A mountain corral took form in the gloom. The Mexican slipped the bars of the gate to let the horses in.
“Is he here?” asked Joyce breathlessly.
The man pointed to a one-room shack huddled on the hillside.
Keith had fallen sound asleep, his head against the girl’s back. “Don’t wake him when you lift him down,” she told the man. “I’ll just let him sleep if he will.”
The Mexican carried Keith to a pile of sheepskins under a shed and lowered him to them gently. The boy stirred, turned over, but did not awaken.
Joyce ran toward the shack. There was no light in it, no sign of life about the place. She could not understand this. Surely someone must be looking after her father. Whoever this was must have heard her coming. Why had he not appeared at the door? Dave, of course, might be away fighting fire, but someone....
Her heart lost a beat. The shadow of some horrible thing was creeping over her life. Was her father dead? What shock was awaiting her in the cabin?
At the door she raised her voice in a faint, ineffective call. Her knees gave way. She felt her body shaking as with an ague. But she clenched her teeth on the weakness and moved into the room.
It was dark—darker than outdoors. But as her eyes grew accustomed to the absence of light she made out a table, a chair, a stove. From the far side of the room came a gurgle that was half a snore.
“Father,” she whispered, and moved forward.
Her outstretched hand groped for the bed and fell on clothing warm with heat transmitted from a human body. At the same time she subconsciously classified a strong odor that permeated the atmosphere. It was whiskey.
The sleeper stirred uneasily beneath her touch. She felt stifled, wanted to shout out her fears in a scream. Far beyond the need of proof she knew now that something was very wrong, though she still could not guess at what the dreadful menace was.
But Joyce had courage. She was what the wind and the sun and a long line of sturdy ancestors had made her. She leaned forward toward the awakening man just as he turned in the bunk.
A hand fell on her wrist and closed, the fingers like bands of iron. Joyce screamed wildly, her nerve swept away in a reaction of terror. She fought like a wildcat, twisting and writhing with all her supple strength to break the grip on her arm.
For she knew now what the evil was that had been tolling a bell of warning in her heart.
HANK BRINGS BAD NEWS
The change in the wind had cost three lives, but it had saved the Jackpot property and the feed on the range. After the fire in San Jacinto Canon had broken through Hart’s defense by its furious and persistent attack, nothing could have prevented it from spreading over the plains on a wild rampage except a cloudburst or a decided shift of wind. This last had come and had driven the flames back on territory already burnt over.