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   Chapter 10 OLD FRIENDS

The Highgrader By William MacLeod Raine Characters: 21048

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Into the depths of her scorching self-contempt came his blithe "Good-morning, neighbor."

Her heart leaped, but before she looked around Moya made sure no tales could be read in her face. Her eyes met his with quiet scorn.

"I was wondering if you would dare come." The young woman's voice came cool and aloof as the splash of a mountain rivulet.

"Why shouldn't I come, since I wanted to?"

"You can ask me that-now."

Her manner told him that judgment had been passed, but it did not shake the cheerful good humor of the man.

"I reckon I can."

"Of course you can. I might have known you could. You will probably have the effrontery to deny that you are the man who robbed Captain Kilmeny."

"Did he say I was the man?" There was amusement and a touch of interest in his voice.

"He didn't deny it. I knew it must be you. I told him everything-how you found out from me that he was going to Gunnison with the money and hurried away to rob him of it. Because you are his cousin he wouldn't accuse you. But I did. I do now. You stole the money a second time." Her words were low, but in them was an extraordinary vehemence, the tenseness of repressed feeling.

"So he wouldn't accuse me, nor yet wouldn't deny that I was the man. Well, I'll not deny it either, since you're so sure."

"You are wise, sir. You can't delude me a second time. Your denial would count for nothing. And now I think there is nothing more to be said."

She had risen and was about to turn away. A gesture of his hand stopped her.

"If you were so sure about me why didn't you have the officers here to arrest me?"

"Because-because you are a relative of my friends."

"That was the only reason, was it?"

"What other reason could there be?" she asked, a flash of warning in her eyes.

"There might be this reason-that at the bottom of your heart you know I didn't do it."

"Can you tell me you didn't hold up Captain Kilmeny? Dare you tell me that?"

He shrugged his broad shoulders. "No, I held him up."

"And robbed him."

"If you like to put it that way. I had to do it."

"Had to rob your friend, the man who had offered to stand by you. Oh, I don't want to hear any of your excuses."

"Yes, you do," he told her quietly. "What's more, you are going to hear them-and right now. You're entitled to an explanation, and it's my right to make you listen."

"Can you talk away facts? You robbed your cousin when he was trying to be your friend. That may mean nothing to you. It means a great deal to me," she cried passionately.

"Sho! An opera bouffe hold-up. I'll make it right with him when I see Captain Kilmeny."

"You admit you took the money?"

"Sure I took it. Had to have it in my business. If you'll sit down again and listen, neighbor, I'll tell you the whole story."

The amused assurance in his manner stirred resentment.



The clash of battle was in the meeting of their eyes. She had courage, just as he had, but she was fighting against her own desire.

"I have listened too often already," she protested.

"It hasn't hurt you any, has it?"

"Lady Farquhar thinks it has." The words slipped out before she could stop them, but as their import came home to her the girl's face flamed. "I mean that-that--"

"I know what you mean," he told her easily, a smile in his shrewd eyes. "You're a young woman-and I'm an ineligible man. So Lady Farquhar thinks we oughtn't to meet. That's all bosh. I'm not intending to make love to you, even though I think you're a mighty nice girl. But say I was. What then? Your friends can't shut you up in a glass cage if you're going to keep on growing. Life was made to be lived."

"Yes.... Yes.... That's what I think," she cried eagerly. "But it isn't arranged for girls that way-not if they belong to the class I do. We're shut in-chaperoned from everything that's natural. You don't know how I hate it."

"Of course you do. You're a live wire. That's why you're going to sit down and listen to me."

She looked him straight between the eyes. "But I don't think morality is only a convention, Mr. Kilmeny. 'Thou shalt not steal,' for instance."

"Depends what you steal. If you take from a man what doesn't belong to him you're doing the community a service. But we won't go into that now, though I'll just say this. What is right for me wouldn't be for Captain Kilmeny. As I told you before, our standards are different."

"Yes, you explained that to me just after you-while you were hiding from the officers after the first robbery," she assented dryly.

He looked at her and laughed. "You're prosecuting attorney and judge and jury all in one, aren't you?"

She held her little head uncompromisingly erect. Not again was she going to let her sympathy for him warp her judgment.

"I'm ready to hear what you have to say, Mr. Kilmeny."

"Not guilty, ma'am."

His jaunty insouciance struck a spark from her. "That is what you told us before, and within half an hour we found out that you knew where the booty was hidden. Before that discrepancy was cleared up you convinced us of your innocence by stealing the money a second time."

"What did I do with it?" he asked.

"How should I know?"

From his pocket he drew a note book. Between two of its leaves was a slip of paper which he handed to Moya. It was a receipt in full from the treasurer of the Gunnison County Fair association to John Kilmeny for the sum previously taken from him by parties unknown.

The girl looked at him with shining eyes. "You repented and took the money back?"

"No. I didn't repent, but I took it back."


"That's a long tale. It's tied up with the story of my life-goes back thirty-one years, before I was born, in fact. Want to hear it?"


"My father was a young man when he came to this country. The West wasn't very civilized then. My father was fearless and outspoken. This made him enemies among the gang of cattle thieves operating in the country where his ranch lay. He lost calves. One day he caught a brand blotter at work. The fellow refused to surrender. There was a fight, and my father killed him."

"Oh!" cried the girl softly in fascinated horror.

"Such things had to be in those days. Any man that was a man had sometimes to fight or else go to the wall."

"I can see that. I wasn't blaming your father. Only ... it must have been horrible to have to do."

"The fellow thieves of the man swore vengeance. One night they caught the chief-that's what I used to call my father-caught him alone in a gambling hell in the cow town where the stockmen came to buy provisions. My father had gone there by appointment to meet a man-lured to his death by a forged note. He knew he had probably come to the end of the passage as soon as he had stepped into the place. His one chance was to turn and run. He wouldn't do that."

"I love him for it," the girl cried impetuously.

"The story goes that he looked them over contemptuously, the whole half dozen of them, and laughed in a slow irritating way that must have got under their hides."

Moya, looking at the son, could believe easily this story of the father. "Go on," she nodded tensely.

"The quarrel came, as of course it would. Just before the guns flashed a stranger rose from a corner and told the rustlers they would have to count him in the scrap, that he wouldn't stand for a six to one row."

"Wasn't that fine? I suppose he was a friend of your father he had helped some time."

"No. He had never seen him before. But he happened to be a man."

The eyes of the girl were shining. For the moment she was almost beautiful. A flame seemed to run over her dusky face, the glow of her generous heart finding expression externally. It was a part of her charm that her delight in life bubbled out in little spasms of laughter, in impetuous movements wholly unpremeditated.

"I'm glad there are such men," she cried softly.

"The story of that fight is a classic to-day in the hills. When it ended two of the rustlers were dead, two badly wounded, and the others galloping away for their lives. The chief and his unknown friend were lying on the floor shot to pieces."

"But they lived-surely they didn't die?"

"Yes, they lived and became close friends. A few years later they were partners. Both of them are dead now. Sam Lundy-that was the name of my father's rescuer-left two children, a boy and a girl. We call the boy Curly. He was down at the camp fishing with me."

She saw the truth then-knew in a flash that the man beside her had run the risk of prison to save his friend. And her heart went out to him in such a rush of feeling that she had to turn her face away.

"You paid back the debt to the son that your father owed his. Oh, I'm glad-so glad."

"Guessed it, have you?"

"Your friend was the thief."

"He took the money, but he's no thief-not in his heart. In England only a criminal would do such a thing, but it's different here. A hold-up may be a decent fellow gone wrong through drink and bad company. That's how it was this time. My friend is a range rider. His heart is as open and clean as the plains. But he's young yet-just turned twenty-and he's easily led. This thing was sprung on him by an older man with whom he had been drinking. Before they were sober he and Mosby had taken the money."

"I am sorry," the girl said, almost under her breath.

There was still some hint of the child in the na?ve nobility of her youth. Joyce Seldon would have had no doubts about what to think of this alien society where an honest man could be a thief and his friend stand ready to excuse him. Moya found it fresh and stimulating.

He explained more fully. "Colter by chance got a line on what the kid and Mosby were planning to pull off. Knowing I had some influence with Curly, he came straight to me. That was just after the finals in the riding."

"I remember seeing him with you. We all thought you should have come up for a few words with us."

"I intended to, but there wasn't any time. We hurried out to find Curly. Well, we were too late. Our horses were gone by the time we had reached the corral where we were stabling, but those of the other boys were waiting in the stalls already saddled. We guessed the hold-up would be close to the bank, because the treasurer of the association might take any one of three streets to drive in from the fair grounds. That's where we went wrong. The boys were just drunk enough not to remember this. We

ll, while we were looking for our friends so as to stop this crazy play they were going to pull off, Colter and I met the president of the bank. We had known him in the mining country and he held us there talking. While we were still there news comes of the robbery."

"And then?"

"We struck straight back to the corral. Our horses were there. The boys had ridden back, swapped them for their own, and hit the trail. Mosby's idea had been to throw suspicion on us for an hour or two until they could make their getaway. We rode back to the crowd, learned the particulars, and followed the boys. My thought was that if we could get the money from them we might make terms with the association."

"That's why you were in a hurry when you passed us."

"That's why."

"And of course the sheriff thought you were running away from him."

"He couldn't think anything else, could he?"

"How blind I was-how lacking in faith! And all the time I knew in my heart you couldn't have done it," she reproached herself.

His masterful eyes fastened on her. "Did your friends know it? Did Miss Joyce think I couldn't have done it?"

"You'll have to ask her what she thought. I didn't hear Joyce give an opinion."

"Is she going to marry that fellow Verinder?"

"I don't know."

"He'll ask her, won't he?"

She smiled at his blunt question a little wanly. "You'll have to ask Mr. Verinder that. I'm not in his confidence."

"You're quibbling. You know well enough."

"I think he will."

"Will she take him?"

"It's hard to tell what Joyce will do. I'd rather not discuss the subject, please. Tell me, did you find your friends?"

"We ran them down in the hills at last. I knew pretty well about where they would be and one morning I dropped in on them. We talked it all over and I put it up to them that if they would turn the loot over to me I'd try to call off the officers. Curly was sick and ashamed of the whole business and was willing to do whatever I thought best. Mosby had different notions, but I persuaded him to see the light. They told me where they had hidden the money in the river. I was on my way back to get it when I found little Bess Landor lost in the hills. Gill nabbed me as I took her to the ranch."

"And after you were taken back to Gunnison-Did you break prison?"

"I proved an alibi-one the sheriff couldn't get away from. We had gilt-edged proof we weren't near the scene of the robbery. The president of the bank had been talking to us about ten minutes when the treasurer of the association drove up at a gallop to say he had just been robbed."

"So they freed you."

"I made a proposition to the district attorney and the directors of the association-that if I got the money back all prosecutions would be dropped. They agreed. I came back for the money and found it gone."

"If you had only told me that then."

"I had no time. My first thought was to tell my cousin the truth, but I was afraid to take a chance on him. The only way to save Curly was to take back the money myself. I couldn't be sure that Captain Kilmeny would believe my story. So I played it safe and helped myself."

"You must think a lot of your friend to go so far for him."

"His mother turned him over to me to make a man of him, and if she hadn't I owed it to his father's son."

Her eyes poured upon him their warm approving light. "Yes, you would have to help him, no matter what it cost."

He protested against heroics with a face crinkled to humor. "It wasn't costing me a cent."

"It might have cost you a great deal. Suppose that Captain Kilmeny had picked up his gun. You couldn't have shot him."

"I'd have told him who I was and why I must have the money. No, Miss Dwight, I don't fit the specifications of a hero."

Moya's lips curved to the sweet little derisive twist that was a smile in embryo. "I know about you, sir."

Kilmeny took his eyes from her to let them rest upon a man and a woman walking the river trail below. The man bowed and the Westerner answered the greeting by lifting his hat. When he looked back at his companion he was smiling impishly. For the two by the river bank were Lord and Lady Farquhar.

"Caught! You naughty little baggage! I wonder whether you'll be smacked this time."

Her eyes met his in a quick surprise that was on the verge of hauteur.


"Yes, I think you'll be smacked. You know you've been told time and again not to take up with strange boys-and Americans, at that. Mith Lupton warned you on the Victorian-and Lady Farquhar has warned you aplenty."

Her lips parted to speak, but no sound came from them. She was on the verge of a discovery, and he knew it.

"Hope you won't mind the smacking much. Besides, it would be somefing else if it wasn't this," he continued, mimicking a childish lisp he had never forgotten.

"Miss Lupton!"

A fugitive memory flashed across her mind. What she saw was this: a glassy sea after sunset, the cheerful life on the deck of an ocean liner, a little girl playing at-at-why, at selling stars of her own manufacture. The picture began to take form. A boy came into it, and vaguely other figures. She recalled impending punishment, intervention, two children snuggled beneath a steamer rug, and last the impulsive kiss of a little girl determined to exact the last morsel of joy before retribution fell.

"Are you that boy?" she asked, eyes wide open and burning.

"It's harder to believe you're that long-legged little fairy in white socks."

"So you knew me ... all the time ... and I didn't know you at all."

Her voice trembled. The look she flung toward him was shy and diffident. She had loved him then. She loved him now. Somehow he was infinitely nearer to her than he had been.

"Yes, I knew you. I've always known you. That's because you're a dream friend of mine. In the daytime I've had other things to think about, but at night you're a great pal of mine."

"You mean ... before ... we met again?"

"That's what I mean."

The pink surged into her cheeks. "I've dreamed about you too," she confessed with an adorable shyness. "How strange it is-to meet again after all these years."

"Not strange to me. Somehow I expected to meet you. Wasn't that in your dreams too-that some day we should meet again?"

"I was always meeting you. But-why didn't I know you?"

"I'll confess that I wouldn't have known you if it hadn't been for your name."

"You think I've changed, then?"

"No, you haven't changed. You've only grown up. You're still a little rebel. Sometimes you still think it's howwid to be a dirl."

"Only when they won't let me do things," she smiled. "And you really remember even my lisp."

"You have a faint hint of it yet sometimes when you are excited."

"I'm excited now-tremendously." She laughed to belie her words, but the note of agitation was not to be concealed. Her mouth was strangely dry and her heart had a queer uncertain beat. "Why shouldn't I be-with my baby days popping out at me like this when I thought they were dead and buried? It's ... it's the strangest thing...."

His blood too responded to a quickened beat. He could not understand the reason for it. Since he had no intention of being sentimental he was distinctly annoyed at himself. If it had been Joyce Seldon now-well, that would have been another tale.

Over the brow of a hillock appeared Lord and Lady Farquhar walking toward them. One glance told Moya that her chaperone had made up her mind to drive Jack Kilmeny from the field. The girl ran forward quickly.

"We've just found out the oddest thing, Lady Farquhar. Mr. Kilmeny and I are old friends. We met when we were children," she cried quickly.

Lady Jim looked at her husband. He cleared his throat in some embarrassment.

"Mornin', Mr. Kilmeny. If you have time I'd like to have you look over some ore samples sent from our mine."

The American smiled. He understood perfectly. "I've got all the time there is."

Moya intervened again. "First let me tell you the news. Mr. Kilmeny has been freed of all suspicion in connection with the robbery. The money has been returned and the whole thing dropped."

Farquhar's face cleared. "Glad to hear it." He emphasized his words, by adding a moment later: "By Jove, I am glad. Congratulations, Mr. Kilmeny."

His wife added hers, but there was a note of reserve in her manner. Plainly she was not fully satisfied.

Eagerly Moya turned to the young man. "May I tell all about it?"

He hesitated, then nodded shortly. "If you like."

Her voice vibrant with sympathy, Moya told the story in her ardent way. Kilmeny said nothing, but the corners of his mouth suggested amusement. Something of humorous derision in his blue eyes told Farquhar that the Coloradoan did not take the girl's admiration as his due. Rather, he seemed to regard it merely as an evidence of her young enthusiasm.

Lord Farquhar shook hands frankly with Kilmeny. "We've done you an injustice. If I had a son I would want him to have played the part you did under the same circumstances."

His wife backed him up loyally but with misgivings. The character of this young man might be cleared but that did not make him any more eligible. Her smile had in it some suggestion of the reserve of the chaperone.

"I'm glad to know the truth, Mr. Kilmeny. It does you credit. Your cousins won't be back to lunch but if you can stay--"

"I can't, Lady Farquhar. Thanks just the same. I've got to ride up into the hills to let the boys know it's all right. We'll be leaving to-morrow to go back to work."

"We go to-morrow too. I suppose this will be good-by, then." Lady Farquhar offered her hand.

Kilmeny turned last to Moya. "Good-by, neighbor."

Her eyes did not shrink as the small hand was buried for an instant in his brown palm, but the youth in her face was quenched.

"Good-by," she repeated in a colorless voice.

"Sorry I wasn't able to say good-by to my cousins and Miss Seldon. I understand you're all going up to the mines. Tell Captain Kilmeny I'll try to see him at Goldbanks and make all proper apologies for my bad manners yesterday."

Moya's face lit up. "Do you live at Goldbanks?"


He bowed and turned away.

The girl was left wondering. There had been a note of reservation in his manner when she had spoken of Goldbanks. Was there after all some mystery about him or his occupation, something he did not want them to know? Her interest was incredibly aroused.

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