It was two o'clock, the time for the third watch of the night herd. These two facts gradually impressed themselves on the consciousness of John Talbort Waring, as he was thumped into wakefulness by the Mexican "horse-wrangler." He, unrolling his slicker which had been serving as a pillow, enveloped himself in its clammy folds and went out into the drizzling rain.
The cattle were unusually quiet, needing little attention and Waring had ample opportunity to reflect on the disadvantages of a cowpunchers life as he rode slowly along the edge of the black mass of sleeping animals. The rain dripped from the limp brim of his sombrero; the chill wind, sweeping down from the mountains pierced his damp clothes, and made him shiver in the saddle. For the hundredth time within a week, Waring condemned himself for relinquishing the comforts of civilization for the hard life in Colorado.
He recalled his arrival on the range six months before, a "tenderfoot," and the various tribulations he had endured incident to his transformation into a full-fledged cow puncher. Of the hardships and dangers which come to every rider of the range, he had experienced his share, and faced them bravely, thereby winning the respect of the rough, lionhearted men among whom he had cast his lot.
But all the weary months had been wasted; he had failed in his object; he could not forget. It even seemed to him that, instead of growing more endurable, with time, the soreness in his heart and the sting of regret increased with every passing day. He wondered if she felt the separation. If she cared. As his thoughts wandered back over the past two years, he recalled every incident of their acquaintance. The day he had first seen her, as she stepped gracefully beside the piano to sing, at a musicale he had attended; the song she had sung:
The hours I spent with thee, dear heart,
Are as a string of pearls to me.
The sweet days that followed—their enjoyment of symphony, oratorio and opera, for both were amateurs of no mean ability. He could see her as she appeared on that wonderful day when he had met her at the altar of Trinity and spoken the words that were to bind them together through life. How beautiful she was, and how proud he had been of her as they walked down the broad aisle. He looked back at their wedding trip as at a beautiful dream. How well he remembered the return to the lovely home he had prepared for her, and the first dear days within its walls. How happy they had been, and how he had loved her! Had he loved her? He did love her.
And then the shadow had come over their home, He asked himself bitterly why he had not been more patient with her, and made allowances for her high spirit and quick temper. She was such a child. He could see now that he had been to blame many times in their quarrels, Should he go back to her, and admit that he had been wrong? Never! The words she had spoken in the heat of anger had burned themselves into his soul and could not be forgotten. He wondered now that he had been able to answer her so calmly. He recalled every word he had said:
"Your words convince me that we cannot live together any longer. I will neither forget nor forgive them. I am going away. You are at liberty to sue for a divorce if you care to do so. Three years, I believe is the time required to substantiate a plea of desertion."
That was all, without another word he had left her standing white and motionless, in the center of her dainty chamber, and gone from the beautiful home, to come out here to the wildest spot he could find and plunge into the perilous life he was leading, in the vain effort to forget.
Then his thoughts strayed to the strange postal card he had received the previous day. It had been directed in care of his attorney, and forwarded by the lawyer to the remote mountain post office where Waring received his mail. It was an ordinary postal card, its peculiarity consisted in the fact that the communication on the back was composed, not of words, but music—four measures in the key of G. He had hummed the notes over and over, and though they had a strangely familiar sound, yet he could not place the fragment nor even determine the song, or composer. It had a meaning of that he was convinced, but what could it be? Who could have sent it? Among his friends were many musicians any one of whom might have adopted such a method of communication with him. He began to hum the phrase as he rode around the cattle.
Suddenly, while in the midst of a passage from one of the great works of a master composer, he stopped short in surprise. He was singing the notes of the card! It had come to him like a flash. He tore open his coat and drew the postal card from an inner pocket, and wrote some words beneath the notes. There was no mistake. He had solved the mystery. Pulling up with a jerk that almost lifted the iron-jawed bronco from the ground, he literally hurled himself from the saddle and reached the boss in two bounds.
"I must be in Denver tonight! I want your best horse quick!"
"Why man, its a 120 miles! You're crazy."
"It's only 60 miles to Empire, and I can get the train there. It leaves at one o'clock and I can make it, if you will lend me Star. I know he's your pet horse, but I tell you, Mr. Goberly, this means everything to me. I simply must get there."
"You ought to know, Jack, that I won't lend Star; so what's the use o' asking? What in the world is the matter with you that you're in such a terrible rush?"
Waring drew the boss beyond earshot of the listening cowpunchers and spoke to him rapidly and earnestly, finally handing him the postal card. Goberly scanned it instantly and a change came over his face. "Why didn't you show me this at first? Of course you can have the horse. Hi there! Some of you boys round up the horses an' rope Star for Mr. Vk aring. Jump lively!"
In an incredibly short time a rush of hoofs announced the arrival of the horse. A dozen hands made quick work of saddling, and with a hurried good-bye all around, Wari ng, swinging himself astride of the magnificent animal, was off on his long ride. The long, pacing stride of Goberly's pet covered the ground in a surprising manner and eight o'clock found 23 miles behind his nimble feet. A five minute stop, and then on across country to the stage station 15 miles away, Twenty minutes of ten o'clock Waring drew rein. He unsaddled and turned the big thoroughbred into the corral. A half-hour's rest would put new life into him. Twenty-two miles of steep climbing to the summit of Berthound Pass meant more than twice that distance on the flat plain. A quarter past ten, Star was carrying him up the road. Up, up they went, mile after mile. Two miles from the top, Waring dismounted and led his panting horse along the icy trail.
Twelve o'clock! Could he make it? He must! Waring was again in the saddle, racing down the dangerous path toward the sea of dark green forest that stretched far below. Down at last to the level road they came with five miles still to go! Rounding a turn in the road, he spied a horseman approaching. The stranger eyed him sharply and as he drew nearer, suddenly whipped out a six-shooter.
"Hold up there! I want to talk to you. I want to know where you're going with Joe Goberly's horse."
"I've been working for Goberly, and he lent me the horse to ride over here to catch the train!"
"That yarn won't do. I know old Joe and I happen to know that he wouldn't lend that horse to his own brother let alone one of his cowpunchers. I guess I'll have to lock you up till the boys come after you:"
"Look here, Mr. Sheriff, I'm telling you the truth."
"It's no use, my friend, your story won't hold water. Why are you in such a tearin' hurry anyway?"
Waring remembered the postal card; so he reached into his breast pocket and produced it. "That is my response for haste," he said, "and that is why Goberly let me take his horse."
Keeping his captive covered with the muzzle of his revolver, the officer took the card. As he read it, his face lighted up, and he lowered his gun. "That's all right youngster. I'm sorry I stopped you. I hope you won't miss the train. I'll ride down to the station with you, as some of the boys might want to string you up on account o' the horse—everyone knows him."
Mounting a rise, they saw the town before them, a mile distant. The train was at the station! A touch of the spur, and Star stretched out into a run that left the sheriff behind him. The black smoke began to come in heavy puffs from the funnel of the engine, and the line of cars moved slowly away from the station. Star bounded forward and swept down upon the crowd like a whirlwind.
As the usual crowd of train-time loafers lounged around the station, they paused to watch the race. "Hello, the first horse is Goherly's black and he's sure movin' too. The other feller ain't in it. Why it's the sheriff! An' he's after the other chap. Horse thief!" The others took up the cry of "horse thief."A volley of shots greeted him. Fortunately, they went wild, and before any more could be fired, the sheriff tore into the crowd and roared, "stop shoo tin', the man's all right. He's only tryin' to catch the train." Then there was a rush to the track where a view of the race could be obtained.
"Will he make it? He's gaining! Hooray for the black! He'll make it!"
Waring with eyes fixed and jaw set, was riding desperately. Thirty feet. The spectators in the doorway of the last car gazed breathlessly. Twenty feet—and Star straining every nerve and muscle in his body; ten feet—and still he gained. Only five feet now! Swerving his flying horse closer to the track, Waring leaned over and grasping the railings with both hands lifted himself from the saddle, kicked his feet from the stirrups, and swung over to the steps of the car. The faint sound of a cheer reached him from the distant depot.
As the train neared Denver, Waring remembered something he had forgotten in his excitemvnt—that the banks would probably be closed and that he would be unable to cash a check. But the postal card had served him well thus far; perhaps his mission was not yet ended. Jumping to a carriage, he was driven to the nearest drug store where he consulted a directory.
"Number 900 South Seventeenth Street," he cried, as he reentered the vehicle. Arriving at his destination, he sprang out and ran up the stone steps of the palatial residence. To the dignified butler who opened the door, he said, "I wish to see Mr. Foster. My name is Warin; . I haven't a card with me." Instinctively perceiving the gentleman beneath his rough flannel shirt and mud covered "chaps" the servant ushered him into the reception room. Mr. Foster appeared almost immediately. "What can I do for you, Mr. . .er . Waring?"
"Mr. Foster, you are the president of the Denver National Bank, which I believe, handles the western interest of the Second National Bank of Boston?"
"I have an account at the Second, and I want to cash a check here. It is after banking hours, I know, and even if it were not, I have no immediate means of identification. It is of the greatest importance that I take the Eastern Express tonight or I would not come to you in this irregular way—"
"One moment, Mr. Waring. Pardon me for interrupting you, but it will save your time as well as my own if I say that what you ask is impossible as you should know. My advice to you is to wire your bank for the money."
"Of course, I know I can do that, but it means a day's delay, and that is what I want to avoid. See here, Mr. Foster I am willing to pay any amount within reason for the accommodation if you will oblige me."
"It must be a very urgent matter that requires such haste. Really, Mr. Waring, I must positively decline to do anything for you."
"It is an urgent matter; I was about to explain to you." And he told of the postal card and its purpose, adding a brief account of his efforts to get into the city in time to take the train that night. "Let me see the card. From what is it taken, did you say?"
Upon hearing the answer, he left the room to return in a few minutes with a musical score, which he laid upon the table and turned the pages until he found what he sought. Carefully he compared the music on the card with that of the printed sheet. "I will assist you sir. It is, of course, a purely personal accommodation as it is contrary to all my business methods, but I cannot resist such an appeal as this. What amount do you require?"
"One hundred dollars will serve my purpose."
"Make your check for a hundred and fifty. You will need that amount unless you care to travel in your present costume. You can cash this at the Brown Palace Hotel. I will phone the cashier so you will have no trouble."
"I cannot tell you how I thank you, Mr. Foster."
"You are perfectly welcome, my boy. I am glad to be able to help you. You have my best wishes for a pleasant journey."
A cordial hand grasp, and Waring ran down the steps.
Ten minutes later, these words were speeding over the wire. "Postal card received. Arrive Boston Friday night. See Luke 1:13. Jack."
When the Chicago Limited pulled out of Denver that evening, John Talbot Waring arrayed in garments of the most approved cut, was standing on the rear platform, of the pullman softly humming from the great oratorio, "The Messiah." There was a tender light in his eyes as he gazed at the postal card he held in his hand. And the words he sang were: "For unto us a child is born; Unto us a son is given."
At the same moment, two thousand miles away in the East, a pale young wife was bolding a telegram close to her lips. An open Bible lay on the bed beside her. Turning softly on her pillow, she glanced lovingly at the dainty cradle, and whispered: "Thou shalt call his name John."