I WAS only eight, that first summer father let the hauling to the Du Spains, but I remember very well the dusty day they drove round the turn into sight, and covered the big flat between the men’s cabins and the barns with their long bark wagons, and half-a-hundred horses.

Buck Du Spain did n’t come with the rest, but rode in, on his little black horse, in the yellow evening. He was very beautiful, I thought, when he dropped off his horse, and came over to speak to father, — tall, and lazily slow, with a full throat, and a pleasant, drawling voice, and — delight of my childish heart — a straight nose. He put me up on his horse when he led him round to the stable, and then told me to see how fast I could run home.

They — the Du Spains — took the big white house just across the road from ours, that had been empty so long. Buck could n’t have been more than eighteen, for he was n’t driving himself, but just helped his father manage the big outfit, and took a team out for a day or so, if a driver were laid off. He and my gay young uncle grew fast friends, and I, lonely for playmates, tagged them mercilessly. But, when I had stayed at his mother’s for supper, he would perch me on the arm of his chair, and show me pictures from a book so big that it did n’t lie on the table, but stood on the floor beside it, and then, when I grew sleepy, would carry me across the road, home.

At the end of the season they went away again, and I watched the caravan of teams pull out of sight, with ringing of leaders’ bells, and the odd rumbling of unloaded big wagons, — and felt forlorn.

It was four years later when they came again. Old Du Spain was dead, and Buck had the outfit, which was smaller now. My admiration was as keen as ever, if more quiet. I was quite content to curl up in the cane rocker in his mother’s sitting-room, while he, sprawled across the lounge, read the most varied assortment of novels. It was a hot Sunday, and I very crisp in a new dress, when he gave me the fat, brown Les Misérables, thumb-marked, and redolent of the tobacco of many bark camps, that to this day jostles the daintier volumes on my shelves.

The rains came early that year, so they shedded the bark that was left in the woods, and took the horses forty miles to pasture. I remember the long string going down the hill, one tied to the other’s tail. The teamsters left, but Buck and his mother decided to stay, — they might as well winter there as anywhere, they said. So we settled down for the winter, which was only quieter than the summer.

When it was clear, — and it seemed not to be clear much — I sat on the high porch, and watched my uncle and Buck break the two new colts, wild from the range. For rainy days I had two playing places, — the long, low room over the kitchen, sacred to trunks, old magazines, and my dolls —and, better far, the store, where my uncle and Buck sat beside the high, round stove they kept roaring, making, for the six-horse lashes, the poppers I could never “pop,” and braiding elaborate covers for whip-stocks with silver ferules slipped on at intervals. If I were good, and handed him the shining ferules in proper order, Buck would show me his thick pile of cigarette cards, or would play “Casino” with me.

“You’re a nicer partner than Toney, Kitten,” he laughed one day, when he’d taken cards and spades, big and little Casino, and all the aces.

“Who is Toney?" I promptly asked.

“Oh, a man at the Forks,” he said.

“I don’t, see why you play with him, Buck, you know he is n’t straight,” said my uncle.

“For money, of course,” and Buck dealt out the cards with that careless ease that was my envy and despair. “Are you going to win this game, young lady ?”

Near the end of winter there came a sunny Sunday, and with it the circuit preacher. So we all drove over to the schoolhouse, where the blacking fairly bubbled on the hot stove, and smelled most awfully. First there were hymns, which I liked, and, too, liked hearing Buck’s clear tenor above the rest. Then came the sermon. Now our minister was a good man, and kindly, with a joke, every now and then, on week-days, but to him no sermon was a sermon which did n’t force his hearers to reflect upon their latter end. I don’t know if the force were stronger that day; at any rate, I felt it more, and came out of church in a most exalted state. Not even riding home with Buck, in the big breaking-cart behind the colts, could check the soaring of my thoughts.

Yes, I’d join the church, — for clearly something must be done, even little girls of twelve died sometimes. I’d be a Christian.

“Pretty fine colts, don’t you think, Kitten ?” said Buck, as we took the turn to the bridge on one wheel I nodded impatiently. Where was I ? Oh, yes, — yes, I’d be a Christian, and I’d be good, I’d never tell another story, never even act one (which mother said was just as bad), such as not knowing where that new cake of chocolate had disappeared to.

“You’d better hold on to my arm, Kitten, we’re coming to a rough place, and this cart has n’t any back.” I took hold obediently. What else did Christians do ? From the sermon two words rang back at me: “Save souls.” I was a little dismayed. Whose soul could I save ? Mother’s and grandmother’s were saved already, of course. There were father and Uncle Jack, — but somehow, it would n’t be very easy with them. Then there was Buck, — of course, Buck, — I brightened at the thought. I’d save him; he would n’t be so apt to laugh at me as the others. Then, too, while I was quite sure he was good, still I felt, vaguely, that he might stand a bit of looking after. So when he stopped at the high block to let me out, I said, “Thank you, Buck, I’ve had a lovely ride,” with a smile that was positively saccharine.

The method of attack bothered me for several days, till I came across a tiny pamphlet, left by the minister the last time he’d taken dinner with us, on “The Saving Power of Song.” I knew any number of Gospel hymns, and could carry a tune, so I went about singing lustily. I’d even slip out on the dark porch and sing something that struck me as being especially affecting, — like “Rescue the Perishing,” — just as Buck crossed the road from the store to his late supper. But one night he called, “For the Lord’s sake, shut up, Kitten! ” After that I sang no more, and my missionary zeal diminished.

The next six years I saw Buck perhaps not six times, — two or three times when I’d driven to town with father, two or three times more when he, riding by, stopped at the gate, and came up the path, walking stiffly in his hairy “chaps.” One day, when Grace and I had been discussing handsome men, and I had said, “Oh, but you should see Buck Du Spain, he’s positively the handsomest man I ever laid eyes on,” father looked up over his paper, and said, “Handsome is as handsome does, dear,” gravely.

It was in the summer, three years ago, and not more than a week after I had come home, that we girls went to the canyon one morning, for ferns to decorate for our house-dance that evening. We came out with green armfuls. I had lingered for one more, and still one more, perfect five-finger, till when I came out on the road, the others were well away from me, half-way up the hot hill.

Some men, a-horseback, were coming swiftly down the grade. As they came abreast of me, Sheriff Murphy, riding in the lead, swung off his hat. The others I did not know. A little way behind them, a man on an eager little buckskin rode more slowly. I noticed when he met the girls that he made as if to rein in, but did n’t. But when he came to me he stopped.

“Is this your name ?” said he, holding out a letter.

“Yes,” said I, wondering, “who” — But he only rode on more quickly, and I thought he laughed.

When we got home the little hamlet was seething with the news. Buck Du Spain had robbed and killed Toney, the Italian saloon-keeper at the Forks, and half the country was out hunting him.

Somehow or other the long day went on, what with draping long sprays of green, and pressing out crushed ruffles, and shooing the children away from the big freezer that stood, burlap-swathed, in the cellar. Then came dinner, one of those excited, half-eaten meals.

A little later Grace came into my room, to hook me into my dress.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” said she, “you’ve been so funny and still all day, and yet sort of excited. Do try and get up some color, you ’re awfully white.”

Eleven o’clock came, finally, in the lull between two dances. I waited till the music began again, then,—

“Oh, Harry,” I said to my partner, “I’ve forgotten something I must do. No, you can’t help me”— I slipped into mother’s room, and out the French window on to the porch.

It was dark out here, and strangely quiet, after the light and noise the other side of the house. I went clear to the end, where the ground dropped away, so the head of the man on horseback was just on a level with the rail. Man and horse were only a dark blur, for though the stars were bright , there was no moon. I remember noticing my dress showed dimly white.

“Buck?” I whispered.

“Kitten,” the sharp whisper came back, “this is good of you.”

“Sh-h,” and I began to pick up the packages hidden by the railing, “here’s something for you to eat after a while. Tie it on the back of your saddle. Here’s something for you to eat now, — can’t you put a package in each pocket?”

The man chuckled, “Gee, you’ve got a head.”

I raised the last, heaviest package, “Have you the same revolver?”

“That little 44? Yes, — what’s this — cartridges ? — Oh, you ’re a dream — I’m all right now, I’ll get out all right. I’ll do something for you, some day.” He half turned his horse, as if to start.

“Buck,” I begged, leaning over the rail, “wait, here” —

“What’s this ?”

“Oh, it’s money, Buck. Not very much, but it’s mine, and it’s enough to help you get away. Then you’ll send the — other — back, won’t you, Buck ? and when you earn some you can send me back mine.” I was whispering eagerly, out into the dark.

“Here, give it to me,” I knew he was laughing; “still trying to save my soul, Kitten ?”

“ Oh, how did you ever know ? Did mother” —

Just then some one came into the dining-room with a light. A broad band cut full across from the open window for a moment, then went out again.

“Gee, you’re a regular young lady, are n’t you?” He crowded his horse close to the house, and reaching up, thrust the purse, heavier than when he had taken it, into my helpless hands. “You can buy pretties with it. Adios,” and he rode away into the dark.

Last summer, going home, I was riding on the high front seat of the red stage, between the driver and a WellsFargo inspector. We had been driving on the level land along the coast all the afternoon, skirting the bases of the hills in long curves. The dark and we dropped together down the grade that led to the river. When we got to the bottom it was quite black, and the big reflector lantern, that glared out like a searchlight above our heads, had been lighted some time.

The long bridge, that spanned the river and the swamp that came before it, had fallen a week or so before, and a sort of road had been cut through the swamp to the ford. It was a bad place, full of water and sunken logs and tree roots. The stage lurched, one wheel sunk in mud to the hub, the other clear out. The lantern light flickered over the four horses, cautiously picking their steps, and the white-barked alders seemed to lean into the circle of its light with a sort of ghastly eagerness.

The driver had just said, “We’re over the worst of it,” when a man on horseback, with a black mask over his face, and a revolver held high, came into the light.

“Hands up,” he cried, and sent a shot over our heads. The Jew drummer inside the stage gave a thick, cracked scream. The Wells-Fargo man, all in one moment, got me crushed down in the boot among the mail-bags, and fired two shots. There was an answering shot, and the rattle of broken glass from the lantern. Then it was dark, and I could hear the driver and the Wells-Fargo man get out.

“I guess you ’ve done for him,” said the driver.

They splashed in water and stumbled on logs. I sat up. They had stopped and were lighting matches. Presently I heard them coming back again, but slowly. They stopped when they got to the lead horses, and asked for a light. Up to now the men inside the stage had been as quiet as I.

“Is it safe?” asked the Jew drummer.

“He’s dead, I guess,” said the WellsFargo man.

So the drummer got out, and stumbled up to them with a little electric pocket lamp.

“He’s alive,” said the driver, “but he won’t be long, I guess.” And then, his voice going up an octave, “If it ain’t Buck Du Spain!”

They laid him flat on a broad log, that sloped well out of the swamp. I sat above him, and held his black head in my lap. Then the driver took the stage on to get help. The drummer, the WellsFargo man, and I stayed with Buck.

It was very quiet in the bottom of the canyon, for none of us spoke, only now and then we’d catch the faint wash of the river. It was very dark, too, for the lamp had given out, and all the matches were gone. The silence and the dark seemed to combine into a palpable, dense thing, that held us each fast in his place, beyond the possibility of movement.

There came a time — I don’t know if for long — that I could no longer feel the head that had been heavy on my knees, when it seemed to me along that narrow swamp there went a procession of all that was sad and lost, going with all mournful and dreadful noises.

“Gott! it’s cold,” said the Jew drummer.

I, remembering the quiet head, laid my hand, ever so lightly, across its lips. But no breath went over them.