upon him like a mountain lion. The latter snatched the rifle
and got up hurriedly, for he had not forgotten the rattler. Kelly lay
looking up at him in a dazed way that might have been funny at any other
time.

"I wondered if you were good at grasping opportunities," said Beatrice.
When he looked, there she was, sitting down on the rock, with her
little, gloved hands folded in her lap, and that adorable demure look on
her face; and a gleam in her eyes he knew was not scorn, though he could
not rightly tell what it really did mean.

Keith wondered at her vaguely, but a man can't have his mind on a dozen
things at once. It was important that he keep a sharp watch on Kelly,
and his eyes were searching for a gleaming, gray spotted coil which he
felt to be near.

"You needn't look, Mr. Cameron. There isn't any snake. It--it was I."

"You!" Keith's jaw dropped.

"Look out, Mr. Cameron. It wouldn't work a second time, I'm afraid."

Keith turned back before Kelly had more than got to his elbow; plainly
Kelly was not feeling well just then. He looked unhappy, and rather
sick.

"If you'll hand me the gun, Mr. Cameron, I think I can hold it steady
while you fix the saddles. And then we'll go home. I--I don't think I
really care to climb the hill."

What Keith wanted to do was to take her in his arms and kiss her till
he was tired. What he did do was back toward her, and let her take the
rifle quickly and deftly from his hands. She rested the gun upon
her knee, and brought it to bear upon Mr. Kelly with a composure not
assuring to that gentleman, and she tried to look as if she really and
truly would shoot a man--and managed to look only the more kissable.

"Don't squirm, Mr. Kelly. I won't bite, if I do buzz sometimes."

Kelly stared at her meditatively a minute, and said: "Well, I'll be
damned!"

Keith looked at her also, but he did not say anything.

The way he slapped his saddle back upon Redcloud and cinched it, and
saddled Rex, was a pretty exhibition of precision and speed, learned in
roundup camps. Kelly watched him grimly.

"I knowed you wasn't as swift as yuh knew how 't be, a while back,"
he commented. "I've got this t' say fur you two: You're a little the
toughest proposition I ever run up ag'inst--and I've been up ag'inst it
good and plenty."

"Thanks," Keith said cheerfully. "You'd better take Rex now and go
ahead, Miss Lansell. I'll take that gun and look after this fellow. Get
up, Kelly."

"What are you going to do with him?"

Kelly got unsteadily upon his feet. Beatrice looked at him, and then at
Keith. She asked a question.

"March him home, and send him in to the nearest sheriff." Keith was
businesslike, and his tone was crisp.

Beatrice's eyes turned again to Kelly. He did not whine, or beg, or
even curse. He stood looking straight before him, at something only his
memory could see, and in his face was weariness, and a deep loneliness,
and a certain, grim despair. There was an ugly bruise where the rock had
struck, but the rest of his face was drawn and white.

"If you do that," cried Beatrice, in a voice hardly more than a fierce
whisper, "I shall hate you always. You are not a man-hunter. Let him
stay here, and take his chance in the hills."

Keith was not a hard man to persuade into being merciful. "It's easy
enough to say yes, Miss Lansell. I always was chicken-hearted when a
fellow seemed down on his luck. You can stay here, Kelly--I don't want
you, anyway." He laughed boyishly and irresponsibly, for he felt that
Kelly had done him a service that day.

Beatrice flashed him a smile that went to his head and made him dizzy,
and took up Rex's bridle rein. She hesitated, looked doubtfully at
Kelly, who stood waiting stoically, and turned to her saddle. She untied
a bundle and went quickly over to him.

"You--I don't want my lunch, after all. I'm going home now. I--I want
you to take it, please. There are some sandwiches--with veal loaf, that
Looey Sam makes deliciously--and some cake. I--I wish it was more. I
know you'll like the veal loaf."

Kelly looked down at her, and God knows what thoughts were in his mind.
He did not answer her with words; he just swallowed hard.

"Poor devil!" was what Keith said to himself, and the gun he was holding
threatened, for a minute, to wing a cloud.

Beatrice laid the package in Kelly's unresisting hand, looked up into
his averted face and said simply: "Good-by, Mr. Kelly."

After that she hurried Rex up the steep ridge much faster than she
had gone down it, endangering his bones and putting herself very empty
lunged.

At the top of the ridge Keith stopped and looked down.

"Hi, Kelly!"

Kelly showed that he heard.

"Here's your gun, on this rock. You can come up and get it, if you want
to. And--say! I've got a few broke horses ranging down here somewhere.
VN brand, on left shoulder. I won't scour the hills, very bad, if I
should happen to miss a cayuse. So long!"

Kelly waved his hand for farewell.





Next: Keith's Masterful Wooing

Previous: Sir Redmond Waits His Answer



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