Arizona Ames - Zane Grey - ebook

Arizona Ames ebook

Zane Grey



This late-period Zane Grey is one of the best of his novels. Rich Ames didn’t set out to be a gunslinger – it was forced on him. After the bad guys try to „ruin” his twin sister Nesta, Ames grabs his pistols and the bloody gunfight follows. Unfortunately, his criminal actions forces him to flee from his beloved Nesta and his happy Tonto Rim home, pursued by the law and vengeful family members. Rich soon acquired the name „Arizona Ames” and for years after that fateful day his name struck fear into the hearts of bad men all over the West. Certainly he was quick with a six-gun; to be sure there were many notches in the Colt he threw with such lightning rapidity; but at his core he was a good man, forced into a life of wandering for protecting his kin. „Arizona Ames” is a classic western full of thrill and adventure, written by the granddaddy of them all – Zane Grey.

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IT WAS November in the Tonto Basin.

From Mescal Ridge the jagged white teeth of the ranges pierced the blue sky on three horizons–to the west the wild ragged Mazatzals; to the south the lofty symmetrical Four Peaks; and far away to the east the dim blue-white Sierra Ancas. Behind and above Mescal Ridge–forbiddingly close the rarefied atmosphere made it–towered the black-fringed, snow-belted rim of the Mogallan Mesa, blocking the whole north with its three hundred miles of bold promontories and purple canyons.

But though it was winter on the heights, down on the innumerable ridges of the Basin, which slanted like the ribs of a colossal washboard, late fall lingered. In sheltered nooks, deep down where the sun could reach through gaps, sycamores shone with green-gold leaves, and oaks smoldered in rich bronze, standing out vividly from the steel-gray shaggy slopes. Tonto Creek wound down between them, a shining strip of water, here white in rushing rapids and there circling in green eddies or long leaf-spotted pools. The ridge tops waved away from Mescal Ridge, a sea of evergreen, pine and spruce and cedar and piñon, a thick dark mantle in the distance, but close at hand showing bare spots, gray rocks and red cliffs, patches of brown pine needles, scarlet sumac and blue juniper.

Mescal Ridge was high and long and winding and rough, yet its crest curved gracefully, open and bare, covered by many acres of silver grass, where flourished abundantly the short, spiked, pale-green clusters of cactus–mescal, which gave the ridge its name. The tips of mescal leaves narrowed to hard black thorns, much dreaded by cattle and horses. Like the thorns of the cholla cactus, these mescal points broke off in flesh and worked in. Mescal, both in its deadly thorns and the liquor distilled from its heart, typified the hard and acrid nature of the Tonto.

*     *


Old Cappy Tanner, trapper, had driven his seven burros in from the south this year; and this time he was later than on any other of the many autumns he had returned to the Tonto. His last two trapping seasons had been prosperous ones, which accounted partly for his late arrival. He had tarried in Prescott and Maricopa to buy presents for his good friends, the Ames family. For Tanner that had been a labor of love, but nevertheless a most perplexing one.

Three miles west of Tonto Creek the trail to Mescal Ridge left the road. Cappy turned into it, glad to reach the last leg of his long tramp. Every giant pine seemed to greet him. He knew them all, and the logs, and the checker-barked junipers, and even the manzanita bushes, bare this year of their yellow berries. No cattle or horse tracks showed in the grass-grown trail. That surprised him. There had been no rain along there for weeks, and if any hoofs had stepped on this trail lately the tracks would have shown.

Cappy sat down against a huge pine to rest and to eat a little bread and meat. The sun shone hot and the shade was pleasant. His burros began to graze on the long grass. It occurred to him that he had rested often on the six weeks’ walk north. He seemed to realize he was a little slower than last year.

The old familiar sough of the wind in the pines was music to him, and the sweet, dry, pungent odor of the evergreens was medicine. What soothing relief and rest after the desert! Cappy watched the burros, the slow shadows of the pine boughs, the squalling blue jays. He had been six months away from the Tonto, and the preceding night, at the tavern in Shelby, he had listened to disturbing gossip that involved his friends and their neighbors, the Tates.

It had occupied his mind all during the eighteen-mile journey from Shelby; to such significance that he had not stopped at Spring Valley to pay his respects to the Tates, an omission they would be sure to note.

“Reckon thet Pleasant Valley war left bitter feelin’ which never will die out,” soliloquized Tanner, wagging his head sadly. He had been in the Tonto during the climax of the terrible feud among cattlemen, sheepmen, and rustlers; and he had seen it end in extermination of every faction. But the heritage of bad blood had descended on the few families left in that wild north section of the Tonto Basin.

Having finished his lunch and rested, Tanner resumed his journey, growing more at ease as he drew farther from the road, deeper into the forest. When he began to catch glimpses of deer and flocks of wild turkeys, and to see where bears had broken the branches of the junipers to feed off the berries, he knew he was getting near home.

At length the trail led out of the deep shade of the forest into open sunlight, that shone on rough oak ridges, with dense thickets in the gulches between. The trail headed many draws all sloping down in the same direction. Here and there glimpses of the rough canyon country framed themselves in notches of the ridges–wild dark purple canyon, powerfully suggestive of the haunts of bear and panther.

He turned abruptly round an oak-thicketed corner to emerge on the high slope of Tonto Canyon. The scene was magnificent, lonely and wild and rugged in the extreme. A melodious murmur of running water made memory active. How would he find the Ameses–Nesta and Rich and the younger twins?

The deep canyon yawned narrow and blue, with rough rock slopes and patches of spruce and oak on the opposite side; and it deepened and constricted to dark bronze walls leading into the gloomy and inaccessible chasm called Hell Gate. When the hounds pursued a bear down that canyon the chase ended. Bears would take to the deep pools and rapids where no dogs could follow.

The whole length of Mescal Ridge stretched away before Tanner’s eager gaze. Silver and black and green, a mighty hog-back among all those Tonto ridges, it lay somewhat below Tanner, open to his gaze. Cattle and deer dotted the gray patches of grass. This was the range where the Ames family ran the few cattle they owned, and it struck Tanner that their stock had increased, if all he saw belonged to them.

He strode on down, then, and for some time lost the beautiful panorama. When again he came out upon a jutting point of the trail he was halfway down, and could see the colorful flat nestling under the beetling brow of Mescal Ridge. The log cabin shone brown and tiny beside the three great spruce trees; patches of the garden, like green and gray squares, led to the cornfield, where horses browsed on the stalks; the rail fences, which Tanner had helped Rich Ames to build, were now overgrown with wine-colored vines.

The old trapper showed the same eagerness that animated his burros, and strode swiftly down the remaining zigzag stretches of the trail, out across the sandy, oak-shaded flat to the creek. The water was low and sycamore leaves floated with the swift current. Cappy went above the ford where his burros were drinking, and throwing aside his hat he stretched himself on a flat rock and drank his fill.

“Augh!” he exclaimed, as he got up, wiping his wet beard. Tonto Creek! Snow water that flowed through granite! It took a desert man, or a trapper long away from the rocky hills, to appreciate fully that pure, cold, clear water.

Beyond the ford the trail led along the bank which sloped up to the flat and around to the three spruce trees and the moss-greened cabin. Dogs heralded Tanner’s arrival, not by any means in a welcoming manner. But upon recognizing the trapper they quieted down and the big red leader condescended to wag his tail. Then shrill girlish shrieks attested further to Tanner’s arrival. Two young girls came tearing out, their bright hair flying.

“Oh, Uncle Cappy!” they screamed in unison, and made at him, breathless, wild with the delight of lonesome souls at the advent of a beloved friend.

“Wal! Wal!–Mescal an’ Manzanita!–I shore am glad to see you… . How you have growed!”

“It’s been so–so long,” panted the one he took for Mescal, as she clung to him.

“We–we was afraid you wasn’t never comin’,” added Manzanita.

The twins were six years old, if Cappy’s memory served him well. It had been one of Cappy’s proud boasts that he could distinguish which was Mescal and which was Manzanita, but he did not dare risk it yet. How the warmth of their flashing blue eyes thrilled him, and the rose bloom in the brown cheeks and the parted red lips! Cappy feared his eyes were not so good as they used to be, or maybe they had dimmed for the moment.

“Wal, now, girls, you knowed I’d come back,” replied Tanner, reprovingly.

“Mother always said you would,” replied one of the twins.

“An’ Rich he’d always laugh an’ tell as you couldn’t stay away from Mescal Ridge,” added the other.

“Rich is shore right. Wal, how are you-all?”

“Mother is well. We’re all fine. But Nesta is away visitin’. She’ll be back today, an’ won’t she be glad? … Rich is out huntin’ with Sam.”

“Sam who?” queried Cappy, remembering that Rich seldom hunted with anyone.

“Sam Playford. He’s been here since last spring. Homesteaded up the creek near Doubtful. Rich is with him a lot. We all like him fine, Uncle Cappy. He’s terrible sweet on Nesta.”

“Ahuh! Small wonder. An’ is Nesta sweet on him?”

“Mother says she is an’ Rich says she isn’t,” laughed Mescal.

“Humph! What does Nesta say?” asked Cappy, conscious of misgivings.

“Nesta! You know her. She tosses her head,” replied Manzanita.

“But she did like Sam,” protested Mescal, seriously. “We saw her let Sam kiss her.”

“That was ages ago, Manzi.” When she spoke this name, Cappy realized he had taken Mescal for Manzanita. “Lee Tate is runnin’ her hard now, uncle.”

“No!–Lee Tate?” returned the old trapper, incredulously.

“Yes. It was a secret,” said Mescal, most seriously. “But Rich found Nesta out… . An’ say, didn’t he lay into her! It didn’t do no good. Nesta is as crazy as a young hen-turkey, so mother says.”

“Wal, wal, this is news,” rejoined Tanner, thoughtfully, as he kept looking toward the cabin. “Where’s Tommy? I reckoned I’d see him first off.”

Mescal’s blue eyes darkened and dimmed with tears. Manzanita averted her face. And then something struck cold at the old trapper’s heart.

“Tommy’s dead,” whispered Mescal.

“Aw, no!” burst out Cappy, poignantly.

“Yes. It was in June. He fell off the rocks. Hurt himself. Rich an’ Nesta weren’t home. We couldn’t get a doctor. An’ he died.”

“Lord! I’m sorry!” exclaimed the trapper.

“It hurt us all–an’ near broke Rich’s heart.”

At this juncture the mother of the girls appeared on the cabin porch, wiping flour from her strong brown arms. She was under forty and still handsome, fair-haired, tall and strong, a pioneer woman whom the recent Tonto war had made a widow.

“If it ain’t Uncle Cappy!” she ejaculated, warmly. “I wondered what-all the twins was yelling at. Then I seen the burros. … Old timer, you’re welcome as mayflowers.”

“Thanks, an’ you’re shore lookin’ fine, Mrs. Ames,” replied Cappy, shaking her hand. “I’m awful glad to get back to Mescal Ridge. It’s about the only home I ever had–of late years, anyhow… . Thet about Tommy digs me deep… . I–I’m shore surprised an’ sorry.”

“It wouldn’t have been so hard for us if he’d been killed outright,” she rejoined, sadly. “But the hell of it was he might have been saved if we could have got him out.”

“Wal–wal! … I reckon I’d better move along. I’ve fetched some things for you-all. I’ll drop them off here, then go on to my cabin, an’ soon as I unpack I’ll come back.”

“An’ have supper. Rich will be back an’ mebbe Nesta.”

“You bet I’ll have supper,” returned Cappy. Then he loosened a pack from one of the burros, and carrying it to the porch he deposited it there. The twins, radiantly expectant, hung mutely upon his movements.

“See hyar, Mescal Ames,” declared Cappy, shaking a horny finger at one of the glowing faces, “if you––”

“But I’m Manzi, Uncle Cappy,” interrupted the girl, archly.

“Aw–so you are,” went on Cappy, discomfited.

“You’ve forgotten the way to tell us,” interposed Mescal, gayly.

“Wal, I reckon so… . But no matter, I’ll remember soon. . . . An’ see hyar, Manzi, an’ Mescal–don’t you dare open this pack.”

“But, uncle, you’ll be so long!” wailed the twins together.

“No I won’t, either. Not an hour. Promise you’ll wait. Why, girls, I wouldn’t miss seein’ your faces when I undo thet pack–not for a whole winter’s trappin’.”

“We’ll promise–if you’ll hurry back.”

Mrs. Ames vowed she would have to fight temptation herself and besought him to make haste.

“I’ll not be long,” called Tanner, and slapping the tired burros out of the shade he headed them into the trail.

At the end of the clearing, the level narrowed to a strip of land, high above the creek, and the trail led under huge pines and cone-shaped spruces and birches to a shady leaf-strewn opening in the rocky bluff, from which a tiny stream flowed in cascades and deep brown pools. This was a gateway to a high-walled canyon, into which the sun shone only part of the day. It opened out above the break in the bluff into a miniature valley, isolated and lonely, rich in evergreens, and shadowed by stained cliffs and mossy ledges.

Cappy arrived at his little log cabin with a sense of profound gratitude.

“By gum! I’m glad to be home,” he said, as if the picturesque little abode had ears. He had built this house three years before, aided now and then by Rich Ames. Before that time he had lived up at the head of Doubtful Canyon, where that “rough Jasper,” as Rich called it, yawned black and doubtful under the great wall of the mesa.

Throwing packs, he strapped bells on the burros, and giving them a slap he called cheerily: “Get out an’ rustle, you tin-can-label-eatin’ flop-ears! You’ve got a long rest, an’ if you’ve sense you’ll stay in the canyon.”

The door of the cabin was half ajar. Cappy pushed it all the way open. An odor of bear assailed his nostrils. Had he left a bearskin there, or had Rich Ames, in his absence? No, the cabin walls and floor were uncovered. But his trained eyes quickly detected a round depression in the thick mat of pine needles that covered his bough couch. A good-sized bear must have used it for a bed. In the dust of the floor bear tracks showed distinctly, and the left hind foot was minus a toe. Cappy recognized that track. The bear that had made it had once blundered into one of Cappy’s fox traps, had broken the trap and left part of his foot in it.

“Wal, the son-of-a-gun!” ejaculated the old trapper. “Addin’ insult to injury. I’ll jest bet he knowed this was my cabin… . Wonder why Rich didn’t shoot him.”

Cappy swept out, carried his packs inside, and opening one of them he took out his lantern and fuel, cooking utensils, and camp tools, which he put in their places. Then he unrolled his bed of blankets and spread it on the couch. “Reckon I won’t light no fire tonight, but I’ll fix one ready, anyhow,” he decided, and repairing to his woodpile he discovered very little left of the dry hardwood that he had cut the winter before. Rich Ames, the lonely fire-gazer, had been burning it! Presently Cappy was ready to go back to the Ames’ cabin. But he bethought himself of his unkempt appearance. That was because he remembered Nesta Ames. So he tarried to remedy the defect. He shaved, washed, and put on a new flannel shirt of gorgeous hue, which he had purchased solely to dazzle the color-loving Nesta. Then he sallied forth.

A thick amber light hung under the trees, heavy as if it had substance. A strong exhilaration possessed Tanner. He was growing old, but the effect of the Tonto seemed to renew his youth. The solitude of the slopes and valleys, the signs of wild game in the dust of the trail, the babble of the brook, the penetrating fragrance of pine and spruce, the brush, the dead leaves, the fallen cones, the mat of needles, the lichened rocks–these were physical proofs that he had come home to the environment he loved best.

“Reckon I’ll not go away no more,” he muttered as he trudged through the gap in the cliff, up and down over the gray stones. “Onless, of course, the Ameses go,” he added as an afterthought. “Shore was a good idee thet I planned to send my winter’s catch out by stage.”

The valley of the Tonto was full of golden light. The sun had just set behind the bold brow of Mescal Ridge, and a wonderful flare of gold, thrown up against a dark bank of purple cloud, seemed to be reflected down into the valley. Cappy sat down on a log above the creek, where many a time he had rested before, and watched the magic glow on field and slope and water. Already the air had begun to cool. The gold swept by as if it had been the transparent shadow of a cloud, swift and evanescent, like a dream, or a fleeting happiness. Wild ducks went whirring down the creek, the white bars on their wings twinkling. A big buck, his coat the gray-blue of fall, crossed an opening in the brush. Up high somewhere an old gobbler was calling his flock to roost.

Tanner’s watch and reverie were interrupted by the cracking of hoofs on the rocks of the trail up the creek. Soon two riders emerged from the green, and the first was Rich Ames. He waved a glad hand, then came on at a trot. Cappy stood up, conscious of how good it was to see this Tonto lad again. Rich Ames on horseback was surely pleasant to gaze upon, but when he slid out of his saddle, in one long lithe step, he sent a thrill to the old trapper’s heart.

“Wal, lad, hyar I am, an’ damn glad to see you,” said Tanner, as he swung on the extended hand and gripped it hard.

“Same heah, old timer,” drawled Rich Ames, his cool, lazy voice in strong contrast to the smile that was like a warm flash.

The second rider trotted up and dismounted. He was as tall as Ames, only heavier, and evidently several years the senior. His features were homely, especially his enormous nose. He had a winning smile and clear gray eyes. He wore the plain jeans of the homesteader, which looked dull and drab beside Rich Ames’ gray fringed buckskin.

“Sam, it’s shore old Cappy Tanner, my trapper pard,” said Rich. “Cap, meet my friend, Sam Playford.”

“How do!” greeted Playford, with an honest grin. “What I haven’t heard about you ain’t worth hearin’.”

“Wal, any friend of Rich’s is mine,” replied Cappy, cordially. “You’re new hyarabouts?”

“Yes. I come in last April.”


“I been tryin’ to. But between these two Ames twins I have a plumb job of it.”

“Twins?–Which ones?”

The boys laughed uproariously, and Rich jabbed a thumb into Sam’s side.

“Cappy, it shore’s not Manzi an’ Mescal,” he drawled.

“Ahuh! Must be Nesta an’ you, then? I’m always forgettin’ you’re twins, too. Though, Lord knows, you look like two peas in a pod.”

“Yep, Cap, only I take a back seat to Nesta.”

“Where is thet lass? My pore eyes are achin’ for a sight of her,” returned Tanner.

“You’ll have them cured pronto, then,” said Rich. “For she’s comin’ along the trail somewheres behind. Mad as a wet hen!”

“Mad! What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’. She’s been stayin’ at Snells’, over at Turkey Flat. She an’ Lil Snell have got thick since last winter. I like Lil an’ I reckon she’s all right. But all the same I don’t want Nesta stayin’ long over there. So I went after her.”

Sam turned down the trail. “She’s comin’ now, an’ I reckon it’ll be safer for me to run along till you cheer her up,” he said.

“Take my horse with you, Sam, an’ turn him loose in the pasture,” rejoined Rich.

Cappy strained his eyes up the leafy trail.

“Wal, I see something,” he said at last. “But if it’s Nesta she’s comin’ awful slow.”

“Cap, she’s got an eye like a hawk. She sees me, an’ she’ll hang back till I go… . Old timer, I’d begun to fear you’d died or somethin’. Dog-gone, but I’m glad you’ve come!”

In these words and the wistfulness of his glance Rich Ames betrayed not only what he said but the fact that a half year had made him older and graver.

“You’ve had some trouble, Rich?”

“Shore have.”

“Somethin’ beside–Tommy’s death?”

“Reckon so.”

“Wal, what is it?”

“It’s aboot Nesta. An’ it’s got me plumb up a tree … . But, Cap, I want more time to tell you. So I’ll run along home while you meet Nesta.”

A bay pony emerged from the wall of green down the trail. Its rider was a bareheaded girl whose bonnet hung over her shoulders. She sat her saddle sideways. But when she neared the pine log where the trapper leaned watching, she partly turned. Then she sat up, startled. The petulant droop of her vanished and her red lips curled in a smile of surprise and delight. She slid off the saddle to confront him.

“Cappy Tanner! … So it was you Rich was talkin’ to?” she cried.

“Wal, Nesta, if it’s really you, I’m sayin’ howdy,” rejoined the trapper.

“It’s me, Cappy… . Have I changed so–so much?”

The beautiful blue-flashing eyes, so characteristic of the Ameses, met his only for a moment. It was the change in her and not the constraint that inhibited Tanner. Hardly more than six months ago she had been a slender, pale-faced girl, pretty with all the fairness of the family. And now she seemed a woman, strange to him, grown tall, full-bosomed, beautiful as one of the golden flowers of the valley. Cappy passed a reluctant gaze from her head to her feet, and back again. He had never seen her dressed becomingly like this. Her thick rich hair, so fair that it was almost silver, was parted in the middle above a low forehead just now marred by a little frown. Under level fine brows her eyes, sky-blue, yet full of fire, roved everywhere, refusing to concentrate upon her old friend. Any stranger who had ever seen Rich Ames would have recognized her as his twin sister, yet the softness of her face, its sweetness, its femininity were features singularly her own.

“Changed? Wal, lass, you are,” replied the old trapper, slowly, as he took her hands. “Growed into a woman! … Nesta, you’re the purtiest thing in all the Tonto.”

“Ah, Cappy, you haven’t changed,” she replied, suddenly gay and glad. And she kissed him, not with the old innocent freedom, but shyly, in a restraint that did not lack warmth. “Oh, I’m so happy you’re here! I’ve thought of you every day for a month. Did you come today? You must have, for Rich didn’t know.”

“Jest got in, lass, an’ I never knowed what home seemed like before.”

She slipped an arm under his, and then, with her horse following, she led him toward the cabin.

“Cappy, I’m more in need of a true friend than ever before in all my life,” she said, soberly.

“Why, lass, you talk as if you hadn’t any!” returned Tanner, reprovingly.

“I haven’t. Not one single friend–unless it’s you.”

“Wal, Nesta, I don’t savvy thet, but you can depend on me.”

“Cappy, I don’t mean no one cares for me… . Rich, and Sam Playford–and–and others–care for me, far beyond my deserts. But they boss and want and force me… . They don’t help. They can’t see my side… . Cappy, I’m in the most terrible fix any girl was ever in. I’m caught in a trap. Do you remember the day you took me on a round of your traps? And we came upon a poor little beaver caught by the foot? … Well, I’m like that.”

“Nesta, I’m awful interested, but I reckon not much scared,” replied Cappy, with a laugh that did not quite ring true.

They reached the three huge spruces overspreading the cabin, and Nesta turned to unsaddle her pony. Sam Playford, who evidently had been waiting, approached from the porch.

“I’ll tend to him, Nesta,” he said.

“Thank you, Mr. Playford,” she returned, with sarcasm. “I can manage as well here as I had to at Snells’.”

Mescal and Manzanita ran out to overwhelm Tanner, shouting gleefully, “Here comes Santa Claus!”

“Wal, mebbe, when Christmas comes, but not now,” retorted the trapper, resolutely. He had once before encountered a predicament similar to this.

“Uncle, when will you open the pack?” begged Manzi.

“Wal, some time after supper.”

“I can’t eat till you do open it,” declared Mescal, tragically.

“If I do open it before supper, then you won’t eat nothin’ but candy,” declared Tanner.

“Candy!” screamed Manzanita. “Who wants to eat deer meat and beans if there’s candy?”

“Ooooummm!” cried her sister, ecstatically.

“Wal, let’s have a vote on it,” said the trapper, as if inspired. “Mescal an’ Manzi have declared for openin’ the pack before supper… . What do you say, Mrs. Ames?”

“Supper ain’t ready yet,” she rejoined, significantly.

“How about you, Nesta?”

“Me! How about what?” she returned, as she deposited her saddle on the porch, apparently unaware of Sam Playford’s disapproval.

“Why, about openin’ my pack. I fetched you-all a lot of presents.”

“Cappy!–Open it now!” she flashed, suddenly radiant.

“An’ what do you say, Mr. Playford?”

“Cappy, if you don’t mind,” replied that worthy, “if you’re includin’ me, I’ll say if you got anythin’ to give anybody, do it quick.”

“Hey, Rich, you’re in on this,” went on the trapper.

“Cap, suppose you leave it to me?” responded Rich, with tantalizing coolness.

“Wal, I’m willin’. You ’pear to be the only level-headed one hyar.”

“Open the pack after Nesta an’ the twins have gone to bed.”

The feminine triangle thus arraigned burst out with a vociferous, incoherent, yet unanimous decision that they never would go to bed.

“Wal, reckon I’ll compromise,” decided Tanner. “Right after supper, then, I’ll open the show.”

“Come in, Cap,” said Rich. “This November air gets cold once the sun goes down.”

The living-room extended the width of the cabin, and perhaps half the length. With a fire burning in the stone fireplace it presented a cheery, comfortable aspect. It also served as dining-room, and two beds, one in each corner, indicated that some of the family slept there. A door near the chimney opened into the kitchen, a small and recent addition. Two other rooms completed the cabin, neither of which opened into this large apartment. Rich Ames, like all the Tontonians, liked open fires, to which the three yellow stone chimneys rising above the cabin gave ample testimony.

“Manzi, you an’ Mescal wash up, an’ brush your hair,” observed Mrs. Ames from the kitchen. Nesta had vanished.

“How’s tracks, Rich?” queried Tanner, with interest.

“Cap, I never saw so much game sign since I can remember,” replied Ames, with reflective satisfaction. “Dad once told me aboot a fall like this. Reckon ten year ago, long before the Pleasant Valley war.”

“Wal, thet’s good news. What kind of tracks?”

“All kinds. Beaver, mink, marten, fox–why, old timer, if you catch all of the varmints in Doubtful you can buy out the fur companies. How are prices likely to be?”

“Top notch. An’ ain’t it lucky to come when fur is plentiful? Reckon it’s a late fall, too.”

“Shore is. Hardly any snow heah at all. An’ only lately on top. Bear, deer, turkey so thick up Tonto that you can kick them out of the trails. An’ lots of lions, too.”

“I reckon feed is plentiful, or all this game would be somewhere else?”

“Just wonderful, Cap. Acorns on the ground thick as hops. Berries aplenty, a good few wild grapes, an’ the first big crop of piñon nuts for years. The game is high up yet, an’ shore won’t work down till the weather gets bad. We had lots of rain at the right season, an’ the winter snows will be late. I’ll bet I know of a hundred bee trees. We been waitin’ for you, rememberin’ your weakness for honey.”

“Haw! Haw! As if you didn’t have the same?–How about you, Playford, on Tonto honey?”

“Me? I’ve as sweet a tooth as one of these Tonto bears.”

“Wal, thet’s all fine for me,” declared the trapper, with gratification. “I reckon you boys will throw in with me, this winter anyway?”

“We shore will, Cap,” replied Rich.

“I’m darn glad of the chance,” added Playford. “My place is all tidy for the winter, even to firewood cut.”

“Jest luck thet I fetched a sack of new traps,” said Tanner.

“Hey, Rich,” called his mother from the kitchen, “come pack in the supper before I throw it out.”

Rich responded with alacrity, and every time he emerged from the kitchen, laden with steaming pans he winked mysteriously at Cappy Tanner, subtly implicating Nesta, who had come in dressed in white, very sweet and aloof, and Sam Playford, who could not keep his humble worshipful eyes off her.

“Cappy, you set in your old seat,” directed Mrs. Ames, beaming upon him. Then the twins came rushing in like whirlwinds, and they fought over who should have the place next to Tanner. Nesta was the last to seat herself, with an air of faint disapproval at the close proximity to Playford.

This byplay amused the trapper, yet began to arouse curiosity and concern in him. Nesta had never before had an admirer who had been accepted by her family, if not by her. In the Tonto, girls of sixteen were usually married or about to be; and here was Nesta Ames, past eighteen, still single, and for all Cappy could tell, fancy free. He could be sure of little, except her charm and the change in her, the mystery of which only made her more attractive. Conversation lagged, and the interest of everybody, even the trapper, appeared to center on getting the meal over. The clearing off of the table was accomplished with miraculous brevity, and the kitchen lamp was brought in to add more light. Rich threw a couple of billets on the fire.

“Wal, you all set around the table an’ I’ll play Santa Claus,” directed Tanner, and to the twins’ screams of delight he repaired to the porch, leaving the door open.

This was an hour for which he had long planned. In order to make a magnificent impression he decided to carry all the bundles and parcels in at once, and thereby overwhelm the Ameses at one fell swoop. But he had not calculated on the difficulty of handling the mass when it was not snugly bound in a canvas. Not only did he stagger under the load, but he stumbled on the rude threshold and lost his balance.

“Whoopee!” roared Rich Ames, in enormous glee.

Cappy went down with his burdens, jarring the cabin.

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