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Title: The Riders of Ramapo Pass

Author: Dean L. Heffernan

Release date: July 14, 2021 [eBook #65834]

Language: English

Original publication: United States: The Frank A. Munsey Company, 1919

Credits: Roger Frank


The Riders of Ramapo Pass


by Dean L. Heffernan

Transcriber’s Note: This story appeared in the December 20, 1919 issue of the All-Story Weekly magazine published by the Frank T. Munsey Company.


There was a time in the West when hard men lived hard—and died hard! The mountains and ravines were pouring out their long-hoarded treasures with reckless prodigality, and the lure of gold, like a magnet, drew creatures of every description and nationality. So rapid was the invasion of eager fortune-hunters that law and order, unable to keep pace, were left far behind.

On the strength of a mere rumor, towns sprang up overnight, flourished feverishly and briefly, and expired. Fortunes were hourly lost and won on the turn of a card.

A hasty word produced a hasty funeral. Men came to accept strangers at their face value; nor did they inquire too closely into the past life and antecedents of even their best friends. Every one was a law unto himself. The long-barreled six-shooter was the accepted judge, jury, and executioner in all controversies, and the slowest of tongue, the quickest of arm, the surest of eye, were the longest of life.

It was an everyday affair for a man to be a beggar at morn, a millionaire at noon, and a corpse at night!

The Red Valley stage, rocking and swaying, bowled down the steep, rutty road and came to a jarring halt before the “Silver Star” amid a swirling, scurrying cloud of dust. For a second or two it paused, with horses panting. Then old Bailey, the driver, shouted and cracked his whip, the four horses strained forward, and the next minute the lumbering vehicle careened around a bend in the road and disappeared into the forest.

It left a stranger behind it, standing in the road beside his baggage.

He calmly looked over his surroundings. Then, with perfect ease, he lifted his heavy wooden box by its rope handle and advanced to the group of men who had been more or less disinterestedly watching him from the low porch of the town’s combined saloon, post-office, and general store.

A miner who was distinguished by his height, his unusual slenderness of waist, and a long scar which drew up the left corner of his lip into a repulsive grin, eyed him closely from the front of the group. The new arrival set down his baggage and addressed him.

“Is this Ramapo, friend?” he asked quietly.

The miner let his eyes rove superciliously over his questioner. He saw a young man almost as tall as himself, with curly black hair. His features were clean-cut, his figure straight, and his shoulders broad and powerful. He wore the comfortable, careless western costume of that period, now dusty and mud-splashed from traveling; but he carried no pistol at his hip. Except for an indefinable air of breeding about him, and a soft drawl in his speech that proclaimed him as a Southerner, there was little to distinguish him from any member of the group before which he stood.

“You gits a bull’s-eye, Curly,” the tall man answered, making no effort to conceal the sneer in his voice. “This is the great an’ in-famous metropolis o’ Ramapo, itself! An’, bein’ one of its leadin’ citizens an’ misfortunes, I hereby welcomes you, an’ invites you to plant your stakes in this fertile landscape an’ decorate the scenery with your charmin’ personality.”

There was a little snicker behind him.

“Thanks,” the stranger answered coolly, his gray eyes, under his broad-brimmed hat, looking steadily into the other’s. “Evidently Ramapo has some curious attractions.”

“The keenness o’ your observation is astonishin’” the other replied, his face pushing and his eyes narrowing. “Ramapo has special attractions to induce the weary traveler to locate here, the most convincin’ o’ which is a good supply o’ lead, forty-four caliber, which it hastens to offer to them as has command o’ language, but no control of it.”

“I suppose you’re a newcomer then,” the curly-haired man remarked evenly. Then, seeing the other’s scowl darken, he added quietly: “Perhaps you can direct me to Major Dudley’s house.”

The other’s face instantly became suspicious. “What do you want there?” he asked.

“I reckon you needn’t worry about that, friend,” the stranger answered pleasantly. “Now, if you will kindly point out the major’s house to me, I won’t take up any more of your undoubtedly valuable time.”

For a moment the other eyed him angrily. Then he smiled. “Why, yes. I’ll do that, Curly,” he said slowly. “I al’ys endeavors to prevent the wayfarer gittin’ lost in the mazes o’ this here metropolis. It’s that one yonder that you see stickin’ above the trees at the bend in the road.”

The stranger looked up the road in the direction indicated.

“There are three white ones there,” he said. “From your vivid description, it might be either.”

The ugly grin deepened on the miner’s face. “I never was no hand at disseminatin’ description,” he drawled. “The domicile to which I refers, Curly, is the one with the broken winder in front.”

With careless unconcern yet astonishing speed he drew his revolver and fired. From where they stood they could all see a pane in a front window of the farthest house collapse. The tinkle of breaking glass came to their ears.

A loud guffaw broke from the group. Passers-by stopped for an instant, saw what had happened, shrugged their shoulders and went on about their business. The miner with a mock bow thrust his revolver back into its holster.

“That ought to help you locate it, Curly. Think you’ll be able to find your way there now, or do I gotta send a guide along with you so’s you won’t git lost?”

The stranger gazed toward the house a moment, then turned to his informer. His face preserved its pleasant expression; but it was paler, and his eyes held a little gleam.

“I suppose there are people living there,” he said.

“Your supposition is in accord with the law an’ the evidence in the case,” the other replied. “That disinspirin’ mansion has the honor to contain the major an’ Ramapo’s pride an’ joy, his daughter.”

“Then, of course, there was a chance that your clever manner of pointing it out might have resulted in killing one of them.”

“Them little accidents has been known to happen here, Curly. But us inhabitants o’ this thrivin’ city don’t lose no sleep over no such uninteristin’ reflections. Y’see, we git whisky here for a dollar a throw, an’ life for nothin’; so we natcherly figgers as how the former ought to git considerable more respect an’ attention. Life ain’t at no high premium here, Curly.”

The stranger’s gray eyes had not left those of the man before him. “It mustn’t be,” he said pleasantly, “when they permit you to live here—you drunken dog!” He calmly reached for his baggage.

At the words a little murmur went up from the group. It shifted expectantly. The face of the miner went black with wrath, and his lip curled back from his discolored teeth in a vicious snarl. His revolver again flashed from its holster. Over on the side of the crowd some one laughed.

“’Fore y’kill it, Williams,” the voice said, “ask it where it wants the remains shipped to. Maybe its maw is pinin’ for it somewheres, an’ might git angry if it was put away without no nice flowers an’ oratory an’ sech like.”

The tall man turned quickly. “Shut up, Red! Reckon I can emanate all the elocution necessary for this here occasion.” He turned again to the stranger. “Just a minute with that baggage, sonny, while I gives you a hint or two regardin’ your future behavior in this here town. Them remarks you was uncautious enough to drop ain’t considered courchus an’ proper in polite s’ciety in Ramapo. We usually relieves our feelin’s by applyin’ gunpowder an’ lead to the offender an’ turnin’ him over to the undertakin’ Oscar for treatment. But o’ course ’tain’t reasonable to expect a newcomer to git to know us an’ all our little customs all to once. So we’ll overlook them little violations of etikett. Howsever, as spokesman an’ representative o’ this here unnoble metropolis, I begs to state as how we takes sort o’ natcherl to entertainment, an’ al’ays displays a brotherly interest in the accomplishments of our new citizens. We has a hankerin’, therefore, to see what you can do. Next to drinkin’, dancin’ is our fav’rite sport an’ recreation. S’pose you gives us some idear o’ your abilities along that line, Curly. Better begin now.”

As he finished speaking, he lowered the muzzle of his revolver, and one after another the bullets cracked around the newcomer’s toes, sending spurts of dust over his boots. But the young fellow did not move. He stood coolly eying the man before him. When the six chambers were empty, the miner angrily drew his other pistol.

Before he had time to fire a single cartridge, however, something happened. The stranger leaped forward like a spring suddenly released. His right hand shot out and struck the revolver from the miner’s fingers, and his left, knotted into a solid ball of bone and sinew, flashed straight from the shoulder, collided firmly, but quite ungently, with that individual’s unimposing physiognomy, and hurled him sprawling into the dust.

For an instant the miner lay where he had fallen; then, with a roar of rage, he started to scramble to his feet. He found himself, however, looking past the businesslike bore of his own weapon into two very cool but earnest gray eyes. Discretion hinted that it would be best to retain a sitting posture for the time being.

“Keep your hands away from your guns, boys,” the stranger was remarking. “It would be embarrassing to have to shoot such new acquaintances! As for you, you emaciated rum-hound, dancing is an excellent recreation, as you say, but unfortunately I enjoy it only when I do it to amuse myself. Now, listen—I’m not in the habit of repeating! My intentions in this place are perfectly peaceful; and I didn’t come here to start trouble. But if you feel any inclination to begin it. I’ll hold up my end. I’m pretty generous with it, when I get going. It would be best for your health, therefore, not to waste more of your valuable lead or time on me. Try to remember that, friend, and I have no doubt we’ll get along splendidly.”

For a moment he continued to gaze steadily into the furious, blood-shot eyes of the miner. Then he smiled, picked up his box with his free hand, and moved away in the direction of the house with the broken window. Fifty feet from the group, he tossed the pistol into the road. It lay there half-buried in the dust.

The crowd of miners milled around uneasily and murmured under their breaths. It was an unwritten law that no man interfere in the little misunderstandings and arguments of any other man. One of them walked out into the road, secured the discarded weapon, and silently handed it back to its owner. It was evident that the tall man was one of these creatures who frequently attained a doubtful leadership in the early days of the West through sheer brutality and terrorism, and the ability to kill too quickly to be killed themselves. As he scrambled to his feet, his small, darting eyes caught the question and doubt in the faces of the men around him. He burst into a volley of profanity, raised the weapon, and pointed it at the disappearing figure.

Before he could fire it, however, there was an interruption. A big roan horse had darted suddenly from nowhere, flashed before the group, and reared up on its haunches before him. Now a riding-crop swung through the air and descended on his wrist. For the second time that afternoon, the revolver was sent spinning from his fingers.

Mad with pain and fury, he reached for the weapon. But the rider forced the horse against him and jostled him back. He looked up into the snapping blue eyes of a remarkably handsome and remarkably pale girl. She was dressed in a riding costume almost mannish in its Western simplicity, and a very serviceable revolver was suspended at her side from a well-stocked cartridge-belt.

“You coward!” she blazed. “Would you kill a man with his back turned!”

He was silent a moment, trying to meet the fiery gaze.

“Don’t reckon I owe you no account o’ my doin’s,” he answered with a curious mixture of deference and sullenness. “You better be on your way. I don’t fight with women!”

“Oh, you don’t! But you’re perfectly willing to shoot a man when he’s not looking! Brave, aren’t you?”

His eyes dropped before her. For some reason, the man seemed to become a different creature in her presence. When he answered, it was almost respectfully.

“I don’t intend to have no quarrel with you, anyhow.”

“No?” Her eyes quickly ran over the smirking faces of the group behind him. “I’m glad to hear it. But I can’t help wondering why I’m so highly honored.”

“You know why just as well as I do!”

The girl flushed. “I’m not just sure that I understand what you mean,” she answered coldly. “But if you insinuate what I think you do, I advise you not to make a remark like that again, if you value your life! I don’t! Perhaps you understand me.”

His face darkened; but the ugly smile appeared again on his lips.

“I ain’t a man what gives up easy,” he leered. “An’ when I wants anythin’, I usually gets it sooner or later! Maybe you gits my meanin’!”

The blood slowly drained from her face. The clean line of her chin seemed to become more apparent. Her fingers tightened about the handle of the riding-crop until the knuckles showed white.

“I ought to shoot you like a dog for that,” she said quietly. “But, instead. I’ll tell you this: There isn’t a decent woman alive who would tolerate you near her! As for me, if you ever so much as repeat what you said, or show yourself inside our gate, I’ll kill you without a second’s hesitation! That’s all I have to say to you.”

With easy grace, she wheeled the big roan, touched him lightly with her spurs, and galloped up the road.


“I’m glad you are here, of course, Rand—awfully glad! But I can’t understand how you ever came to leave God’s country for—this!”

Her voice, soft and reminiscent, came to him through the darkness as they moved slowly across the little garden toward the high bluff overlooking the river. The garden was Jeanne Dudley’s special care and pride; and the delicate odors of the vivid flowers were very sweet and refreshing to him after his long journey. Overhead, stars twinkled with the bigness and brilliance which they show only in the high, free lands of the mountains.

“‘Beggars can’t be choosers,’ Jeanne,” Rand Cameron, the curly-haired man, laughed. “Dad left nothing—but bills; and they swallowed the plantation! I had to do something. The gold-fields seemed to offer a chance; and, as I knew you and the major were in this neighborhood, I—well, here I am!”

“Yes, here you are,” his blue-eyed companion answered seriously, “in one of the wildest gold-fields of the country!”

“But—with you,” he replied softly.

She did not answer, and he took her hand. After a moment, she gently withdrew it.

“Don’t Rand, please.”

“You’re—you’re not holding that silly quarrel against me, are you?” he asked dejectedly. “Five years, Jeanne! I—I hoped you would forgive and forget that!”

“I did, Rand! I realized long ago that I was wrong, too! It’s not that. I’m afraid I can’t make you understand. It’s just that—that I’ve seen so much of the wickedness and greed and brutality of—men, since gold was found here, that—well, I don’t expect—oh, I can’t talk about it, Rand!”

“But we’re not all that way, Jeanne!”

“I know that, of course. But it—doesn’t seem to make up for some of the—things I’ve seen.”

“Then—is there no hope for me?”

“I’m afraid not.” Her answer was in a low voice, and she did not look up.

They had come to the edge of the cliff and now stood looking down at the chattering little river whose magic name had summoned the treasure-seekers from far and wide.

“Nevertheless,” he said quietly, “I will hope. I haven’t come across a whole continent to—to give up now! I love you, Jeanne. I always have loved you. I won’t lose you just because these creatures out here have been making—gold-beasts of themselves!”

She was silent a moment. “Then,” she questioned softly, “it wasn’t true that you came here for the gold-fields?”

“That was the truth,” he answered slowly, “but only a small part of it. I came here for you! And just as soon as I make my strike, I’ll try again—and keep on trying until I win or there’s not a chance left. But until then, Jeanne, you will not be bothered about it any more. I give you my word for that.”

There was a little awkward pause.

“The major is looking well,” he said, changing the subject with an effort. “The air and the climate out here must have helped him a great deal.”

“Papa was getting along wonderfully until gold was discovered.” Her voice was troubled. “But since then the excitement and the—the fever here have almost undone it all. It—it almost makes me cry to think of it! It was so beautiful and peaceful here, Rand. Now they’re flocking into the valley by thousands, all kinds of creatures, some of them almost savages! They’re fighting and robbing and killing each other every day. There is no control whatever. Crimes of every kind are committed as if they were nothing! I’m afraid we’ll have to move again, for papa’s sake!”

“But can’t something be done about it? Aren’t there any decent men here at all?”

“There are lots of them,” she answered hopelessly, “but they are all demoralized by the worse element. They have no leader, and they’re so eager to get rich themselves they haven’t time to think about anything like organizing. No one will accept the office of sheriff, or any other office that would require them to take risks! You must be careful, Rand! You did a dangerous thing in quarreling with Williams the very first day you were here!”

“Williams!” he echoed. “Oh, you refer to that thin, sneering brute that I had the pleasure of knocking down this afternoon. I’m not much worried about him.”

The girl glanced at his clean-cut profile. It was evident that he was not aware of what had happened that afternoon after he had taken his departure from the “Silver Star.”

“You don’t know him,” she answered anxiously, “or you would be! They call him ‘Wasp’ Williams, and it’s not merely because he looks like one, but because he is one. He is a coward at heart, I’m sure—like all bullies! But he is dangerous. He is the best and quickest shot around here. He has killed any number of others, and he won’t hesitate to kill you, too, Rand, if you give him an excuse—and you have already done that, according to their code! He has a queer smattering of education, and he has got to be one of the leaders of the men. Most of them hate him; but they fear him even more so. You needn’t expect any mercy or fair play from his creatures! There are quite a few who were probably glad of what you did, and would like to take your side! but they do not dare to. They know how any kind of a duel with him always ends! The worst of it is, Rand, he—he—”

“What?” He suddenly stopped in front of her and shot out the question.

“He—oh, Rand, it makes me shiver to—talk, about it!”

Very quietly he took her by the shoulders, and stared down into the shadowy oval that was her face. When he spoke his voice was calm; but it was the dangerous calmness of deep waters.

“Jeanne,” he asked, “did that beast dare to—make love to you?”

“He tried to,” she faltered, “but I—I drove him away!”

“Good God!” His arms dropped to his side. “If I had known that this afternoon, I would have smashed his leering face to pulp!”

She placed a small, strong hand on his arm.

“Rand, for my sake, and father’s, you must not do anything like that! Any trouble now might—take him away from me. I’m hoping we’ll be able to manage till things get better here. And, in the meanwhile, we’re just—being careful!”

He walked up and down for several moments in silence. Then he turned a controlled face to her.

“Perhaps in time we’ll find a solution,” he said. “In the meanwhile, don’t worry, Jeanne. Above all, don’t worry any more about that creature you call Wasp Williams. There isn’t a drop of courage in his entire body!”

“That is why we should fear him!” she said quickly, “If he was a decent man, he would move in the open, and there would not be so much to be alarmed about. But he is a—a snake, Rand! You have not been here long enough to realize what a nest this place has become.”

As if to prove her words, at that very moment a volley of shots rang out from the direction of the village. A sharp cry, a chorus of hoarse laughter, and then the usual low hum of the night-life in the little town!

The girl trembled. “It is happening like that every day and every night. I’m afraid poor papa won’t be able to stand it much longer! And I have gotten to love this place so, Rand—these mountains and rivers and cañons! I love them in spite of—this!” Her arm swept in a wide semicircle which took in the entire town. “It would break my heart to leave Red Valley!”

There was another little pause. He stood with grave face, looking in the direction whence the sound of the shots had come.

“There must be some way,” he said thoughtfully. “I wish I knew what it was.”

“There is only one way I can think of,” she answered slowly. “It has often occurred to me, but it is unusual and extremely dangerous! Still, it succeeded once before, however, and might again.”

“What is it?” he asked, trying to see her face in the faint light of the stars.

She came closer, and for several minutes whispered eagerly in his ear. Then she stepped back and waited. He drew a long breath.

“I think it would work again,” he said at last. “Your father was one of the chiefs, wasn’t he?”

“Chief of the Clans of our whole State,” she answered proudly.

“It has this advantage,” he said after a moment, “that it is most powerful against the ignorant and superstitious; and that is mostly the kind we would have to contend with here! And it would give the decent men a chance to do something without being known! Jeanne, I believe we can do it! I believe we can save this place yet!”

“We would need help, Rand, and we would have to be careful. But I’m sure if we got it started we could get many more to join us! I could name a dozen. And, if we began to be successful, the better element would be glad to flock to it. It would be hard at first; but I believe we can do it, too.”

“Then we will!” he said quickly. “It’s well worth the danger and the sacrifice. I’m willing to do my part, no matter what it brings!”

“And I’ll do mine,” she answered very quietly.

With a little murmur, he took her hand again; and this time he would not let it go.

“If we win,” he said with grim tenderness, “I might not be willing to wait until I make my strike. I might claim my reward at once, Jeanne; and it will be—you!” He raised the hand to his lips and kissed it.

“For success!”


One morning the riotous, reckless, feverish town of Ramapo awoke to a new excitement. On a rude bulletin-board in front of the post-office, appeared a poster in large, clear letters. No one knew how it had come there. The post-office force had discovered it when “he” arrived to open up for the day.

Its message was brief and to the point:

To the People of Ramapo:

Law and Order are hereby declared in force. All men are warned that henceforth lawlessness will be met with swift punishment. Serious offenses will merit death.    J.

Though the letters in all the rest of the notice were black, the “J” at the end was in bright-red. It was large, and set squarely in the center of the sheet. There was a quiet power in the single red character, an absence of bluster in the wording, that did not fail to have their effect. A large crowd quickly gathered. Men read the poster with serious faces, and questions flew thick and fast as to its origin and meaning. No one knew. No one could find out. Some openly scoffed. But the large J remained there, looking out at the crowd with a sort of calm and confident power!

Rumors sped from mouth to mouth and were expanded at every exchange. A vague uneasiness, a feeling that there was something in the wind and that the warning boded new and sinister experiences for the town, served for a time to throw a damper on its reckless gaiety.

Then a tall, thin miner forced his horse through the crowd, read the message, and broke into a loud guffaw. It seemed to relieve the situation. Several others laughed with him.

“Feller citizens,” said Wasp Williams, wheeling his horse and facing the crowd, “I begs to call your attention to this noble appeal which you sees behind me. You all knows the respect an’ esteem which I feels for them two contrivances, knowed as law an’ order! There ain’t nothin’ to compare with ’em! They offers refuge to tender feet an’ pertection to the weak-kneed. Them which is careless with language, but don’t hanker none to face the business end o’ these little toys us men is kind o’ partial to out here, cries for law an’ order like a baby for its bottle. They gotta have it so’s red-blooded he-men won’t decorate ’em with lead when they gits naughty. I’m in favor of it, by all means! But it strikes me, friends, as how this here notice shows a disconcertin’ lack o’ common ornamentation; and I figgers you’d be kind o’ pleased if I fixed it up pretty an’ attractive-like.”

He turned again, and drew both of his revolvers. With careless accuracy, he fired bullet after bullet into the sign. Twice he reloaded, and the flame leaped in a steady stream from the muzzles until the chambers were empty. Then he thrust them back. He took off his hat, made a jeering bow to the groups before him, and addressed them.

“As a leadin’ inhabitant o’ this here flourishin’ metropolis,” he remarked, “I has the honor to present my answer to the aforesaid warnin’.”

There was a shout, then a roar of laughter, from, the crowd. The tension was broken. Across the face of the notice the bullet-holes dearly traced the letters D-a-m! That was Williams’s version of the spelling of the word.

Another horse cantered up to the outskirts of the crowd. In the saddle was the straight, graceful figure of Jeanne Dudley. Seeing her, Williams made another mock bow and called to her across the heads of the men between them.

“We is celebratin’ the beginnin’ o’ law an’ order here in Ramapo,” he said. “P’r’aps you would like to git a glimpse o’ the announcement o’ this surprisin’ an’ gratifyin’ change. Boys, give way there a little an’ let the lady through.”

The crowd parted. The girl leisurely walked her horse nearer. Then she saw the bullet-holes in the poster and stopped. With a scornful glance at the man before her, she drew her own weapon and leveled it at the sign.

“Your spelling is rather poor,” she remarked coolly. “There is another letter in that word. Perhaps I can impress it on your memory better by using your own methods.”

The revolver cracked out six times, was quickly reloaded, and flashed again. Then the girl returned it to its holster, skillfully piloted her roan through the crowd, and trotted away.

Another burst of laughter and applause went up from the crowd. The missing “n” now appeared on the poster, and its even lines exhibited much more perfect shooting than had the letters stamped by the leaden markers of the Wasp. His triumph had been snatched away from him! Chagrined and flushing, he stood scowling after her.

“Got yuh that time, Wasp!” one of the men before him laughed.

Williams looked down from his horse upon the speaker, a small man notable for his very gray hair and his pleasant expression. The heavy, vertical lines between his eyebrows deepened.

“Mebbe so,” he answered; “mebbe so! But git this idear into that little think-organ o’ yourn, an’ plant it there; I’ll git her ’fore I’m done, an’ what I gits I keeps!”

“You got a full day’s work ahead o’ you, then! There ain’t no ‘fool’s gold’ about that girl!”

“Your tongue is too active for a feller o’ your size, stranger. Reckon you better be movin’!”

The little man paled, but his voice, when he replied, was even and unafraid.

“I never run from nobody yet, an’ I don’t figger to begin now.”

“No? Then stay, since you insists! An’ accept this little token o’ my esteem!”

The revolver of the Wasp darted from his hip, shot forward, and flashed once. The other staggered. He strove to keep his feet, but collapsed in the dust. A couple of bystanders carried him into the nearest house, while some one casually looked for a doctor. One of the bearers, a huge, powerful fellow, swore violently.

“The hound!” he growled. “He didn’t give little Peterson a chance!”

The other eyed the wounded man sympathetically. “Williams ain’t bothered with no sech scruples as that,” he said. “Besides, he’s been totin’ a grudge agin ‘Smiley’ here, an’ figgered this was a chance to git even.”

“How’s that?”

“Seems the little feller strayed into town a couple o’ days ago an’ showed some nuggets so big they nearly made the eyes o’ Wasp an’ his gang pop out. They tried to git him full an’ then find out where his claim is. But it didn’t work. The little man was too sharp for ’em.”

“Good for him! Hope he gits well an’ shoots the everlastin’ daylights out o’ that coyote!”

“He’ll git over it, all right. Ain’t nothin’ serious, I reckon. Guess the Wasp wasn’t tryin’ to kill him outright, ’cause then he’d never git to know where the little feller has planted his stakes! An’, if I was you, McCoy, I wouldn’t be too careless with them remarks. Funerals is too common in this town as it is!”

Outside, the momentary hush which had fallen upon the crowd was quickly lifted. Some shrugged their shoulders. Others laughed. One or two tried a few pot-shots at the red “J” for luck; and in a short while the town was about its haphazard business as indifferent, as unconcerned as ever.


But less than a week later it had occasion to remember the incident!

The stage was held up and robbed in the deep woods just before it entered the town. Old Bailey, gallantly attempting resistance, was brought down with three bullets from the revolvers of the highwaymen. But the keen eye of the old Westerner somehow recognized the two assailants. Before he died, every one knew that the bandits were “Pete” Slocum and “Red” Ritter, two of the worst characters in the valley. Yet no effort was made to apprehend them. They quietly disappeared. No one assumed authority to trace them and administer punishment.

Nevertheless, two days afterward the bodies of both men were found on the post-office steps. The looped ends of the ropes with which justice had been done upon them had been left around their necks. And on the shirt-front of each there was a piece of black paper about four inches square, with a red J in the center!

This disquieting incident was quickly followed by others. “Big Bill” Bondy, slayer of “Gabby” Taylor—and others—was found sprawled out on the floor of his shack with a bullet-hole in his forehead. The room showed abundant evidences of a struggle—and the red J was pinned on his breast!

In the weeks that succeeded, other leaders of the worse element, men whose pistol-stocks bore many a notch, and whose sense of decency and morality bore more, met the same fate. After a particularly notorious example of his marksmanship, and disregard for such trifles as the conventions, one would be located swinging from a tree; another discovered, lifeless, in his cabin; still another picked up, now and then, from the dust of the road. In every case the same terrible red letter on the body showed whence the retribution had come.

Fear and excitement ran high in the valley. Men became cautious about venturing out after sunset. All went fully armed. But, withal, it did not escape the notice of many that the better inhabitants were not molested. Only those whose crimes were known and certain had suffered. There was a large element which found relief and satisfaction in that reflection.

Rumors began to spread of night-riders roaming the valley. On several occasions pale-faced men galloped up to the “Silver Star” and reported having seen small troops of horsemen flitting along the dark roads. Their tales were usually incoherent and contradictory; but all tallied in one particular—that the riders wore some kind of long, dark, flowing garment, and that nothing could be seen of their faces.

It was observed also that certain of the lesser desperadoes were mysteriously disappearing from time to time and failing to return. Their shacks betrayed signs of a hasty departure. Invariably hoof-prints around their deserted cabins indicated that a considerable number of horses had been present.

At last, at two different times, parties composed of the most determined and desperate of the troublesome element set out in search of information about the nocturnal raiders, and, if possible, revenge. “Wasp” Williams was not a member of either of these expeditions. For some reason he found it necessary to attend to important business each time they were being formed.

The first party returned late at night, unsuccessful and grumbling at their long, useless ride. The second one did not return at all!

Two hours after they had ridden away from the town, a solitary horseman galloped furiously through the Pass, launched himself from his foaming animal before the Silver Star, and staggered up to the bar. His face was ashen. He gulped down glass after glass of whiskey as though it were water. Then, somewhat calmer, he noticed the gathering around him, eyed them stolidly a moment, and spoke:

“Boys,” he remarked grimly, “I’m sayin’ ‘Adios!’ I got my fill o’ this here hell-hole, an’ I’m pullin’ my stakes soon’s I can git my dust together. I wish you all luck that stays here, but I reckon Ramapo ain’t in fer no happy times!”

It took a long time, and much coaxing and whisky, to get him to explain more fully. Finally he consented.

“We was trottin’ through that gulch they calls Rapheel’s Ravine—’count o’ the echo, I guess—an’ Bud Borresky was leadin’. We was all feelin’ pretty boisterous, when all of a sudden we hears a voice yell ‘Halt!’ We don’t see nobody at all, but we don’t waste no time comin’ to a stop.

“Well, we waits awhile without sayin’ nothin’; but I can see everybody’s kind o’ loosenin’ up his shootin’ iron, Then a figger rides out from behind a big rock about thirty yards ahead. It’s all rigged out in a kind o’ shapeless black cloth or somethin’, an’ has a sort o’ hood over its head. Couldn’t see no face at all! There was somethin’ on its chest that looked like a letter.

“I ain’t a goin’ to deny as how I gits to feelin’ kind o’ creepy! The moon was up, an’ the light, comin’ down from the openin’ at the top, was queer an’—an’ confusin’. The place is full o’ big boulders, an’ the shadows an’ bushes an’—oh, hell!” He took another gulp of the liquor, and stared gratefully into the empty glass for several minutes. Finally he drew a long breath and resumed.

“Well, this black thing eyes us a couple o’ minutes an’ then says, kind o’ quiet an’ convincin’, ‘Better turn round an’ go back. If you value your lives, don’t try any more o’ these excursions!’

“Boys, I knows right off I has heard that voice before. I couldn’t make out who it was, but it was somebody from this here town.

“But don’t say nothin’ for a second or two. Then he pushes his gun out. ‘You damn night-runnin’ coyotes!’ he yells, ‘I’ll git one o’ you anyhow!’ With that he lets fly. The black figger gives a little cry, rolls around in the saddle, an’ drops off.

“Then I hears a whistle blowin’ loud an’ shrill. Good Gawd! At that a reg’lar flock o’ them black birds dashes out everywhere, an’ the whole place busts into uproar! Guns begins crackin’ from behind every bush an’ rock, an’ the noise an’ echoes ’d wake the dead. Bud an’ about five o’ the other boys goes down with the first volley. We tries to git in a few shots ourselves, but we was wastin’ lead—didn’t seem to have no heart in the work, nohow! Some o’ the horses is hit, an’ they all begins kickin’ an’ tearin’ around. Fust thing you know, what’s left of us is gallopin’ back up the hollow hell-for-halleluiah, all mussed up an’ gittin’ in each other’s way! But we ain’t gone far when shots begins to from that end, too, an’ another flock o’ them hooded devils pops out! Some o’ the boys drops off. Gawd! I ain’t no good recollection o’ what happened after that, an’ I don’t know how I ever got out o’ that particular portion o’ Hades! A couple o’ them black figgers dashes out from behind rocks an’ comes after me on horseback. I ain’t denyin’ as how I give poor old Billy some rough persuasion—but there wasn’t no time for kindness an’ sympathy! I ain’t no clear idear when them two give it up—didn’t have no hankerin’ to look back! But I guess they must’ve followed nearly all the way to town!”

He resorted again to the bottle, then turned away. No amount of coaxing could induce him to delay and tell more. With drunken awkwardness, he mounted his horse, mumbled several times “I’m through, boys! I’m sayin’ ‘Adios,’” and vanished into the night.

The following morning a small party set out, very doubtfully and cautiously, for the scene of the encounter. They buried four of their former comrades, and brought home three whose wounds had received a rude first-aid from the night-riders. The other doughty members of that notable expedition, wounded and otherwise, were never seen again in Ramapo.


Two riders appeared upon the crest of the hill overlooking the Pass. They drew rein and looked down at the rough little town below them straggling along beside the river.

“Jeanne, we are going to win,” he said at length. There was quiet triumph in the tone.

Her eyes remained fixed on the scene below her. When she answered, her voice was sad. “Oh, Rand, think of what it is costing! I know that it has been necessary. But it’s terrible to me anyhow!”

“Is it any more terrible than what was going on before?” he asked kindly. “It was happening then simply as murder and crime. Now it is justice! There is a tremendous improvement all over the valley. Most of the people are secretly in favor of us, and there are a great many now who openly support us. It is a rough cure, I know; but remember that there was not one of these creatures we punished who had not merited it a dozen times. No one was ever killed in cold blood. All that did not resist were given the fairest trial we were able to give them under the circumstances. Nearly all of them admitted their guilt in the end. Of course, some of them fought it out; and I must admit that their courage would have been fine, if they had not been merely murderers resisting justice. My only regret, Jeanne, is that we haven’t been able to get our hands on that coward, Williams! But he’s shrewd enough not to leave town, and to keep close to the Silver Star.”

His voice had been growing more and more earnest as he spoke. “That incident in the Ravine was regrettable; but after Borresky killed poor Bernard, there was no hope of restraining the boys. You need not waste your sympathy on those rascals, Jeanne! They were caught in a trap they had hoped to spring themselves!” She did not answer, and after a moment he spoke again.

“We have done well in the first part of our work. But we will never be entirely successful until we make a public display of our power, and convince them that we are not merely a band of marauders working under cover of the dark, but a strong organization, capable of holding its own in the open. That is our final goal! It’s a chance; but if we win it our work is done. And we are strong enough now to try it with good chances of success.”

“And this time,” she said quietly, “I’m going with you.”

He started a little. “I hope you won’t do that,” he answered, his gray eyes gazing anxiously into hers. “You’ve done your part, Jeanne! Without that endless work of yours, we could not have made much of an impression. Isn’t it enough,” he asked, smiling a little, “to have supplied the—er—army with uniforms, without going out into the thick of the battle, too?”

“Not quite, Rand,” she replied. “I want to feel that I’ve done something more than just sit at home and sew. I want to have a little share in the actual winning of this victory! I’m jealous of you getting all the honor, you see!”

He hesitated. “You have done too much to be denied whatever you ask, Jeanne,” he answered seriously. “Moreover, the whole thing is your idea. I have no right to refuse you. But I hope you will change your mind.”

Her clear, blue eyes looked up into his, and she smiled. “We have an unfortunate habit in our family,” she said quietly, “of not changing our minds.”

She patted her horse affectionately, and moved off with her companion’s powerful chestnut pacing gracefully beside her.

They had scarcely begun the descent of the hill, however, when a voice hailed them. A moment later a small, gray-haired man trotted up. He was smiling amiably.

“Howdy, Miss Jeanne! Howdy, Rand!”

“Hello, Peterson,” Cameron answered heartily. “How is the convalescent?”

“Gittin’ along fine,” the little man answered. “Say,” lowering his voice, “I thought I’d tell you I’m with the boys to-morrow night.”

“Do you think you’re well enough?” Cameron’s voice was doubtful.

“Well or not well don’t make no difference! I got a few little obligations comin’ to me which I’m meanin’ to collect if anybody’ gits excited.”

“Suppose I forbid you?”

“I’d shore hate to go ag’in’ the rules o’ the organization,” Peterson grinned, “but I’m afeard I’d have to chance it.” His face became serious again. “Can I see you alone a minute, Rand? I asks your pardon, Miss Jeanne, but I got to talk over a little business with Rand in private.”

The girl smiled and nodded. The two men drew away a little, and Peterson took a sealed envelope from his pocket. He held it out to Cameron.

“I’m askin’ you to keep this,” he said gravely, “in case somethin’ might happen to me durin’ the next couple o’ weeks. Better put it in a safe place an’ take care of it. If I’m unlucky’ y’ understand—open it up. If not, I’ll take it back; an’ then I’ll have a little business proposition to talk over with you. But whatever you do, don’t lose it!”

Cameron took the envelope and put it in his pocket.

“I’ll be glad to, ‘Smiley,’” he said quietly, “and you can trust me to see that it’s kept safely.”

A look of relief flashed over the little man’s face. “Thanks,” he said. “It means a lot!”

They rejoined the girl, who had ridden her horse fearlessly to the edge of the cliff and was now looking out across the green valley. A moment later the three trotted down toward the town.


“Hands up!”

The command rang simultaneously from three directions. After a startled interval, during which many arms made unconscious gestures toward many hips, every hand was raised. These men that lined the counter, and crowded the sloppy tables of the “Silver Star,” were rough creatures all of them—men that had ridden weary miles, borne bitter hardships, and faced death in countless forms, in every State west of the Mississippi! But this was different. They were awed. More than one strong face paled. The silence became intense.

From every window at least two bright rings of metal—remorseless eyes of the grim forty-four—were turned upon them. And behind each weapon was the motionless, black figure of one of the dreaded night-riders!

The costume of the visitors consisted of a long, effuse garment which fell almost to the feet, and was topped by a cape, so arranged as to cover the back and breast while leaving the arms free. It was surmounted by a round helmet-like hood. A flap, which fell like the chain-mail of the knights of the Middle Ages from under the hood, and in which oblong horizontal apertures were cut for the eyes, effectively concealed the entire head and face. The sinister blackness of the habit was relieved by just one thing—the even more sinister red “J” on the right breast of each rider!

One of the visitors, distinguished by his height, his powerful shoulders, and the slightly larger “J” on his arm, advanced into the saloon. The men gave way before him, and he stood alone before the bar.

“Keep quiet,” he said in a clear, emotionless voice, “and there will be no trouble.”

Nevertheless, from the back of the crowd, a voice spoke. “I know you,” it snarled. “Tryin’ to work the Ku Klux Klan again, eh? Well, that old game won’t go in this town!”

Very quietly half a dozen revolvers focused themselves on the unprepossessing face of “Wasp” Williams, rising above the heads of his companions. He did not speak again.

The black-robed figure in the center eyed the silent assembly keenly for a moment, then beckoned toward the door. Another figure entered, carrying several articles. It climbed nimbly upon the bar, straddled the space between it and the wide shelf where the array of bottled liquor stood, and, with leisurely attention to symmetry and design, pasted two posters upon the mirror behind. Then it coming down again. It stood for a moment beside the other, and seemed to be dwarfed by comparison. Its eyes could be seen traveling slowly over the speechless crowd. Finally, with a gesture plainly expressive of contempt and disappointment, it turned and passed out as silently as it had come.

The posters were printed in large, black letters, and at the bottom of each was the now familiar red “J.”

The tall man before the bar again addressed the crowd. His voice was quiet; but there was a quality in it which conveyed a stern warning.

“Just a word or two before we leave. This organization has been formed in the interests of decency and justice. It will exist just as long as it is necessary—and no longer. No man who is decent and straight has anything to fear from us.

“One of these posters announces an election three days from now. It is time this town had a mayor, a sheriff, and tome sort of governing body and authority. We propose to give it a chance to select those. The notice explains all that is necessary. Every man is welcome to vote, and vote as he pleases. Nobody will be molested, no matter how he votes, provided he is peaceable. But you are warned against attempting lawlessness of any kind. It will be put down without mercy!”

He turned, crossed the room, and went out. There was the sound of men getting to horse. A little later all but the four figures at the doors withdrew; and, a moment later still, four others on horseback appeared at the windows, and the ones at the doors also backed out. After a short delay, during which the noise of pawing hoofs and the jingle of trappings entered the silent room, the black figures at the windows suddenly vanished.

A dead instant followed, every one in the saloon standing with hands still up-raised. Then, with an oath, a burly miner, who towered above his fellows, rushed to the door, jerking out his two revolvers as he ran. Fifty yards along the road, a large body of black figures was just getting under way. He fired into the very center of the group.

A little muffled cry came back on the wind, and a figure, strangely smaller and slighter than the others, reeled for a second in the saddle. Instantly, the tall rider who had addressed the crowd, wheeled his horse, glanced at the smaller figure, saw that it was again sitting its horse easily, and galloped back toward the door.

Spurring straight into the stream of bullets that poured from the two revolvers before him, he swiftly closed up the interval. His arm darted from under his cape, and a flash of light stabbed the darkness. The huge man in the doorway clutched once at the jamb for support, then toppled backward. A clean hole in his forehead told that he would never cause trouble again.

Others in the saloon had also hurried toward the windows. But the sight of this sudden retribution stopped them in their tracks.

The avenger waited a moment, facing them unmovingly, then rode back to his comrades. After a deliberate delay, the black band, unmolested, trotted quietly away.

Back in the saloon, the pause held but a moment, broke, and left the crowd in uproar. One or two ran out into the road and sent a belated, scattered, and harmless volley after the riders. Others examined the fallen miner; but it was evident that he was past assistance, and scant attention was given him. It was the way of the youthful West to pay ready homage to any one who could amuse, interest, or terrorize it; but, once a leader went down, it turned readily and quickly to any one else who could take his place. There were not a few who openly murmured that Simpson had got what he deserved. The majority ignored him completely and surged around the posters.

As the leader of the visitors had said, one was simply an announcement of an election, giving the time, place, and details, and suggesting the names of various men as likely candidates.

The other was a column of seventeen names. Beneath was a curt order giving their bearers forty-eight hours to leave town. The name of “Wasp” Williams headed the list.


As the empty stage reached the edge of the town on its homeward trip, it slowed up and stopped in front of Major Dudley’s house. Dooley, the young fellow who now had the proud distinction of driving Red Valley’s only means of rolling transportation, climbed down from his high perch. To the casual observer he would have appeared to be examining one of the wheels. As a matter of fact, his sharp eyes were carefully scrutinizing the surrounding territory. After a little, he began to whistle.

Almost immediately, the door of the house opened, and Jeanne Dudley hurried out. He whispered earnestly in her ear.

“That’s fine, Jimmie,” she answered, elated. “But we haven’t a minute to waste! I’ll have to be a bit careful with this shoulder, but I think we can manage it. Let’s get to work!”

“He shore paid—for—what he done to you. Miss Jeanne,” Jimmie panted, struggling with a heavy box in the interior of the coach. “Rand didn’t waste no time in givin’ him what he desarved!”

Together they began to lower the box to the road. They had nearly succeeded when the young fellow caught his foot on something inside. His momentary loss of balance tilted the box, jamming the girl’s left shoulder between it and the side of the coach. With a sharp gasp of pain, she started back, losing her hold. She tried to recover it again, but failed. The box fell to the ground with a heavy thud and split wide open. Bolts of black cloth, and several large pieces of red, were revealed.

For a moment they stood eying the catastrophe in silent consternation, the girl biting her lips to keep back sobs of pain, and the driver flushing in mortification. Then she sprang again to the broken container.

“Quick, Jimmie! If we get it into the yard and under the bushes, there is no harm done. Hurry! Some one may be coming.”

With considerable difficulty they managed at last to get the wrecked packing case and its contents into the yard. They concealed it as well as they could under a big laurel. Breathing heavily, she sat down upon it. She leaned back with closed eyes, and fought to keep down the tears which insisted on welling out between the long, dark lashes. The boy eyed her miserably.

“Gawd, Miss Jeanne,” he burst out, “I’m hell-fired sorry! I wouldn’t ’a’ hurt that shoulder o’ yores for all the dust in Ramapo! Damn Simpson!”

“Steady, Jimmie, steady,” she said, trying to smile. “My shoulder will be all right in a minute or two. Don’t worry about it—it was just an accident, anyway. And you’ve done wonderfully, Jimmie, wonderfully! Now hurry along or some one will be passing and wondering what the coach is doing there!”

Somewhat relieved, but bitterly cursing his clumsiness, the young fellow trudged reluctantly away. A minute later, as the lumbering old vehicle gathered headway, he turned around on the box and lifted his broad-brimmed hat in a gallant, if somewhat awkward, salute. He saw a white handkerchief flutter in answer. Vastly heartened, he lashed the horses into a gallop.

For several minutes Jeanne Dudley remained sitting on the box under the laurel. Then, having regained her composure, she started to rise.

A man suddenly stepped around a thick fringe of shrubbery, vaulted lightly over the low fence, and stood before her. Her startled eyes met the leering gaze of “Wasp” Williams.

“Evening, Jeanne,” he said. He lifted his hat and swept it almost to the ground in his usual mocking manner.

The girl stepped back a pace. Her face alternately flamed and paled.

“Don’t seem to be particular cordial in welcomin’ your guests,” he grinned, putting the hat on again. “Thought all us Southerners had the name o’ bein’ mighty generous that-away!”

“Apparently,” she answered through set teeth, “you have forgotten what I told you some time ago.”

“You can’t kill with conversation,” he replied calmly. “So I guess you’ll jest have to have a nice little chat with me instead.”

The girl’s hand dropped quickly to her waist, and she reddened. In her hurry to come out, she had not thought to strap on her belt and revolver!

“No, I ain’t goin’ to forgit what you said,” he continued. “An’ what’s more, I ain’t goin’ to forgit what I seen out here on the road a few minutes ago, either!”

During the last few years, Jeanne Dudley had undergone hard training in a rough school. Many things had been indelibly graven on her mind that had had little effect upon her in her untroubled, girlhood days in the far Southland. Not the least important of these was the value of keeping cool under all circumstances, and steeling the face never to betray the thought that lay behind it. But the remark of the man before her was a bolt from the blue; and the significant tone in which he made it was not to be misunderstood. For an instant, in spite of herself, her eyes were wide and frightened.

“Well, what do you think you can do about it?” she asked coolly. “By the way, I understand that you and some of your friends are going to leave town to-day or to-morrow.”

The ugly grin vanished from his lips. “I wouldn’t risk no dust on that,” he remarked scowling. He stared silently at the lovely, scornful face before him for several moments. His expression slowly changed. Finally, he came a step nearer.

“Listen, Jeanne,” he said in an oddly pleading tone, “I—I ain’t a-goin’ to do nothin’ about it—give you my word for it—if—if—”

“What?” The question cut through his sentence like a knife.

“—if you—treat me right! I ain’t never done nothin’ to you to git treated like—a dog! Ain’t I al’ays been respectful an’—an’ decent?”

“Oh, remarkably so!” Her voice was so soft, her face became so pleasant, that he was actually deceived. “You have always been a gentleman, at the least! Really, I have been rather unkind to you, haven’t I?”

“I ain’t a-goin’ to say no more about it,” he said, surprised and encouraged. “I’m a good man to them I likes—an’—an’ I shore likes you, Jeanne! I’d shore treat you mighty fine! I’m askin’—I’m askin’ you to marry me!” The last words came out in a rush.

For a moment the girl’s steady eyes gazed into his. Then suddenly she burst into laughter, high, clear trills of genuine amusement. Astounded by this remarkable change, he stared at her uncertainly. Finally she regained her calm.

“Get out!” she ordered briefly. “I warn you for the last time not to come here again!”

It took him several seconds to realize that he had been duped. Then, with an oath, he sprang. He gripped her fiercely by the shoulders.

“You little cat,” he snarled. “I’ll learn you to fool with a he-man!”

The girl struggled fiercely in his grasp and struck again and again at the vicious face before her. She was young and strong; but the fearful agony of her wounded shoulder rapidly weakened her. The miner, though thin, was sinewy, and not without a sort of wiry power. Gradually he pinned both her arms behind her and held them there. He forced her writhing shoulders against him, and began to press kiss after kiss upon the white face.

Then suddenly she was released! He seemed to fly from before her face and to go tumbling over and over into the bushes!

Sobbing weakly, the girl sank to the ground.

When she could open her eyes, she saw Rand Cameron standing over the fallen miner.

“You yellow hound!” he was muttering with murderous intensity. “I’m going to send you to join the rest of your crew in hell!”

He extracted both of the other’s pistols from their holsters. It is highly probable that, in the violence of his rage, he would have slain the brute without mercy, had not the girl, with a cry, thrust herself between.

“Don’t, Rand!” she begged wildly. “Don’t, for God’s sake!”

He would have pushed her aside even then; but she clung to his arms. The fury of the man was almost uncontrollable. His baleful eyes glared past her. At length, with a tremendous effort, he regained some measure of control. But it was long before his heavy breathing calmed.

Finally, he drew a deep breath and lifted her to her feet. He tenderly assisted her to a seat on the stump of a tree.

Then he turned again to the stingless “Wasp.” “Get up! You’re not through yet!”

When the dazed creature did not respond quickly enough, he roughly dragged him to his feet. Without giving him time to speak, he hustled him toward the girl.

“Now,” he commanded grimly, “get down and beg her pardon on your knees!”

At last beginning to recover his senses, Williams declared with violent profanity that he would not get down on his knees to any woman alive. He started to back away.

In an instant Cameron was upon him. Breaking down the miner’s resistance as one might crush the puny efforts of a child, he seized his wrist, and forced it around behind his back and upward. Then he began to twist. That hold, properly taken, is one of the most terrible tortures to which a man can be subjected. Each attempt to escape only increases the agony. Under its deadly punishment, strong men break down and cry like children.

That is exactly what Williams did. His breath coming in harsh sobs, he at length muttered the words of the required apology.

Cameron instantly released him. Again jerking him to his feet, he hurried him to the gate and shoved him out.

“Now go,” he ground out, “and thank God, if you know who He is, that you’re alive! Never mind the revolvers! I’ll take charge of them. And, if I ever catch you around here again, I’ll shoot you on sight!”

He watched the man as he made his way, humiliated, venomous, muttering, into the town. Then he hastened back to the girl.

“Oh, Rand, oh, Rand,” she whispered through white lips, “I wish I had never seen this place!”

“Don’t feel so badly, Jeanne,” he pleaded unhappily. “It will soon be the town you used to love. We have little to fear from that beast now. And I think, sweet—er—I think we have almost reached the goal! Our work the other night won all of the good element over, and most of the doubtful ones. The big majority are eager for the election. I feel sure we are nearly at the end of our troubles!”

But had he known of a bitter meeting which took place that night between a certain seventeen, he would not have been so confident.

“I know who’s at the head o’ this thing now,” one of them was muttering savagely. “I seen somethin’ to-day, an’ I know all I needs to know! I figgers that if we can git rid o’ the leaders—or any o’ the rest o’ them, in the meanwhile—we can put a stop to it yet! An’ I’m not a-goin’ to leave Red Valley until I gits one o’ them myself!”


Two days later, at nine o’clock in the morning, a cavalcade of black-robed riders, in column of fours, trotted silently into Ramapo. There were at least two hundred of them. Their costume was identical with that of the body which had appeared at the “Silver Star,” with one exception—behind the large, red “J” other smaller letters completed the word “Justice.”

Once inside the town, they quickly broke up into smaller units. Strong groups posted themselves at the head of each road leading into the town. Others quietly patrolled the streets. The main body formed in front of the post-office and made preparations for the work before them. There was a skill in the disposition of the riders, an orderly snap and precision about all their movements, that betrayed competent leadership by one experienced in military strategy. When the visitors had taken position, there was as much chance for resistance in Ramapo as for the proverbial snowball in the well-known place of warmth and discomfort.

But no resistance developed. There was no organization in the town which could combat these well-drilled and determined men. Not all the inhabitants were in favor of the riders; but the few who were not displayed no overmastering desire to attempt to subdue them alone. The majority were loud in their expressions of welcome and approval.

For a brief period after everything was in readiness the men hesitated to come forward. Then one of the hardier spirits stepped up and recorded the first vote ever cast in Ramapo. He was quickly followed by others. The ice once broken, it was only a short while before the self-appointed election commissioners were working under high pressure. Lines were formed, directions given, and the voting went merrily on. At the invitation of the riders, several of the better known miners took their places on the board, as an assurance that everything was being done “above the table.” Half in a spirit of jest, half in a spirit of grim earnestness and sober satisfaction, the rough and-ready men of that rough-and-ready country hastened to deposit the little slips that told of their choice.

It was a crude election, if you will. But in those pioneer days men had neither the time nor the inclination for the complicated restrictions which the law of the present day casts around its ballot-boxes. A pencil, a piece of paper, a basket, and a battery of forty-fours to guarantee peace and fairness, were all that was necessary. On this occasion they were amply sufficient. The votes were squarely cast and squarely counted.

At two o’clock the last man dropped his ballot. At six the committee, which had been working steadily throughout the day, had completed its work. The precious slips were carefully locked in the post-office safe—the only one in town. Then the leader of the riders advanced to the porch of the building and quietly announced the results.

Ten minutes later the riders reformed. A few sharp words of command, a rolling beat of hoofs, a cloud of dust gently eddying upward above the road, and the black cavalcade had vanished as unostentatiously as it had come.

Not a shot had been fired during the whole day. But now, as the last of the visitors disappeared, a perfect blast of explosions shattered the quiet. After a momentary pause the black company moved leisurely on, and under every hood there was a broad grin. That was merely Ramapo’s way of celebrating its first proud consciousness of the inauguration of law and order!

A mile from the town the troops halted. The leader rode back toward the center of the column and drew rein.

“Boys,” he said in a quiet voice, which nevertheless came clearly to every man’s ears, “I can’t thank you for the work you’ve done. It’s bigger than words. All I can say just now is: we’ve won! I’ll have to be content with that until the general assembly to-morrow. After we break up I’m going to take a short cut back to Ramapo and see that everything is still all right. I’d like to have about thirty men with me in case anything goes wrong.”

More than that number promptly offered themselves. Then, at a word from the leader, the rest broke ranks and began to disperse, going in all directions. The new party plunged into the woods. In a few seconds the black riders had disappeared as completely as if the earth had opened and swallowed them up.

Two of them, however, were moving along a by-road which led in a roundabout direction back toward the town. Talking over the victory, and trotting leisurely through the soft light of early evening, they had covered nearly two-thirds of the distance, when more than a dozen men suddenly dashed from the trees of each side. In an instant they were surrounded. In the face of such odds their resistance, valiant though it was, lasted but a moment. Both were roughly dragged from their saddles, disarmed, and secured with stout cords. They were then hurried beneath the overhanging branch of a giant oak.

“Boys,” said Wasp Williams, “I reckon it wouldn’t be decent an’ respectful not to call attention to the fact that Providence has obliginly presented us with two o’ these here coyotes, accordin’ to our prayers! So don’t waste no time with them preparations for the ceremony. After we has decorated the scenery with these black beauties from time to time, Ramapo ’ll begin to see as how there’s al’ays two sides to every question. An’ by the way, reckon it would be considerable more satisfyin’ to git a look at these pretties ’fore we elevates ’em.”

He advanced to the nearest prisoner and lifted his hood. The undaunted eyes of Smiley Peterson looked out at him.

“Well, well,” the Wasp grinned, “this is shore a unexpected pleasure! I didn’t make a very good job o’ you some time ago, friend; but I guess there ain’t no excuse for not completin’ it this time. Now, let’s see who we got here.”

As Williams advanced to the other, Peterson struggled fiercely to extricate himself from his bonds. The cords had been bound only around the waists of the two, securing their arms to their sides, and not very tightly at that. It had not been the intention of the captors to waste much time on their prisoners. Nevertheless, the little man was apparently unable to loosen himself. After a short struggle he desisted.

Williams smiled tantalizingly. “Enjoyin’ yoreself?” he asked.

“I will be,” Peterson growled, “if I ever meets you in the next world!”

“Look here, Wasp,” one of the others broke in, as he clambered up the tree and threw two ropes across the overhanging branches, “git through with that there little comedy o’ yourn, an’ let’s git out o’ here. We ain’t exactly in no encouragin’ situation ourselves.” He lowered himself to the ground and waited impatiently with the two looped ends in his hands.

Williams ignored the thrust and coolly lifted the hood of the other. Then he started back. “Gawd!” he ejaculated.

Before them was the ashen face of Jeanne Dudley. She was standing with closed eyes. Her white teeth had sunk so deeply into her trembling lip that a little drop of blood had welled out and now stood like a bright-red spot upon the soft, pale bow of her mouth.

For several moments Williams stared at her in genuine amazement. Then, gradually, the consternation on his face was supplanted by his evil, leering grin. Under the influence of their surprise, none of the captors was watching little Peterson. Very slowly, very cautiously, his right hand was working its way into a slit in the side of his garment. There was no hope of entirely freeing himself, and he had no weapon even if he succeeded. But he was not entirely at the end of his resources.

Williams turned to his confederates. “Boys,” he said, “as I says before, I got a lot to be thankful for; but I never counted on no blessln’ like this! You’re welcome to that little ungrowed bunch o’ cactus there; but, as for me, I reckon I’ll jest struggle along with this one myself!”

“You mean yo’re a goin’ to take the gal?” one of the men asked, grinning.

“Them’s my sentiments,” Williams answered. “Y’ see, I been holdin’ a sort a’ option on this here person for some time. Reckon I’ll jest take it up now that I got the chance. Mrs. Wasp Williams! Sounds purty nice, don’t it?”

The girl opened her eyes. They were dark and glittering.

“You coward!” she taunted. “Why don’t you shoot me? I dare you! I dare you all!”

But the grin on his face only broadened.

“Reckon I ain’t a goin’ to do nothin’ foolish like that—sweetheart,” he mocked. “I got better plans.” He advanced toward her.

Just then Peterson, with a supreme effort, withdrew his hand from the slit in his robe. There was a small cylindrical object in his knotted fist. So far he had not been noticed. Now he suddenly stooped forward and struggled to reach his half-freed hands with his lips. He could not quite make it. Without hesitation, the quick-witted little man dropped the object he had been holding to the ground. He threw himself upon it.

The others had quickly realized his intention, and with a rush they were upon him. But they were a moment too late. He had succeeded in closing his teeth upon the precious whistle, and before it could be knocked from his lips its loud, long blast had shrilled through the woods.

Taking advantage of the momentary pause that resulted, the little man managed to drag himself to his feet. Now he hurled himself, bonds and all, at the figure of Williams. With a snarl of fury, that highly moral and conscientious individual snatched his revolver from its holster and fired twice, point blank. Both bullets buried themselves in Peterson’s breast.

The little man stopped, stood still an instant with an old, surprised expression on his face, and crumpled up in the dust of the road.

“Don’t stand there gawpin’, you fools!” There was a note of alarm in the Wasp’s shout. “Quick! Git aboard them nags o’ yourn an’ clear out! First thing y’ know, we’ll have a flock o’ them black devils on our heels. I’ll take care o’ this here person.”

He leaped at the girl, lifted her in his arms, and carried her in among the trees. He thrust her upon his horse. She was too stunned by the sudden catastrophe that had just taken place to resist. Williams sprang up behind her.

Several minutes later all were in the saddle and driving in their spurs.

But they had not gone twenty yards when there was a heavy crashing among the underbrush. A moment later black figures seemed to swarm into the road in front of them. So sharp and furious was the onslaught that the demoralized ruffians had no time to prepare themselves for the shock. Some of them were literally ridden down; others managed to fire a few scattered shots before the attackers were upon them; the majority turned tail and fled. The leader of the newcomers had picked out one man and ridden straight at him. Williams had no opportunity even to draw his weapon when the other’s fist smashed him senseless to the road.

In less time than it takes to tell it the mêlée was over. Those of the defeated party that had not escaped, or gone down in the skirmish, were standing sullenly in the road, well guarded by the rescuers. The steady drum of galloping hoofs and the occasional crack of revolvers, dying away in the distance, told of relentless pursuit of the rest.

“Rand, Rand—come quick! Cut these cords!” At the girl’s despairing cry, the leader had dashed again to her side. In a moment she was free. She leaped weakly down, and stood there, grasping the saddle for support.

“Peterson!” she gasped. “Williams shot him—when he—blew the whistle! Back there on the road!”

Then she let go and rushed dizzily back to where the little, gray-haired man lay on his side. Careless alike of pain and the eyes that watched her, she dropped beside him and took his head into her lap. Little wordless murmurings fell from her lips.

Peterson opened his swiftly dimming eyes and looked up. He recognized the two faces bending over him. A smile, a shadowy reflection of the pleasant expression that had given him his nickname, hovered round his lips.

“Guess—it’s—good-by—this time,” he whispered faintly. “Rand, reckon you can—open—that letter now. An’—an’—take care—o’—Miss Jeanne here. She’s a fine—girl—a almighty—fine—fine—”

The last words trailed off into silence. And, with the little smile still on his face, Smiley Peterson crossed the Great Divide. Minutes later Rand Cameron, utterly unsuccessful in his efforts to console her, rose from beside the bitterly sobbing girl. He walked softly back to the group which had been watching them in silent sympathy.

“McCoy,” he said in a low, hoarse voice, “I’m going to take Miss Dudley home. She’s been under too great a strain. I wish you’d bring back little Peterson when you come. I’ll leave these creatures to you, and”—his gray eyes burning into the steady pair that showed through the slits in the black hood before him—“you can use your own judgment!”

McCoy threw back his mask. His gaze strayed to a big overhanging branch a little farther back beside the road. His jaw lightened grimly.

“All right, chief,” he answered coolly. “Reckon everything’s all ready to take good care o’ them!”


The afterglow of the sunset, welling up from behind the ridge of mountains along the western horizon, bathed the girl’s face in its soft, warm light. She was seated, cross-legged, on the outermost point of a narrow, jutting crest, and her gaze roamed out across the town of Ramapo, far below her, and the rolling, green velvet of Red Valley beyond. A little way behind her, her big roan, Ted, was peacefully nibbling at the scattered tufts of coarse mountain grass.

She heard a step in back of her and turned quickly.

A tall, curly-headed man was smiling down at her. His dusty clothes showed abundant evidences of long, hard riding, and he appeared to be exceedingly weary. But there was a quiet satisfaction in his eyes that seemed to overshadow everything else about him.

“Rand!” She sprang to her feet, and her voice was glad. “Where have you been all this last week?”

“I’ve been about twenty-five miles from here, Jeanne,” he replied, coming forward and taking her hand. “In fact, I was that far away until this very afternoon. Then I decided that there was nothing to keep me away from you any longer; and Baldy and I came back in a hurry.” His gray eyes looked into his blue ones; and, under the influence of that steady gaze, the blue ones dropped. Her cheeks became the color of the red rose. “Let’s sit down for a while, Jeanne,” he said, after a bit. “This is a pretty spot you’ve selected.”

“Now,” she said severely, when they were seated, “perhaps you’ll let me know why you were so unkind as to rush off without telling me a word about it. I could not find out what had become of you.” Her smile of welcome, however, robbed the words of their pretended rebuke.

“I went away for two reasons,” he answered slowly. “One was that I wanted to verify some information that I had received; the other was that I had something to say to you, Jeanne, and I felt that I couldn’t say it while you were under the—er—influence of certain—certain events that happened recently.” He was beginning to have a hard time of it.

After one startled look the girl turned away her face, and her eyes stared vacantly across the valley. He waited for her to speak; but when she remained silent he resumed.

“Jeanne, do you remember when we were out riding some time ago, and Smiley joined us just as we were starting down toward the town? Do you remember he asked to talk to me alone?”

She nodded without looking around.

“Well, he gave me a letter then and asked me to keep it, unless—er—something happened to him. Perhaps you remember what he said to me about opening a letter when he was dying?”

She turned slowly, at that, and her eyes were misty and questioning.

“I remember,” she said softly.

“That letter contained a queer document.” His voice was strangely deep and quiet. “It told where his claim was located, and—it gave it to you and to me. That’s where I’ve been, Jeanne. I was looking for the claim and investigating it. It is one of the richest I’ve ever seen. His document—I don’t know what else to call it—asked us to take it as partners and develop it.”

It was long before she answered.

“Poor little Smiley!” she murmured. Her lips were trembling and her eyes were full.

“A finer or braver friend never lived,” he answered gently.

He waited with averted eyes until her heavy breathing calmed. At length he rose to his feet and began to walk uneasily up and down behind her.

“Jeanne,” he said finally, “there is no reason for—for me beating around the bush any longer. The first day I came here I told you what had brought me here. I told you it was you. I still love you—I always have, and I always will. I can’t be without you any longer, sweetheart. But I told you also that I would not ask you again until I made my strike—or until we brought peace and decency back to Red Valley.”

He paused a moment and glanced at her in an effort to read her thoughts. But her face was turned away from him. She was unconsciously pulling out blades of the long grass and winding them in and out between her slender fingers.

“I’ve kept that promise, Jeanne,” he said quietly. “Both conditions were fulfilled a week ago. I did not come to you then because you had just been through some terrible experiences, and were—er—weakened from your wound and depressed and—and pretty well worn out. But now—”

“But now,” she interrupted in a low voice, getting slowly to her feet, “after deserting me, you follow me out here, and take advantage of me when I’m lonely and unhappy to—to tell me all—this! It is no use, Rand.”

“Jeanne!” His voice was hurt, dumfounded.

“Yes,” she continued still in the same subdued tone, “I could have given you my final answer a month ago—and I won’t change it now, Rand, even if you have taken me unawares!”

She faced him, and his despairing gaze met the deep, tender light that glowed in her eyes.

“It is no use, you see,” she said softly, “because you must have known long ago that I love you.”

“Jeanne!” This time the glad cry fairly echoed over the mountain. In a bound he was beside her. He took her face between his hands.

“You adorable torturer!” he cried. “Why did you give me that terrible minute?”

“Because,” she murmured, “you kept me—waiting so long till you made your strike! Did you think that mattered?”

“Good Lord!” The exclamation came forth on a long sigh of relief and happiness. “Oh, Jeanne, why didn’t I have enough sense to refuse to take your answer that last time!”

“Why didn’t you!” she breathed. “It would have been just as well.” There was a little gleam deep in the blue eyes beneath his. “You are so—so stubborn, Rand, that I knew as soon as you came here it was useless for me to resist.”

He drew her closer and gently tilted back the blushing face until the tender sweetness of the red lips lay defenseless before him.

And only the evening star, peeping down from the deepening blue of the twilighted sky, saw what he did then!

(The end.)