Read CHAPTER II - MOSQUITO BEND of The Night Riders A Romance of Early Montana , free online book, by Ridgwell Cullum, on ReadCentral.com.

Forks died away in a shimmering haze of heat as Tresler rode out over the hard prairie trail.  Ten miles they had told him it was to Mosquito Bend; a ten-mile continuation of the undulating plains he had now grown accustomed to.  He allowed his horse to take it leisurely.  There was no great hurry for an early arrival.

John Tresler had done what many an enterprising youngster from the New England States has done since.  At the age of twenty-five, finding himself, after his university career at Harvard, with an excellent training in all athletics, particularly boxing and wrestling and all those games pertaining to the noble art of self-defense, but with only a limited proficiency in matters relating to the earning of an adequate living, he had decided to break new ground for himself on the prairie-lands of the West.  Stock-raising was his object, and, to this end, he had sought out a ranch where he could thoroughly master the craft before embarking on his own enterprise.

It was through official channels that he had heard of Mosquito Bend as one of the largest ranches in the country at the time, and he had at once entered into negotiations with the owner, Julian Marbolt, for a period of instruction.  His present journey was the result.

He thought a good deal as his horse ambled over that ten miles.  He weighed the stories he had heard from Shaky, and picked them threadbare.  He reduced his efforts to a few pointed conclusions.  Things were decidedly rough at Mosquito Bend.  Probably the brutality was a case of brute force pitted against brute force he had taken into consideration the well-known disposition of the Western cowpuncher and, as such, a matter of regretable necessity for the governing of the place.  Shaky had in some way fallen foul of the master and foreman and had allowed personal feelings to warp his judgment.  And, lastly, taking his “greenness” into account, he had piled up the agony simply from the native love of the “old hand” for scaring a newcomer.

Tresler was no weakling or he would never have set out to shape his own course as he was now doing.  He was a man of considerable purpose, self-reliant and reasonable, with sufficient easy good-nature to be compatible with strength.  He liked his own experiences too, though he never scorned the experiences of another.  Slum had sized him up pretty shrewdly when he said “he’ll bob out on top like a cork in a water bar’l,” but he had not altogether done him full justice.

The southwestern trail headed slantwise for the mountains, which snowy barrier bounded his vision to the west the whole of his journey.  He had watched the distant white-capped ramparts until their novelty had worn off, and now he took their presence as a matter of course.  His eyes came back to the wide, almost limitless plains about him, and he longed for the sight of a tree, a river, even a cultivated patch of nodding wheat.  But there was just nothing but the lank, tawny grass for miles and miles, and the blazing sunlight that scorched him and baked gray streaks of dusty sweat on his horse’s shoulders and flanks.

He rode along dreaming, as no doubt hundreds of others have dreamt before and since.  There was nothing new or original about his dreams, for he was not a man given to romance.  He was too direct and practical for that.  No, his were just the thoughts of a young man who has left his home, which thereby gains in beauty as distance lends enchantment to it, and kindly recollection crowns it with a glory that it could never in reality possess.

Without indication or warning, he came upon one of those strangely hidden valleys in which the prairie near the Rockies abounds.  He found himself at the edge of it, gazing down upon a wide woodland-bound river, which wound away to the east and west like the trail of some prehistoric monster.  The murmur of the flowing waters came to him with such a suggestion of coolness and shade that, for the first time on his long journey from Whitewater, he was made to forget the park-like beauties of his own native land.

There was a delightful variation of color in the foliage down there.  Such a density of shadow, such a brilliancy.  And a refreshing breeze was rustling over the tree-tops, a breath he had longed for on the plains but had never felt.  The opposite side was lower.  He stood on a sort of giant step.  A wall that divided the country beyond from the country he was leaving.  A wall that seemed to isolate those who might live down there and shut them out as though theirs was another world.

He touched his horse’s flanks, and, with careful, stilted steps, the animal began the descent.  And now he speculated as to the whereabouts of the ranch, for he knew that this was the Mosquito River, and somewhere upon its banks stood his future home.  As he thought of this he laughed.  His future home; well, judging by what he had been told, it would certainly possess the charm of novelty.

He was forced to give up further speculation for a while.  The trail descended so sharply that his horse had to sidle down it, and the loose shingle under its feet set it sliding and slipping dangerously.

In a quarter of an hour he drew up on the river bank and looked about him.  Whither?  That was the question.  He was at four crossroads.  East and west, along the river bank; and north and south, the way he had come and across the water.

Along the bank the woods were thick and dark, and the trail split them like the aisle of an aged Gothic church.  The surface of red sand was hard, but there were marks of traffic upon it.  Then he looked across the river at the distant rolling plains.

“Of course,” he said aloud.  “Who’s going to build a ranch on this side?  Where could the cattle run?”

And he put his horse at the water and waded across without further hesitation.  Beyond the river the road bent away sharply to the right, and cut through a wide avenue of enormous pine trees, and along this he bustled his horse.  Half a mile further on the avenue widened.  The solemn depths about him lightened, and patches of sunlight shone down into them and lit up the matted underlay of rotting cones and pine-needles which covered the earth.

The road bent sharply away from the river, revealing a scrub of low bush decorated with a collection of white garments, evidently set out to dry.  His horse shied at the unusual sight, and furthermore took exception to the raucous sound of a man’s voice chanting a dismal melody, somewhere away down by the river on his right.

In this direction he observed a cattle-path.  And the sight of it suggested ascertaining the identity of the doleful minstrel.  No doubt this man could give him the information he needed.  He turned off the road and plunged into scrub.  And at the river bank he came upon a curious scene.  There was a sandy break in the bush, and the bank sloped gradually to the water’s edge.  Three or four wash-tubs, grouped together in a semicircle, stood on wooden trestles, and a quaint-looking little man was bending over one of them washing clothes, rubbing and beating a handful of garments on a board like any washerwoman.  His back was turned to the path, and he faced the river.  On his right stood an iron furnace and boiler, with steam escaping from under the lid.  And all around him the bushes were hung with drying clothes.

“Hello!” cried Tresler, as he slipped to the ground.

“Holy smoke!”

The scrubbing and banging had ceased, and the most curiously twisted face Tresler had ever seen glanced back over the man’s bowed shoulder.  A red, perspiring face, tufted at the point of the chin with a knot of gray whisker, a pair of keen gray eyes, and a mouth yes, it was the mouth that held Tresler’s attention.  It went up on one side, and had somehow got mixed up with his cheek, while a suggestion of it was continued by means of a dark red scar right up to the left eye.

For a second or two Tresler could not speak, he was so astonished, so inclined to laugh.  And all the while the gray eyes took him in from head to foot; then another exclamation, even more awestruck, broke from the stranger.

“Gee-whizz!”

And Tresler sobered at once.

“Where’s Mosquito Bend Ranch?” he asked.

The little man dropped his washing and turned round, propping himself against the edge of the tub.

“Skitter Bend Ranch?” he echoed slowly, as though the meaning of the question had not penetrated to his intellect.  Then a subdued whisper followed.  “Gee, but I ” And he looked down at his own clothes as though to reassure himself.

Tresler broke in; he understood the trend of the other’s thoughts.

“Yes, Mosquito Bend,” he said sharply.

“Nigh to a mile on.  Keep to the trail, an’ you’ll strike Blind Hell in a few minutes.  Say ” He broke off, and looked up into Tresler’s face.

“Yes, I’m going there.  You don’t happen to belong to to Blind Hell?”

“Happen I do,” assured the washerman.  “I do the chores around the ranch.  Joe Nelson, once a stock raiser m’self.  Kerrville, Texas.  Now ” He broke off, and waved a hand in the direction of the drying clothes.

“Well, I’m John Tresler, and I’m on my way to Mosquito Bend.”

“So you’re the ‘tenderfoot,’” observed the choreman, musingly.  “You’re the feller from Noo England as Jake’s goin’ to lick into shape.”

“Going to teach, you mean.”

“I s’pose I do,” murmured the other gently, but without conviction.  The twisted side of his face wrinkled hideously, while the other side smiled.

“You mentioned Blind Hell just now?” questioned Tresler, as the other relapsed into a quiet survey of him.

“Blind Hell, did I?” said Nelson, repeating the name, a manner which seemed to be a habit of his.

“Yes.  What is it?  What did you mean?”

Tresler’s questions were a little peremptory.  He felt that the riding-breeches that had caused such notice in Forks were likely to bring him further ridicule.

“Oh, it’s jest a name.  ’Tain’t of no consequence.  Say,” the choreman broke out suddenly, “you don’t figger to git boostin’ steers in that rig?” He stretched out an abnormally long arm, and pointed a rough but wonderfully clean finger at the flowing corduroys Tresler had now become so sensitive about.

“Great Scott, man!” he let out testily.  “Have you never seen riding-breeches before? you, a ranchman.”

The tufted beard shot sideways again as the face screwed up and half of it smiled.

“I do allow I’ve seen such things before.  Oncet,” he drawled slowly, with a slight Southern accent, but in a manner that betokened a speech acquired by association rather than the natural tongue.  “He was a feller that came out to shoot big game up in the hills.  I ain’t seen him sence, sure.  Guess nobody did.”  He looked away sadly.  “We heerd tell of him.  Guess he got fossicking after b’ar.  The wind was blowin’ ter’ble.  He’d climbed a mount’n.  It was pretty high.  Ther’ wa’n’t no shelter.  A gust o’ that wind come an’ took him.”

Nelson had turned back to his tubs, and was again banging and rubbing.

“A mile down the trail, I think you said?” Tresler cried, springing hastily into the saddle.

“Sure.”

And for the first time Tresler’s horse felt the sharp prick of the spurs as he rode off.

Mosquito Bend Ranch stood in a wide clearing, with the house on a rising ground above it.  It was lined at the back by a thick pinewood.  For the rest the house faced out on to the prairie, and the verandahed front overlooked the barns, corrals, and outhouses.  It stood apart, fully one hundred yards from the nearest outbuildings.

This was the first impression Tresler obtained on arrival.  The second was that it was a magnificent ranch and the proprietor must be a wealthy man.  The third was one of disappointment; everything was so quiet, so still.  There was no rush or bustle.  No horsemen riding around with cracking whips; no shouting, no atmosphere of wildness.  And, worst of all, there were no droves of cattle tearing around.  Just a few old milch cows near by, peacefully grazing their day away, and philosophically awaiting milking time.  These, and a few dogs, a horse or two loose in the corrals, and a group of men idling outside a low, thatched building, comprised the life he first beheld as he rode into the clearing.

“And this is Blind Hell,” he said to himself as he came.  “It belies its name.  A more peaceful, beautiful picture, I’ve never clapped eyes on.”

And then his thoughts went back to Forks.  That too had looked so innocent.  After all, he remembered, it was the people who made or marred a place.

So he rode straight to a small, empty corral, and, off-saddling, turned his horse loose, and deposited his saddle and bridle in the shadow of the walls.  Then he moved up toward the buildings where the men were grouped.

They eyed him steadily as he came, much as they might eye a strange animal, and he felt a little uncomfortable as he recollected his encounter first with Slum and more recently with Joe Nelson.  He had grown sensitive about his appearance, and a spirit of defiance and retaliation awoke within him.

But for some reason the men paid little attention to him just then.  One man was talking, and the rest were listening with rapt interest.  They were cowpunchers, every one.  Cowpunchers such as Tresler had heard of.  Some were still wearing their fringed “chapps,” their waists belted with gun and ammunition; some were in plain overalls and thin cotton shirts.  All, except one, were tanned a dark, ruddy hue, unshaven, unkempt, but tough-looking and hardy.  The pale-faced exception was a thin, sick-looking fellow with deep hollows under his eyes, and lips as ashen as a corpse.  He it was who was talking, and his recital demanded a great display of dramatic gesture.

Tresler came up and joined the group.  “I never ast to git put up ther’,” he heard the sick man saying; “never ast, an’ didn’t want.  It was her doin’s, an’ I tell you fellers right here she’s jest thet serrupy an’ good as don’t matter.  I’d ‘a’ rotted down here wi’ flies an’ the heat for all they’d ‘a’ cared.  That blind son of a ’ud ‘a’ jest laffed ef I’d handed over, an’ Jake say, we’ll level our score one day, sure.  Next time Red Mask, or any other hoss thief, gits around, I’ll bear a hand drivin’ off the bunch.  I ain’t scrappin’ no more fer the blind man.  Look at me.  Guess I ain’t no more use’n yon ‘tenderfoot.’” The speaker pointed scornfully at Tresler, and his audience turned and looked.  “Guess I’ve lost quarts o’ blood, an’ have got a hole in my chest ye couldn’t plug with a corn-sack.  An’ now, jest when I’m gittin’ to mend decent, he comes an’ boosts me right out to the bunkhouse ‘cause he ketches me yarnin’ wi’ that bit of a gal o’ his.  But, say, she just let out on him that neat as you fellers never heerd.  Yes, sir, guess her tongue’s like velvet mostly, but when she turned on that blind hulk of a father of hers wal, ther’, ef I was a cat an’ had nine lives to give fer her they jest wouldn’t be enough by a hund’ed.”

“Say, Arizona,” said one of the men quietly, “what was you yarnin’ ’bout?  Guess you allus was sweet on Miss Dianny.”

Arizona turned on the speaker fiercely.  “That’ll do fer you, Raw; mebbe you ain’t got savee, an’ don’t know a leddy when you sees one.  I’m a cow-hand, an’ good as any man around here, an’ ef you’ve any doubts about it, why ”

“Don’t take no notice, Arizona,” put in a lank youth quickly.  He was a tall, hungry-looking boy, in that condition of physical development when nature seems in some doubt as to her original purpose. “’E’s only laffin’ at you.”

“Guess Mister Raw Harris ken quit right here then, Teddy.  I ain’t takin’ his slack noways.”

“Git on with the yarn, Arizona,” cried another.  “Say, wot was you sayin’ to the gal?”

“Y’ see, Jacob,” the sick man went on, falling back into his drawling manner, “it wus this ways.  Miss Dianny, she likes a feller to git yarnin’, an’, seein’ as I’ve been punchin’ most all through the States, she kind o’ notioned my yarns.  Which I ’lows is reasonable.  She’d fixed my chest up, an’ got me trussed neat an’ all, an’ set right down aside me fer a gas.  You know her ways, kind o’ sad an’ saft.  Wal, she up an’ tells me how she’d like gittin’ in to Whitewater next winter, an’ talked o’ dances an’ sech.  Say, she wus jest whoopin’ wi’ the pleasure o’ the tho’t of it.  Guess likely she’d be mighty pleased to git a-ways.  Wal, I don’t jest know how it come, but I got yarnin’ of a barbecue as was held down Arizona way.  I was tellin’ as how I wus ther’, an’ got winged nasty.  It wa’n’t much.  Y’ see I was tellin’ her as I wus runnin’ a bit of a hog ranch them times, an’, on o-casions, we used to give parties.  The pertickler party I wus referrin’ to wus a pretty wholesome racket.  The boys got good an’ drunk, an’ they got slingin’ the lead frekent ’fore daylight come around.  Howsum, it wus the cause o’ the trouble as I wus gassin’ ‘bout.  Y’ see, Brown was one of them juicy fellers that chawed hunks o’ plug till you could nose Virginny ev’ry time you got wi’in gunshot of him.  He was a cantankerous cuss was Brown, an’ a deal too free wi’ his tongue.  Y’ see he’d a lady with him; leastways she wus the pot-wolloper from the saloon he favored, an’ he guessed as she wus most as han’some as a Bible ’lustration.  Wal, ’bout the time the rotgut wus flowin’ good an’ frekent, they started in to pool fer the prettiest wench in the room, as is the custom down ther’.  Brown, he wus dead set on his gal winnin’, I guess; an’ ‘Dyke Hole’ Bill, he’d got a pretty tidy filly wi’ him hisself, an’ didn’t reckon as no daisy from a bum saloon could gi’ her any sort o’ start.  Wal, to cut it short, I guess the boys went dead out fer Bill’s gal.  It wus voted as ther’ wa’n’t no gal around Spawn City as could dec’rate the country wi’ sech beauty.  I guess things went kind o’ silent when Shaggy Steele read the ballot.  The air o’ that place got uneasy.  I located the door in one gulp.  Y’ see Brown was allus kind o’ sudden.  But the trouble come diff’rent.  The thing jest dropped, an’ that party hummed fer a whiles.  Brown’s gal up an’ let go.  Sez she, ’Here, guess I’m the dandy o’ this run, an’ I ain’t settin’ around while no old hen from Dyke Hole gits scoopin’ prizes.  She’s goin’ to lick me till I can’t see, ef she’s yearnin’ fer that pool.  Mebbe you boys won’t need more’n half an eye to locate the winner when I’m done.’  Wi’ that she peels her waist off’n her, an’ I do allow she wus a fine chunk.  An’ the ‘Dyke Hole’ daisy, she wa’n’t no slouch; guess she wus jest bustin’ wi’ fight.  But Brown sticks his taller-fat nose in an’ shoots his bazzoo an’

“An’ that’s most as fer as I got when along comes that all-fired ‘dead-eyes’ an’ points warnin’ at me while he ogled me with them gummy red rims o’ his.  An’, sez he, ‘You light right out o’ here sharp, Arizona; the place fer you scum’s down in the bunkhouse.  An’ I’m not goin’ to have any skulkin’ up here, telling disreputable yarns to my gal.’  I wus jest beginnin’ to argyfy.  ‘But,’ sez I. An’ he cut me short wi’ a curse.  ‘Out of here!’ he roared.  ’I give you ten minutes to git!’ Then she, Miss Dianny, bless her, she turned on him quick, an’ dressed him down han’some.  Sez she, ’Father, how can you be so unkind after what Arizona has done for you?  Remember,’ sez she, ’he saved you a hundred head of cattle, and fought Red Mask’s gang until help came and he fell from his horse.’  Oh, she was a dandy, and heaped it on like bankin’ a furnace.  She cried lots an’ lots, but it didn’t signify.  Out I wus to git, an’ out I got.  An’ now I’ll gamble that swine Jake’ll try and set me to work.  But I’ll level him sure.”

One of the men, Lew Cawley, laughed silently, and then put in a remark.  Lew was a large specimen of the fraternity, and history said that he was the son of an English cleric.  But history says similar things of many ne’er-do-wells in the Northwest.  He still used the accent of his forebears.

“Old blind-hunks knows something.  With all respect, Arizona has winning ways; but,” he added, before the fiery Southerner could retort, “if I mistake not, here comes Jake to fulfil Arizona’s prophecy.”

Every one swung round as Lew nodded in the direction of the house.  A huge man of about six feet five was striding rapidly down the slope.  Tresler, who had been listening to the story on the outskirts of the group, eyed the newcomer with wonder.  He came at a gait in which every movement displayed a vast, monumental strength.  He had never seen such physique in his life.  The foreman was still some distance off, and he could not see his face, only a great spread of black beard and whisker.  So this was the much-cursed Jake Harnach, and, he thought without any particular pleasure, his future boss.

There was no further talk.  Jake Harnach looked up and halted.  Then he signaled, and a great shout came to the waiting group.

“Hi! hi! you there!  You with the pants!”

A snigger went round the gathering, and Tresler knew that it was he who was being summoned.  He turned away to hide his annoyance, but was given no chance of escape.

“Say, send that guy with the pants along!” roared the foreman.  And Tresler was forced into unwilling compliance.

And thus the two men, chiefly responsible for the telling of this story of Mosquito Bend, met.  The spirit of the meeting was antagonistic; a spirit which, in the days to come, was to develop into a merciless hatred.  Nor was the reason far to seek, nor could it have been otherwise.  Jake looked out upon the world through eyes that distorted everything to suit his own brutal nature, while Tresler’s simple manliness was the result of his youthful training as a public schoolboy.

The latter saw before him a man of perhaps thirty-five, a man of gigantic stature, with a face handsome in its form of features, but disfigured by the harsh depression of the black brows over a pair of hard, bold eyes.  The lower half of his face was buried beneath a beard so dense and black as to utterly disguise the mould of his mouth and chin, thus leaving only the harsh tones of his voice as a clue to what lay hidden there.

His dress was unremarkable but typical moleskin trousers, a thin cotton shirt, a gray tweed jacket, and a silk handkerchief about his neck.  He carried nothing in the shape of weapons, not even the usual leather belt and sheath-knife.  And in this he was apart from the method of his country, where the use of firearms was the practice in disputes.

On his part, Jake looked upon a well-built man five inches his inferior in stature, but a man of good proportions, with a pair of shoulders that suggested possibilities.  But it was the steady look in the steel-blue eyes which told him most.  There was a simple directness in them which told of a man unaccustomed to any browbeating; and, as he gazed into them, he made a mental note that this newcomer must be reduced to a proper humility at the earliest opportunity.

There was no pretense of courtesy between them.  Neither offered to shake hands.  Jake blurted out his greeting in a vicious tone.

“Say, didn’t you hear me callin’?” he asked sharply.

“I did.”  And the New Englander looked quietly into the eyes before him, but without the least touch of bravado or of yielding.

“Then why in h didn’t you come?”

“I was not to know you were calling me.”

“Not to know?” retorted the other roughly.  “I guess there aren’t two guys with pants like yours around the ranch.  Now, see right here, young feller, you’ll just get a grip on the fact that I’m foreman of this layout, and, as far as the ‘hands’ are concerned, I’m boss.  When I call, you come and quick.”

The man towered over Tresler in a bristling attitude.  His hands were aggressively thrust into his jacket pockets, and he emphasized his final words with a scowl.  And it was his attitude that roused Tresler; the words were the words of an overweening bully, and might have been laughed at, but the attitude said more, and no man likes to be browbeaten.  His anger leapt, and, though he held himself tightly, it found expression in the biting emphasis of his reply.

“When I’m one of the ‘hands,’ yes,” he said incisively.

Jake stared.  Then a curious sort of smile flitted across his features.

“Hah!” he ejaculated.

And Tresler went on with cold indifference.  “And, in the meantime, I may as well say that the primary object of my visit is to see Mr. Marbolt, not his foreman.  That, I believe,” he added, pointing to the building on the hill, “is his house.”

Without waiting for a reply he stepped aside, and would have moved on.  But Jake had swung round, and his hand fell heavily upon his shoulder.

“No, you don’t, my dandy cock!” he cried violently, his fingers painfully gripping the muscle under the Norfolk jacket.

Springing aside, and with one lithe twist, in a flash Tresler had released himself, and stood confronting the giant with blazing eyes and tense drawn muscles.

“Lay a hand on me again, and there’ll be trouble,” he said sharply, and there was an oddly furious burr in his speech.

The foreman stood for a moment as words failed him.  Then his fury broke loose.

“I told you jest now,” he cried, falling back into the twang of the country as his rage mastered him, “that I run this layout ”

“And I tell you,” broke in the equally angry Tresler, “that I’ve nothing to do with you or the ranch either until I have seen your master.  And I’ll have you know that if there’s any bulldozing to be done, you can keep it until I am one of the ‘hands.’  You shan’t lack opportunity.”

The tone was as scathing as the violence of his anger would permit.  He had not moved, except to thrust his right hand into his jacket pocket, while he measured the foreman with his eyes and watched his every movement.

He saw Harnach hunch himself as though to spring at him.  He saw the great hands clench at his sides and his arms draw up convulsively.  He saw the working face and the black eyes as they half closed and reduced themselves to mere slits beneath the overshadowing brows.  Then the hoarse, rage-choked voice came.

“By G !  I’ll smash you, you ”

“I shouldn’t say it.”  Tresler’s tone had suddenly changed to one of icy coldness.  The flash of a white dress had caught his eye.  “There’s a lady present,” he added abruptly.  And at the same time he released his hold on the smooth butt of a heavy revolver he had been gripping in his pocket.

What might have happened but for the timely interruption it would be impossible to say.  Jake’s arms dropped to his sides, and his attitude relaxed with a suddenness that was almost ludicrous.  The white dress fluttered toward him, and Tresler turned and raised his prairie hat.  He gave the foreman no heed whatever.  The man might never have been there.  He took a step forward.

“Miss Marbolt, I believe,” he said.  “Forgive me, but it seems that, being a stranger, I must introduce myself.  I am John Tresler.  I have just been performing the same ceremony for your father’s foreman’s benefit.  Can I see Mr. Marbolt?”

He was looking down into what he thought at the moment was the sweetest, saddest little face he had ever seen.  It was dark with sunburn, in contrast with the prim white drill dress the girl wore, and her cheeks were tinged with a healthy color which might have been a reflection of the rosy tint of the ribbon about her neck.  But it was the quiet, dark brown eyes, half wistful and wholly sad, and the slight droop at the corners of the pretty mouth, that gave him his first striking impression.  She was a delightful picture, but one of great melancholy, quite out of keeping with her youth and fresh beauty.

She looked up at him from under the brim of a wide straw sun-hat, trimmed with a plain silk handkerchief, and pinned to her wealth of curling brown hair so as to give her face the utmost shade.  Then she frankly held out her hand in welcome to him, whilst her eyes questioned his, for she had witnessed the scene between the two men and overheard their words.  But Tresler listened to her greeting with a disarming smile on his face.

“Welcome, Mr. Tresler,” she said gravely.  “We have been expecting you.  But I’m afraid you can’t see father just now.  He’s sleeping.  He always sleeps in the afternoon.  You see, daylight or night, it makes no difference to him.  He’s blind.  He has drifted into a curious habit of sleeping in the day as well as at night.  Possibly it is a blessing, and helps him to forget his affliction.  I am always careful, in consequence, not to waken him.  But come along up to the house; you must have some lunch, and, later, a cup of tea.”

“You are awfully kind.”

Tresler watched a troubled look that crept into the calm expression of her eyes.  Then he looked on while she turned and dismissed the discomfited foreman.

“I shan’t ride this afternoon, Jake,” she said coldly.  “You might have Bessie shod for me instead.  Her hoofs are getting very long.”  Then she turned again to her guest.  “Come, Mr. Tresler.”

And the New Englander readily complied.

Nor did he even glance again in the direction of the foreman.

Jake cursed, not audibly, but with such hateful intensity that even the mat of beard and moustache parted, and the cruel mouth and clenched teeth beneath were revealed.  His eyes, too, shone with a diabolical light.  For the moment Tresler was master of the situation, but, as Jake had said, he was “boss” of that ranch.  “Boss” with him did not mean “owner.”