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Prairie Flowers
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PRAIRIE FLOWERS

by

JAMES B. HENDRYX

Author of "The Gun Brand," "The Promise," "The Texan," "The Gold Girl," etc.



A. L. Burt Company Publishers New York Published by arrangement with G. P. Putnam's Sons

Copyright, 1920 by James B. Hendryx

Made in the United States of America



BY JAMES B. HENDRYX

The Promise The Gun Brand The Texan The Gold Girl Prairie Flowers Snowdrift Connie Morgan in Alaska Connie Morgan with the Mounted Connie Morgan in the Lumber Camps Connie Morgan in the Fur Country

This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS, NEW YORK AND LONDON The Knickerbocker Press, New York



CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

A PROLOGUE 1

I.—AN ANNIVERSARY 9

II.—KANGAROO COURT 18

III.—THE STAGE ARRIVES 29

IV.—Y BAR COLSTON TALKS 38

V.—ALICE TAKES A RIDE 50

VI.—AT THE RED FRONT 60

VII.—THE TEXAN "COMES A-SHOOTIN'" 68

VIII.—THE ESCAPE 81

IX.—ON THE RIVER 93

X.—JANET MCWHORTER 107

XI.—AT THE MOUTH OF THE COULEE 120

XII.—IN TIMBER CITY 130

XIII.—A MAN ALL BAD 143

XIV.—THE INSURGENT 156

XV.—PURDY MAKES A RIDE 163

XVI.—BIRDS OF A FEATHER 171

XVII.—IN THE SCRUB 182

XVIII.—THE TEXAN TAKES THE TRAIL 188

XIX.—AT MCWHORTER'S RANCH 197

XX.—AT CINNABAR JOE'S 209

XXI.—THE PASSING OF LONG BILL KEARNEY 219

XXII.—CASS GRIMSHAW—HORSE-THIEF 229

XXIII.—CINNABAR JOE TELLS A STORY 239

XXIV.—"ALL FRIENDS TOGETHER" 253

XXV.—JANET PAYS A CALL 267

XXVI.—THE OTHER WOMAN 276

XXVII.—SOME SHOOTING 288

XXVIII.—BACK ON RED SAND 304

AN EPILOGUE 314



Prairie Flowers



A PROLOGUE

The grey roadster purred up the driveway, and Alice Endicott thrust the "home edition" aside and hurried out onto the porch to greet her husband as he stepped around from the garage.

"Did the deal go through?" she asked, as her eyes eagerly sought the eyes of the man who ascended the steps.

"Yes, dear," laughed Endicott, "the deal went through. You see before you a gentleman of elegant leisure—foot-loose, and unfettered—free to roam where the gods will."

"Or will not," laughed his wife, giving him a playful hug. "But, oh, Win, aren't you glad! Isn't it just grand to feel that you don't have to go to the horrible, smoky old city every morning? And don't the soft air, and the young leaves, and the green grass, and the nesting birds make you crazy to get out into the big open places? To get into a saddle and just ride, and ride, and ride? Remember how the sun looked as it rose like a great ball of fire beyond the miles and miles of open bench?"

Endicott grinned: "And how it beat down on us along about noon until we could fairly feel ourselves shrivel——"

"And how it sank to rest behind the mountains. And the long twilight glow. And how the stars came out one by one. And the night came deliciously cool—and how good the blankets felt."

The man's glance rested upon the close-cropped lawn where the grackles and robins were industriously picking up their evening meal. "You love the country out there—you must love it, to remember only the sunrises, and the sunsets, and the stars; and forget the torture of long hours in the saddle and that terrific downpour of rain that burst the reservoir and so nearly cost us our lives, and the dust storm in the bad lands, and that night of horrible thirst. Why those few days we spent in Montana, between the time of the wreck at Wolf River and our wedding at Timber City, were the most tumultuously adventurous days of our lives!"

His wife's eyes were shining: "Wasn't it awful—the suspense and the excitement! And, yet, wasn't it just grand? We'll never forget it as long as we live——"

Endicott smiled grimly: "We never will," he agreed, with emphasis. "A man isn't likely to forget—things like that."

Alice seated herself upon the porch lounge where her husband joined her, and for several minutes they watched a robin divide a fat worm between the scrawny necked fledglings that thrust their ugly mouths above the edge of the nest in the honeysuckle vine close beside them.

"It was nearly a year ago, Win," the girl breathed, softly; "our anniversary is just thirteen days away."

"And you still want to spend it in Timber City?"

"Indeed I do! Why it would just break my heart not to be right there in that ugly little wooden town on that day."

"And you really—seriously—want to live out there?"

"Of course I do! Why wouldn't anyone want to live there? That's real living—with the wonderful air, and the mountains, and the boundless unfenced range! Not right in Timber City, or any of the other towns, but on a ranch, somewhere. We could stay there till we got tired of it, and then go to California, or New York, or Florida for a change. But we could call the ranch home, and live there most of the time. Now that you have closed out your business, there is no earthly reason why we should live in this place—it's neither east nor west, nor north, nor south—it's just half way between everything. I wish we would hear from that Mr. Carlson, or whatever his name is so we could go and look over his ranch the day after our anniversary."

"His name is Colston, and we have heard," smiled Endicott. "I got word this morning."

"Oh, what did he say?"

"He said to come and look the property over. That he was willing to sell, and that he thought there was no doubt about our being able to arrange satisfactory terms."

"Oh, Win, aren't you glad! You must sit right down after dinner and write him. Tell him we'll——"

"I wired him this afternoon to meet us in Timber City."

"Let's see," Alice chattered, excitedly, "it will take—one night to Chicago, and a day to St. Paul, and another day and night, and part of the next day—how many days is that? One, two nights, and two days and a half—that will give us ten days to sell the house and pack the furniture and ship it——"

"Ship it!" exclaimed the man. "We better not do any shipping till we buy the ranch. The deal may not go through——"

"Well, Mr. What's-his-name don't own the only ranch in Montana. If we don't buy his, we'll buy another one. You better see that Mr. Schwabheimer tomorrow—he's wanted this place ever since we bought it, and he's offered more than we paid."

"Oh, it won't be any trouble to sell the house. But, about shipping the furniture until we're sure——"

Alice interrupted impetuously: "We'll ship it right straight away—because when we get it out there we'll just have to buy a ranch to put it in!"

Endicott surrendered with a gesture of mock despair: "If that's the way you feel about it, I guess we'll have to buy. But, I'll give you fair warning—it will be up to you to help run the outfit. I don't know anything about the cattle business——"

"We'll find Tex! And we'll make him foreman—and then, when we get all settled I'll invite Margery Demming out for a long visit—I've picked out Margery for Tex—and we can put them up a nice house right near ours, and Margery and I can——"

"Holy Mackerel!" laughed Endicott. "Just like that! Little things don't matter at all—like the fact that we haven't any ranch yet to invite her to, and that she might not come if you did invite her, and if she did come she might not like the country or Tex, or he might not like her. And last of all, we may never find Tex. We've both written him a half a dozen times—and all the letters have been returned. If we had some ham, we'd have some ham and eggs, if we had some eggs!"

"There you go, with your old practicability! Anyhow, that's what we'll do—and if Tex don't like her I'll invite someone else, and keep on inviting until I find someone he does like—and as for her—no one could help loving the country, and no one could help loving Tex—so there!"

"I hope the course of their true love will run less tempestuously than ours did for those few days we were under the chaperonage of the Texan," grinned the man.

"Of course it will! It's probably very prosaic out there, the same as it is anywhere, most of the time. It was a peculiar combination of circumstances that plunged us into such a maelstrom of adventure. And yet—I don't see why you should hope for such a placid courtship for them. It took just that ordeal to bring out your really fine points. They were there all the time, dear, but I might never have known they were there. Why, I've lived over those few days, step by step, a hundred times! The wreck, the celebration at Wolf River—" she paused and shuddered, and her husband took up the sequence, mercilessly:

"And your ride with Purdy, and Old Bat thrusting the gun into my hand and urging me to follow—and when I looked up and saw you both on the rim of the bench and saw him drag you from your horse—then the mad dash up the steep trail, and the quick shot as he raised above the sage brush—and then, the fake lynching bee—only it was very real to me as I stood there in the moonlight under that cottonwood limb with a noose about my neck. And then the long ride through the night, and the meeting with you at the ford where you were waiting with Old Bat——"

"And the terrible thunder storm, and the bursting reservoir, and the dust storm in the bad lands," continued the girl. "Oh, it was all so—so horrible, and yet—as long as I live I will be glad to have lived those few short days. I learned to know men—big, strong men in action—what they will do—and what they will not do. The Texan with his devil-may-care ways that masked the real character of him. And you, darling—the real you—who had always remained hidden beneath the veneer of your culture and refinement. Then suddenly the veneer was knocked off and for the first time in your life the fine fibre of you—the real stuff you are made of, got the chance to assert itself. You stood the test, dear—stood it as not one man in a hundred who had lived your prosaic well-ordered life would have stood it——"

"Nonsense!" laughed the man. "You're grossly prejudiced. You were in love with me anyway—you know you were. You would have married me in time."

"I was not! I wasn't a bit in love with you—and I wouldn't have married you ever, if it hadn't been for the test." She paused suddenly, and her eyes became serious, "But Win, Tex stood the test too—and he really did love me. Do you know that my heart just aches for that boy, out there all alone in the country he loves—for he is of different stuff than the rest of them. He likes the men—he is one of them—but he would never choose a wife from among their women, and his big heart is just yearning for a woman's love. I shall never forget the last time I saw him—in that little open glade in the timber. He had lost, and he knew it—and he stood there with his arm thrown over the neck of his horse, staring out over the broad bench toward the mountains that showed hazy-blue in the distance. He was game to the last fibre of him. He tried to conceal his hurt, but he could not conceal it. He spoke highly of you—said you were a man—and that I had made no mistake in my choice—and then he spoke the words that filled my cup of happiness to the brim—he told me that you had not killed Purdy—that there was no blood on your hands—and that you were not a fugitive from the law.

"Win, dear—we must find him—we've got to find him!"

"We'll find him—little girl," answered her husband as his arm stole about her shoulders; "I'm just as anxious to find him as you are—and in ten days we will start!"



CHAPTER I

AN ANNIVERSARY

The Texan drew up in the centre of a tiny glade that formed an opening in the bull pine woods. Haze purpled the distant mountains of cow-land, and the cowpuncher's gaze strayed slowly from the serried peaks of the Bear Paws to rest upon the broad expanse of the barren, mica-studded bad lands with their dazzling white alkali beds, and their brilliant red and black mosaic of lava rock that trembled and danced and shimmered in the crinkly waves of heat. For a long time he stared at the Missouri whose yellow-brown waters rolled wide and deep from recent rains. From the silver and gold of the flashing waters his eyes strayed to the smoke-grey sage flats that intervened, and then to the cool dark green of the pines.

Very deliberately he slipped from the saddle, letting the reins fall to the ground. He took off his Stetson and removed its thin powdering of white alkali dust by slapping it noisily against his leather chaps. A light breeze fanned his face and involuntarily his eyes sought the base of a huge rock fragment that jutted boldly into the glade, and as he looked, he was conscious that the air was heavy with the scent of the little blue and white prairie flowers that carpeted the ground at his feet. His thin lips twisted into a cynical smile—a smile that added an unpleasant touch to the clean-cut weather-tanned features. In the space of a second he seemed to have aged ten years—not physically, but—he had aged.

He spoke half aloud, with his grey eyes upon the rock: "It—hurts—like hell. I knew it would hurt, an' I came—rode sixty miles to get to this spot at this hour of this day. It was here she said 'good-bye,' an' then she walked slowly around the rock with her flowers held tight, an' the wind ripplin' that lock of hair, just above her right temple, it was—an' then—she was gone." The man's eyes dropped to the ground. A brilliantly striped beetle climbed laboriously to the top of a weed stem, spread his wings in a clumsy effort, and fell to the ground. The cowboy laughed: "A hell of a lot of us that would like to fly has to crawl," he said, and stooping picked a tiny flower, stared at it for a moment, breathed deeply of its fragrance, and thrust it into the band of his hat. Reaching for his reins, he swung into the saddle and once more his eyes sought the painted bad lands with their background of purple mountains. "Prettiest place in the world, I reckon—to look at. Mica flashin' like diamonds, red rocks an' pink ones, white alkali patches, an' black cool-lookin' mud-cracks—an' when you get there—poison water, rattlesnakes, chokin' hot dust, horse-thieves, an' the white bones of dead things! Everything's like that. Come on, old top horse, you an' I'll shove on to Timber City. 'Tain't over a mile, an' when we get there—! Say boy, little old unsuspectin' Timber City is goin' to stage an orgy. We don't aim to pull off no common sordid drunk—not us. What we'll precipitate is goin' to be a classic—a jamboree of sorts, a bacchanalian cataclysm, aided an' abetted by what local talent an' trimmin's the scenery affords. Shake a leg, there! An' we'll forget the bones, an' the poison, an' the dust, an' with the discriminatin' perception of a beltful of rollickin' ferments, we'll enjoy the pink, an' the purple, an' the red. Tomorrow, it'll be different but as Old Bat says 'Wat de hell?'"

Thus adjured, the horse picked his way down the little creek and a few minutes later swung into the trail that stretched dusty white toward the ugly little town whose wooden buildings huddled together a mile to the southward.

Before the door of Red Front saloon the Texan drew up in a swirl of dust, slid from the saddle, and entered. The bartender flashed an appraising glance, and greeted him with professional cordiality, the ritual of which, included the setting out of a bottle and two glasses upon the bar. "Dry?" he invited as he slid the bottle toward the newcomer.

"Middlin'," assented the Texan, as he poured a liberal potion. The other helped himself sparingly and raised his glass.

"Here's how."

"How," responded the Texan, and returning the empty glass to the bar produced papers and tobacco and rolled a cigarette. Then very deliberately, he produced a roll of bills, peeled a yellow one from the outside, and returned the roll to his pocket. Without so much as the flicker of an eyelash, the bartender noted that the next one also was yellow. The cowpuncher laid the bill on the bar, and with a jerk of the thumb, indicated the four engrossed in a game of solo at a table in the rear of the room.

"Don't yer friends imbibe nothin'?" he asked, casually.

The bartender grinned as he glanced toward the table. "Might try 'em, now. I didn't see no call to bust into a solo-tout with no trivial politics like a couple of drinks.

"Gents, what's yourn?"

From across the room came a scraping of chairs, and the four men lined up beside the Texan and measured their drinks.

"Stranger in these parts?" inquired a tall man with a huge sunburned moustache.

"Sort of," replied the Texan, "but let's licker before this sinful decoction evaporates."

"Seems like I've saw you before, somewheres," opined a thick man with round china blue eyes.

"Maybe you have, because astoundin' as it may seem, this ain't my first appearance in public—but you might be nature fakin', at that. Where was it this here episode took place?"

The man shook his head: "I dunno, only it seems like you look sort of nat'chel, somehow."

"I always did—it's got so's it's almost what you might call a fixed habit—like swallowin' when I drink. But, speakin' of towns, Timber City's sure had a boom since I was here last. You've got a new horse trough in front of the livery barn." The tall man ordered another round of drinks, and the Texan paused to fill his glass. They drank, and with an audible suck at his overhanging moustache, the tall man leaned an elbow on the bar: "It ain't noways safe or advisable," he said slowly, looking straight at the Texan, "fer no lone cow-hand to ride in here an' make light of Timber City to our face."

A man with a green vest and white, sleek hands insinuated himself between the two and smiled affably: "Come on, now, boys, they ain't nawthin' in quarrelin'. The gent, here, was only kiddin' us a little an' we ain't got no call to raise the hair on our back for that. What do you say we start a little game of stud? Solo ain't no summer game, nohow—too much thinkin'. How about it stranger, d'you play?"

"Only now an' then, by way of recreation. I don't want your money, I got plenty of my own, an' I never let cards interfere with business. Down in Texas we——"

"But, you ain't workin' today," interrupted the other.

"Well, not what you might call work, maybe. I aimed to get drunk, an' I don't want to get switched off into a card game. Come on, now, an' we'll have another drink, an' then Jo-Jo an' I'll renew our conversation. An' while we're at it, Percy, if I was you I'd stand a little to one side so's I wouldn't get my clothes mussed. Now, Jo-Jo, what was the gist of that there remark of yours?"

"My name's Stork—Ike Stork, an'——"

"You're a bird all right."

"Yes, I'm a bird—an' Timber City's a bird, too. They can't no other town in Montany touch us."

"Wolf River's got a bank——"

"Yes," interrupted the bartender, "an' we could of had a bank, too, but we don't want none. If you want a town to go plumb to hell just you start up a bank. Then everyone runs an' sticks their money in an' don't spend none, an' business stops an' the town's gone plumb to hell!"

"I'd hev you to know," Stork cut in importantly, "that Timber City's a cowtown, an' a sheep town, an' a minin' town, an' a timber town—both of which Wolf River ain't neither, except cattle. We don't depend on no one thing like them railroad towns, an' what's more, it tuck a act of Congress fer to name Timber City——"

"Yes an' it takes an act of God to keep her goin', but He does it offhand an' casual, same as He makes three-year-old steers out of two-year-olds."

The bartender grinned affably, his thoughts on the roll of yellow bills that reposed in the pocket of the Texan. "Don't regard Ike none serious, pardner, he's settin' a little oneasy on account he got his claim all surveyed off into buildin' lots, an' they ain't goin' like, what you might say, hot cakes."

"Oh, I don't know," Stork interrupted, but the bartender ignored him.

"Now, about this here proclamation of yourn to git drunk," continued the bartender. "Not that it ain't any man's privilege to git drunk whenever he feels like, an' not that it's any of my business, 'cause it ain't, an' not that I give a damn one way or the other, 'cause I don't, but just by way of conversation, as you might say; what's the big idee? It ain't neither the Thirteenth of June, nor the Fourth of July, nor Thanksgivin' nor Christmas, nor New Year's, on which dates a man's supposed to git drunk, the revels that comes in between bein' mostly accidental, as you might say. But here comes you, without neither rhyme nor reason, as the feller says in the Bible, just a-honin' to git drunk out of a clear sky as the sayin' goes. Of course they's one other occasion which it's every man's duty to git drunk, an' that's his birthday, so if this is yourn, have another on the house, an' here's hopin' you live till the last sheep dies."

They drank, and the Texan rolled another cigarette: "As long as we've decided to git drunk together, it's no more'n right you-all should know the reason. It ain't my birthday, it's my—my anniversary."

"Married?" asked the man with the china blue eyes.

"Nope."

"Well, no wonder you're celebratin'!"

"Shorty, there, he's married a-plenty," explained the man with the green vest, during the general guffaw that greeted the sally.

Again Shorty asked a question, and the Texan noted a hopeful look in the china blue eyes: "Be'n married an'—quit?"

"Nope."

The hopeful look faded, and removing his hat, the man scratched his head: "Well, if you ain't married, an' ain't be'n married, what's this here anniversary business? An' how in hell do you figger the date?"

The Texan laughed: "A-many a good man's gone bugs foolin' with higher mathmatics, Shorty. Just you slip another jolt of this tornado juice in under your belt, an' by the time you get a couple dozen more with it, you won't care a damn about anniversaries. What'll be botherin' you'll be what kind of meat they feed the sun dogs——"

"Yes, an' I'll catch hell when I git home," whimpered Shorty.

"Every man's got his own brand of troubles," philosophized the Texan, "an' yours sure set light on my shoulders. Come on, barkeep, an' slip us another round of this here inebriatin' fluid. One whole year on crick water an' alkali dust has added, roughly speakin', 365 days an' 5 hours, an' 48 minutes, an' 45-1/2 seconds to my life, an' has whetted my appetite to razor edge—an' that reminds me—" he paused abruptly and picking up the yellow-backed bill that still lay before him upon the bar, crammed it into his pocket.



CHAPTER II

KANGAROO COURT

Bottle in hand, the bartender eyed the cowboy quizzically. "What's the big idee—pinchin' back the dinero?" he questioned.

The Texan smiled: "Just happened to think, that this is the identical spot, a year ago, where I imbibed the last shot of red licker that's entered my system till I intruded this peaceful scene today."

"What's all that got to do with you grabbin' that there money which I want two dollars an' a half out of it fer them two rounds of drinks that's on you?"

"Don't go worryin' about that. You'll get all that's comin' to you. But a little reference to back history might fresh up your memory that I've got four dollars change comin' from a year ago——"

"Wha'd ye mean—a year ago? I wasn't here a year ago! My brother run this joint then. I only be'n here a couple of months."

The Texan regarded the man with puckered brow: "Well now, since you mentioned it, there is somethin' disparagin' about that face of yours that kind of interfered with me recognizin' it off hand. The Red Front, changin' hands that way, complicates the case to an extent that we'll have to try it out all legal an' regular pro bono publico, kangaroo court. I studied law once way back in Texas with a view to abusin' an' evadin' the same, an' enough of it's stuck to me so we can conduct this case ex post facto.

"Barkeep, you're the defendant, an' for the purposes of the forthcomin' action your name's John Doe. You four other characters are the jury, an' that don't leave nothin' for me to be except plaintiff, prosecutin' attorney, judge, an' court bailiff." Jerking his gun from its holster the cowboy grasped it by the barrel and rapped loudly upon the bar: "O yes! O yes! You bet! Court is now open! The first case on the docket is Horatio Benton, alias Tex, vs. John Doe, John Doe's brother, an' the Red Front saloon et al."

"Hey, what's all this here damn nonsense about?" asked the bartender.

For answer the Texan rapped the bar with the butt of his gun: "Silence in the court!" he roared. "An' what's more, you're fined one round of drinks for contempt of court." Taking a match from his pocket he laid it carefully upon the bar, and continued: "The plaintiff will take the stand in his own behalf. Gentlemen of the jury, the facts are these: One year ago today, along about 3:30 P.M., I walked up to this bar an' had five drinks, one of which was on the house an' four on me at two bits a throw. I was packin' a couple of black eyes, the particulars of which is extramundane to this case, an' the barkeep, defendant here's alleged brother, asked certain pertinent an' unmitigated questions concernin' the aforesaid black eyes. In explainin' to him how they were come by, I had occasion to take a shot at a mouse—the bullet hole, an' doubtless his dried-up remains can be seen yonder against the base-board an' constitutes Exhibit A——"

"Well, I'll be damned!" exclaimed Shorty, his china blue eyes round with excitement, "I know'd I'd saw you before!"

"Me, too, we was settin' there playin'——"

Again the six-gun rapped on the bar: "You, Green Vest, you're fined a round of drinks for contempt of court. An' Shorty, you're fined two rounds. Not that there's any doubt about your first statement, but this here profanus vulgus business has got to be cut out." Depositing three more matches beside the first upon the bar, the Texan proceeded: "Shortly thereafter, an' right in the middle of my remarks the said barkeep disembarked in tumultuous haste, like he'd be'n sent for an' had to go. I waited around a spell an' not favorin' this spot for a permanent abode, I laid a five dollar gold piece on the bar, an' rode off. Therefore, gentlemen of the jury, it's plain to see that I've got four dollars comin', as an offset to which the present specimen, here, has got a just an' valid claim fer two rounds of drinks to the total value of two dollars an' four bits, leavin' a dollar an' four bits still owin' to me. The case is now closed, owin' to any testimony the defendant, here, might introduce, would be mere hearsay an' therefore irrelevant an' immaterial, he havin' admitted he wasn't here at the time. Now, gentlemen of the jury, what's your verdict?"

Thus appealed to the four gathered at the end of the bar and held whispered conversation, Shorty glancing furtively the while at the gun in the Texan's hand.

Presently, mouthing a corner of his moustache, Ike Stork spoke: "It's the ondivided opinion of the jury, except Shorty disagreein' fer fear he'll git shot, that this here party behind the bar's name ain't John Doe, which it's Pete Barras same as before, an' likewise he's got two dollars an' four bits comin' from you fer the drinks. Them four dollars of yourn is comin' from Sam Barras, which he's runnin' a saloon over to Zortman."

The Texan produced another match and laid it beside the others upon the bar: "You're fined a round of drinks for misnomer of the defendant," he announced, gravely. "An' seein' the jury is hung—why it ain't be'n hung long ago is surprisin' to me—you're discharged—bob-tailed discharge, as they'd say in the army which carries with it a recommendation that you're a bunch of inebriated idiots that's permitted to stand on your hind legs an walk upright so's to make more room for regular folks to move around in. The case is taken out of your hands an' adjoodicated upon its merits which accordin' to the statutes in such cases made an' provided, judgment is rendered for the plaintiff, on account of the above transaction bein' with the saloon, as such, an' not a personal matter with the bartender. Plaintiff is also ordered to take over an' run said saloon to the best of his ability until such time as the said dollar an' four bits is paid."

"Look a-here, pardner," began the bartender, edging along opposite the Texan, "fun's fun, an' kangaroo courts is all right as fer as they go an' as long as they don't mix up no regular money in their carryin's on. Me an' my brother Sam ain't on what you might say, fambly terms, which he'd of skun me to a frazzle on this here deal if the claim I traded him fer the saloon had of be'n worth a damn. But in spite of me an' Sam bein' what you might say, onfriendly relations, I've got to say fer him that he never pays a debt, an' if you've got four dollars comin' from him you might as well set around like a buzzard till he dies, which he's that ornery it prob'ly won't be long, an' then file yer claim ag'in his executioner."

The Texan grinned: "I hope fer your sake that advice is sound, for I'm handin' it back in the original package——"

"You mean you ain't a-goin to pay fer them drinks?" The bartender's voice held a truculent note, and his eyes narrowed. "'Cause, believe me, stranger, if you think you ain't, you're plumb misguided. Things has be'n quiet an' peaceable around here fer quite a spell, but you'll pay fer two rounds of drinks or Timber City's a-goin' to see some excitement."

The Texan noted that the man's hand was reaching along the under side of the bar, and his own dropped unobserved to the butt of the six-gun that he had returned to its holster. "Speakin' of excitement you're sure some prophet," he observed, drily, "an' therefore, prob'ly without honour. But as far as I'm concerned, your brother Sam's nothin' but a pleasant memory while as we say in the law, this saloon here is a corporeal hereditament——"

"You're a damn liar!" flared the aproned one, indignantly: "They ain't no wimin' allowed in here—" With the words the man's hand leaped from behind the bar, there was a crashing report, a heavy six-shooter thudded upon the wooden floor, and with a cry of pain the bartender spun half around clutching at his right arm.

"Backin' up hard words with gun play is dangerous business onless you're a top hand at it," observed the Texan, drily, as he stepped around to the man's side. A movement in front of the bar caused the six-gun once more to leap from its holster and at the action four pairs of hands flew ceilingward. "Just you hombres belly right close up to the rail an' all yer hands open an' above board on top of the bar, an' you, Stork, you come on around here an' tie up this arm or there'll be some more casualties reported. If you're all as plumb languid on the draw as yer fellow citizen here your ranks is sure due to thin out some." The Texan stooped to recover the bartender's gun from the floor and as he did so Ike Stork stepped around the corner of the bar, and taking instant advantage of his position, administered a kick that sent the cowboy sprawling at the feet of the bartender. Pandemonium broke loose in the smashing of glass and the thud of blows. Forgetting his injured arm the bartender joined Stork who had followed up his advantage by leaping upon the struggling Texan. Reaching over the bar, Green Vest sent the heavy whisky bottle crashing into the melee while his two companions contributed the array of empty glasses and then valiantly bolted for the door. The narrowness of the alley behind the bar undoubtedly saved the struggling Texan from serious mishap. As it was his two assailants hindered and impeded each other and at the same time formed a buffer against the shower of glassware that descended from above. Freeing one hand the Texan began to shoot along the floor. With the first explosion the bartender scrambled to his feet and leaped onto the bar at the precise moment that Green Vest, pausing in his flight toward the door, seized a heavy brass cuspidor and hurled it with both hands. The whirling missile caught the bartender full in the face and without a sound he crashed backward carrying Ike Stork with him to the floor. The next instant the Texan was upon his feet and a gun in each hand, grinned down into the face of the terrified man who lay helplessly pinned by the inert form of the bartender. "Any friends or relations you want notified, Isaac, or any special disposal of the remains?" he questioned, as the guns waved back and forth above the prostrate man's face.

"G'wan, shoot if yer goin' to. I ain't packin' no gun. I done my damnedest when I booted you down, an' we'd of had you at that if them damned eediots hadn't begun bouncin' bottles an' glasses an' spittoons offen our head. Shoot—an' for Christ's sake, make a job of it!"

The Texan's grin broadened, and reaching down he rolled the bartender over, "Get up Ike," he said. "You're a he-one, all right, an' it would be a pity to waste you."

The other struggled to his feet and as he faced him the Texan saw an answering grin widen the mouth beneath the heavy moustache. "Pour us a couple of drinks out of that private stock, an' in the meantime I'll just fog her up a bit as a warnin' to the curious not to intrude on our solitude. An', say, watch this, so you can tell 'em out there I can shoot." Four stacks of chips remained on the table where the players of solo had abandoned their game, and shooting alternately with either hand, and so rapidly that the explosions sounded like shots from an automatic, the Texan cleaned the table and filled the air with a blue-grey haze and a shower of broken chips. Suddenly he glanced at the clock. Its hands pointed to half-past four, and with an oath he sent two bullets crashing into its face. "Four-thirty!" he cried. "A year ago this minute—" He stopped abruptly.

Ike nodded approval and raised his glass: "Now," he pronounced, solemnly, "I've got to own that they ain't none of us in Timber City that's as handy with guns as what you be—but, at that, most of us kin hit a man reasonable often—an' some of us has."

"I'll give you a chance to do it again, then. But, first, you slip down cellar there an' h'ist me up a bunch of beer kegs. I'm goin' to build me a barricade so you birds can't rake the back bar through the window." As Ike passed up the kegs, the Texan arranged them in such a manner that from neither windows nor door could anyone upon the outside cover the space behind the bar, and when Ike came up into the room he shook his head, gloomily: "What's the big idee," he asked, "of startin' a war over a dollar an' four bits? It ain't too late yet fer to leave yer guns in here an' plead guilty to disturbin' the peace. That won't cost you much—but this way, how in hell do you expect to play a lone hand agin a whole town an' git away with it? You're either plumb crazy or drunk or there's somethin' settin' heavy on yer mind——"

"I want my change," insisted the Texan stubbornly, "an' I'm goin' to take it out in trade, an' also them fines—there's twenty or thirty drinks comin', accordin' to the matches. Pour me out a couple of more an' then you've got to take our little friend here an' beat it before the fireworks start. I ain't drunk now, but I'm goin' to be! An' when I am—there's a little song we used to sing way down on the Rio Grande, it runs somethin' like this." Raising his voice the cowboy roared forth the words of his song:

"I'm a howler from the prairie of the West. If you want to die with terror, look at me. I'm chain-lightning—if I ain't, may I be blessed. I'm the snorter of the boundless prairie.

"He's a killer and a hater! He's the great annihilator! He's the terror of the boundless prairie!

"I'm the snoozer from the upper trail! I'm the reveller in murder and in gore! I can bust more Pullman coaches on the rail Than anyone who's worked the job before.

"He's a snorter and a snoozer. He's the great trunk line abuser. He's the man who put the sleeper on the rail.

"I'm a double-jawed hyena from the East. I'm the blazing, bloody blizzard from the States. I'm the celebrated slugger; I'm the Beast. I can snatch a man bald-headed while he waits.

"He's a double-jawed hyena! He's the villain of the scena! He can snatch a man bald-headed while he waits."

He finished with a whoop, and picking up the glass, drained it at a gulp. "Beat it, now, Ike, ol' Stork!" he cried, "an' take a bottle of bug-juice, an' our slumberin' friend, with you. So long, ol' timer! I'm a wolf, an' it's my night to howl! Slip up to the hotel an' tell the cook to shoot me down a half-dozen buzzard's eggs fried in grizzly juice, a couple of rattlesnake sandwiches, a platter of live centipedes, an' a prickly-pear salad. I'm hungry, an' I'm on my prowl!"



CHAPTER III

THE STAGE ARRIVES

The Timber City stage creaked and rattled as the horses toiled up the long slope of the Dog Creek divide. The driver dozed on his seat, his eyes protected from the glare of the hot June sun by the wide brim of his hat, opened mechanically at intervals to glance along the white, dusty trail. Inside, Winthrop Adams Endicott smiled as he noted the eager enthusiasm with which his young wife scanned the panorama of mountains and plain that stretched endlessly away to disappear in a jumble of shimmering heat waves.

"Oh, Win! Don't you just love it? The big black mountains with their girdles of green timber, the miles, and miles, and miles of absolute emptiness, the smell of the sage—yes, and the very rattle of this bumpy old stage!"

Endicott laughed: "I believe you do love it——"

"Love it! Of course I love it! And so do you love it! And you were just as crazy about coming as I was—only you wouldn't admit it. It's just as Tex said that day way up on top of Antelope Butte. He was speaking of you and he said: 'He'll go back East and the refinement will cover him up again—and that's a damned shame. But he won't be just the same, because the prejudice is gone. He's chewed the meat of the cow country and found it good.' I've always remembered that, and it's true—you are not just the same, dear," she reached over and took his hand in both of hers. "And, oh, Win—I'm glad—glad!"

Endicott smiled as he raised the slim hand to his lips: "Considerable of a philosopher—Tex. And cowboy par excellence. I hope we can find him. If we buy the ranch I've been counting on him to manage it."

"We've got to find him! And dear Old Bat, too! And, Win, won't it be just grand? We'll live out here in the summer and in the winter we'll go to New York and Florida, and we'll never, never go back to old Half-Way Between. The place fairly reeks of soap and whisky—and I don't care if their old soap does float!"

Again, Endicott laughed: "I suppose it will do us lots of good. I'll probably spend my days in the saddle and come home smelling of horses, and covered with alkali dust."

"Horses smell better than gas, anyway, and alkali dust is cleaner than coal-soot. Look, Win, quick! A family of Indians camped beside the trail—see the scrawny, sneaky-looking dogs and the ponies with their feet tied together, and the conical tepee. And, oh, on that red blanket—the darlingest little brown papoose! I can hardly wait to get into my riding clothes and gallop for miles! And, Win, dear, you've just got to promise me that if we do buy the ranch, you'll never bring a motor out here—not even a roadster—it would spoil everything!"

"Don't set your heart too strongly on buying that ranch," cautioned her husband.

"But the man said he'd sell at a reasonable figure."

"Yes, but you must remember that a 'reasonable figure', when you're talking about an outfit that runs ten thousand head of cattle mounts up into big money. It all depends upon the terms."

"Well, if he wants to sell his old ranch, he'd be foolish to haggle over a little thing like terms. Some way, I just feel it in my bones that we're going to buy. A woman has intuition—you wait and see."

"Colston was to meet us at Timber City today, and tomorrow we'll ride out and look over the ranch. Do you think you're up to a sixty-mile ride?"

"Sixty! I could ride six hundred!" The brake-shoes creaked as the driver drew his horses up for a breathing spell at the top of the divide. "See!" Alice cried, pointing far out into the foothills. "There is Timber City, with its little wooden buildings huddled against the pines exactly as it was a year ago today when we looked back at it from this very spot. And way beyond you can see the river glistening in the sun, and beyond that are the bad lands." Involuntarily she shuddered: "It's all as vivid as though it had happened yesterday—the dust storm, and the terrible thirst—only you and Tex cheated and gave me all the water."

Endicott nodded: "I don't think we'll ever forget it—it was a mighty close call for all of us." The stage descended the long slope and wound in and out among the foothills, its two occupants contenting themselves with watching the lazy wheeling of the buzzards against the blue, and the antics of the prairie dogs that scolded and chickered at the stage, only to dive incontinently into their holes at its approach. The little steepleless church loomed up before them, and Endicott glanced at his watch: "Four o'clock," he announced, "I wonder if Colston is waiting?"

"Well, if he is, he can wait a little longer," smiled Alice. "Because the first thing we do after we have removed some of this dust, will be to go right over and call on the Camerons—there's the cottage now, dear—just think, a year ago today we stood in that little corner room and Mr. Cameron pronounced the words that made us two the happiest people in the world—stop—please—Win! We're right in town! And if we hurry we can be there at the very same hour and minute we were there last year."

The stage drew up at the door of the little wooden hotel. The driver tossed his reins to the hostlers who were waiting with fresh horses, threw off the mail pouch, and lowered the express box to the ground where it was receipted for by the agent, who was also the post-master, and the proprietor of the hotel.

Endicott approached that dignitary who, mail pouch in hand, was gazing toward a little knot of men farther down the street: "I want to engage two rooms and a bath," he explained.

The man favoured him with a glance of surprise. "Goin' to stop over?" he queried.

"Yes, my wife and I shall be here over night."

"Married? What d'ye want of two rooms, then? Have 'em if you want 'em. Cost you more—'tain't none of my business. Take them two front ones—head of the stairs. Just give a hand an' we'll git yer trunk up, an' quick as the old woman gits the worsh out you c'n have a tub of water—that'll be four-bits extry, though—an' a dollar if I've got to fill it up twict." As they descended the stairs the man's eyes sought the group down the street: "Must be somethin's comin' off down to the Red Front. The boys ain't missed a mail sence the day they strung up Red Kelley, an' that's seven year ago, come August the fourth——"

"Fifth," corrected the stage driver who stood in the doorway.

"They brung Red in on the fourth, an' some of the boys hadn't got in yet, an' they didn't git in till after dark, so they helt Red over——"

"That was the third——"

"'Twasn't neither! I'd ort to know—it was the day my off leader throw'd his nigh fore shoe——"

Alice was manifesting impatience, and Endicott interrupted with a question: "Is Mr. W. S. Colston here?"

"Colston? You mean Y Bar Colston? Yer right, Slim, it was the fifth, 'cause I got a tooth pulled that same day, bein' as the dentist had rode over from Judith to see the hangin'. Why, no, Y Bar ain't here. He gits his mail an' trades over to Claggett."

"He was to meet me here today."

"Well, today ain't over yet. If Y Bar said he'd be here, he'll be here. Jest go in an' make yerselves to home. You can't count on that tub for an hour er so yet, so if you want to worsh up, go right on through an' you'll find the worsh dish on the bench beside the pump—an', if the towel's crusty from the boy's worshin' up this noon, tell the old woman I said to hang up a clean one."

"Hurry, Win!" cried the girl as she gave her face a final rub with the clean towel. "We've got just time enough to get into our riding togs. We both look like awful 'pilgrims' and besides, I want it to be just like it was last year."

A quarter of an hour later they were receiving a cordial welcome from the Reverend Cameron and his wife at the door of the little cottage beside the church. "We were speaking of you today," said the minister's wife "and wondering how your romance turned out."

"No need to ask," laughed her husband, as he followed them into the little living room.

"You see," cried Alice, pointing to the clock, "we arrived at almost the exact moment we did a year ago—" she started slightly as a volley of shots sounded down the street. "Oh!" she cried. "They're shooting someone!"

Cameron shook his head: "No," he smiled, "we've learned that it is the single shots or one and then another, that mean trouble. When they come in volleys that way it means that some cowboy is 'celebrating' down at the Red Front. When there are cowboys in town and they are singing, or racing their horses up and down the street, or shooting into the air or the ceiling, we know they're all right. Of course, one could wish that they wouldn't drink—but, if they must drink, by all means let's have the noise with it. If cowboys are drinking and silent, trouble follows as surely as night follows day."

"Maybe it's Mr. Colston," giggled Alice.

"Colston, of the Y Bar," smiled Cameron, "no I think we can eliminate Colston. Do you know him?"

Endicott shook his head: "No, except through correspondence. I was to meet him here today on business."

Cameron regarded him with sudden interest: "I heard in Lewiston, a couple of weeks ago, that the Y Bar might change hands and, frankly I will tell you that I was sorry to hear it."

"Why?" asked Endicott.

The minister frowned thoughtfully: "Well, Y Bar Colston has been a power in this country, and if the wrong man were to step into his place there might be no end of trouble."

"What kind of trouble?"

"Sheep and cattle. The Y Bar outfit has been a sort of buffer between the two factions. If a rabid cattleman stepped in it would immediately mean war, and if a weakling were to take Colston's place the result would be the same, because the sheep-men would immediately proceed to take advantage of him and encroach on the cattle range, and then the cowboys would take matters into their own hands and we'd have a repetition of the Johnson County War—sheep slaughtered by the thousands upon the range, dead cattle everywhere, herders murdered and their bodies left in the ashes of their burned camp wagons, and cowboys shot from ambush as they rode the range. I tell you, Mr. Endicott, I don't envy the man that succeeds Colston as owner of the Y Bar."

Endicott smiled: "Thank you for the tip. It may, or may not interest you to know that, if the business can be satisfactorily arranged, I myself, am about to assume that unenviable position."

"And the best of luck to you," said Cameron, heartily, as he extended his hand. "What one man has done another can do, but your job will be no sinecure. But, come, we're not going to permit you to return to the hotel for supper, because with cowboys in town the place will in all probability be uncomfortably noisy although I will say for the boys that Mrs. Endicott's presence would be a safeguard against any unseemly talk."

Endicott's objections were met by the Camerons who pointed out that the road by which Colston must enter Timber City ran right past the door and in plain view of the porch where they were accustomed to eat the evening meal.

Alice insisted upon helping Mrs. Cameron, and left to themselves Endicott skilfully led the minister to talk of the country, its needs and requirements, its advantages, its shortcomings, and its problems. Cameron was a minister in every sense of the word, a man who loved his work and who was beloved of the cattle country, and when, a couple of hours later, the ladies summoned them to the table, Endicott took his place with the realization that proprietorship of an outfit like the Y Bar, carried with it responsibilities and obligations that had nothing whatever to do with the marketing of beef on the hoof.



CHAPTER IV

Y BAR COLSTON TALKS

"There's Colston, now!" exclaimed Cameron, rising and hailing a rider who approached leading two saddled horses. The rider drew up, Cameron descended to the little white gate, and a moment later was helping the ranchman to tie his horses to the picket fence. As they approached the porch, Endicott noted the leathery gauntness of face that bespoke years on the open range, and as their hands met he also noted the hard, firm grip, and the keen glance of the grey eyes that seemed to be taking his measure. The man greeted the ladies with grave deference, and seated himself in the empty chair.

"Well, I got here, Endicott, but it was a considerable chore. Ain't as young as I was once. Time I was lettin' go, I guess. Seventy years old—an' young-hearted as any buck on the range—but along towards night, after a hard day's ride, I find myself beginin' to realize I be'n somewheres, an' the old bed-roll looks better to me than a carload of white-faces."

Instinctively, Endicott liked this man—the bluff heartiness of him, and the alert litheness of motion that belied the evidence of the white moustache and silvery white hair. "I hope I shall be half the man you are at your age," he laughed.

"You will be—if you buy the Y Bar outfit. Believe me young man, there's enough to do around that outfit to keep a man up an' jumpin' if he was a hundred an' seventy. A man just naturally ain't got time to get old!"

"Win tells me the ranch is sixty miles from here," smiled Alice, "and that's a pretty good ride for anybody."

"Pretty good ride! Young woman, if that was all the ridin' I done today I'd b'en here before breakfast. I couldn't get away till afternoon—up before daylight this mornin', rode two horses plumb off their feet huntin' the wagons—foreman quit yesterday—best blamed foreman I ever had, too. Just up an' quit cold because he took a notion. Tried every which way to get him to stay—might's well talk to a rock. Away he went, Lord knows where, leavin' me nothin' on my mind except bein' owner, manager, ranch boss, an' wagon boss, besides tryin' to sell the outfit. Confounded young whelp! Best doggone cow-hand on the range."

"Why did you have to hunt wagons, and what has a wagon boss got to do with a cattle ranch?" asked the girl.

"The wagons are the round-up—the rodeo. We're right in the middle of the calf round-up. The grub wagon an' the bed wagon makes what you might call the field headquarters for the round-up—move every day till they cover the whole range."

"How interesting!" exclaimed the girl, "I know I'm going to love it!"

"Sure is interesting," remarked the old man, drily, "with the wagons twenty or thirty miles out in the foothills, an' workin' over into the sheep country, an' eighteen or twenty knot-headed cow-hands hatin' sheep, an' no foreman to hold 'em level, an' hayin' on full tilt at the home ranch, an' the ranch hands all huntin' the shade! Yes'm, interestin's one word for it—but there's a shorter one that I'm afraid the parson, here, wouldn't recommend that describes it a heap better."

"By the way," said Endicott, "Mr. Cameron tells me that the cattle and sheep situation is a rather delicate one hereabouts. He says that you hold the respect of both factions—that you seem to have a peculiar knack in keeping the situation in hand——"

"Peculiar knack!" exclaimed the ranchman, "peculiar knack's got nothin' to do with it! Common sense, young man! Just plain common sense, an' maybe the ability to see that other folks has got rights, same as I have. The Y Bar stands for a square deal all the way around—when its own calves are branded, it quits brandin', an' it don't hold that open range means cattle range an' not sheep range. Any fair-minded man can take the Y Bar an' run it like I've run it, an' make money, an' let the other fellow make money, too. There's plenty of range for all of us if we keep our head. If you're afraid of buyin' into a war—don't buy. I can sell any day to parties I know are just layin' to get the Y Bar, an' the minute they got it, trouble would start an' there'd be hell a-poppin' all along the Mizoo. Somewhere there must be a man that'll buy that is fair-minded, an' not afraid to take holt an' run the outfit like I've run it."

Endicott flushed slightly: "I am not afraid of it. I only wanted to know——"

"An' you've got a right to know. If we deal, I'll stay with you long enough to wise you up to the whole layout. That would be no more than right. I'm considerable used to judgin' men, an' I think you can handle it. Let 'em know right off the reel that you ain't afraid of any of 'em—an' get this before you start out: A man ain't God A'mighty because he happens to run cattle, an' he ain't the Devil because he runs sheep, neither. There's cattlemen on this range I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw a bull by the tail, an' there's sheep-men can have anything I've got just on their say-so—mind you, that ain't the general run—pickin' 'em in the dark, I'd tie to a cow-man every time—but there's exceptions, as the fellow says, to every rule. If that confounded Tex hadn't quit——"

"Tex!" cried Alice, and Endicott smiled at the glad eagerness of the tone.

The old cattleman glanced at her in surprise: "Yes, my foreman. Best man on the range—handled men the easiest you ever saw. Never had any trouble with the sheep outfits—but just the same, there ain't a sheep-man south of the river that would care to try to put anything over on him—nor no one else, neither. There ain't any bluff an' bluster about him, he's the quietest hand you ever saw. But, somehow, lookin' into them eyes of his—a man just naturally stops to think—that's all."

"Oh, what is he like? Tell me about him! What is his name?"

"Name's Tex. That's all I know, an' that's all——"

"Tex Benton?" interrupted the girl.

The man regarded her curiously. "Maybe, or, Tex Smith, or Tex Jones, or Tex somethin else."

"I—we knew a Tex, once——"

Colston laughed: "There's lots of Texes here in the cow-country. Tryin' to find one that you didn't know no more about than that would be like me goin' East an' sayin' I knew a man by the name of John."

"How long has he worked for you?"

"He quit last evenin'. If he'd of stayed till day after tomorrow, it would have been just a year." The old man's voice had softened, and his gaze strayed to the far hills. "I made him foreman when he'd b'en with me a month," he continued after a short pause. "I can pick men." Another pause. "He—he called me 'Dad'."

"Did he know you were going to sell?" asked Endicott.

The old man shook his head.

"Then, why did he quit?" Somehow, the question sounded harsh, but the man seemed not to notice. There was an awkward silence during which the old man continued to stare out over the hills.

"He quit to get drunk," he said abruptly, and Endicott detected a slight huskiness in his tone.

Across the table, Alice gasped—and the sound was almost a sob.

Colston cleared his throat roughly, and turned his eyes to the girl: "That's the way I feel about it, young woman. I got to know him mighty well, an' I know what was in him. From the time he went to work for me till he quit, he never took a drink—an', God knows it wasn't because he didn't want one! He fought it just like he fought bad horses, an' like he'd of fought men if he'd had to—square an' open. He'd give away an advantage rather than take one. He was like that.

"I saw him ride an outlaw, once—a big, vicious killer—a devil-horse. The Red King, we called him, he's run with the wild bunch for years. Two men had tried him. We buried one where he lit. The other had folks. Tex run him a week an' trapped him at a water-hole—then, he rode him!" The old man's eyes were shining now, and his fist smote the table top. "Ah, that was a ride—with the whole outfit lookin' on!" Colston paused and glanced about the faces at the table, allowing his eyes to rest upon Alice who was listening eagerly, with parted lips. "Did you ever notice how sometimes without any reason, things gets kind of—of onnatural—kind of feel to 'em that's different? Well, this ride was like that. I've seen hundreds of bad horses rode, an' the boys all yellin' an' bettin', but this time there wasn't no bettin', an' the only sounds was the sound made by the Red King. It wasn't because they expected to see Tex killed—all of 'em had seen men killed ridin' bad horses, an' all of 'em had cheered the next man up. But, somethin' kep' 'em still, with their eyes froze on what they saw. It was uncanny—one hundred an' forty pounds of man tacklin' eleven hundred pounds of red fury. There we stood, the white alkali dust raisin' in a cloud, an' the devil-horse, crazy mad—screamin' shrill like a woman, snappin' like a wolf, frothin', strikin', kickin', buckin' twistin', sunfishin', swappin' ends, shootin' ten foot high an' crashin' down on his back—fightin' every minute with the whole box of tricks, an' a lot of new ones—an' Tex right up in the middle of him with that twisty smile on his face, like he wasn't only half interested in what he was doin'. Didn't even put a bridle on. Rode him with a hackamore—jerked that off an' give him his head—an' he rode straight up, an' raked him an' fanned him every jump. It wasn't human.

"For three days they fought, man an' horse, before the Red King knew his master—an' when they got through, the Red King would come when Tex whistled. For ten days he rode him, an'—there was a horse! A bay so bright an' sleek that he looked like red gold in the sunlight, mane an' tail black as ink, an' his eyes chain lightnin'—an' the sound of the thunder was in his hoofs.

"It was moonlight the night I rode home from the NL. I had just topped a ridge that juts from the foothills into the open range an' all at once I heard the thunder of hoofs ahead. I slipped into a scatterin' of bull pines at the edge an' waited. I didn't wait long. Along the ridge, runnin' strong an' smooth, like the rush of a storm wind, come a horse an' rider. Before I could make 'em out, I knew by the sound of the hoofs, what horse an' what rider. They passed close—so close I could have reached out an' touched 'em with my quirt. Then I saw what made my heart jump an' my eyes fair pop out of my head. The Red King flashed by—no saddle, no bridle, not even an' Injun twitch, mane an' tail flarin' out in the wind of his own goin', an' the white foam flyin' in chunks from his open mouth; an' on his back sat Tex, empty handed an' slick heeled. I thought I caught a glimpse of the twisty smile on his face, as he swayed on the back of the devil-horse—that, I saw—an' ten rod further on the ridge broke off in a goat-climb! I went limp, an' then—'Whoa!' The sound cracked like a pistol shot. The stallion's feet bunched under him an' three times his length he slid with the loose rock flyin' like hailstones! He stopped with his forefeet on the edge, an' his rump nearly touchin' the ground, then he whipped into shape like a steel spring an' stood there on the rim of the ridge, neck an' tail arched, head tossin' out that long black mane, red flarin' nostrils suckin' in the night air, an' a forefoot pawin' the rock. If Remington or old Charlie Russell could have seen what I saw there in the moonlight—man an' horse—the best man, an' the best horse in all the cow-country—the sky black an' soft as velvet, an' the yellow range—no one will paint it—because no one will ever see the like again. There they stood, lookin' out over the wild country. And, then Tex slipped down an' stepped slow to the Red King's head. He put up his arms an' they closed over the arched neck an' his cheek laid against the satin skin of him. For what seemed like a long time they stood there, an' then Tex stepped back an' pointed to the yellow range: 'Go on, boy!' he said, 'Go!' An' he brought the flat of his hand down with a slap on the shiny flank. For just an instant the horse hesitated an' then he went over the edge. The loose rocks clattered loud, an' then come the sound of hoofs on the sod as the Red King tore down the valley. Tex watched him an' all of a sudden his fingers flew to his lips, an' a shrill whistle cut the air. Down in the valley the devil-horse stopped short—stopped an' whirled at the sound. Then of a sudden he reared high his forefeet pawin' the air in a fume of fury an' up out of the night come the wickedest, wildest scream man ever heard—it was a scream that got to a man. It sent cold shivers up an' down my back. The Red King had come into his own again—he was defyin' his master. He turned, then, an' the last I saw of him was a red blur in the distance.

"Then Tex turned an' started back along the ridge. I could see his face, now, an' the twisty smile on his lips. I aimed to stay hid an' never let on I'd seen—it seemed somehow best that way. But when he was right opposite me he stopped an' rolled a cigarette an' the flare of the match made my horse jump, an' the next second he was beside me with a gun in his hand, an' his face flamin' red as the coat of the devil-horse.

"'You saw it?' he says, kind of quiet.

"I shakes my head: 'Yes,' I says, 'but not intentional. I was ridin' home from the NL, an' I slipped in here to let you by.'

"Pretty soon he spoke again kind of slow: 'If it had b'en anyone else but you, Dad,' he says, 'I'd of—of—But, you understand, you savvy. He's wild—we're both wild—the Red King an' me. We'll fight like hell—for the fun of fightin'—an' then we'll go back to the wild again—an' we'll go back when we damn please—did you see him when I whistled?'

"'I saw,' I says. To tell the truth, I was kind of catchy in the throat, but I managed to blurt out, 'An' that's why you wouldn't brand him?'

"'Yes,' he says, 'that's why—' An' of a sudden, his voice went hard. 'I licked him to show him I could. But, I didn't brand him—an' if anyone ever lays an iron on him, I'll kill him as sure as hell—onless the Red King beats me to it.'" The old man paused and cleared his throat huskily, and as Alice dabbed at her eyes he noticed that her lips quivered. "An' that's the way he fought the booze—open an' above board—not takin' the advantage of stayin' away from it. He carried a half-pint flask of it all the time. I've seen him take it out an' hold it up to the sunlight an' watch the glints come an' go—for all the world like the glints on the coat of the Red King. He'd shake it, an' watch the beads rise, an' he'd pull the cork an' smell it—breathe its flavour an' its bouquet deep into his lungs—an' all the while the little beads of cold sweat would be standin' out on his forehead, like dew on a tombstone, an' his tongue would be wettin' his lips, an' his fingers would be twitchin' to carry it to his mouth. Then his lips would twist into that grin, an' he'd put back the cork, an' put the bottle in his pocket, an' ride off—singin'.

"When I saw him tackle that horse that no man had ever rode, I knew, somehow, that he'd ride him. An' when I'd see him pull that bottle, just tormented crazy for a drink, I knew he wouldn't take a drink. An' the same way, when he come to me yesterday an' said he was goin' to quit, I knew he was goin' to quit, an' there was nothin' more to be said. I asked him why, an' open an' above board he says: 'Because I'm goin' to get drunk.' I couldn't believe my ears at first. It turned me kind of sick—an' then I knew I loved him. All at once I saw red. You see, I knew what he didn't know I knew—about his fight with the booze. 'So, it got you at last, did it?' I says.

"He looked at me with those quiet eyes, an' the twisty smile come into his face. 'No, Dad,' he says. 'It didn't get me—an' you know it didn't get me—an' it never could. I showed it I could lick it, an' that's all there is to it. I'm goin' away now, an' get drunk as hell—deliberate—not because I have to get drunk, but because I want to.' An' as I watched the boy ride away, I remembered how it had been with the Red King—he licked him an' turned him back with the wild bunch—because he wanted to."



CHAPTER V

ALICE TAKES A RIDE

The meal proceeded in silence and at its conclusion Alice rose and stood with her hand on the back of her chair. "And Old Bat?" she asked, "Isn't there an old half-breed named Bat?"

Colston nodded gloomily: "Yes, there's Old Bat. He's been cookin' at the home ranch, but when he finds out Tex has blown the outfit I expect he'll light out after him."

"I think so too," agreed the girl, "I haven't the least doubt in the world that when we reach the ranch it will be to find Old Bat gone."

After helping Mrs. Cameron with the dishes, Alice returned to the porch where the men were deep in the discussion of business, and as she listened her eyes rested longingly upon the three saddled horses.

Colston noticed the look: "Like to take a little ride?" he smiled. "That buckskin's woman broke—I brought him a purpose when your husband wired that he was bringing you along. You've got an hour yet before dark, an' the trails out of Timber City are all main travelled ones—no danger of gettin' lost around here."

Alice shot a questioning glance at Endicott who nodded approval. "Go ahead if you want to, dear—only be sure and be back before dark."

"Oh, I'll be back before dark!" she assured him as she stepped into the yard, "I remember—" she laughed a trifle nervously, "I'm just dying to get into a saddle. No, you don't have to help me!" she called as Endicott rose from his chair. And her husband watched with a smile as she untied the horse, led him into the trail, and mounted.

At the first little rise, Alice reined in the buckskin and gazed about her, breathing deeply of the sage-laden air. In the gradually deepening twilight the Judith range loomed dark and mysterious and far to the northward, the Bear Paws were just visible against the faintly glowing sky. Before her, the white trail wound among the foothills in its long climb to the divide, and beyond the little town it flattened away toward the Missouri. Over that trail just one year ago she had ridden in company with her two lovers. Her heart swelled with pride of the man who had won her. "But I love Tex, too," she murmured, and blushed at the words, "I do! Nobody could help loving him. He's—he's—well, he's just Tex!" Her glance strayed to the distant reaches beyond the great river and she shuddered slightly as she thought of the bad lands that lay between her and the fast dimming mountains, and of Long Bill Kearney and his flat-boat ferry. A mile beyond the town a dark patch of pines loomed distinctly. It was there she had said good-bye to the Texan, and—. Her lips moved: "The cherry blossoms are in bloom over there—and the dear little blue and white prairie flowers—" Impulsively, she started her horse, and skirting the town, came out onto the trail beyond and urged him into a run.

She drew up at the little creek that came tumbling out of the woods, and peered, half fearfully, half expectantly, among the tree-trunks. "It isn't dark yet. And, it's only a little way," she thought, and dismounting, tied the buckskin to a low hanging limb, and plunged into the woods. "Here are the cherry blossoms, the same as a year ago, and yes, there is the big rock!" She stepped around the boulder, and stood upon the edge of the tiny glade. "A year ago," she breathed, with a catch at her throat, "and it seems like yesterday! He stood there with his cheek resting against his horse's neck, staring out over his beloved range—and, then he told me that Win hadn't killed Purdy. Right here on this spot at that moment I was the happiest woman in the world—and I've been the happiest woman in the world ever since, until—until—" The words faltered, and she stamped her foot angrily: "Oh, why does he have to drink? And today, of all days!" Her eyes rested upon the little prairie flowers that carpeted the glade and stooping, she picked a huge bouquet as the darkness gathered and when she stood erect with her hands full of blossoms the big rock at the edge of the glade was hardly distinguishable in the dusk. With a little cry, half surprise, half fright, she hastened toward it. The woods were darker than the glade and for a moment she stood peering into the thicket through which she must pass to reach her horse, while foolish terrors of the dark crowded her mind and caused little creepy chills to tickle the roots of her hair. She glanced at the flowers in her hand, "If I only hadn't stopped to pick them," she faltered, "if I were only out on the trail—" And then she pulled herself together with a laugh—a forced, nervous laugh, but it fulfilled its purpose. "You're a little fool, Alice Endicott, to be afraid of the dark! And you, a prospective rancher's wife! What would people say if they knew that Mrs. Y Bar Endicott was afraid to go a quarter of a mile through a perfectly peaceful patch of woods just because it was after sundown?" Resolutely curbing the desire to dart fearful glances to the right, and to the left, and behind her, she kept her face to the front, and plunged into the woods following the little creek. A few minutes later she gained the trail, and untying the buckskin, mounted and headed him toward the scattering lights of Timber City.

At the edge of the town she drew up abruptly. A volley of shots rang out, and she could see the thin streaks of flame that leaped out from the crowd of men that were collected in front of the saloon. Her first thought was to skirt the town and arrive at the rectory as she had left it. But once more she upbraided herself for her foolish fear. "Mr. Cameron said when they came in volleys they were harmless," she reassured herself, "and I may as well get used to it now as later." She urged her horse forward and as she reached the edge of the crowd a man raised his gun and sent a shot crashing through the window of the Red Front. Other shots followed, and Alice saw that the building was in darkness. Something in the attitude of the men caused her to draw up and regard them closely. Very few of them were cowboys, and they were not shooting into the air. Also, there was nothing in their demeanour that savoured of any spirit of jollification. They seemed in deadly earnest. More shots—streaks of thin red flame, and a tinkling of glass. This time the shots were answered from within the building, the crowd surged to one side, and those who were unable to get out of the line of fire dropped swiftly to the ground and wriggled away on their bellies. A tall man with a huge drooping moustache came toward her: "Better git along. This here ain't no place fer women folks."

"What's the matter?" asked Alice.

"You better pull there in front of the livery barn. You might git hit. They's a ring-tailed desperado in the Red Front, an' he's mighty permiscuous about his shootin'."

"Why don't they arrest him?" asked the girl. The man had walked beside her, and seating himself upon the edge of the horse trough, began deliberately to reload his pistol.

"Arrest him," he drawled, "that's jest what we aim to do. But first we got to git him in shape to arrest. He's imbibed to the point which he won't listen to no reason whatever—an' shoot! He's a two-handed gunman from hell—beggin' yer pardon, mom—I didn't aim to swear—but, them Texicans—when they gits lickered up. I'd sooner try to handle a oncontented grizzly——"

"Texan!" cried the girl. "Did you say he is a Texan? Who is he? What's his name?"

The man regarded her gravely: "Seems to me he did say—back there in the saloon, when he was holdin' kangaroo court. The rookus hadn't started yet, an' he says——"

Alice had thrown herself from her horse, and stood before the man, the wild flowers clutched tightly in her hand. "Was it Tex?" she interrupted, impatiently.

The man nodded: "Yeh, it was Tex——"

"Tex Benton?"

The man scratched at his head: "Seems like that's what he said. Anyways, he claimed he was here a year ago, an' he aimed to git drunk on account of some kind of an anniversary, or somethin'—an' he will, too, if he drinks up all them fines——"

Alice interrupted by clutching the man's arm and shaking it vigorously. "Oh, tell them to stop shooting!" she cried. "They'll kill him! Let me go in to him! I can reason with him."

The man regarded her with sudden interest: "D'you know him?"

"Yes, yes! Hurry and tell them to stop shooting!"

"You wait here a minute, an' I'll git Hod Blake, he's the marshal." The man disappeared and a moment later came toward her with another man, the two followed by a goodly part of the crowd.

The tall man stepped to the girl's side: "This here's Hod," he announced by way of introduction and, "that's her."

Gun in hand, Hod Blake nodded curtly: "D'you say you know this here party?" he asked.

"Yes, that is, I think I do."

"Ike, here, says how you figgered you could go in an' make him surrender."

Alice nodded, somehow, that word surrender had an ominous sound. "He hasn't—killed anyone, has he?"

"No, he ain't killed no one—yet. He nicked Pete Barras in the arm, an' has otherwise feloniously disturbed the peace of Timber City to a extent it'll cost him a hundred dollars' fine besides damages fer shootin' up, an' causin' to git shot up, the Red Front saloon."

"And, you'd kill a man for that!" cried the girl, indignantly.

"I'll tell a hand, we'll kill him! Anyone that starts gun-play in Timber City's got to go on through with it."

"You're cowards!" exclaimed the girl. "How many of you are there against one man?"

"That don't make no difference. We got the law on our side, an' he ain't on his'n. He come in here a-huntin' trouble—an' he got it. An' he'll pay his fine, an' settle up with Pete Barras, or we'll plant him—one."

Alice thrust the flowers into the bosom of her soft shirt and regarded the man coldly: "If all of you brave gun-fighters are afraid to go in there and get him, I'll go. I'm not afraid."

Ike Stork warned her: "You better keep out of it, mom. He's lickered up an' liable to shoot sudden."

"I'm not afraid," repeated the girl.

Hod Blake shrugged: "Go ahead if you want to. Tell him we'll git him, sure, if he don't give himself up. An' s'pose you git shot, fer yer trouble, you got any folks to notify?"

Alice glanced at him coldly: "My husband is up at Mr. Cameron's with Mr. Colston, you might mention it to him, if you think of it," she answered scornfully. "Get me a light."

Match in one hand, candle in the other, the girl advanced to the front of the saloon, while the crowd remained at a respectful distance. The door of the building stood open, but the interior was screened from the street by a heavy partition of rough planking around which one must pass to gain access to the bar. At the doorway the girl paused and her figure leaped sharply into view in the bright flare of the match. The flame dimmed as she held it to the wick of the candle, then brightened as she stood with white face and tight-pressed lips, framed in the black recess of the doorway. For a long time, as tense seconds are measured, she stood wondering at the sudden silence. She knew that the eyes of the crowd were upon her as it waited just beyond the circle of her candlelight—and her shoulders stiffened as she realized that not a man among them would dare stand where she stood with a lighted candle in her hand. She felt no fear, now. It seemed the most natural, the most matter-of-fact thing in the world that she should be standing thus in the doorway of the Red Front saloon, with a crowd of armed men in the darkness behind her, and in the darkness before her—what? What if the man behind that rough plank wall were not Tex—her Tex? What if—? It seemed suddenly as if icy fingers reached up and clutched her heart. She felt her knees tremble, and the candle swayed in her hand until it threw moving shadows on the plank wall. Thoughts of Win crowded her brain. What would Win think of her? What could he think, if the man behind that screen were not Tex, and would shoot the second she came into range? What would everyone think? She was a fool.

"Douse yer light an' crawl back!" She recognized the rough half contemptuous voice of Hod Blake. And the next instant she thought of the roar of guns, the acrid smell of burned powder, and the thin red streaks of flame that had pierced the night like swift arrows of blood. They would kill him. "He's the best man among them all," she sobbed, and closing her eyes, held the candle at arms length before her, and walked slowly toward the black opening at the end of the plank screen.

There was a crashing report. Alice opened her eyes—in darkness. "Tex!" she cried, frantically, "Tex, strike a light!"



CHAPTER VI

AT THE RED FRONT

When Ike Stork had disappeared through the door of the Red Front dragging the unconscious form of the bartender with him, the Texan poured himself a drink, set a quart bottle before him upon the bar, rummaged in a drawer and produced a box of cartridges which he placed conveniently to hand, reloaded his guns, and took another drink.

A report sounded in the street and a bullet crashed through the window and buried itself in a beer keg. The Texan laughed: "Fog 'er up, ol' hand, an' here's yer change!" Reaching over the top of a keg, he sent a bullet through the window. The shot drew a volley from the street, and the big mirror behind the bar became a jangle of crashing glass.

"Barras'll have to get him a new lookin' glass," he opined, as he shook the slivers from his hat brim. "The war's on—an' she's a beaut! If ol' Santa Anna was here, him an' I could lick the world! This red licker sure is gettin' to my head—stayed off of it too long—but I'm makin' up for lost time. Whoopee!"

"Oh, I'm a Texas cowboy, Far away from home, If I ever get back to Texas I never more will roam."

"Hey, in there!" The song ceased abruptly, and, gun in hand the Texan answered.

"There ain't no hay in here! What do you think this is, a cow's hotel? The livery barn's next door!"

"They ain't no outlaw goin' to run Timber City while I'm marshal!"

"Put 'er here, pardner!" answered the Texan. "You run Timber City an' I'll run the Red Front! Come on in an' buy a drink, so I can get my change!"

"You're arrested fer disturbin' the peace!"

"Come an' get me, then. But come a-shootin'!"

"You can't git away with it. I got twenty men here, an' everyone packin' a gun!"

"You've got me, then," mocked the Texan. "I've only got two guns. Run 'em in in a bunch. I can only take care of a dozen, an' the rest can get me before I can reload."

"Yer kickin' up an awful stink fer a dollar an' four bits."

"'Tain't the money, it's the principle of the thing. An' besides, I aimed to pull a hell-winder of a jamboree—an' I'm doin' it."

"You ain't helpin' yer case none by raisin' a rookus like this. Come out an' give yerself up. All there is agin you is a fine an' a little damages."

"How much?"

"We'll make it fifty dollars' fine, an' you'll have to talk to Pete Barras about the damages."

The Texan laughed derisively: "Guess again, you short horn! I've got more money than that!"

"You comin' out, or I got to go in there an' git you?"

"I ain't comin' out, an' you ain't comin' in here an' get me," defied the cowboy; "you ain't got the guts to—you an' your twenty gun-fighters to boot! Just you stick your classic profile around the corner of that wall an' I'll shoot patterns in it!"

"You can't git away. We've got yer horse!"

"If I was a posse I'd surround you an' string you up for a bunch of horse-thieves!"

"What you goin' to do about it?"

"I'm standin' pat—me. What you goin' to do?"

"Come on out, hands up, an' submit to arrest before you git in too deep."

"There ain't a marshal in Montana can arrest me!"

"What's yer name?"

"Hydrophobia B. Tarantula! I'm a curly wolf! I can't be handled 'cause I'm full of quills! I've got seventeen rattles an' a button, an' I'm right now coiled!"

"Yer drunk as hell," growled the marshal, "wait till you git sober an' you won't feel so damn hard."

"You're goin' to miss some sleep waitin', 'cause there's seventeen quarts in sight, without countin' the barrel goods an' beer."

For answer the exasperated marshal sent a bullet crashing into the wall high above the Texan's head, and the shot was immediately followed by a volley from the crowd outside, the bullets slivering the woodwork, or burying themselves harmlessly in the barricade of beer-kegs.

"This saloon's gettin' all scratched up, the way you ruffians are carryin' on," called the Texan, when the noise had subsided, "but if it's shootin' you want, divide these here up amongst you!" Reaching around a keg, he emptied a gun through the window, then reloaded, and poured himself another drink.

"The main question is," he announced judicially to himself, as he contemplated the liquor in the glass, "I've drunk one quart already, now shall I get seventeen times drunker'n I am, or shall I stay drunk seventeen times as long?" He drank the liquor and returned the glass to the bar, "guess I'll just let Nature take her course," he opined, and glanced about him quizzically. "I mistrusted this wasn't goin' to be no prosaic jubilee, but what I'm wonderin' is, how's it goin' to come out? 'Tain't likely anyone'll get hurt, 'cause they can't hit me, an' I don't want to hit them. But, this is goin' to get monotonous sometime an' I'll want to leave here. They've got my horse, an' it's a cinch I ain't goin' away afoot. Guess I'll have to borrow one like Ol' Bat did down to Las Vegas an' get plumb out of the country. An' there's another reason I can't linger to get venerable amongst my present peaceful surroundin's. When Ol' Bat finds I've quit the outfit he'll trail me down, just as sure as I'm goin' to take another drink, an' when he does, he'll——"

Once more the voice of the marshal sounded from without: "Hey, young feller, I'm willin' to go half way with you——"

"Half of nothin's nothin'!" replied the Texan, "I ain't goin' nowhere!"

"You better listen to reason an' give yerself up. If you do we let you off with a hundred dollar fine, an' damages—if you don't, I'm goin' to charge you with shootin' to kill, an' send you up to Deer Lodge fer a year. You got just one minute to think it over. It's gettin' dark an' I ain't had no supper."

"Me neither. You go on ahead an' get yours first, an' then hurry back an' let me go."

"I ain't foolin'! What you goin' to do?"

"Shoot to kill—if that's what I'm charged with," and the marshal leaped back as a bullet sung past his head.

As darkness gathered the crowd poured volley after volley into the saloon and the Texan replied sparingly, and between shots he drank whisky. It was dark inside the building and the cowboy could see the flash of the guns in the street. Suddenly the bombardment ceased.

"Wonder what they're up to now," he muttered, peering between the kegs. He was finding it hard to concentrate his thoughts, and passed a hand across his forehead as if to brush away the cobwebs that were clogging his brain. "I've got to out-guess 'em!" He shook himself fiercely: "Le's see, if they rush me in the dark, some of 'em's due to fall down cellar where Ike left the trap open, an' some of 'em's goin' to get mixed up with bottles an' beer-kegs—if I don't shoot they won't know where I am, an' while they're ontanglin' themselves maybe I can slip away in the dark."

A light flared suddenly beyond the wooden partition, flickered a moment, and burned steadily. The Texan's eyes widened as his hands closed about the butts of his guns: "Goin' to burn me out, eh?" he sneered, and then, with a smile, laid the two guns on the bar, and watched the glow that softened the blackness about the edges of the screen. "They can't burn me without burnin' up their whole damn little wooden town," he speculated, "but what in the devil do they want with a light?" With the words on his lips, the light moved, and once more he reached for his guns. A candle appeared around the end of the partition that formed the doorway. The Texan fired and the room was plunged into darkness. And then—through the inky blackness, thick with the pungent powder smoke, sounded a cry—a jerky, stabbing cry—a cry of mortal fear—a woman's cry—that woman's cry: "Tex—Tex! Strike a light!"

The Texan reeled as from a blow, the gun dropped from his nerveless fingers and thudded upon the floor. He leaned weakly against the back bar. He was conscious that his eyes were staring—straining to pierce the blackness in the direction of the sound—and yet, he knew there was nothing there! His mouth went dry and he could distinctly hear his own breathing. He pulled himself jerkily erect and clawed the edge of the bar. His groping hand closed about an object hard and cylindrical. It was the quart bottle of whisky from which he had filled his glass. Suddenly, he shuddered. "It's the booze," he thought, "it's got me—at last—I'm—I'm bugs!" The bottle slipped through his fingers and rolled along the bar and the air became heavy with the fumes of the liquor that splashed unheeded from its mouth. He passed his hand across his brow and withdrew it slippery and wet with sweat.

"Christ!" Thickly the word struggled from between the dry lips. He stooped, his hand groping for the gun, his fingers closed uncertainly upon the butt, and as he straightened up, the muzzle swung slowly into line with his own forehead. And in that instant a light puff of cool air fanned his dripping forehead. The gun stopped in its slow arc. The lids closed for an instant over the horribly staring eyes. The shoulders stiffened, and the gun was laid gently upon the bar—for, upon that single puff of night air, delicate, subtile—yet unmistakably distinguishable from the heavy powder smoke and the reeking fumes of the whisky, was borne a breath of the wide open places. The man's nostrils quivered. Yes, it was there—the scent of the little blue and white prairie flowers—her flowers. Instantly his brain cleared. A moment before he had been hopelessly drunk: now, he was sober. It was as though the delicate scent had entered his nostrils and cleansed his brain, clearing it of the befuddling fog, and leaving it, wholesome, alert, capable. Poignantly, with the scent of those flowers, the scene of a year ago leaped into memory, when he had stooped to restore them to her hands—there in the tiny glade beside the big boulder.

"Alice!" he cried, sharply.

"Tex!" The name was a sob, and then; "Oh, please—please strike a light! I'm—I'm—afraid!"

For just an instant the Texan hesitated, a match between his fingers, and his voice sounded strangely hard: "A light, now, will mean they'll get me! But—if you're real, girl, I'll trust you—If you ain't—the quicker they shoot, the better!" There was a scratching sound, a light flared out, and candle outstretched, the girl came swiftly to the bar, and as he held the match to the wick, the Texan's eyes gazed wonderingly into the eyes of blue.



CHAPTER VII

THE TEXAN "COMES A-SHOOTIN'"

Alice Endicott gazed searchingly into the Texan's flushed face and wondered at the steadiness of his eyes. "They—they said you were drunk," she faltered.

The cynical smile that she remembered so well twisted the man's lips: "They were right—partly. I was headed that way, but I'm cold sober, now."

"Then leave your guns here and come with me. You must submit to arrest. They'll fine you and make you pay for the damages and that will be all there'll be to it."

The Texan shook his head: "No. I told that marshal he couldn't arrest me, an' he can't."

Alice's heart sank. "Please—for my sake," she pleaded. "If you haven't got the money——"

"Oh, I've got the money, all right—a whole year's wages right here in my pocket. It ain't the money, it's the principle of the thing. I made my brag, an' I've got to see it through. They might get me, but they'll never arrest me."

"Oh, please——"

Tex interrupted her sharply, and the girl was startled at the gleam that leaped suddenly from the grey eyes: "What are you doing here? Has he—didn't you an' Win—hit it out?"

"Oh, yes! Yes! Win is here——"

"An' he let you come in alone—an' stayed outside——"

"No—he doesn't know. He's up at the Camerons. I went for a ride, and coming back I saw the crowd, and when they told me the man in here was a Texan, somehow, I just knew it was you."

The gleam faded from the man's eyes and he regarded her curiously; "But, what are you doin' in Timber City—you an' Win?"

"Why, it's our anniversary! We wanted to spend it here where we were married. And besides we've got the grandest scheme. Win wants to see you. Come on, give yourself up, and pay their old fine."

"I won't be arrested," repeated the Texan stubbornly, "an' don't count me in on any scheme with you an' Win." Once more his eyes blazed, and his words came low and tense: "Can't you see—I haven't forgot. I don't reckon I ever will forget! I loved you then, an' I love you now——"

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