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Title: A Man Four-Square
Author: Raine, William MacLeod, 1871-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Man Four-Square" ***

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                           A Man Four-Square

                       BY WILLIAM MAC LEOD RAINE

  AUTHOR OF THE YUKON TRAIL, BUCKY O'CONNOR, STEVE YEAGER, WYOMING, ETC.

                                  1919



Contents


PROLOGUE

     I. "CALL ME JIMMIE-GO-GET-'EM"
    II. SHOOT-A-BUCK CAÑON
   III. RANSE ROUSH PAYS
    IV. PAULINE ROUBIDEAU SAYS "THANK YOU"
     V. NO FOUR-FLUSHER
    VI. BILLIE ASKS A QUESTION
   VII. ON THE TRAIL
  VIII. THE FIGHT
    IX. BILLIE STANDS PAT
     X. BUD PROCTOR LENDS A HAND
    XI. THE FUGITIVES
   XII. THE GOOD SAMARITAN
  XIII. A FRIENDLY ENEMY
   XIV. THE GUN-BARREL ROAD
    XV. LEE PLAYS A LEADING RÔLE
   XVI. THREE MODERN MUSKETEERS
  XVII. "PEG-LEG" WARREN
 XVIII. A STAMPEDE
   XIX. A TWO-GUN MAN
    XX. EXIT MYSTERIOUS PETE
   XXI. JIM RECEIVES AND DECLINES AN OFFER
  XXII. THE RUSTLERS' CAMP
 XXIII. MURDER FROM THE CHAPARRAL
  XXIV. JIMMIE-GO-GET-'EM LEAVES A NOTE
   XXV. THE MAL-PAIS
  XXVI. A DUST-STORM
 XXVII. "A LUCKY GUY"
XXVIII. SHERIFF PRINCE FUNCTIONS
  XXIX. "THEY CAN'T HANG ME IF I AIN'T THERE"
   XXX. POLLY HAS A PLAN
  XXXI. GOODHEART MAKES A PROMISE AND BREAKS IT
 XXXII. JIM TAKES A PRISONER
XXXIII. THE ROUND-UP
 XXXIV. PRIMROSE PATHS



A Man Four-Square



Prologue


A girl sat on the mossy river-bank in the dappled, golden sunlight.
Frowning eyes fixed on a sweeping eddy, she watched without seeing the
racing current. Her slim, supple body, crouched and tense, was
motionless, but her soul seethed tumultuously. In the bosom of her coarse
linsey gown lay hidden a note. Through it destiny called her to the
tragic hour of decision.

The foliage of the young pawpaws stirred behind her. Furtively a pair of
black eyes peered forth and searched the opposite bank of the stream, the
thicket of rhododendrons above, the blooming laurels below. Very
stealthily a handsome head pushed out through the leaves.

"'Lindy," a voice whispered.

The girl gave a start, slowly turned her head. She looked at the owner of
the voice from steady, deep-lidded eyes. The pulse in her brown throat
began to beat. One might have guessed her with entire justice a sullen
lass, untutored of life, passionate, and high-spirited, resentful of all
restraint. Hers was such beauty as lies in rich blood beneath dark
coloring, in dusky hair and eyes, in the soft, warm contours of youth.
Already she was slenderly full, an elemental daughter of Eve, primitive
as one of her fur-clad ancestors. No forest fawn could have been more
sensuous or innocent than she.

Again the man's glance swept the landscape cautiously before he moved out
from cover. In the country of the Clantons there was always an open
season on any one of his name.

"What are you doin' here, Dave Roush?" the girl demanded. "Are you
crazy?"

"I'm here because you are, 'Lindy Clanton," he answered promptly. "That's
a right good reason, ain't it?"

The pink splashed into her cheeks like spilled wine.

"You'd better go. If dad saw you--"

He laughed hardily. "There'd be one less Roush--or one less Clanton," he
finished for her.

Dave Roush was a large, well-shouldered man, impressive in spite of his
homespun. If he carried himself with a swagger there was no lack of
boldness in him to back it. His long hair was straight and black and
coarse, a derivative from the Indian strain in his blood.

"Git my note?" he asked.

She nodded sullenly.

'Lindy had met Dave Roush at a dance up on Lonesome where she had no
business to be. At the time she had been visiting a distant cousin in a
cove adjacent to that creek. Some craving for adventure, some instinct of
defiance, had taken her to the frolic where she knew the Roush clan would
be in force. From the first sight of her Dave had wooed her with a
careless bravado that piqued her pride and intrigued her interest. The
girl's imagination translated in terms of romance his insolence and
audacity. Into her starved existence he brought color and emotion.

Did she love him? 'Lindy was not sure. He moved her at times to furious
anger, and again to inarticulate longings she did not understand. For
though she was heritor of a life full-blooded and undisciplined, every
fiber of her was clean and pure. There were hours when she hated him,
glimpsed in him points of view that filled her with vague distrust. But
always he attracted her tremendously.

"You're goin' with me, gal," he urged.

Close to her hand was a little clump of forget-me-nots which had pushed
through the moss. 'Lindy feigned to be busy picking the blossoms.

"No," she answered sulkily.

"Yes. To-night--at eleven o'clock, 'Lindy,--under the big laurel."

While she resented his assurance, it none the less coerced her. She did
not want a lover who groveled in the dust before her. She wanted one to
sweep her from her feet, a young Lochinvar to compel her by the force of
his personality.

"I'll not be there," she told him.

"We'll git right across the river an' be married inside of an hour."

"I tell you I'm not goin' with you. Quit pesterin' me."

His devil-may-care laugh trod on the heels of her refusal. He guessed
shrewdly that circumstances were driving her to him. The girl was full of
resentment at her father's harsh treatment of her. Her starved heart
craved love. She was daughter of that Clanton who led the feud against
the Roush family and its adherents. Dave took his life in his hands every
time he crossed the river to meet her. Once he had swum the stream in the
night to keep an appointment. He knew that his wildness, his reckless
courage and contempt of danger, argued potently for him. She was coming
to him as reluctantly and surely as a wild turkey answers the call of the
hunter.

The sound of a shot, not distant, startled them. He crouched, wary as a
rattlesnake about to strike. The rifle seemed almost to leap forward.

"Hit's Bud--my brother Jimmie." She pushed him back toward the pawpaws.
"Quick! Burn the wind!"

"What about to-night? Will you come?"

"Hurry. I tell you hit's Bud. Are you lookin' for trouble?"

He stopped stubbornly at the edge of the thicket. "I ain't runnin' away
from it. I put a question to ye. When I git my answer mebbe I'll go. But
I don't 'low to leave till then."

"I'll meet ye there if I kin git out. Now go," she begged.

The man vanished in the pawpaws. He moved as silently as one of his
Indian ancestors.

'Lindy waited, breathless lest her brother should catch sight of him. She
knew that if Jimmie saw Roush there would be shooting and one or the
other would fall.

A rifle shot rang out scarce a hundred yards from her. The heart of the
girl stood still. After what seemed an interminable time there came to
her the sound of a care-free whistle. Presently her brother sauntered
into view, a dead squirrel in his hand. The tails of several others
bulged from the game bag by his side. The sister did not need to be told
that four out of five had been shot through the head.

"Thought I heard voices. Was some one with you, sis?" the boy asked.

"Who'd be with me here?" she countered lazily.

A second time she was finding refuge in the for-get-me-nots.

He was a barefoot little fellow, slim and hard as a nail. In his hand he
carried an old-fashioned rifle almost as long as himself. There was a
lingering look of childishness in his tanned, boyish face. His hands and
feet were small and shapely as those of a girl. About him hung the stolid
imperturbability of the Southern mountaineer. Times were when his blue
eyes melted to tenderness or mirth; yet again the cunning of the jungle
narrowed them to slits hard, as jade. Already, at the age of fourteen, he
had been shot at from ambush, had wounded a Roush at long range, had
taken part in a pitched battle. The law of the feud was tempering his
heart to implacability.

The keen gaze of the boy rested on her. Ever since word had reached the
Clantons of how 'Lindy had "carried on" with Dave Roush at the dance on
Lonesome her people had watched her suspiciously. The thing she had done
had been a violation of the hill code and old Clay Clanton had thrashed
her with a cowhide till she begged for mercy. Jimmie had come home from
the still to find her writhing in passionate revolt. The boy had been
furious at his father; yet had admitted the substantial justice of the
punishment. Its wisdom he doubted. For he knew his sister to be stubborn
as old Clay himself, and he feared lest they drive her to the arms of Bad
Dave Roush.

"I reckon you was talkin' to yo'self, mebbe," he suggested.

"I reckon."

They walked home together along a path through the rhododendrons. The
long, slender legs of the girl moved rhythmically and her arms swung like
pendulums. Life in the open had given her the litheness and the grace of
a woodland creature. The mountain woman is cheated of her youth almost
before she has learned to enjoy it. But 'Lindy was still under eighteen.
Her warm vitality still denied the coming of a day when she would be a
sallow, angular snuff-chewer.

Within sight of the log cabin the girl lingered for a moment by the
sassafras bushes near the spring. Some deep craving for sympathy moved
her to alien speech. She turned upon him with an imperious, fierce
tenderness in her eyes.

"You'll never forgit me, Bud? No matter what happens, you'll--you'll not
hate me?"

Her unusual emotion embarrassed and a little alarmed him. "Oh, shucks!
They ain't anything goin' to happen, sis. What's ailin' you?"

"But if anything does. You'll not hate me--you'll remember I allus
thought a heap of you, Jimmie?" she insisted.

"Doggone it, if you're still thinkin' of that scalawag Dave Roush--" He
broke off, moved by some touch of prescient tragedy in her young face.
"'Course I ain't ever a-goin' to forgit you none, sis. Hit ain't likely,
is it?"

It was a comfort to him afterward to recall that he submitted to her
impulsive caress without any visible irritability.

'Lindy busied herself preparing supper for her father and brother. Ever
since her mother died when the child was eleven she had been the family
housekeeper.

At dusk Clay Clanton came in and stood his rifle in a corner of the room.
His daughter recognized ill-humor in the grim eyes of the old man. He was
of a tall, gaunt figure, strongly built, a notable fighter with his fists
in the brawling days before he "got religion" at a camp meeting. Now his
Calvinism was of the sternest. Dancing he held to be of the devil.
Card-playing was a sin. If he still drank freely, his drinking was within
bounds. But he did not let his piety interfere with the feud. Within the
year, pillar of the church though he was, he had been carried home
riddled with bullets. Of the four men who had waylaid him two had been
buried next day and a third had kept his bed for months.

He ate for a time in dour silence before he turned harshly on 'Lindy.

"You ain't havin' no truck with Dave Roush are you? Not meetin' up with
him on the sly?" he demanded, his deep-set eyes full of menace under the
heavy, grizzled brows.

"No, I ain't," retorted the girl, and her voice was sullen and defiant.

"See you don't, lessen yo' want me to tickle yore back with the bud
again. I don't allow to put up with no foolishness." He turned in
explanation to the boy. "Brad Nickson seen him this side of the river
to-day. He says this ain't the fustest time Roush has been seen hangin'
'round the cove."

The boy's wooden face betrayed nothing. He did not look at his sister.
But suspicions began to troop through his mind. He thought again of the
voices he had heard by the river and he remembered that it had become a
habit of the girl to disappear for hours in the afternoon.

'Lindy went to her room early. She nursed against her father not only
resentment, but a strong feeling of injustice. He would not let her
attend the frolics of the neighborhood because of his scruples against
dancing. Yet she had heard him tell how he used to dance till daybreak
when he was a young man. What right had he to cut her off from the things
that made life tolerable?

She was the heritor of lawless, self-willed, passionate ancestors. Their
turbulent blood beat in her veins. All the safeguards that should have
hedged her were gone. A wise mother, an understanding father, could have
saved her from the tragedy waiting to engulf her. But she had neither of
these. Instead, her father's inhibitions pushed her toward that doom to
which she was moving blindfold.

Before her cracked mirror the girl dressed herself bravely in her cheap
best. She had no joy in the thing she was going to do. Of her love she
was not sure and of her lover very unsure. A bell of warning rang faintly
in her heart as she waited for the hours to slip away.

A very little would have turned the tide. But she nursed her anger
against her father, fed her resentment with the memory of all his wrongs
to her. When at last she crept through the window to the dark porch
trellised with wild cucumbers, she persuaded herself that she was going
only to tell Dave Roush that she would not join him.

Her heart beat fast with excitement and dread. Poor, undisciplined
daughter of the hills though she was, a rumor of the future whispered in
her ears and weighted her bosom.

Quietly she stole past the sassafras brake to the big laurel. Her lover
took her instantly into his arms and kissed the soft mouth again and
again. She tried to put him from her, to protest that she was not going
with him. But before his ardor her resolution melted. As always, when he
was with her, his influence was paramount.

"The boat is under that clump of bushes," he whispered.

"Oh, Dave, I'm not goin'," she murmured.

"Then I'll go straight to the house an' have it out with the old man," he
answered.

His voice rang gay with the triumph of victory. He did not intend to let
her hesitations rob him of it.

"Some other night," she promised. "Not now--I don't want to go now.
I--I'm not ready."

"There's no time like to-night, honey. My brother came with me in the
boat. We've got horses waitin'--an' the preacher came ten miles to do the
job."

Then, with the wisdom born of many flirtations, he dropped argument and
wooed her ardently. The anchors that held the girl to safety dragged. The
tug of sex, her desire of love and ignorance of life, his eager and
passionate demand that she trust him: all these swelled the tide that
beat against her prudence.

She caught his coat lapels tightly in her clenched fists.

"If I go I'll be givin' up everything in the world for you, Dave
Roush. My folks'll hate me. They'd never speak to me again. You'll
be good to me. You won't cast it up to me that I ran away with you.
You'll--you'll--" Her voice broke and she gulped down a little sob.

He laughed. She could not see his face in the darkness, but the sound of
his laughter was not reassuring. He should have met her appeal seriously.

The girl drew back.

He sensed at once his mistake. "Good to you!" he cried. "'Lindy, I'm
a-goin' to be the best ever."

"I ain't got any mother, Dave." Again she choked in her throat. "You
wouldn't take advantage of me, would you?"

He protested hotly. Desiring only to be convinced, 'Lindy took one last
precaution.

"Swear you'll do right by me always."

He swore it.

She put her hand in his and he led her to the boat.

Ranse Roush was at the oars. Before he had taken a dozen strokes a wave
of terror swept over her. She was leaving behind forever that quiet,
sunny cove where she had been brought up. The girl began to shiver
against the arm of her lover. She heard again the sound of his low,
triumphant laughter.

It was too late to turn back now. No hysterical request to be put back on
her side of the river would move these men. Instinctively she knew that.
From to-night she was to be a Roush.

They found horses tied to saplings in a small cove close to the river.
The party mounted and rode into the hills. Except for the ring of the
horses' hoofs there was no sound for miles. 'Lindy was the first to
speak.

"Ain't this Quicksand Creek?" she asked of her lover as they forded a
stream.

He nodded. "The sands are right below us--not more'n seven or eight steps
down here Cal Henson was sucked under."

After another stretch ridden in silence they turned up a little cove to a
light shining in a cabin window. The brothers alighted and Dave helped
the girl down. He pushed open the door and led the way inside.

A man sat by the fireside with his feet on the table. He was reading a
newspaper. A jug of whiskey and a glass were within reach of his hand.
Without troubling to remove his boots from the table, he looked up with a
leer at the trembling girl.

Dave spoke at once. "We'll git it over with. The sooner the quicker."

'Lindy's heart was drenched with dread. She shrank from the three pairs
of eyes focused upon her as if they had belonged to wolves. She had hoped
that the preacher might prove a benevolent old man, but this man with the
heavy thatch of unkempt, red hair and furtive eyes set askew offered no
comfort. If there had been a single friend of her family present, if
there had been any woman at all! If she could even be sure of the man she
was about to marry!

It seemed to her that the preacher was sneering when he put the questions
to which she answered quaveringly. Vaguely she felt the presence of some
cruel, sinister jest of which she was the sport.

After the ceremony had been finished the three men drank together while
she sat white-faced before the fire. When at last Ranse Roush and the
red-headed preacher left the cabin, both of them were under the influence
of liquor. Dave had drunk freely himself.

'Lindy would have given her hopes of heaven to be back safely in the
little mud-daubed bedroom she had called her own.

Three days later 'Lindy wakened to find a broad ribbon of sunshine across
the floor of the cabin. Her husband had not come home at all the night
before. She shivered with self-pity and dressed slowly. Already she knew
that her life had gone to wreck, that it would be impossible to live with
Dave Roush and hold her self-respect.

But she had cut herself off from retreat. All of her friends belonged to
the Clanton faction and they would not want to have anything to do with
her. She had no home now but this, no refuge against the neglect and
insults of this man with whom she had elected to go through life. To her
mind came the verdict of old Nance Cunningham on the imprudent marriage
of another girl: "Randy's done made her bed; I reckon she's got to lie
on it."

A voice hailed the cabin from outside. She went to the door. Ranse Roush
and the red-haired preacher had ridden into the clearing and were
dismounting. They had with them a led horse.

"Fix up some breakfast," ordered Ranse.

The young wife flushed. She resented his tone and his manner. Like Dave,
he too assumed that she had come to be a drudge for the whole drunken
clan, a creature to be sneered at and despised.

Silently she cooked a meal for the men. The girl was past tears. She had
wept herself out.

While they ate the men told of her father's fury when he had discovered
the elopement, of how he had gone down to the mill and cast her off with
a father's curse, renouncing all relationship with her forever. It was a
jest that held for them a great savor. They made sport of him and of the
other Clantons till she could keep still no longer.

"I won't stand this! I don't have to! Where's Dave?" she demanded, eyes
flashing with contempt and anger.

Ranse grinned, then turned to his companion with simulated perplexity.
"Where is Dave, Brother Hugh?"

"Damfino," replied the red-headed man, and the girl could see that he was
gloating over her. "Last night he was at a dance on God Forgotten Crick.
Dave's soft on a widow up there, you know."

The color ebbed from the face of the wife. One of her hands clutched at
the back of a chair till the knuckles stood out white and bloodless. Her
eyes fastened with a growing horror upon those of the red-headed man. She
had come to the edge of an awful discovery.

"You're no preacher. Who are you?"

"Me?" His smile was cruel as death. "You done guessed it, sister. I'm
Hugh Roush--Dave's brother."

"An'--an'--my marriage was all a lie?"

"Did ye think Dave Roush would marry a Clanton? He's a bad lot, Dave is,
but he ain't come that low yet."

For the first and last time in her life 'Lindy fainted.

Presently she floated back to consciousness and the despair of a soul
mortally stricken. She saw it all now. The lies of Dave Roush had enticed
her into a trap. He had been working for revenge against the family he
hated, especially against brave old Clay Clanton who had killed two of
his kin within the year. With the craft inherited from savage ancestors
he had sent a wound more deadly than any rifle bullet could carry. The
Clantons were proud folks, and he had dragged their pride in the mud.

If the two brothers expected her to make a scene, they were disappointed.
Numb with the shock of the blow, she made no outcry and no reproach.

"Git a move on ye, gal," ordered Ranse after he had finished eating.
"You're goin' with us, so you better hurry."

"What are you goin' to do with me?" she asked dully.

"Why, Dave don't want you any more. We're goin' to send you home."

"I reckon yore folks will kill the fatted calf for you," jeered Hugh
Roush. "They tell me you always been mighty high-heeled, 'Lindy Clanton.
Mebbe you won't hold yore head so high now."

The girl rode between them down from the hills. Who knows into what an
agony of fear and remorse and black despair she fell? She could not go
home a cast-off, a soiled creature to be scorned and pointed at. She
dared not meet her father. It would be impossible to look her little
brother Jimmie in the face. Would they believe the story she told? And if
they were convinced of its truth, what difference would that make? She
was what she was, no matter how she had become so.

On the pike they met old Nance Cunningham returning from the mill with a
sack of meal. The story of that meeting was one the old gossip told after
the tragedy to many an eager circle of listeners,

"She jes' lifted her han' an' stopped me, an' if death was ever writ on a
human face it shorely wuz stomped on hers. 'I want you to tell my father
I'm sorry,' she sez. 'He swore he'd marry me inside of an hour. This man
hyer--his brother--made out like he wuz a preacher an' married us. Tell
my father that an' ask him to forgive me if he can.' That wuz all she
said. Ranse Roush hit her horse with a switch an' sez, 'Yo' kin tell him
all that yore own self soon as you git home.' I reckon I wuz the lastest
person she spoke to alive."

They left the old woman staring after them with her mouth open. It could
have been only a few minutes later that they reached Quicksand Creek.

'Lindy pulled up her horse to let the men precede her through the ford.
They splashed into the shallows on the other side of the creek and waited
for her to join them. Instead, she slipped from the saddle, ran down the
bank, and plunged into the quicksand.

"Goddlemighty!" shrieked Ranse. "She's a-drowndin' herself in the sands."

They spurred their horses back across the creek and ran to rescue the
girl. But she had flung herself forward face down far out of their reach.
They dared not venture into the quivering bog after her. While they still
stared in a frozen horror, the tragedy was completed. The victim of their
revenge had disappeared beneath the surface of the morass.



Chapter I

"Call Me Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em"


The boy had spent the night at a water-hole in a little draw near the
foot of the mesa. He had supped on cold rations and slept in his blanket
without the comfort of glowing piñon knots. For yesterday he had cut
Indian signs and after dark had seen the shadow of Apache camp-fires
reflected in the clouds.

After eating he swung to the bare back of his pony and climbed to the
summit of the butte. His trained eyes searched the plains. A big bunch of
antelope was trailing down to water almost within rifle-shot. But he was
not looking for game.

He sniffed the smoke from the pits where the renegades were roasting
mescal and judged the distance to the Apache camp at close to ten miles.
His gaze swept toward the sunrise horizon and rested upon a cloud of
dust. That probably meant a big herd of cattle crossing to the Pecos
Valley on the Chisum Trail that led to Fort Stanton. The riders were
likely just throwing the beeves from the bed-ground to the trail. The boy
waited to make sure of their line of travel.

Presently he spoke aloud, after the fashion of the plainsman who spends
much time alone in the saddle. "Looks like they'll throw off to-night
close to the 'Pache camp. If they do hell's a-goin' to pop just before
sunup to-morrow. I reckon I'll ride over and warn the outfit."

From a trapper the boy had learned that a band of Mescalero Apaches had
left the reservation three weeks before, crossed into Mexico, gone
plundering down the Pecos, and was now heading back toward the Staked
Plains. Evidently the drover did not know this, since he was moving his
cattle directly toward the Indian camp.

The young fellow let his cowpony pick its way down the steep shale hill
to the draw. He saddled without a waste motion, packed his supplies
deftly, mounted, and was off. In the way he cut across the desert toward
the moving herd was the certainty of the frontiersman. He did not hurry,
but he wasted no time. His horse circled in and out among the sand dunes,
now topped a hill, now followed a wash. Every foot of the devious trail
was the most economical possible.

At the end of nearly an hour's travel he pulled up, threw down his bridle
reins, and studied the ground carefully. He had cut Indian sign. What he
saw would have escaped the notice of a tenderfoot, and if it had been
pointed out to him none but an expert trailer would have understood its
significance. Yet certain facts were printed here on the desert for this
boy as plainly as if they had been stenciled on a guide-post. He knew
that within forty-eight hours a band of about twenty Mescalero bucks had
returned to camp this way from an antelope hunt and that they carried
with them half a dozen pronghorns. It was a safe guess that they were
part of the large camp the smoke of which he had seen.

Long before the young man struck the drive, he knew he was close by the
cloud of dust and the bawling of the cattle. His course across country
had been so accurate that he hit the herd at the point without
deflecting.

An old Texan drew up, changed his weight on the saddle to rest himself,
and hailed the youngster.

"Goin' somewheres, kid, or just ridin'?" he asked genially.

"Just takin' my hawss out for a jaunt so's he won't get hog-fat," grinned
the boy.

The Texan chewed tobacco placidly and eyed the cowpony. The horse had
been ridden so far that he was a bag of bones.

"Looks some gaunted," he commented.

"Four Bits is so thin he won't throw a shadow," admitted the boy.

"Come a right smart distance, I reckon?"

"You done said it."

"Where you headin' for?"

"For Deaf Smith County. I got an uncle there. Saw your dust an' dropped
over to tell you that a big bunch of 'Paches are camped just ahead of
you."

The older man looked at him keenly. "How do you know, son?"

"Smelt their smoke an' cut their trail."

"Know Injuns, do you?"

"I trailed with Al Sieber 'most two years."

To have served with Sieber for any length of time was a certificate of
efficiency. He was the ablest scout in the United States Army. Through
his skill and energy Geronimo and his war braves were later forced to
give themselves up to the troops.

"'Nuff said. Are these 'Paches liable to make us any trouble?"

"Yes, sir. I think they are. They're a bunch of broncos from the
reservation an' they have been across the line stealin' horses an'
murderin' settlers. They will sure try to stampede your cattle an' run
off a lot of 'em."

"Hmp! You better go back an' see old man Webb about it. What's yore name,
kid?"

For just an eye-beat the boy hesitated. "Call me Jim Thursday."

A glimmer of a smile rested in the eyes of the Texan. He was willing to
bet that this young fellow would not have given him that name if to-day
had not happened to be the fifth day of the week. But it was all one to
the cowpuncher. To question a man too closely about his former residence
and manner of life was not good form on the frontier.

"I'll call you Jim from Sunday to Saturday," he said, pulling a tobacco
pouch from his hip pocket. "My name is Wrayburn--Dad Wrayburn, the boys
call me."

The Texan shouted to the man riding second on the swing. "Oh, you, Billie
Prince!"

A tanned, good-looking young fellow cantered up.

"Meet Jimmie Thursday, Billie," the old-timer said by way of
introduction. "This boy says there's heap many Injuns on the war-path
right ahead of us. I reckon I'll let you take the point while I ride
back with him an' put it up to the old man."

The "old man" turned out to be a short, heavy-set Missourian who had
served in the Union Army and won a commission by intelligence and
courage. Wherever the name of Homer Webb was known it stood for integrity
and square-dealing. His word was as good as a signed bond.

Webb had come out of the war without a cent, but with a very definite
purpose. During the last year of the Confederacy, while it was tottering
to its fall, he had served in Texas. The cattle on the range had for
years been running wild, the owners and herdsmen being absent with the
Southern army. They had multiplied prodigiously, so that many thousands
of mavericks roamed without brand, the property of any one who would
round them up and put an iron on their flanks. The money value of them
was very little. A standard price for a yearling was a plug of tobacco.
But Webb looked to the future. He hired two riders, gathered together a
small remuda of culls, and went into the cattle business with energy.
To-day the Flying V Y was stamped on forty thousand longhorns.

The foreman of the Flying V Y was riding with the owner of the brand at
the drag end of the herd. He was a hard-faced citizen known as Joe
Yankie. When Wrayburn had finished his story, the foreman showed a row of
tobacco-stained teeth in an unpleasant grin.

"Same old stuff, Dad. There always is a bunch of bucks off the
reservation an' they're always just goin' to run our cattle away. If you
ask me there's nothin' to it."

Young Thursday flushed. "If you'll ride out with me I'll show you their
trail."

Yankie looked at him with a sneer. He guessed this boy to be about
eighteen. There was a suggestion of effeminacy about the lad's small,
well-shaped hands and feet. He was a slender, smooth-faced youth with
mild blue eyes. It occurred to Webb, too, that the stranger might have
imagined the Apaches. But in his motions was something of the lithe grace
of the puma. It was part of the business of the cattleman to judge men
and he was not convinced that this young fellow was as inoffensive as he
looked.

"Where you from?" asked the drover.

"From the San Carlos Agency."

"Ever meet a man named Micky Free out there?"

"I've slept under the same tarp with him many's the time when we were
followin' Chiricahua 'Paches. He's the biggest dare-devil that ever
forked a horse."

"Describe him."

"Micky's face is a map of Ireland. He's got only one eye; a buck punched
the other out when he was a kid. His hair is red an' he wears it long."

"Any beard?"

"A bristly little red mustache."

"That's Micky to a T." Webb made up his mind swiftly. "The boy's all
right, Yankie. He'll do to take along."

"It's your outfit. Suits me if he does you." The foreman turned
insolently to the newcomer. "What'd you say your name was, sissie?"

The eyes of the boy, behind narrowed lids, grew hard as steel.

"Call me Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em," he drawled in a soft voice, every syllable
distinct.

There was a moment of chill silence. A swift surprise had flared into the
eyes of the foreman. The last thing in the world he had expected was to
have his bad temper resented so promptly by this smooth-faced little
chap. Since Yankie was the camp bully he bristled up to protect his
reputation.

"Better not get on the prod with me, young fellow me lad. I'm liable to
muss up your hair. Me, I'm from the Strip, where folks grow man-size."

The youngster smiled, but there was no mirth in that thin-lipped smile.
He knew, as all men did, that the Cherokee Strip was the home of
desperadoes and man-killers. The refuse of the country, driven out by the
law of more settled communities, found here a refuge from punishment. But
if the announcement of the foreman impressed him, he gave no sign of it.

"Why didn't you stay there?" he asked with bland innocence.

Yankie grew apoplectic. He did not care to discuss the reasons why he
had first gone to the Strip or the reasons why he had come away. This
girl-faced boy was the only person who had asked for a bill of
particulars. Moreover, the foreman did not know whether the question had
been put in child-like ignorance of any possible offense or with an
impudent purpose to enrage him.

"Don't run on the rope when I'm holdin' it, kid," he advised roughly.
"You're liable to get thrown hard."

"And then again I'm liable not to," lisped the youth from Arizona gently.

The bully looked the slim newcomer over again, and as he looked there
rang inside him some tocsin of warning. Thursday sat crouched in the
saddle, wary as a rattlesnake ready to strike. A sawed-off shotgun lay
under his leg within reach of his hand, the butt of a six-gun was even
closer to those smooth, girlish fingers. In the immobility of his figure
and the steadiness of the blue eyes was a deadly menace.

Yankie was no coward. He would go through if he had to. But there was
still time to draw back if he chose. He was not exactly afraid; on the
other hand, he did not feel at all easy.

He contrived a casual, careless laugh. "All right, kid. I don't have to
rob the cradle to fill my private graveyard. Go get your Injuns. It will
be all right with me."

Webb drew a breath of relief. There was to be no gunplay after all. He
had had his own reasons for not interfering sooner, but he knew that the
situation had just grazed red tragedy.

"I'm goin' to take the boy's advice," he announced to Yankie. "Ride
forward an' swing the herd toward that big red butte. We'll give our
Mescalero friends a wide berth if we can."

The foreman hung in the saddle a moment before he turned to go. He had to
save his face from a public back-down, "Bet you a week's pay there's
nothin' to it, Webb."

"Hope you're right, Joe," his employer answered.

As soon as Yankie had cantered away, Dad Wrayburn, ex-Confederate
trooper, slapped his hand on his thigh and let out a modulated rebel
yell.

"Dad burn my hide, Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em, you're all right. Fustest time I
ever saw Joe take water, but he shorely did splash some this here
occasion. I wouldn't 'a' missed it for a bunch of hog-fat yearlin's."

Webb had not been sorry to see his arrogant foreman brought up with a
sharp turn, but in the interest of discipline he did not care to say so.

"Why can't you boys get along peaceable with Joe, I'd like to know? This
snortin' an' pawin' up the ground don't get you anything."

"I reckon Joe does most of the snortin' that's done," Wrayburn answered
dryly. "I ain't had any trouble with him, because he spends a heap of
time lettin' me alone. But there's no manner of doubt that Joe rides the
boys too hard."

The drover dismissed the subject and turned to Thursday.

"Want a job?"

"Mebbe so."

"I need another man. Since you sabe the ways of the 'Paches I can use you
to scout ahead for us."

"What you payin'?"

"Fifty a month."

"You've hired a hand."

"Good enough. Better pick one of the boys to ride with you while you are
out scoutin'."

"I'll take Billie Prince," decided the new rider at once.

"You know Billie?"

"Never saw him before to-day. But I like his looks. He's a man to tie
to."

"You're right he is."

The drover looked at his new employee with a question in his shrewd eyes.
The boy was either a man out of a thousand or he was a first-class
bluffer. He claimed to have cut Indian sign and to know exactly what was
written there. At a single glance he had sized up Prince and knew him
for a reliable side partner. Without any bluster he had served notice on
Yankie that it would be dangerous to pick on him as the butt of his
ill-temper.

In those days, on the Pecos, law lay in a holster on a man's thigh. The
individual was a force only so far as his personality impressed itself
upon his fellows. If he made claims he must be prepared to back them to a
fighting finish.

Was this young Thursday a false alarm? Or was he a good man to let alone
when one was looking for trouble? Webb could not be sure yet, though he
made a shrewd guess. But he knew it would not he long before he found
out.



Chapter II

Shoot-a-Buck Cañon


Webb sent for Billie Prince.

"Seems there's a bunch of bronco 'Paches camped ahead of us, Billie.
Thursday here trailed with Sieber. I want you an' him to scout in front
of us an' see we don't run into any ambush. You're under his orders, y'
understand."

Prince was a man of few words. He nodded.

"You know the horses that the boys claim. Well, take Thursday to the
remuda an' help him pick a mount from the extras in place of that
broomtail he's ridin'," continued the drover. "Look alive now. I don't
want my cattle stampeded because we haven't got sense enough to protect
'em. No 'Paches can touch a hoof of my stock if I can help it."

"If they attack at all it will probably be just before daybreak, but it
is just as well to be ready for 'em," suggested Thursday.

"I brought along some old Sharps an' some Spencers. I reckon I'll have
'em loaded an' distribute 'em among the boys. Billie, tell Yankie to have
that done. The rifles are racked up in the calf wagon."

Billie delivered the orders of the drover to the foreman as they passed
on their way to the remuda. Joe gave a snort of derision, but let it go
at that. When Homer Webb was with one of his trail outfits he was always
its boss.

While Thursday watched him, Prince roped out a cinnamon horse from the
remuda. The cowpuncher was a long-bodied man, smooth-muscled and lithe.
The boy had liked his level eye and his clean, brown jaw before, just as
now he approved the swift economy of his motions.

Probably Billie was about twenty years of age, but in that country
men ripened young. Both of these lads had been brought up in that
rough-and-ready school of life which holds open session every day of the
year. Both had already given proofs of their ability to look out for
themselves in emergency. A wise, cool head rested on each of these pairs
of young shoulders. In this connection it is worth mentioning that the
West's most famous outlaw, Billie the Kid, a killer with twenty-one
notches on his gun, had just reached his majority when he met his death
some years later at the hands of Pat Garrett.

The new rider for the Flying V Y outfit did not accept the judgment of
Prince without confirming it. He examined the hoofs of the horse and felt
its legs carefully. He looked well to its ears to make sure that ticks
from the mesquite had not infected the silky inner flesh.

"A good bronc, looks like," he commented.

"One of the fastest in the remuda--not very gentle, though."

Thursday picked the witches' bridles from its mane before he saddled. As
his foot found the stirrup the cinnamon rose into the air, humped its
back, and came down with all four legs stiff. The quirt burned its flank,
and the animal went up again to whirl round in the air. The boy stuck to
the saddle and let out a joyous whoop. The battle was on.

Suddenly as it had begun the contest ended. With the unreasoning impulse
of the half-broken cowpony the cinnamon subsided to gentle obedience.

The two riders cantered across the prairie in the direction of the Indian
camp. That the Apaches were still there Thursday thought altogether
likely, for he knew that it takes a week to make mescal. No doubt the
raiders had stopped to hold a jamboree over the success of their
outbreak.

The scouts from the cattle herd deflected toward a butte that pushed out
as a salient into the plain. From its crest they could get a sweeping
view of the valley.

"There's a gulch back of it that leads to old man Roubideau's place,"
explained Prince. "Last time we were on this Pecos drive the boss stopped
an' bought a bunch of three-year-olds from him. He's got a daughter
that's sure a pippin, old man Roubideau has. Shoot, ride, rope--that
girl's got a lot of these alleged bullwhackers beat a mile at any one of
'em."

Thursday did not answer. He had left the saddle and was examining the
ground carefully. Billie joined him. In the soft sand of the wash were
tracks of horses' hoofs. Patiently the trailer followed them foot by foot
to the point where they left the dry creek-bed and swung up the broken
bank to a swale.

"Probably Roubideau and his son Jean after strays," suggested Prince.

"No. Notice this track here, how it's broken off at the edge. When I cut
Indian sign yesterday, this was one of those I saw."

"Then these are 'Paches too?"

"Yes."

"Goin' to the Roubideau place." The voice of Billie was low and husky.
His brown young face had been stricken gray. Bleak fear lay in the gray
eyes. His companion knew he was thinking of the girl. "How many of 'em do
you make out?"

"Six or seven. Not sure which."

"How old?"

"They passed here not an hour since."

It was as if a light of hope had been lit in the face of the young man.
"Mebbe there's time to help yet. Kid, I'm goin' in."

Jim Thursday made no reply, unless it was one to vault to the saddle and
put his horse to the gallop. They rode side by side, silently and
alertly, rifles across the saddle-horns in their hands. The boy from
Arizona looked at his new friend with an increase of respect. This was,
of course, a piece of magnificent folly. What could two boys do against
half a dozen wily savages? But it was the sort of madness that he loved.
His soul went out in a gush of warm, boyish admiration to Billie Prince.
It was the beginning of a friendship that was to endure, in spite of
rivalry and division and misunderstanding, through many turbid years of
trouble. This was no affair of theirs. Webb had sent them out to protect
the cattle drive. They were neglecting his business for the sake of an
adventure that might very well mean the death of both of them. But it was
characteristic of Thursday that it never even occurred to him to let
Prince take the chance alone. Even in the days to come, when his name was
anathema in the land, nobody ever charged that he would not go through
with a comrade.

There drifted to them presently the faint sound of a shot. It was
followed by a second and a third.

"The fight's on," cried Thursday.

Billie's quirt stung the flank of his pony. Near the entrance to the
cañon his companion caught up with him. From the rock walls of the gulch
came to them booming echoes of rifles in action.

"Roubideau must be standin' 'em off," shouted Prince.

"Can we take the 'Paches by surprise? Is there any other way into the
cañon?"

"Don't know. Can't stop to find out. I'm goin' straight up the road."

The younger man offered no protest. It might well be that the ranchman
was in desperate case and in need of immediate help to save his family.
Anyhow, the decision was out of his hands.

The horses pounded forward and swept round a curve of the gulch into
sight of the ranch. In a semicircle, crouched behind the shelter of
boulders and cottonwoods, the Indian line stretched across the gorge and
along one wall. The buildings lay in a little valley, where an arroyo ran
down at a right angle and broke the rock escarpment. A spurt of smoke
came from a window of the stable as the rescuers galloped into view.

One of the Apaches caught sight of them and gave a guttural shout of
warning. His gun jumped to the shoulder and simultaneously the bullet was
on its way. But no living man could throw a shot quicker than Jim
Thursday, if the stories still told of him around camp-fires are true.
Now he did not wait to take sight, but fired from his hip. The Indian
rose, half-turned, and fell forward across the boulder, his naked body
shining in the sun. By a hundredth part of a second the white boy had
out-speeded him.

The riders flung themselves from their horses and ran for cover.

The very audacity of their attack had its effect. The Indians guessed
these two were the advance guard of a larger party which had caught them
in a trap. Between two fires, with one line of retreat cut off, the
bronco Apaches wasted no time in deliberation. They made a rush for their
horses, mounted, and flew headlong toward the arroyo, their bodies lying
low on the backs of the ponies.

The Indians rode superbly, their bare, sinewy legs gripping even to the
moccasined feet the sides of the ponies. Without saddle or bridle, except
for the simple nose rope, they guided their mounts surely, the brown
bodies rising and falling in perfect accord with the motion of the
horses.

A shot from the stable hit one as he galloped past. While his horse was
splashing through the creek the Mescalero slid slowly down, head first,
into the brawling water.

Billie took a long, steady aim and fired. A horse stumbled and went down,
flinging the rider over its head. With a "Yip--Yip!" of triumph Thursday
drew a bead on the man as he rose and dodged forward. Just as the boy
fired a sharp pain stung his foot. One of the escaping natives had
wounded him.

The dismounted man ran forward a few steps and pulled himself to the back
of a pony already carrying one rider. Something in the man's gait and
costume struck Prince.

"That fellow's no Injun," he called to his friend.

"Look!" Thursday was pointing to the saddle-back between two peaks at the
head of the arroyo.

A girl on horseback had just come over the summit and stood silhouetted
against the sky. Even in that moment while they watched her she realized
for the first time her danger. She turned to fly, and she and her horse
disappeared down the opposite slope. The Mescaleros swept up the hill
toward her.

"They'll git her! They'll sure git her!" cried Billie, making for his
horse.

The younger man ran limping to his cinnamon. At every step he winced, and
again while his weight rested on the wounded foot as he dragged himself
to the saddle. A dozen yards behind his companion he sent his horse
splashing through the creek.

The cowponies, used to the heavy going in the hills, took the slope in
short, quick plunges. Neither of the young men used the spur, for the
chase might develop into a long one with stamina the deciding factor. The
mesquite was heavy and the hill steep, but presently they struck a cattle
run which led to the divide.

Two of the Apaches stopped at the summit for a shot at their pursuers,
but neither of the young men wasted powder in answer. They knew that
close-range work would prove far more deadly and that only a chance hit
could serve them now.

From Billie, who had reached the crest first, came a cry of dismay. His
partner, a moment later, knew the reason for it. One of the Apaches,
racing across the valley below, was almost at the heels of the girl.

The cowpunchers flung their ponies down the sharp incline recklessly. The
animals were sure-footed as mountain goats. Otherwise they could never
have reached the valley right side up. It was a stretch of broken shale
with much loose rubble. The soft sandstone farther along had eroded and
there was a great deal of slack débris down which the horses slipped and
slid, now on their haunches and again on all fours.

The valley stretched for a mile before them and terminated at a rock wall
into which, no doubt, one or more cañons cut like sword clefts. The
cowpunchers had picked mounts, but it was plain they could not overhaul
the Apaches before the Indians captured the girl.

Billie, even while galloping at full speed, began a long-distance fire
upon the enemy. One of the Mescaleros had caught the bridle of the young
woman's horse and was stopping the animal. It looked for a moment as if
the raiders were going to make a stand, but presently their purpose
became clear to those in pursuit. The one that Billie had picked for a
renegade white dropped from the horse upon which he was riding double and
swung up behind the captive. The huddle of men and ponies opened up and
was in motion again toward the head of the valley.

But though the transfer had been rapid, it had taken time. The pursuers,
thundering across the valley, had gained fast. Rifles barked back and
forth angrily.

The Indians swerved sharply to the left for the mouth of a cañon. Here
they pulled up to check the cowboys, who slid from their saddles to use
their ponies for protection.

"That gorge to the right is called Escondido Cañon," explained Prince.
"We combed it for cattle last year. About three miles up it runs into the
one where the 'Paches are! Don't remember the name of that one."

"I'll give it a new name," answered the boy. He raised his rifle, rested
it across the back of his pony, and took careful aim. An Indian plunged
from his horse. "Shoot-a-Buck Cañon--how'll that do for a name?" inquired
Thursday with a grin.

Prince let out a whoop. "You got him right. He'll never smile again.
Shoot-a-Buck Cañon goes."

The Indians evidently held a hurried consultation and changed their minds
about holding the gorge against such deadly shooting as this.

"They're gun-shy," announced Thursday. "They don't like the way we fog
'em and they're goin' to hit the trail, Billie."

After one more shot Prince made the mistake of leaving the shelter of his
horse too soon. He swung astride and found the stirrup. A puff of smoke
came from the entrance to the gulch. Billie turned to his friend with a
puzzled, sickly smile on his face. "They got me, kid."

"Bad?"

The cowboy began to sag in the saddle. His friend helped him to the
ground. The wound was in the thigh.

"I'll tie it up for you an' you'll be good as new," promised his friend.

The older man looked toward the gorge. No Indians were in sight.

"I can wait, but that little girl in the hands of those devils can't. Are
you game to play a lone hand, kid?" he asked.

"I reckon."

"Then ride hell-for-leather up Escondido. It's shorter than the way they
took. Where the gulches come together be waitin' an' git 'em from the
brush. There's just one slim chance you'll make it an' come back alive."

The boy's eyes were shining. "Suits me fine. I'll go earn that name I
christened myself--Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em."

Billie, his face twisted with pain, watched the youngster disappear at a
breakneck gallop into Escondido.



Chapter III

Ranse Roush Pays


Jim Thursday knew that his sole chance of success lay in reaching the
fork of the cañons before the Indians. So far he had been lucky. Three
Apaches had gone to their happy hunting ground, and though both he and
Billie were wounded, his hurt at least did not interfere with accurate
rifle-fire. But it was not reasonable to expect such good fortune to
hold. In the party he was pursuing were four men, all of them used to
warfare in the open. Unless he could take them at a disadvantage he could
not by any possibility defeat them and rescue their captive.

His cinnamon pony took the rising ground at a steady gallop. Its stride
did not falter, though its breathing was labored. Occasionally the rider
touched its flank with the sharp rowel of a spur. The boy was a lover of
horses. He had ridden too many dry desert stretches, had too often kept
night watch over a sleeping herd, not to care for the faithful and
efficient animal that served him and was a companion to his loneliness.
Like many plainsmen he made of his mount a friend.

But he dared not spare his pony now. He must ride the heart out of the
gallant brute for the sake of that life he had come to save. And while he
urged it on, his hand patted the sweat-stained neck and his low voice
sympathized.

"You've got to go to it, old fellow, if it kills you," he said aloud. "We
got to save that girl for Billie, ain't we? We can't let those red devils
take her away, can we?"

It was a rough cattle trail he followed, strewn here with boulders and
there tilted down at breakneck angle of slippery shale. Sometimes it fell
abruptly into washes and more than once rose so sharply that a heather
cat could scarce have clambered up. But Thursday flung his horse
recklessly at the path, taking chances of a fall that might end the mad
race. He could not wait to pick a way. His one hope lay in speed, in
reaching the fork before the enemy. He sacrificed everything to that.

From the top of a sharp pitch he looked down into the twin cañon of
Escondido. A sharp bend cut off the view to the left, so that he could
see for only seventy-five or a hundred yards. But his glance followed the
gulch up for half a mile and found no sign of life. He was in time.

Swiftly he made his preparations. First he led the exhausted horse back
to a clump of young cottonwoods and tied it safely. From its place beside
the saddle he took the muley gun and with the rifle in his other hand he
limped swiftly back to the trail. Every step was torture, but he could
not stop to think of that now. His quick eye picked a perfect spot for an
ambush where a great rock leaned against another at the edge of the
bluff. Between the two was a narrow opening through which he could
command the bend in the trail below. To enlarge this he scooped out the
dirt with his fingers then reloaded the rifle and thrust it into the
crevice. The sawed-off shotgun lay close to his hand.

Till now he had found no time to get nervous, but as the minutes passed
he began to tremble violently and to whimper. In spite of his experience
he was only a boy and until to-day had never killed a man.

"Doggone it, if I ain't done gone an' got buck fever," he reproached
himself. "I reckon it's because Billie Prince ain't here that I'm so
scairt. I wisht I had a drink, so as I'd be right when the old muley gun
gits to barkin'."

A faint sound, almost indistinguishable, echoed up the gulch to him.
Miraculously his nervousness vanished. Every nerve was keyed up, every
muscle tense, but he was cool as water in a mountain stream.

The sound repeated itself, a faint tinkle of gravel rolling from a trail
beneath the hoof of a horse. At the last moment Thursday changed his mind
and substituted the shotgun for the rifle.

"Old muley she spatters all over the State of Texas. I might git two at
once," he muttered.

The light, distant murmur of voices reached him. His trained ear told him
just how far away the speakers were.

An Apache rounded the bend, a tall, slender young brave wearing only a
low-cut breech-cloth and a pair of moccasins. Around his waist was
strapped a belt full of cartridges and from it projected the handle of a
long Mexican knife. The brown body of the youth was lithe and graceful as
that of a panther. He was smiling over his shoulder at the next rider in
line, a heavy-set, squat figure on a round-bellied pinto. That smile was
to go out presently like the flame of a blown candle. A third Mescalero
followed. Like that of the others, his coarse, black hair fell to the
shoulders, free except for a band that encircled the forehead.

Still the boy did not fire. He waited till the last of the party
appeared, a man in fringed buckskin breeches and hickory shirt riding
pillion behind a young woman. Both of these were white.

The sawed-off gun of Thursday covered the second rider carefully. Before
the sound of the shot boomed down the gorge the Apache was lifted from
the bare back of the pony. The heavy charge of buckshot had riddled him
through and through.

Instantly the slim, young brave in the lead dug his heels into the flank
of his pony, swung low to the far side so that only a leg was visible,
and flew arrow-straight up the cañon for safety. Thursday let him go.

Twice his rifle rang out. At that distance it was impossible for a good
shot to miss. One bullet passed through the head of the third Mescalero.
The other brought down the pony upon which the whites were riding.

The fall of the horse flung the girl free, but the foot of her captor was
caught between the saddle and the ground. Thursday drew a bead on him
while he lay there helpless, but some impulse of mercy held his hand. The
man was that creature accursed in the border land, a renegade who has
turned his face against his own race and must to prove his sincerity to
the tribe out-Apache an Apache at cruelty. Still, he was white after
all--and Jim Thursday was only eighteen.

Rifle in hand the boy clambered down the jagged rock wall to the dry
river-bed below. The foot of his high-heeled boot was soggy with blood,
but for the present he had to ignore the pain messages that throbbed to
his brain. The business on hand would not wait.

While Thursday was still slipping down from one outcropping ledge of rock
to another, a plunge of the wounded horse freed the renegade. The man
scrambled to his feet and ran shakily for the shelter of a boulder. In
his hurry to reach cover he did not stop to get the rifle that had been
flung a few yards from him when he fell.

The boy caught one glimpse of that evil, fear-racked face. The blood
flushed his veins with a surge of triumph. He was filled with the savage,
primitive exultation of the head-hunter. For four years he had slept on
the trail of this man and had at last found him. The scout had fought the
Apaches impersonally, without rancor, because a call had come to him that
he could not ignore. But now the lust of blood was on him. He had become
that cold, implacable thing known throughout the West as a "killer."

The merciless caution that dictates the methods of a killer animated his
movements now. Across the gulch, nearly one hundred and fifty yards from
him, the renegade lay crouched. A hunched shoulder was just visible.

Thursday edged carefully along the ledge. He felt for holds with his hand
and feet, for not once did his gaze lift from that patch of hickory
shirt. The eyes of the boy had narrowed to slits of deadly light. He was
wary as a hungry wolf and as dangerous. That the girl had disappeared
around the bend he did not know. His brain functioned for just one
purpose--to get the enemy with whom he had come at last to grips.

As the boy crept along the rock face for a better view of his victim, the
minutes fled. Five of them--ten--a quarter of an hour passed. The
renegade lay motionless. Perhaps he hoped that his location was unknown.

The man-hunter on the ledge flung a bullet against the protecting
boulder. His laugh of cruel derision drifted across the cañon.

"Run to earth at last, Ranse Roush!" he shouted, "I swore I'd camp on
your trail till I got you--you an' the rest of yore poison tribe."

From the trapped wretch quavered back a protest.

"Goddlemighty, I ain't done nothin' to you-all. Lemme explain."

"Before you do any explainin' mebbe you'd better guess who it is that's
goin' to send yore cowardly soul to hell inside of five minutes."

"If you're some kin to that gal on the hawss with me, why, I'll tell you
the honest-to-God truth. I was aimin' to save her from the 'Paches when I
got a chanct. Come on down an' let's we-uns talk it over reasonable."

The boy laughed again, but there was something very far from mirth in the
sound of that chill laughter. "If you won't guess I'll have to tell you
Ever hear of the Clantons, Ranse Roush? I'm one of 'em. Now you know what
chance you got to talk yoreself out of this thing."

"I--I'm glad to meet up with you-all. I got to admit that the Roush clan
is dirt mean. Tha's why I broke away from 'em. Tha's why I come out here.
You Clantons is all right. I never did go in for this bushwhackin' with
Dave an' Hugh. I never--"

"You're a born liar like the rest of yore wolf tribe. You come out here
because the country got too hot to hold you after what you did to 'Lindy
Clanton. I might 'a' knowed I'd find you with the 'Paches. You allus was
low-mixed Injun." The boy had fallen into the hill vernacular to which he
had been born. He was once more a tribal feudist of the border land.

"I swear I hadn't a thing to do with that," the man cried eagerly. "You
shore done got that wrong. Dave an' Hugh done that. They're a bad lot.
When I found out about 'Lindy Clanton I quarreled with 'em an' we-all
split up company. Tha's the way of it."

"You're ce'tainly in bad luck then," the boy shouted back tauntingly.
"For I aim to stomp you out like I would a copperhead." Very distinctly
he added his explanation. "I'm 'Lindy Clanton's brother."

Roush begged for his life. He groveled in the dust. He promised to
reform, to leave the country, to do anything that was asked of him.

"Go ahead. It's meat an' drink to me to hear a Roush whine. I got all day
to this job, but I aim to do it thorough," jeered Clanton.

A bullet flattened itself against the rock wall ten feet below the boy.
In despair the man was shooting wildly with his revolver. He knew there
was no use in pleading, that his day of judgment had come.

Young Clanton laughed in mockery. "Try again, Roush. You ain't quite got
the range."

The man made a bolt for the bend in the cañon a hundred yards away.
Instantly the rifle leaped to the shoulder of the boy.

"Right in front of you, Roush," he prophesied.

The bullet kicked up the dust at the feet of the running man. The nerve
of Roush failed him and he took cover again behind a scrub live-oak. A
memory had flashed to him of the day when he had seen a thirteen-year-old
boy named Jim Clanton win a turkey shoot against the best marksmen of
the hill country.

The army Colt spit out once more at the boy on the ledge. Before the echo
had died away the boom of an explosion filled the cañon. Roush pitched
forward on his face.

Jim Clanton lowered his rifle with an exclamation. His face was a picture
of amazement. Some one had stolen his vengeance from him by a hair's
breadth.

Two men came round the bend on horseback. Behind them rode a girl. She
was mounted on the barebacked pinto of the Indian Clanton had killed
with the shotgun.

The boy clambered down to the bed of the gulch and limped toward them.
The color had ebbed from his lips. At every step a pain shot through his
leg. But in spite of his growing weakness anger blazed in the light-blue
eyes.

"I waited four years to git him. I kept the trail hot from Tucson to
Vegas an' back to Santone. An' now, doggone it, when my finger was on the
trigger an' the coyote as good as dead, you cut in an' shoot the
daylights out of him. By gum, it ain't fair!"

The older man looked at him in astonishment. "But he is only a child,
Polly! Cela me passe!"

"Mebbe I am only a kid," the boy retorted resentfully. "But I reckon I'm
man enough to handle any Roush that ever lived. I wasn't askin' for help
from you-uns that I heerd tell of."

The younger man laughed. He was six or seven years older than the girl,
who could not have been more than seventeen. Both of them bore a marked
likeness to the middle-aged man who had spoken. Jim guessed that this was
the Roubideau family of whom Billie Prince had told him.

"Just out of the cradle, by Christmas, and he's killed four 'Paches
inside of an hour an' treed a renegade to boot," said young Roubideau.
"I'd call it a day's work, kid, for it sure beats all records ever I knew
hung up by one man."

The admiration of the young rancher was patent. He could not take his
eyes from the youthful phenomenon.

"He's wounded, father," the girl said in a low voice.

The boy looked at her and his anger died away. "Billie sent me up the
gulch when he was shot. He 'lowed it was up to me to git you back from
those devils, seein' as he couldn't go himself."

Polly nodded. She seemed to be the kind of girl that understands without
being told in detail.

Before Thursday could protect himself, Roubideau, senior, had seized him
in his arms, embraced him, and kissed first one cheek and then the other.
"Eh bien! But you are the brave boy! I count it honor to know you. My
little Polly, have you not save her? Ah! But I forget the introductions.
Myself, I am Pierre Roubideau, à tout propos at your service. My son
Jean. Pauline--what you call our babie."

"My real name is Jim Clanton," answered the boy. "I've been passin' by
that of 'Thursday' so that none of the Roush outfit would know I was in
the country till I met up face to face with 'em."

"Clanton! It is a name we shall remember in our prayers, n'est-ce pas,
Polly?" Pierre choked up and wrung fervently the hand of the youngster.

Clanton was both embarrassed and wary. He did not know at what moment
Roubideau would disgrace him by attempting another embrace. There was
something in the Frenchman's eye that told of an emotion not yet expended
fully.

"Oh, shucks; you make a heap of fuss about nothin'," he grumbled. "Didn't
I tell you it was Billie Prince sent me? An' say, I got a pill in my
foot. Kindness of one of them dad-gummed Mescaleros. I hate to walk on
that laig. I wish yore boy would go up on the bluff an' look after my
horse. I 'most rode it to death, I reckon, comin' up the cañon. An'
there's a sawed-off shotgun. He'll find it..."

For a few moments the ground had been going up and down in waves before
the eyes of the boy. Now he clutched at a stirrup leather for support,
but his fingers could not seem to find it. Before he could steady himself
the bed of the dry creek rose up and hit him in the head.



Chapter IV

Pauline Roubideau Says "Thank You."


Jimmie Clanton slid back from unconsciousness to a world the center of
which was a girl sitting on a rock with his rifle across her knees. The
picture did not at first associate itself with any previous experience.
She was a brown, slim young thing in a calico print that fitted snugly
the soft lines of her immature figure. The boy watched her shyly and
wondered at the quiet self-reliance of her. She was keeping guard over
him, and there was about her a cool vigilance that went oddly with the
small, piquant face and the tumbled mass of curly chestnut hair that had
fallen in a cascade across her shoulders.

"Where are yore folks?" he asked presently.

She turned her head slowly and looked at him. Southern suns had sprinkled
beneath her eyes a myriad of powdered freckles. She met his gaze
fairly, with a boyish directness and candor.

"Jean has ridden out to tell your friends about you and Mr. Prince.
Father has gone back to the house to fix up a travois to carry you."

"Sho! I can ride."

"There's no need of it. You must have lost a great deal of blood."

He looked down at his foot and saw that the boot had been cut away. A
bandage of calico had been tied around the wound. He guessed that the
girl had sacrificed part of a skirt.

"And you stayed here to see the 'Paches didn't play with me whilst yore
father was gone," he told her.

"There wasn't any danger, of course. The only one that escaped is miles
away from here. But we didn't like to leave you alone."

"That's right good of you."

Her soft, brown eyes met his again. They poured upon him the gift of
passionate gratitude she could not put into words. It was from something
much more horrible than death that he had snatched her. One moment she
had been a creature crushed, leaden despair in her heart. Then the
miracle had flashed down from the sky. She was free, astride the pinto,
galloping for home.

"Yes, you owe us much." There was a note of light sarcasm in her clear,
young voice, but the feeling in her heart swept it away in an emotional
rush of words from the tongue of her father. "Vous avez pris le fait et
cause pour moi. Sans vous j'étais perdu."

"You're French," he said.

"My father is, not my mother. She was from Tennessee."

"I'm from the South, too."

"You didn't need to tell me that," she answered with a little smile.

"Oh, I'm a Westerner now, but you ought to have heerd me talk when I
first came out." He broached a grievance. "Say, will you tell yore dad
not to do that again? I'm no kid."

"Do what?"

"You know." The red flamed into his face. "If it got out among the boys
what he'd done, I'd never hear the last of it."

"You mean kissed you?"

"Sure I do. That ain't no way to treat a fellow. I'm past eighteen if I
am small for my age. Nobody can pull the pat-you-on-the-head-sonny stuff
on me."

"But you don't understand. That isn't it at all. My father is French.
That makes all the difference. When he kissed you it meant--oh, that he
honored and esteemed you because you fought for me."

"I been tellin' you right along that Billie Prince is to blame. Let him
go an' kiss Billie an' see if he'll stand for it."

A flash of roguishness brought out an unexpected dimple near the corner
of her insubordinate mouth. "We'll be good, all of us, and never do it
again. Cross our hearts."

Young Clanton reddened beneath the tan. Without looking at her he felt
the look she tilted sideways at him from under the long, curved lashes.
Of course she was laughing at him. He knew that much, even though he
lacked the experience to meet her in kind. Oddly enough, there pricked
through his embarrassment a delicious little tingle of delight. So long
as she took him in as a partner of her gayety she might make as much fun
of him as she pleased.

But the owlish dignity of his age would not let him drop the subject
without further explanation. "It's all right for yore dad to much you. I
reckon a girl kinder runs to kisses an' such doggoned foolishness. But a
man's different. He don't go in for it."

"Oh, doesn't he?" asked Polly demurely. She did not think it necessary to
mention that every unmarried man who came to the ranch wanted to make
love to her before he left. "I'm glad you told me, because I'm only a
girl and I don't know much about it. And since you're a man, of course
you know."

"That's the way it is," he assured her, solemn as a pouter.

She bit her lip to keep from laughing out, but on the heels of her mirth
came a swift reproach. In his knowledge of life he might be a boy, but in
one way at least he had proved himself a man. He had taken his life in
his hands and ridden to save her without a second thought. He had fought
a good fight, one that would be a story worth telling when she had become
an old woman with grandchildren at her knee.

"Does your foot hurt you much?" she asked gently.

"It sort o' keeps my memory jogged up. It's a kind of forget-me-not
souvenir, for a good boy, compliments of a Mescalero buck, name unknown,
probably now permanently retired from his business of raisin' Cain. But
it might be a heap worse. They would've been glad to collect our scalps
if it hadn't been onconvenient, I expect."

"Yes," she agreed gravely.

He sat up abruptly. "Say, what about Billie? I left him wounded outside.
Did yore folks find him?"

"Yes. It seems the Apaches trapped them in the stable. They roped horses
and came straight for the cañon. They found Mr. Prince, but they had
no time to stop then. Father is looking after him now. He said he was
going to take him to the house in the buckboard."

"Is he badly hurt?"

"Jean thinks he will be all right. Mr. Prince told him it was only a
flesh wound, but the muscles were so paralysed he couldn't get around."

"The bullet did not strike an artery, then?"

"My brother seemed to think not."

"I reckon there's no doctor near."

Her eyes twinkled. "Not very near. Our nearest neighbor lives on the
Pecos one hundred land seventeen miles away. But my father is as good as
a doctor any day of the week."

"Likely you don't borrow coffee next door when you run out of it
onexpected. But don't you get lonesome?"

"Haven't time," she told him cheerfully. "Besides, somebody going through
stops off every three or four months. Then we learn all the news."

Jimmie glanced at her shyly and looked quickly away. This girl was not
like any woman he had known. Most of them were drab creatures with the
spirit washed out of them. His sister had been an exception. She had had
plenty of vitality, good looks and pride, but the somber shadow of her
environment had not made for gayety. It was different with Pauline
Roubideau. Though she had just escaped from terrible danger, laughter
bubbled up in her soft throat, mirth rippled over her mobile little face.
She expressed herself with swift, impulsive gestures at times. Then again
she suggested an inheritance of slow grace from the Southland of her
mother.

He did not understand the contradictions of her and they worried him a
little. Billie had told him that she could rope and shoot as well as any
man. He had seen for himself that she was an expert rider. Her nerves
were good enough to sit beside him at quiet ease within a stone's throw
of three sprawling bodies from which she had seen the lusty life driven
scarce a half-hour since. Already he divined the boyish _camaraderie_
that was so simple and direct an expression of good-will. And yet there
was something about her queer little smile he could not make out. It
hinted that she was really old enough to be his mother, that she was
heiress of wisdom handed down by her sex through all the generations.
As yet he had not found out that he was only a boy and she was a woman.

***


Chapter V

No Four-Flusher


Pauline Roubideau knew the frontier code. She evinced no curiosity about
the past of this boy-man who had come into her life at the nick of time.
None the less she was eager to know what connection lay between him and
the renegade her brother had killed. She had heard Jim Clanton say that
he had waited four years for his revenge and had followed the man all
over the West. Why? What motive could be powerful enough with a boy of
fourteen to sway so completely his whole life toward vengeance?

She set herself to find out without asking. Inside of ten minutes the
secret which had been locked so long in his warped soul had been confided
to her. The boy broke down when he told her the story of his sister's
death. He was greatly ashamed of himself for his emotion, but the touch
of her warm sympathy melted the ice in his heart and set him sobbing.

Quickly she came across to him and knelt down by his side.

"You poor boy! You poor, poor boy!" she murmured.

Her arm crept round his shoulders with the infinitely tender caress of
the mother that lies, dormant or awake, in all good women.

"I--I--I'm nothing but a baby," he gulped, trying desperately to master
his sobs.

"Don't talk foolishness," she scolded to comfort him. "I wouldn't think
much of you if you didn't love your sister enough to cry for her."

There were tears in her own eyes. Her lively young imagination pictured
vividly the desolation of the young hill girl betrayed so cruelly, the
swift decline of her stern, broken-hearted father. The thought of the
half-grown boy following the betrayers of his sister across the
continent, his life dedicated for years to vengeance, was a dreadful
thing to contemplate. It shocked her sense of all that was fitting. No
doubt his mission had become a religion with him. He had lain down at
night with that single purpose before him. He had risen with it in the
morning. It had been his companion throughout the day. From one season to
another he had cherished it when he should have been filled with the
happy, healthy play impulses natural to his age.

The boy told the story of that man-hunt without a suspicion that there
was anything in it to outrage the feelings of the girl.

"If it hadn't been for old Nance Cunningham, I reckon Devil Dave an' his
brothers would have fixed up some cock an' bull story about how 'Lindy
was drowned by accident. But folks heard Nance an' then wouldn't believe
a word they said. Dad swore us Clantons to wipe out the whole clan of
'em. Every last man in the hills that was decent got to cussin' the Roush
outfit. Their own friends turned their backs on all three. Then the
sheriff come up from the settlemint an' they jest naturally lit out.

"I heerd tell they were in Arizona an' after dad died I took after 'em.
But seemed like I had no luck. When I struck their trail they had always
just gone. To-day I got Ranse--leastways I would'a' got him if yore
brother hadn't interfered. I'll meet up with the others one o' these
times. I'll git 'em too."

He spoke with quiet conviction, as if it were a business matter that had
to be looked after.

"Did you ever hear this: 'Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the
Lord'?"

He nodded. "Dad used to read that to me. There's a heap in the Bible
about killin' yore enemies. Dad said that vengeance verse meant that
we-all was the Lord's deputies, like a sheriff has folks to help him, an'
we was certainly to repay the Roushes an' not to forgit interest
neither."

The girl shook her head vigorously. "I don't think that's what it means
at all. If you'll read the verses above and below, you'll see it doesn't.
We're to feed our enemies when they are hungry. We're to do them good for
evil."

"That's all right for common, every-day enemies, but the Roush clan ain't
that kind," explained the boy stubbornly. "It shore is laid on me to
destroy 'em root an' branch, like the Bible says."

By the way he wagged his head he might have been a wise little old man.
The savage philosophy of the boy had been drawn in with his mother's
milk. It had been talked by his elders while as a child he drowsed before
the big fireplace on winter nights. After his sister's tragic death it
had been driven home by Bible texts and by a solemn oath of vengeance.
Was it likely that anything she could say would have weight with him? For
the present the girl gave up her resolve to convert him to a more
Christian point of view.

The sun had sunk behind the cañon wall when Pierre Roubideau arrived with
a travois which he had hastily built. There was no wagon-road up the
gulch and it would have been difficult to get the buckboard in as far as
the fork over the broken terrain. As a voyageur of the North he had often
seen wounded men carried by the Indians in travois across the plains. He
knew, too, that the tribes of the Southwest use them. This one was
constructed of two sixteen-foot poles with a canvas lashed from one bar
to the other. The horse was harnessed between the ends of the shafts, the
other ends dragging on the ground.

Clanton looked at this device distastefully. "I'm no squaw. Whyfor can't
I climb on its back an' ride?"

"Because you are seeck. It iss of the importance that you do not exert
yourself. Voyons! You will be comfortable here. N'est-ce pas, Polly?"
Pierre gesticulated as he explained volubly. He even illustrated the
comfort by lying down in the travois himself and giving a dramatic
representation of sleep.

The young man grumbled, but gave way reluctantly.

"How's Billie Prince?" he asked presently from the cot where he lay.

"He will hafe a fever, but soon he will be well again. I, Pierre, promise
it. For he iss of a good strength and sound as a dollar."

Pauline, rifle in hand, scouted ahead of the travois and picked the
smoothest way down the rough ravine. The horse that Roubideau drove was
an old and patient one. Its master held it to a slow, even pace, so that
the wounded boy was jolted as little as possible. When they had reached
the entrance to the gorge, travel across the valley became less bumpy.

The young girl walked as if she loved it. The fine, free swing of the
hill woman was in her step. She breasted the slope with the light grace
of a forest faun. Presently she dropped back to a place beside the
conveyance and smiled encouragement at him.

"Pretty bad, is it?"

He grinned back. "It's up to me to play the hand I've been dealt."

That he was in a good deal of pain was easy to guess.

"We're past the worst of it," Pauline told him, "Up this hill--down the
other side--and then we're home."

The bawling of thirsty cattle and the blatting of calves could be heard
now.

"It iss that Monsieur Webb has taken my advice to drive the herd up the
cañon and into the park for the night," explained Roubideau. "There iss
one way in, one way out. Guard the entrances and the 'Paches cannot
stampede the cattle. Voilà!"

From the hill-top the leaders of the herd could be seen drinking at the
creek. Cattle behind were pushing forward to get at the water, while the
riders on the point and at the swing were directing the movement of the
beeves, now checking the steady pressure from the rear and now hastening
the pace of those dawdling in the stream. To add to the confusion cows
were mooing loudly for their off-spring not yet unloaded from the calf
wagon.

Near the summit Jean with the buckboard met the party from the cañon. He
helped Clanton to the seat and drove to the house.

Webb cantered up. "What's this I hear about you, Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em? They
tell me you've made four good Injuns to-day, shot up a renegade, rescued
this young lady here, 'most rode one of my horses to death, an' got stove
up in the foot yore own self. It certainly must have been yore busy
afternoon."

The drover looked at him with a new respect. He had found the answer to
the question he had put himself a few hours earlier. This boy was no
four-flusher. He not only knew how and when to shoot, was game as a
bulldog, and keen as a weasel; he possessed, too, that sixth sense so
necessary to a gun-fighter, the instinct which shows him how to take
advantage of every factor in the situation so as to come through safely.

"I didn't do it all," answered Clanton, flushing. "Billie helped, and the
Roubideaus got two of 'em."

"That's not the way Billie tells it. Anyhow, you-all made a great gather
between you. Six 'Paches that will never smile again ought to give the
raiders a pain."

"Don't you think we'd better get him to bed?" said Pauline gently.

"You're shoutin', ma'am," agreed Webb. "Roubideau, the little boss says
Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em is to be put to bed. I'll tote him in if you'll
give my boys directions about throwin' the herd into yore park and
loose-herdin' 'em there."

The Missourian picked up the wounded boy and followed Pauline into the
house. She led the way to her own little bedroom. It was the most
comfortable in the house and that was the one she wanted Jim Clanton to
have.



Chapter VI

Billie Asks a Question


Roubideau rounded up next day his beef stock and sold two hundred head to
the drover. During the second day the riders were busy putting the road
brand on the cattle just bought.

"Don't bust yore suspenders on this job, boys," Webb told his men. "I'd
just as lief lie up here for a few days while Uncle Sam is roundin' up
his pets camped out there. Old man Roubideau says we're welcome to stick
around. The feed's good. Our cattle are some gaunted with the drive. It
won't hurt a mite to let 'em stay right here a spell."

But on the third day came news that induced the Missourian to change his
mind. Jean, who had been out as a scout, returned with the information
that a company of cavalry had come down from the fort and that the
Apaches had hastily decamped for parts unknown.

"I reckon we'll throw into the trail again tomorrow, Joe," the drover
told Yankie. "No use wastin' time here if we don't have to stay. We'll
mosey along toward the river. Kinder take it easy an' drift the herd down
slow so as to let the cattle put on flesh. Billie an' the kid can join us
soon as they're fit to travel."

The decision was announced on the porch of the Roubideau house. Its owner
and his daughter were present. So was Dad Wrayburn. The Texan old-timer
snorted as he rolled a cigarette.

"Hm! Soft thing those two boys have got sittin' around an' bein' petted
by Miss Polly here. I've a notion to go an' bust my laig too. Will you
nurse me real tender, ma'am, if I get stove up pullin' off a grand-stand
play like they done?"

"The hospital is full. We haven't got room for more invalids, Mr.
Wrayburn," laughed the girl.

"Well, you let me know when there's a vacancy, Miss Polly. My sister gave
me a book to read onct. It was 'most twenty years ago. The name of it was
'Ivanhoe.' I told her I would save it to read when I broke my laig. Looks
like I never will git that book read."

By daybreak the outfit was on the move. Yankie trailed the cattle out to
the plain and started them forward leisurely. Webb had allowed himself
plenty of time for the drive. The date set for delivery at the fort was
still distant and he wanted the beeves to be in first-class condition for
inspection. To reach the Pecos he was allowing three weeks, a programme
that would let him bed the herd down early and would permit of drifting
it slowly to graze for an hour or two a day.

The weeks that followed were red-letter ones in the life of Jim Clanton.
They gave him his first glimpse of a family life which had for its basis
not only affection, but trust and understanding. He had never before seen
a household that really enjoyed little jokes shared in common, whose
members were full of kind consideration the one for the other. The
Roubideaus had more than a touch of the French temperament. They took
life gayly and whimsically, and though they poked all kinds of fun at
each other there was never any sting to their wit.

Pauline was a famous little nurse. It was not long before she was
offering herself as a crutch to help young Clanton limp to the sunny
porch. Two or three days later Billie joined his fellow invalid. From
where they sat the two young men could hear the girl as she went about
her work singing. Often she came out with a plate of hot, new-baked
cookies for them and a pitcher of milk. Or she would dance out without
any excuse except that of her own frank interest in the youth she shared
with her patients.

One of the Roubideau jokes was that Polly was the mother of the family
and her father and Jean two mischievous little boys she had to scold and
pet alternately. Temporarily she took the two cowpunchers into her circle
and browbeat them shamefully with an impudent little twinkle in her
eyes. Whatever the state of Billie's mind may have been before, there can
be no doubt that now he was fathoms deep in love. With hungry eyes he
took in her laughter and raillery, her boyish high spirits, the sweet
tenderness of the girl for her father. He loved her wholly--the charm of
her comradeship, of her swift, generous impulses, of that touch of
coquetry she could not entirely subdue.

Pierre had been a chasseur in the Franco-Prussian War. His daughter was
very proud of it, but one of her games was to mock him fondly by
swaggering back and forth while she sang:

"Allons, enfants de la patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé."

When she came to the chorus, nothing would do but all of them must join.
She taught the words and tune to Prince and Jimmie so that they could
fall into line behind the old soldier and his son:

"Aux armes, citoyens! formez vos bataillons!
            Marchons! Marchons!
Qu'un sang impur abreuve nos sillons."

It always began in pretended derision, but as she swept her little
company down the porch all the gallant, imperishable soul of France spoke
in her ringing voice and the flash of her brown eyes. Surely her
patriotism was no less sound because the blood of Alsace and that of
Tennessee were fused in her ardent veins.

The wounds of the young men healed rapidly, and both of them foresaw that
the day of their departure could no longer be postponed. Neither of them
was yet in condition to walk very far, but on horseback they were fit to
travel carefully.

"We got all the time there is. No need of pushin' on the reins, but I
reckon the old man isn't payin' us fifty dollars a month to hold down the
Roubideau porch," said Prince regretfully.

"No, we gotta light a shuck," admitted Jim, with no noticeable alacrity.
He was in no hurry to leave himself, even if he did not happen to be in
love.

Billie put his fortune to the touch while he was out with Polly rounding
up some calves. They were riding knee to knee in the dust of the drag
through a small arroyo.

The cowpuncher swallowed once or twice in a dry throat and blurted out,
"I got something to tell you before I go, Polly."

The girl flashed a look at him. She recognized the symptoms. Her gaze
went back to the wavelike motion of the backs of the moving yearlings.

"Don't, Billie," she said gently.

Before he spoke again he thought over her advice. He knew he had his
answer. But he had to go through with it now.

"I reckoned it would be that way. I'm nothin' but a rough vaquero. Whyfor
should you like me?"

"Oh, but I do!" she cried impulsively. "I like you a great deal. You're
one of the best men I know--brave and good and modest. It isn't that;
Billie."

"Is there--some one else? Or oughtn't I to ask that?"

"No, there's nobody else. I'm awfully glad you like me. The girl that
gets you will be lucky. But I don't care about men that way. I want to
stay with dad and Jean."

"Mebbe some day you may feel different about it."

"Mebbe I will," she agreed. "Anyhow, I want you to stay friends with me.
You will, won't you?"

"Sure. I'll be there just as long as you want me for a friend," he said
simply.

She gave him her little gauntleted hand. They were close to a bend in the
draw. Soon they would be within sight of the house.

"I'd say 'Yes' if I could, Billie. I'd rather it would be you than
anybody else. You won't feel bad, will you?"

"Oh, that's all right." He smiled, and there was something about the
pluck of the eyes in the lean, tanned face that touched her. "I'm goin'
to keep right on carin' for my little pal even if I can't get what I
want."

She had not yet fully emerged from her childhood. There was in her a
strong desire to comfort him somehow, to show by a mark of special favor
how high she held him in her esteem.

"Would you--would you like to kiss me?" she asked simply.

He felt a clamor of the blood and subdued it before he answered. It was
in accord with the charm she held for him that her frank generosity
enhanced his respect for her. If she gave a royal gift it was out of the
truth of her heart.

Without need of words she read acceptance in his eyes and leaned toward
him in the saddle. Their lips met.

"You're the first--except dad and Jean," she told him.

The feeling in his primitive heart he could not have analyzed. He did not
know that his soul was moved to some such consecration as that of a young
knight taking his vow of service, though he was aware that all the good
in him leaped to instant response in her presence, that by some strange
spiritual alchemy he had passed through a refining process.

"I'm comin' back to see you some day. Mebbe you'll feel different then,"
he said.

"I might," she admitted.

They rounded the bend. Clanton, on horseback, caught sight of them. He
waved his hat and cantered forward.

"Say, Billie, how much bacon do you reckon we need to take with us?"

In front of the house Pauline slipped from her horse and left them
discussing the commissary.



Chapter VII

On the Trail


The convalescents rode away into a desert green with spring. The fragrant
chaparral thickets were bursting into flower. Spanish bayonets studded
the plains. Everywhere about them was the promise of a new life not yet
burnt by hot summer suns to a crisp.

During the day they ran into a swamp country and crossed a bayou where
cypress knees and blue gums showed fantastic in the eerie gloom of the
stagnant water. From this they emerged to a more wooded region and made
an early camp on the edge of a grove of ash trees bordering a small
stream where pecans grew thick.

Shortly after daybreak they were jogging on at a walk-trot, the road gait
of the Southwest, into the treeless country of the prairie. They nooned
at an arroyo seco, and after they had eaten took a siesta during the heat
of the day. Night brought with it a thunderstorm and they took refuge in
a Mexican hut built of palisades and roofed with grass sod. A widow lived
alone in the jacal, but she made them welcome to the best she had. The
young men slept in a corner of the hut on a dry cowskin spread upon the
mud floor, their saddles for pillows and their blankets rolled about
them.

While she was cooking their breakfast, Prince noticed the tears rolling
down her cheeks. She was a comely young woman and he asked her gallantly
in the bronco Spanish of the border if there was anything he could do to
relieve her distress.

She shook her head mournfully. "No, señor," she answered in her native
tongue. "Only time can do that. I mourn my husband. He was a drunken
ne'er-do-well, but he was my man. So I mourn a fitting period. He died in
that corner of the room where you slept."

"Indeed! When?" asked Billie politely.

"Ten days ago. Of smallpox."

The young men never ate that breakfast. They fled into the sunlight and
put many hurried miles between them and their amazed hostess. At the
first stream they stripped, bathed, washed their clothes, dipped the
saddles, and lay nude in the warm sand until their wearing apparel was
dry.

For many days they joked each other about that headlong flight, but
underneath their gayety was a dread which persisted.

"I'm like Doña Isabel with her grief. Only time can heal me of that scare
she threw into Billie Prince," the owner of that name confessed.

"Me too," assented Clanton, helping himself to pinole. "I'll bet I lost a
year's growth, and me small at that."

Prince had been in the employ of Webb for three years. During the long
hours when they rode side by side he told his companion much about the
Flying V Y outfit and its owner.

"He's a straight-up man, Homer Webb is. His word is good all over Texas.
He'll sure do to take along," said Billie by way of recommendation.

"And Joe Yankie--does he stack up A 1 too?" asked the boy dryly.

"I never liked Joe. It ain't only that he'll run a sandy on you if he can
or that he's always ridin' any one that will stand to be picked on. Joe's
sure a bully. But then he's game enough, too, for that matter. I've seen
him fight like a pack of catamounts. Outside of that I've got a hunch
that he's crooked as a dog's hind leg. Mebbe I'm wrong, I'm tellin' you
how he strikes me. If I was Homer Webb, right now when trouble is comin'
up with the Snaith-McRobert outfit, I'd feel some dubious about Joe. He's
a sulky, revengeful brute, an' the old man has pulled him up with a tight
rein more'n once."

"What do you mean--trouble with the Snaith-McRobert outfit?"

"That's a long story. The bad feelin' started soon after the war when
Snaith an' the old man were brandin' mavericks. It kind of smouldered
along for a while, then broke out again when both of them began to bid
on Government beef contracts. There's been some shootin' back an' forth
an' there's liable to be a whole lot more. The Lazy S M--that's the
Snaith-McRobert brand--claims the whole Pecos country by priority. The
old man ain't recognizin' any such fool title. He's got more 'n thirty
thousand head of cattle there an' he'll fight for the grass if he has to.
O' course there's plenty of room for everybody if it wasn't for the beef
contracts an' the general bad feelin'."

"Don't you reckon it will be settled peaceably? They'll get together an'
talk it over like reasonable folks."

Billie shook his head. "The Lazy S M are bringin' in a lot of bad men
from Texas an' the Strip. Some of our boys ain't exactly gun-shy either.
One of these days there's sure goin' to be sudden trouble."

"I'm no gunman," protested Clanton indignantly. "I hired out to the
old man to punch cows. Whyfor should I take any chances with the
Snaith-McRobert outfit when I ain't got a thing in the world against
them?"

"No, you're no gunman," grinned his friend in amiable derision.
"Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em is a quiet little Sunday-go-to-meetin' kid. It was
kinder by accident that he bumped off four Apaches an' a halfbreed the
other day."

"Now don't you blame me for that, Billie. You was hell-bent on goin' into
the Roubideau place an' I trailed along. When you got yore pill in the
laig you made me ride up the gulch alone. I claim I wasn't to blame for
them Mescaleros. I wasn't either."

Prince had made his prophecy about the coming trouble lightly. He could
not guess that the most terrible feud in the history of the West was to
spring out of the quarrel between Snaith and Webb, a border war so grim
and deadly that within three years more than a hundred lusty men were to
fall in battle and from assassination. It would have amazed him to know
that the bullet which laid low the renegade in Shoot-a-Buck Cañon had set
the spark to the evil passions which resulted in what came to be called
the Washington County War. Least of all could he tell that the girl-faced
boy riding beside him was to become the best-known character of all the
desperate ones engaged in the trouble.



Chapter VIII

The Fight


Half a dozen cowboys cantered up the main street of Los Portales in a
cloud of dust. One of them, older than the rest, let out the wild yell he
had known in the days when he rode with Quantrell's guerrillas on the
infamous raids of that bandit. A second flung into the blue sky three
rapid revolver shots. Plainly they were advertising the fact that they
had come to paint the town red and did not care who knew it.

The riders pulled up abruptly in front of Tolleson's Gaming Palace &
Saloon, swung from their horses, and trailed with jingling spurs into
that oasis of refreshment. Each of them carried in his hand a rope. The
other end of the rawhide was tied to the horn of a saddle.

A heavy-set, bow-legged man led the procession to the bar. He straddled
forward with a swagger. The bartender was busy dusting his stock. Before
the man had a chance to turn, the butt of a revolver hammered the
counter.

"Get busy here! Set 'em up, Mike. And jump!" snarled the heavy man.

The barkeeper took one look at him and filed no demurrer. "Bad man" was
writ on every line of the sullen, dissipated face of the bully. It was a
safe bet that he was used to having his own way, or failing that was
ready to fight at the drop of the hat.

Swiftly the drinks were prepared.

"Here 'show!"

"How!"

Every glass was tilted and emptied.

It was high noon by the sun and Tolleson's was practically deserted. No
devotees sat round the faro, roulette, and keno tables. The dealers were
asleep in bed after their labors. So too were the dance girls. The poker
rooms upstairs held only the stale odor of tobacco and whiskey. Except
for a sleepy negro roustabout attendant and two young fellows at a table
well back from the bar, the cowboys had the big hall all to themselves.

The bay was near the front of the barnlike room and to the right. To the
left, along the wall, were small tables. Farther back were those used for
gaming. In the rear one corner of the floor held a rostrum with seats for
musicians. The center of the hall was kept clear for dancing. Three steps
led to a door halfway back on the left-hand side of the building. They
communicated with an outer stairway by means of which one could reach the
poker rooms.

The older of the two young men at the table nodded toward the roisterers
and murmured information. "Some of the Snaith-McRobert crowd."

His companion was seated with his back to the bar. He had riot turned his
head to look at those lined up in front of the mirrors for drinks, but a
curious change had come over him. The relaxed body had grown rigid. No
longer was he lounging against the back of his chair. From his eyes the
laughter had been wiped out, as a wet sponge obliterates writing on a
slate. All his forces were gathered as if for instant action. He was
tense as a coiled spring. His friend noticed that the boy was listening
intently, every faculty concentrated at attention.

A man leaning against the other end of the bar was speaking. He had a
shock of long red hair and a squint to his eyes.

"Sure you're right. A bunch of Webb's gunmen got Ranse--caught him out
alone and riddled him. When Webb drove through here two days ago with
a herd, his killers bragged of it. Ask Harsha up at the Buffalo Corral if
youse don't believe me. Sure as hell's hot we got to go on the war-path.
Here, you Mike! Set 'em up again."

The boy at the table had drawn back his lips so that the canine teeth
stood out like tusks. There was something wolfish about the face, from
which all the color had been driven. It expressed something so deadly, so
menacing, that the young man across from him felt a shock almost of fear.
"We'd better get out of here," he said, glancing toward the group near
the front door.

The other young man did not answer, but he made no move to leave. He was
still taking in every syllable of what the drinkers were saying.

The ex-guerrilla was talking. "Tha's sure sayin' something, Hugh. There
ain't room in New Mexico for Webb's outfit an' ours too."

"Better go slow, boys," advised another. He was a thick-set man in the
late thirties, tight-lipped and heavy-jawed. His eyes were set so close
together that it gave him a sinister expression. "Talkin' don't get us
anywhere. If we're goin' to sit in a game with Homer Webb an' his
punchers we got to play our hand close."

"Buck Sanders, segundo of the Lazy S M ranches," explained again the
young man at the table in a low voice. "Say, kid, let's beat it while
the goin' is good."

The big bow-legged man answered the foreman. "You're right, Buck. So's
Hugh. So's the old rebel. I'm jus' servin' notice that no bunch of
shorthorn punchers can kill a brother of mine an' get away with it.
Un'erstand? I'll meet up with them some day an' I'll sure fog 'em to a
fare-you-well." He interlarded his speech with oaths and foul language.

"I'll bet you do, Dave," chipped in the man next him, who had had a
run-in with the Texas Rangers and was on the outskirts of civilization
because the Lone Star State did not suit his health. "I would certainly
hate to be one of them when yore old six-gun begins to pop. It sure will
be Glory-hallelujah for some one."

Dave Roush ordered another drink on the strength of the Texan's
admiration. "Mind, I don't say Ranse wasn't a good man. Mebbe I'm a
leetle mite better 'n him with a hogleg. Mebbe--"

"Ranse was good with a revolver all right, but sho! you make him look
like a plugged nickel when you go to makin' smoke, Dave," interrupted the
toady.

"Well, mebbe I do. Say I do. I ain't yet met up with a man can beat me
when I'm right. But at that Ranse was a mighty good man. They bushwhacked
him, I'll bet a stack of blues. I aim to git busy soon as I find out who
done it."

The red-headed man raised his voice a trifle. "Say, you kid--there at the
table--come here an' hold these ropes! See you don't let the hawses at
the other end of 'em git away!"

Slowly the boy turned, pushing his chair round so that he half-faced the
group before the bar. He neither rose nor answered.

"Cayn't you-all hear?" demanded the man with the shock of unkempt, red
hair.

"I hear, but I'm not comin' right away. When I do, you'll wish I hadn't."

If a bomb had exploded at his feet Hugh Roush could not have been more
surprised. He was a big, rough man, muscular and sinewy, and he had been
the victor of many a rough-and-tumble fight. On account of his reputation
for quarrelsomeness men chose their words carefully when they spoke to
him. That this little fellow with the smooth, girlish face and the small,
almost womanish hands and feet should defy him was hard to believe.

"Come a-runnin', kid, or I'll whale the life out of you!" he roared.

"You didn't get me right," answered the boy in a low, clear voice. "I'm
not comin' till I get ready, Hugh Roush."

The wolf snap of the boy's jaw, the cold glitter in his eyes, might have
warned Roush and perhaps did. He wondered, too, how this stranger knew
his name so well.

"Where are you from?" he demanded.

"From anywhere but here,"

"Meanin' that you're here to stay?"

"Meanin' that I'm here to stay."

"Even if I tell you to git out of the country?"

"You won't be alive to tell me unless you talk right sudden."

They watched each other, the man and the boy. Neither as yet made any
motion to draw his gun, the younger one because he was not ready, Roush
because he did not want to show any premature alarm before the men taking
in the scene. Nor could he yet convince himself, in spite of the
challenge that rang in the words of the boy, of serious danger from so
unlikely a source.

Dave Roush had been watching the boy closely. A likeness to someone whom
he could not place stirred faintly his memory.

"Who are you? What's yore name?" he snapped out.

The boy had risen from the chair. His hand rested on his hip as if
casually. But Dave had observed the sureness of his motions and he
accepted nothing as of chance. The experience of Roush was that a gunman
lives longer if he is cautious. His fingers closed on the butt of the
revolver at his side.

"My name is James Clanton."

Roush let fall a surprised oath. "It's 'Lindy Clanton you look like!
You're her brother--the kid, Jimmie."

"You've guessed it, Devil Dave."

The eyes of the two crossed like rapiers.

"Howcome you here? Whad you want?" asked Roush thickly.

Already he had made up his mind to kill, but he wanted to choose his own
moment. The instinct of the killer is always to take his enemy at
advantage. Clanton, with that sixth sense which serves the fighter, read
his purpose as if he had printed it on a sign.

"You know why I'm here--to stomp the life out of you an' yore brother for
what you done to my sister. I've listened to yore brags about what you
would do when you met up with them that killed Ranse Roush. Fine! Now
let's see you make good. I'm the man that ran him down an' put an end to
him. Go through, you four-flushin' coward! Come a-shootin' whenever
you're ready."

The young Southerner had a definite motive in his jeering. He wanted to
drive his enemies to attack him before they could come at him from two
sides.

"You--you killed Ranse?"

"You heard me say it once." The eyes of the boy flashed for a moment to
the red-headed man. "Whyfor are you dodgin' back of the bar, Hugh
Roush? Ain't odds of two to one good enough for you--an' that one only a
kid--without you runnin' to cover like the coyote you are? Looks like
you'll soon be whinin' for me not to shoot, just like Ranse did."

If any one had cared to notice, the colored roust-about might have been
seen at that moment vanishing out of the back door to a zone of safety.
He showed no evidence whatever of being sleepy.

The silence that followed the words of the boy was broken by Quantrell's
old grayback. Dave Roush was a bad man--a killer. He had three notches on
his gun. Perhaps he had killed others before coming West. At any rate, he
was no fair match for this undersized boy.

"He's a kid, Dave. You don't want to gun a kid. You, Clanton--whatever
you call yourself--light a shuck pronto--git out!"

It is the habit of the killer to look for easy game. Out of the corner of
his eye the man who had betrayed 'Lindy Clanton saw that Hugh was edging
back of the bar and dragging out his gun. This boy could be killed safely
now, since they were two to one, both of them experts with the revolver.
To let him escape would be to live in constant danger for the future.

"He's askin' for it, Reb. He's goin' to get it."

Dave Roush pulled his gun, but before he could use it two shots rang out
almost simultaneously. The man at the corner of the bar had the
advantage. His revolver was in the clear before that of Clanton, but Jim
fired from the hip without apparent aim. The bullet was flung from the
barrel an imperceptible second before that of Roush. The gunman, hit in
the wrist of the right hand, gave a grunt and took shelter back of the
bar.

The bystanders scurried for safety while explosion followed explosion.
Young Clanton, light-footed as a cat, side-stepped and danced about as
he fired. The first shot of the red-headed man had hit him and the shock
of it interfered with his accuracy. Hugh had disappeared, but above the
smoke the youngster still saw the cruel face of Devil Dave leering
triumphantly at him behind the pumping gun.

The boy kept moving, so that his body did not offer a static target. He
concentrated his attention on Dave, throwing shot after shot at him. That
he would kill his enemy Clanton never had a doubt. It was firmly fixed in
his mind that he had been sent as the appointed executioner of the man.

It was no surprise to Jim when the face of his sister's betrayer lurched
forward into the smoke. He heard Roush fall heavily to the floor and saw
the weapon hurled out of reach. The fellow lay limp and still.

Clanton did not waste a second look at the fallen man. He knew that the
other Roush, crouched behind the bar, had been firing at him through the
woodwork. Now a bullet struck the wall back of his head. The red-headed
man had fired looking through a knot-hole.

The boy's weapon covered a spot three inches above this. He fired
instantly. A splinter flew from a second hole just above the first.
Three long, noiseless strides brought Clanton to the end of the bar. The
red-headed man lay dead on the floor. The bullet had struck him just
above and between the eyes.

"I reckon that ends the job."

It was Jim's voice that said the words, though he hardly recognized it.
Overcome by a sudden nausea, he leaned against the bar for support. He
felt sick through and through.



Chapter IX

Billie Stands Pat


Clanton came back out of the haze to find his friend's arm around his
waist, the sound of his strong, cheerful voice in his ears.

"Steady, old fellow, steady. Where did they hit you, Jim?"

"In the shoulder. I'm sick."

Billie supported him to a chair and called to the bartender, who was
cautiously rising from a prone position behind the bar. "Bring a glass of
water, Mike."

The wounded man drank the water, and presently the sickness passed. He
saw a little crowd gather. Some of them carried out the body of Hugh
Roush. They returned for that of his brother.

"Dave ain't dead yet. He's still breathing," one of the men said.

"Not dead!" exclaimed Clanton. "Did you say he wasn't dead?"

"Now, don't you worry about that," cautioned Prince. "Looks to me like
you sure got him. Anyhow, it ain't your fault. You were that quiet and
game and cool. I never saw the beat."

The admiration of his partner did not comfort Jim. He was suspiciously
near a breakdown. "Why didn't I take another crack at him when I had the
chance?" he whimpered. "I been waitin' all these years, an' now--"

"I tell you he hasn't a chance in a thousand, Jim. You did the job
thorough. He's got his,"

Prince had been intending to say more, but he changed his mind. Half a
dozen men were coming toward them from the front door. Buck Sanders was
one of them, Quantrell's trooper another. Their manner looked like
business.

Sanders was the spokesman. "You boys ride for the Flying V Y, don't you?"
he asked curtly.

"We do," answered Billie, and his voice was just as cold. It had in it
the snap of a whiplash.

"You came in here to pick trouble with us. Your pardner--Clanton,
whatever his name is--gave it out straight that he was goin' to kill
Roush."

"He didn't mention you, did he?"

"The Roush brothers were in our party. We ride for the Lazy S M. We don't
make distinctions."

"Don't you? Listen," advised Prince. In five sentences he sketched the
cause of the trouble between Jim Clanton and the Roush brothers. "My
bunkie didn't kill any of the Roush clan because they worked for Snaith
and McRobert. He shot them for the reason I've just given you. That's his
business. It was a private feud of his own. You heard what was said
before the shootin' began," he concluded.

"Tha's what you say. You'll tell us, too, that he got Ranse Roush in a
fair fight. But you've got to show us proof," Sanders said with a sneer.

"I expect just now you'll have to take my word and his. I'll tell you
this. Ranse Roush was a renegade. He was ridin' with a bunch of bronco
bucks. They attacked the Roubideau place an' we rode--Jim an' I did--to
help Pierre an' his family. We drove the 'Paches off, but they picked up
Miss Pauline while she was out ridin' alone. We took after 'em. I got
wounded an' Jim here went up a gulch lickety-split to catch the red
devils. He got four 'Paches an' one hell-hound of a renegade. Is there a
white man here that blames him for it?"

When all is said, the prince of deadly weapons at close range is the
human eye. Billie was standing beside his friend, one hand resting
lightly on his shoulder. The cowpuncher was as lithe and clean of build
as a mastiff, but it was the steady candor of his honest eye that spoke
most potently.

"Naturally you tell a good story," retorted the foreman with dry
incredulity. "It's up to you to come through with an explanation of why
Webb's men have just gunned three of our friends. Your story doesn't make
any hit with me. I don't believe a word of it."

"You can take it or let it alone. It goes as I've told it," Prince cut
back shortly.

Another man spoke up. He was a tinhorn gambler of Los Portales and for
reasons of his own foregathered with the Snaith-McRobert faction. "Look
here, young fellow. You may or may not be in this thing deep. I'm willin'
to give you the benefit of the doubt if my friends are. I'd hate to see
you bumped off when you didn't do any of the killin'. All we want is
justice. This is a square town. When bad men go too far we plant 'em on
Boot Hill. Understand? Now you slide out of the back door, slap a saddle
on your bronc, an' hit the high spots out of here,"

"And Clanton?" asked Billie.

"We'll attend to Clanton's case,"

A faint smile touched the sardonic face of Prince. "What did you ever see
me do to give you the notion that I was yellow, Bancock?"

"This ain't your affair. You step aside an' let justice--"

"If those that holler for justice loudest had it done to them there would
be a lot of squealin' outside of hogpens."

"You won't take that offer, then?"

"Not this year of our Lord, thank you."

"You've had your chance. If you turn it down you're liable to go out of
here feet first."

Not a muscle twitched in the lean, brown face of the young cowpuncher.
"Cut loose whenever you're ready."

"Hold yore hawsses, friend," advised the ex-guerrilla, not unkindly.
"There's no occasion whatever for you to run on the rope. We are six to
two, countin' the kid, who's got about all he can carry for one day.
We're here askin' questions, an' it's reasonable for you to answer 'em."

"I have answered 'em. I'll answer all you want to ask. But I'd think you
would feel cheap to come kickin' about that fight. My friend fought fair.
You know best whether your friends did. He took 'em at odds of two to
one, an' at that one of your gunmen hunted cover. What's troublin you,
anyhow? Didn't you have all the breaks? Do you want an open an' shut
cinch?"

"You're quite a lawyer," replied Dumont, the man who found the climate of
Texas unhealthy. "I reckon it would take a good one to talk himself out
of the hole you're in."

Billie looked at the man and Dumont decided that he did not have a
speaking part in the scene. He was willing to remain one of the mob. In
point of fact, after what he had seen in the last few minutes, he was not
at all anxious to force the issue to actual battle. A good strong bluff
would suit him a great deal better. Even odds of six to two were not
good enough considering the demonstration he had witnessed.

"What is it you want? Another showdown?" asked Clanton unexpectedly.

Quantrell's man laughed. "I never did see such a fire-eater."

He turned to his companions. "I told you how it would be. We can't prove
a thing against the kid except that he was lookin' for a fight an' got
it. He played the hand that was dealt him an' he played it good. I reckon
we'll have to let him go this time, boys."

"We'll make a mistake if we do," differed Sanders.

"You'll make one if you don't," said Prince pointedly.

He stood poised, every nerve and muscle set to a hair-trigger for swift
action. Of those facing him not one of the six but knew they would have
to pay the price before they could exact vengeance for the death of the
Roush brothers.

"What's the use of beefing?" grumbled a one-armed puncher in the rear.
"They shot up three of our friends. What more do you want?"

"Don't be in a hurry, Albeen," advised Billie. "It's easy to start
something. We all know you burn powder quick. You're a sure-enough bad
man. But I've got a hunch it's goin' to be your funeral as well as mine
if once the band begins to play."

"That so?" replied Albeen with heavy sarcasm. "You talk like you was
holdin' a royal flush, my friend."

"I'm holdin' a six-full an' Clanton has another. We're sittin' in
strong."

Dumont proposed a compromise. "Why not just arrest 'em an' hold 'em at
Bluewater till we find whether their story is true?"

"Bring a warrant along before you try that," Billie countered. "Think we
were born yesterday? No Lazy S M sheriff, judge, an' jury for me, if you
please."

The old guerrilla nodded. "That's reasonable, too. We haven't got a leg
to stand on, boys. This young fellow's story may be true an' it may not.
All we know is what we've seen. Clanton here took a mighty slim chance of
comin' through alive when he tackled Dave an' Hugh Roush. I wouldn't have
give a chew of tobacco against a week's pay for it. He fought fair,
didn't he? Now he's come through I'll be doggoned if I want to jump on
him again."

"You're too soft for this country, Reb," sneered Albeen. "Better go back
to Arkansas or wherever you come from."

"When I get ready. You don't mean right away, Albeen, do you?" demanded
the old-timer sharply.

"Well, don't hang around all day," said Prince, his eye full in that of
the foreman. "Make up your minds whether you want to jump one man an' a
wounded boy. If you don't mean business I'd like to have a doctor look at
my friend's shoulder."

Sanders's eyes fell at last before the quiet steadiness of that gaze.
With an oath he turned on his heel and strode from the gambling-hall. His
party straggled morosely after him. The old raider lingered for a last
word.

"Take a fool's advice, Prince. There's a gunbarrel road leads out of town
for the north. Hit it pronto. Stay with it till you come up with Webb's
herd. You won't see his dust any too soon."

"I guess you're right, Reb," agreed Prince.

"You know I'm right. Just now you've got the boys bluffed, but it isn't
going to last. They'll get busy lappin' up drinks. Quite a crowd of town
toughs will join 'em. By night they'll be all primed up for a lynching.
I'd spoil their party if I was you by bein' distant absentees."

"Soon as I can get Jim's shoulder fixed up we'll be joggin' along if he's
able to travel," promised Billie.

"Good enough. And I'd see he was able if it was me."



Chapter X

Bud Proctor Lends a Hand


After the doctor had dressed the wounded shoulder he ordered Clanton to
go to bed at once and stay there. "What he needs is rest, proper food,
and sleep. See he gets them."

"I'll try," said Billie dryly. "Sometimes a fellow can't sleep when he's
got a lead pill in him, doctor. Could you give me something to help him
forget the pain an' the fever?"

The doctor made up some powders. "One every two hours till he gets to
sleep. I'll come and see him in the morning. You're at the Proctor House,
aren't you?"

"Yes."

"Is Roush goin' to live?" asked Jim.

The professional man looked at the boy speculatively. He wondered whether
the young fellow was suffering qualms of conscience. Since he did not
believe in the indiscriminate shooting in vogue on the frontier, he was
willing this youngster should worry a bit.

"Not one chance for him in a hundred," he replied brusquely.

"That's good. I'd hate to have to do it all over again. Have you got the
makin's with you, Billie?" Clanton asked evenly.

"I've got a plain and simple word for such killings," the doctor said,
flushing. "I find it in my Bible."

"That's where my dad found it too, doctor."

With which cryptic utterance Clanton led the way out of the office to the
hotel.

Jimmie lay down dressed on the bed of their joint room while his friend
went down to the porch to announce to sundry loafers, from whom the news
would spread over town shortly, that Clanton had gone to sleep and was on
no account to be disturbed till morning.

Later in the afternoon Billie might have been seen fixing a stirrup
leather for Bud Proctor, the fourteen-year-old heir of the hotel
proprietor. He and the youngster appeared to be having a bully time on
the porch, but it was noticeable that the cowpuncher, for all his manner
of casual carelessness, sat close to the wall in the angle of an L so
that nobody could approach him unobserved.

In an admiring trance Bud had followed the two friends from the office of
the doctor. Now he was in the seventh heaven at being taken into
friendship by one of these heroes. At last he screwed up his courage to
refer to the affair at Tolleson's.

"Say, Daniel Boone ain't got a thing on yore friend, has he? Jiminy, I'd
like to go with you both when you leave town."

Billie spoke severely. "Get that notion right out of your haid, Bud.
You're goin' to stay right here at home. I'll tell you another thing
while we're on that subject. Don't you get to thinkin' that killers are
fine people. They ain't. Some of 'em aren't even game. They take all
kinds of advantage an' they're a cruel, cold-blooded lot. Never forget
that. I'm not talkin' about Jim Clanton, understand. He did what he
thought he had to do. I don't say he was right. I don't say he was wrong.
But I will say that this country would be a whole lot better off if we'd
all put our guns away."

Bud sniffed. "If you hadn't had yore guns this mornin' I'd like to know
where you'd 'a' been."

"True enough. I can't travel unarmed because of Indians an' bad men.
What I say is that some day we'll all be brave enough to go without our
hog-legs. I'll be glad when that day comes."

"An' when you two went up Escondido Cañon after the Mescaleros that had
captured Miss Roubideau? I heard Dad Wrayburn tellin' all about it at
supper here one night. Well, what if you hadn't had any guns?" persisted
Bud.

"That would have been tough luck," admitted Prince, holding up the
leather to examine his work. "Learn to shoot if you like, Bud, but
remember that guns aren't made to kill folks with. They're for buffaloes
an' antelope an' coyotes."

"Didn't you ever kill any one?"

"Haven't you had any bringin' up?" Billie wanted to know indignantly
"I've a good mind to put you across my knee an' whale you with this
leather. I've a notion to quit you here an' now. Don't you know better
than to ask such questions?"

"It--it slipped out," whimpered Bud. "I'll never do it again."

"See you don't. Now I'm goin' to give you a chance to make good with me
an' my friend, Bud. Can you keep a secret?"

The eyes of the boy began to shine. "Crickey. You just try me, Mr.
Prince."

"All right. I will. But first I must know that you are our friend."

"Cross my heart an' hope to die. Honest, I am."

"I believe you, Bud. Well, the Snaith-McRobert outfit intend to lynch me
an' my friend to-night."

The face of the boy became all eyes. He was too astonished to speak.

"Our only chance is to get out of town. Jim is supposed to be so bad I
can't move him. But if you can find an' saddle horses for us we'll slip
out the back door at dusk an' make our get-away. Do you think you can get
us horses an' some food without tellin' anybody what for?" asked the
cowboy.

"I'll get yore own horses from the corral."

"No. That won't do. If you saddled them, that would arouse suspicion at
once. You must bring two horses an' tie 'em to the back fence just as if
you were goin' ridin' yourself. Then we'll take 'em when you come into
the house. Make the tie with a slip knot. We may be in a hurry."

"Gee! This beats 'Hal Hiccup, the Boy Demon,'" crowed Bud, referring to a
famous hero of Nickel Library fame. "I'll sure get you horses all right."

"I'll make arrangements to have the horses sent back. Bring 'em round
just as it begins to get dark an' whistle a bar of 'Yankee Doodle' when
you get here. Now cut your stick, Bud. Don't be seen near me any more."

The boy decamped. His face, unable to conceal his excitement at this
blessed adventure which had fallen from heaven upon him, was trying to
say "Golly!" without the use of words.

During the next hour or two Bud was a pest. Twenty times he asked
different men mysteriously what o'clock it was. When he was sent to the
store for pickles he brought back canned tomatoes. Set to weeding onions,
he pulled up weeds and vegetables impartially. A hundred times he cast a
longing glance at the westering sun.

So impatient was he that he could not quite wait till dusk. He slipped
around to the Elephant Corral by a back way and picked out two horses
that suited him. Then he went boldly to the owner of the stable.

"Mr. Sanders sent me to bring to him that sorrel and the white-foot bay.
Said you'd know his saddle. It doesn't matter which of the other saddles
you use."

Ten minutes later Bud was walking through the back yard of the hotel
whistling shrilly "Yankee Doodle." It happened that his father was an
ex-Confederate and "Dixie" was more to the boy's taste, but he enjoyed
the flavor of the camouflage he was employing. It fitted into his new
role of Bud Proctor, Scout of the Pecos.

The fugitives slipped down the back stairway of the Proctor House and
into the garden. In another moment they were astride and moving out to
the sparsely settled suburbs of town.

"Did you notice the brand on the horse you're ridin', Jim?" asked Prince
with a grin.

"Same brand's on your bay, Billie--the Lazy S M. Did you tell that kid to
steal us two horses?"

"No, but you've said it. I'm on the bronc Sanders rides, and you an' I
are horse-thieves now as well as killers. This certainly gets us in bad."

"I've a notion to turn back yet," said Jim, with the irritability of a
sick man. "How in Mexico did he happen to light on Snaith-McRobert stock?
Looks like he might have found somethin' else for us."

"Bud has too much imagination," admitted Prince ruefully. "I'd bet a
stack of blues he picked these hawsses on purpose--probably thought it
would be a great joke on Sanders an' his crew."

"Well, I don't like it. They've got us where they want us now."

Billie did not like it either. To kill a man on the frontier then in fair
fight was a misdemeanor. To steal a horse was a capital offense. Many a
bronco thief ended his life at the end of a rope in the hands of
respectable citizens who had in the way of business snuffed out the lives
of other respectable citizens. Both of the Flying VY riders knew that if
they were caught with the stock, it would be of no avail with Sanders to
plead that they had no intention of stealing. Possession would be _prima
facie_ evidence of guilt.

"It's too late to go back now," Prince decided.

"We'll travel night an' day till we reach the old man an' have him send
the bones back. I hate to do it, but we have no choice. Anyhow, we might
as well be hanged for stealin' a horse as for anything else."

They topped a hill and came face to face with a rider traveling town
ward. His gaze took in the animals carrying the fugitives and jumped to
the face of Billie. In the eyes of the man was an expression blended of
suspicion and surprise. He passed with a nod and a surly "'Evenin'."

"Fine luck we're havin', Billie," commented his friend with a little
laugh. "I give Sanders twenty minutes to be on our trail."



Chapter XI

The Fugitives


Through the gathering darkness Prince watched the figure of his companion
droop. The slim, lithe body sagged and the shoulders were heavy with
exhaustion. Both small hands clung to the pommel of the saddle. It took
no prophet to see that in his present condition the wounded man would
never travel the gun-barrel road as far as the dust of the Flying V Y
herd. Even by easy stages he could not do it, and with pursuit thundering
at their heels the ride would be a cruel, grilling one.

"How about pullin' a little strategy on Sanders, Jim? Instead of hittin'
the long trail, let's circle back around the town, strike the river, make
camp, an' lie low in the chaparral. Does that listen good to you?"

Young Clanton looked at his friend suspiciously. The younger man was
fagged out and in a good deal of pain. The jolting of the pony's
movements jarred the bandages on the wound. Already his fever was high
and he had moments of light-headedness. He knew that his partner was
proposing to jeopardize his own chances of escape in order to take care
of him.

"No, sir. We'll keep goin' right ahead," he said irritably. "Think I'm a
quitter? Think I'm goin' to lie down on you?"

"Would I be likely to think that?" asked Billie gently. "What I'm
thinking is that both of us would be better for a good night's rest. Why
not throw off an' camp in the darkness? While we're sleepin' Sanders an'
his posse will be ridin' the hearts out of their horses. It looks like
good business to me to let 'em go to it."

"No," said Jim obstinately. "No. We'll keep ridin'."

Prince knew that the other understood what he was trying to do, and that
his pride--and perhaps something better than pride--would not accept
such a sacrifice. Billie said no more, but his mind still wrestled with
the problem before him. It was impossible, while his comrade was so badly
hurt, to hold a pace that would keep them ahead of the Lazy S M riders.
Already Sanders must be gaining on them, and to make matters worse
Clanton drew down to a walk. His high-pitched voice and disjointed
expressions told the older man that he was at the beginning of delirium.

"What do you mean, standing there and grinnin' at me like a wolf, Dave
Roush? I killed you once. You're dead an' buried. How come you alive
again? Then shoot, both of you! Come out from cover, Hugh Roush." He
stopped, and took the matter up from another angle. "You're a liar, you
coyote. I'm not runnin' away. Two to one ... two to one ... I'll ride
back an' gun you both. I'm a-comin' now."

He pulled up and turned his horse. Faintly there came to Billie the
thudding of horses' hoofs. In five minutes it would be too late to save
either the sick man or himself. It never occurred to him for a moment to
desert Clanton. Somehow he must get him into the chaparral, and without
an instant's delay. His mind seized on the delirious fancy of the young
fellow.

"You're sure right, Jim," he said quietly. "I'd go an' gun them too. I'll
ride with you an' see fair play. They're out here in the brush. Come on."

"No. They're back in town. Leave 'em to me. Don't you draw, Billie."

"All right. But they're over here to our right. I saw 'em there. Come.
We'll sneak up on 'em so that they can't run when they hear you."

Billie turned. He swung his horse into the mesquite. His heart was heavy
with anxiety. Would the wounded man accept his lead? Or would his
obstinacy prevail?

"Here they are. Right ahead here," continued Prince.

Followed a moment of suspense, then came the crashing of brush as Clanton
moved after him.

"S-sh! Ride softly, Jim. We don't want 'em to hear us an' get away."

"Tha's right. Tha's sure right. You said somethin' then, Billie. But
they'll not get away. Haven't I slept on their trail four years? They're
mine at last."

Prince was drawing him farther from the road. But the danger was not yet
over. As the posse passed, some member of it might hear them, or young
Clanton might hear it and gallop out to the road under the impression he
was going to meet Dave Roush. Billie twisted in and out of the brush,
never for an instant letting his friend pull up. On a moving horse one
cannot hear so distinctly as on one standing still.

At last Billie began to breathe more easily. The pursuers must have
passed before this. He could give his attention to the sick man.

Jim was clutching desperately to the saddle-horn. The fever was gaining
on him and the delirium worse. He talked incessantly, sometimes
incoherently. From one subject to another he went, but always he came
back to Dave Roush and his brother. He dared them to stand up and fight.
He called on them to stop running, to wait for him. Then he trailed off
into a string of epithets usually ending in sobs of rage.

The sickness of the young man tore the heart of his companion. Every
instinct of kindness urged him to stop, make up a bed for the wounded
boy, and let him rest from the agony of travel. But he dared not stop
yet. He had to keep going till they reached a place of temporary safety.

With artful promises of immediate vengeance upon his enemies, by means of
taunts at him as a quitter, through urgent proddings that reached
momentarily the diseased mind, Prince kept him moving through the brush.
The sweat stood out on the white face of the young fellow shining ghastly
in the moonlight.

After what seemed an interminable time they could see from a mesa the
lights of Los Portales. Billie left the town well to his right, skirted
the pastures on the outskirts, and struck the river four miles farther
down.

While they were still a long way from it the boy collapsed completely and
slid from the saddle to which he had so long clung. His friend uncinched
and freed the sorrel, lifted the slack body to his own horse, and walked
beside the animal to steady the lurching figure.

At the bank of the river he stopped and lifted the body to the ground. It
lay limp and slack where the cowpuncher set it down. Through the white
shoulder dressings a stain of red had soaked. For a moment Billie was
shaken by the fear that the Arizonian might be dead, but he rejected it
as not at all likely. Yet when he held his hand against the heart of the
wounded man he was not sure that he could detect a beating.

From the river he brought water in his hat and splashed it into the white
face. He undid the shoulder bandages, soaked them in cold water, and
rebound the wound. Between the clenched teeth he forced a few drops of
whiskey from his flask.

The eyelids fluttered and slowly opened.

"Where are we, Billie?" the sick man asked; then added: "How did we get
away from 'em?"

"Went into the brush an' doubled back to the river. I'm goin' to hunt a
place where we can lie hid for a few days."

"Oh, I'll be all right by mornin'. Did I fall off my hawss?"

"Yes. I had to turn your sorrel loose. Soon as I've picked a permanent
camp I'll have to let mine go too. Some one would be sure to stumble on
it an' go to guessin'."

After a moment the sick man spoke quietly. "You're a good pal, Billie. I
haven't known many men would take a long chance like this for a fellow
they hadn't met a month ago."

"I'm not forgettin' how you rode up Escondido when I asked you to go."

"You got a lot of sabe, too. You don't go bullin' Into a fight when
there's a good reason for stayin' out. At Tolleson's if you had drawn
yore gun when the shootin' was on, the whole Lazy S M would have pitched
in an' riddled us both. They kept out because you did. That gave me a
chance to come through alive."

The Texan registered embarrassment with a grin. "Yes, I'm the boy wonder
of the Brazos," he admitted.

A faint, unexpected gleam of humor lay for a moment in the eyes of the
sick man. "I got you where the wool's short, Billie. I can throw bouquets
at you an' you got to stand hitched because I'm sick. Doc says to humor
me. If I holler for the moon you climb up an' get it."

"I'll rope it for you," assented the cowpuncher. "How's the game
shoulder?"

"Hurts like Heligoland. Say, ain't I due for one of them sleep powders
Doc fixed up so careful?"

His companion gave him one, after which he folded his coat and put it
under the head of Clanton, Over him he threw a saddle blanket.

"Back soon," he promised.

The sick man nodded weakly.

Billie swung to the saddle and turned down the river. Unfortunately the
country here was an open one. Along the sandy shore of the stream the
mesquite was thin. There was no soapweed and very little cactus. The
terrain of the hill country farther back was rougher, more full of
pockets, and covered with heavier brush. But it was necessary for the
fugitives to remain close to water.

What Prince hoped to find was some sort of cave or overhanging ledge of
shale under which they could lie hidden until Jim's strength returned
sufficiently to permit of travel. The problem would be at best a
difficult one. They had little food, scarce dared light a fire, and
Clanton was in no condition to stand exposure in case the weather grew
bad. Even if the boy weathered the sickness, it would not be possible for
him to walk hundreds of miles in his weakened condition. But this was a
matter which did not press for an answer. Billie intended to cross no
bridges until he came to them. Just now he must focus his mind on keeping
the wounded man alive and out of the hands of his enemies.

Beyond a bend he came upon a jutting bank that for lack of better might
serve his purpose. He could scoop out a cave in which his partner might
lie protected from the hot midday sun. If he filled the mouth with tumble
weeds during the day they might escape observation for a time.

When the Texan returned to his friend, he found him in restless slumber.
He tossed to and fro, muttering snatches of incoherent talk. The wound
seemed to pain him even in his sleep, for he moved impatiently as though
trying to throw off some weight lying heavy upon it.

But when he awoke his mind was apparently clear. He met Billie's anxious
look with a faint, white-lipped smile. To his friend the young fellow had
the signs of a very sick man. It was a debatable question whether to risk
moving him now or take the almost hopeless chance of escaping detection
where they were.

Prince put the decision on Jim himself. The answer came feebly, but
promptly.

"Sure, move me. What's one little--bullet in the shoulder, Billie? Gimme
some sleep--an' I'll be up an' kickin'."

Yet the older man noticed that his white lips could scarcely find
strength to make the indomitable boast.

Very gently Billie lifted the wounded man and put him on the back of the
cowpony. He held him there and guided the animal through the sand to
the bend. Clanton hung on with clenched teeth, calling on the last ounce
of power in his exhausted body with his strong will.

"Just a hundred yards more," urged the walking man as they rounded the
bend. "We're 'most there now."

He lifted the slack body down and put it in the sand. The hands of the
boy were ice cold. The sap of life was low in him. Prince covered him
with the blankets and his coat. He gave him a sup or two of whiskey, then
gathered buffalo chips and made a fire in which he heated some large
rocks. These he tucked in beneath the blankets beside the shivering body.
Slowly the heat warmed the invalid. After a time he fell once more into
troubled sleep.

Billie drove his horse away and pelted it with stones to a trot. He could
not keep it with him without risking discovery, but he was almost as much
afraid that its arrival in Los Portales might start a search for the
hidden fugitives. There was always a chance, of course, that the bay
would stop to graze on the plains and not be found for a day or two.

The rest of the night the Texan put in digging a cave with a piece of
slaty shale. The clay of the bank was soft and he made fair progress. The
dirt he scooped out was thrown by him into the river.



Chapter XII

The Good Samaritan


A girl astride a buckskin pony rode down to the river to water her mount.
She carried across the pommel of her saddle a small rifle. Hanging from
the cantle strings was a wild turkey she had shot.

It was getting along toward evening and she was on her way back to Los
Portales. The girl was a lover of the outdoors and she had been hunting
alone. In the clear, amber light of afternoon the smoke of the town rose
high into the sky, though the trading post itself could not be seen until
she rounded the bend.

As her horse drank, a strange thing happened. At a point directly
opposite her a bunch of tumble weeds had gathered against the bank of the
shrunken stream. Something agitated them, and from among the brush the
head and shoulders of a man projected.

Without an instant of delay the girl slipped from the pony and led it
behind a clump of mesquite. Through this she peered intently, watching
every move of the man, who had by this time come out into the open. He
went down to the river, filled his hat with water, and disappeared among
the tumble weeds, gathering them closely to conceal the entrance of his
cave.

The young woman remounted, rode downstream an eighth of a mile, splashed
through to the other side, and tied her pony to a stunted live-oak. Rifle
in hand she crept cautiously along the bank and came to a halt behind a
cottonwood thirty yards from the cave. Here she waited, patiently,
silently, as many a time she had done while stalking the game she was
used to hunting.

The minutes passed, ran into an hour. The westering sun slid down close
to the horizon's edge. Still the girl held her vigil. At last the brush
moved once more and the man reappeared. His glance swept the landscape,
the river-bank, the opposite shore. Apparently satisfied, he came out
from his hiding-place, and began to gather brush for a fire.

He was stooped, his back toward her, when the voice of the girl startled
him to rigidity.

"Hands in the air!"

He did not at once obey. His head turned to see who this Amazon might be.

"Can't you hear? Reach for the sky!" she ordered sharply.

She had risen and stepped from behind the tree. He could see that she was
dark, of a full, fine figure, and that her steady black eyes watched him
without the least fear. The rifle in her hands covered him very steadily.

His hands went up, but he could not keep a little, sardonic smile from
his face. The young woman lowered the rifle from her shoulder and moved
warily forward.

"Lie down on the sand, face to the ground, hands outstretched!" came her
next command.

Billie did as he was told. A little tug at his side gave notice to him
that she had deftly removed his revolver.

"Sit up!"

The cowpuncher sat up and took notice. Stars of excitement snapped in the
eyes of this very competent young woman. The color beat warmly through
her dark skin. She was very well worth looking at.

"What's your name?" she demanded.

"My road brand is Billie Prince," he answered.

"Thought so. Where's the other man?"

He nodded toward the cave.

"Call him out," she said curtly.

"I hate to wake him. He's been wounded. All day he's been in a high fever
and he's asleep at last."

For the first time her confidence seemed a little shaken. She hesitated.
"Is he badly hurt?"

"He'd get well if he could have proper attention, but a wounded man can't
stand to be jolted around the way he's been since he was shot."

"Do you mean that you think he's going to die?"

"I don't know." After a moment he added: "He's mighty sick."

"He ought never to have left town."

"Oughtn't he?" said Prince dryly. "If you'll inquire you'll find we had a
good reason for leavin'."

"Well, you're going to have another good reason for going back," she told
him crisply. "I'll send a buckboard for him."

"Aren't you takin' a heap of trouble on our account?" he inquired
ironically.

"That's my business."

"And mine. Are you the sheriff of Washington County, ma'am?"

A pulse of anger beat in her throat. Her long-lashed eyes flashed
imperiously at him. "It doesn't matter who I am. You'll march to town in
front of my horse."

"Maybe so."

The voice of the sick man began to babble querulously. Both of those
outside listened.

"He's awake," the girl said. "Bring him out here and let me see him."

Billie had an instinct that sometimes served him well. He rose promptly.

"Para sirvir usted" ("At your service"), he murmured.

"Don't try to start anything. I'll have you covered every second."

"I believe you. It won't be necessary to demonstrate, ma'am."

The cowpuncher carried his friend out from the cave and put him down
gently in the sand.

"Why, he's only a boy!" she cried in surprise.

"He was man enough to go up against half a dozen 'Paches alone to save
Pauline Roubideau," Billie said simply.

She looked up with quick interest. "I've heard that story. Is it true?"

"It's true. And he was man enough to fight it out to a finish against two
bad men yesterday."

"But he can't be more than eighteen." She watched for a moment the flush
of fever in his soft cheeks. "Did he really kill Dave and Hugh Roush?
Or was it you?"

"He did it."

"I hate a killer!" she blazed unexpectedly.

"Does he look like a killer?" asked Prince gently.

"No, he doesn't. That makes it worse."

"Did you know that Dave Roush ruined his sister's life in a fiendish
way?"

"I expect there's another side to that story," she retorted.

"This boy was fourteen at the time. His father swore him to vengeance an'
Jim followed his enemies for years. He never had a doubt but that he
was doin' right."

She put her rifle down impulsively. "Why don't you keep his face sponged?
Bring me water."

The Texan put his hat into requisition again for a bucket. With her
handkerchief the girl sponged the face and the hands. The cold water
stopped for a moment the delirious muttering of the young man. But the
big eyes that stared into hers did not associate his nurse with the
present.

"I done remembered you, 'Lindy, like I promised. I'm a-followin' them
scalawags yet," he murmured.

"His sister's name was Melindy," explained Prince.

The girl nodded. She was rubbing gently the boy's wrist with her wet
handkerchief.

"It's getting dark," she told Billie in her sharp, decisive way. "Get
your fire lit--a big one. I've got some cooking to do."

Further orders were waiting for him as soon as he had the camp-fire
going. "You'll find my horse tied to a live-oak down the river a bit.
Bring it up."

Billie smiled as he moved away into the darkness. This imperious girl
belonged, of course, in the camp of the enemy. She had held him up with
the intention of driving them back to town before her in triumph. But she
was, after all, a very tender-hearted foe to a man stricken with
sickness. It occurred to the Texan that through her might lie a way of
salvation for them both.

Until he saw the turkey the cowpuncher wondered what cooking she could
have in mind, but while he cantered back through the sand he guessed
what she meant to do.

"Draw the turkey. Don't pick it," she gave instructions. Her own hands
were busy trying to make her patient comfortable.

After he had drawn the bird, which was a young, plump one, he made under
direction of the young woman a cement of mud. This he daubed in a
three-inch coating over the turkey, then prepared the fire to make of it
an oven. He covered the bird with ashes, raked live coals over these, and
piled upon the red-hot coals piñon knots and juniper boughs.

"Keep your fire going till about two or three o'clock, then let it die
out. In the morning the turkey will be baked," the young Diana gave
assurance.

The cowpuncher omitted to tell her that he had baked a dozen more or less
and knew all about it.

She rose and drew on her gauntlets in a business-like manner.

"I'm going home now. After the fever passes keep him warm and let him
sleep if he will."

"Yes, ma'am," promised Billie with suspicious meekness.

The girl looked at him sharply, as if she distrusted his humility. Was he
laughing at her? Did he dare to find amusement in her?

"I haven't changed my mind about you. Folks that come to town and start
killing deserve all they get. But I'd look after a yellow dog if it was
sick," she said contemptuously, little devils of defiance in her eyes.

"I'm not questionin' your motives, ma'am, so long as your actions are
friendly,"

"I haven't any use for any of Homer Webb's outfit. He's got no business
here. If he runs into trouble he has only himself to blame."

"I'll mention to him that you said so."

Picking up the rifle, she turned and walked to the horse. There was a
little devil-may-care touch to her walk, just as in her manner, that
suggested a girl spoiled by over-much indulgence. She was imperious,
high-spirited, full of courage and insolence, because her environment had
moulded her to independence. It was impossible for the young cow puncher
to help admiring the girl.

"I'll be back," she called over her shoulder.

The pony jumped to a canter at the touch of her Jaeel. She disappeared in
a gallop around the bend.

Already the fever of the boy was beginning to pass. He shivered with the
chill of night. Billie wrapped around him his own coat, a linsey-woolen
one lined with yellow flannel. He packed him up in the two blankets and
heated stones for his feet and hands. Presently the boy fell into sound
sleep for the first time since he was wounded. He had slept before, but
always uneasily and restlessly. Now he did not mutter between clenched
teeth nor toss to and fro.

His friend accepted it as a good omen. Since he had not slept a wink
himself for forty hours, he lay down before the fire and made himself
comfortable His eyes closed almost immediately.



Chapter XIII

A Friendly Enemy


"Law sakes, Miss Bertie Lee, yo' suppah done been ready an hour. Hit sure
am discommodin' the way you go gallumphin' around. Don't you-all nevah
git tired?"

Aunt Becky was large and black and bulgy. To say that she was fat fails
entirely of doing her justice. She overflowed from her clothes in waves
at all possible points. When she moved she waddled.

Just now she was trying to be cross, but the smile of welcome on the
broad face would have its way.

"Set down an' rest yo' weary bones, honey. I'll have yo' suppah dished up
in no time a-tall. Yore paw was axin' where is you awhile ago."

"Where's dad?" asked Miss Bertie Lee Snaith carelessly as she flung her
gloves on a chair.

"He done gone down to the store to see if anything been heerd o' them
vilyainous killers of Mr. Webb."

When Bertie Lee returned from washing her hands and face and giving a
touch or two to her hair, she sat down and did justice to the fried
chicken and biscuits of Aunt Becky. She had had a long day of it and she
ate with the keen appetite of youth.

Her father returned while she was still at the table. He was a big sandy
man dressed in a corduroy suit. He was broad of shoulder and his legs
were bowed.

"Any news, dad?" she asked.

"Not a thing, Lee. I reckon they've made their get-away. They must have
slipped off the road somewhere. The wounded one never could have traveled
all night. Maybe we'll git 'em yet."

"What will you do with them, if you do?"

"Hang 'em to a sour apple tree," answered Wallace Snaith promptly.

His daughter made no comment. She knew that her father's resentment was
based on no abstract love of law and order. It had back of it no feeling
that crime had been committed or justice outraged. The frontier was in
its roistering youth, full of such effervescing spirits that life was the
cheapest thing it knew. Every few days some unfortunate was buried on
Boot Hill, a victim of his own inexpertness with the six-shooter. The
longhorned cattle of Texas were wearing broad trails to the north and the
northwest and such towns as Los Portales were on the boom. Chap-clad
punchers galloped through the streets at all hours of the day and
night letting out their joyous "Eee-yip-eee." The keys of Tolleson's and
half a dozen other gambling places had long since been lost, for the
doors were never closed to patrons. At games of chance the roof was the
limit, in the expressive phrase of the country. Guns cracked at the
slightest difference of opinion. It was bad form to use the word
"murder." The correct way to speak of the result of a disagreement was to
refer to it as "a killing."

Law lay for every man in a holster on his own hip. Snaith recognized this
and accepted it. He was ready to "bend a gun" himself if occasion called
for it. What he objected to in this particular killing was the personal
affront to him. One of Webb's men had deliberately and defiantly killed
two of his riders when the town was full of his employees. The man had
walked into Tolleson's--a place which he, Snaith, practically owned
himself--and flung down the gauntlet to the whole Lazy S M outfit. It was
a flagrant insult and Wallace Snaith proposed to see that it was avenged.

"I'm going duck-hunting to-morrow, dad," Lee told him. "I'll likely be up
before daylight, but I'll try not to disturb you. If you hear me
rummaging around in the pantry, you'll know what for."

He grunted assent, full of the grievance that was rankling in his mind.
Lee came and went as she pleased. She was her own mistress and he made no
attempt to chaperon her activities.

The light had not yet begun to sift into the sky next morning when Lee
dressed and tiptoed to the kitchen. She carried saddlebags with her and
into the capacious pockets went tea, coffee, flour, corn meal, a flask of
brandy, a plate of cookies, and a slab of bacon. An old frying-pan and a
small stew kettle joined the supplies; also a little package of "yerb"
medicine prepared by Aunt Becky as a specific for fevers.

Lee walked through the silent, pre-dawn darkness to the stable and
saddled her pony, blanketing and cinching as deftly as her father could
have done it. With her she carried an extra blanket for the wounded man.

The gray light of dawn was beginning to sift into the sky when she
reached the camp of the fugitives. Prince came forward to meet her. She
saw that the fire was now only a bed of coals from which no smoke would
rise to betray them.

The girl swung from the saddle and gave a little jerk of her head toward
Clanton.

"How is he?"

"Slept like a log all night. Feels a heap better this mo'nin'. Wants to
know if he can't have somethin' to eat."

"I killed a couple of prairie plover on the way. We'll make some soup for
him."

The girl walked straight to her patient and looked down at him with
direct and searching eyes. She found no glaze of fever in the ones that
gazed back into hers.

"Hungry, are you?"

"I could eat a mail sack, ma'am."

She stripped the gauntlets from her hands and set about making breakfast.
Jim watched her with alert interest. He was still weak, but life this
morning began to renew itself in him. The pain and the fever had gone and
left him at peace with a world just emerging from darkness into a rosily
flushed dawn. Not the least attractive feature of it was this stunning,
dark-eyed girl who was proving such a friendly enemy.

Her manner to Billie was crisp and curt. She ordered him to fetch and
carry. Something in his slow drawl--some hint of hidden amusement in
his manner--struck a spark of resentment from her quick eye. But toward
Jim she was all kindness. No trouble was too much to take for his
comfort. If he had a whim it must be gratified. Prince was merely a
servant to wait upon him.

The education of Jim Clanton was progressing. As he ate his plover broth
he could not keep his eyes from her. She was so full of vital life. The
color beat through her dark skin warm and rich. The abundant blue-black
hair, the flashing eyes, the fine poise of the head, the little jaunty
swagger of her, so wholly a matter of unconscious faith in her place in
the sun: all of these charmed and delighted him. He had never dreamed of
a girl of such spirit and fire.

It was inevitable that both he and Billie should recall by contrast
another girl who had given them generously of her service not long since.
There were in the country then very few women of any kind. Certainly
within a radius of two hundred miles there was no other girl so popular
and so attractive as these two. Many a puncher would have been willing to
break an arm for the sake of such kindness as had been lavished upon
these boys.

By sunup the three of them had finished breakfast. Billie put out the
fire and scattered the ashes in the river. He went into a committee of
ways and means with Lee Snaith just before she returned to town.

"You can't stay here long. Some one is sure to stumble on you just as I
did. What plan have you to get away?"

"If I could get our horses in three or four days mebbe Jim could make out
to ride a little at a time."

"He couldn't--and you can't get your horses," she vetoed.

"Then I'll have to leave him, steal another horse, and ride through to
Webb for help."

"No. You mustn't leave him. I'll see if I can get a man to take a message
to your friends."

A smile came out on his lean, strong face. "You're a good friend."

"I'm no friend of yours," she flashed back. "But I won't have my father
spoiling the view by hanging you where I might see you when I ride."

"You're Wallace Snaith's daughter, I reckon."

"Yes. And no man that rides for Homer Webb can be a friend of mine."

"Sorry. Anyhow, you can't keep me from being mighty grateful to my
littlest enemy."

He did not intend to smile, but just a hint of it leaped to his eyes. She
flushed angrily, suspecting that he was mocking her, and swung her pony
toward town.

On the way she shot a brace of ducks for the sake of appearances. The
country was a paradise for the hunter. On the river could be found great
numbers of ducks, geese, swans, and pelicans. Of quail and prairie
chicken there was no limit. Thousands of turkeys roosted in the timber
that bordered the streams. There were times when the noise of pigeons
returning to their night haunt was like thunder and the sight of them
almost hid the sky. Bands of antelope could be seen silhouetted against
the skyline. As for buffalo, numbers of them still ranged the plains,
though the day of their extinction was close at hand. No country in the
world's history ever offered such a field for the sportsman as the
Southwest did in the days of the first great cattle drives.

Miss Bertie Lee dismounted at a store which bore the sign

SNAITH & McROBERT
General Merchandise

Though a large building, it was not one of the most recent in town. It
was what is known as a "dugout" in the West, a big cellar roofed over,
with side walls rising above the level of the ground. In a country where
timber was scarce and the railroad was not within two hundred miles, a
sod structure of this sort was the most practicable possible.

The girl sauntered in and glanced carelessly about her. Two or three
chap-clad cowboys were lounging against the counter watching another buy
a suit of clothes. The wide-brimmed hats of all of them came off
instantly at sight of her. The frontier was rampantly lawless, but
nowhere in the world did a good woman meet with more unquestioning
respect.

"What's this hyer garment?" asked the brick-red customer of the clerk,
holding up the waistcoat that went with the suit.

"That's a vest," explained the salesman. "You wear it under the coat."

"You don't say!" The vaquero examined the article curiously and
disdainfully. "I've heard tell of these didoes, but I never did see one
before. Well, I'll take this suit. Wrap it up. You keep the vest
proposition and give it to a tenderfoot."

No cowpuncher ever wore a waistcoat. The local dealers of the Southwest
had been utterly unable to impress this fact upon the mind of the Eastern
manufacturer. The result was that every suit came in three parts, one of
which always remained upon the shelf of the store. Some of the supply
merchants had several thousand of these articles de luxe in their stock.
In later years they gave them away to Indians and Mexicans.

"Do you know where Jack Goodheart is?" asked Lee of the nearest youth.

"No, ma'am, but I'll go hunt him for you," answered the puncher promptly.

"Thank you."

Ten minutes later a bronzed rider swung down in front of the Snaith home.
Miss Bertie Lee was on the porch.

"You sent for me," he said simply.

"Do you want to do something for me?"

"Try me."

"Will you ride after Webb's outfit and tell him that two of his men are
in hiding on the river just below town. One of them is wounded and can't
sit a horse. So he'd better send a buckboard for him. Let Homer Webb know
that if dad or Sanders finds these men, the cottonwoods will be bearing a
new kind of fruit. Tell him to burn the wind getting here. The men are in
a cave on the left-hand side of the river going down. It is just below
the bend."

Jack Goodheart did not ask her how she knew this or what difference it
made to her whether Webb rescued his riders or not. He said, "I'll be on
the road inside of twenty minutes."

Goodheart was a splendid specimen of the frontiersman. He was the best
roper in the country, of proved gameness, popular, keen as an Italian
stiletto, and absolutely trustworthy. Since the first day he had seen her
Jack had been devoted to the service of Bertie Lee Snaith. No dog could
have been humbler or less critical of her shortcomings. The girl despised
his wooing, but she was forced to respect the man. As a lover she had no
use for Goodheart; as a friend she was always calling upon him.

"I knew you'd go, Jack," she told him.

"Yes, I'd lie down and make of myself a door-mat for you to trample on,"
he retorted with a touch of self-contempt. "Would you like me to do it
now?"

Lee looked at him in surprise. This was the first evidence he had ever
given that he resented the position in which he stood to her.

"If you don't want to go I'll ask some one else," she replied.

"Oh, I'll go."

He turned and strode to his horse. For years he had been her faithful
cavalier and he knew he was no closer to his heart's desire than when he
began to serve. The first faint stirrings of rebellion were moving in
him. It was not that he blamed her in the least. She was scarcely
nineteen, the magnet for the eyes of all the unattached men in the
district. Was it reasonable to suppose that she would give her love to a
penniless puncher of twenty-eight, lank as a shad, with no recommendation
but honesty? None the less, Jack began to doubt whether eternal patience
was a virtue.



Chapter XIV

The Gun-Barrel Road


Jack Goodheart followed the gun-barrel road into a desert green and
beautiful with vegetation. Now he passed a blooming azalea or a yucca
with clustering bellflowers. The prickly pear and the cat-claw clutched
at his chaps. The arrowweed and the soapweed were everywhere, as was also
the stunted creosote. The details were not lovely, but in the sunset
light of late afternoon the silvery sheen of the mesquite had its own
charm for the rider.

Back of the saddle he carried a "hot roll" of blankets and supplies, for
he would have to camp out three or four nights. Flour, coffee, and a can
of tomatoes made the substance of his provisions. His rifle would bring
him all the meat he needed. The one he used was a seventy-three because
the bullets fired from it fitted the cylinder of his forty-four revolver.

Solitude engulfed him. Once a mule deer stared at him in surprise from an
escarpment back of the mesa. A rattlesnake buzzed its ominous warning.

He left the road to follow the broad trail made by the Flying V Y herd. A
horizon of deep purple marked the afterglow of sunset and preceded a
desert night of stars. Well into the evening he rode, then hobbled his
horse before he built a camp-fire.

Darkness was still thick over the plains when he left the buffalo wallow
in which he had camped. All day he held a steady course northward till
the stars were out again. Late the next afternoon he struck the dust of
the drag in the ground swells of a more broken country.

The drag-driver directed Goodheart to the left point. He found there two
men, One of them--Dad Wrayburn--he knew. The other was a man of sandy
complexion, hard-faced, and fishy of eye.

"Whad you want?" the second demanded.

"I want to see Webb."

"Can't see him. He ain't here."

"Where is he?"

"He's ridden on to the Fort to make arrangements for receiving the herd,"
answered the man sulkily.

"Who's the big auger left?"

"I'm the foreman, if that's what you mean?"

"Well, I've come to tell you that two of yore men are hidin' in the
chaparral below Los Portales. There was trouble at Tolleson's. Two of the
Lazy S M men were gunned an' one of yours was wounded."

"Which one was wounded?"

"I heard his name was Clanton."

"Suits me fine," grinned the foreman, showing two rows of broken, stained
teeth. "Hope the Lazy S M boys gunned him proper."

Dad Wrayburn broke in softly. "Chicto, compadre!" ("Hush, partner!") He
turned to Goodheart. "The other man with Clanton must be Billie Prince."

"Yes."

"I reckon the Lazy S M boys are lookin' for 'em."

"You guessed right first crack out of the box."

"Where are our boys holed up?"

"In a cave the other side of town. They're just beyond the big bend of
the river. I'll take you there."

"You've seen 'em."

"No." Goodheart hesitated just a moment before he went on. "I was sent by
the person who has seen 'em."

"Listens to me like a plant," jeered Yankie.

"Meanin' that I'm a liar?" asked Goodheart coldly.

"I wasn't born yesterday. Come clean. Who is yore friend that saw the
boys?"

"I can't tell you that."

"Then yore story doesn't interest me a whole lot."

"Different here," dissented Wrayburn. "Do you know how badly Clanton is
hurt, Jack?"

"No. He was able to ride out of town, but my friend told me to say he
wasn't able to ride now. You'll have to send a wagon for him."

Wrayburn turned to the foreman. "Joe, we've got to go back an' help the
boys."

"Not on yore topknot, Dad. I'm here to move these beeves along to the
Fort. Prince an' that Clanton may have gone on a tear an' got into
trouble or they may not. I don't care a plugged nickel which way it is.
I'm not keepin' herd on them, an' what's more I don't intend to."

"We can't leave 'em thataway. Dad gum it, we got to stand by the boys,
Joe. That's what Webb would tell us if he was here."

"But he ain't here, Dad. An' while he's gone I'm major-domo of this
outfit. We're headed north, not south."

"You may be. I'm not. An' I reckon you'll find several of the boys got
the same notion I have. I taken a fancy to both those young fellows, an'
if I hadn't I'd go help 'em just the same."

"You ain't expectin' to ride our stock on this fool chase, are you?"

"I'll ride the first good bronc I get my knees clamped to, Joe."

"As regards that, you'll get my answer like shot off'n a shovel. None of
the Flyin' V Y remuda is goin'."

Wrayburn cantered around the point of the herd to the swing, from the
swing back to the drag, and then forward to the left point. In the
circuit he had stopped to sound out each rider.

"We all have decided that ten of us will go back, Joe," he announced
serenely. "That leaves enough to loose-herd the beeves whilst we're
away."

Yankie grew purple with rage. "If you go you'll walk. I'll show you who's
foreman here."

"No use raisin' a rookus, Joe," replied the old Confederate mildly.
"We're goin'. Yore authority doesn't stretch far enough to hold us here."

"I'll show you!" stormed the foreman. "Some of you will go to sleep in
smoke if you try to take any of my remuda."

"Now don't you-all be onreasonable, Joe. We got to go. Cayn't you get it
through yore cocoanut that we've got to stand by our pardners?"

"That killer Clanton is no pardner of mine. I meant to burn powder with
him one of these days myself. If Wally Snaith beats me to it I'm not
goin' to wear black," retorted Yankie.

"Sho! The kid's got good stuff in him. An' nobody could ask for a squarer
pal than Billie Prince. You know that yore own self."

"You heard what I said, Dad. The Flyin' V Y horses don't take the back
trail to-day," insisted the foreman stubbornly.

The wrinkled eyes of Wrayburn narrowed a little. He looked straight at
Yankie.

"Don't get biggety, Joe. I'm not askin' you or any other man whether I
can ride to rescue a friend when he's in trouble. You don't own these
broncs, an' if you did we'd take 'em just the same."

The voice of Wrayburn was still gentle, but it no longer pleaded for
understanding. The words were clean-cut and crisp.

"I'll show you!" flung back the foreman with an oath.

When the little group of cavalry was gathered for the start, Yankie,
rifle in hand, barred the way. His face was ugly with the fury of his
anger.

Dad Wrayburn rode forward in front of his party. "Don't git promiscuous
with that cannon of yours, Joe. You've done yore level best to keep us
here. But we're goin' just the same. We-all will tell the old man how
tender you was of his remuda stock. That will let you out."

"Don't you come another step closeter, Dad Wrayburn!" the foreman
shouted. "I'll let you know who is boss here."

Wrayburn did not raise his voice. The drawl in it was just as pronounced,
but every man present read in it a warning.

"This old sawed-off shotgun of mine spatters like hell, Joe. It always
did shoot all over the United States an' Texas."

There was an instant of dead silence. Each man watched the other
intently, the one cool and determined, the other full of a volcanic fury.
The curtain had been rung up for tragedy.

A man stepped between them, twirling carelessly a rawhide rope.

"Just a moment, gentlemen. I think I know a way to settle this without
bloodshed." Jack Goodheart looked first at the ex-Confederate, then at
the foreman. He was still whirling as if from absent-minded habit the
loop of his reata.

"We're here to listen, Jack. That would suit me down to the ground,"
answered Wrayburn.

The loop of the lariat snaked forward, whistled through the air, dropped
over the head of Yankie, and tightened around his neck. A shot went
wildly into the air as the rifle was jerked out of the hands of its
owner, who came to the earth with sprawling arms. Goodheart ran forward
swiftly, made a dozen expert passes with his fingers, and rose without a
word.

Yankie had been hog-tied by the champion roper of the Southwest.



Chapter XV

Lee Plays a Leading Rôle


A man on horseback clattered up the street and drew up at the Snaith
house. He was a sandy-complexioned man with a furtive-eyed, apologetic
manner. Miss Bertie Lee recognized him as one of the company riders named
Dumont.

"Is yore paw home, Miss Lee?" he asked breathlessly.

"Some one to see you, dad," called the girl over her shoulder.

Wallace Snaith sauntered out to the porch. "'Lo, Dumont!"

"I claim that hundred dollars reward. I done found 'em, Mr. Snaith."

Lee, about to enter the house, stopped in her tracks.

"Where?" demanded the cattleman jubilantly.

"Down the river--hid in a dugout they done built. I'll take you-all
there."

"I knew they couldn't be far away when that first hawss came in all
blood-stained. Hustle up four or five of the boys, Dumont. Get 'em here
on the jump." In the face of the big drover could be read a grim elation.

His daughter confronted him. "What are you going to do, dad?"

"None o' yore business, Lee. You ain't in this," he answered promptly.

"You're going out to kill those men," she charged, white to the lips.

"They'll git a trial if they surrender peaceable."

"What kind of a trial?" she asked scornfully. "They know better than to
surrender. They'll fight."

"That'll suit me too."

"Don't, dad. Don't do it," the girl begged. "They're game men. They
fought fair. I've made inquiries. You mustn't kill them like wolves."

"Mustn't I?" he said stubbornly. "I reckon that's just what I'm goin' to
do. I'll learn Homer Webb to send his bad men to Los Portales lookin'
for trouble. He can't kill my riders an' get away with it."

"You know he didn't do that. This boy--Clanton, if that's his name--had a
feud with the Roush family. One of them betrayed his sister. Far as I can
find out these Roush brothers were the scum of the earth," Her bosom rose
and fell fast with excitement.

"Howcome you to know so much about it, girl? Not that it makes any
difference. They may have been hellhounds, but they were my riders. These
gunmen went into my own place an' shot 'em down. They picked the fight.
There's no manner o' doubt about that."

"They didn't do it on your account. I tell you there was an old feud."

"Webb thinks he's got the world by the tail for a downhill pull. I'll
show him."

"Dad, you're starting war. Don't you see that? If you shoot these men
he'll get back by killing some of yours. And so it will go on."

"I reckon. But I'm not startin' the war. He did that. It was the boldest
piece of cheek I ever heard tell of--those two gunmen goin' into
Tolleson's and shootin' up my riders. They got to pay the price."

Lee cried out in passionate protest. "It'll be just plain murder, dad.
That's all."

"What's got into you, girl?" he demanded, seizing her by the arms. The
chill of anger and suspicion filmed his light-blue eyes. "I won't stand
for this kind of talk. You go right into the house an' 'tend to yore own
knittin'. I've heard about enough from you."

He swung her round by the shoulders and gave a push.

Lee did not go to her room and fling herself upon the bed in an impotent
storm of tears. She stood thinking, her little fists clenched and her
eyes flashing. Civilization has trained women to feebleness of purpose,
but this girl stood outside of conventional viewpoints. It was her habit
to move directly to the thing she wanted. Her decision was swift, the
action following upon it immediate.

She lifted her rifle down from the deer-horn rack where it rested and
buckled the ammunition belt around her waist. Swiftly she ran to the
corral, roped her bronco, saddled it, and cinched. As she galloped away
she saw her father striding toward the stable. His shout reached her, but
she did not wait to hear what he wanted.

The hoofs of her pony drummed down the street. She flew across the desert
and struck the river just below town. The quirt attached to her wrist
rose and fell. She made no allowance for prairie-dog holes, but went at
racing speed through the rabbit weed and over the slippery salt-grass
bumps.

In front of the cave she jerked the horse to a halt.

"Hello, in there!"

The tumble weeds moved and the head of Prince appeared. He pushed the
brush aside and came out.

"Buenos tardes, señorita. Didn't know you were comin' back again to-day."

"You've been seen," she told him hurriedly as she dismounted. "Dad's
gathering his men. He means to make you trouble."

Billie looked away in the direction of the town. A mile or more away he
saw a cloud of dust. It was moving toward them.

"I see he does," he answered quietly.

"Quick! Get your friend out. Take my horse."

He shook his head slowly. "No use. They would see us an' run us down.
We'll make a stand here."

"But you can't do that. They'll surround you. They'll send for more men
if they need 'em."

"Likely. But Jim couldn't stand such a ride even if there was a
chance--and there isn't, not with yore horse carryin' double. We'll
hold the fort, Miss Lee, while you make yore get-away into the hills.
An' thank you for comin'. We'll never forget all you've done for us
these days."

"I'm not going."

"Not goin'?"

"I'm going to stay right here. They won't dare to shoot at you if I'm
here."

"I never did see such a girl as you," admitted Prince, smiling at her.
"You take the cake. But we can't let you do that for us. We can't skulk
behind a young lady's skirts to save our hides. It's not etiquette on the
Pecos."

The red color burned through her dusky skin. "I'm not doing it for you,"
she said stiffly. "It's dad I'm thinking about. I don't want him mixed
up in such a business. I won't have it either."

"You'd better go to him and talk it over, then."

"No. I'll stay here. He wouldn't listen to me a minute."

Billie was still patient with her. "I don't think you'd better stay, Miss
Lee. I know just how you feel. But there are a lot of folks won't
understand howcome you to take up with yore father's enemies. They'll
talk a lot of foolishness likely."

The cowpuncher blushed at his own awkward phrasing of the situation, yet
the thing had to be said and he knew no other way to say it.

She flashed a resentful glance at him. Her cheeks, too, flamed.

"I don't care what they say since it won't be true," she answered
proudly. "You needn't argue. I've staked out a claim here."

"I wish you'd go. There's still time."

The girl turned on him angrily with swift, animal grace. "I tell you it's
none of your business whether I go or stay. I'll do just as I please."

Prince gave up his attempt to change her mind. If she would stay, she
would. He set about arranging the defense.

Young Clanton crept out to the mouth of the cave and lay down with his
rifle beside him. His friend piled up the tumble weeds in front of him.

"We're right enough in front--easy enough to stand 'em off there,"
reflected Billie, aloud. "But I'd like to know what's to prevent us from
being attacked in the rear. They can crawl up through the brush till
they're right on top of the bank. They can post sharpshooters in the
mesquite across the river so that if we come out to check those snakin'
forward, the snipers can get us."

"I'll sit on the bank above the cave and watch 'em," announced Lee.

"An' what if they mistook you for one of us?" asked Prince dryly.

"They can't, with me wearing a red coat."

"You're bound to be in this, aren't you?" His smile was more friendly
than the words. It admitted reluctant admiration of her.

The party on the other side of the river was in plain sight now. Jim
counted four--five--six of them as they deployed. Presently Prince threw
a bullet into the dust at the feet of one of the horses as they moved
forward. It was meant as a warning not to come closer and accepted as
one.

After a minute of consultation a single horseman rode to the bank of the
stream.

"You over there," he shouted.

"It's dad," said Lee.

"You'd better surrender peaceable. We've come to git you alive or dead,"
shouted Snaith.

"What do you want us for?" asked Prince.

"You know well enough what for. You killed one of my punchers."

Clanton groaned. "Only one?"

"An' another may die any day. Come out with yore hands up."

"We'd rather stay here, thank you," Billie called back.

Snaith leaned forward in the saddle. "Is that you over there, Lee?"

"Yes, dad."

"Gone back on yore father and taken up with Webb's scalawags, have you?"

"No, I haven't," she called back. "But I'm going to see they get fair
play."

"You git out of there, girl, and on this side of the river!" Snaith
roared angrily. "Pronto! Do you hear?"

"There's no use shouting yourself hoarse, dad. I can hear you easily, and
I'm not coming."

"Not comin'! D'ye mean you've taken up with a pair of killers, of outlaws
we 're goin' to put out of business? You talk like a--like a--"

"Go slow, Snaith!" cut in Prince sharply. "Can't you see she's tryin' to
save you from murder?"

"We're goin' to take those boys back to Los Portales with us--or their
bodies. I don't care a whole lot which. You light a shuck out of there,
Lee."

"No," she answered stubbornly. "If you're so bent on shooting at some one
you can shoot at me."

The cattleman stormed and threatened, but in the end he had to give up
the point. His daughter was as obstinate as he was. He retired in
volcanic humor.

"I never could get dad to give up swearing," his daughter told her new
friends by way of humorous apology. "Wonder what he'll do now."

"Wait till night an' drive us out of our hole, I expect," replied Prince.

"Will he wait? I'm not so sure of that," said Jim. "See. His men are
scattering. They're up to somethin'."

"They're going down to cross the river to get behind us just as you said
they would," predicted Lee.

She was right. Half an hour later, from her position on the bank above
the cave, she caught a glimpse of a man slipping forward through the
brush. She called to Prince, who crept out from behind the tumble weeds
to join her. A bullet dug into the soft clay not ten inches from his
head. He scrambled up and lay down behind a patch of soapweed a few yards
from the girl. Another bullet from across the river whistled past the
cowpuncher.

Lee rose and walked across to the bushes where he lay crouched. Very
deliberately she stood there, shading her eyes from the sun as she looked
toward the sharpshooters. Twice they had taken a chance, because of the
distance between her and Prince. She intended they should know how close
she was to him now.

Billie could not conceal his anxiety for her. "Why don't you get back
where you were? I got as far as I could from you on purpose. What's the
sense of you comin' right up to me when you see they're shootin' at me?"

"That's why I came up closer. They'll have to stop it as long as I'm
here."

"You can't stay there the rest of yore natural life, can you?" he
asked with manifest annoyance. Even if he got out of his present danger
alive--and Billie had to admit to himself that the chances did not look
good--he knew it would be cast up to him some day that he had used Lee
Snaith's presence as a shield against his enemies. "Why don't you act
reasonable an' ride back to town, like a girl ought to do? You've been a
good friend to us. There's nothin' more you can do. It's up to us to
fight our way out."

He took careful aim and fired. A man in the bushes two hundred yards back
of them scuttled to his feet and ran limping off. Billie covered the
dodging man with his rifle carefully, then lowered his gun without
firing.

"Let him go," said Prince aloud. "Mr. Dumont won't bother us a whole lot.
He's gun-shy anyhow."

From across the river came a scatter of bullets.

"They've got to hit closeter to that before they worry me," Jim called to
the two above.

"I don't think they shot to hit. They're tryin' to scare Miss Lee away,"
called down Billie.

"As if I didn't know dad wouldn't let 'em take any chances with me here,"
the girl said confidently "If we can hold out till night I can stay here
and keep shooting while you two slip away and hide. Before morning your
friends ought to arrive."

"If they got yore message."

"Oh, they got it. Jack Goodheart carried it."

The riflemen across the river were silent for a time. When they began
sniping again, it was from such an angle that they could aim at the cave
without endangering those above. Both Clanton and Prince returned the
fire.

Presently Lee touched on the shoulder the man beside her.

"Look!"

She pointed to a cloud of smoke behind them. From it tongues of fire
leaped up into the air. Farther to the right a second puff of smoke could
be seen, and beyond it another and still a fourth jet.

After a moment of dead silence Prince spoke. "They've fired the prairie.
The wind is blowin' toward us. They mean to smoke us out."

"Yes."

"We'll be driven down into the open bed of the river where they can pick
us off."

The girl nodded.

"Now, will you leave us?" Billie turned on her triumphantly. He could at
least choose the conditions of the last stand they must make. "They've
called our bluff. It's a showdown."

"Now I'll go less than ever," she said quietly.



Chapter XVI

Three Modern Musketeers


The fierce crackling of the flames rolled toward them. The wind served at
least the one purpose of lifting the smoke so that it did not stifle
those on the river-bank. Clanton crept up from the cave and joined them.

"Looks like we're goin' out with fireworks, Billie," he grinned.

"That's nonsense," said Lee sharply. "There's a way of escape, if only we
can find it."

"Blamed if I see it," the young fellow answered. As he looked at her the
eyes in his pale face glowed. "But I see one thing. You're the best
little pilgrim that ever I met up with."

The heat of the flames came to them in waves.

"You walk out, climb on yore horse, an' ride down the river, Miss Lee.
Then we'll make a break for cover. You can't do anything more for us,"
insisted Prince.

"That's right," agreed the younger man. "We'll play this out alone. You
cut yore stick an' drift. If we git through I'll sure come back an' thank
you proper some day."

Recently Lee had read "The Three Musketeers." From it there flashed to
her a memory of the picture on the cover.

"I know what we'll do," she said, coughing from a swallow of smoke. She
stepped between them and tucked an arm under the elbow of each. "All
for one, and one for all. Forward march!"

They moved down the embankment side by side to the sand-bed close to the
stream, each of the three carrying a rifle tucked close to the side. From
the chaparral keen eyes watched them, covering every step they took with
ready weapons. Miss Lee's party turned to the right and followed the
river-bed in the direction of Los Portales. For the wind was driving the
fire down instead of up. Those in the mesquite held a parallel course to
cut off any chance of escape.

Some change of wind currents swept the smoke toward them in great
billows. It enveloped the fugitives in a dense cloud.

"Get yore head down to the water," Billie called into the ear of the
girl.

They lay on the rocks in the shallow water and let the black smoke waves
pour over them. Lee felt herself strangling and tried to rise, but a
heavy hand on her shoulder held her face down. She sputtered and coughed,
fighting desperately for breath. A silk handkerchief was slipped over her
face and knotted behind. She felt sick and dizzy. The knowledge flashed
across her mind that she could not stand this long. In its wake came
another dreadful thought. Was she going to die?

The hand on her shoulder relaxed. Lee felt herself lifted to her feet.
She caught at Billie's arm to steady herself, for she was still queer in
the head. For a few moments she stood there coughing the smoke out of her
lungs. His arm slipped around her shoulder.

"Take yore time," he advised.

A second shift of the breeze had swept the smoke away. This had saved
their lives, but it had also given Snaith's men another chance at them A
bullet whistled past the head of Clanton, who was for the time a few
yards from his friends. Instantly he whipped the rifle up and fired.

"No luck" he grumbled. "My eyes are sore from the smoke. I can't half
see."

Lee was not yet quite herself. The experience through which she had just
passed had shaken her nerves.

"Let's get out of here quick!" she cried.

"Take yore time. There's no hurry," Prince iterated. "They won't shoot
again, now Jim's close to us."

The younger man grinned, as he had a habit of doing when the cards fell
against him. "Where'd we go? Look, they've headed us off. We can't
travel forward. We can't go back. I expect we'll have to file on the
quarter-section where we are," he drawled.

A rider had galloped forward and was dismounting close to the river. He
took shelter behind a boulder.

Billie swept with a glance the plain to their right. A group of horsemen
was approaching. "More good citizens comin' to be in at the finish of
this man hunt. They ought to build a grand stand an' invite the whole
town," he said sardonically.

A water-gutted arroyo broke the line of liver-bank. Jim, who was limping
heavily, stopped and examined it.

"Let's stay here, Billie, an' fight it out. No use foolin' ourselves.
We're trapped. Might as well call for a showdown here as anywhere."

Prince nodded. "Suits me. We'll make our stand right at the head of the
arroyo." He turned abruptly to the girl. "It's got to be good-bye here,
Miss Lee."

"That's whatever, littlest pilgrim," agreed Clanton promptly. "If you get
a chance send word to Webb an' tell him how it was with us."

Her lip trembled. She knew that in the shadow of the immediate future red
tragedy lurked. She had done her best to avert it and had failed. The
very men she was trying to save had dismissed her.

"Must I go?" she begged.

"You must, Miss Lee. We're both grateful to you. Don't you ever doubt
that!" Billie said, his earnest gaze full in hers.

The girl turned away and went up through the sand, her eyes filmed with
tears so that she could not see where she was going. The two men entered
the arroyo. Before they reached the head of it she could hear the crack
of exploding rifles. One of the men across the river was firing at them
and they were throwing bullets back at him. She wondered, shivering,
whether it was her father.

It must have been a few seconds later that she heard the joyous
"Eee-yip-eee!" of Prince. Almost at the same time a rider came splashing
through the shallow water of the river toward her.

The man was her father. He swung down from the saddle and snatched her
into his arms. His haggard face showed her how anxious he had been. She
began to sob, overcome, perhaps, as much by his emotion as her own.

"I'll blacksnake the condemned fool that set fire to the prairie!" he
swore, gulping down a lump in his throat. "Tell me you-all aren't hurt,
Bertie Lee.... God! I thought you was swallowed up in that fire."

"Daddie, daddie I couldn't help it. I had to do it," she wept. "And--I
thought I would choke to death, but Mr. Prince saved me. He kept my
face close to the water and made me breathe through a handkerchief."

"Did he?" The man's face set grimly again. "Well, that won't save him. As
for you, miss, you're goin' to yore room to live on bread an' water
for a week. I wish you were a boy for about five minutes so's I could
wear you to a frazzle with a cowhide."

Snaith's intentions toward Clanton and Prince had to be postponed for the
present, the cattleman discovered a few minutes later. When he and Lee
emerged from the river-bed to the bank above, the first thing he saw was
a group of cowpunchers shaking hands gayly with the two fugitives. His
jaw dropped.

"Where in Mexico did they come from?" he asked himself aloud.

"I expect they're Webb's riders," his daughter answered with a little sob
of joy. "I thought they'd never come."

"You thought.... How did you know they were comin'?"

"Oh, I sent for them," The girl's dark eyes met his fearlessly. A flicker
of a smile crept into them. "I've had the best of you all round, dad.
You'd better make that two weeks on bread and water."

Wallace Snaith gathered his forces and retreated from the field of
battle. A man on a spent horse met him at his own gate as he dismounted.
He handed the cattleman a note.

On the sheet of dirty paper was written:

The birds you want are nesting in a dugout on the river four miles below
town. You got to hurry or they'll be flown.

J.Y.

Snaith read the note, tore it in half, and tossed the pieces away. He
turned to the messenger.

"Tell Joe he's just a few hours late. His news isn't news any more."



Chapter XVII

"Peg-Leg" Warren


Webb drove his cattle up the river, the Staked Plains on his right. The
herd was a little gaunt from the long journey and he took the last part
of the trek in easy stages. Since he had been awarded the contract for
beeves at the Fort, by Department orders the old receiving agent had been
transferred. The new appointee was a brother-in-law of McRobert and the
owner of the Flying V Y did not want to leave any loophole for rejection
of the steers.

With the clean blood of sturdy youth in him Clanton recovered rapidly
from the shoulder wound. In order to rest him as much as possible,
Webb put him in charge of the calf wagon which followed the drag and
picked up any wobbly-legged bawlers dropped on the trail. During the
trip Jim discovered for himself the truth of what Billie had said,
that the settlers with small ranches were lined up as allies of the
Snaith-McRobert faction. These men, owners of small bunches of cows,
claimed that Webb and the other big drovers rounded up their cattle in
the drive, ran the road brand of the traveling outfit on these strays,
and sold them as their own. The story of the drovers was different.
They charged that these "nesters" were practically rustlers preying upon
larger interests passing through the country to the Indian reservations.
Year by year the feeling had grown more bitter, That Snaith and McRobert
backed the river settlers was an open secret. A night herder had been
shot from the mesquite not a month before. The blame had been laid upon a
band of bronco Mescaleros, but the story was whispered that a "bad
man" in the employ of the Lazy S M people, a man known as "Mysterious
Pete Champa," boasted later while drunk that he had fired the shot.

Jim had heard a good deal about this Mysterious Pete. He was a killer of
the most deadly kind because he never gave warning of his purpose. The
man was said to be a crack shot, quick as chain lightning, without the
slightest regard for human life. He moved furtively, spoke little when
sober, and had no scruples against assassination from ambush. Nobody in
the Southwest was more feared than he.

This man crossed the path of Clanton when the herd was about fifty miles
from the Fort.

The beeves had been grazing forward slowly all afternoon and were
loose-bedded early for the night. Cowpunchers are as full of larks as
schoolboys on a holiday. Now they were deciding a bet as to whether
Tim McGrath, a red-headed Irish boy, could ride a vicious gelding that
had slipped into the remuda. Billie Prince roped the front feet of the
horse and threw him. The animal was blindfolded and saddled.

Doubtful of his own ability to stick to the seat, Tim maneuvered the
buckskin over to the heavy sand before he mounted. The gelding went
sun-fishing into the air, then got his head between his legs and gave his
energy to stiff-legged bucking. He whirled as he plunged forward, went
round and round furiously, and unluckily for Tim reached the hard ground.
The jolts jerked the rider forward and back like a jack-knife without a
spring. He went flying over the head of the bronco to the ground.

The animal, red-eyed with hate, lunged for the helpless puncher. A second
time Billie's rope snaked forward. The loop fell true over the head of
the gelding, tightened, and swung the outlaw to one side so that his
hoofs missed the Irishman. Tim scrambled to his feet and fled for safety.

The cowpunchers whooped joyously. In their lives near-tragedy was too
frequent to carry even a warning. Dad Wrayburn hummed a stanza of
"Windy Bill" for the benefit of McGrath:

"Bill Garrett was a cowboy, an' he could ride, you bet; He said the bronc
he couldn't bust was one he hadn't met. He was the greatest talker that
this country ever saw Until his good old rim-fire went a-driftin' down
the draw."

Two men had ridden up unnoticed and were watching with no obvious
merriment the contest. Now one of them spoke.

"Where can I find Homer Webb?"

Dad turned to the speaker, a lean man with a peg-leg, brown as a Mexican,
hard of eye and mouth. The gray bristles on the unshaven face advertised
him as well on into middle age. Wrayburn recognized the man as "Peg-Leg"
Warren, one of the most troublesome nesters on the river.

"He's around here somewhere." Dad turned to Canton. "Seen anything of the
old man, Jim?"

"Here he comes now."

Webb rode up to the group. At sight of Warren and his companion the face
of the drover set.

"I've come to demand an inspection of yore herd," broke out the nester
harshly.

"Why demand it? Why not just ask for it?" cut back Webb curtly.

"I'm not splittin' words. What I'm sayin' is that if you've got any of my
cattle here I want 'em."

"You're welcome to them." Webb turned to his segundo. "Joe, ride through
the herd with this man. If there's any stock there with his brand,
cut 'em out for him. Bring the bunch up to the chuck wagon an' let me see
'em before he drives 'em away."

The owner of the Flying V Y brand wasted no more words. He swung his
cowpony around and rode back to the chuck wagon to superintend the
jerking of the hind quarters of a buffalo.

He was still busy at this when the nester returned with half a dozen
cattle cut out from the herd. In those days of the big drives many strays
drifted by chance into every road outfit passing through the country. It
was no reflection on the honesty of a man to ask for an inspection and to
find one's cows among the beeves following the trail.

Webb walked over to the little bunch gathered by Warren and looked over
each one of the steers.

"That big red with the white stockin's goes with the herd. The rest may
be yours," the drover said.

"The roan's mine too. My brand's the Circle Diamond. See here where it's
been blotted out."

"I bought that steer from the Circle Lazy H five hundred miles from here.
You'll find a hundred like it in the herd," returned Webb calmly.

Warren turned to his companion. "Pete, you know this steer. Ain't it
mine?"

"Sure." The man to whom Warren had turned for confirmation was a slight,
trim, gray-eyed man. Sometimes the gray of the eyes turned almost
black, but always they were hard as onyx. There was about the man
something sinister, something of eternal wariness. His glance had a habit
of sweeping swiftly from one person to another as if it questioned what
purpose might lie below the unruffled surface.

Homer Webb called to Prince and to Wrayburn. "Billie--Dad, know anything
about this big red steer?"

"Know it? We'd ought to," answered Wrayburn promptly. "It's the ladino
beef that started the stampede on the Brazos--made us more trouble than
any ten critters of the bunch."

"You bought it from the Circle Lazy H," supplemented Billie.

Peg-Leg Warren laughed harshly. "O' course they'll swear to it. You're
givin' them their job, ain't you?"

The drover looked at him steadily. "Yes, I'm givin' the boys a job, but I
haven't bought 'em body an' soul, Warren."

The eyes of the nester were a barometer of his temper. "That's my beef,
Webb."

"It never was yours an' it never will be."

"Raw work, Webb. I'll not stand for it."

"Don't overplay yore hand," cautioned the owner of the trail herd.

Clanton had ridden up and was talking to the cook. A couple of other
punchers had dropped up to the chuck wagon, casually as it were.

Warren glared at them savagely, but swallowed his rage. "It's yore say-so
right now, but I'll collect what's comin' to me one of these days. You're
liable to find this trail hotter 'n hell with the lid on."

"I'm not lookin' for trouble, but I'm not runnin' away from it," returned
Webb evenly.

"You're sure goin' to find it--a heap more of it than you can ride herd
on. That right, Pete?"

The gray-eyed man nodded slightly. Mysterious Pete had the habit of
taciturnity. His gaze slid in a searching, sidelong fashion from Webb to
Prince, on to Wrayburn, across to Clanton, and back to the drover. No
wolf in the encinal could have been warier.

"Cut out the roan," ordered Webb.

The ladino was separated from the bunch of Circle Diamond cattle. Warren
and his satellite drove the rest from the camp.

"War, looks like," commented Dad Wrayburn.

"Yes," agreed the drover. "I wish it didn't have to be. But Peg-Leg
called for a showdown. He came here to force my hand. As regards the
beef, he might have had it an' welcome. But that wouldn't have satisfied
him. He'd have taken it for a sign of weakness if I had given way."

"What will he do?" asked young McGrath.

"I don't know. We'll have to keep our eyes open every minute of the day
an' night. Are you with me, boys?"

Tim threw his hat into the air and let out a yell. "Surest thing you
know."

"Damfidon't sit in an' take a hand," said Wrayburn.

One after another agreed to back the boss.

"But don't think it will be a picnic," urged Webb. "We'll know we've been
in a fight before we get through. With a crowd of gunmen like Mysterious
Pete against us we'll have hard travelin'. I'd side-step this if I could,
but I can't."



Chapter XVIII

A Stampede


Clanton took his turn at night herding for the first time the day of
Warren's visit to the camp. Under a star-strewn sky he circled the
sleeping herd, humming softly a stanza of a cowboy song. Occasionally he
met Billie Prince or Tim McGrath circling in the opposite direction. The
scene was peaceful as old age and beautiful as a fairy tale. For under
the silvery light of night the Southwest takes on a loveliness foreign to
it in the glare of the sun. The harsh details of day are lost in a
luminous glow of mystic charm.

Jim had just ridden past Billie when the silence was shattered by a
sudden fury of sound. The popping of revolvers, the clanging of cow
bells, the clash of tin boilers--all that medley of discord which lends
volume to the horror known as a charivari--tore to shreds the harmony of
the night.

"What's that?" called Billie.

The hideous dissonance came from the side of the herd farthest from the
camp. Together the two riders galloped toward it.

"Peg-Leg Warren's work," guessed Clanton.

"Sure," agreed Billie. "Trying to stampede the herd."

Already the cattle were bawling in wild terror, surging toward the camp
to escape this unknown danger. Both of the punchers drew their revolvers
and fired rapidly into the herd. It was impossible to check the rush, but
they succeeded in deflecting it from the sleeping men. Before the weapons
were empty, the ground shook with a thunder of hoofs as the herd fled
into the darkness.

Billie found himself in the van of the stampede. He was caught in the
rush and to save himself from being trampled down was forced to join the
flight. He was the center of a moving sea of backs, so hemmed in that if
his pony stumbled life would be trodden out of him in an instant. Except
for occasional buffalo wallows the ground was level, but at any moment
his mount might break a leg in a prairie-dog hole.

For the first mile or two the cattle were packed in a dense mass,
shoulder to shoulder, all lumbering forward in wild-eyed panic. The noise
of their hoofs was like the continuous roll of thunder and the cloud of
dust so thick that the throat of Prince was swollen with it. It was only
after the stampeded cattle had covered several miles that the formation
of their aimless charge grew looser. The pace slackened as the steers
became leg-weary. Now and again small bunches dropped from the drag or
from one of the flanks. Gradually Billie was able to work toward the
outskirts. His chance came when the herd poured into a swale and from it
emerged into a more broken terrain. Directly in front of the leaders was
a mesa with a sharp incline. Instead of taking the hill, the stampede
split, part flowing to the right and part to the left. The cow-puncher
urged his flagged horse straight up the hill.

He had escaped with his life, but the bronco was completely exhausted.
Billie unsaddled and freed the cowpony. He knew it would not wander far
now. Stretched out at full length on the buffalo grass, the cowboy drank
into his lungs the clean, cold night air. His tongue was swollen, his
lips cracked and bleeding. The alkali dust, sifting into His eyes, had
left them red and sore. Every inch of his unshaven face, his hands, and
his clothes was covered with a fine, white powder. For a long drink of
mountain water he would gladly have given a month's pay.

Within the hour Billie resaddled and took the back trail. There was no
time to lose. He must get back to camp, notify Webb where the stampede
was moving, and join the other riders in an all-night and all-day
round-up of the scattered herd. Since daybreak he had been in the saddle,
and he knew that for at least twenty-four hours longer he would not leave
it except to change from a worn-out horse to a fresh one.

When Prince reached camp shortly after midnight he found that the
stampede of the cattle had for the moment fallen into second place in the
minds of his companions. They were digging a grave for the body of Tim
McGrath. The young Irishman had been shot down just as the attack on the
herd began. It was a reasonable guess to suppose that he had come face to
face with the raiders, who had shot him on the theory that dead men tell
no tales.

But the cowpuncher had lived till his friends reached him. He had told
them with his dying breath that Mysterious Pete had shot him without a
word of warning and that after he fell from his horse Peg-Leg Warren rode
up and fired into his body.

Jim Clanton called his friend to one side. "I'm goin' to sneak out an'
take a lick at them fellows, Billie. Want to go along?"

"What's yore notion? How're you goin' to manage it?"

"Me, I'm goin' to bushwhack Warren or some of his killers from the
chaparral."

Prince had seen once before that cold glitter in the eyes of the hill
man. It was the look that comes into the face of the gunman when he is
intent on the kill.

"I wouldn't do that if I was you, Jim," Billie advised. "This ain't our
personal fight. We're under orders. We'd better wait an' see what the
old man wants us to do. An? I don't reckon I would shoot from ambush
anyhow."

"Wouldn't you? I would," The jaw of the younger man snapped tight.
"What chance did they give poor Tim, I'd like to know? He was one of the
best-hearted pilgrims ever rode up the trail, an' they shot him down like
a coyote. I'm goin' to even the score."

"Don't you, Jim; don't you." Billie laid a hand on the shoulder of his
partner in adventure. "Because they don't fight in the open is no reason
for us to bushwhack too. That's no way for a white man to attack his
enemies."

But the inheritance from feudist ancestors was strong in young Clanton.
He had seen a comrade murdered in cold blood. All the training of his
primitive and elemental nature called for vengeance.

"No use beefin', Billie. You don't have to go if you don't want to. But
I'm goin'. I didn't christen myself Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em for nothin'."

"Put it up to Webb first. Let's hear what he has got to say about it,"
urged Prince. "We've all got to pull together. You can't play a lone hand
in this."

"I'll put it up to Webb when I've done the job. He won't be responsible
for it then. He can cut loose from me if he wants to. So long, Billie.
I'll sleep on Peg-Leg Warren's trail till I git him."

"Give up that fool notion, Jim. I can't let you go. It wouldn't be fair
to you or to Webb either. We're all in this together."

"What'll you do to prevent my goin'?"

"I'll tell the old man if I have to. Sho, kid! Let's not you an' me have
trouble." Billie's gentle smile pleaded for their friendship. "We've been
pals ever since we first met up. Don't go off on this crazy idea like a
half-cocked hogleg."

"We're not goin' to quarrel, Billie. Nothin' to that. But I'm goin'
through." The boyish jaw clamped tight again. The eyes that looked at his
friend might have been of tempered steel for hardness.

"No."

"Yes."

Clanton was leaning against the rump of his horse. He turned, indolently,
gathered his body suddenly, and vaulted to the saddle. Like a shot he was
off into the night.

Billie, startled at the swiftness of his going, could only stare after
him impotently. He knew that it would be impossible to find one lone
rider in the darkness.

Slowly he walked back to the grave. The riders of the Flying V Y were
gathered round in a quiet and silent group. They were burying the body of
him who had been the gayest and lightest-hearted of their circle only a
few hours before.

As soon as the last shovelful of earth had been pressed down upon the
mound, Webb turned to business. The herd scattered over thirty miles of
country must be gathered at once and he set about the round-up. He had
had bad runs on the trail before and he knew the job before his men was
no easy one.

They jogged out on a Spanish trot in the trail of the stampede. The chuck
wagon was to meet them at Spring River next morning, where the first
gather of beeves would be brought and held. All night they rode, tough as
hickory, strong as whip-cord. Into the desert sky sifted the gray light
which preceded the coming of day. Banners of mauve and amethyst and topaz
were flung across the horizon, to give place to glorious splashes of
purple and pink and crimson. The sun, a flaming ball of fire, rose big as
a washtub from the edge of the desert.

In that early morning light crept over the plain little bunches of cattle
followed by brown, lithe riders. Like spokes of a wheel each group moved
to a hub. Old Black Ned, the cook, was the focus of their travel. For at
Spring River he had waiting for them hot coffee, flaky biscuits, steaks
hot from the coals. Each rider seized a tin cup, a tin plate, a knife and
fork, and was ready for the best Uncle Ned had to offer.

The remuda had been brought up by the wranglers. While the horses milled
about in a cloud of dust, each puncher selected another mount. He
moved forward, his loop trailing, eye fixed on the one pony, out of one
hundred and fifty, that he wanted for the day's work. Suddenly a rope
would snake forward past half a dozen broncos and drop about the neck of
an animal near the heart of the herd. The twisting, dodging cowpony would
surrender instantly and submit to being cut out from the band. Saddles
were slapped on in a hurry and the riders were again on their way.

Through the mesquite they rode, slackening speed for neither gullies nor
barrancas. Webb gave orders crisply, disposed of his men in such a way
as to make of them a drag-net through which no cattle could escape, and
began to tighten the loops for the drive back to camp.

By the middle of the afternoon the chuck wagon was in sight. The ponies
were fagged, the men weary. For thirty-six hours these riders, whose
muscles seemed tough as whalebone, had been almost steadily in the
saddle. They slouched along now easily, always in a gray cloud of dust
raised by the bellowing cattle.

The new gather of cattle was thrown in with those that had been rounded
up during the night. The punchers unsaddled their worn mounts and drifted
to the camp-fire one by one. Ravenously they ate, then rolled up in their
blankets and fell asleep at once. To-night they had neither heart nor
energy for the gay badinage that usually flew back and forth.

Night was still heavy over the land when Uncle Ned's gong wakened them.
The moon was disappearing behind a scudding cloud, but stars could be
seen by thousands. Across the open plain a chill wind blew.

All was bustle and confusion, but out of the turmoil emerged order. The
wranglers, already fed, moved into the darkness to bring up the remuda.
Tin cups and plates rattled merrily. Tongues wagged. Bits of repartee,
which are the salt of the cowpuncher's life, were flung across the fire
from one; to another. Already the death of Tim McGrath was falling into
the background of their swift, turbulent lives. After all the cowboy dies
young. Tim's soul had wandered out across the great divide only a few
months before that of others among them.

Out of the mist emerged the desert, still gray and vague and without
detail. The day's work was astir once more. With the nickering of horses,
the bawling of cattle, and the shouts of men as an orchestral
accompaniment, light filtered into the valley for the drama of the new
sunrise. Once more the tireless riders swept into the mesquite through
the clutching cholla to comb another segment of country in search of the
beeves not yet reclaimed.

That day's drive brought practically the entire herd together again. A
few had not been recovered, but Webb set these down to profit and loss.
What he regretted most was that the cattle were not in as good condition
as they had been before the stampede.

The drover spent the next day cutting out the animals that did not belong
to him. Of these a good many had been collected in the round-up. It was
close to evening before the job was finished and the outfit returned to
camp.

Billie rode up to the wagon with the old man. Leaning against a saddle on
the ground, a flank steak in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other,
lounged Jim Clanton.

Webb, hard-eyed and stiff, looked at the young man, "Had a pleasant
vacation, Clanton?"

"I don't know as I would call it a vacation, Mr. Webb. I been attending
to some business," explained Jim.

"Yours or mine?"

"Yours an' mine."

"You've been gone forty-eight hours. The rest of us have worked our heads
off gettin' together the herd. I reckon you can explain why you weren't
with us."

Yellow with dust, unshaven, mud caked in his hair, hands torn by the
cat-claw, Homer Webb was red-eyed from lack of sleep and from the
irritation of the alkali powder. This young rider had broken the first
law of the cowpuncher, to be on the job in time of trouble and to stay
there as long as he could back a horse. The owner of the Flying V Y was
angry clear through at his desertion and he intended to let the boy know
it.

"I went out to look for Peg-Leg Warren" said Clanton apologetically.

Webb stopped in his stride. "You did? Who told you to do that?"

"I didn't need to be told. I've got horse sense myself." Jim spoke a
little sulkily. He knew that he ought to have stayed with his employer.

"Well, what did you do when you found Peg-Leg--make him a visit for a
couple of days?" demanded the drover with sarcasm.

"No, I don't know him well enough to visit--only well enough to shoot
at."

"What's that?" asked Webb sharply.

"Think I was goin' to let 'em plug Tim McGrath an' get away with it?"
snapped Jim.

"That's my business--not yours. What did you do? Come clean."

"Laid out in the chaparral till I got a chance to gun him," the young
fellow answered sullenly.

"And then?"

"Plugged a hole through him an' made my get-away."

"You mean you've killed Peg-Leg Warren?"

"He'll never be any deader," said Clanton coolly.

The dark blood flushed into Webb's face. He wasted no pity on Warren. The
man was a cold-hearted murderer and had reaped only what he had sowed.
But this was no excuse for Clanton, who had deliberately dragged the
Flying V Y into trouble without giving its owner a chance to determine
what form retribution should take. The cowpuncher had gone back to
primitive instincts and elected the blood feud as the necessary form of
reprisal. He had plunged Webb and the other drovers into war without even
a by-your-leave. His answer to murder had been murder. To encourage
this sort of thing would be subversive of all authority and would lead to
anarchy.

"Get yore time from Yankie, Clanton," said his employer harshly. "Sleep
in camp to-night if you like, but hit the trail in the mornin'. I can't
use men like you."

He turned away and left the two friends alone.

Prince was sick at heart. He had warned the young fellow and it had done
no good. His regret was for Jim, not for Warren. He blamed himself for
not having prevented the killing of Peg-Leg. Yet he knew he had done all
that he could.

"I'm sorry, Jim," he said at last.

"Oh, well! What's done is done."

But Billie could not dismiss the matter casually. He saw clearly that
Clanton had come to the parting of the ways and had unconsciously made
his choice for life. From this time he would be known as a bad man. The
brand of the killer would be on him and he would have to make good his
reputation. He would have to live without friends, without love, in the
dreadful isolation of one who is watched and feared by all. Prince felt a
great wave of sympathy for him, of regret for so young a soul gone so
totally astray. Surely the cards had been marked against Jim Clanton.



Chapter XIX

A Two-Gun Man


Webb delivered his beeves at the Fort and endured with what fortitude he
could the heavy cut which the inspector chose to inflict on him. He paid
off his men and let them shift for themselves. Billie secured a wood
contract at the reservation, employed half a dozen men and teams, cleaned
up a thousand dollars in a couple of months, and rode back to Los
Portales in the late fall.

He had money in his pocket and youth in his heart. The day was waning as
he rode up the street and in the sunlight the shadows of himself and his
horse were attenuated to farcical lengths. Little dust whirls rose in the
road, spun round in inverted cones like huge tops, and scurried out of
sight across the prairie. Horses drowsed lazily in front of Tolleson's,
anchored to the spot by the simple process of throwing the bridle to the
ground. It all looked good to Billie. He had been hard at work for many
months and he wanted to play.

A voice hailed him from across the street. "Hello, you Billie!"

Jim Clanton and Pauline Roubideau were coming out of a store. He
descended from his horse and they fell upon him gayly.

"'Jour, monsieur," the girl cried, and she gave him warmly both her
hands.

The honest eyes of Billie devoured her. "Didn't know you were within a
hundred miles of here. This is great."

"We've moved. We live about twenty miles from town now. But I'm in a good
deal because Jean has bought the livery stable," she explained.

"I'm sure glad to hear that."

"You're to come and see us to-night. Supper will be ready in an hour. You
bring him, Jim," ordered the girl. "I'll leave you boys alone now. You
must have heaps to talk about."

The gaze of the cowpuncher followed her as she went down the street light
and graceful as a fawn. Not since spring had he seen her, though in the
night watches he had often heard the sound of her gay voice, seen the
flash of her bright eyes, and recalled the sweet and gallant buoyancy
that was the dear note of her comradeship.

Billie looked after his horse and walked with Jim to the Proctor House.
His mind was already busy appraising the changes in his friend. Clanton
was now a "two-gun" man. From each hip hung a heavy revolver, the lower
ends of the holsters tied down in order not to interfere with lightning
rapidity of action. The young man showed no signs of nervousness, but his
chill eyes watched without ceasing the street, doors and windows of
buildings, the faces of passers-by and corner loafers. What Prince had
foreseen was coming to pass. He was paying the penalty of his reputation
as a bad man. Already incessant wariness was the price of life for him.

A second surprise awaited Billie at the Roubideau house. Polly was in the
kitchen and looked out of the door only to wave a big spoon at them as
they approached. Another young woman welcomed them. At sight of Billie a
deep flush burned under her dark skin. It was, perhaps, because of this
sign of emotion that her greeting was very cavalier.

"You're back, I see!"

Prince ignored the hint of hostility in her manner. His big hand gripped
her little one firmly.

"Yes, I'm back, Miss Lee, and right glad to see you lookin' so well. I'll
never forget the last time we met."

Neither would she, but she did not care to tell him so. The memory of the
adventure by the river-bank recurred persistently. This lean, sunbaked
cowpuncher with the kind eyes and quiet efficiency of bearing had
impressed himself upon her as no other man had. There was a touch of
scorn in her feeling for herself, because she knew she wanted him for her
mate more than anything else on earth. In the night, alone in the
friendly darkness, her hot face pressed into the cool pillows, she
confessed to herself that she loved him and longed for the sight of his
strong, good-looking face with its smile of whimsical humor. But that was
when she was safe from the eyes of the world. Now, to punish herself and
to prevent him from suspecting the truth, she devoted her attention
mainly to Clanton.

Jim was openly her admirer. He wanted Lee to know it and did not care who
else observed his devotion. Pauline for one guessed the boy's state of
mind and smiled at it, but Billie wondered whether the smile hid an
aching heart. He knew that little Polly had a very tender feeling for the
boy who had saved her life. More than once during supper it seemed to him
that her soft eyes yearned for the reckless young fellow talking so gayly
to Miss Snaith. The conviction grew in Prince--it found lodgment in his
mind with a pang of despair--that the girl he cared for had given her
love to his friend. He fought against the thought, tried resolutely to
push it from him, but again and again it returned.

Not until supper was well under way did Jean Roubideau come in from the
corral. He shook hands with Billie and at the same time explained to
Polly his tardiness.

"Billie is not the only stranger in town to-night. Two or three blew in
just before I left and kept me a few minutes. That Mysterious Pete Champa
was one. You know him, don't you, Jim?"

The question was asked carelessly, casually, but Prince read in it a
warning to his friend. It meant that he was to be ready for any emergency
which might arise.

After they had eaten Billie went out to the porch to smoke with Jean.

"Is there goin' to be trouble between Mysterious Pete an' Jim?" he asked.

"Don't know. Wouldn't wonder if that was why Champa came to town. If I
was Jim I'd keep an eye in the back of my head when I walked. It's a
cinch Pete will try to get him--if he tries it at all--with all the
breaks in his favor."

"Is it generally known that Jim was the man who killed Warren?"

"Yes." Jean stuffed and lit his pipe before he, said anything more. "The
kid can't get away from it now. Folks think of him as a killer. They
watch him when he comes into a bar-room an' they're careful not to cross
him. He's a bad man whether he wants to be or not."

Billie nodded. "I was afraid it would be that way, but I'm more afraid of
somethin' else. The worst thing that can happen to any man, except to
get killed himself, is to shoot another in cold blood. 'Most always it
gives the fellow a cravin' to kill again. Haven't you noticed it? A kind
of madness gets into the veins of a killer."

"Sure I've noticed it. He has to be watchin'--watchin'--watchin' all the
time to make sure nobody gits him. His mind is on that one idea every
minute. Consequence is, he's always ready to shoot. So as not to take any
chances, he makes it a habit to be sudden death with a six-gun."

"That's it. Most of 'em are sure-thing killers. Jim's not like that. He's
game as they make 'em. But I'd give every cent I'm worth if he hadn't
gone out an' got Peg-Leg,"

"He never had any bringin' up, or at least he had the wrong kind." He
listened a moment with a little smile. From the kitchen, where Jim was
helping the young women wash the dishes, came a murmur of voices and
occasionally a laugh. "Funny how all good women are mothers in their
hearts. Polly's tryin' to save that boy from himself, an' I reckon maybe
Miss Lee is too. In a way they got no business to have him here at all. I
like him. That ain't the point. But he's got off wrong foot first. He's
declared himself out of their class."

"And yore sister won't see it that way?"

"Not a bit of it. She's goin' to fight for his soul, as you might say,
an' bring him back if she can do it. Polly's a mighty loyal little
friend, if I am her brother that tells it."

"She's right," decided Prince. "It can't hurt her any. Nothin' that's
wrong can do her any harm, because she's so fine she sees only the good.
An' it's certainly goin' to do the kid good to know her."

"If he'd git out of here he might have a chance yet. But he won't. An'
when he meets up with Champa or Dave Roush he's got to forget mighty
prompt everything that Polly has told him."

"I heard Roush was on the mend. Is he up again?"

"Yes. He had a narrow squeak, but pulled through. Roush rode into town
with Mysterious Pete to-night."

"Then they've probably come to gun Jim. I'll stay right with him for a
day or two if I can."

"What for?" demanded Roubideau bluntly. "You're not in this thing. You've
got no call to mix up in it. The boy saved Polly, an' I'll go this far.
If I'm on the spot when he meets Champa or Roush--an' I'll try to be
there--I won't let'em both come at him without takin' a hand. But he
has got to choose his own way in life. I can't stand between him an' the
consequences of his acts. He's got to play his own hand."

"Did Dave Roush an' Mysterious Pete seem pretty friendly?"

"Thicker than three in a bed."

"Looks bad." Billie came to another phase of the situation. "How does it
happen that Snaith's outfit have let Jim stay here without gettin' after
him? Nothin' but a necktie party would suit 'em when we left in the
spring."

"Times have changed," explained Roubideau. "This is quite a trail town
now. The big outfits are bringin' in a good deal of money. Snaith can't
run things with so high a hand as he did. Besides, there are a good many
of the trail punchers in town now. I reckon Wally Snaith has given orders
not to start anything."

"Maybe Roush an' Champa have been given orders to take care of Jim."

Jean doubted this and said so. "Snaith doesn't play his hand under the
table. But, of course, Sanders may have tipped 'em off to do it."

Clanton joined them presently and the three men walked downtown. The gay
smile dropped from Jim's face the moment he stepped down from the porch.
Already his eyes had narrowed and over them had come a kind of film. They
searched every dark spot on the road.

"Let's go to Tolleson's," he proposed abruptly.

There was a moment of silence before Billie made a counter-proposition.
"No, let's go back to the hotel."

"All right. You fellows go to the hotel. Meet you there later."

The eyes of Prince and Roubideau met. Not another word was spoken. Both
of them knew that Clanton intended to show himself in public where any
one that wanted him might find him. They turned toward Tolleson's, but
took the precaution to enter by the back door.

The sound of shuffling feet, of tinkling piano and whining fiddle, gave
notice in advance that the dancers were on the floor. Clanton took the
precaution to ease the guns in their holsters in order to make sure of a
swift draw.

His forethought was unnecessary. Neither Roush nor Mysterious Pete was
among the dancers, the gamblers, or at the bar. The three friends passed
out of the front door and walked to the Proctor House. Clanton had done
all that he felt was required of him and was willing to drop the matter
for the night.



Chapter XX

Exit Mysterious Pete


In the cold, gray dawn of the morning after, Mysterious Pete straddled
down the main street of Los Portales with a dark-brown taste in his
mouth. He was feeling ugly. For he had imbibed a large quantity of
liquor. He had gambled and lost. He had boasted of what he intended to do
to one James Clanton, now generally known as "Go-Get-'Em Jim,"

This last in particular was a mistake. Moreover, it was quite out of
accord with the usual custom of Mr. Champa. When he made up his mind to
increase by one the number of permanent residents upon Boot Hill he bided
his time, waited till the suspicions of his victim were lulled, and shot
down his man without warning. The one fixed rule of his life was never to
take an unnecessary chance. Now he was taking one.

Every chain has its weakest link. Mr. Champa drunk was a rock upon which
Mr. Champa sober had more than once come to shipwreck. No doubt some
busybody, seeking to curry favor with him, had run to this Clanton with
the tale of how Mysterious Pete had sworn to kill him on sight.

The bad man was sour on the world this morning. He prided himself on
being always a dead shot, but such a night as he had spent would not help
his chances. There could be no doubt that his nerves were jumpy. What he
needed was a few hours' sleep.

He would have taken a back street if he had dared, but to do so would
have been a confession of doubt. The killer can afford to let nobody
guess that he is afraid. When such a suspicion becomes current he might
as well order his coffin. The men whom he holds in the subjection of fear
will all be taking a chance with him.

So Mysterious Pete, bad man and murderer, coward at heart to the marrow,
strutted toward his rooming-house with a heart full of hate to everybody.
The pleasant morning sunshine was an offense to him. A care-free laugh on
the breeze made him grit his teeth irritably. Particularly he hated Dave
Roush. For Roush had led him into this cunningly by bribery and flattery.
He had fed the jealousy of Pete, who could not brook the thought of a
rival bad man in his own territory. He had hinted that perhaps Champa had
better steer clear of this youth, whose reputation as a killer had grown
so amazingly. Ever since Clanton had killed Warren the bad man had
intended to "get him." But he had meant to do it without taking any risk.
His idea was to pretend to be his friend, push a gun into his stomach,
and down him before he could move. Now by his folly he had to take a
fighting chance. Dave Roush, to save his own skin, had pushed him into
danger. All this was quite clear to him now, and he raged at the
knowledge.

Champa, too, was at another disadvantage. He was not sure that he would
know Clanton when he saw him. He had set eyes on the young fellow once,
on that occasion when he had gone with Warren to demand an inspection of
the Flying V Y herd. But he had seen him only as one of a group of
cowpunchers and not as an individual enemy, whereas it was quite certain
that Go-Get-'Em Jim would recognize him.

From out of a doorway stepped a young fellow with his hand on his hip.
Pete's six-gun flashed upward in a quarter curve even as the bullet
crashed on its way. The youth staggered against the wall and sank
together into a heap. Champa, every sense alert, fired again, then waited
warily to make sure this was not a ruse of his victim.

Some one--a woman--darted from a building opposite, flew across the
street, and dropped beside the crumpled figure. Her white skirt covered
the body like a protecting flag.

The dark eyes in the white face lifted toward Champa were full of horror,
"You murderer! You've killed little Bud Proctor!" cried the young woman.

He took an uncertain step or two toward her. Mysterious Pete knew that if
this were true, his race was run.

"Goddlemighty, Miss Snaith! I swear I thought it was Clanton. He was
drawing a gun on me."

Lee drew the boy to her bosom so that her body was between the killer and
his victim. A swift, up-blazing, maternal fury seemed to leap from her
face.

"Don't come any nearer! Don't you dare!" she cried.

The man's covert glance swept round. Already men were peering out of
doors and windows to see what the shooting was about. Soon the street
would be full of them, all full of deadly fury at him. He backed away,
snarling, cut across a vacant lot, and ran to his room. The bolt in his
door was no sooner closed than he knew it could not protect him. There
comes a time in the career of a large percentage of bad men when some
other hard citizen on behalf of the public puts a period to it. He is
wiped out, not for what he has done only, but for fear also of what he
may do. The only safety for him now was to get out of the country as fast
as a house could carry him. Instinctively Mysterious Pete recognized this
now and cursed his folly for not going straight to a corral.

If he hurried he might still make his get-away, He reloaded his revolver,
opened the door of his room, and listened. Cautiously he stole downstairs
and out the back door of the building. A little girl was playing at
keeping house in a corner of the yard. Scarcely more than a baby herself,
she was vigorously spanking a doll.

"Be dood. You better had be dood," she admonished.

A crafty idea came into the cunning brain of the outlaw. She would serve
as a protection against the bullets of his enemies. He caught her up and
carried her, kicking and screaming, while he ran to the Elephant Corral.

"Saddle me a horse. Jump!" ordered the fugitive, his revolver out.

The trembling wrangler obeyed. He did not know the cause of Mysterious
Pete's urgency fact was enough. He knew that this man with the bad record
was flying in fear of his life. Tiny sweat beads stood out on his
forehead. The fellow was in a blue funk and would shoot at the least
pretext.

The saddle that the wrangler flung on the horse he had roped was a Texas
one with double cinches. In desperate haste to be gone, Champa released
the child a moment to tighten one of the bands.

A voice called to her. "Run, Kittie."

To the casual eye the child was all knobby legs and hair ribbons. She
scudded for the stable, sobbing as she ran.

At sound of that voice Mysterious Pete leaped to the saddle and whirled
his horse. He was too late. The man who had called to Kittie slammed shut
the gate of the corral and laughed tauntingly.

"Better 'light, Mr. Champa. That caballo you're on happens to be mine."

Pete needed no introduction. This slight, devil-may-care young fellow at
the gate was Clanton. He was here to fight. The only road of escape was
over his body.

The gunman slid from the saddle. His instinct for safety still served
him, for he came to the ground with the horse as a shield between him and
his foe. The nine-inch barrel of his revolver rested on the back of the
bronco as he blazed away. A chip flew from the cross-bar of the corral
gate.

Clanton took no chances. The first shot from his forty-four dropped the
cowpony. Pete backed away, firing as he moved. He flung bullet after
bullet at the figure behind the gate. In his panic he began to think that
his enemy bore a charmed life. Three times his lead struck the woodwork
of the gate.

The retreating man whirled and dropped, his weapon falling to the dust.
Clanton fired once more to make sure that his work was done, then moved
slowly forward, his eyes focused on the body. A thin wisp of smoke rose
from the revolver lying close to the still hand.

Mysterious Pete had died with his boots on after the manner of his kind.



Chapter XXI

Jim Receives and Declines an Offer


From the moment that Clanton walked out of the corral and left the dead
gunman lying in the dust his reputation was established. Up till that
time he had been on probation. Now he was a full-fledged killer. Nobody
any longer spoke of him by his last name, except those friends who still
hoped he might escape his destiny. "Go-Get-'em Jim" was his title at
large. Those on more familiar terms called him "Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em."

It was unfortunate for Clanton that the killing of Champa lifted him into
instant popularity. Mysterious Pete had been too free with his gun. The
community had been afraid of him. The irresponsible way in which he had
wounded little Bud Proctor, whose life had been saved only by the courage
of Lee Snaith, was the climax of a series of outrages committed by the
man.

That Jim had incidentally saved Kittie McRobert from the outlaw was a
piece of clean luck. Snaith came to him at once and buried the hatchet.
In the war just starting, the cattleman needed men of nerve to lead his
forces. He offered a place to Clanton, who jumped at the chance to get on
the pay-roll of Lee's father.

"Bring yore friend Billie Prince to the store," suggested Snaith. "He's
not workin' for Webb now. I can make a place for him, too."

Billie came, listened to the proposition of the grim old-timer, and
declined quietly.

"Goin' to stick by Webb, are you?" demanded the chief of the opposite
faction.

"Anything wrong with that? I've drawn a pay-check from him for three
seasons."

"Oh, if it's a matter of sentiment."

As a matter of fact, Billie did not intend to go on the trail any more,
though Webb had offered him a place as foreman of one of his herds. He
had discovered in himself unsuspected business capacity and believed he
could do better on his own. Moreover, he was resolved not to let himself
become involved in the lawless warfare that was engulfing the territory.

It must be remembered that Washington County was at this time as large as
the average Atlantic Coast State. It had become a sink for the riff-raff
driven out of Texas by the Rangers, for all that wild and adventurous
element which flocks to a new country before the law has established
itself. The coming of the big cattle herds had brought money into the
country, and in its wake followed the gambler and the outlaw. Gold and
human life were the cheapest commodities at Los Portales. The man who
wore a gun on his hip had to be one hundred per cent efficient to
survive.

Lawlessness was emphasized by the peculiar conditions of the country. The
intense rivalry to secure Government contracts for hay, wood, and
especially cattle, stimulated unwholesome competition. The temptation to
"rustle" stock, to hold up outfits carrying pay to the soldiers, to live
well merely as a gunman for one of the big interests on the river, made
the honest business of every-day life a humdrum affair.

None the less, the real heroes among the pioneers were the quiet citizens
who went about their business and refused to embroil themselves in the
feuds that ran rife. The men who made the West were the mule-skinners,
the storekeepers, the farmers who came out in white-topped movers'
wagons. For a time these were submerged by the more sensational gunman,
but in the end they pushed to the top and wiped the "bad man" from the
earth. It was this prosaic class that Billie Prince had resolved to join.

To that resolve he stuck through all the blood-stained years of the
notorious Washington County War. He went about his private affairs with
quiet energy that brought success. He took hay and grain contracts,
bought a freighting outfit, acquired a small but steadily increasing
bunch of cattle. Gradually he bulked larger in the public eye, became an
anchor of safety to whom the people turned after the war had worn itself
out and scattered bands of banditti infested the chaparral to prey upon
the settlers.

This lean, brown-faced man walked the way of the strong. Men recognized
the dynamic force of his close-gripped jaw, the power of his quick,
steady eye, the patience of his courage. The eyes of women followed him
down the street, for there was some arresting quality in the firm, crisp
tread that carried the lithe, smooth-muscled body. With the passage of
years he had grown to a full measure of mental manhood. It was inevitable
that when Washington County set itself to the task of combing the outlaws
from the mesquite it should delegate the job to Billie Prince.

The evening after his election as sheriff, Billie called at the home of
Pauline Roubideau, who was keeping house for her brother. Jack Goodheart
was leaving just as Prince stepped upon the porch. It had been two years
now since Jack had ceased to gravitate in the direction of Lee Snaith.
His eyes and his footsteps for many months had turned often toward Polly.

The gaze of the sheriff-elect followed the lank figure of the retreating
man.

"I've a notion to ask that man to give up a good business to wear a
deputy's star for me," he told Pauline.

"Oh, I wouldn't," she said quickly.

"Why not? He'd be a good man for the job. I want some one game--some one
who will go through when he starts."

His questioning eyes rested on hers. She felt a difficulty in justifying
her protest.

"I don't know--I just thought--"

"I'm waiting," said Prince with a smile.

"He wouldn't take it, would he?" she fenced.

"If it was put up to him right I think he would. Of course, it would be a
sacrifice for him to make, but good citizens have to do that these days."

"He's had so much hard luck and been so long getting a start I don't
think you ought to ask him." The color spilled over her cheeks like wine
shaken from a glass upon a white cloth. Polly was always ardent on behalf
of a friend.

"I can't help that. There's another man I have in mind, but if I don't
get him it will be up to Jack."

"Will it be dangerous?"

"No more than smoking a cigarette above an open keg of powder. But you
don't suppose that would keep him from accepting the job, do you?"

"No," she admitted. "He would take it if he thought he ought. But I hope
you get the other man."

Billie dismissed the subject and drew up a chair beside the hammock in
which she was leaning back.

"This is my birthday, Polly," he told her. "I'm twenty-four years old."

"Good gracious! What a Methuselah!"

"I want a present, so I've come to ask for it."

With a sidelong tilt of her chin she flashed a look of quick eyes at him.
Her voice did not betray the pulse, of excitement that was beginning to
beat in her blood.

"You've just been elected sheriff. Isn't that enough?" she evaded.

"That's a fine present to hand a man," he answered grimly. "An' I didn't
notice you bubble with enthusiasm when I spoke of givin' half the glory
to Goodheart."

"But I haven't a thing you'd care for. If I'd only known in time I'd have
sent to Vegas and got you something nice."

"You don't have to send to Vegas for it, Polly. The present I want is
right here," he said simply.

She reached out a little hand impulsively. "Billie, I believe you 're the
best man I know--the very best."

"I hate to hear that. You're tryin' to let me down easy."

"I'm an ungrateful little idiot. Any other girl in town would jump at the
chance to say, 'Thank you, kind sir.'"

"But you can't," he said gently.

"No, I can't."

He was not sure whether there was a flash of tears in her brown eyes, but
he knew by that little trick of biting the lower lip that they were not
far away. She was a tender-hearted little comrade, and it always hurt her
to hurt others.

Billie drew a long breath. "That's settled, too, then. I asked you once
before if there was some one else. I ask you again, but don't tell me if
you'd rather not."

"Yes."

"You mean there is."

Again the scarlet splashed into her cheeks. She nodded her head three or
four times quickly in assent.

"Not Jim Clanton?" he said, alarmed.

A faint, tender smile flashed on her lips. "I don't think I'll tell you
who he is, Billie."

He hesitated. "That's all right, Polly. I don't want to pry into yore
secret. But--don't do anything foolish. Don't marry a man with the notion
of reformin' him or because he seems to you romantic. You have lots of
sense. You'll use it, won't you?" he pleaded.

"I'll try to use it, Billie," she promised. Then, the soft eyes shining
and the color still high in her cheeks, she added impulsively: "I don't
know anybody that needs some one to love him more than that poor boy
does."

"Mebbeso. But don't you be that some one, Polly." He hesitated, divided
between loyalty to his friend and his desire for this girl's good. His
brown, unscarred hand caught hers in a firm grip. "Don't you do it,
little girl. Don't you. The woman that marries Jim Clanton is doomed to
be miserable. There's no escape for her. She's got to live with her heart
in her throat till the day they bring his dead body back to her."

She leaned toward him, and now there was no longer any doubt that her
eyes were bright with unshed tears. "Perhaps a woman doesn't marry for
happiness alone, Billie. That may come to her, or it may not. But she has
to fulfill her destiny. I don't know how to say what I mean, but she must
go on and live her life and forget herself."

Prince rejected this creed flatly. "No! No! The best way to fulfill yore
life is to be happy. That's what you've always done, an' that's why
you've made other people happy. Because you go around singin' an'
dancin', we all want to tune up with you. When I was out bossin' a
freight outfit I used to think of you at night under the stars as a
little Joybird. Now you've got it in that curly head of yours that you 'd
ought to be some kind of a missionary martyr for the sake of a man's
soul. That's all wrong."

"Is it?" she asked him with a crooked, little, wistful smile. "How about
you? Do you want to be sheriff? Is it going to make you so awfully happy
to spend your time running down outlaws for the good of the country?
Aren't you doing it because you've been called to it and not because you
like it?"

"That's different," he protested. "When the community needs him a man's
got to come through or be a yellow hound. But you've got no right to
toss away yore life plumb foolishly just because you've got a tender
heart." Billie stopped again, then threw away any scruples he might have
on the score of friendship. "Jim is goin' to be what he is to the end of
the chapter. You can't change him. Nobody can. In this Washington County
War he's been a terror to the other side. You know that. For such a girl
as you he's outside the pale."

"I heard Jean say once that Jim had never killed a man that didn't need
killing," she protested.

"That may be true, too. But it wasn't up to him to do it. It isn't only
killin' either. He's on the wrong track."

The young man could say no more. He could not tell her that Clanton was
suspected of rustling and that his name had been mentioned in connection
with robbery of the mail. These charges were not proved. Prince himself
still loyally denied their truth, though evidence was beginning to pile
up against the young gunman. He had warned Clanton, and Jim had clapped
him on the shoulder, laughed, and invited him to take a drink with him.
This was not quite the way in which Billie felt an innocent man would
receive news that he was being furtively accused of crime.

"Yes, he's going wrong," agreed Pauline. "But we can't desert him, can
we? You're his best friend. You know how brave he is, how generous, how
at the bottom of his heart he loves people that are fine and true. If we
stand by him we'll save him yet."

The young man's common sense told him that Clanton's future lay with
himself and his attitude toward his environment, but he loved the spirit
of this girl's gift of faith in her friends. It was so wholly like her to
reject the external evidence and accept her own conviction of his innate
goodness.

"I hope yore faith will work a miracle."

"I hate the things he does more than you do, Billie. It is horrible to me
that he can take human life. I don't justify him at all, even though
usually he is on the right side. But in spite of everything he has done
Jim is only a wild boy. And he's so splendid some ways. Any day he would
give his life for you or for me or for Lee Snaith. You feel that about
him, don't you?"

"Yes."

He was not satisfied to let the subject drop, but for the present it had
to be postponed. For a young man and a young woman were turning in at the
gate. They were a handsome pair physically. Each of them moved with the
lithe grace of a young puma. Pauline rose to meet them.

"I'm glad you came, Lee. Didn't know you were in town, Jim,"

Clanton smiled. "I rode up from the Hondo to congratulate our new
sheriff. Don't you let any of them outlaws escape, Billie."

Prince looked directly into his audacious eyes as he shook hands with
him.

"Not if I can help it, Jim. I want you to be my chief deputy in cleanin'
up the county. If you'll help me we'll make such a gather of bad men that
it won't be safe for a crook to show his head here."

Pauline clapped her hands. "What a splendiferous idea! It's a great
chance for you, Jim. You and Billie can do it too. I know you can."

The other young woman had recognized Prince only by a casual nod. It was
her custom to ignore him as much as possible. Now her dark, velvety eyes
jumped to meet his, then passed to Clanton. She recognized the
significance of the moment. It was Jim's last opportunity to line up on
the side of law and order. Lee, with Billie and Pauline, had stood his
loyal friend against a growing public opinion. Would he justify their
faith in him?

After a long silence Jim spoke. "No, I reckon not, Billie. I've got
interests that will take all my time. Much obliged, old scout. I'd like
to ride in couples with you like we used to do. I sure would, but I
can't."

"That's all nonsense. It's no excuse at all," broke out Lee in her direct
fashion. "Mr. Prince has more important affairs than you a good deal.
He is dropping his to serve the people. You'll have to give a better
reason than that to convince me."

Billie knew and Lee suspected what lay back of the spoken word. The duty
of the sheriff would be to hunt down the men with whom Clanton had
lately been consorting. He felt that he could not desert his friends to
line up against them. Some of these were a bad lot, the riff-raff of a
wild country, but this would not justify him in his own mind for using
his knowledge of their habits to run them to earth.

"No, I can't talk business with you, Billie," the young fellow said
decisively.

"Why can't you?" demanded Lee.

Jim Clanton smiled. "You're certainly a right persistent young lady, but
by advice of counsel I decline to answer."



Chapter XXII

The Rustlers' Camp


From Live-Oaks a breakneck trail runs up the side of the mountain, drops
down into the valley beyond, and twists among the hills and through
cañons to the Ruidosa. In the darkness a man followed this precarious
path. His horse climbed it like a cat, without the least uncertainty or
doubt. Both mount and rider had covered this ground often during the
Washington County War. Joe Yankie expected to continue to use it as long
as he found a profit in other men's cattle.

When he had reached the summit he swung to the right, dipped abruptly
into a narrow gulch, skirted a clump of junipers, and looked down upon
a little basin hidden snugly in the gorge. A wisp of pungent smoke rose
to his nostrils. The pony began cautiously the sharp descent. The
escarpment was of disintegrated granite which rang beneath the hoofs of
the animal. A pebble rolled to the edge of the bluff and dropped into the
black pit below.

From the gulf a challenging voice rose. "Hello, up there!"

"It's me--Joe," answered the rider.

"Time you were gettin' here," growled the other, as yet only a voice in
the darkness.

Slowly the horse slid forward to a ribbon of trail that led less
precipitously to the camp.

"'Lo, Joe. Fall off an' rest," a one-armed man invited. By the light of
the camp-fire he was a hard-faced, wall-eyed citizen with a jaw like a
steel trap.

Yankie dismounted and straddled to the fire. "How-how; I'm heap hungry,
boys. Haven't et since mornin'."

"We're 'most out of grub. Got nothin' but jerked beef an' hard-tack. How
are things a-stackin', Joe?" asked a heavy-set, bow-legged man with
a cold, fishy eye.

"Looks good, Dave. I'll lead the cattle to you. It'll be up to you an'
Albeen an' Dumont to make a get-away with 'em."

"Don't you worry none about that. Once I get these beeves on the trail
there can't no shorthorn cattleman take 'em away from me."

"Oh, you're doin' this thing, are you?" drawled Albeen offensively.
"There's been a heap of big I talk around here lately. First off, I want
to tell you that when you call Homer Webb a shorthorn cattleman you've
got another guess comin'. He's a sure enough old-timer. Webb knocked the
bark off'n this country when it was green, an' you got to rise up early
an' travel fast if you want to slip over anything on him,"

"That's whatever," agreed Yankie. "I don't love the old man a whole lot.
I've stood about all from him I'm intendin' to. One of these days it's
goin' to be him or me. But the old man's there every jump of the road. He
knew New Mexico when Los Portales was a whistlin' post in the desert.
He's fought through this war an' come through richer than when he
started. If I was lookin' for an easy mark I'd sure pass up Webb."

"He's got you lads buffaloed," jeered Roush. "Webb looks like anybody
else to me. I don't care if he's worth a million. If he fools with me
he'll find I fog him quick."

"I've known fellows before that got all filled up with talk an' had to
steam off about every so often," commented Albeen to the world at large.

"Meanin' me?"

Albeen carefully raked a live coal from the fire and pressed it down into
the bowl of his pipe. The eyes in his leathery, brown face had grown hard
as jade. For some time he and Dave Roush had been ready for an explosion.
It could not come any too soon to suit the one-armed man.

"Meanin' you if you want to take it that way." Albeen looked straight at
him with an unwinking gaze. "You're not the only man on the reservation
that wears his gun low, Roush. Maybe you're a wolf for fair. I've sure
heard you claim it right often. You're a two-gun man. I pack only one,
seem' as I'm shy a wing. But don't git the notion you can ride me. I
won't stand for it a minute."

"Sho! Dave didn't mean anything like that. Did you, Dave?" interposed
Dumont hastily. "You was just kind o' jokin', wasn't you?"

"Well, I'm servin' notice right now that when any one drops around any
jokes about me bein' buffaloed, he's foolin' with dynamite. No man
alive can run a sandy on me an' git away with it."

The chill eyes of Albeen, narrowed to shining slits, focused on Roush
menacingly. All present understood that he was offering Devil Dave a
choice. He could draw steel, or he could side-step the issue.

The campers had been playing poker with white navy beans for chips.
Roush, undecided, gathered up in his fingers the little pile of them in
front of him and let them sift down again to the blanket on the edge of
which he sat. Some day he and Albeen would have to settle this quarrel
once for all. But not to-night. Dave wanted the breaks with him when that
hour came. He intended to make a sure thing of it. Albeen was one of
those fire-eaters who would play into his hand by his reckless courage.
Better have patience and watch for his chance against the one-armed
gunman.

"I ain't aimin' to ride you any, Albeen," he said sulkily.

"Lay off'n me, then," advised the other curtly.

Roush grumbled something inaudible. It might have been a promise. It
might have been a protest. Yankie jumped into the breach and began
to talk.

"I couldn't git away from the old man yesterday. I think he's suspicious
about me. Anyhow, he acts like he is. I came in to Live-Oaks to-night
without notifyin' him an' I got to be back in camp before mornin'.
Here's my plan. I've got a new rider out from Kansas for his health. He's
gun-shy. I'll leave him in charge of this bunch of stock overnight on.
the berrendo. He'll run like a scared deer at the first shot. Hustle the
beeves over the pass an' keep 'em movin' till you come to Lost Cache."

Crouched over the blanket, they discussed details and settled them.
Yankie rose to leave and Roush followed him to his horse.

"Don't git a notion I'm scared of Albeen, Joe," he explained. "No
one-armed, hammered-down little runt can bluff me for a second. When I'm
good an' ready I'll settle with him, but I'm not goin' to wreck this
business we're on by any personal difficulty."

"That's right, Dave," agreed the foreman of the Flying V Y. "We all
understand how you feel."

Yankie, busy fastening a cinch, had his forehead pressed against the
saddle and could afford a grin. He knew that the courage of a killer is
largely dependent on his physical well-being. If he is cold or hungry or
exhausted, his nerve is at low ebb; if life is running strong in his
arteries his grit is above par. For years Roush had been drinking to
excess. He had reached the point where he dared not face in the open a
man like Albeen with nerves of unflawed steel. The declension of a
gunman, if once it begins, is rapid and sure. One of those days, unless
Roush were killed first, some mild-looking citizen would take his gun
from him and kick him out of a bar-room.

The foreman traveled fast, but the first streaks of morning were already
lighting the sky when he reached Rabbit Ear Creek, upon which was the
Flying V Y Ranch No. 3 of which he was majordomo. He unsaddled, threw the
bronco into the corral, and walked to the foreman's bunkhouse. Without
undressing, he flung himself upon the bed and fell asleep at one. He
awoke to see a long slant of sunshine across the bare planks of the
floor.

Some one was hammering on the door. Webb opened it and put in his head
just as the Segundo jumped to his feet.

"Makin' up some lost sleep, Joe?" inquired the owner of the ranch
amiably.

"I been out nights a good deal tryin' to check the rustlers," answered
Yankie sullenly. He had been caught asleep in his clothes and it annoyed
him. Would the old man guess that he had been in the saddle all night?

"Glad to hear you're gettin' busy on that job. They've got to be stopped.
If you can't do it I'll have to try to find a man that can, Joe."

"Mebbe you think it's an easy job, Webb," retorted the other, a chip on
his shoulder. "If you do it costs nothin' Mex to fire me an' try some
other guy."

"I don't say you're to blame, Joe. Perhaps you're just unlucky. But the
fact stands that I'm losin' more cattle on this range than at any one of
my other three ranches or all of 'em put together."

"We're nearer the hills than they are," the foreman replied sulkily.

"I don't want excuses, but results, Joe. However, I came to talk about
that gather of beeves for Major Strong."

Webb talked business in his direct fashion for a few minutes, then
strolled away. The majordomo watched him walk down to the corral. He
could not swear to it, but he was none the less sure that the
Missourian's keen eye was fixed upon a sweat-stained horse that had been
traveling the hills all night.



Chapter XXIII

Murder from the Chaparral


Webb was just leaving for one of his ranches lower down the river when a
horseman galloped up. The alkali dust was caked on his unshaven face and
the weary bronco was dripping with sweat.

The owner of the Flying V Y, giving some last instructions to the
foreman, turned to listen to the sputtering rider.

"They--they done run off that bunch of beeves on the berrendo," he
explained, trembling with excitement.

"Who?"

"I don't know. A bunch of rustlers. About a dozen of 'em. They tried to
kill me."

Webb turned to Yankie. "You didn't leave this man alone overnight with
that bunch of beeves for Major Strong?"

"Sure I did. Why not?" demanded the foreman boldly.

"We'll not argue that," said the boss curtly, "Go hunt you another job.
You'll draw yore last pay-check from the Flying V Y to-day."

"If you're loaded up with a notion that some one else could do better--"

"It's not yore ability I object to, Yankie" cut in the ranchman.

"Say, what are you insinuatin'?" snarled the segundo.

"Not a thing, Yankie. I'm tellin' you to yore face that I think you're a
crook. One of these days I'm goin' to land you behind the bars at Santa
Fé. No, don't make another pass like that, Joe. I'll sure beat you to
it."

Wrayburn had ridden up and now asked the foreman a question about some
calves.

"Don't ask me. Ask yore boss," growled Yankie, his face dark with fury.

"Don't ask me either," said Webb. "You're foreman of this ranch, Dad."

"Since when?" asked the old Confederate.

"Since right this minute. I've fired Yankie."

Dad chewed his cud of tobacco without comment. He knew that Webb would
tell him all he needed to know.

"Says I'm a waddy! Says I'm a crook!" burst out the deposed foreman.
"Wish you joy of yore job, Wrayburn. You'll have one heluva time."

"You will if Yankie can bring it about," amended the cattleman. He spoke
coldly and contemptuously just as if the man were not present. "I've
made up my mind, Dad, that he's in cahoots with the rustlers."

"Prove it! Prove it!" demanded the accused man, furious with anger at
Webb's manner.

The ranch-owner went on talking to Wrayburn in an even voice. "I've
suspected it for some time. Now I'm convinced. Yesterday mornin' I found
him asleep in bed with his clothes on. His horse looked like it had been
travelin' all night. I made inquiries. He went to Live-Oaks an' was seen
to take the trail to the Ruidosa. Why?"

"You've been spyin' on me," charged Yankie. He was under a savage desire
to draw his gun but he could not shake off in a moment the habit of
subordination bred by years of service with this man.

"To let his fellow thieves know that he meant to leave a bunch of beef
steers on the berrendo practically unguarded. That's why. I'd bet a stack
of blues on it. You'll have to watch this fellow, Dad."

The new foreman took his cue from the boss. None the less, he meant just
what he said. "You better believe I'll watch him. I've had misgivin's
about him for a right smart time."

"He'll probably ride straight to his gang of rustlers. Well, he can't do
us half as much harm there as here."

"I'll git you both. Watch my smoke. Watch it." With a curse the rustler
swung his horse round and gave it the spur. Poison hate churned in his
heart. At the bend of the road he turned and shook a fist at them both.

"There goes one good horse an' saddle belongin' to me," said Webb,
smiling ruefully. "But if I never get them back it's cheap at the price.
I'm rid of one scoundrel."

"I wonder if you are, Homer," mused his friend. "Maybe you'd better have
let him down easy. Joe Yankie is as revengeful as an Injun."

"Let him down easy!" exploded the cattleman. "When he's just pulled off a
raw deal by which I lose a bunch of forty fat three-year-olds. I ought
to have gunned him in his tracks."

"If you had proof, but you haven't. It's a right doubtful policy for a
man to stir up a rattler till it's crazy, then to turn it loose in his
bedroom."

The Missourian turned to the business of the hour. "We'll get a posse out
after the rustlers right away. Dad. I'll see the boys an' you hustle
up some rifles and ammunition."

Half an hour later they saw the dust of the cowpunchers taking the trail
for the berrendo.

"I'll ride down an' get Billie Prince started after 'em. I can go with
his posse as a deputy," suggested the ranchman.

To save Webb's time, Dad rode a few miles with him while the cattleman
outlined to him the policy he wanted pursued.

The sun was high in the heavens when they met, not far from Ten Sleep, a
rider. The cattleman looked at him grimly. In the Washington County
War just ended, this young fellow had been the leading gunman of the
Snaith-McRobert faction. If the current rumors were true he was now
making an easy living in the chaparral.

The rider drew up, nodded a greeting to Wrayburn, and grinned with cool
nonchalance at Webb. He knew from report in what esteem he was held
by the owner of the Flying V Y brand.

"Yankie up at the ranch?" he asked.

"What do you want with him?" demanded Webb brusquely.

"I got a message for him."

"Who from?"

Clanton was conscious of some irritation against this sharp catechism. In
point of fact Billie Prince had asked him to notify Yankie that he had
heard of the rustling on the berrendo and was taking the trail at once.
But Go-Get-'Em Jim was the last man in the world to be driven by
compulsion. He had been ready to tell Webb the message Billie had given
him for Yankie, but he was not ready to tell it until the Missourian
moderated his tone.

"Mebbe that's my business--an' his, Mr. Webb," he said.

"An' mine too--if you've come to tell him how slick you pulled that trick
on the berrendo."

Jim stiffened at once. "To Halifax with you an' yore cattle, Webb. Do you
claim I rustled that bunch of beeves last night?"

"I see you know all about it?" retorted Webb with heavy sarcasm.

"Mebbeso. I'm not askin' yore permission to live--not just yet."

Webb flushed dark with anger. "You've got a nerve, young fellow, to go up
to my ranch after last night's business. Unless you want to have yore
pelt hung up to dry, keep away from any of the Flying V Y ranges. As for
Yankie, if you go back to yore hole you'll likely find him. I kicked the
hound out two hours ago."

"Like you did me three years ago," suggested Clanton, looking straight at
the grizzled cowman. "Webb, you're the high mogul here since you fixed
it up with the Government to send its cavalry to back yore play against
our faction. You act like we've got to knock our heads in the dust three
times when we meet up with you. Don't you think it. Don't you think it
for a minute. If I've rustled yore cattle, prove it. Until then padlock
yore tongue, or you an' me'll mix it."

"You're threatenin' me, eh?"

"If that's what you want to call it."

"You're a killer, I'm told," flashed back Webb hotly. "Now listen to me.
You an' yore kind belong in the penitentiary, an' that's where the honest
folks of Washington County are goin' to send you soon. Give me half a
chance an' I'll offer a reward of ten thousand dollars for you alive or
dead. That's the way to get rid of gunmen."

"Is it?" Clanton laughed mockingly. "You advise the fellow that tries to
collect that reward to get his life insured heavy for his widow."

If this was a boast, it was also a warning. Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em may not
have been the best target shot on the border, but give him a man behind a
spitting revolver as his mark and he could throw bullets with swifter,
deadlier accuracy than any old-timer of them all. He did not take the
time to aim; it was enough for him to look at his opponent as he fired.

The young fellow swung his horse expertly and cantered into the mesquite.

"I'll give you two months before you're wiped off the map," the cattleman
called after him angrily.

At the edge of a heavy growth of brush Clanton pulled up, flashed a
six-shooter, and dropped two bullets in the dust at the feet of the
horses in the road. Then, with a wave of his hand, he laughed derisively
and plunged into the chaparral.

Webb, stung to irritable action, fired into the cholla and the arrowweed
thickets. Shot after shot he sent at the man who had disappeared in the
maze.

"Let him go. Homer. You're well quit of him," urged Wrayburn.

The words were still on his lips when out of the dense tangle of
vegetation rang a shot. The owner of the Flying VY clutched at his
saddle-horn. A spasmodic shudder shook the heavy body and it began to
sink.

Wrayburn ran to help. He was in time to catch his friend as he fell, but
before he could lower the inert weight to the ground the life of Homer
Webb had flickered out.



Chapter XXIV

Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em Leaves a Note


Prince and his posse were camped in a little park near the headquarters
of Saco de Oro Creek when a trapper brought word to Billie of the death
of Webb. The heart of the young sheriff sank at the news. It was not only
that he had always liked and admired the bluff cattleman. What shocked
him more was that Jim Clanton had killed him. Webb was one of the most
popular ranchmen on the river. There would be an instant, widespread
demand for the arrest and conviction of his slayer. Billie had taken an
oath to uphold the law. His clear duty was to go out and capture Jim
alive or dead.

Not for a moment did Billie doubt what he would do. He had pledged
himself to blot out the "bad man," and he would go through no matter what
the cost to his personal feelings.

A slow anger at Clanton burned in him. Why had he done this wanton and
lawless thing? The boy he had known three years ago would never have shot
down from cover a man like Webb. That he could have done it now marked
the progress of the deterioration of his moral fiber. What right had he
to ask those who remained loyal to him to sacrifice so often their sense
of right in his favor?

The old intimacy between Billie and Jim had long since waned. They were
traveling different roads these days. But though they were no longer
chums their friendship endured. When they met, a warm affection lit the
eyes of both. It had survived the tug of diverse interests, the
intervention of long separations, the conflict born of the love of women.
Would it stand without breaking this new test of its strength?

With a little nod to Goodheart the sheriff retired from the camp-fire.
His deputy joined him presently on a hillside overlooking the creek.

"I'm goin' back to Live-Oaks to-night, Jack," announced Prince. "You'd
better stay here a few days an' hunt through these gulches. Since that
rain yesterday there's not one chance in fifty of runnin' down the
rustlers, but you might happen to stumble on the place where they've got
the cattle cached."

"You're goin' down about this Webb murder?"

"Yes. I'm goin' to work out some plans. It will take some strategy to
land Clanton. He's lived out in the hills for years and he knows every
foot of cover in the country."

Goodheart assented. To go blindly out into the mesquite after the young
outlaw would have been as futile as to reach a hand toward the stars with
the hope of plucking a gold-piece from the air.

"Watch the men he trains with. Keep an eye on the Elephant Corral an'
check up on him when he rides in to Los Portales. Spot the tendejon at
Point o' Rocks where he has a hang-out. Unless he has left the country
he'll show up one of these days."

"That's what I think, Jack, an' I'm confident he hasn't gone. He has a
reason for stayin' here."

Goodheart could have put a name to the reason. It was a fair enough
reason to have held either him or the sheriff under the same
circumstances.

"How about a reward? He trains with a crowd I'd hate to trust farther
than I could throw a bull by the tail. Some of 'em would sell their own
mothers for gold."

"I'll get in touch with Webb's family an' see if they won't offer a big
reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer."

Within the week every crossroads store in the county had tacked to it a
placard offering a reward of five thousand dollars for the man who had
killed Homer Webb.

No applications for it came in at first.

"Wait," said Goodheart, smiling. "More than one yellow dog has licked its
jaws hungrily before that poster. Some dark night the yellowest one will
sneak in here to see you."

On the main street of Los Portales one evening Billie met Pauline
Roubideau. She came at him with a direct frontal attack.

"I've had a letter from Jim Clanton."

The sheriff did not ask her where it was post-marked. He did not want any
information from Polly as to the whereabouts of her friend.

"You're one ahead of me then. I haven't," answered Prince.

"He says he didn't do it."

"Do what?"

"Shoot Mr. Webb. And I know he didn't if he says he didn't."

The grave eyes of the young man met hers. "But Dad Wrayburn was there. He
saw the whole affair."

Pauline brushed this aside with superb faith. "I don't care. Jim never
lied to me in his life. I know he didn't do it--and it makes me so glad."

The young man envied her the faith that could reject evidence as though
it did not exist. The Jim Clanton she had once known would not have lied
to her. Therefore the Jim Clanton she knew now was worthy of perfect
trust. If there was any flaw in that logic the sweet and gallant heart of
the girl did not find it.

But Billie had talked with Dad Wrayburn. He had ridden out and gone over
the ground with a fine-tooth comb. Webb had been killed by a bullet
from a forty-four. Of his own knowledge Prince knew that Clanton was
carrying a weapon of this caliber only three hours before the killing.
There was no escape from the conviction of the guilt of his friend.

The sheriff walked back to the hotel where he was staying. On the way his
mind was full of the young woman he had just left. He had never liked
her better, never admired her more. But, somehow--and for the first time
he realized it--there was no longer any sting in the thought of her. He
did not have to fight against any unworthy jealousy because of her
interest in Clanton. Of late he had been very busy. It struck him now
that his mind had been much less preoccupied with the thought of her than
it used to be. He supposed there was such a thing as falling out of love.
Perhaps he was in process of doing that now.

Bud Proctor, a tall young stripling, met Prince on the porch of the
hotel.

"Buck Sanders was here to see you, sheriff," the boy said.

Since the days when he had been segundo of the Snaith-McRobert outfit
Sanders had declined in the world. Like many of his kind he had taken to
drink, become bitten with the desire to get rich without working, and
operated inconspicuously in the chaparral with a branding iron. Much
water had poured down the bed of the Pecos in the past three years. The
disagreement between him and Clanton had long since been patched up and
they had lately been together a great deal.

Prince went up to his room, threw off his coat, and began to prepare some
papers he had to send to the Governor. He was interrupted by a knock
at the door.

Sanders opened at the sheriff's invitation, shoved in his head, looked
around the room warily, and sidled in furtively. He closed the door.

"Mind if I lock it?" he asked.

The sheriff nodded. His eyes fixed themselves intently on the man. "Go as
far as you like."

The visitor hung his hat over the keyhole and moved forward to the table.
His close-set eyes gripped those of the sheriff.

"What about this reward stuff?" he asked harshly.

An instant resentment surged up in Billie's heart. He knew now why this
fellow had come to see him secretly. It was his duty to get all the
information he could about Clanton. He had to deal with this man who
wanted to sell his comrade, but he did not relish the business.

"You can read, can't you, Sanders?" he asked ungraciously.

"Where's the money?" snarled his guest.

"It's in the bank."

"Sure?"

From his pocket-book Billie took a bank deposit slip. He put it on the
table where the other man could look it over.

"Would a man have to wait for the reward until Clanton was convicted?"
the traitor asked roughly.

"A thousand would be paid as soon as the arrest was made, the rest when
he was convicted," said Prince coldly.

"Will you put that in writin', Mr. Sheriff?"

The chill eyes of the officer drilled into those of the rustler. He drew
a pad toward him and wrote a few lines, then shoved the tablet of paper
toward Sanders. The latter tore off the sheet and put it in his pocket.

Sanders spoke again, abruptly. "Understand one thing, Prince. I don't
have to take part in the arrest. I only tell you where to find him."

"And take me to the spot," added the sheriff, "I'll do the arrestin'."

"Whyfor must I take you there if I tell you where to go?"

"You want a good deal for your white alley, Sanders," returned the other
contemptuously. "I'm to take all the chances an' you are to drag down the
reward. That listens good. Nothin' to it. You'll ride right beside me;
then if anything goes wrong, you'll be where I can ask you questions."

"Do you think I'm double-crossin' you? Is that it?" flushed the
ex-foreman of the Lazy S M.

"I don't know. It might be Clanton you're double-crossin', or it might be
me," said the sheriff with cynical insolence. "But if I'm the bird you've
made a poor choice. In case we're ambushed, you'll be in nice, easy reach
of my gun."

"Do I look like a fool?" snapped Sanders. "I'm out for the dough. I'm
takin' you to Clanton because I need the money."

"Mebbeso. You won't need it long if you throw me down." Then abruptly,
the sheriff dropped into the manner of dry business. "Get down to tacks,
man. Where is Clanton's hang-out?"

Buck sat down and drew a sketch roughly on the tablet. "Cross the river
at Blazer's Ford, cut over the hills to Ojo Caliente, an' swing to the
east. He's about four miles from Round Top in an old dugout. Maybe
you've heard of Saguaro Cañon. Well, he's holed up in a little gulch
runnin' into it."

By daybreak next morning the sheriff's posse was in the saddle. In
addition to Sanders, who rode beside Billie unarmed, Goodheart and two
special deputies made up the party.

The sun was riding high when they reached Ojo Caliente. The party bore
eastward, following a maze of washes, arroyos, and gorges. It was well
into the afternoon when the informer ventured a suggestion.

"We're close enough. Better light here an' sneak forward on foot," the
man said gruffly.

As he swung from the horse Billie smiled grimly. He had a plan of his own
which he meant to try. Buck Sanders might not like it, but he was not in
a position to make any serious objection.

They crept forward to a rim rock above a heavily wooded slope. A
tongue-shaped grove ran down close to the edge of a narrow gulch.

Prince explained what he meant to do. "We'll all snake down closer. When
I give the word you'll go forward alone, Sanders, an' call Jim out. Ask
him to come forward an' look at yore bronco's hoof. That's all you'll
have to do."

Sanders voiced a profane and vigorous protest. "Have you forgot who this
guy is you're arrestin'? Go-Get-'Em Jim is no tenderfoot kid. He's chain
lightnin' on the shoot. If he suspects me one steenth part of a second,
that will be long enough for him to gun me good."

"He'll not have a chance. We'll have him covered all the time."

"Say, we agreed you was goin' to make this arrest, not me."

"I'll make it. All you've got to do is to call him out."

"All!" shrieked Sanders. "You know damned well I'm takin' the big risk."

"That's the way I intended it to be," the sheriff assured him coolly.
"You're to get the reward, aren't you?"

The rustler balked. He polluted the air with low, vicious curses, but in
the end he had to come to time.

They slipped through the grove till they could see on the edge of the
ravine a dug-out. Prince flashed a handkerchief as a signal and Sanders
rode down in the open skirting the timber. He swung from the saddle and
shouted a "Hello, in the house!"

No answer came. Buck called a second and a third time. He waited,
irresolute. He could not consult with Prince. At last he moved toward the
house and entered. Presently he returned to the door and waved to the
sheriff to come forward.

Very cautiously the posse accepted the invitation, but every foot of the
way Billie kept the man covered.

Sanders ripped out a furious oath. "He's done made his get-away. Some one
must 'a' warned him."

He held out to Prince a note scrawled on a piece of wrapping-paper. It
was in Clanton's pell-mell, huddled chirography:--

Sorry I can't stay to entertain you, Billie. Make yourself at home. Bacon
and other grub in a lard can by the creek. Help yourself.

Crack Sanders one on the bean with your six-gun on account for me.

JIMMIE-GO-GET-'EM.



Chapter XXV

The Mal-Pais


Billie Prince laughed. The joke was on him, but he was glad of it. As
sheriff of Washington County it had been his duty to accept any aid that
might come from the treachery of Sanders; but as a friend of Jim Clanton
he did not want to win over him by using such weapons.

"Tickled to death, ain't you?" snapped the ex-foreman sourly. "Looks to
me like you didn't want to make this arrest, Mr. Sheriff. Looks to me
like some one else has been doin' some double-crossin' besides me."

"Naturally _you'd_ think that," cut in Goodheart dryly. "The facts
probably are that Go-Get-'Em Jim, knowin' his friends pretty well, had
you watched, found out you called on the sheriff, an' guessed the rest.
He's not a fool, you know."

"That's right. Git ready an alibi," Sanders snarled.

Casually Goodheart picked up the piece of wrapping-paper upon which the
note had been written. He read aloud the last sentence.

"'Crack Sanders one on the bean with your six-gun on account for me.'
Seems to me if I was you, Buck, I'd alibi myself down the river into
Texas as quick as I could jog a bronco along. But, of course, I don't
know yore friend Go-Get-'Em as well as you do. Mebbe you'll be able to
explain it to him. Tell him you were hard up an' needed the money."

The eyes of the rustler flashed from Goodheart to the sheriff. They were
full of sinister suspicion. Had these men arranged to deliver him into
the hands of Clanton? Was he himself going to fall into the pit he had
dug?

"Gimme back my gun an' I'm not afraid of him or any of you," he bluffed.

"You'll get yore gun when we reach Los Portales," Prince told him. "I
left it in my office."

"I ain't goin' to Los Portales."

"All right. Leave yore address and I'll send the gun by the buckboard
driver."

All the baffled hate and cupidity of Sanders glared out of his wolfish
face. "I'll let you know later where I'm at."

He straddled out of the house, pulled himself astride the waiting horse,
and rode up the hill. Presently he disappeared over the crest.

"Much obliged, Jack," said Prince, smiling. "Exit Mr. Buck Sanders from
New Mexico. Our loss is Texas's gain. Chalk up one bad man emigrated
from Washington County."

"He's sure goin' to take my advice," agreed the lank deputy. A little
chuckle of amusement escaped from his throat. "To the day of his death
he'll think we sent word to Go-Get-'Em Jim. I'll bet my next pay-check
against a dollar Mex that he forgets to send you that address."

Billie availed himself of the invitation of Clanton to make himself at
home. He and his posse spent the night in the dug-out and returned to Los
Portales next day. For the better part of a week he was detained there on
business, after which he took the stage to Live-Oaks.

News was waiting for Prince at the county seat that led him for a time to
forget the existence of Clanton. The buckboard driver from El Paso
reported the worst sand-storm he had ever encountered. It had struck him
a mile or two this side of the Mal-Pais, as the great lava beds in the
Tularosa Basin are commonly called. He had unhitched the horses,
overturned the buckboard, and huddled in the shelter of the bed. There he
had lain crouched for ten hours while the drifting sand, fine as powder,
blotted out the world and buried him in drifts. He was an old plainsman,
tough as leather, and he had weathered the storm safely. A full day late
he staggered into Live-Oaks a sorry sight.

The news that shook Live-Oaks into swift activity had to do with Lee
Snaith. Just before the storm hit him the buckboard driver had met her
riding toward the Mal-Pais.

Prince arrived to find the town upside down with the confusion of
preparation. Swiftly he brought order out of the turmoil. He organized
the rescue party, assigned leaders to the divisions, saw that each man
was properly outfitted, and mapped off the territory to be covered by
each posse. Outwardly he was cool, efficient, full of hopeful energy. But
at his heart Billie felt an icy clutch of despair. What chance was there
for Lee, caught unsheltered in the open, when the wiry, old Indian
fighter, protected by his wagon, had barely won through alive?

Every horse in Live-Oaks that could be ridden was in the group that
melted into the night to find Lee Snaith. Every living soul left in the
little town was on the street to cheer the rescuers.

The sheriff divided his men. Most of them were to spend the night, and if
necessary the next day and night, in combing the sand desert east of the
Mal-Pais. Here Lee had last been seen, and here probably she had wandered
round and round until the storm had beaten her down. It took little
imagination to vision the girl, flailed by the sweeping sand, bewildered
by it, choked at every gasping breath, hopelessly lost in the tempest.

Yet some bell of hope rang in Billie's breast. She might have reached the
lava. If so, there was a chance that she might be alive. For though the
wind had sweep enough here, the fine dust-sand of the alluvial plain
could not be carried so densely into this rock-sea. Perhaps she had
slipped into a fissure and found safety.

For fifty miles this great igneous bed stretches, a rough and broken sea
of stone, across the thirsty desert. Its texture is like that of slag
from a furnace. Once, in the morning of the world, it flowed from the
crater along the line of least resistance, a vitreous river of fire. In a
great molten mass it swept into the valleys, crawling like a great snake
here and there, pushing fiery tongues into every crevice of the hills.

The margin of its flow is a cliff or steep slope varying in height from a
few feet to that of a good-sized tree. Between the silt plain and the
general level of its bed rises a terrace. In front of it Prince stopped
and distributed the men he had reserved to search the lava bed. He gave
definite, peremptory orders.

"We'll keep about two hundred yards apart. Every twenty minutes each of
you will fire his revolver. If any of you find Miss Snaith or any
evidence of her, shoot three times in rapid succession. Each of you pass
the signal down the line by firing four shots. Those who hear the three
shots go in as fast as you can to the rescue. The others--those farther
away, who hear the four shots only--will turn an' work back to the plain,
continuing to fire once every twenty minutes. Do exactly as I tell you,
boys. If you don't, some one will be lost an' may never get out alive. If
any one of you gets out of touch with the rest of us, stay right where
you are till mornin', then come out by the sun."

The horses were left in charge of a Mexican boy. The surface of the
deposit is so broken that even a man on foot has difficulty in traversing
it. Prince crawled forward from the terrace up the rough slope of the
cliff which at this point bounded it. At the top of the rim he rose and
came face to face with another man.

"A good deal like frozen hell, Billie," the other said casually.

"Where did you come from?" demanded the sheriff, amazed.

Jim Clanton laughed grimly. "I've been with yore party half an hour. Why
shouldn't I be here when Lee Snaith is lost?"

"You were hiding in Live-Oaks?"

"Mebbeso. Anyway, I'm here. I'll take the right flank, Billie."

"Do you think there's a chance, Jim?" The voice of Prince shook with
emotion. It was the first sign of distress he had given.

Clanton reflected just a moment before he answered. "I think there's just
a chance. She saved our lives once, Billie. If she's alive we'll find
her, you an' me."

"By God, yes." Prince turned away. He could not talk about it without
breaking down.

In the stress of a great shock Billie had made a vital discovery. The
most important thing that would ever come to him in life was to find Lee
Snaith alive. How blind he had been! He could see her now in imagination,
as in reality he had seen her a hundred times, moving in the sun-pour
with elastic tread, full-throated and deep-chested, athrob with life in
every generous vein. How passionately she had loved things brave and
true! How anger had flamed up in her like fire among tow at meanness and
hypocrisy. Surely all the beauty of her person, the fineness of her
character, could not be blotted out so wantonly. If there was any economy
in his world God would never permit waste like that.

He wanted her. His soul cried out for her. and stormily he prayed that he
might find her alive and well, that the chance might still be given him
to tell her how much he loved her.

Sometimes he covered small distances where the flow structure was
comparatively smooth, broken only by minor irregularities. Again he came
to abrupt pits, deep caverns, tumbled heaps of broken slabs, or jagged
chunks of lava twisted into strange shapes. No doubt the volcanic flow
had hardened to a crust on top, cracked, and sunk into the furnace below.
This process must have gone on indefinitely.

He crept from slab to slab, pulled himself across chasms, worked slowly
forward in the darkness. At intervals he fired and listened for an
answer. Occasionally there drifted to him the sound of a shot from one of
the other searchers. As the hours passed and brought to him no signal
that the girl had been found, his hopes ebbed. It was very unlikely that
she could have wandered so far into the bad lands as this.

He shuddered to think of her alone in this vast tomb of death. Suppose
she were here and they never found her. Suppose she were asleep when he
passed, worn out by terror and exhaustion. His voice grew hoarse from
shouting. Sometimes, when the thought of her fate would become an agony
to him, he could hardly keep his shout from rising to a scream.

Billie struck a match and looked at his watch. It was five minutes past
three. A faint gray was beginning to sift into the sky. He had been
nearly seven hours in the Mal-Pais. Out in God's country the world would
soon be shaking sleep from its eyes. In this death zone there was neither
waking nor sleeping. "Frozen hell," Clanton had called it. Prince
shuddered.

The flare of the match had showed him that he was standing close to the
edge of a fissure. In the darkness he could not see to the bottom of it.

A faint breath of a whimper floated to him. He grew rigid, every nerve
taut. He dared not let himself believe it could be real. Of course he was
imagining sounds. Presently, no doubt, he would hear voices. In this
devil's caldron a man could not stay quite sane.

Again, as if from below his feet, was lifted a strangled, little sob.

"Lee!" he called huskily with what was left of his voice.

Something in the cavern moved. By means of outcropping spars of rock he
lowered himself swiftly.

The darkness was Stygian. He struck another match.

From the gloom beyond the space lit by the small flame came the rustle of
something stirring. The match burned out. He lit another and groped
forward. His foot struck an impediment.

He looked down into the startled eyes and white face of Lee Snaith.



Chapter XXVI

A Dust-Storm


It had been a beautiful day of sunshine when Lee left Live-Oaks to ride
to the Ninety-Four Ranch. Not a breath of wind stirred. The desert slept
in a warm, golden bath. It was peaceful as old age.

But as the sun slipped past the meridian, gusts swept across the sands
and whipped into the air inverted cones that whirled like vast tops in a
wild race to nowhere. The air waves became more frequent and more
furious. When Lee passed the buckboard driver, the whole desert seemed
alive with stinging sand.

He called something to her that was lost in the wind. The girl waved at
him a gauntleted hand. She had been out in dust-storms before and was not
in the least alarmed. Across the lower part of her face she had tied a
silk handkerchief to protect her mouth and nostrils from the sand.

The mail carrier had scarcely disappeared before the fury of the wind
increased. It lashed the ground with heavy whips, raging and screaming in
shrill, whistling frenzy, until the desert rose in terror and began to
shift.

Lee bent her head to escape the sand that filled her eyes and nostrils
and beat upon her cheeks so unmercifully. She thought perhaps the tempest
would abate soon and she slipped from the saddle to crouch close to the
body of the horse for protection. Instead of decreasing, the gale rose to
a hurricane. It was as if the whole sand plain was in continuous,
whirling motion.

The horse grew frightened and restless. It was a young three-year-old Jim
Clanton had broken for her. Somehow--Lee did not know quite the way
it happened--the bridle rein slipped from her fingers and the colt was
gone.

She ran after the pony--called to it frantically--fought in pursuit
against the shrieking blasts. The animal disappeared, swallowed in the
whirl-wind that encompassed her and it. Lee sank down, sheltering her
face with her arms against the pelting sand sleet.

But years in the outdoor West had given Lee the primal virtue, courage.
She scorned a quitter, one who lay down or cried out under punishment.
Now she got to her feet and faced the storm. The closeness of her
horizon--her outstretched arms could almost touch the limit of
it--confused the mind of the girl. She no longer knew east from west,
north from south. With a sudden sinking of the heart she realized that
she was lost in this gray desert blizzard.

Blindly she chose a direction and plunged forward. At times the wind hit
her like a moving wall and flung her to the ground. She would lie there
panting for a few moments, struggle to her knees, and creep on till in a
lull she could again find her feet.

How much of this buffeting, she wondered, could one endure and live? The
air was so filled with dust that it was almost impossible to get a
breath. Her muscles ached with the flogging they were receiving. She was
so exhausted, her forces so spent, that the hinges of her knees buckled
under her.

One of her feet struck against a rise in the ground and she stumbled. She
lay there motionless for what seemed a long time before it penetrated her
consciousness that one of her palms pained from a jagged cut the fall had
caused. Her body lay on sharp-pointed rocks. As far as they could reach,
the groping fingers of the girl found nothing but hard, rough stone.
Then, in a flash, the truth came to her. She had reached the Mal-Pais.

She crept across the lava in an effort to escape the strangling wind. Its
rage followed her, drove the girl deeper into the bad lands. A renewal of
hope urged her on. In its rough terrain she might find shelter from the
tornado. In short stages, with rests between, she pushed into the
vitreous lake, dragged herself up from the terrace, fought forward
doggedly for what seemed to her an age.

A crevice barred the way. The fissure was too wide to step across and was
perhaps ten feet deep. Lee slid into it, slipped, and fell the last step
or two of the descent. She lay where she had fallen, too worn out to
move.

It must have been almost at once that she fell asleep.

The stars were out when she awakened, her muscles stiff and aching from
the pressure of her weight upon the rock. The girl lay for a minute
wondering where she was. Above was a narrow bar of starlit sky. The walls
of her pit of refuge were within touch of her finger tips. Then memory of
the storm and her escape from it flashed back to her.

She climbed easily the rough side of the cavern and looked around. The
wind had died so that not even a murmur of it remained. As far as the eye
could see the lava flow extended without a break. But she knew the cavern
in which she had slept lay at a right angle to the line of her advance.
All site had to do was to face forward and keep going till she reached
the plain. The reasoning was sound, but it was based on a wrong premise.
Lee had clambered out of the fissure on the opposite side from that by
which she had entered. Every step she took now carried her farther into
the bad lands.

Morning broke to find her completely at sea. Even the boasted weather of
the Southwest played false. A drizzle of rain was in the air. Not until
late in the afternoon did the sun show at all and by that time the
wanderer was so deep in the Mal-Pais that when night closed down again
she was still its prisoner.

She was hungry and fagged. The soles of her boots were worn out and her
feet were badly blistered. Again she took refuge in a deep crevice for
the night.

The loneliness appalled her. No living creature was to be seen. In all
this awful desolation she was alone. Her friends at Live-Oaks would think
she was at the Ninety-Four Ranch. Even if they searched for her she would
never be found. After horrible suffering she would die of hunger and
thirst. She broke down at last and wept herself to sleep.



Chapter XXVII

"A Lucky Guy"


Lee had the affrighted look of one roused suddenly from troubled dreams.
The whimper that had drawn the attention of Prince must have come from
her restless, tortured sleep. Not till his second match flared had she
been really awake.

"Thank God!" he cried brokenly, all the pent emotion of the long night
vibrant in his tremulous voice.

She began to sob, softly, pitifully.

The match went out, but even in the blackness of the pit he could not
escape the look of suffering he had seen on her face. Her habit was to do
all things with high spirit. He could guess how much she had endured to
bring those hollow shadows under her dusky eyes. The woe of the girl
touched his heart sharply, as if with the point of a rapier.

He stooped, lifted her gently, and gathered her like a hurt child into
his arms. "You poor lost lamb," he murmured. And again he cried, "Thank
God, I came in time."

Her arms crept round his neck. She clung to him for safety, fearfully,
lest even now he might vanish from her sight. Long, ragged sobs shook the
body resting in his arms. He whispered words of comfort, stroked gently
the dark head of blue-black hair, held her firmly so that she might know
she had found a sure refuge from the fate that had so nearly devoured
her.

The spasmodic quivering of the body died away. She dabbed at her eyes
with a rag of a handkerchief and withdrew herself from his arms.

"I'm a nice baby," she explained with a touch of self-contempt. "But it's
been rather awful, Billie. I ... I didn't know whether ..."

"It's been the worst night of my life," he agreed. "I've been in hell for
hours, dear. If--if anything had happened to you--"

The heart of the girl beat fast. She told herself he did not mean--could
not mean what, with a sudden warmth of joy, her soul hunger had read
into his words.

Prince uncorked his canteen and she drank. He gave her sandwiches and she
devoured them. After he had helped her from the fissure he fired three
shots. Faintly from the left came the answering bark of a revolver. What
might almost have been an echo of it drifted from the right.

Lee Snaith was the most competent young woman the sheriff had ever met.
He knew her self-reliant and had always guessed her sufficient to
herself. Toward him especially he had sensed a suggestion of cool
hostility. They had been friends, but with a distinct note of reservation
on her part.

To-night the mask was off. She had come too close to raw reality to think
of her pride. The morning light was sifting into the sky now. Billie
could see the girl more clearly as she sat on a slab of rock waiting for
the other searchers to join them. Was it his imagination that found in
her an unwonted shyness of the dark eyes, a gentle timidity of manner
when she looked at him?

His emotion still raced at high tide. What an incomparable mate she would
be for any man! The rich contralto of her voice, the slow, graceful turn
of the exquisite head, the vividness she brought to all her activities!
How easy it was to light in her fine eyes laughter, indignation, the rare
smile of understanding! Life with her would be an adventure into the
hill-tops. With all his heart he yearned to take it beside her.

There were strange flashes in his eyes to-night that signaled to her a
message she had despaired of ever receiving. The long lashes of the girl
fell to the hot cheeks. A pulse of excitement beat in her blood. A few
minutes before she had clung to him despairingly. Now she wanted to run
away and hide.

He stepped close to her and let his hand fall lightly on her arm.

"I've been blind all these years, Lee," he told her. "It's you I love."

She stole a little look at him with shy, incredulous eyes. "Have you
forgotten--Polly?"

"I haven't been in love with her for years, but I didn't know it till
about the Christmas holidays. She was a habit with me. There never was
a sweeter girl than Polly Roubideau. I'll always think a heap of her.
But--well, she had more sense than I had--knew all the time we weren't
cut out for each other." He laughed a little, flushing with
embarrassment. It is not the easiest thing in the world to explain to a
girl why you have neglected her in favor of another.

Lee trembled. The desire was strong in her to seize her happiness while
she could. Surely she had waited long enough for it. But some impulse of
fair play to him or of justice to herself held back the tide of love she
longed to release.

"I think ... you are impulsive," she said at last. "If you have anything
you want to tell me, better wait until ..."

"Not another moment!" he cried. "I've been in torment all night. I ... I
thought I'd lost you forever. You don't care for me, of course. You
never have liked me very well, but--"

"Haven't I?" she breathed softly, not looking at him.

Love irradiated and warmed her. She forgot all she had suffered during
the years she had waited for him to know his mind. She forgot the
privations of the past two days. Her eyes were tender with the mist of
unshed tears.

"It's going to be the biggest thing in my life. If there's any chance at
all I'll wait as long as you like. Of course, the idea's new to you
because you haven't ever thought of me that way--"

"You know so much about it," she replied, a faint smile in her dark
eyes that had in it something of wistfulness, something of self-mockery.
She looked directly at him and let him have it full in the face. "I ought
to be ashamed of it, I suppose, but I'm not. I've thought of you--that
way--lots of times. All girls do, when they meet a man they like."

"You like me?"

She might have told him that her heart had been his ever since that first
week when she had met him and Clanton on the river. She might have added
that all he had needed to do was to whisper "Come" and she would have
galloped across New Mexico to meet him. But she made no such confession.

"Yes, I ... like you," she said, a little tremor in her voice.

He noticed that she did not look at him. Her eyes had fallen to the
fingers laced together on her lap. Under compulsion of his steady gaze
she lifted her lashes at last. What he read there was beyond belief.
The wonder of it lifted his feet from the earth.

"Lee!" he cried, joy and fear in the balance.

She answered his unspoken question with a little nod.

His hand shook. "I've been a blind idiot, dear. I never guessed such a
thing."

"You were thinking about Polly all the time. I don't blame you. She's the
sweetest thing I ever knew."

Billie sat down on the spar of rock beside her. His hand slipped down her
arm till it covered hers. With the contact there came to him a flood of
courage. He took her in his arms and kissed her with infinite tenderness.

Still unstrung from her adventures, she wept a little into his shoulder
out of a full heart.

"D--don't mind me," she urged. "It's just because I'm so happy."

If Clanton, when he found them together a few minutes afterward, guessed
what had happened, he gave no evidence of it but a grin, unless his later
comment had a cryptic meaning. "I'll bet Billie is the glad lad at
findin' you. He always was a lucky guy."

"I think I'm a little lucky too," Lee said with a grave smile.

Before starting, Prince examined the soles of the girl's boots. Out of
his hat he fashioned a pair of overshoes and fastened them with strings
to her feet.

"They'll help some," he promised. "I reckon you're not goin' to do much
walkin' anyhow with three husky men along."

By this time the searcher on the other flank had joined them. The return
trip was a long, hard one, but with Billie on one side of her, and Jim on
the other, Lee found it easy travelling. They aided her over the sharp
rocks and lifted her across the rougher stretches of lava.

At the edge of the lava bed a buggy was waiting to take Lee to Live-Oaks
in case she should be found. Prince helped Lee in and took the place of
the boy who had driven it out.

Clanton put his foot on the hub of the wheel. "Just a minute, Billie. I'm
wanted for the killin' of Homer Webb. I didn't shoot him an' I don't
know who did. Somebody must have been lyin' there in the chaparral
waitin' for him. I'll give myself up an' stand trial if you'll guarantee
me fair play. No lynchin' bee. No packed jury. All the cards dealt fair
an' honest above the table."

The sheriff had smiled at Pauline Roubideau's implicit faith in Jim
Clanton's word. But now, face to face with his friend, he too believed
and felt a load lift from his heart.

"That's a deal, Jim. You won't have to reckon with any mob or any
hand-picked jury, I'll tell you the truth. I thought you did it. But if
you say you didn't, that goes with me. I'll see you through."

"Good enough. I'll drop in to-morrow an' we can fix things up. I'd like
to be tried outside of Washington County. There's too much prejudice here
one way an' another. Well, take this little lady home an' scold her good
for the way she's been actin'. She'd ought to get married to a man that
will look after her an' not let her go buckin' into cyclones."

Billie smiled. "I'll talk to her about that, old scout."

Miss Snaith blushed furiously, but the best she could do was a bit of
weak repartee. "I used to have hopes that you would ask me, Jim."

Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em laughed with friendly malice. "I used to have hopes,
too, in that direction, Lee, but I haven't any more. You be good to her
or we also-rans will boil you in oil, Billie."



Chapter XXVIII

Sheriff Prince Functions


"Yippy yip yip yip!"

Old Reb, Quantrell's ex-guerrilla, now boss of mule-skinners for Prince,
galloped down the street waving an old dusty white hat. Women and
children and old men dribbled out from the houses, all eager for the
news.

"Billie he found Miss Lee in the Mal-Pais. That boy sure had his lucky
pants on to-day. She's all right too. I done seen her myself--just a mite
tuckered out, as you might say," explained the former cowpuncher.

Live-Oaks shook hands with itself in exuberant joy. For an hour the
school bell pealed out the good news. A big bonfire blazed in the
court-house square. Wise dames busied themselves baking bread and frying
doughnuts and roasting beef for the rescue party now homeward bound. It
was a certainty that their men-folks would all be hungry and ready for a
big feed.

By noon most of the searchers were back in town and the saloons were
doing big business. When Prince drove down the main street of Live-Oaks
an hour later, the road was jammed as for a Fourth-of-July celebration.
Tired though she was, Lee had not the heart to disappoint these good
friends. She went to the picnic ground at Fremont's Grove and was hugged
and kissed by all the woman at the dinner. She wept and was wept over
till her lover decided she had had all the emotion that was good for her,
whereupon he took her back to the home of her aunt and with all the
newborn authority of his position ordered her to bed.

"But it's only three o'clock in the afternoon," Lee protested.

"Good-night," answered Billie inexorably.

She surrendered meekly. "If you say I must, my lord. I _am_ awf'lly
tired." Little globes of gladness welled up in her eyes. "Everybody's so
good to me, Billie. I didn't know folks were so kind. I can't think what
I can ever do to pay them back."

"I'll tell you how. You be good to yourself, honey," he told her with a
sudden wave of emotion as he caught and held her tight in his arms. "You
quit takin' chances with blizzards an' crazy gunmen an'--"

"--And horsethieves hidden in the chaparral?" she asked with a flash of
demure eyes.

"You're goin' to take an awful big chance with one ex-horsethief. Lee,
I'm the luckiest fellow on earth."

She nestled closer to him. Her lips trembled to his kiss.

"Billie, you're sure, aren't you?" she whispered. "It wasn't just pity
for me."

He chose to reassure her after the fashion of a lover, in that wordless
language which is as old as Eden.

His heart was full of her as he swung down the street buoyantly. He
had known her saucy, scornful, and imperious. He had known her gay
and gallant, had been the victim of her temper. Occasionally he had
seen glimpses of tenderness toward Pauline and of motherliness
toward Jim Clanton. But never until last night had he found her
dependent and clinging. Her defense against him had been a manner of cool
self-reliance. In the stress of her need that had been swept aside to
show her flamy and yet shy, quick with innocent passion. She wanted him
for a mate, just as he wanted her, and she made no concealment of it. In
the candor of her love he exulted.

Lee slept round the clock almost twice and appeared for a late breakfast.
Her aunt told her some news with which Live-Oaks was buzzing.

Go-Get-'Em Jim had ridden into town, stopped at the sheriff's office, and
demanded cynically the thousand dollars offered by the Webb estate for
his arrest.

"He'll come to no good end," prophesied Miss Snaith, senior.

"You don't quite understand him, aunt," protested Lee. "That's just his
way. He likes to grand-stand, and he does it rather well. But he isn't
half so bad as he makes out. He says he did not shoot Mr. Webb, and we
feel sure he didn't."

"Of course he says so," replied the older woman indignantly. "Why
wouldn't he say so? But Dad Wrayburn was there and saw it all. There has
been a lot too much promiscuous killing and he's one of the worst of the
lot, your Jim Clanton is. Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em, indeed! I hope the law goes
and gets him now it has a chance."

The opinion of Lee's aunt was in accord with the general sentiment.
Washington County had within the past year suffered a change of heart. It
had put behind its back the wild and reckless days of its youth when
every man was a law to himself. Bar-room orators talked virtuously of law
and order. They said it behooved the county to live down its evil
reputation as the worst in the United States. Times had changed. The
watchword now should be progress. It ought no longer to be a
recommendation to a man that he could bend a six-gun surer and quicker
than other folks. "Movers" in white-topped wagons were settling up the
country. A railroad had pushed in to Live-Oaks. There was a lot of talk
about Eastern capital becoming interested in irrigation and mining. It
was high time to remember that Live-Oaks and Los Portales were not now
frontier camps, but young cities.

Since Live-Oaks had been good for so short a time it wanted to prove by a
shining example how it abhorred the lawlessness of its youth. At this
inopportune moment Clanton gave himself up to be tried for the murder of
Homer Webb.

When the news spread that Clanton had been given a change of venue and
was to be tried at Santa Fe, the citizens of Live-Oaks were distinctly
annoyed. It was known that the sheriff had always been a good friend of
the accused man. The whisper passed that if he ever took Go-Get-'Em Jim
out of the county the killer would be given a chance to escape.

Into town from the chaparral drifted the enemies Clanton had made during
his career as a gunman. Yankie and Albeen and Dumont and Bancock moved to
and fro in the crowds at the different gambling places and saloons. Even
Roush, who in the past three years had never given young Clanton an
opportunity to meet him face to face, stole furtively into the tendejons
of the Mexican quarter and spent money freely in treating. Among the
natives Go-Get-'Em Jim was in ill-repute for shooting a bad man named
Juan Ortez who had attempted to terrorize the town while on a spree.

"We're spendin' a lot of good money on this job. We'd ought to pull it
off," Dumont whispered to Albeen.

"Whose money?" asked the one-armed man cynically.

It struck him as an ironic jest that the money they had got from the sale
of Homer Webb's cattle should be spent to bring about the lynching of the
man who had killed him.

Both the sheriff and his deputy were out of town rounding up a half-breed
Mexican who had stabbed another at a dance. They reached Live-Oaks with
their prisoner about the middle of the afternoon. Lee was waiting for
them impatiently at the court-house.

"They're planning to lynch Jim," she told Prince abruptly.

"Who's goin' to do all that?" he asked.

"The riff-raff of the county are back of it, but the worst of it is that
they've got a lot of good people in with them. Some of the Flying V Y
riders are in town too. I never saw so much drinking before."

"When is it to be?"

"I don't know."

"Who told you?"

"Bud Proctor. He says Yankie and Albeen and that crowd are spending
hundreds of dollars at the bars."

"I knew there was somethin' on foot soon as we hit town--felt it in the
air." The sheriff looked at his watch. "We can just catch the afternoon
train, Jack. Take this bird downstairs an' lock him up. I'll join you in
a minute."

"What are you going to do?" asked Lee as soon as they were alone.

"Goin' to slip Jim aboard the train an' take him to Santa Fe."

"Can you do it without being seen?"

"I'll tell you that later," he answered with a grim smile. "Much obliged,
honey. I'm goin' to be right busy now, but I'll see you soon as I get
back to town."

Lee nodded good-bye and wait out. She liked it in him that just now he
had no time even for her. From the door she glanced back. Already he was
busy getting his guns ready.

Prince got his keys and unlocked the room where Clanton was. Jim was on
the bed reading an old newspaper.

"Hello, Billie," he grinned.

"We're leaving on the afternoon train, Jim. Get a move on you an' hustle
yore things together."

"Thought you weren't goin' till next week."

"Changed my mind. Jim, there's trouble afoot. Yore enemies are all in
town. I want to get you away."

Clanton did not bat an eye. "Plannin' a necktie party, are they?"

"They've got notions. Mine are different." "Do I get a gun if it comes to
a showdown, Billie?"

"You do. I'll appoint you a deputy."

Jim laughed. "That sounds reasonable."

Goodheart joined them. The three men left the back door of the
court-house and cut across the square. The station was three blocks
distant. Before they had covered a hundred yards a boy on the other side
of the street stopped, stared at them, and disappeared into the nearest
saloon.

The prisoner looked at his friend and grinned gayly. "Somethin' stirrin'
soon. We're liable to have a breeze in this neighborhood, looks like."

They reached the station without being molested, but down the street
could be seen much bustle of men running to and fro. Prince looked at
them anxiously.

"The clans are gathering," murmured Clanton nonchalantly, his hands in
his pockets. "Don't you reckon maybe you'll have to feed me to the
wolves after all, Billie?"

A saddled horse blinked in the sun beside the depot, the bridle rein
trailing on the ground. Its owner sat on a dry-goods box and whittled.
Jim glanced at the bronco casually. Jack Goodheart also observed the
cowpony. He whispered to the sheriff.

Prince turned to his prisoner. "Jim, you can take that horse an' hit the
dust, if you like."

"Meanin' that you can't protect me?"

The salient jaw of the sheriff tightened. He looked what he was, a man
among ten thousand, quiet and forceful, strong as tested steel.

"You'll have exactly the same chance to weather this that we will."

A mob of men was moving down the street in loose formation. There was
still time for a man to fling himself into the saddle and gallop away.

"You'd rather I'd stay, Billie."

"Yes. I'm sheriff. I'd like to show this drunken outfit they can't take a
prisoner from me."

Clanton gave a little whoop of delight. "Go to it, son. You're law west
of the Pecos. Let's see you make it stick."

Live-Oaks was as yet the terminus of the railroad. The train backed into
the station just as the first of the mob arrived.

"Nothin' doin', Prince," announced Yankie, swaggering forward. "You're
not goin' to take this fellow Clanton away. We've come to get him."

"That's right," agreed Albeen.

Jimmie-Go-Get-'Em grinned. "Makes twice now you've come to get me."

"We didn't make it go last time. Different now," said Bancock, moving
forward.

"That's near enough," ordered Prince. "You've made a mistake, boys. I'm
sheriff of Washington County, and this man's my prisoner."

"He's yore old side kick, too, ain't he?" jeered Yankie.

Goodheart, following the orders he had received, moved forward to the
engine and climbed into the cab beside the engineer and fireman. The
sheriff and his prisoner backed to the steps of the smoking-car. Billie
had had a word with the brakeman, his young friend Bud Proctor, who had
at once locked the door at the other end of the smoker.

"Now," said Prince in a low voice.

Jim ran up lightly to the platform of the coach and passed inside. A howl
of anger rose from the mob. There was a rush forward. Billie was on the
lower step. His long leg lifted, the toe caught Yankie on the point of
the chin, and the rustler went back head first into the crowd as though
he had been shot from a catapult.

Instantly Prince leaped for the platform and whirled on the mob. He held
now a gun in each hand. His eyes glittered dangerously as they swept
the upturned faces. They carried to every man in the crowd the message
that his prisoner could not be taken as long as the sheriff was alive.

Clanton threw open a window of the coach, rested his arms on the sill,
and looked out. Again there was a roar of rage and a forward surge of the
dense pack on the station platform.

"He ain't even got irons on the man's hands!" a voice shouted. "It's a
frame-up to git him away from us!"

"Don't hide back there in the rear, Roush. Come right up to the front an'
tell me that," called back Prince. "You're right about one thing. I don't
need to handcuff Clanton. He has surrendered for trial, an' I'm here to
see he gets a fair one. I'll do it if I have to put irons _in_ his
hands--shootin' irons."

Jim Clanton, his head framed in the window, laughed insolently. He was a
picture of raffish, devil-may-care ease.

"Don't let Billie bluff you, boys. We can't bump off more'n a dozen or so
of you. Hop to it."

"You won't laugh so loud when the rope's round yore gullet," retorted
Albeen.

"That rope ain't woven, yet," flung back the young fellow coolly.

Even as he spoke a lariat whistled through the air. Jim threw up a hand
and the loop slid harmlessly down the side of the car. One of the riders
of the Flying V Y had tried to drag the prisoner out with a reata.

"You mean well, but you'll never win a roping contest, Syd," jeered
Clanton. "Good of you an' all my old friends to gather here to see me
off, I see you back there, Roush. It's been some years since we met, an'
me always lookin' for you to say to you a few well-chosen words. I'll
shoot straighter next time."

The vigilantes raised a howl of fury. They were like a wolf pack eager
for the kill. Between them and their prey stood one man, cool,
indomitable, steady as a rock. He held death in each hand, every man
present knew it. They could get Clanton if they were willing to pay the
price, but though there were game men in the mob, not one of them
wanted to be the first to put his foot on the lower step of the coach.

From the other end of the car came the sudden noise of hammering. Some
one had found a sledge in the baggage-room and with a dozen armed men
back of him was trying to break down the door.

Prince called to his prisoner. "You've got to get in this, Jim. I appoint
you deputy sheriff. Unstrap this belt from my waist. Take the other end
of the car an' hold it. No shootin' unless it comes to a showdown.
Understand?"

Clanton nodded. His eyes gleamed. "I'll behave proper, Billie."

Five seconds later the beating on the door stopped. The eyes of the big
blacksmith with the hammer popped out with a ludicrous terror. Go-Get-'Em
Jim was standing in the aisle grinning at him with a six-gun in each
hand. With a wild whoop the horseshoer dropped the sledge and turned. He
flung himself down the steps carrying with him half a dozen others. Not
till he was safe in his own shop two blocks away did he stop running.

A shrill whistle rang out from the side of the train farthest from the
station. The wheels began to move slowly. There was a rush for the
engine. Jack Goodheart stood in the door of the cab ready for business.

"No passengers allowed here, boys," he announced calmly. "Take the
coaches in the rear."

A dozen revolvers cracked. There was a rattle of breaking windows. The
engine, baggage-car, and smoker moved forward, leaving the rest of the
train on the track.

Men, swarming like ants, had climbed to the top of the cars, evidently
with some idea of getting at their victim from above. Some of these were
on the forward coaches. They began to drop off hurriedly as the station
fell to the rear.

The wheels turned faster. Bud Proctor swung aboard and joined the
sheriff.

"I cut off the other cars and gave the signal to start," he explained
triumphantly.

"Good boy, Bud. Knew I could tie to you," Prince answered with the warm
smile that always won him friends.

They passed into the car together. Clanton was leaning far out of the
window waving a mocking hand of farewell to the crowd on the platform. He
drew his head in and handed the weapons back to his friend.

"Don't I make a good deputy, Billie? I didn't fire even once."



Chapter XXIX

"They Can't Hang Me If I ain't There"


The jury brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree. Clanton was
sentenced to be hanged at Live-Oaks four weeks after the day the trial
ended. Prince himself had been called back to Washington County to deal
with a band of rustlers who had lately pulled off a series of bold,
wholesale cattle thefts. He left Goodheart to bring the prisoner back
with him in case of a conviction.

The deputy sheriff left the train at Los Vegas, to which point Prince had
sent a man with horses to meet Jack and the convicted murderer. It was
not likely that the enemies of Clanton would make another attempt to
frustrate the law, but there was a chance that they would. Goodheart did
not take the direct road to Live-Oaks, but followed the river valley
toward Los Portales.

The party reached the Roubideau ranch at dusk of the third night. Pauline
had been at the place three months keeping house for her father. She flew
to meet Jim, her eyes filled with a divine pity. Both hands went out to
his manacled ones impulsively. Her face glowed with a soft, welcoming
warmth.

"You poor boy! You poor, poor boy!" she cried. Then, flaming, she turned
on Goodheart: "Bel et bien! Why do you load him down with chains? Are you
afraid of him?"

The deputy flushed. "I have no right to take any chances of an escape.
You know that."

"I know he is innocent. Why did they find him guilty?"

"I had no evidence," explained Jim simply. "Dad Wrayburn swore I shot
twice at Webb just before I disappeared in the brush. Then a shot came
out of the chaparral. It's not reasonable to suppose some one else fired
it, especially when the bullet was one that fitted a forty-four."

"But you didn't fire it. You told me so in your letter."

"My word didn't count with the jury. I'd have to claim that, anyhow, to
save my life. My notion is that the bullet didn't come from a six-gun at
all, but from a seventy-three rifle. But I can't prove that either."

"It isn't fair. It--it's an outrage." Polly burst into tears and took the
slim young fellow into her arms. "They ought to know you wouldn't do
that. Why didn't your friends tell them so?"

He smiled, a little wistfully. "A gunman doesn't have friends, Polly.
Outside of you an' Lee an' Billie I haven't any. All the newspapers in
the territory an' all the politicians an' most of the decent people have
been pullin' for a death sentence. Well, they've got it." He stroked her
hair softly. "Don't you worry, girl. They won't get a chance to hang me."

Pauline released him, dabbed at her eyes, and ran, choking, into the
house.

"You've got to be in trouble to make a real hit with Miss Roubideau,"
suggested the lank deputy, a little bitterly. "I'll take those bracelets
off now, Clanton. You can wash for supper."

Polly saw to it, anyhow, that the prisoner had the best to eat there was
in the house. She made a dinner of spring chicken, mashed potatoes, hot
biscuits, jelly, and apple pie.

A rider for the Flying V Y dropped in after they had eaten and bridled
like a turkey cock at sight of Clanton.

"Don't you let him git away from you, Jack," he warned the officer.
"We're allowin' to have a holiday on the sixth up at our place so as to
go to the show. It _is_ the sixth, ain't it?" he jeered, turning to the
handcuffed man on the lounge.

"The sixth is correct," answered Jim coolly, meeting him eye to eye.

"You wouldn't talk that way if Clanton was free," said Goodheart. "You're
taggin' yoreself a bully an' a cheap skate when you do it."

"Say, is that any of yore business, Mr. Deputy Sheriff?"

"It is when you talk to my prisoner. Cut it out, Swartz."

"All right."

The cowpuncher turned to Pauline, who had come to the door and stood
there. "You'll be goin' to the big show on the sixth, Miss Roubideau.
Live-Oaks will be a sure-enough live town that day."

The young woman walked straight up to the big cowpuncher. Her eyes
blazed. "Get out of this house. Don't ever come here again. Don't speak
to me if you meet me."

The Flying V Y rider was taken aback. Like a good many young fellows
within a radius of a hundred miles, he was a candidate for the favor of
Pierre Roubideau's daughter.

"Why, I--I--" he stammered. "I didn't aim for to offend you. This fellow
bushwhacked my boss. He--"

"That isn't true," she interrupted. "He didn't do it."

"Sure he did it. Go-Get-'Em Jim is a killer. A girl like you, Miss
Roubideau, has got no business stickin' up for a bad man who--"

"Didn't you hear me? I told you to go."

"You've been invited to remove yoreself from the place an' become a part
of the outdoor scenery, Swartz," cut in Goodheart, a snap to his jaw.
"I'd take that invite pronto if I was you."

The cowpuncher picked up his hat and walked out. The drawling voice of
the prisoner followed him.

"Don't you worry, Polly. They can't hang me if I ain't there, can they?"

The deputy guessed that Pauline wished to talk alone with Clanton.
Presently he arose and sauntered to the door. "I want to see yore father
about some horses Billie needs. Back soon."

He gave them a half-hour, but he took pains to see that his assistant
covered the back door while he watched the front of the house. The
prisoner was handcuffed, but Jack did not intend to take any chances.
Personally he believed that Clanton was guilty, but whether he was or not
it was his duty to bring the convicted man safely to Live-Oaks. This he
meant to do.



Chapter XXX

Polly has a Plan


Pauline moved across the room and sat down beside Jim. An eager light
shone in her soft, brown eyes.

"Listen!" she ordered in a low voice. "I've got a plan. There's a chance
that it will work, I think. But tell me first about your sleeping
arrangements. Does Jack or the other guard sit up and watch you all the
time?"

"No. The champion roper of New Mexico, Arizona, an' Texas throws the
diamond hitch on yours truly. He does an expert job, tucks me up, an'
says good-night. He knows I'm perfectly safe till mornin', especially
since both he an' Brad sleep in the same room with me."

"Well, I'm going to give you dad's room." She leaned forward and
whispered to him steadily for five minutes.

The sardonic mockery had vanished from the face of the prisoner. He
listened, every nerve and fiber of him at alert attention. Occasionally
he asked a question. Carefully she explained the plan, going over each
detail of it again and again.

Jim Clanton was efficient. In those days it was a necessary quality for a
bad man if he wished to continue to function. He offered a suggestion or
two which Pauline incorporated in her proposed campaign of action. At
best her scheme was hazardous. It depended upon all things dovetailing
properly. But he was in no place to pick and choose. All he asked was a
chance and an even break of luck.

"You dandy girl!" he cried softly, and took her two hands between the
palms of his fettered ones. "I'm a scalawag, Polly. But if you pull this
off for me, I'll right-about-face. That's a promise. Somehow I've never
acted like I wanted to. I've done a heap of wild an' foolish things, an'
I've killed whenever it was put up to me. I don't reckon any woman that
married me would be real happy. But if you'll take a chance 111 go away
from here an' well Make a fresh start. You're the only girl there is for
me."

A faint smile lay in her eyes. "You used to think Lee was the only girl,
didn't you?"

"Well, I don't now. I like Polly Roubideau better."

Abruptly she flung at him a statement that was a question. "You didn't
kill Mr. Webb."

"No. I never killed but one man without givin' him an even break. That
was Peg-Leg Warren, an' he was a cold-blooded murderer."

A troubled little frown creased her forehead. "I've thought for more than
a year now that you--liked me that way. And I've had it in my mind
a great deal as to what I ought to do if you spoke to me about it. I wish
you had a good wife, Jim. Maybe she could save you from yourself."

"Mebbe she could, Polly."

The lashes of her eyelids fell. She looked down at the bands of iron
around his small wrists. "I--I've prayed over it, Jim. But I'm not clear
that I've found an answer." Her low voice broke a little. "I don't know
what to say."

"Is it that you are afraid of what I'm goin' to be? Can't you trust yore
life with me? I shouldn't think you could."

Her eyes lifted and met his bravely. "I think that wouldn't stop me
if--if I cared for you that way."

"It's Billie Prince, then, is it?"

"No, it isn't Billie Prince. Never mind who it is. What I must decide is
whether I can make you the kind of wife you need without being exactly--"

"In love with me," he finished for her.

"Yes. I've always liked you very much. You've been good to me. I love you
like a brother, I think. Oh, I don't know how to say it."

"Let's get this straight, Polly. Is there some one else you love?"

A tide of color flooded her face to the roots of the hair. She met his
steady look reluctantly.

"We needn't discuss that, Jim."

"Needn't we?" He laughed a little, but his voice was rough with feeling.
"You're the blamedest little pilgrim ever I did see. What kind of a
fellow do you think I am? I ain't good enough for you--not by a thousand
miles. Even if you felt about me the way I do about you, it would be a
big risk for you to marry me. But now--Sho, little missionary, I ain't so
selfish as to let you sacrifice yore life for me."

"If I marry you it will be because I want to, Jim."

"You'll want to because you're such a good little Christian you think
it's up to you to save a brand from the burning. But I won't let you do
any such foolishness. You go marry that other man. If he's a good,
square, decent fellow, you'll be a whole lot better off than if you tied
up with a ne'er-do-well like me."

They heard a step on the porch.

"Don't forget. Three taps if you're alone in the room," she said in a
whisper.

Goodheart came into the parlor with Pierre Roubideau. "Expect we'd better
turn in, Clanton. We've got to make an early start to-morrow."

The prisoner rose at once. Pauline had drawn her father aside and was
giving him some instructions. The old Frenchman nodded, smiling. He
understood her little feminine devices and was a cheerful victim of them.

The young woman found a chance for a word alone with the deputy.

"I want to see you to-night, Jack, about--something." Her eyes were very
bright and the color in the soft cheeks high. She spoke almost in a
whisper.

The lank young sheriff had the soul of an inarticulate poet. Beneath the
tan of his leathery face the blood burned. This was the first really kind
word he had had from her since their arrival. All her solicitation had
been for the condemned youth in his care. Perhaps all she wanted now was
to ask some favor for Clanton, but hope leaped in his heart.

He made arrangements for the night in his usual careful way. It was not
pleasant to have to watch the prisoner as a cat does a mouse, but
Goodheart was thorough in whatever he undertook. Skillfully he tied
Clanton in such a way as to allow him enough freedom of motion to change
position without giving him enough to make it possible for him to untie
himself.

"Back after a while" he told Jim.

The young man on the bed grunted sleepily and the deputy returned to the
parlor.

Pauline, still in her kitchen apron, smiled in at the door upon him and
her father.

"You two go out on the porch and smoke your pipes," she said. "I have to
finish my work in the kitchen, then I have to go down to the cellar and
take care of the milk. Ill not be long."

Pierre, an obedient parent, rose and moved toward the porch. Before
he left the room Goodheart took the precaution to lock the bedroom
door and pocket the key. He was a little ashamed of this, but he knew
that Go-Get-'Em Jim was a very competent and energetic person. Convicted
and sentenced though he was, Clanton still boasted with cool aplomb that
there would be no hanging on the sixth. The deputy strolled round to the
back of the house to make sure his assistant was still on the job. After
a few words with the man he returned to the porch. He was satisfied there
was no possible chance of an escape. The prisoner lay handcuffed and tied
to a bed by the champion roper of the Southwest. The door of the room was
locked Both exits from the house were guarded. Jack felt that he could
safely enjoy a smoke.



Chapter XXXI

Goodheart Makes a Promise and Breaks It


Pauline was a singularly honest little soul, but she now discovered in
herself unsuspected capacity for duplicity. She went singing about her
work, apparently care-free as a lark. Presently, still humming a French
chanson, she appeared on the porch swinging a key, passed the two men
with a gay little nod, and disappeared around the corner of the house
to the cellar.

The rancher apologized for the key. "We've had to lock the cellar lately
since so many movers have been going through on this road. Eh bien! Our
hams--they took wings and flew."

Polly rattled the milk pans for a moment or two and then listened. From
above there came to her the sound of three faint raps on the woodwork of
the bed. She crept up the stairs that led from the cellar into the house.
At the top of them was a trapdoor. Very slowly and carefully she pushed
this up. Through the opening she passed into a bedroom.

Softly the girl stole to the bed. From the cellar she had brought a
butcher knife and with this she sawed at the rope which bound the
prisoner.

"But your handcuffs. What can we do about them?" she whispered.

Clanton stretched his stiff muscles. He made no answer in words. For a
moment or two his arms writhed, then from out of the iron bracelet his
long slender hand slowly twisted. Soon the second wrist was also free.

"I've had a lot of fun poked at my girl hands, but they come in useful
sometimes," he murmured.

"I'll have to hurry back or I'll be missed," she told him. "You'll find a
saddled horse in the aspens."

He caught her by the shoulders and held her fast. "You've been the
truest little friend ever a man had. You've stuck by me an' believed in
me even when I didn't believe in myself any longer. No matter what folks
said about me or about you for takin' an interest in such a scamp, you
never quit fightin' to keep me decent. I've heard tell of guardian
angels--well, that's what you've been to me, little pilgrim."

"I haven't forgotten the boy who rode up Escondido Cañon to save me from
death and dishonor," Pauline cried softly.

"You've paid that debt fifty times. I owe you more than I can tell. I
wisht I knew a way to pay it."

Her soft and dusky eyes clung to his pleadingly. "If you get away, Jim,
you _will_ be good, won't you?"

"I'll be as good as I've got it in me to be. I don't know how good that
is, Polly. But I'll do my level best."

"Oh, I'm so glad," she whispered. "Good luck--heaps of it."

He was not quite sure whether it was his privilege to kiss the parted red
lips upturned to him, but he took a chance and was not rebuked.

Pauline went noiselessly down the steps again into the cellar while
Clanton held the trapdoor. He lowered it inch by inch so that it would
not creak, then spread over it the Navajo rug that had been there before
the entrance of the girl.

Pierre Roubideau was still on his first pipe when Polly came round the
corner of the house and stopped at the porch steps.

"I want to show you our new colt, Jack," she said to the deputy. This
matter-of-fact statement came a little shyly and a little tremulously
from her lips. Her heart was beating furiously.

The officer rose at once. "Just a minute," he said, and went into the
house.

He unlocked the door of the room where Clanton was and glanced in. The
prisoner lay on the bed in the moonlight, the blankets drawn over him.
From his deep, regular breathing Jack judged him to be asleep. He
relocked the door and joined Pauline.

The face of the girl was very white in the moonlight. Her big eyes
flashed at him a question. Had he discovered that his prisoner was free?

They walked slowly toward the corral. From it Goodheart could see the
front of the house, but not the cellar entrance at the side. Neither of
them spoke until they reached the fence. He turned and leaned his elbows
against it, facing the house.

Pauline was under great nervous tension. Her lips were dry and her throat
parched. If the guard at the rear caught sight of the prisoner while he
was escaping, Clanton would certainly be shot down. She knew Jim better
than to hope that he would let himself be taken again alive.

The conscience of the girl troubled her too. She was doing this to save
the life of a friend, but it was impossible not to feel a sense of
treachery toward this other friend whose approval was so much more
vital to her happiness. Would Jack think that she had conspired against
his honor in an underhanded way? He was a man of strict principles. Would
he cast her off and have no more to do with her?

She woke from her worries to discover that an emotional climax was
imminent. Jack was telling her, in awkward, broken phrases, of his love
for her. Polly had waited a long time for his confession, but coming at
this hour it filled/her with shame and distress. What an evil chance that
he should be blurting out the story of his faith and trust in her
while she was in the act of betraying him!

"Don't, Jack, don't!" she begged.

"It's all right," he said gently. "I know you don't care for me. But I
had to tell you. Just had to do it. Couldn't keep still any longer. It's
all right, Polly. I can stand it. I didn't go for to worry you."

She wept.

Her tears distressed him. He urged her to forget his presumption. She had
been so good to him that he had spoken in spite of himself.

Pauline found she could not let him deceive himself. If she let him go
now, perhaps he might never come back.

"You goose!"

Though the words came smothered through her handkerchief, he gained
incredible comfort from them.

"Polly!" he cried.

"Don't you say a word, Jack," she ordered. "Let me do the talking."

"If you'll tell me that--that--you care anything for--for--"

"--For a big stupid who is too modest ever to think enough of himself,"
she completed. "Well, I do. I care a great deal for him."

"You don't mean--"

"I do, too. That's just what I mean. No, you keep back there till I'm
through, Jack. I want to find out if you love me as much as I do you."

"Polly!" he cried a second time.

Her small face was very serious and white in the moonshine.

"Suppose we don't agree about something. Say I do a thing that seems
right to me, but it doesn't seem right to you. What then?"

"It'll seem right to me if you do it," he answered.

"That's just a compliment."

"No, it's the truth. Whatever you do seems right to me."

"But suppose I do something that you think is wrong. Perhaps it may seem
to you disloyal."

"If you do it because you think you ought to I'll not find it disloyal."

"Sure, Jack?"

"Certain sure," he answered.

"It's a promise?"

"It's a promise."

Little imps of mischief bubbled into the brown eyes. "Then why don't you
kiss me, goose?"

He caught her to him with a fierce rapture.

There came to them the sudden sound of drumming hoofs. A shot rang out in
the night. Goodheart, with the first kiss of his sweetheart almost on his
lips, flung Pauline aside and ran to the house.

The other guard met him at the front steps. "By God, he's gone!" the man
cried.

"Clanton?"

"Yep."

"Can't be. He was handcuffed, tied to the bed, and locked in. I've got
the key in my pocket."

The deputy sheriff took the steps at one bound, flung himself across the
parlor, and unlocked the door. One glance showed him the empty bed, the
displaced rug, and the trapdoor. He stepped forward and picked up the
bits of rope and the handcuffs.

"Some one cut the rope and freed him," he said, confounded at the
impossibility of the thing that had occurred.

"Must of slipped his hands out of the cuffs, looks like," the guard
suggested.

"He got me to give him a bigger size--complained they chafed his wrists."

"Some trick that, if he _has_ got kid hands."

The chill eyes of Goodheart gimleted into those of his assistant. "Did
you do this, Brad? God help you if you did."

A light step sounded on the threshold. Pauline came into the room. "I did
it, Jack," she said.

"You!"

"I came up through the trapdoor when I was in the cellar. I cut the rope
and told him there was a horse saddled in the aspens."

Thoughts raced in his bewildered mind. She had planned all this
carefully. Almost under his very eyes she had done it. Then she had lured
him from the house to give Clanton a better chance. She had let him make
love to her so that she could keep him at the corral while the prisoner
escaped. It was all a trick. Even now she was laughing up her sleeve
at the way she had made a fool of him.

"You saddled the horse and left it there." His statement was a question,
too.

"Yes. I had to save him. I knew he was innocent."

All the explanations she had intended shriveled up before the scorn in
his eyes. He brushed past her without a word and strode out of the house.

Pauline went to her room and flung herself on the bed. After a time her
father came in and sat down beside the girl. He put a gentle hand on her
shoulder.

"I know what you think, dad," she said without turning her head. "But I
couldn't help it, I had to do it."

"It may make you trouble, ma petite."

"I can't help that. Jim didn't kill Mr. Webb. I know it."

"After a fair trial a jury said he did, Polly. We have to take their word
for it."

"You think I did wrong then."

"You did what you think was right. In my heart is no blame for you."

He comforted her as best he could and left her to sleep. But she did not
sleep. All through the night she lay and listened. She was miserably
unhappy. Her head and her heart ached. Jack had promised that she should
be the judge of what was right for her to do, and at the first test he
had failed her. She made excuses for him, but the hurt of her
disappointment could not be assuaged.

In the early morning she heard the clatter of horses' hoofs in the yard.
During the night she had not undressed. Now she rose and went out to meet
her lover. He was at the stable, a gaunt figure, hollow-eyed, dusty, and
stern. He had failed to recapture his prisoner.

"Jack," she pleaded, reaching out a hand timidly toward him.

Again he rejected her advance in grim silence. Swinging to the saddle, he
rode out of the gate and down the road toward Live-Oaks.

With a little whimper Polly moved blindly to the house through her tears.



Chapter XXXII

Jim Takes a Prisoner


After Goodheart left the room where his prisoner was confined, Clanton
waited a few moments till the sound of his footsteps had died away. He
rose, moved noiselessly across the floor, and raised the trapdoor slowly.
The creaking of the rusty hinges seemed to Jim to be shouting aloud the
news of his escape. The young fellow descended into the cellar and stood
there without moving till his eyes became accustomed to the darkness. He
groped his way to the door, which Pauline had left open an inch or
two. Carefully he edged through and crouched in the gloom at the foot of
the steps.

Not far away some one was whistling cheerfully. Clanton recognized the
tune as the usual musical offertory of Brad. He was giving "Uncle Ned" to
an unappreciative world.

The fugitive crept up the steps and peered over the top. Brad was sitting
on a bench against the wall. Evidently he was quite comfortable and had
no intention of moving. The guard was so near that it would not be a fair
risk to try to make a dash across the moonlit open for the aspen grove.
He was so far that before the prisoner could reach him his gun would be
in action. There was nothing to do but wait. Jim huddled against the
sustaining wall while with the passing minutes his chance of escape
dipped away.

Pierre Roubideau came round the corner of the house and joined Brad. The
guard made room for him on the bench. If Roubideau sat down, the man
in the shadow knew he was lost. They would sit there and chat till
Goodheart came back and discovered his absence.

The rancher hesitated while he felt for his pipe. "Reckon I left it in
the kitchen," he said.

Brad followed him round the corner of the house. Clanton waited no
longer. They might return, or they might not. He did not intend to stay
to find out.

Swiftly he ran toward the aspens. Half the distance he had covered when a
voice called sharply to halt. The guard had turned and caught sight of
him.

The feet of the running man slapped the ground faster. As he dodged into
the trees a bullet flew past him. Yet a moment, and he had flung himself
astride the bronco waiting there and had electrified that sleepy animal
into life.

The pony struck its stride immediately. It took the rising ground at a
gallop, topped the hill, and disappeared over the brow. The rider plunged
into the thick mesquite. He knew that Goodheart would pursue, but he
knew, too, that the odds were a hundred to one against capture if he
could put a mile or two between him and the Roubideau ranch. A man could
vanish in any one of fifty draws. He could find a temporary hiding-place
up any gulch under cover of the matted brush. Therefore he turned toward
the mountains.

Since he was unarmed, it was essential that Clanton should get into touch
with his associates of the chaparral at once. Until he had a six-gun
strapped to his side and a carbine under his leg he would not feel
comfortable. All night he traveled, winding in and out of cañons,
crossing divides, and dipping down into little mountain parks. He knew
exactly where he wanted to go, and he moved toward his destination in the
line of greatest economy.

Morning found him descending from a mountain pass to the Ruidosa.

"Breakfast soon, you wall-faced old Piute," Jim told his mount. "You're
sure a weary caballo, but we got to keep hitting the trail till we cross
that hogback."

A thin film of smoke rose from a little valley to the left. Clanton drew
up abruptly. He had no desire to meet now any strangers whose intentions
had not been announced.

Swiftly, with a pantherish smoothness of motion, he slid from the cowpony
and moved to the edge of a bluff that looked down into the arroyo below.
He crept forward and peered through a clump of cactus growing at the edge
of the escarpment.

The camp-fire was at the very foot of the bluff. A man was stooped over
it cooking breakfast.

The heart of the fugitive lost a beat, then raced wildly. The camper was
Devil Dave Roush. A rifle lay beside him. His revolver was in a cartridge
belt that had been tossed on a boulder within reach of his hand.

Clanton wriggled back without a sound from the edge of the cliff and rose
to his feet. A savage light of triumph blazed in his eyes. The enemy
for whom he had long sought was delivered into his hands. He ran back to
the bronco and untied the reata from the tientos. Deftly he coiled the
rope and adjusted the loop to suit him. Again he stole to the rim rock
and waited with the stealthy, deadly patience of the crouched cougar.

Roush rose. His arms fell to his sides. Instantly the rope dropped,
uncoiling as it flew. With perfect accuracy the loop descended upon its
victim and tightened about his waist, pinning the arms close to the body.

Clanton, hauled in the rawhide swiftly. Dragged from his feet, Roush
could make no resistance. Before he could gather his startled wits, he
found himself dangling in midair against the face of the rock wall.

The man above fastened the end of the rope to the roots of a scrub oak
and ran down the slope at full speed. In less than half a minute he was
standing breathless in front of his prisoner.

Already shaken with dread, Roush gave way to panic fear at sight of him.

"Goddlemighty! It's Clanton!" he cried.

Jim buckled on the belt and appropriated the rifle. His grim face told
Roush all he needed to know.

There had been a time when Roush, full of physical life and energy, had
boasted that he feared no living man. In his cups he still bragged of his
bad record, of his accuracy as a gunman, of his gameness. But he knew,
and his associates suspected, that Devil Dave had long since drunk up his
courage. His nerves were jumpy and his heart bad. Now he begged for his
life abjectly. If he had been free from the rope that held him dangling
against the wall, he would have crawled like a whipped cur to the feet of
his enemy.

At a glance Clanton saw Roush had been camping alone. The hobbled
horse, the blankets, the breakfast dishes, all told him this. But he
took no chances. First he saddled the horse and brought it close to the
camp-fire. When he sat down to eat the breakfast the rustler had cooked,
it was with his back to the bluff and the rifle across his knees.

"This here rope hurts tur'ble--seems like my wrists are on fire," whined
the man. "You let me down, Mr. Clanton, and I'll explain eve'ything. I
want to be yore friend. I sure do. I don't feel noways onfriendly to you.
Mebbe I used to be a bad lot, but I'm a changed man now."

Go-Get-'Em Jim said nothing. He had not spoken once, and his silence
filled the roped man with terror. The shifting eyes of Devil Dave read
doom in the cold, still ones of his enemy.

Sometimes Roush argued in a puling whimper. Sometimes his terror rose to
the throat and his entreaties became shrieks. He died a dozen deaths
while his foe watched him with a chill stillness more menacing than any
threats.

The first impulse of Clanton had been to stamp out the life of this man
just as he would that of a diamond-backed rattlesnake; but he meant to
take his time about it and to see that the fellow suffered. Not until he
was halfway through the meal did the memory of his pledge to Pauline jump
to his mind. Quickly he pushed it from him. He had not meant to include
Roush in his promise. As soon as he had made an end of this ruffian he
would turn over a new leaf. But not yet. Roush was outside the pale. His
life belonged to Jim. He would be a traitor to the memory of his sister
if he let the villain go.

The lust for vengeance swelled in the young man's blood like a tide. It
was his right to kill; more, it was his duty. So he tried to persuade
himself. But deep within him a voice was making itself heard. It
whispered that if he killed Roush now, he could never look Pauline
Roubideau in the face again. She had fought gallantly for his soul, and
at last he had pledged his honor to a new course. Not twelve hours ago
she had risked her reputation to save his life. If he failed her now, it
would be a betrayal of all the desires and purposes that had of late been
stirring in him.

Clammy beads of sweat stood on his forehead. He had been given a new
chance, and it warred with every inherited instinct of his nature. The
fight within was cruel and bitter. But when he rose, his breakfast
forgotten, it was won. He would let Roush go unhurt. He would do it for
the sake of Polly Roubideau, who had been such a good friend to him.

Devil Dave, ghastly with fear, was still pleading for his life. Clanton,
who had heard nothing of what the fellow had been saying in the past ten
minutes, came to a sudden alert attention.

"I'll go into court an' swear it if you'll let me be. I'll tell the jedge
an' the jury that Joe Yankie told me an' Albeen an' Dumont that he
bushwhacked Webb an' then cut his stick so that you-all got the blame.
Honest to God, I will, Mr. Clanton. Jest you trust me an' see."

"When did Yankie tell you that?"

"He done told us at the camp-fire one night. He made his brags how you
got the blame for it an' would have to hang."

"Albeen heard him say it--an' Dumont too?"

"Tha's right, Mr. Clanton. An' I'll sure take my Bible oath on it."

Go-Get-'Em Jim whipped out the forty-five from its holster and fired.
Roush dropped screaming to the ground. He thought he had been shot. The
bullet had cut the rope above his head.

"Get up," ordered Clanton in disgust.

Roush rose stiffly.

Jim swung to the saddle of the horse beside him. "Hit the dust," he told
his captive.

The rider followed the footman to the top of the bluff. Here Roush was
instructed to mount the horse Clanton had been astride all night. Riding
behind the tame bad man, Jim cut across the hills to a gulch and followed
it till the ravine ran out in a little valley. He crossed this and
climbed a stiff pass from the other side of which he looked down on
Live-Oaks a thousand feet below.

The young man tied the hands of his prisoner behind him. From a coat
pocket he drew a looking-glass, caught the sun's rays, and flung them
upon a house in the suburbs of the town.

Out of the house there presently came a man. He stood in the doorway a
moment before going down the street. A flash of hot sunlight caught him
full in the face. He moved. The light danced after him. Then be woke up.
From the cliff far above friends of his had been wont to heliograph
signals during the late Washington County War.

He read the light flashes and at once saddled a horse. A few minutes
later he might have been seen on the breakneck trail that leads across
the mountains to the Ruidosa. After a stiff climb he reached the summit
and swung sharply along the ridge to the right. A voice hailed him.

"Hello, Reb!"

"Hello, Go-Get-'Em! Thought Goodheart was bringin' you back a prisoner."
Quantrell's old guerrilla looked with unconcealed surprise at the bound
man. He knew the story of Clanton's deep-rooted hatred of the Roush clan.

"I didn't sign any bond to stay his prisoner," Jim answered dryly. Then,
sharply, he turned upon Roush. "Spill out yore story about Yankie."

Reluctantly Roush told once more his tale. He spoke only under the
pressure of imminent peril, for he knew that if this ever got back to the
men in the chaparral they would kill him with no more compunction than
they would a coyote.

"Take this bird down to Billie Prince, Reb. Tell him I jumped Roush on
the Ruidosa, an' he peached to save his hide. This fellow is a born liar,
but I reckon he's tellin' the truth this time. If he rues back on his
story, tell Billie to put an advertisement in the Live-Oaks 'Round-Up'
and I'll drop in to town an' have a stance with Mr. Roush."

Reb scratched his sunburnt head. "I don't aim to be noways inquisitive,
Go-Get-'Em, but how come you to wait long enough to take this hawss-thief
captive? I'd 'a' bet my best mule team against a dollar Mex that you'd
have gunned him on sight."

"I'll tell you why, Reb. He had one rifle an' one six-gun. I didn't have
either the one or the other, so I had to borrow his guns before I talked
turkey. By that time I'd changed my mind about bumpin' him off right now.
When Yankie finds out what he's been sayin' he'll do the trick for me."

"You're right he will. Good job, too. I hate a sneak like I do a
side-winder." Reb turned to his prisoner. "Git a move on you, Roush.
I want this job over with. I'm no coyote herder."



Chapter XXXIII

The Round-Up


Dumont had been on the grill for three hours. He had taken refuge in
dogged silence. He had been badgered into lies. He had broken down at
last and told the truth. Sheriff Billie Prince, keen as a hound on the
scent, persistent as a bulldog, peppered the man's defense with a
machine-gun fire of questions. Back of these loomed the shadow of a
long term in the penitentiary.

For Dumont had been caught with his iron hot. The acrid smell of burnt
flesh was still in the air when an angry cattleman and two of his riders
came on the man and the rustled calf. Fortunately for the thief the
sheriff happened to be in the neighborhood. He had rescued the captured
waddy from the hands of the incensed ranchers and brought him straight to
Live-Oaks.

The rustler was frightened. There had been a bad quarter of an hour when
it looked as though he might be the central figure in a lynching. Even
after this danger had been weathered, the outlook was full of gloom. He
had to choose between a long prison sentence and the betrayal of his
comrades. Dumont had no iron in his blood. He dodged and evaded and
bluffed--and at last threw up his hands. If the sheriff would protect him
from the vengeance of the gang, he would give any information wanted
or do anything he was told to do.

The arrival of Reb and his prisoner interrupted the quiz. Prince had
Dumont returned to his cell and took up the new business of Roush and his
story. The sheriff knew he would be blamed for the escape of Clanton and
he thought it wise to have the whole matter opened up before witnesses.
Wallace Snaith and Dad Wrayburn both happened to be in town and Billie
sent the boss mule-skinner to bring them. To these men he turned over the
examination of Roush.

They wrung from him, a scrap at a time, the story Yankie had told his
confederates at the camp-fire. A statement of the facts was drawn up
and signed by Roush under protest. It was witnessed by the four men
present.

Devil Dave was locked up and Dumont brought back to the office of the
sheriff. Taken by surprise at the new form of the questionnaire, already
broken in spirit and therefore eager to conciliate these powerful
citizens, the rustler at once corroborated the story of Roush. He, too,
signed a statement drawn up by Prince.

"Just shows, doggone it, how a man can be too blamed sure," commented
Wrayburn. "I'd 'a' bet my life Go-Get-'Em Jim killed Webb. But he
didn't. It's plain enough now. After his rookus with the old man, Yankie
must have got a seventy-three an' waited in the chaparral. It just
happened he was lyin' hid close to where we met Clanton. It beats the
Dutch."

"An' if Jim hadn't escaped he'd have been hanged for killin' Webb."

"That's right, sheriff. On my testimony, too. Say, let me go to the
Governor with these papers an' git the pardon. I'd like to give it to the
boy myself, jest to show him there's no hard feelin's," urged Wrayburn.

"That's all right, Dad. I'm goin' to be right busy this next week, I
shouldn't wonder. I've got business up in the hills."

"If you're goin' on a round-up, I hope you make a good gather, Prince,"
said Snaith, smiling.

Not in the history of Washington County had there been another such a
round-up as this one of which Sheriff Prince was the boss. He made his
plans swiftly and thoroughly. His posses were to sweep the country
between Saco de Oro Creek and Caballero Cañon. Every gap was to be
stopped, every exit guarded. Dumont, much against his will, rode beside
the sheriff as guide. Goodheart had charge of the first party that went
out. His duty was to swing round and close the gulches to the north. Here
he would wait until the hunted men were driven into the trap he had set.
Old Reb, with a second posse, started next morning for the head-waters
of Seven-Mile Creek. An hour later the sheriff himself took the road. He
left town sooner than he had intended because Roush had escaped during
the night and was probably on his way into the hills to warn the
rustlers.

Get them in a talkative mood and old-timers who took part in it will
still tell the story of that man-drive in the mountains. Riders combed
the draws and the buttes, eyes and ears alert for those who might lie
hidden on the rim rocks or in the cactus. It was grim business. Driven
out of their holes, the rustlers fought savagely. One, trapped in a hill
pocket, stood off a posse till he was shot to death. A second was
wounded, captured, and sent back with two other suspects to Live-Oaks.
At the end of a week Prince had the remnant of the band surrounded in a
mountain park close to Caballero Cañon.

The country into which the outlaws had been driven was an ideal terrain
for defense. The brush was thick and tall. Two wooded arroyos gashed the
rim of the valley and ran down into the basin. An attack against
determined men here was bound to prove costly.

Billie knew that three men lay in the chaparral and he believed that one
of them at least was wounded. Old Reb had jumped them up from a fireless
camp, and in their hurry to escape the outlaws had left all their
provisions and two of their horses. They left, too, one of the posse with
a bullet hole in his forehead. The sheriff's plan was to tighten the
lines gradually and starve out the rustlers.

But though Prince would not let his men advance to a general assault, he
made up his mind to find out more as to the condition of the men he had
surrounded. He wanted to make sure they had not slipped past his guards
into Caballero Cañon. In the back of his head, too, was the feeling that
if he could get into touch with them, perhaps he might arrange for a
surrender.

He called Goodheart to one side. "As soon as it's dark I'm goin' in to
find out what's doin'. We haven't heard a murmur from these birds for
hours. Perhaps they've flown. Anyhow, I'm goin' to find out."

"How many of us are goin'?"

"Just one of us--Billie Prince."

"If two of us went--"

"It would double the chances of discovery. No, I'm goin' alone. Maybe I
can have a talk with Albeen or Yankie. I don't want to take 'em dead, but
alive."

"They'll probably get you while you're in there, Prince."

"I don't think it. But if I'm not back by mornin' you are in charge of
this hunt. Use yore judgment."

The deputy ventured one more protest, but his chief vetoed it. Billie had
decided what to do and argument did not touch him.

He did not take a rifle. In the thick brush it would be hard to handle
noiselessly and the snapping of a twig might mean the difference between
life and death. The sheriff slipped into the tangle of cat-claw, prickly
pear, and mesquite, vanishing into the gloom from the sight of Goodheart.

On the back of an envelope Dumont had drawn for him a rough map of the
valley. It showed that the wooded arroyos ran together like the spokes of
a wheel. The judgment of Prince was that he must look for the men he
wanted close to the angle of intersection. Up one or the other of these
draws it was likely they would make their dash for freedom, since
otherwise they would have to emerge into the open. Therefore, they would
hold the base of the V in order not to be cut off from the chance of
getting out of the trap.

The sheriff snaked forward, most of the time on his stomach or on hands
and knees, for what seemed an interminable period. Each least movement
had to be planned and executed with precision. He dared not risk the
cracking of a dead branch or the rustle of dry foliage. As silently as
an Apache he wriggled through the grass.

Billie became aware of a sound to the left. He listened. It presently
defined itself as a wheezing rattle halfway between a cough and a groan.

Toward it Prince deflected. He knew himself to be now in the acute danger
zone, and he increased if possible his precautions. The moaning continued
intermittently. Billie wondered why, if this were the camp of the
outlaws, no other sound broke the stillness. Closer, inch by inch, making
the most of every bunch of yucca and cholla, the officer slowly crept.

The figure of a man lay in the sand, the head resting on a folded
slicker. From time to time it moved slightly, and always the restlessness
was accompanied by the little throat rattle that had first attracted the
attention of the sheriff. The face, lying full in the moonlight, was of a
ghastly pallor.

Prince lay crouched behind a piñon till he was sure the man was alone. It
was possible that his confederates might return at any moment, but Billie
could not let him suffer without aid. He stepped forward, revolver in
hand, every sense ready for instant response.

The wounded man was Joe Yankie. The experienced eyes of Prince told him
that the rustler had not long to live. He was already in that twilight
region which is the border land between the known and the unknown. Billie
spoke his name, and for a moment the eyes of the man cleared.

"Yore boys got me when they jumped our camp," he explained feebly.

"Sorry, Joe. You were firin' when they hit you."

The wounded man nodded. "'S all right. Streak o' bad luck. Gimme water.
I'm on fire," The officer unbuckled his canteen, lifted the head of the
dying man, and let the water trickle down his throat. Gently he lowered
the head again to the pillow.

Then he asked a question. "Where are Albeen and--Roush?"

The last name was a shot in the dark, but it hit the bull's eye.

"Left--hours ago,"

Yankie closed his eyes wearily, but by sheer strength of will Prince
recalled him from the doze into which he was slipping.

"Did you kill Homer Webb?"

"Yes."

"Had Clanton anything to do with it?"

"No."

A film gathered over the eyes of the dying man. The lids closed. Billie
adjusted the pillow a little more comfortably and rose. He could do no
more for him at present and he must set about his work. For though the
net of the round-up had gathered hundreds of stolen cattle and most of
those engaged in the business of brand-blotting, Prince knew his job
would not be finished if Roush and Albeen escaped.

He quartered over the ground foot by foot. The camp of the rustlers had
been here and the footsteps showed there had been three. Yankie was
accounted for. That left Roush and Albeen. The sheriff discovered the
place where they had been sleeping.

His eyes lit with the eagerness of the hunter who has come on the spoor.
He had found two sets of tracks leading from the bed-ground. One of these
showed no heel marks and the deep impress of toes in the soft sand. The
other presented a more sharply defined print with a greater distance
between the steps. They told Billie a story of a man tiptoeing away in
breathless silence, and of another man, wakened by some sound or by some
premonition, pursuing him in reckless haste.

The imagination of the trailer built up a web of cause and effect. Two
men, with only one horse, were caught in a trap from which both were in a
desperate hurry to escape. Each, no doubt, was filled with suspicion of
the other while they waited for darkness to fall that they might try to
slip through the cordon of watchers. One of the at least, was unknown. If
he could make a get-away, _and leave no witness behind_, there would be
no proof positive that he was one of the rustlers. The situation was ripe
for tragedy.

In the back of the sheriff's mind rose thoughts of something sinister
that had happened in the early hours of darkness. A chill ran down his
spine. He expected presently to stumble across something cold and chill
that only a little while ago had been warm with life.

Prince recognized a weakness in his theory. If Roush was the man who had
tiptoed toward the horse in the pines, why had he not made sure first
by shooting Albeen while he slept? There was no absolute answer to that.
But it might be that the one-armed man had been dozing lightly and that
Roush had not the nerve to take a chance. For if his first shot failed to
kill, the betrayed man could still drop him.

The trailer had no doubt in his mind that Roush was the man who had tried
to slip away to the horse. Albeen was a gun-fighter, quick on the shoot,
hasty of temper, but with the reputation of being both game and stanch.
It would not be in character for him to leave a companion in the lurch.

In the scrub pines at the foot of the arroyo Prince found the place where
a horse had been tied. The footprints had diverged sharply toward a
duster of big boulders that rose in the grove. Billie did not at once
follow them. He wanted to make sure of another point first.

Every sense alert against a possible surprise, he studied the ground
around the spot where the bronco had been fastened. One set of tracks
came straight from the big rocks to the hitching tree. Here all tracks
ended, except those of a galloping horse and the ones made by the man who
had originally left the animal here.

One man had gone up the arroyo to slip through or to fight his way out of
the trap. The other man had stayed here. The officer knew what he would
find lying among the big rocks.

The body lay face down, a revolver close to the still hand. Three
chambers of it had been fired. Prince turned over the heavy torso and
looked into the contorted face of Dave Roush.

The man had fallen a victim to his own treachery.



Chapter XXXIV

Primrose Paths


When Billie Prince had finished the job that had been given him to do, he
went back quietly to Live-Oaks without knowing that he had led the last
campaign of a revolution in the social life of Washington County. Because
a strong, determined man had carried law into the mesquite, citizens
could henceforth go about their business without fear or dread.

The rule of the "bad man" was over. Revolvers were no longer a part of
the necessary wearing apparel of gentlemen of spirit. Life became safe
and humdrum. The frontier world gave itself to ploughing fields and
building fences and digging irrigation ditches and planting orchards. As
a corollary it married and reared children and built little red
schoolhouses.

But before all this came to pass some details had to be arranged in the
lives of certain young people of the country. In one instance, at least,
Lee Snaith appointed herself adjuster in behalf of Cupid.

Goodheart reached town a few hours earlier than his chief. Lee met him
just before supper in front of the court-house.

"Where's Billie?" she asked with characteristic directness.

"He's on his way back. A wounded man couldn't be moved an' he had to stay
with him a while. The man was Joe Yankie. A messenger just got in to say
he died."

"Billie isn't wounded?"

"No. Not his fault, though. When we had the rustlers cornered, he crawled
in through the brush to their camp. Fool business, I told him. Never saw
anything gamer. Lucky for him Albeen had made his get-away."

The eyes of the girl thanked the deputy for this indirect praise. Little
patches of red burned in her dusky cheeks. The way to make a life friend
of her was to be fond of Billie.

Lee changed the subject abruptly. "Jack, you haven't half the sense I
thought you had."

"Much obliged," he answered sardonically. She was looking straight at him
and he knew what was in her mind.

"If I was a man--and if the nicest girl in the world was in love with
me--I'd try not to be as stiff as a poker."

"I'm as stiff as a poker, am I?"

"Yes." The dark eyes of the young woman were eager pools of light. "She's
the truest-hearted girl I ever saw--the best friend, the loyalest
comrade. I should think you'd be ashamed to set yourself up to judge
her."

"Of course, you're not settin' yourself up to judge _me_, Lee?"

"I'm going to tell you what I think. The others are afraid of you because
you can put on that high-and-mighty, stand-offish air. Well, I'm not."

"I see you're not."

"She told me all about it. Since she was Polly Roubideau she had to help
Jim escape. Can't you see that? She knew he was innocent, and it turned
out she was right. Suppose she made a mistake--and I don't admit it for a
minute. Can't you make allowance for other folks' judgment being
different from yours? Are you never wrong yourself?"

"It isn't a question of judgment."

He hesitated and decided to say no more. How could he tell Lee that
Pauline had deliberately misled him to give Clanton a better chance of
escape? He had fought it out a hundred times in his mind, but he could
not escape the conviction that she had made a tool of his love.

The girl went to the heart of the matter. "Polly loves you, and she is
breaking her heart because of your wretched pride. If you don't go
straight to her and beg her pardon for your want of faith in her, you're
not half the man I think you are, Jack Goodheart."

A warm glow of hope flushed through his blood.

"How do you know she loves me?"

"Because--because--" Lee stopped. She did not intend to betray any
confidences. "I know it. That's enough."

He threw away impulsively the prudent pride that he had been nourishing.
"Where can I find Polly?"

"You're being invited to supper at my aunt's this evening. I'll not be
home for half an hour, but if you go right up, maybe you can find some
one to entertain you."

He buried her little hand in his big paw and strode away. She watched
him, a soft tenderness shining in her eyes. Lee was a lover herself, and
she wanted everybody in the world to be as happy as she was.

Two horsemen rode down the street toward her. She looked up. One of them
was Billie Prince, the other Jim Clanton.

The younger man gave a shout of gay greeting. "Yip-ee yippy yip." He
leaned from the cowpony and gave her his gloved hand. "I've brought him
back to you. He sure did make a good clean-up. I'm the only bad man left
in Washington County."

She met his impudent little smile with friendly eyes. "Dad Wrayburn's
back from Santa Fe with the pardon, Jim. I'm so glad."

"I'm some glad myself. Do you want me to shut my eyes whilst you an'
Billie--"

The sheriff knocked the rest of the sentence out of him with a vigorous
thump on the back.

While Lee and her lover shook hands their eyes held fast to each other.

"Good to see you, Billie," she said.

"Same here, Lee."

"When you and Jim have put up your horses I want you to come up to aunt's
for supper."

"We'll be there."

It was not a very gay little supper. Pauline and Jack Goodheart had very
little to say for themselves, but in their eyes were bright pools of
happiness. Clanton sustained the burden of the talk, assisted in a
desultory fashion by Lee and Billie. But there was so much quiet joy at
the table that for years the hour was one fenced off from all the others
of their lives. Even Jim, who for the first time felt himself almost an
outsider, since he did not belong to the close communion of lovers, could
find plenty for which to be thankful.

He made an announcement before he left. "There's no room here for me now
that you lads are marryin' all my girls. I'm goin' to hit the trail. It's
Texas for me. I've got a letter in my pocket offerin' me a job as a
Ranger an' I'm goin' to take it."

They shook hands with him in warm congratulation. Their friend was no
longer a killer. He had definitely turned his back on lawlessness and
would henceforth walk with the law. The problem of what was to become of
Go-Get-'Em Jim was solved.

As to the problem of their own futures, that did not disturb these happy
egoists in the least. Life beckoned them to primrose paths. It is the
good fortune of lovers that their vision never pierces the shadows in
which lie the sorrows of the years and the griefs that wear them gray.


THE END





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search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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