Drums of the Sunset by Robert E. Howard
[Riders of the Sunset]
Serialized in the Cross Plains Review newspaper, Nov 1928-Jan 1929
Also published as "Riders Of The Sunset"
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Girl's Story
A Trail Of Blood
"Now, come all you punchers, and listen to my
"When I tell you of troubles on the Chisholm Trail!"
STEVE HARMER was riding Texas-fashion, slow and easy, one
knee hooked over the saddle horn, hat pulled over his brows to shade his
face. His lean body swayed rhythmically to the easy gait of his horse.
The trail he was following sloped gradually upward, growing steeper as he
continued. Cedars flanked the narrow path, with occasional pinons and
junipers. Higher up, these gave place to pines.
Looking back, Steve could see the broad level country he had left, deeply
grassed and sparsely treed. Beyond and above, the timbered slopes of the
mountains frowned. Peak beyond peak, pinnacle beyond pinnacle they rose, with
great undulating slopes between, as if piled by giants.
Suddenly behind the lone rider came the clatter of hoofs. Steve pulled
aside to let the horsemen by, but they came to a halt beside him. Steve swept
off his broad-brimmed hat.
There were two of the strangers, and one was a girl. To Steve she seemed
strangely out of place, somehow, in this primitive setting. She sat her horse
in an unfamiliar manner and her whole air was not of the West. She wore an
Eastern riding habit—and then Steve forgot her clothes as he looked at
her face. A vagrant curl, glinting gold in the sun, fell over her white
forehead and from beneath this two soft grey eyes looked at him. Her full
lips were half parted—
"Say, you!" a rough voice jarred Steve out of his daydreams.
The girl's companion was as characteristically Western as she was not. He
was a heavily built man of middle life, thickly bearded and roughly clad. His
features were dark and coarse, and Steve noted the heavy revolver which hung
at his hip.
This man spoke in a harsh, abrupt manner.
"Who're you and where do you reckon you're goin'?"
Steve stiffened at the tone. He shot a glance at the girl, who seemed
rather pale and frightened.
"My name's Harmer," said he, shortly. "I'm just passin' through."
"Yeah?" the bearded lips parted in a wolfish grin. "I reckon, stranger,
you done lost your way—you shoulda took that trail back yonder a ways
that branched off to the south."
"I ain't said where I was goin'," Steve responded, nettled. "Maybe I have
reason for goin' this way."
"That's what I'm thinkin'," the bearded man answered, and Steve sensed the
menacing note in his voice. "But you may have reason for takin' the other
trail yet. Nobody lives in these hills, and they don't like strangers! Be
warned, young feller, and don't git into somethin' you don't know nothin'
And while Steve gaped at him, not understanding, the man flung a curt
order to the girl, and they both sped off up the trail, their horses laboring
under the stress of quirt and spur. Steve watched in amazement.
"By golly, they don't care how they run their broncs uphill. What do you
reckon all that rigamarole meant? Maybe I oughta taken the other trail, at
that—golly, that was a pretty girl!"
The riders disappeared on the thickly timbered slope and Steve, after some
musing, nudged his steed with his knee and started on.
"I'm a goin' West and punch Texas cattle!
"Ten dollar horse and forty dollar saddle."
Crack! A sharp report cut through the melody of his lazy song. A
flash of fire stabbed from among trees further up the slope. Steve's hat flew
from his head, his horse snorted and reared, nearly unseating his rider.
Steve whirled his steed, dropping off on the far side. His gun was in his
hand as he peered cautiously across his saddle in the direction from which
the shot had come. Silence hovered over the tree-masked mountain side and no
motion among the intertwining branches betrayed the presence of the hidden
At last Steve cautiously stepped from behind his horse. Nothing happened.
He sheathed his gun, stepped forward and recovered his hat, swearing as he
noted the neat hole through the crown.
"Now did that whiskered galoot stop up there some place and sneak back for
a crack at me?" he wondered. "Or did he tell somebody else to—or did
that somebody else do it on their own idea? And what is the idea? What's up
in them hills that they don't want seen? And was this sharpshooter tryin' to
kill me or just warn me?"
He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.
"Anyway," he meditated as he mounted, "I reckon that south trail is the
best road, after all."
* * * * *
THE south branch, he found, led down instead of up, skirting
the base of the incline. He sighted several droves of sheep, and as the sun
sank westward, he came upon a small cabin built near a running stream of
"Hi yah! Git down and set!" greeted the man who came to the door.
He was a small, wizened old fellow, remarkably bald, and he seemed
delighted at the opportunity for conversation which Steve's coming afforded.
But Steve eyed him with a suspicious glance before he dismounted.
"My name is Steve Harmer," said Steve abruptly. "I'm from Texas and I'm
just passin' through. If you hone for me to ride on, just say so and they
won't be no need for slingin' lead at me."
"Heh, heh!" laughed the old fellow. "Son, I kin read yore brand! You done
fell in with my neighbors of the Sunset Mountains!"
"A tough lookin' hombre and a nice lookin' girl," admitted Steve. "And
some fellow who didn't give his name, but just ruined my best hat."
"Light!" commanded the old man. "Light and hobble yore bronc. This ain't
no hotel, but maybe you can struggle along with the accommodations. My name
is ... 'Hard Luck Harper,' and I aim to live up to that handle. You ain't by
no chance got no corn juice in them saddle bags?"
"No, I ain't," answered Steve, dismounting.
"I was afeard not," sighed the old man. "Hard Luck I be to the
end—come in—I smell that deer meat a- burnin'."
After a supper of venison, sourdough bread and coffee, the two sat on the
cabin stoop and watched the stars blink out as they talked. The sound of
Steve's horse, cropping the luxuriant grass, came to them, and a night breeze
wafted the spicy scents of the forest.
"This country is sure different from Texas," said Steve. "I kinda like
these mountains, though. I was figurin' on campin' up among 'em tonight,
that's why I took that west trail. She goes on to Rifle Pass, don't she?"
"She don't," replied the old man. "Rifle Pass is some south of here and
this is the trail to that small but thrivin' metropolis. That trail you was
followin' meanders up in them hills and where she goes, nobody knows."
"Why don't they?"
"Fer two reasons. The first is, they's no earthly reason fer a man in his
right mind to go up there, and I'll refer you to yore hat fer the
"What right has this bird got to bar people from these mountains?"
"I think it must be a thirty-thirty caliber," grinned the old man. "That
feller you met was Gila Murken, who lays out to own them mountains, like, and
the gal was his niece, I reckon, what come from New York.
"I dunno what Gila's up to. I've knowed him, off and on, fer twenty years,
and never knowed nothin' good. I'm his nearest neighbor, now, but I ain't got
the slightest idee where his cabin is—up there somewhere." He indicated
the gigantic brooding bulk of the Sunset Mountains, black in the
"Gila's got a couple fellers with him, and now this gal. Nobody else ever
goes up that hill trail. The men come up here a year ago."
Steve mused. "An' what do you reckon is his idee for discouragin'
The old man shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "Son, I've wondered
myself. He and his pards lives up in them mountains and regular once a week
one of 'em rides to Rifle Pass or maybe clean to Stirrup, east. They have
nothin' to do with me or anybody else. I've wondered, but, gosh, they ain't a
"Ain't a chance of what?"
"Steve," said Hard Luck, his lean hand indicating the black vastness of
the hills, "somewhere up there amongst them canyons and gorges and cliffs, is
a fortune! And sometimes I wonder if Gila Murken ain't found it.
"It's forty year ago that me and Bill Hansen come through this
country—first white men in it, so far as I know. I was nothin' but a
kid then an' we was buffalo hunters, kinda strayed from the regular
"We went up into them hills, Sunset Mountains, the Indians call 'em, and
away back somewheres we come into a range of cliffs. Now, it don't look like
it'd be that way, lookin' from here, but in among the mountains they's long
chains of cliffs, straight up and down, maybe four hundred feet high, clay
and rock—mighty treacherous stuff. They's maybe seventeen sets of these
cliffs, Ramparts, we call 'em, and they look just alike. Trees along the
edge, thick timber at the base. The edges is always crumblin' and startin'
landslides and avalanches.
"Me and Bill Hansen come to the front of one of these Ramparts and Bill
was lookin' at where the earth of the cliff face had kinda shelved away when
he let out a whoop!
"Gold! Reef gold—the blamedest vein I ever see, just lying there
right at the surface ready for somebody to work out the ore and cart it off!
We dropped our guns and laid into the cliff with our fingernails, diggin' the
dirt away. And the vein looked like she went clear to China! Get that, son,
reef gold and quartz in the open cliff face.
" 'Bill,' says I, 'we're milyunaires!'
"And just as I said it, somethin' came whistlin' by my cheek and Bill gave
one yell and went down on his face with a steel-pointed arrow through him.
And before I could move a rifle cracked and somethin' that felt like a red
hot hammer hit me in the chest and knocked me flat.
"A war party—they'd stole up on us while we was diggin'. Cheyennes
they was, from the north, and they come out and chanted their scalp songs
over us. Bill was dead and I lay still, all bloody but conscious, purtendin'
I was a stiff, too.
"They scalped Bill and they scalped me—"
Steve gave an exclamation of horror.
"Oh, yes," said Hard Luck tranquilly. "It hurt considerable—fact is,
I don't know many things that hurt wuss. But somehow I managed to lie still
and not let on like I was alive, though a couple of times I thought I was
goin' to let out a whoop in spite of myself."
"Did they scalp you plumb down to the temples?" asked Steve morbidly.
"Naw—the Cheyennes never scalped that way." Hard Luck ran his hand
contemplatively over his glistening skull. "They just cut a piece out of the
top—purty good sized piece, though—and the rest of the ha'r kinda
got discouraged and faded away, after a few years.
"Anyway, they danced and yelled fer awhile an' then they left an' I began
to take invoice to see if I was still livin'. I was shot through the chest
but by some miracle the ball had gone on through without hitting anything
important. I thought, though, I was goin' to bleed to death. But I stuffed
the wound with leaves and the webs these large white spiders spin on the low
branches of trees. I crawled to a spring which wasn't far away and lay there
like a dead man till night, when I came to and lay there thinkin' about my
dead friend, and my wounds and the gold I'd never enjoy.
"Then, I got out of my right mind and went crawlin' away through the
forest, not knowin' why I did it. I was just like a man that's drunk: I
knowed what I was doin' but I didn't know why I was doin' it. I crawled and I
crawled and how long I kept on crawlin' I don't know fer I passed clean out,
finally, and some buffalo hunters found me out in the level country, miles
and miles from where I was wounded. I was ravin' and gibberin' and nearly
"They tended to me and after a long time my wounds healed and I come back
to my right mind. And when I did, I thought about the gold and got up a
prospectin' party and went back. But seems like I couldn't remember what all
happened just before I got laid out. Everything was vague and I couldn't
remember what way Bill and me had taken to get to the cliff, and I couldn't
remember how it looked. They'd been a lot of landslides, too, and likely
everything was changed in looks.
"Anyway, I couldn't find the lost mine of Sunset Mountain, and though I
been comin' every so often and explorin' again, for forty years me nor no
other livin' man has ever laid eyes on that gold ledge. Some landslide done
covered it up, I reckon. Or maybe I just ain't never found the right cliff. I
"I done give it up. I'm gettin' old. Now I'm runnin' a few sheep and am
purty contented. But you know now why they call me Hard Luck."
"And you think that maybe this Murken has found your mine and is workin'
it on the sly?"
"Naw, really I don't. T'wouldn't be like Gila Murken to try to conceal the
fact—he'd just come out and claim it and dare me to take it away from
him. Anyway," the old man continued with a touch of vanity, "no dub like Gila
Murken could find somethin' that a old prospector like me has looked fer, fer
forty year without findin', nohow."
Silence fell. Steve was aware that the night wind, whispering down from
the mountains, carried a strange dim throbbing—a measured, even
cadence, haunting and illusive.
"Drums," said Hard Luck, as if divining his thought. "Indian drums;
tribe's away back up in the mountains. Nothin' like them that took my scalp.
Navajoes, these is, a low class gang that wandered up from the south. The
government give 'em a kind of reservation back in the Sunset Mountains.
Friendly, I reckon—trade with the whites a little.
"Them drums is been goin' a heap the last few weeks. Still nights you can
hear 'em easy; sound travels a long way in this land."
His voice trailed off into silence. Steve gazed westward where the
monstrous shadowy peaks rose black against the stars. The night breeze
whispered a lonely melody through the cedars and pines. The scent of fresh
grass and forest trees was in his nostrils. White stars twinkled above the
dark mountains and the memory of a pretty, wistful face floated across
Steve's vision. As he grew drowsy, the face seemed nearer and clearer, and
always through the mists of his dreams throbbed faintly the Sunset drums.
STEVE drained his coffee cup and set it down on the rough-
"I reckon," said he, "for a young fellow you're a pretty good
cook—Hard Luck, I been thinkin'."
"Don't strain yoreself, son. It ain't a good idee startin' in on new
things, at this time of yore life—what you been thinkin' about?"
"That mine of yours. I believe, instead of goin' on to Rifle Pass like I
was thinkin' of doin', I'll lay over a few days and look for that lost gold
"Considerin' as I spent the best part of my life huntin' it," said Hard
Luck testily, "it's very likely you'll stub yore toes on it the first thing.
The Lord knows, I'd like to have you stay here as long as you want. I don't
see many people. But they ain't one chance in a hundred of you findin' that
mine, and I'm tellin' you, it ain't healthy to ramble around in the Sunsets
now, with Gila Murken hatchin' out the Devil only knows what, up there."
"Murken owes me a new hat," said Steve moodily. "And furthermore and
besides it's time somebody showed him he ain't runnin' this country. I crave
to hunt for that mine. I dreamed about it last night."
"You better forgit that mountain-business and work with me here on my
ranch," advised Hard Luck. "I'll give you a job of herdin' sheep."
"Don't get insultin'," said Steve reprovingly. "How far up in them hills
can a horse go?"
"You can navigate most of 'em on yore bronc if you take yore time an' let
him pick his way. But you better not."
In spite of Hard Luck's warning, Steve rode up the first of the great
slopes before the sun had risen high enough for him to feel its heat. It was
a beautiful morning; the early sunlight glistened on the leaves of the trees
and on the dew on the grass. Above and beyond him rose the slopes, dark
green, deepening into purple in the distance. Snow glimmered on some of the
Steve felt a warmth of comfort and good cheer. The fragrance of Hard
Luck's coffee and flapjacks was still on his palate, and the resilience of
youth sang through his veins. Somewhere up there in the mysterious tree-clad
valleys and ridges adventure awaited him, and as Steve rode, the lost mine of
the Sunsets was least in his thoughts.
No trail led up the way he took, but his horse picked his route between
boulders and cedars, climbing steep slopes as nimbly as a mountain goat. The
cedars gave way to pines and occasionally Steve looked down into some small
valley, heavily grassed and thickly wooded. The sun was slanting toward the
west when he finally pulled up his horse on the crest of a steep incline and
A wilder and more broken country he had never seen. From his feet the
earth sloped steeply down, covered with pines which seemed to cling
precariously, to debouch into a sort of plateau. On three sides of this
plateau rose the slanting sides of the mountains. The fourth or east side
fell away abruptly into cliffs which seemed hundreds of feet high. But what
drew Steve's gaze was the plateau itself.
Near the eastern cliffs stood two log cabins. Smoke curled from one, and
as Steve watched, a man came out of the door. Even at that distance Steve
recognized the fellow whom Hard Luck had designated as Gila Murken.
Steve slipped from the saddle, led his horse back into the pines a short
distance and flung the reins over a tree limb. Then he stole back to the
crest of the slope. He did not think Murken could see him, hidden as he was
among the trees, but he did not care to take any chances. Another man had
joined Murken and the two seemed to be engaged in conversation. After awhile
they turned and went into the second cabin.
Time passed but they did not emerge. Suddenly Steve's heart leaped
strangely. A slim girlish form had come from the cabin out of which the men
had come, and the sunshine glinted on golden hair. Steve leaned forward
eagerly, wondering why the mere sight of a girl should cause his breath to
She walked slowly toward the cliffs and Steve perceived that there was
what seemed to be a deep gorge, presumably leading downward. Into this the
girl disappeared. Steve now found that the mysterious cabins had lost much of
their interest, and presently he went back to his horse, mounted and rode
southward, keeping close to the crest of the slopes. At last he attained a
position where he could look back at the plateau and get a partial view of
the cliffs. He decided that they were some of the Ramparts, spoken of by Hard
Luck. They rose steep and bare for four hundred feet, deeply weathered and
serrated. Gorges cut deep into them and promontories stood out over the
abysses beneath. Great boulders lined the edge of the precipices and the
whole face of the cliffs looked unstable and treacherous.
At the foot, tall forest trees masked a rough and broken country. And as
he looked Steve saw the girl, a tiny figure in the distance, come out into a
clearing. He watched her until she vanished among the trees, and then turned
his steed and rode back in the direction from which he had come, though not
following the same route. He took his time, riding leisurely.
The sun slanted westward as he came to the lower slopes and looked back to
see the rim of the Ramparts jutting below the heights he had left. He had
made a vast semicircle and now the cliffs were behind and above him, instead
of in front and below.
He went his leisurely way and suddenly he was aware of voices among the
cedars in front of him. He slipped from his saddle, dropped the reins to the
horse's feet and stole forward. Hidden among the undergrowth, he looked into
a small glade where stood two figures—the girl of the cliffs and a tall
"No! No!" the girl was saying. "I don't want to have anything to do with
you. Go away and let me alone or I'll tell my uncle."
"Haw! Haw!" The man's laugh was loud but mirthless. "Yore uncle and me is
too close connected in a business way for him to rile me! I'm tellin' you,
this ain't no place for you and you better let me take you away to whar
there's people and towns and the like."
"I don't trust you," she answered sullenly.
"Aw, now don't you? Come on—admit you done come down here just to
"That's a lie!" the girl cried, stung. "You know I just went for a stroll;
I didn't know you were here."
"These mountains ain't no place for a 'stroll.' "
"My uncle won't let me have a horse and ride, unless he's with me. He's
afraid I'll run away."
"And wouldn't you?"
"I don't know. I haven't anywhere to go. But I'd about as soon die as stay
here much longer."
"Then let me take you away! I'll marry you, if you say so. They's many a
gal would jump to take Mark Edwards up on that deal."
"Oh, let me alone! I don't want to marry you, I don't want to go away with
you, I don't even want to look at you! If you really want to make a hit with
me, go somewhere and shoot yourself!"
Edwards' brow darkened.
"Oh ho, so I ain't good enough for you, my fine lady. Reckon I'll just
take a kiss anyhow."
His grimed hands shot and closed on her shoulders. Instantly she clenched
a small fist and struck him in the mouth, so that blood trickled from his
lips. The blow roused all the slumbering demon in the man.
"Yore a spit-fire," he grunted. "But I 'low I'll tame you."
He pinioned her arms, cursed soulfully as she kicked him on the shins, and
crushed her slim form to him. His unshaven lips were seeking hers when Steve
impulsively went into action.
He bounded from his covert, gripped the man's shoulder with steely fingers
and swung him around, smashing him in the face with his left hand as he did
so. Edwards gaped in astonishment, then roared and rushed in blindly, fingers
spread to gouge and tear. Steve was not inclined to clinch rough-and- tumble
fashion. He dropped his right fist nearly to his ankle and then brought it up
in a long sweeping arc that stopped at Edwards's chin. That worthy's head
went back as if it were hinged and his body, following the motion, crashed to
the leaf-covered earth. He lay as if in slumber, his limbs tossed about in a
careless and nonchalant manner. Steve caressed his sore knuckles and glanced
at the girl.
"Is—is—is he dead?" she gasped, wide eyed.
"Naw, miss, I'm afraid he ain't," Steve answered regretfully. "He's just
listenin' to the cuckoo birds. Shall I tie him up?"
"What for?" she asked reasonably enough. "No, let's go before he comes
And she started away hurriedly. Steve got his horse and followed her,
overtaking her within . He walked beside her, leading his steed, his eyes
admiringly taking in the proud, erect carriage of her slim figure, and the
faint delicate rose-leaf tint of her complection.
"I hope you won't think I'm intrudin' where I got no business," said the
Texan apologetically. "But I'm a seein' you to wherever you're goin'. That
bird might follow you or you might meet another one like him."
"Thank you," she answered in a rather subdued voice. "You were very kind
to help me, Mr. Harmer."
"How'd you know my name?"
"You told my uncle who you were yesterday, don't you remember?"
"Seems like I recollect, now," replied Steve, experiencing a foolish warm
thrill that she should remember his name. "But I don't recall you saying what
your name was."
"My name is Joan Farrel. I'm staying here with my uncle, Mr. Murken, the
man with whom you saw me yesterday."
"And was it him," asked Steve bluntly, "that shot a hole in my hat?"
Her eyes widened; a frightened look was evident in her face.
"No! No!" she whispered. "It couldn't have been him! He and I rode right
up on to the cabin after we passed you. I heard the shot but I had no idea
anyone was shooting at you."
Steve laughed, rather ashamed of having mentioned it to the girl.
"Aw, it wasn't nothin'. Likely somebody done it for a joke. But right
after you-all went on, somebody cracked down on me from the trees up the
trail a ways and plumb ruint my hat."
"It must have been Edwards," she said in a frightened voice. "We met him
coming down the trail on foot after we'd gotten out of sight of you, and
Uncle stopped and said something to him I couldn't hear, before we went
"And who is Edwards?"
"He's connected with my uncle's business in some way; I don't know just
how. He and a man named Allison camp up there close to our cabin."
"What is your uncle's business?" asked Steve with cool assumption.
She did not seem offended at the question.
"I don't know. He never tells me anything. I'm afraid of him and he don't
Her face was shadowed as if by worry or secret fear. Something was
haunting her, Steve thought. Nothing more was said until they had reached the
base of the cliffs. Steve glanced up, awed. The great walls hung
threateningly over them, starkly and somberly. To his eye the cliffs seemed
unstable, ready to crash down upon the forest below at the slightest jar.
Great boulders jutted out, half embedded in the clay. The brow of the cliff,
fringed with trees, hung out over the concave walls.
From where he stood Steve could see a deep gorge, cut far into the face of
the precipice and leading steeply upward. He caught his breath. He had never
imagined such a natural stairway. The incline was so precipitous that it
seemed it would tax the most sure-footed horse. Boulders rested along the
trail that led through it, as if hovering there temporarily, and the high
walls on each side darkened the way, looming like a sinister threat.
"My gosh!" said he sincerely. "Do you have to go up that gulch every time
you leave your cabin?"
"Yes—or else climb the slopes back of the plateau and make a wide
circle, leaving the plateau to the north and coming down the southern ridges.
We always go this way. I'm used to climbing it now."
"Must have took a long time for the water to wash that out," said Steve.
"I'm new to this mountain country, but it looks to me like if somebody
stubbed their toe on a rock, it would start a landslide that would bring the
whole thing right down in that canyon."
"I think of that, too," she answered with a slight shudder. "I thank you
for what you've done for me. But you mustn't go any further. My uncle is
always furious if anyone comes into these mountains."
"What about Edwards?"
"I'll tell my uncle and he'll make him leave me alone." She started to go,
"Listen," said Steve, his heart beating wildly, "I'd like to know you
better—will—will you meet me tomorrow somewhere?"
"Yes!" she spoke low and swiftly, then turned and ran lightly up the
slope. Steve stood, looking after her, hat in hand.
* * * * *
NIGHT had fallen as Steve Harmer rode back to the ranch of
Hard Luck Harper.
"Clouds in the west and a-lookin' like rain,
"And my blamed old slicker's in the wagon again!"
he declaimed to the dark blue bowl of the star-flecked
The crisp sharp scent of cedar was in the air and the wind fanned his
cheek. He felt his soul grow and expand in the silence and the majesty of the
"Woke up one mornin' on the Chisholm
"Rope in my hand and a cow by the tail!"
He drew rein at the cabin stoop and hailed his host hilariously. Old Hard
Luck stood in the door and the starlight glinted on the steel in his
"Huh," grunted he suspiciously. "You done finally come back, ain't you?
I'd 'bout decided you done met up with Gila Murken and was layin' in a draw
somewheres with a thirty-thirty slug through yore innards. Come in and git
yore hoofs under the table—I done cooked a couple of steers in hopes of
stayin' yore appetite a little."
Steve tended to his horse and then entered the cabin, glancing at the long
rifle which the old man had stood up against the cabin wall.
"That was a antique when they fought the Revolution," said Steve. "What's
the idea? Are you afraid of Murken?"
"Afeard of Murken? That dub? I got no call to be afeard of him. And don't
go slingin' mud at a gun that's dropped more Indians than you ever see.
That's a Sharps .50 caliber and when I was younger I could shave a mosquito
at two hundred yards with it.
"Naw, it ain't Murken I'm studyin'. Listen!"
Again Steve caught the faint pulsing of the mountain drums.
"Every night they get louder," said Hard Luck. "They say them redskins is
plumb peaceful but you can't tell me—the only peaceful Indian I ever
see had at least two bullets through his skull. Them drums talks and whispers
and they ain't no white man knows what's hatchin' back up in them hills where
nobody seldom ever goes. Indian magic! That's what's goin' on, and red magic
means red doin's. I've fought 'em from Sonora to the Bad Lands and I know
what I'm talkin' about."
"Your nerves is gettin' all euchered up," said Steve, diving into food set
before him. "I kinda like to listen to them drums."
"Maybe you'd like to hear 'em when they was dancin' over yore scalp,"
answered Hard Luck gloomily. "Thar's a town about forty mile northwest of
here whar them red devils comes to trade sometimes, 'steader goin' to Rifle
Pass, and a fellow come through today from thar and says they must be some
strange goin's on up in the Sunsets.
" 'How come?' says I.
" 'Why,' says he, 'them reservation Navajoes has been cartin' down
greenbacks to buy their tobaccer and calico and the other day the
storekeepers done found the stuff is all counterfeit. They done stopped
sellin' to the Indians and sent for a Indian agent to come and investigate.
Moreover,' says he, 'somebody is sellin' them redskins liquor too.' "
Hard Luck devoted his attention to eating for a few moments and then began
"How come them Indians gets any kind of money up in the mountains, much
less counterfeit? Reckon they're makin' it theirselves? And who's slippin'
them booze? One thing's shore, Hell's to pay when redskins git drunk and the
first scalp they'll likely take is the feller's who sold them the booze."
"Yeah?" returned Steve absent-mindedly. His thoughts were elsewhere.
"Did you find the mine?" asked Hard Luck sarcastically.
"What mine?" The Texan stared at his host blankly.
Hard Luck grunted scornfully and pushed back his chair. After awhile
silence fell over the cabin, to be broken presently by Steve's voice rising
with dolorous enjoyment in the darkness:
"And he thought of his home, and his loved ones
"And the cowboys gathered to see him die!"
Hard Luck sat up in his bunk and cursed, and hurled a boot.
"For the love of mud, let a old man sleep, willya?"
As Steve drifted off into dreamland, his last thoughts were of gold, but
it was not the lost ore of the Sunsets; it was the soft curly gold that
framed the charming oval of a soft face. And still through the shimmery hazes
of his dreams beat the sinister muttering of the Sunset drums.
THE dew was still on the mountain grass when Steve rode up
the long dim slopes to the glade where he had fought Edwards the day before.
He sat down on a log and waited, doubting if she whom he sought would really
He sat motionless for nearly an hour, and then he heard a light sure step
and she stood before him, framed in the young glow of the morning sun. The
beauty of her took Steve's breath and he could only stand, hat in hand, and
gape, seeking feebly for words. She came straight to him, smiling, and held
out her hand. The touch of her slim firm fingers reassured him and he found
"Miss Farrel, I plumb forgot yesterday to ask you where you'd rather meet
me at, or what time. I come here because I figured you'd remember—I
mean, you'd think—aw heck!" he stumbled.
"Yes, that was forgetful of us. I decided that you'd naturally come to the
place where you found me yesterday and I came early because—because I
was afraid you'd come and not find me here and think I wasn't coming," she
finished rather confusedly.
As she spoke her eyes ran approvingly over Steve, noting his six-foot
build of lithe manhood and the deep tan of his whimsical face.
"I promised to tell you all I know," said she abruptly, twisting her
fingers. She seemed paler and more worried than ever. Steve decided that she
had reached the point where she was ready to turn to any man for help,
stranger or not. Certainly some deep fear was preying on her.
"You know my name," she said, seating herself on the log and motioning him
to sit beside her. "Mr. Murken is my mother's brother. My parents separated
when I was very young and I've been living with an aunt in New York state.
I'd never been west before, until my aunt died not long ago. Before she died
she told me to go to her brother at Rifle Pass and not having anywhere else
to go, I did so.
"I'd never seen my uncle and I found him very different from what I had
expected. He didn't live at Rifle Pass then, but had moved up in these
mountains. I came on up here with a guide and my uncle seemed very much
enraged because I had come. He let me stay but I'm very unhappy because I
know he don't want me. Yet, when I ask him to let me go, he refuses. He won't
even let me go to Rifle Pass unless he is with me, and he won't let me go
riding unless he's with me. He says he's afraid I'll run away, yet I know he
doesn't love me or really want me here. He's not exactly unkind to me, but he
isn't kind either.
"There are two men who stay up there most of the time: Edwards, the man
you saw yesterday, and a large black-bearded man named Allison. That one,
Allison, looks like a bandit or something, but he is very courteous to me.
But Edwards—you saw what he did yesterday and he's forever trying to
make love to me when my uncle isn't around. I'm afraid to tell my uncle about
it, and I don't know whether he'd do anything, if I did tell him.
"The other two men stay in a smaller cabin a little distance from the one
occupied by my uncle and myself, and they won't let me come anywhere near it.
My uncle even threatened to whip me if I looked in the windows. I think they
must have something hidden there. My uncle locks me in my cabin when they are
all at work in the other cabin—whatever they're doing in there.
"Sometimes some Indians come down the western slopes from somewhere away
back in the hills, and sometimes my uncle rides away with them. Once a week
one of the men loads his saddle bags full of something and rides away to be
gone two or three days.
"I don't understand it," she added almost tearfully. "I can't help but
believe there's something crooked about it. I'm afraid of Edwards and only a
little less afraid of my uncle. I want to get away."
Suddenly she seized his hands impulsively.
"You seem good and kind," she exclaimed. "Won't you help me? I'll pay
"You'll what?" he said explosively.
"I beg your pardon. I should have known better than to make that remark. I
know you'll help me just from the goodness of your heart."
Steve's face burned crimson. He fumbled with his hat.
"Sure I'll help you. If you want I'll ride up and get your
She stared at him in amazement.
"I don't want you committing suicide on my account," said she. "You'd get
shot if you went within sight of my uncle. No, this is what I want you to do.
I've told you my uncle won't let me have a horse, and I certainly can't walk
out of these mountains. Can you meet me here early tomorrow morning with an
"Sure I can. But how are you goin' to get your baggage away? Girls is
usually got a lot of frills and things."
"I haven't. But anyway, I want to get out of this place if I have to leave
my clothes, even, and ride out in a bathing suit. I'll stroll out of the
cabin in the morning, casually, come down the gulch and meet you here."
"And then where will you want to go?"
"Any place is as good as the next," she answered rather hopelessly. "I'll
have to find some town where I can make my own living. I guess I can teach
school or work in an office."
"I wish—" said he impulsively, and then stopped short.
"You wish what?" she asked curiously.
"That them drums would quit whoopin' it up at night," he added
desperately, flushing as he realized how close he had been to proposing to a
girl he had known only two days. He was surprised at himself; he had spoken
on impulse and he wondered at the emotion which had prompted him.
She shivered slightly.
"They frighten me, sometimes. Every night they keep booming, and last
night I was restless and every time I awoke I could hear them. They didn't
stop until dawn. This was the first time they've kept up all night."
"I've stayed as long as I dare. My uncle will get suspicious of me and
come looking for me if I'm gone too long."
Steve rose. "I'll go with you as far as the gorge."
* * * * *
AGAIN Steve stood among the thick trees at the foot of the
Ramparts and watched the girl go up the gorge, her slim form receding and
growing smaller in his sight as she ascended. The gulch lay in everlasting
shadow and Steve unconsciously held his breath, as if expecting those grim,
towering walls to come crashing down on that slender figure.
Nearly at the upper mouth she turned and waved at him, and he waved back,
then turned and made his way back to his horse. He rode carelessly, and with
a slack rein, seeming to move in a land of rose-tinted clouds. His heart beat
swiftly and his blood sang through his veins.
"I'm in love! I'm in love!" he warbled, wild- eyed, to the indifferent
trees. "Oh heck! Oh golly! Oh gosh!"
Suddenly he stopped short. From somewhere further back and high above him
came a quick rattle of rifle fire. As he listened another volley cracked out.
A vague feeling of apprehension clutched at him. He glanced at the distant
rim of the Ramparts. The sounds had seemed to come from that direction. A few
straggling shots sounded faintly, then silence fell. What was going on up
above those grim cliffs?
"Reckon I ought to go back and see?" he wondered. "Reckon if Murken and
his bold boys is slaughterin' each other? Or is it some wanderin' traveler
they're greetin'? Aw, likely they're after deer or maybe a mountain
He rode on slowly, but his conscience troubled him. Suddenly a familiar
voice hailed him and from the trees in front of him a horseman rode.
"Hi yah!" The rider was Hard Luck Harper. He carried the long Sharps rifle
across his saddle bow and his face was set in gloomy lines.
"I done got to worryin' about a brainless maverick like you a- wanderin'
around these hills by yoreself with Gila Murken runnin' wild thata-way, and I
come to see if you was still in the land of the livin'!"
"And I reckon you're plumb disappointed not to run into a murder or
"I don't know so much about them murders," said the old man testily.
"Didn't I hear guns a-talkin' up on the Ramparts a little while ago?"
"Likely you did, if you was listenin'."
"Yeah—and people don't go wastin' ammunition fer nothin' up
Hard Luck's finger stabbed upward and Steve, a numbing sense of foreboding
gripping his soul, whirled to look. Up over the tree-lined rim of the
Ramparts drifted a thin spiral of smoke.
"My Lord, Hard Luck!" gasped Steve. "What's goin' on up there?"
"Shet up!" snarled the old man, raising his rifle. "I hear a horse runnin'
The wild tattoo of hoofs crashed through the silence and a steed burst
through the trees of the upper slope and came plunging down toward them,
wild- eyed, nostrils flaring. On its back a crimsoned figure reeled and
flopped grotesquely. Steve spurred in front of the frantic flying animal and
caught the hanging rein, bringing the bronco to a rearing, plunging halt. The
rider slumped forward and pitched to the earth.
"Edwards!" gasped Steve.
The man lay, staring up with blank wide eyes. Blood trickled from his lips
and the front of his shirt was soaked in red. Hard Luck and Steve bent over
him. At the first glance it was evident that he was dying.
"Edwards!" exclaimed Hard Luck. "What's happened? Who shot you? And whar's
yore pards and the gal?"
"Dead!" Edwards' unshaven lips writhed redly and his voice was a
"Daid!" Hard Luck's voice broke shrilly. "Who done it?''
"Them Navajoes!" the voice sank to a ghastly whisper as blood rose to the
"I told you!" gibbered Hard Luck. "I knowed them drums meant deviltry! I
"Shut up, can't you?" snarled Steve, torn by his emotions. He gripped the
dying man's shoulder with unconsciously brutal force and shook him
"Edwards," he begged, "you're goin' over the ridge – can't you tell
us how it was before you go? Did you see Murken and his niece die?"
"Yes—it—was—like—this," the man began laboriously.
"I was—all set to go—to Rifle Pass—had my bronc
loaded—Murken and Allison was out near—the corral—the gal
was—in the cabin. All to once—the west slopes began to shower
lead. Murken went down—at the first fire. Allison was hit—and I
got a slug through me. Then a gang—of Navajoes come ridin'
down—the slopes—drunk and blood crazy.
"I got to my bronc—and started ridin' and—they drilled
me—a couple of times from behind. Lookin' back I saw—Allison
standin' in the cabin door with—both guns goin' and the
gal—crouchin' behind him. Then the whole mob—of red
devils—rushed in and I saw—the knives flashin' and drippin'
as—I come into—the gulch."
Steve crouched, frozen and horror struck. It seemed that his heart had
crumbled to ashes. The taste of dust was in his mouth.
"Any of 'em chasin' you, Edwards?" asked Hard Luck. The old Indian fighter
was in his element now; he had sloughed off his attitude of lazy good nature
and his eyes were hard and cold as steel.
"Maybe—don't know," the wounded man muttered. "All our
fault—Murken would give 'em whiskey. Warned him. They found
out—the money—he was given' 'em—was no good."
The voice broke suddenly as a red tide gushed to Edwards' lips. He lurched
up on his elbows, then toppled back and lay still.
Hard Luck grunted. He stepped over to Edwards' horse which stood
trembling, and cut open the saddlebags. He nodded.
"No more'n I expected."
Steve was rising slowly, mechanically wiping his hands on a wisp of grass.
His face was white, his eyes staring.
"She's dead!" he whispered. "She's dead!"
Hard Luck, gazing at him, felt a pang in his heart. The scene brought back
so poignantly the old bloody days of Indian warfare when men had seen their
loved ones struck down by knife and arrow.
"Son," said he, solemnly, "I never expected to see such a sight as this
The Texan gave him a glance of agony, then his eyes blazed with a wild and
"They killed her!" he screamed, beating his forehead with his clenched
fists. "And by God, I'll kill 'em all! I'll kill—kill—"
His gun was swinging in his hand as he plunged toward his horse. Hard Luck
sprang forward and caught him, holding him with a wiry strength that was
astounding for his age. He ignored the savage protests and curses, dodged a
blow of the gun barrel which the half-crazed Texan aimed at his face, and
pinioned Steve's arms. The youth's frenzied passion went as suddenly as it
had come, leaving him sobbing and shaken.
"Son," said Hard Luck calmly, "cool down. I reckon you don't want to lift
them Navajo scalps any more'n I do, and before this game's done, we're goin'
to send more'n one of 'em over the ridge. But if you go gallopin' up after
'em wide open thataway, you'll never git the chance to even the score, fer
they'll drill you before you even see 'em. Listen to me, I've fought 'em from
Sonora to the Bad Lands and I know what I'm talkin' about. Git on yore bronc.
We can't do nothin' more fer Edwards and we got work to do elsewhar. He said
Allison and Murken and the gal was daid. I reckon Murken and Allison is gone
over the ridge all right, but he didn't rightly see 'em bump off the gal, and
I'll bet my hat she's alive right now."
Steve nodded shortly. He seemed to have aged years in the last few
minutes. The easygoing young cowpuncher was gone, and in his place stood a
cold steel fighting man of the old Texas blood. His hand was as steady as a
rock, as he sheathed his pistol and swung into the saddle.
"I'm followin' your lead, Hard Luck," said he briefly. "All I ask is for
you to get me within shootin' and stabbin' distance of them devils."
The old man grinned wolfishly.
"Son, yore wants is simple and soon satisfied; follow me!"
STEVE and Hard Luck rode slowly and warily up the tree-
covered slopes which led to the foot of the Ramparts. Silence hung over the
mountain forest like a deathly fog. Hard Luck's keen old eyes roved
incessantly, ferreting out the shadows, seeking for sign of something
unnatural, something which was not as it should be, to betray the hidden
assassins. He talked in a low, guarded tone. It was dangerous but he wished
to divert Steve's mind as much as possible.
"Steve, I done looked in Edwards' saddle bags, and what you reckon I
found? A whole stack of greenbacks, tens, twenties, fifties and hundreds,
done up in bundles! It's money he's been packin' out to Rifle Pass. Whar you
reckon he got it?"
Steve did not reply nor did the old man expect an answer. The Texan's eyes
were riveted on the frowning buttresses of the Ramparts, which now loomed
over them. As they came under the brow of the cliffs, the smoke they had seen
further away was no longer visible.
"Reckon they didn't chase Edwards none," muttered Hard Luck. "Leastways
they ain't no sign of any horses followin' his. There's his tracks, alone.
These Navajoes is naturally desert Indians, anyhow, and they're 'bout as much
outa place in the mountains as a white man from the plains. They can't hold a
candle to me, anyhow."
They had halted in a thick clump of trees at the foot of the Ramparts and
the mouth of the steep defile was visible in front of them.
"That's a bad place," muttered Hard Luck. "I been up that gulch before
Gila built his cabins up on the plateau. Steve, we kin come at them Navajoes,
supposin' they're still up on there, by two ways. We kin circle to the south,
climb up the mountain-sides and come down the west slopes or we kin take a
chance an' ride right up the gulch. That's a lot quicker, of course,
pervidin' we ain't shot or mashed by fallin' rocks afore we git to the
"Let's take it on the run," urged Steve, quivering with impatience. "It'll
take more'n bullets and rocks to stop me now."
"All right," said Hard Luck, reining his horse out of the trees, "here
Of that wild ride up the gorge Steve never remembered very much. The
memory was always like a nightmare, in which he saw dark walls flash past,
heard the endless clatter of hoofs and the rattle of dislodged stones.
Nothing seemed real except the pistol he clutched in his right hand and the
laboring steed who plunged and reeled beneath him, driven headlong up the
slope with spurs that raked the panting sides.
Then they burst into the open and saw the plateau spread wide and silent
before them, with smoldering masses of coals where the cabins and corrals
should have stood. They rode up slowly. The tracks of horses led away up into
the hills to the west and there was no sign of life. Dreading what he might
see, Steve looked. Down close to where the corral had been lay the body of
Gila Murken. Lying partly in the coals that marked the remnants of the larger
cabin, was the corpse of a large darkfaced man who had once worn a heavy
beard, though now beard and hair were mostly scorched off. There was no sign
of the girl.
"Do you—do you think she burned in the cabin, Hard Luck?"
"Naw, I know she didn't fer the reason that if she hada, they'd be some
charred bones. They done rode off with her."
Steve felt a curious all-gone feeling, as if the realization that Joan was
alive was too great a joy for the human brain to stand. Even though he knew
that she must be in a fearful plight, at least she was living.
"Look it the stiffs," said Hard Luck admiringly. "There's whar Allison
made his last stand—at the cabin door, protectin' the gal, I reckon.
This Allison seemed to be a mighty hard hombre but I reckon he had a streak
of the man in him. Stranger in these parts to all but Murken."
Four Navajoes lay face down in front of the white man's body. They were
clad only in dirty trousers and blankets flung about their shoulders. They
were stone dead.
"Trail of blood from whar the corral was," said Hard Luck. "They caught
him in the open and shot him up afore he could git to the cabin, I figure.
Down there at the corral Murken died. The way I read it, Allison made a break
and got to the cabin whar the gal was. Then they surged in on him and he
killed these four devils and went over the ridge hisself."
Steve bent over the grim spectacle and then straightened.
"Thought I knowed him. Allison—Texas man he was. A real bad hombre
down on the border. Got run outa El Paso for gun-runnin' into Mexico."
"He shore made a game stand fer his last fight."
"Texas breed," said Steve grimly.
"I reckon all the good battlers ain't in Texas," said Hard Luck testily.
"Not denyin' he put up a man-sized fight. Now then, look. Trails of fourteen
horses goin' west—five carryin' weight, the rest bare—tell by the
way the hoofs sink in, of course. All the horses missin' out of the corral,
four dead Indians here. That means they wan't but a small party of 'em.
Figurin' one of the horses is bein' rid by the gal, I guess we got only four
redskins to deal with. Small war party scoutin' in front of the tribe, I
imagine, if the whole tribe's on the war path. Now they're lightin' back into
the hills with the gal, the broncs they took from the corral, and the horses
of their dead tribesmen—which stopped Allison's bullets. Best thing fer
us to do is follow and try to catch up with 'em afore they git back to the
rest of their gang."
"Then, let's go," exclaimed Steve, trembling with impatience. "I'm nearly
crazy standin' here doin' nothin'."
Hard Luck glanced at the steeds, saw that they had recovered from the
terrific strain of the flying climb, and nodded. As they rode past the embers
of the smaller cabin, he drew rein for an instant.
"Steve, what's them things?"
Steve looked sombrely at the charred and burnt machines which lay among
the smoking ruins.
"Stamps and presses and steel dies," said he. "Counterfeit machines. And
look at the greenbacks."
Fragments of green paper littered the earth as if they had been torn and
flung about in anger or mockery.
"Murken and Edwards and Allison was counterfeiters, then. Huh! No wonder
they didn't want anybody snoopin' around. That's why Murken wouldn't let the
gal go—afeard she knew too much."
They started on again at a brisk trot and Hard Luck ruminated.
"Mighta known it when they come up here a year ago. Reckon Edwards went to
Rifle Pass every week, or some other nearby place, and put the false bills in
circulation. Musta had an agent. And they give money to the Indians, too, to
keep their mouths shet, and give 'em whiskey. And the Indians found they'd
been given money which was no good. And bein' all fired up with Murken's bad
whiskey, they just bust loose."
"If so be we find Joan," said Steve somberly, "say nothin' about her uncle
bein' a crook."
Their steeds were mounting the western slopes, up which went the trail of
the marauders. They crossed the ridge, went down the western incline and
struck a short expanse of comparatively level country.
"Listen at the drums!" muttered Hard Luck. "Gettin' nearer. The whole
tribe must be on the march."
The drums were talking loud and clear from somewhere in the vastness in
front of them and Steve seemed to catch in their rumble an evil note of
Then the two riders were electrified by a burst of wild and ferocious
yells from the heavily timbered levels to the west, in the direction they
were going. Flying hoofs beat out a thundering tattoo and a horse raced into
sight running hard and low, with a slim white figure lying close along his
neck. Behind came four hideous painted demons, spurring and yelling.
"Joan!" The word burst from Steve's lips in a great shout and he spurred
forward. Simultaneously he heard the crash of Hard Luck's buffalo gun and saw
the foremost redskin topple earthward, his steed sweeping past with an empty
saddle. The girl whirled up beside him, her arms reaching for him.
"Steve!" Her cry was like the wail of a lost child.
"Ride for the plateau and make it down through the gulch!" he shouted,
wheeling aside to let her pass. "Go!"
Then he swung back to meet the oncoming attackers. The surprize had been
as much theirs as the white men's. They had not expected to be followed so
soon, and when they had burst through the trees, the sight of the two white
men had momentarily stunned them with the unexpectedness of it. However, the
remaining three came on with desperate courage and the white men closed in to
Hard Luck's single shot rifle was empty, but he held it in his left hand,
guiding his steed with his knees, while he drew a long knife with his free
hand. Steve spurred in, silent and grim, holding his fire until the first of
the attackers was almost breast to breast with him. Then, as the rifle stock
in the red hands went up, Steve shot him twice through his painted face and
saw the fierce eyes go blank before the body slumped from the saddle. At the
same instant Hard Luck's horse crashed against the bronc of another Indian
and the lighter mustang reeled to the shock. The redskin's thrusting blade
glanced from the empty rifle barrel and the knife in Hard Luck's right hand
whipped in, just under the heart.
The lone survivor wheeled his mustang as if to flee, then pivoted back
with an inhuman scream and fired point-blank into Steve's face, so closely
that the powder burned his cheek. Without stopping to marvel at the miracle
by which the lead had missed, Steve gripped the rifle barrel and
White man and Indian tumbled from the saddles, close-locked, and there,
writhing and struggling in the dust, the Texan killed his man, beating out
his brains with the pistol barrel.
"Hustle!" yelled Hard Luck. "The whole blame tribe is just over that rise
not a half a mile away, if I'm to jedge by the sounds of them
Steve mounted without a backward glance at the losers of that grim red
game who lay so stark and motionless. Then he saw the girl, sitting her horse
not a hundred yards away, and he cursed in fright. He and Hard Luck swept up
beside her and he exclaimed:
"Joan, why didn't you ride on, like I told you?"
"I couldn't run away and leave you!" she sobbed; her face was deathly
white, her eyes wide with horror.
"Hustle, blast it!" yelled Hard Luck, kicking her horse. "Git movin'! Do
you love birds wanta git all our scalps lifted?"
Over the thundering of the flying hoofs, as they raced eastward, she
"They were taking me somewhere—back to their tribe, maybe—but
I worked my hands loose and dashed away on the horse I was riding. Oh, oh,
the horrors I've seen today! I'll die, I know I will."
"Not so long as me and brainless here has a drop of blood to let out,"
grunted Hard Luck, misunderstanding her.
They topped the crest which sloped down to the plateau and Joan averted
"Good thing scalpin's gone outa fashion with the Navajoes," grunted Hard
Luck under his breath, "or she'd see wuss than she's already saw."
They raced across the plateau and swung up to the upper mouth of the
gulch. There Hard Luck halted.
"Take a little rest and let the horses git their wind. The Indians ain't
in sight yit and we kin see 'em clean across the plateau. With this start and
our horses rested, we shore ought to make a clean gitaway. Now, Miss Joan,
don't you look at—at them cabins what's burned. What's done is done and
can't be undid. This game ain't over by a long shot and what we want to do is
to think how to save us what's alive. Them that's dead is past hurtin'."
"But it is all so horrible," she sobbed, drooping forward in her saddle.
Steve drew up beside her and put a supporting arm about her slim waist. He
was heart-torn with pity for her, and the realization that he loved her so
deeply and so terribly.
"Shots!" she whimpered. "All at once—like an earthquake! The air
seemed full of flying lead! I ran to the cabin door just as Allison came
reeling up all bloody and terrible. He pushed me back in the cabin and stood
in the door with a pistol in each hand. They came sweeping up like painted
fiends, yelling and chanting.
"Allison gave a great laugh and shot one of them out of his saddle and
roared: 'Texas breed, curse you!' And he stood up straight in the doorway
with his long guns blazing until they had shot him through and through again
and again, and he died on his feet." She sobbed on Steve's shoulder.
"Sho, Miss," said Hard Luck huskily. "Don't you worry none about Allison;
I don't reckon he woulda wanted to go out any other way. All any of us kin
ask is to go out with our boots on and empty guns smokin' in our hands."
"Then they dragged me out and bound my wrists," she continued listlessly,
"and set me on a horse. They turned the mustangs out of the corral and then
set the corral on fire and the cabins too, dancing and yelling like fiends. I
don't remember just what all did happen. It seems like a terrible dream."
She passed a slim hand wearily across her eyes.
"I must have fainted, then. I came to myself and the horse I was on was
being led through the forest together with the horses from the corral and the
mustangs whose riders Allison had killed. Somehow I managed to work my hands
loose, then I kicked the horse with my heels and he bolted back the way we
"Look sharp!" said Hard Luck suddenly, rising in his saddle. "There they
The crest of the western slopes was fringed with war-bonnets. Across the
plateau came the discordant rattle of the drums.
"EASY ALL!" said Hard Luck. "We got plenty start and we got
to pick our way, goin' down here. A stumble might start a regular avalanche.
I've seen such things happen in the Sunsets. Easy all!"
They were riding down the boulder-strewn trail which led through the
defile. It was hard to ride with a tight rein and at a slow gait with the
noise of those red drums growing louder every moment, and the knowledge that
the red killers were even now racing down the western slopes.
The going was hard and tricky. Sometimes the loose shale gave way under
the hoofs, and sometimes the slope was so steep that the horses reared back
on their haunches and slid and scrambled. Again Steve found time to wonder
how Joan found courage to go up and down this gorge almost every day. Back on
the plateau, now, he could hear the yells of the pursuers and the echoes
shuddered eerily down the gorge. Joan was pale, but she handled her mount
"Nearly at the bottom," said Hard Luck, after what seemed an age. "Risk a
little sprint, now."
The horses leaped out at the loosening of the reins and crashed out onto
the slopes in a shower of flying shale and loose dirt. "Good business—"
said Hard Luck—and then his horse stumbled and went to its knees,
throwing him heavily.
Steve and the girl halted their mounts, sprang from the saddle. Hard Luck
was up in an instant cursing.
"My horse is lame—go on and leave me!"
"No!" snarled Steve. "We can both ride on mine."
He whirled to his steed; up on the plateau crashed an aimless volley as if
fired into the air. Steve's horse snorted and reared—the Texan's
clutching hand missed the rein and the bronco wheeled and galloped away into
the forest. Steve stood aghast, frozen at this disaster.
"Go on!" yelled Hard Luck. "Blast you, git on with the gal and dust it
"Get on your horse!" Steve whirled to the girl. "Get on and go!"
"I won't!" she cried. "I won't ride off and leave you two here to die!
I'll stay and die with you!"
"Oh, my Lord!" said Steve, cursing feminine stubbornness and lack of
logic. "Grab her horse, Hard Luck. I'll put her on by main force
"Too late!" said Hard Luck with a bitter laugh. "There they come!"
Far up at the upper end of the defile a horseman was silhouetted against
the sky like a bronze statue. A moment he sat his horse motionless and in
that moment Hard Luck threw the old buffalo gun to his shoulder. At the
reverberating crash the Indian flung his arms wildly and toppled headlong, to
tumble down the gorge with a loose flinging of his limbs. Hard Luck laughed
as a wolf snarls and the riderless horse was jostled aside by flying steeds
as the upper mouth of the defile filled with wild riders.
"Git back to the trees," yelled Hard Luck, leading the race from the
cliff's base, reloading as he ran. "Guess we kin make a last stand,
Steve, sighting over his pistol barrel as he crouched over the girl,
gasped as he saw the Navajoes come plunging down the long gulch. They were
racing down- slope with such speed that their horses reeled to their knees
again and again, recovering balance in a flying cloud of shale and sand.
Rocks dislodged by the flashing hoofs rattled down in a rain. The whole gorge
was crowded with racing horsemen. Then—
"I knowed it!" yelled Hard Luck, smiting his thigh with a clenched
High up the gulch a horse had stumbled, hurtling against a great boulder.
The concussion had jarred the huge rock loose from its precarious base and
now it came rumbling down the slope, sweeping horses and men before it. It
struck other boulders and tore them loose; the gorge was full of frantic
plunging steeds whose riders sought vainly to escape the avalanche they had
started. Horses went down screaming as only dying horses can scream, a wild
babble of yells arose, and then the whole earth seemed to rock.
Jarred by the landslide, the overhanging walls reeled and shattered and
came thundering down into the gorge, wiping out the insects which struggled
there, blocking and closing the defile forever. Boulders and pieces of cliff
weighing countless tons shelved off and came sliding down. The awed watchers
among the trees rose silently, unspeaking. The air seemed full of flying
stones, hurled out by the shattering fall of the great rocks. And one of
these stones through some whim of chance came curving down through the trees
and struck Hard Luck Harper just over the eye. He dropped like a log.
Steve, still feeling stunned, as if his brain had been numbed by the crash
and the roar of the falling cliffs, knelt beside him. Hard Luck's eyes
flickered open and he sat up.
"Kids," said he solemnly, "that was a terrible and awesome sight! I've
seen a lot of hard things in my day and I ain't no Indian lover, but it got
me to see a whole tribe of fighting men git wiped out that way. But I knowed
as shore as they started racing down that gulch, it'd happen."
He glanced down idly at the stone which had struck him, started, stooped
and took it up in his hand. Steve had turned to the girl, who, the reaction
having set in, was sobbing weakly, her face hidden in her hands. The Texan
put his arms about her hesitantly.
"Joan," said he, "you ain't never said nothin' and I ain't never said
nothin' but I reckon it hasn't took words to show how I love you."
"Steve—" broke in Hard Luck excitedly.
"Shut up!" roared Steve, glaring at him. "Can't you see I'm busy?"
Hard Luck shrugged his shoulders and approached the great heap of broken
stone and earth, from which loose shale was still spilling in a wide stream
down the slight incline at the foot of the cliffs.
"Joan," went Steve, "as I was sayin' when that old buzzard interrupted, I
love you, and—and—and if you feel just a little that way towards
me, let me take care of you!"
For answer she stretched out her arms to him.
"Joan kid," he murmured, drawing her cheek down on his bosom and stroking
her hair with an awkward, gentle hand, "reckon I can't offer you much. I'm
just a wanderin' cowhand—"
"You ain't!" an arrogant voice broke in. Steve looked up to see Hard Luck
standing over them. The old man held the stone which had knocked him down,
while with the other hand he twirled his long drooping mustache. A strange
air was evident about him—he seemed struggling to maintain an urbane
and casual manner, yet he was apparently about to burst with pride and
"You ain't no wanderin' cowboy," he repeated. "You'll never punch another
cow as long as you live. Yore one fourth owner of the Sunset Lode Mine, the
blamedest vein of ore ever discovered!"
The two stared at him.
"Gaze on this yer dornick!" said Hard Luck. "Note the sparkles in it and
the general appearance which sets it plumb apart from the ordinary rock! And
now look yonder!"
He pointed dramatically at a portion of the cliff face which had been
uncovered by the slide.
"Quartz!" he exulted. "The widest, deepest quartz vein I ever see! Gold
you can mighta near work out with yore fingers, by golly! I done figured it
out—after I wandered away and got found by them buffalo hunters, a
slide come and covered the lode up. That's why I couldn't never find it
again. Now this slide comes along, forty year later, and uncovers it, slick
as you please!
"Very just and proper, too. Indians euchered me outa my mine the first
time and now Indians has give it back to me. I guess I cancel the debt of
that lifted ha'r.
"Now listen to me and don't talk back. One fourth of this mine belongs to
me by right of discovery. One fourth goes to any relatives of Bill Hansen's
which might be living. For the other two fourths, I'm makin' you two equal
partners. How's that?"
Steve silently gripped the old man's hand, too full for speech. Hard Luck
took the young Texan's arm and laid it about Joan's shoulders.
"Git to yore love makin' and don't interrupt a man what's tryin' to figure
out how to spend a million!" said he loftily.
"Joan, girl," said Steve softly, "what are you cryin' about? It's easy to
forget horrors when you're young. You're wealthy now, we're goin' to be
married just as soon as we can—and the drums of Sunset Mountains will
never beat again."
"I guess I'm just happy," she answered, lifting her lips to his.
"He first come in the money, and he spent it just
"He always drank good liquor wherever he might be!"
So sang Hard Luck Harper from the depths of his satisfaction.