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Title: Laramie Holds the Range
Author: Spearman, Frank H. (Frank Hamilton), 1859-1937
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 "Laramie Holds the Range" ***

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LARAMIE HOLDS THE RANGE

by

FRANK H. SPEARMAN

Illustrated by James Reynolds



[Frontispiece: "Hold on, Doubleday," Laramie said bluntly, . . .
"You'll hear what I've got to say"]



New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
1921

Copyright, 1921, by
Charles Scribner's Sons

Published August, 1921
Reprinted September, 1921

Copyright, 1921, by Frank H. Spearman



TO MY SON

FRANK HAMILTON SPEARMAN, JR.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER

       I  SLEEPY CAT
      II  THE CRAZY WOMAN
     III  DOUBLEDAY'S
      IV  AT THE EATING HOUSE
       V  CROSS PURPOSES
      VI  WHICH WINS?
     VII  THE CLOSE OF THE DAY
    VIII  THE HOME OF LARAMIE
      IX  AT THE BAR
       X  LARAMIE COUNTS FIVE
      XI  A DUEL WITH KATE
     XII  THE BARBECUE
    XIII  AGAINST HIS RECORD
     XIV  LEFEVER ASKS QUESTIONS
      XV  THE RAID OF THE FALLING WALL
     XVI  THE GO-DEVIL
    XVII  VAN HORN TRAILS HAWK
   XVIII  HAWK QUARRELS WITH LARAMIE
     XIX  LEFEVER RECEIVES THE RAIDERS
      XX  THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE
     XXI  THE HIDING PLACE
    XXII  STONE TRIES HIS HAND
   XXIII  KATE RIDES
    XXIV  NIGHT AND A HEADER
     XXV  A GUEST FOR AN HOUR
    XXVI  THE CRAZY WOMAN WINS
   XXVII  KATE DEFIES
  XXVIII  A DIFFICULT RESOLVE
    XXIX  HORSEHEAD PASS
     XXX  THE FUNERAL AND AFTER
    XXXI  AN ENCOUNTER
   XXXII  A MESSAGE FROM TENISON
  XXXIII  THE CANYON OF THE FALLING WALL
   XXXIV  KATE GETS A SHOCK
    XXXV  AT KITCHEN'S BARN
   XXXVI  MCALPIN AT BAY
  XXXVII  KATE BURNS THE STEAK
 XXXVIII  THE UNEXPECTED CALL
   XXXIX  BARB MAKES A SURPRISING ALLIANCE
      XL  BRADLEY RIDES HARD
     XLI  THE FLIGHT OF THE SWALLOWS
    XLII  WARNING
   XLIII  THE LAST CALL
    XLIV  TENISON SERVES BREAKFAST



ILLUSTRATIONS


"Hold on, Doubleday," Laramie said bluntly, . . . "You'll
  hear what I've got to say" . . . . . . _Frontispiece_

"And I thought I knew every drop of water in this country"

Knocked forward the next instant in his saddle, Laramie
  drooped over his pommel

"No," said a man . . . as he pushed forward . . . "He's not
  going to drink!"



LARAMIE HOLDS THE RANGE


CHAPTER I

SLEEPY CAT

All day the heavy train of sleepers had been climbing the long rise
from the river--a monotonous stretch of treeless, short-grass plains
reaching from the Missouri to the mountains.  And now the train stopped
again, almost noiselessly.

Kate, with the impatience of girlish spirits tried by a long and
tedious car journey, left her Pullman window and its continuous,
one-tone picture, and walking forward was glad to find the vestibule
open.  The porter, meditating alone, stood below, at the car step,
looking ahead; Kate joined him.

The stop had been made at a lonely tank, for water.  No human
habitation was anywhere in sight.  The sun had set.  For miles in every
direction the seemingly level and open country spread around her.  She
looked back to the darkening east that she was leaving behind.  It
suggested nothing of interest beyond the vanishing perspective of a
long track tangent.  Then to the north, whence blew a cool and gentle
wind, but the landscape offered nothing attractive to her eyes; its
receding horizon told no new story.  Then she looked into the west.

They had told her she should not see the Rockies until morning.  But
the dying light in the west brought a moving surprise.  In the dreamy
afterglow of the evening sky there rose, far beyond the dusky plain,
the faint but certain outline of distant mountain peaks.

Bathed in a soft unearthly light, like the purple of another world;
touched here and there by a fairy gold; silent as dreams, majestic as
visions, overwhelming as reality itself, Kate gazed on them with
beating heart.

Something clutched at her breath: "Are those the Rocky Mountains?" she
suddenly asked, appealing to the stolid porter.  She told Belle long
afterward, she knew her voice must have quivered.

"Ah'm sure, Ah c'dn't say, Miss.  Ah s'pecs dey ah.  Dis my first trip
out here."

"So it is mine!"

"Mah reg'lar run," continued the porter, insensible to the glories of
the distant sky, "is f'm Chicago to Council Bluffs."

A flagman hurried past.  Kate courageously pointed: "Are those the
Rocky Mountains, please?"  He halted only to look at her in
astonishment.  "Yes'm."   But she was bound he should not escape: "How
far are they?" she shot after him.  He looked back startled: "'Bout a
hundred miles," he snapped.  Plainly there was no enthusiasm among the
train crew over mountains.

When she was forced, reluctant, back into the sleeper, she announced
joyfully to her berth neighbors that the Rocky Mountains were in sight.
One regarded her stupidly, another coldly.  Across the aisle the old
lady playing solitaire did not even look up.  Kate subsided; but dull
apathy could not rob her of that first wonderful vision of the strange,
far-off region, perhaps to be her home.

Next day, from the car window it was all mountains--at least,
everywhere on the horizon.  But the train seemed to thread an
illimitable desert--a poor exchange for the boundless plains, Kate
thought.  But she grew to love the very dust of the desert.

The train was due at Sleepy Cat in the late afternoon.  It met with
delays and night had fallen when Kate, after giving the porter too much
money, left her car, and suitcase in hand struggled, American fashion,
up the long, dark platform toward the dimly lighted station.  Men and
women hastened here and there about her.  The changing crews moved
briskly to and from the train.  There was abundance of activity, but
none of it concerned Kate and her comfort.  And there was no one, she
feared, to meet her.

Reaching the station, she set down her suitcase without a tremor, and
though she had never been more alone, she never felt less lonely.  The
eating-house gong beat violently for supper.  A woman dragging a little
boy almost fell over Kate's suitcase but did not pause to receive or
tender apology.  Men looking almost solemn under broad,
straight-brimmed hats moved in and out of the station, but none of
these saw Kate.  Only one man striding past looked at her.  He glared.
And as he had but one eye, Kate deemed him, from his expression, a
woman-hater.

Then a fat man under an immense hat, and wearing a very large ring on
one hand, walked with a dapper step out of the telegraph office.  He
did see Kate.  He checked his pace, coughed slightly and changed his
course, as if to hold himself open to inquiry.  Kate without hesitation
turned to him and explained she was for Doubleday's ranch.  She asked
whether he knew the men from there and whether anyone was down.

John Lefever, for it was he whom she addressed, knew the men but he had
seen no one; could he do anything?

"I want very much to get out there tonight," said Kate.

"Jingo," exclaimed Lefever, "not tonight!"

"Tonight," returned Kate, looking out of dark eyes in pink and white
appeal, "if I can possibly make it."

Lefever caught up her suitcase and set it down beside the waiting-room
door: "Stay right here a minute," he said.

He walked toward the baggage-room and before he reached it, stopped a
second large, heavy man, Henry Sawdy.  Him he held in confab; Sawdy
looking meantime quite unabashed toward the distant Kate.  In the light
streaming from the station windows her slender and slightly shrinking
figure suggested young womanhood and her delicately fashioned features,
half-hidden under her hat, pleasingly confirmed his impression of it.
Kate, conscious of inspection, could only pretend not to see him.  And
the sole impression she could snatch in the light and shadow of the
redoubtable Sawdy, was narrowed to a pair of sweeping mustaches and a
stern-looking hat.  Lefever returned, his companion sauntering along
after.  Kate explained that she had telegraphed.

At that moment an odd-looking man, with a rapid, rolling, right and
left gait, ambled by and caught Kate's eye.  Instead of the formidable
Stetson hat mostly in evidence, this man wore a baseball cap--of the
sort usually given away with popular brands of flour--its peak cocked
to its own apparent surprise over one ear.  The man had sharp eyes and
a long nose for news and proved it by halting within earshot of the
conversation carried on between Kate and the two men.  He looked so
queer, Kate wanted to laugh, but she was too far from home to dare.  He
presently put his head conveniently in between Sawdy and Lefever and
offered some news of his own: "There's been a big electric storm in the
up country, Sawdy; the telephones are on the bum."

"How's she going to get to Doubleday's tonight, McAlpin?" asked Sawdy
abruptly of the newcomer.  McAlpin never, under any pressure, answered
a question directly.  Hence everything had to be explained to him all
over again, he looking meantime more or less furtively at Kate.  But he
found out, despite his seeming stupidity, a lot that it would have
taken the big men hours to learn.

"If you don't want to take a rig and driver," announced McAlpin, after
all had been canvassed, "there's the stage for the fort; they had to
wait for the mail.  Bill Bradley is on tonight.  I'm thinkin' he'll set
y' over from the ford--it's only a matter o' two or three miles."

"Are there any other passengers?" asked Kate doubtfully.

"Belle Shockley for the Reservation," answered McAlpin, promptly,
"if--she ain't changed her mind, it bein' so late."

Sawdy put a brusque end to this uncertainty: "She's down there at the
Mountain House waitin'--seen her myself not ten minutes ago."

Scurrying away, McAlpin came back in a jiffy with the driver, Bradley.
Thin, bent and grizzled though he was, Kate thought she saw under the
broad but shabby hat and behind the curtain of scraggly beard and deep
wrinkles dependable eyes and felt reassured.

"How far is it to the ranch?" she asked of the queer-looking Bradley.

"Long ways, the way you go, ain't it, Bill?" McAlpin turned to the old
driver for confirmation.

"'Bout fourteen mile," answered Bradley, "to the ford."

"What time should I get there?" asked Kate again.

Bradley stood pat.

"What time'll she get there, Bill?" demanded Lefever.

"Twelve o'clock," hazarded Bradley tersely.  "Or," he added, "I'll stop
when I pass the ranch 'n' tell 'em to send a rig down in the mornin'."

"That would take you out of your way," Kate objected.

"Not a great ways."

A man that would go to this trouble in the middle of the night for
someone he had never seen before, Kate deemed safe to trust.  "No," she
said, "I'll go with you, if I may."

The way in which she spoke, the sweetness and simplicity of her words,
moved Sawdy and Lefever, the first a widower and the second a bachelor,
and even stirred McAlpin, a married man.  But they had no particular
effect on Bradley.  The blandishments of young womanhood were past his
time of day.

With Lefever carrying the suitcase and nearly everybody talking at
once, the party walked around to the rear door of the baggage-room.

The stage had been backed up, a hostler in the driver's seat, and the
mail and express were being loaded.  Sawdy volunteered to save time by
fetching Belle Shockley from the hotel, and while McAlpin and Lefever
inspected and discussed the horses--for the condition of which McAlpin,
as foreman of Kitchen's barn, was responsible--Kate stood, listener and
onlooker.  Everything was new and interesting.  Four horses champed
impatiently under the arc-light swinging in the street, and looked
quite fit.  But the stage itself was a shock to her idea of a Western
stage.  Instead of the old-fashioned swinging coach body, such as she
had wondered at in circus spectacles, she saw a very substantial,
shabby-looking democrat wagon with a top, and with side curtains.  The
curtains were rolled up.  But the oddest thing to Kate was that
wherever a particle could lodge, the whole stage was covered with a
ghostly, grayish-white dust.  While the loading went on, Sawdy arrived
with the second passenger, Belle Shockley.  She had, fortunately for
Kate's apprehensions, _not_ changed her mind.

Belle herself was something of an added shock.  She wore a long rubber
coat, in which the rubber was not in the least disguised.  Her hair was
frizzed about her face, and a small, brimless hat perched high, almost
startled, on her head.  She was tall and angular, her features were
large and her eyes questioning.  Had she had Bradley's beard, she would
have passed with Kate for the stage driver.  She was formidable, but
yet a woman; and she scrutinized the slender whip of a girl before her
with feminine suspicion.  Nor did she give Kate a chance to break the
ice of acquaintance before starting.

Under Lefever's chaperonage and with his gallant help, Kate took her
seat where directed, just behind the driver, and her new companion
presently got up beside her.

The mail bags disposed of, Bradley climbed into place, gathered his
lines, the hostler let go the leads and the stage was off.  The horses,
restive after their long wait, dashed down the main street of the town,
whirling Kate, all eyes and ears, past the glaring saloons and darkened
stores to the extreme west end of Sleepy Cat.  There, striking
northward, the stage headed smartly for the divide.

The night was clear, with the stars burning in the sky.  From the rigid
silence of the driver and his two passengers, it might have been
thought that no one of them ever spoke.  To Kate, who as an Eastern
girl had never, it might be said, breathed pure air, the clear, high
atmosphere of the mountain night was like sparkling wine.  Her senses
tingled with the strange stimulant.

To Belle, there was no novelty in any of this, and the strain of
silence was correspondingly greater.  It was she who gave in first:

"You from Medicine Bend?" she asked, as the four horses walked up a
long hill.

"Pittsburgh," answered Kate.

"Pittsburgh!" echoed Belle, startled.  "Gee! some trip you've had."

Belle, encouraged, then confessed that a cyclone had given her her own
first start West.  She had been blown two blocks in one and had all of
her hair pulled out of her head.

"They said I'd have no chance to get married without any hair," she
continued, "so I got a wig--never _could_ find my own hair--and come
West for a chance.  And they're here; if you're looking for a husband
you've come to the right place."

"I haven't the least idea of getting married," protested Kate.

"They'll be after you," declared Belle sententiously.

"Are you married?" ventured Kate.

"Not yet.  But they're coming.  I'm in no hurry."

She talked freely about her own affairs.  She had worked for Doubleday,
for whose ranch Kate was bound.  Doubleday had had a chain of eating
houses on the line, as Belle termed the transcontinental railroad.
They had all been taken over except the one where she worked--at Sleepy
Cat Junction--and this would be taken soon, Belle thought.

"That's the trouble with Barb Doubleday," she went on.  "He's got too
many irons in the fire--head over heels in debt.  There's no money
now-a-days in cattle, anyway.  What are you going up to Doubleday's
for?"

"He's my father."

"Your father?  Well!  I never open my mouth without I put my foot in
it, anyway."

"I've never seen him," continued Kate.

Belle was all interest.  She confided to Kate that she was now on her
way, for a visit, to the Reservation where her cousin was teaching in
an Indian school, and divided her time for the next hour between
getting all she could of Kate's story and telling all of her own.

On Kate's part there was no end of questions to ask, about country and
customs and people.  When Belle could not answer, she appealed to
Bradley, who, if taciturn, was at least patient.  Every time the
conversation lulled and Kate looked out into the night, it seemed as if
they were drawing closer and closer to the stars, the dark desert still
spreading in every direction and the black mountain ridges continually
receding.



CHAPTER II

THE CRAZY WOMAN

They had traveled a long time it seemed to Kate, and having climbed all
the hills in the country, were going down a moderate grade with the
hind wheels sputtering unamiably at the brakes, when Belle broke a long
silence: "Where are we, Bill?" she demanded, familiarly.

"The Crazy Woman," Bradley answered briefly.  Kate did not understand,
but by this time she had learned in such circumstances to hold her
tongue.

"He means the creek," explained Belle.  "It's way down there ahead of
us."

Strain her eyes as she would, Kate could see only the blackness of the
darkness ahead.

"'N' b' jing!" muttered Bradley, as Kate peered into nothingness,
"she's whinin' t'night f'r fair."

Again for an instant Kate did not comprehend.  Then the leads were
swung sharply by Bradley to the left.  The stage rounded what Kate
afterward frequently recognized as an overhanging shoulder of rock on
the road down to the creek, and a vague, dull roar swept up from below.

Bradley halted the horses, climbed down, and taking the lantern went
forward on foot to investigate.

"Must have been a cloudburst in the mountains," remarked Belle,
listening; and Kate was to learn that a cloudless sky gives no
assurance whatever for the passage of a mountain stream.

The lantern disappeared, to come into sight again farther down the
trail, and while both women talked, the faint light swung at intervals
in and out of their vision as Bradley reconnoitered.  Kate was a little
worried, but her companion sat quite unmoved, even when Bradley
returned and reported the creek "roarin'."

"That bein' the case," he muttered, "I'm thinkin' the Double-draw
bridge has took up its timbers and walked likewise."

The Double-draw bridge!  How well Kate was to know that name; but that
night it seemed, like everything else, only very queer.

"Bradley," protested Belle, now very much disturbed, "that can't be."

"We'll see," retorted Bradley, gathering his reins and releasing his
brake as he spoke to the horses.  "I don't guess myself there's much
left o' that bridge."  Only the expletive he placed before the last
word revealed his own genuine annoyance and Kate prudently asked no
further questions.  Some instinct convinced her she was already a
nuisance on the silent Bradley's hands.  The ford--off the main
road--was where he had purposed setting Kate over, as he expressed it,
to the ranch.  Double-draw bridge--on the road to the fort and
Reservation--was two miles above.

The horses climbed the long hill again and started on the road for the
bridge.

"If the Double-draw is out," sighed Belle resignedly, "I reckon we're
trapped."

For the first time now they could hear the hoofs of the two teams
sinking into and pulling out of mud.  It grew deeper as they descended
the long grade toward the bridge and clouds obscured the light of the
stars.

With the horses stumbling on, the women watched for something to meet
either sight or hearing, but there was nothing until they again neared
the creek.  Then the same vague roar rose on the night and as they
rimmed the bench above the creek a faint, ghastly light on the eastern
horizon betokened a rising moon.  Down the trail they stopped in
darkness and Bradley again clambered down from his box with the lantern
to investigate.

"'Z fur 'z I c'n see," he reported when he came back, "th' bridge is
all right, but mos'ly under water."

"Can we get across?" Belle Shockley asked querulously.

Bradley answered with hesitation:  "Why--yes----"

"Oh, good!"

"And no."

"What does that mean?" snapped Belle.

"We can't get across tonight--we might in the mornin'."

Kate kept silence, but Belle was persistent.  "What are we going to
do?" she demanded; "go 'way back to Sleepy Cat?"

"Not in a milyun years," returned Bradley, calmly.  "We're goin' to
pull out t' one side 'n' camp right here till daylight.  Ef I didn't
have you wimmen on my hands, I might take a chanst with the mail," he
went on, drawing his horses carefully around to where he meant to camp.
"Me and the horses could make it, even 'f we lost the wagon.  But I
w'dn't like the job of huntin' for you folks in the Crazy Woman with a
lantern--not tonight.  She's surely a-rip-roarin'.  Well; t'hell with
her 'n' all creeks like her, say I," he wound up, chirruping kindly to
his uncomplaining beasts.

"You don't like creeks," suggested Belle.

"Dry creeks--yes.  Wouldn't care if I never seen another wet creek from
now till kingdom come--Whoa, Nellie!" he called to the off lead mare
who was feeling the way for her companions back to a safe spot for a
halt.  "This is good, right here."

Belle showed her fellow-traveler how to lie down with some comfort on
the leather seat, and as they had one for each she gave Kate her
choice.  Kate, to put Belle between her and any man in front, took the
back seat.  The side curtains were let down and with a mail sack
supplied by Bradley for a pillow, Kate, drawing her big coat over her,
curled up for a rest.

The excitement of the journey had worn away.  The delay she was
disposed to accept philosophically.  It took some time for Bradley to
unhitch and dispose of the horses to his satisfaction, and theirs, and
his mumblings and the sound of their moving about and champing their
bits fell a long time on Kate's drowsy ears.  Belle went to sleep at
once, and though sleep was the last thing Kate expected to achieve, she
did fall asleep--with the Crazy Woman singing wildly in her ears.

She had hardly lost herself, it seemed, when Bradley roused his
passengers.  The storm waters were creeping up over the bench where
they had camped and with much impatient sputtering, Bradley hitched the
pole team to the stage and, in his pet, retreated into the hills for
assured safety.  Even the noise of the flood failed to follow them
there and they disposed themselves once more to rest.

How long she slept this time, Kate did not know, but she was awakened
by voices.

The night had grown very cold and death itself could not have been more
silent.  Yet at intervals Kate heard the low converse of two voices;
they were not far away and both were men's.

A panic seized her.  Her heart beat like the roll of a drum and then
nearly stopped.  What might happen now? she asked herself.  And what
could she fear but the worst?  In the dead of night--marooned in a wild
country, with only a queer woman and two strange men.  Could it be a
plot? she asked herself.  In the fear that gripped her she could hardly
breathe, and to think was only to invite added agonies of apprehension.
She sat quickly up, breathing hurriedly now and her heart racing.  Then
she heard the even breathing of her companion on the seat ahead.  To
make sure it was she, Kate put her hand over and touched Belle's
shoulder.  Reassured a little, but ready to push aside the curtain and
spring from the stage at the least alarm, Kate listened painfully; the
voices reached her ears again.

One was Bradley's--of that she felt sure; the other, deeper, more full,
and with a curiously even carrying quality through the silent night,
she knew she had never heard before; but the darkness, the solitude,
the shock of strange surroundings, if nothing else, made it terrifying
to her.  Kate had never been reckoned a timid girl, but she listened
dumb with fear.  Bradley did most of the talking.  He was recounting,
with occasional profanity, the mishaps of his trip, beginning with the
late train.

"Any passengers?" Kate heard the stranger ask.

"Two women--c'n y' beat it?  One of 'em a girl for Doubleday's."

"What can a girl be wanting at Doubleday's?"

"D'no.  Came off the train tonight."

"The Double-draw is out."

"Jing!" exclaimed Bradley, "it was there an hour ago."

"The ford is your only chance to get her over."

"Can I make it?"

"You've got good horses; you ought to make it by daylight."

"Hear they got a new foreman over at Doubleday's," Bradley said.

There was no comment, unless the silence could be so construed.

"Tom Stone," added Bradley, as if bound to finish.

There was an instant and angry exclamation, none the less ferocious
because of the restrained feeling in its sudden utterance.

"Doubleday sets a good deal by what Van Horn says; I reckon he put him
in there," suggested Bradley.

There was a further silence.  Then she heard the stranger dryly say: "I
expect so."  It seemed as if behind everything he did say there was so
much left unsaid.

"I never got rightly, Jim," Bradley went on, "how you 'n' Van Horn's
related."

"I hope you never will," returned the man saluted as "Jim," in the same
low, cold tone.  "We're not related.  He was my partner--once."

"Stone will change things at the ranch."

"He can't hurt them much."

"I guess they're full bad," said Bradley, and then, lowering his voice:
"The gal's asleep there in the stage.  How'd the land contest they made
on y' at Medicine Bend come off?"

"The cattlemen own that Land Office.  I'll beat the bunch at
Washington."

"Doubleday wanted me to go down to swear.  I wouldn't do it--wasn't
even at the trial----"

"No honest man was, from Doubleday's."

"Was it Stone cut your wire, Jim?"

"You know as much about it as I do."

"Got it up again?"

"All I could find."

"Meaner 'n' hell over there, ain't they?"

There was no comment.

"How long you goin' to stand it, Jim?" persisted Bradley.  And after
the odd pause, the slow answer: "Till I get tired."

"That'll be about the time they rip it off again."

"About that time, Bill."

"Well," hazarded the old driver, meditatively, "the boys are waitin'.
They say you're slow to start anything, Jim; but they look f'r hell t'
pay when y' do."

To the stranger--it seemed to Kate--words must be worth their weight in
gold, he parted with them so sparingly.

"What's this talk 'bout Farrell Kennedy makin' a depity marshal, Jim?"

"Mostly talk, Bill.  Good night."

"Farrel offered it to y', didn't he?"'

"So Lefever says."

"Where y' headin' f'r now?" persisted Bradley, as Kate heard the
shuffle of a horse's feet.

"Home."

"They ain't burned your shack?" Bradley asked with a half chuckle.

Kate just heard the man's reply: "Not yet."

The hoofbeats drew away.  Kate cautiously pushed back her curtain.

The late moon was shining in an old and ghostly light.  Distant heights
rose like black walls against the sky.  At intervals a peak broke
sharply above the battlements, or a rift in a closer sierra opened to
show the stars.

Kate could hear but could not for some time see the galloping horseman.
Then of a sudden he reached the brow of a low hill and rode swiftly out
into the spectral light.  There he halted.  Horse and rider stood for a
moment silhouetted against the sky.  The horse chafed at his bit.  He
stretched his head restively into the north, his rider sitting
motionless, a somber flat hat crowning his spare figure.  For barely a
moment the man sat thus immovable.  Then he turned slightly in the
saddle and the horse struck off into the night.

Drowsiness had deserted the tired girl that watched him.  While her
companions slept she sat in the solitude waiting for day.  Bradley, as
good as an alarm dock, was stirring with the first streak and feeding
his horses.  He told his passengers that the bridges were all out and
he was going back to the ford.

Belle, incredulous, when first told by Kate of a visitor in the night,
had no scruples in asking questions:

"Who was here last night, Bill?"

"Wha'd' y' mean?" he countered, gathering up his lines.

"What man was it, you were talking to?" she demanded.

"I guess if I was talkin' to any man," he grumbled, "I was talkin' in
my sleep.  You must 'a' been 'a' dreamin'."

"Oh, come now, 'fess up, Bill."  Belle nodded toward Kate.  "She was
awake."

Bradley started the horses, shifted on the box and looked not too well
pleased: "I wasn't talkin' to nobody last night----"

"Bill, what a whopper."

"If you mean this mornin'----" he went on, doggedly.

"Well--who was here?"

"Jim Laramie."

"Jim Laramie!" echoed Belle, catching her breath and poking Kate with
her elbow.  "Wonder he didn't hold us up."

Bradley scowled but said nothing.

"Bradley doesn't like that," murmured Belle to Kate, as soon as the
creaking of the wheels gave her a chance to speak without his hearing.
"He's a friend of Jim's."

"Where did he come from?" continued Belle, raising her voice toward
Bradley.

Bradley took his time to answer: "Claimed he was goin' home," he said
laconically.

"How could he get across the creek with the bridges out?" persisted
Belle.

Bradley's eyes were on his horses.  He was weary of question: "High
water wouldn't bother him much."

"Well, I want to know!  I should think it would bother anybody the way
it was sweeping down last night."

"Hell!" ejaculated Bradley, parting with his manners and his patience
together: "Jim could swim the Crazy Woman with his horse's feet tied."

"Who _is_ 'Jim'?" Kate demanded of her companion in an undertone.

"Jim Laramie?  He lives in the Falling Wall."



CHAPTER III

DOUBLEDAY'S

When they got back to the ford it was daylight and the Crazy Woman was
hurrying on as peacefully as if a frown had never ruffled its repose.
Gnarled trees springing out of gashes along its tortuous channel
showed, in the debris lodged against their flood-bared roots and
mud-swept branches, the fury of the night, and the creek banks, scoured
by many floods, revealed new and savage gaps in the morning sun; but
Bradley made his crossing with the stage almost as uneventfully as if a
cloud-burst had never ruffled the mountains.

Kate was eager to meet her father, eager to see what might be her new
home.  The moment the horses got up out of the bottom, Bradley pointed
with his whip to the ranch-house.  Kate saw ahead of her a long,
one-story log house crowning, with its group of out-buildings, a level
bench that stretched toward the foothills.  The landscape was bare of
trees and, to Kate, brown and barren-looking, save for a patch of green
near the creek where an alfalfa field lay vividly pretty in the sun.
The ranch-house, built of substantial logs, was ample in its
proportions and not uninviting, even to her Eastern eyes.

Bradley, with a flourish, swept past the stable, around the corral and
drew up before the door with a clatter.  In front of the bunk-house on
the right, a cowboy rolling a cigarette, was watching the arrival, and
just as Bradley plumped Kate, on his arms, to the ground, her father,
Barb Doubleday himself, opened the ranch-house door.

Kate had never seen her father.  And until Bradley spoke, she had not
the slightest idea that this could be he.  She saw only a rough-looking
man of great stature, slightly stooped, and with large features burnt
to a deep brown.

"Hello, Barb," said Bradley, without much enthusiasm.

His salutation met with as little: "What's up?" demanded Doubleday.
Kate noticed the huskiness in the strong, cold tone.

"Brought y' a passenger."

From the talk of the night she recognized her father's nickname.  It
was a little shock to realize that this must, indeed, be he.  And the
unmoved expression of his face as he surveyed her without a smite or
greeting, was not reassuring.

But she hastened forward: "Father?" there was a note of girlish appeal
in her greeting: "I'm Kate--your daughter.  You don't remember me, of
course," she added with an effort to extort a welcome.  "You got my
letter, did you?"

He looked at her uncertainly for a moment and nodded slowly.  "Was it
all right," she asked, now almost panic-stricken, "to come to see you?"

Confused or preoccupied, he stumbled out some words of welcome, spoke
to Belle on the stage, took the suitcase out of Bradley's hand and led
Kate into the house.  In the large room that she entered stood a long
table and a big fireplace opened at the back.  On the left, two
bedrooms opened off the big room, and on the right, the kitchen.

The chill of the strange greeting embarrassed Kate the more because she
felt Belle could hardly fail to notice it, and her own resentment of it
did not easily wear off.  But hoping for better things she freshened up
a little, in her father's bedroom, and by that time a man cook was
bringing breakfast into the big room, which served as living-room and
dining-room.  Bradley, Belle, Kate and her father sat down--the men had
already breakfasted.

Kate, her head in a whirl with novelty and excitement, was overcome
with interest in everything, but especially in her father.  Sitting at
the head of the table--at one end of which fresh places had been
set--he maintained her first impression of his stature.  His spreading
frame was covered with loose corduroy clothes--which could hardly be
said to fit--and his whole appearance conveyed the impression of
unusual physical strength.  It had been said of Barb Doubleday, as a
railroad builder, that he could handle an iron rail alone.  His
powerful jaw and large mouth--now fitted, or rather, supplied--with
artificial teeth of proportionate size--all supported Kate's awe of his
bigness.  His long nose, once smashed in a railroad fight, was not
seriously scarred; and originally well-shaped, it was still the best
feature of a terrifically weather-beaten face that had evidently seen
milder days.  The good looks were gone, but not the strength.  His
mouth was almost shapeless but unmistakably hard, and his grayish-blue
eyes were cold--very cold; try as she would, Kate could discern little
love or sympathy in them.  This was the man who almost twenty years
earlier had deserted her mother and wee Kate, the baby, and long
disappeared from Eastern view--until by accident the fact that he was
alive and in the far West had become known to his wife and daughter.
Kate thought she understood something of the tragedy in her mother's
life when the first sight of her father's eyes struck a chill into her
own heart.

But he was her father--and her mother had tried, in spite of all, to
hide or condone his faults; and more than once before she died, had
made Kate promise to hunt him up and go to him.  What the timid girl
dreaded most was finding another woman installed in his household--in
which case she meant to make her stay in the West very short.  But
every hour lessened these fears and as he himself gradually thawed a
little, Kate took courage.

The breakfast went fast.  Platters were passed without ceremony or
delay.  Her father and Bradley ate as Kate had never seen men eat; only
her amazement could keep pace with their quiet but unremitting efforts
to clean up everything in sight.  There was little mastication but much
knife and fork work, with free libation of coffee; and Belle, Kate
noticed, while somewhat left behind by the men, paid strict attention
to the business in hand.

Conversation naturally lagged; but what took place had its surprise for
Kate.  Doubleday asked a few questions of Belle--everybody seemed to
know everybody else--and learning she was headed for the Reservation,
possibly to teach school, hired her on the spot away from the job, to
go back to his eating-house at Sleepy Cat Junction.  No sooner was this
arranged, and Bradley told to take her luggage off the stage, than a
diversion occurred.

A horseman dashed up outside and presently strode into the room.  He
was tall and well put together; not quite as straight as an arrow, but
straight, and not ungraceful in his height.  This was Harry Van Horn, a
neighboring cattleman, and he wore the ranchman's rig, including the
broad hat and the revolver slung at his hip.  But everything about the
rig was fresh and natty, in the sunshine.  He looked alert.  His step
was clean and springy as he crossed the room, and his voice not
unpleasant as he briskly greeted Doubleday and looked keenly at his
guests--last and longest at Kate sitting at her father's right hand.

Doubleday introduced him to his daughter.  Van Horn nodded, without
much deference, to Belle and to Bradley, neither of whom responded more
warmly.  He sat down near Kate and with a look of raillery scrutinized
the remnant of meat left on the general platter: "How is it, Barb?" he
asked.

"What?"

"The antelope."

"All right, I guess."

Van Horn with a laugh turned to Kate: "Excited over it, isn't he?  I
got an antelope yesterday, so I sent half of it over to your father."
Then he lowered his voice in pretended disgust.  "_He_ doesn't know
what he's eating--it might as well be salt pork.  And you're a stranger
here?  I never knew your father had a daughter.  He's very
communicative.  How do you like antelope?"

Without paying attention to anyone else, he set out for a moment to
entertain Kate.  When he talked his face lighted with energy.  Every
expression of his brown eyes snapped with life, and his big Roman nose,
though not making for beauty, one soon got used to.

Barb broke abruptly in on the conversation: "What did Stone find out?"
he asked.

Van Horn answered a question of Kate's and turned then, and not until
then, to her father: "That's what I came over to tell you.  Dutch Henry
and another fellow--described like Stormy Gorman--sold ten head of
steers to the railroad camp last week--that's where our cattle are
going right along now.  And Abe Hawk," he exclaimed, pointing his
finger at Doubleday and poking it forward to emphasize each point,
"sold ten head of your long yearlings to a contracting outfit north of
the Falling Wall and never changed the brands!"

Doubleday stared at the speaker.  Van Horn, speaking to Kate, went
right on: "There's a bunch of rustlers over in the Falling Wall,
snitching steers on us right and left," he explained in a lower and
very deferential tone, but a warm one.

While Van Horn talked and Doubleday muttered husky and bitter
questions, Bradley and Belle paid continuous attention to their coffee
and griddle cakes.

Doubleday by this time had forgotten all about Kate.  Completely
absorbed by the reports brought in he rose from the table and followed
Van Horn to the open door where Van Horn turned and paused as he kept
on talking so that with his eyes he could still take in Kate at the
table.  The two men were now joined at the door by a third.  This man
looked in to see who was at the table.  Bradley glanced up at him only
long enough to recognize Tom Stone, the new foreman; no greeting
passed.  Kate looked longer, though when she saw the eyes of the
new-comer were on her she gave her attention to Belle.

Belle had told her that a woman at the ranch would be a great curiosity
and Kate every day resigned herself to inspection.  When she got better
acquainted with the men, and while there were good and bad among them,
she liked them all, except Stone.  His face did not seem kindly.  At
times agreeable enough, he was only tolerable at best and when even
slightly in liquor he was irritable.  His low forehead, over which he
plastered his hair, and his straight yellow eyebrows and hard blue eyes
were not confidence inspiring; even his big mustache was harsh and
lacked a generous curve--his normal outlook seemed one of reticence and
suspicion.  Kate refused to like him; his smile was not good.

On this morning he showed the signs of a hard journey.  He had brought
the news from the Falling Wall and was just in after a troublesome
ride.  Bradley and Belle left the table together and Kate followed to
the door.  Bradley tried to edge past the three men without speaking,
but Stone not only stopped him with a cold grin but followed the driver
toward the stage: "Wouldn't that kill you"--Kate heard him say to
Bradley, and she saw his attempt at an ingratiating grin: "Abe Hawk
rustling?"

Bradley gave him scant sympathy: "What did Doubleday discharge him
for?" he demanded.  "What did the cattlemen blacklist him for?  He's
the best foreman this ranch ever had--or ever will have," added
Bradley, summoning his scant courage to rub it in.  "He fired him
because he took up a little piece of land agin the Falling Wall and got
together a few cows of his own.  That's a crime, ain't it?  Like ----.
These cattlemen will learn a thing or two when they get old."

Stone flared back at him: "What are you over here eating their bacon
for?"

"Not f'r any likin' I've got f'r 'em," retorted Bradley, "n'r f'r any
o' their pets."

The old driver got away without a fight, but he had little to spare.
Van Horn rode off presently with Stone, and Doubleday returned to the
house, where Kate was sitting with Belle.  He told Belle he would send
her over to the Junction in the afternoon, and after dinner told Kate
she had better go over and stay at the Junction with Belle till they
could get a room "fixed up" at the ranch.

There were really no accommodations at the ranchhouse for Kate until
some could be prepared.  A room had to be made ready and there was no
bed or furniture.  And Belle told her that her father spent most of his
time at the Junction, anyway, where he had a cottage.  She explained
about the railroad branching off the main line at the Junction.  Her
father had built this to coal mines on the Falling Wall river.  He was
supposed to own this branch line and the mines, but she hinted strongly
that his creditors had got everything there was of the railroad but the
rust, and would sometime get that.

Kate wished her new acquaintance had been less candid.



CHAPTER IV

AT THE EATING HOUSE

Doubleday drove the two women down from the ranch.  At the Junction
there were, besides the railroad eating house, a few houses and a few
stores, and almost as many saloons as at Sleepy Cat itself--the place
being, Belle said, a shipping point both for cattle and for miners.

Kate was relieved to find her father's cottage, on a hill across the
railroad track, quite livable-looking.  It was, like all the other
houses, one story and square, being divided into kitchen, dining-room
and two bedrooms.  The interior, its shiny furniture covered with dust,
was dreary enough, but Kate knew she could make the place presentable,
and after the first few days in her new surroundings, began to recover
her high spirits.  Her father had not yet said she was to stay; but she
thought he liked her--Belle told her as much--and she set about making
her woman's hand felt.  Her father took his meals at the eating-house,
and the cottage had been indifferently cared for by old Henry, the
eating-house porter.  Kate, as a housekeeper, was a marked improvement,
one that even so absorbed a man as her father could not but notice.

She naturally spent much time at the eating-house herself, because
Belle, her sole acquaintance at the Junction, was there.

"How you going to like it out here?" demanded Belle, scrutinizing Kate
critically, after she had known her a few months.

"I love it," was the prompt answer.

Belle seemed dismayed: "How about the alkali?" she asked, as if to
convict Kate of deceit.

Kate only nodded: "It's all right."

"And the sagebrush?"

"I like it."

"And the greasewood?"

"Why not?"

Belle had begun to like Kate's laugh: "Not going to get lonesome out in
this country?" Belle flung at her, as a gloomy clincher.

"Lonesome!"  At this idea Kate laughed outright.  "Do I look it?" she
cried.

"Guess you like to horseback pretty well," muttered Belle, casting
about for a solution of so surprising an attitude and unable to find
any other fault with her protégée.

"I'd rather ride than eat," declared Kate, youthfully exuberant.

"What about swimming?" inquired Belle, determined to fasten discontent
on her.

"I hate swimming."

"Well," grumbled her companion, defeated at every point, "Barb's got
plenty of horses."  Kate did not like to hear her father called Barb,
but Belle would not call him anything else.

Back of the cottage, Doubleday had a small barn, where Henry--an
ex-cowboy--looked after Doubleday's driving horses.  And the very first
pledge from her father that she was to be tolerated in the strange
household she had invaded in this far-away country, came to Kate when
he sent down for her use two saddle ponies.  The fleeting suspicion of
loneliness that she would not confess even to herself, all vanished
when the ponies came: She could then ride to and from the ranch.  And
when Henry failed to appear, Kate took care of her pets herself.  After
her father told her they were really hers, she would hardly let Henry
himself lay a hand on them.

When the evenings grew tedious she would go down for supper with Belle
and sit with her in the small alcove off the office, where the two
could see and hear without being seen; and Belle's stories had no end.

The only feature of her situation that would not improve was her
father's aloofness.  He seemed to try at times to thaw out but he
persistently congealed again.  One evening he got in late from the
ranch, cold and wet, complaining of rheumatism.  The driver went on
with the team to Sleepy Cat and Doubleday told Kate he would stay all
night.  She had a good fire in the grate and made her father a toddy.

He sat with her before the fire late and talked for the first time
about his affairs, which seemed mostly money troubles.

Next morning he could hardly get out of bed, but he was set on going to
the ranch and Kate helped him to dress and got him a good breakfast,
with a cup of strong coffee.  He softened enough to let her go up to
the ranch with him.  She had already coaxed from him the furniture for
the spare room so she might spend the night there occasionally.  Van
Horn had promised to teach her sometime how to use a rifle and to take
her out after antelope and Kate was keen for going.  The next day her
father brought her the rifle from Sleepy Cat.

They drove out in the evening, but the minute they reached the
ranch-house, Kate perceived something was up.  Van Horn greeted her
with a good deal of freedom, Kate thought--but apologized for hurrying
away after she had shown him her new rifle--with the hint that they had
bigger game in sight just then, and after a long talk with her father
and much preparation he and Stone rode off, two of the men from the
bunk-house with them.  Her father plainly let Kate see that he himself
had no intention of entertaining her.  He was outside most of the time
and Kelly, the cook, being the only man to talk to, Kate in
self-defense went to bed.

During the night she was awakened by voices.  Van Horn and Stone were
back and they were talking to her father in the living-room.  Kate
thought at first some accident had happened.  Van Horn, eager, pleased
and rapid in utterance, did much of the talking, Stone breaking in now
and again with a few words in harsh nasal tones--harsher tonight than
usual.  Her father seemed only to ask a question once in a while.  Kate
tried not to eavesdrop, but she could not occasionally help hearing
words about wire, which Van Horn was sure somebody would never find.
The men had apparently been somewhere and done something.  The clink of
glasses indicated drinking, and there was much cursing of something or
somebody.  Then the talk got loud and her father hushed it up and the
party went to bed.

There seemed something furtive and secret about the incident that Kate
could not fathom.  Why should honest men get together in the dead of
night to exult and curse and drink?  She composed herself to sleep
again; these were simply things she did not understand.  She thought
she did not want to understand them, but even after she got back to the
Junction she wondered why her father should be mixed up in them.

Meantime she spent a week of delight at the ranch, mostly on horseback,
learning the Western horse and Western riding.

After her outing, Doubleday took Kate down to the Junction.  He went on
to Sleepy Cat, but that night he came back ill.  In the morning he was
not able to get up.

Kate telephoned, as he directed, to Sleepy Cat, for Doctor Carpy.

The doctor, when he came, looked Kate over with interest.  He was a
smooth-faced, powerfully-built man, rough-looking and rough in speech,
but he knew his business.  It was an acute attack of rheumatism, he
said, and he told Kate to keep her father in bed and to keep him quiet
and nurse him.

"He's so active," said Kate regretfully.  "He seems to be on the go all
the time."

"Damn him!" exclaimed Carpy with blunt emphasis.  "He's nervous all the
time--that's what's the matter.  He's got too many irons in the fire."

Kate swallowed her astonishment at so extraordinary a medical outburst.
She reminded herself she was really out West.

Belle, when Kate saw her the following morning at the eating-house,
said much the same thing and added in her coldly philosophic way, "I
reckon the banks have got him.  And say, Kate, here's a telegram just
come for your father."

Kate took the despatch up to the cottage.  It was from Van Horn at
Medicine Bend, and it so upset her father that she was sorry she had
had to deliver it.  After an interval, unpleasant both for the disabled
man and his nurse, Kate ventured to ask whether there was not something
she could do.  There was not.  Litigation against him, long dormant--he
explained between twinges--had been revived, papers issued and a United
States deputy marshal was on the way to serve him.  "I thought," he
growled, "the thing was dead.  But nothing against me ever dies.  If
it'd gone past today it would 'a' been outlawed.  You'll have to send
some telegrams for me."

He gave her the substance of them and of a letter he wanted
written--all of which she carefully took down.  Then putting on her
hat, she hastened to the eating-house to send the telegrams.

It was well past noon.  At the lunch-counter desk Kate copied the
messages on telegraph blanks, took them up to the operator and came
downstairs to write the letter for her father.

While she was doing this, the two o'clock Medicine Bend train pulled
in.  It was the big through train of the day, the train that Belle had
said must bring the dreaded summons server from Medicine Bend, if he
came that day at all.  But Kate, absorbed in her letter writing, had
forgotten all about this unpleasantness when something--she was never
able to say just what--recalled her to herself.  She became all at once
conscious that she was writing a letter, and at the same time conscious
that she was no longer alone in the little room.



CHAPTER V

CROSS PURPOSES

The only thing Kate could have noticed was a slight darkening of the
room; something momentarily obscured the sunlight streaming through the
platform doorway; someone sauntered into the room itself, but Kate was
signing the letter and gave the entrance no thought.  Still she could
not shake off the consciousness of somebody walking up close to the
desk where she stood and sitting down on one of the counter stools.
She refused to look up, even though she felt that eyes were on her.

A natural impulse of defiance at the uninvited scrutiny possessed her.
And being resolved she would not admit she was conscious of it, she
turned from the desk and looking straight toward the glass door
connecting with the dining-room, and behind the end of the counter, she
walked briskly past the intruding presence.

As she did so, Kate somehow felt with every step that she could not get
out of the room unchallenged.  But even then she was riding to a rude
surprise for she had reached the door without incident when she heard
two words: "Slow, Kate."  She had already laid her hand on the knob and
she turned it with indignation.  The wretched door refused to open!  It
was Belle's afternoon off and she had locked the door.

Even then a collected girl would not have surrendered to the situation.
But Kate never could be collected at just the right time.  She was
usually quite collected when it made no difference whether she was
collected or not.  All she now did was to look blankly around.  A man
sat at the counter, a man she had never seen before.  He was
deliberately lifting a broad horseman's hat from a rather round, high
forehead and disclosing a head of inoffensive-looking sandy hair, very
much sun-and-wind bleached.  His smooth face, his ears and neck and
open throat, were colored by a strictly uniform pigment--tinctured by
many mountain winds into a reddish brown and burnt by many mountain
suns into a seemingly immutable bronze.  The face was long with an
ample nose, a peaceful-looking mouth and unruffled gray eyes.  The man
was very like and yet unlike many of the mountain men she had seen.
She remembered afterward that this was her first impression: at that
moment she was not analyzing it: "Where are you going?" he asked, as
she stood looking at him.

Her resentment at the rudeness rose.  Could a prophetic spirit have
warned Kate that this was to be only the first of more than one serious
encounter with the eyes steadily regarding her, her astonishment and
indignation might have been restrained.  As it was, forgetting her own
position and descending to Western brusqueness, she retorted icily: "I
can't see how that can possibly interest you."

If she hoped that a frigid tone and utterance might abash her intruding
questioner, they failed.  He spoke again with surprisingly even
impertinence--quite as if she were as friendly as he.  "You're wrong,"
he said.  "I'm mightily interested.  I want some coffee and you don't
act to me as if you meant to come back."

It was undignified and improper for her to bandy words with a heckler,
but Kate had already breathed too much of the freedom of the mountains
to resist a second retort, and said, almost without thinking--and
certainly in a very positive manner: "I am not coming back."

"Give me a cup of coffee before you go."

"There is no service here this afternoon."

"Beg your pardon.  There will be one service here this afternoon.  You
will serve me."  His emphasis was slight, but unmistakable.  She was so
fussed she turned to the door and grasped the knob the second time.
Her persecutor raised his left hand firmly.  "You can't get out there,"
he said.

"Why can't I?" demanded Kate indignantly.

"Because you can't open the door."  She stood mute at his assurance.
"Come," he continued, "give me some coffee, like a good girl."

What should she do?  She did not speak the question, but weighed it
pretty rapidly in her mind.  What manner of man had she to deal with?
If not actually threatening he was extremely domineering.  While she
hesitated he regarded her calmly.

But there was one way to do as he demanded and to punish him as well.
Of the two coffee urns kept filled in readiness for the rush in serving
a trainload of passengers, only one was now heated.  Kate stepped to
the urns, murmuring as if to herself: "I know nothing about these."

"I don't either," he said.  From the nearer urn Kate drew a cup of
coffee; it was very cold--but she pushed it with a jug of cream and a
bowl of sugar, toward him.

"A teaspoon, please?"  Kate's excitement had already heightened her
color.  She looked very much alive as she added, impatiently, a spoon
to the equipment--expecting then to be able to get out of the room.  It
seemed as if this ought to big easy; it was not.  Her tormentor
professed to have had no dinner and wanted a sandwich.  The sandwiches
were rebelliously hunted up--a plateful was supplied.  If he was
surprised at the prodigality he made no comment, but at intervals some
tantalizing word from him entangled her in another exchange; and at
each encounter of wits, just enough fear tempered her resentment to
make her irresolute.

She was malicious enough to observe in silence the unobtrusive
pantomime by which the enemy tried to coax a semblance of warmth into
his cold coffee.  He had begun by pouring cream into it, but the cream
refused to assimilate and only made the mixture look less inviting.

"I'm glad I met you today," he said, while she was getting her breath.
"Looks lonesome around here.  Not much doing at the mines, is there?"

"Not a great deal," she answered coldly.

"How about Barb Doubleday--is he up at the mines, or here?"

He was indifferently lifting matches from the stand at his hand,
striking them and burning them patiently against the side of his cup of
coffee.  Like a flash came to Kate with his question, the thought that
this disagreeable person must be the court officer.  He looked up at
her now as if waiting for an answer: "Why do you ask?" she countered.

"Mostly because I'd like to hear you say something."

"Anything, I suppose," she suggested ironically.

"That's not far from it," was the reply.  "Also, I want to see Barb."

"What about?" she asked, borrowing his own assurance.  It was time, she
thought, for defensive strategy.

"Just a little business matter."  It was long, very long afterward that
Kate learned, and fully realized, the significance of the indifferently
spoken words; when she did, she wondered that a man's manner could so
completely mask all that lay behind them.

"He isn't hiring any men," she ventured, adapting a set phrase she had
often heard Belle use.

"And in spite of my looks," he returned, "I'm not hunting a job--for a
wonder."

But now that Kate wanted to hear more he took his turn at reticence.
"Where are you from?" she asked as unconcernedly as she could.

"Medicine Bend."

"From the marshal's office?"  It was foolish of her to ask.  She fairly
blurted out the words.  He looked at her for the first time keenly--and
just the change in his expression, undefinable but unmistakable, almost
frightened her to death.

"I was in the marshal's office yesterday," he answered, picking up a
sandwich evasively.  Kate was no longer doubtful.  This was the man to
serve the dreaded, summons.  An instant of panic seized her.
Fortunately her persecutor was regarding his stubborn coffee as he
stirred it.  Her heart, which had stopped, started with a thump.  Her
thoughts cleared.  Instinct, self-preservation, asserted itself.  She
thought hard and fast.  The first step was to temporize.

He looked up in time to see the blood sweeping back into her cheeks;
and almost spoiled the first really good breath she was drawing.  In
his lean, bronzed hands he clasped his cup of coffee as if trying to
put a degree of heat into it: "What would be the extra charge for a
shot at that hot tank?" he asked, directing his glance first at the
other tank, then at Kate's burning face.

With all his confidence, he must have been surprised at the revulsion
of manner that greeted him.  Kate recovered her poise--her coldness
vanished, a smile broke through her reserve and her confused regret was
promptly expressed: "Did I give you coffee out of the cold tank?  How
stupid!"

"And never in my life," said her queer customer, as if continuing her
words, "did I do anything mean to you."

"Oh, yes, you did," objected Kate, coupling nervous haste with the
declaration as she tried to take the cold cup from between his hands.
The ease with which she assumed the role of a lunch-counter waitress
astonished her.

"What did I do?" he drawled, resisting her attempt to make amends.

"You said I couldn't go out that door," she answered, refusing to be
denied the cup.

"I was hoping if you stayed a few minutes, you wouldn't want to."  A
moment earlier she would have been indignant.  Now she reconciled
herself to necessity.  She was, indeed, wildly hoping she might be able
to coax him not to serve any paper.  And she had to repress an absurd
laugh at the thought as she set a fresh and steaming cup before him.

While he made ready to drink it she leaned with assured indifference
against the buffet shelf behind her.  She spread her left arm and hand
innocently along its edge as she had seen waitresses do--and with her
right hand, toyed with the loose collar of her crepe blouse--chatting
the while like a perfectly good waitress with her suspect.  The funny
part seemed to her that he took it all with entire seriousness, hardly
laughing; only a suspicion of a smile, playing at times around his
eyes, relieved the somberness of his lean face.  His parted lips showed
regular teeth when he spoke, and gave a not unpleasant expression to
his mouth.  His eyes were as inoffensive as a mountain lake.

But there remained something stubborn in his dry manner and at times
her heart misgave her as to the hope of dissuading him from his
purpose.  Trying to form some idea of how to act, she studied him with
anxiety.  All she could actually reach as a conclusion was that he
might be troublesome to dissuade.

Yet with every moment she was the more determined to keep him from
carrying out his mission and the more resolved to make him pay for his
Western manners.  All this was running through her head while the
coffee was being sipped.  Unhappily, her father was where she could not
possibly reach him with a warning until Belle should reappear on the
scene.  She tendered her now tractable guest a second cup of coffee.
It was accepted; he talked on, asking many questions, which were
answered more or less to his satisfaction.  Not that his inquiries were
impertinent; they were chiefly silly, Kate thought.  He seemed most
intent on establishing a friendly footing with a lunch-counter
attendant.

When his third cup had been drunk and payment tendered for it, and for
five or six sandwiches, Kate decided her time to escape had arrived.
She refused to accept his money: "No," she persisted, "I will not take
a thing for your lunch.  Positively not.  Oh, you may leave your dollar
on the counter, if you like--it will never go into the register."

"Why not?"

"I've told you."

"Say it again."

"You were very patient over my blunder in giving you cold coffee."

"To tell you the truth," he remarked with candor, "it didn't look to me
altogether like a blunder."

"Oh, it was," she insisted shamelessly; but she did not feel at all
sure he believed her.  "And I won't take your money.  I want you--" her
eyes fell the least bit with her repentant words--"to have a better
impression of this counter than cold coffee would give you.  We're
trying so hard to build up a business."

"Golly!" observed her calm guest.  "I thought a few minutes ago you
were trying to wreck one."

"You Medicine Bend men always make fun of this valley," Kate complained.

"I don't really belong in Medicine Bend," was his return.

"Where do you belong?"

"In the Falling Wall."

"Oh! that awful place?"

"Why knock the Falling Wall?"

"I never heard any good of it.  No matter anyway; you may put up your
money.  And some time when I am up in your country," she added
jestingly, "you can give _me_ a cup of cold coffee."

"We'll say nothing more about the coffee," he declared in blunt
fashion.  "Just you come!"  He yielded so honestly to deceit that Kate
was half ashamed at imposing on him.

"Tell me," he went on, spinning his silver dollar in leisurely fashion
on the smooth counter, "how am I going to get up to the mines today
after I look around here for Barb--where can I get a horse?"

Kate reflected a moment.  "I can get you _some_ kind of a horse," she
said slowly.  "But it would take you forever to get there on
horseback--the trail runs around by the river.  The train will get you
there first.  It goes up at four o'clock."

She knew she said it all blandly, though conscious of her duplicity.
It was not exactly falsehood that she spoke--but it was meant to
mislead.  The man was regarding her steadily with eyes that seemed to
Kate not in the least double-dealing.

"What am I going to do till four o'clock?" he asked, making without
discussion her subtle suggestion his own.

She lifted her eyebrows disclaimingly--even shrugged her shoulders:
"What are you going to do?" he persisted.  She was ready.  She looked
longingly out of the window.  The sun blazed over the desert in a riot
of gold.

"It's my day off," she observed, adding just a suspicion of discontent
and uncertainty to her words.  She fingered her tie, too; then dropped
her eyes; and added, "I thought I might take a ride."

He started: "Couldn't get two horses, could you?"

"Two?" echoed Kate, looking surprised.

He rose: "I'll turn up two if I have to steal 'em," he declared,
reaching for his hat.

"That would be too much trouble for one little ride," Kate said
ironically.  "I'll see what I can do, first.  But," she added, basely,
"if you want to be sure of catching the train, I should advise you to
stay right here.  It backs down and doesn't stay but a minute--just
long enough to hook on to the empties."

Her warning had no effect.  It was not meant to have any.  She knew if
he got to the mines and learned that her father was at the Junction he
would return in no time to serve him.  He was decently restrained now,
but he swallowed her bait, hook and all: "Where do you think you can
find horses?" he asked.

"Where I work."

"Where do you work?"

"Sometimes here and sometimes up at Mr. Doubleday's cottage.  The
barn-boy gets up a horse for me any time."

He raised an unexpected difficulty: "I wouldn't feel just right, today,
riding a horse of Barb Doubleday's," he said doubtfully.

The words only confirmed her suspicions.  Her fears rose but her wits
did not desert her: "Ride mine," she suggested.  "I've got my own
horse, of course."

He drew a breath: "All I can say is, if you ever come over my way, I'll
show you as good a time as I know how to."

She put up her hand: "Wait till you see how you like _my_ good time."

He was quick to come back.  "I'll agree right now to like anything you
offer--and I don't care a hang what it is, either."

Looking straight at him she asked a question.  Its emphasis lay in her
quiet tone: "Will you stand to that?"  He looked at her until she felt
his eyes were going right through her: "I've got enemies," he said
slowly, and there was now more than a touch of hardness in his voice;
"most men have.  But the worst of 'em never claimed my word isn't good."

"Then," exclaimed Kate, hastening to escape the serious tone, "you tend
counter while I go and see about the horses."

"No," he objected, "that's a man's job.  You tell me where to go and
_I'll_ get the horses."

Kate was most firm: "If you're going to ride with _me_," she said, "you
must do my way.  Take a woman's job for a few minutes and see how you
like it."

He regarded her with the simplicity of a child, but replied like a
case-hardened cowboy: "I don't like a woman's job, of course.  But I'm
ready to do any blamed thing you say."

"Do you suppose," Kate demanded with an air, "they would turn two
horses over to _you_ up at Doubleday's?"

She had put her foot in it: "I tell you," he protested, "I don't want
to ride a horse of Doubleday's.  I'm up here to talk to Barb Doubleday.
And nobody can say just how it's coming out.  At the ranch they swore
he was at Sleepy Cat.  I rode down there and they told me he was at the
Junction, so I took the train over here.  Now you tell me he's at the
mines--that's where I'll say what I've got to say.  But I don't want to
take any advantage.  And I don't want to impose on his property rights
so much as a single hair.  That's exactly what's between us."

Kate, established in treacherous ambush, felt qualms at his stern,
clear code.

She tried to shut him off, but he was wrought up: "Barb swore to me
once he had nothing to do with it," he persisted obstinately.  "All I
can say is, if a man fools me once it's his fault; if he fools me
twice, it's mine."

"What about a woman?" asked Kate, trying hard to say one thing and
think another.

He opened his eyes: "I never thought much about that.  A man can't
fight a woman," he returned reflectively.  "And I've yet to see one I
could fool."

"What should you do," she asked, turning her back while she
straightened her hat in the buffet mirror, "if you ever met one that
fooled you?"

"No woman would ever take the trouble."

She laughed a little: "You never can tell."

"If a woman ever fooled me, she'd have to fool herself first--so she'd
be the loser."

"What a philosopher!"

"First and last, I've been called a good many names--some full
hard--but never a philosopher before."

Kate started for the front door: "Hold on a minute," he objected,
"what's to do here while you're gone?"

"Serve coffee and sandwiches if anybody comes in.  This time of day
there's never anybody comes in."

He turned on his stool: "How soon'll you be back?"

"In a few minutes."

"Get a good horse for yourself."

Kate gave him a parting shot: "Of course you think I can't ride."

It did not take her long to get up the hill.  Breathless, she
encountered old Henry in the garden, asked him for the ponies and
almost ran into the house.  Her father was asleep.  There was no reason
to stir him up over a situation that she was resolved to handle and
felt she could handle.  She got into her riding clothes in a trice, all
the time wondering whether she could hold her wild man in leash long
enough to defeat him.  Had he been more like anybody she had ever met
and known, the problem would have been less confusing.  But she
determined to shut her eyes and win the fight if she could, and to this
end draft every resource.  So she thought, at least, as she caught up
her little revolver and, dropping it into the scabbard she had belted
about her waist, set forth.

She rode back one of her own ponies and led the other.  Her enemy had
good ears for when she was half way to the eating-house he walked out
on the platform and silently surveyed her approach.  Kate watched him
narrowly and drew up before him to estimate the effect.  She was
disappointed, she had to confess, at his cool indifference, for she
thought her riding rig unusually pretty.  It had seemingly failed to
impress her queer Westerner.  His eyes were all for the horses.  "Clean
ponies," he observed, taking the bridle rein from her hand as he looked
the two over.

"I forgot to ask what kind of a saddle you like," she observed
indifferently.  He was scanning the horses and his eyes not being on
her she got her first real good look at her antagonist--whether he was
to be her victim she was in somewhat anxious doubt.



CHAPTER VI

WHICH WINS?

He was long of limb, rather loose-jointed; but not ungraceful, except as
his simple manner and unassuming rig--neither soiled nor fresh--made him
seem so; at all events what he might look like was apparently of slight
moment to him.  He had a good walk--Kate noticed that when he crossed the
platform; not the choppy, high-heeled gait of a man that never does
anything but ride, but an easy step that matched the expressions of his
eyes.  His quick movements seemed, as usual with bronzed Western men,
younger than his face; and his twenty-eight years would, as a first
impression, have passed for well above thirty, with Kate.  She had
struggled too long with charcoal and lead pencils not to perceive that
his frame was clean and his shoulders good; and his head was well set on
them, if the man would carry it where it belonged.  But he was plainly
not vain; and since we usually accept at sight whatever draft men and
women themselves draw on our impressions, Kate would have regarded him
ordinarily with no more than he demanded--indifference.

"Any kind of saddle will do me," he answered in response to an inquiry;
and he repeated his compliment to the horses.  He looked well at his own:
"This is a good pony."  Kate assumed a little: "All our ponies are good."

"I wish you'd show them to me sometime," was his unassuming request.  The
remark should have been enough to warn Kate that her deception rested on
very thin ice; that it was more than probable he had already penetrated
much of it.  But, a beginner in deception, she was intent only on her own
part and took his good-natured acquiescence at its face value.  The
moment he saw her ponies he knew they were Doubleday's: yet he seemed
willing to forego his scruple rather than to lose the ride.

Kate, too, was disposed to be amiable: "I will show them to you
sometime," she said promptly.

But whenever she thawed for an instant she felt directly the necessity of
freezing up again.  Her remarks were divided as evenly as a mountain
April day--one moment spring, the next winter.  Happily for her purposes,
the day itself was spring.  She had mounted her horse but as she spoke,
she slipped from her saddle, threw her lines and, walking hurriedly into
the dining room, returned with a handful of wrapped sandwiches.  She
looked at him as she held the package out: "How can we carry them?"

He disposed of the store in a capacious pocket and then hesitated: "I
wonder if you'd mind waiting five minutes while I go up to Doubleday's
house."

"What for?" she asked, professing surprise.

"To see what I can find out about where he is."

"I've told you all you can find out by going to the house," she returned
deprecatingly.  He looked at her as if undecided.  "When you ask to go
riding with me and I get the horses--I come first, don't I?" she asked
cavalierly; and before he could help her she was back again in the saddle.

He hesitated no longer: "You come first any time," he said, "and
anywhere," he added, swinging up on his own pony.

She looked sidewise at him as they trotted up the street: "You don't mind
rather rough riding?"

"Anything the ponies can stand," was all he said.

Kate had given him her dun pony.  Spirit-free all the time the trim beast
either through instinct knew his rider or meant to cast off care in a
long fling.  He took the stage the moment his rider touched the saddle.
Kate rode Dick, her lighter but faster gray pony.  He danced attendance
for a time, but the dun kept the spotlight and gave Kate a chance to
regard the man just from Medicine Bend critically.  She had meant to put
him on exhibition--perhaps cherished a hope he might ride only
indifferently well--yet in a country where everybody rode, this was much
to hope for.  At all events, the result, with an added surprise, was a
disappointment.

If there be a latent awkwardness in a man, the saddle mirrors it; and if
there lie in him anywhere dormant an unsuspected alertness, it wakes in
the saddle to action.  Her companion had hardly found his stirrups before
Kate perceived a change.  His body sprung molded from the cantle, his
careless shoulders came to attention, and as the pony curvetted
riotously, the rider's head, rising like a monitor straight from his
slender neck, invited his horse to show its paces.

"You take the trail," said Kate's guest tersely, as they swung out on the
desert.

"No," she returned, "you."

"We'll take it together," was his reply.

But despite her disclaiming, Kate did the guiding and her object was to
get a good way from town.  Her companion's frequently repeated effort was
to slow down for a talk; hers was to tantalize him by speeding away from
one.  But she couldn't speed all of the time, and he eyed either her
riding, or her habit, pretty closely for a good while without comment.
Then a chance offered itself and he put a question: "Where did you learn
to ride?"

"All mountain girls ride, don't they?" she suggested.

"You're not a mountain girl."

"It was a mountain girl that taught me to ride,--away back in the
Alleghanies--long before I ever saw this country."

"Your mountain girl's pupils don't all ride like that, I'll gamble."

"I wasn't very bright."  Kate spurred ahead.  The dun pony kept after her.

"Compliments don't set very well on you, do they?" was the shot from her
left a moment later.

She turned a full face on her companion: "I hate them," she declared with
energy.

In luring this man away from his errand, she had yielded to a really wild
impulse and now the spirit of recklessness that ruled her mood seemed to
revenge itself by counseling added dangers.  She invited riding-hazards,
that her victim disdained to comment on, until they must have appeared
silly to him.  A long way from home they were crossing a high bench above
the Falling Wall river, a bench cut by frequent lateral washes--some wide
and all very deep.  These breaks they jumped one after another without
taking serious trouble to head them, though Kate's companion, riding on
the river side, gave her every chance to do so.

"I suppose," he suggested at length, "you're pushing into rough country
because you like it."

She looked at him: "Yes," she said, icily, "I do like it.  But," she
added, "if it's too rough for you, we'll go back."  In that much of a
challenge she felt safe.

"I'm riding with you," he returned, a little dryly.  "I like anything you
like."

And at this juncture Kate's luck deserted her; it always seemed to when
she most needed it.  Ahead, there lay a stretch of smooth bench and she
took a run to cross it.  But below a slight rise on the near side an ugly
break suddenly faced her.  Decision was forced.  Recklessness said: "Take
it."  She spurred.  The gray hesitated--almost as if to give his wanton
mistress a chance to reconsider; but he got the quirt for his pains.

The wiry beast was almost on the brink--he had hardly a moment to coil,
but he shot across the gulf with a convulsive leap that carried his rider
over, with nothing--absolutely nothing--to spare.  He made the farther
side with three feet--the left hind foot slumped on the edge of the bank
and down went the leg!

Kate never forgot that moment.  It was thirty feet, sheer, to the rocks
below.  And it would have been poor Dick on top of his foolish mistress.
Kate really expected nothing better until with a terrific snort the pony
scrambled to safety.  What a horse will do for thankless man!

The frightened girl hardly dared look around even after she recovered her
breath--which she thought would never come back.  On the sudden spurt,
her companion had been a little behind her.  She presumed that the dun
with commendable sense had refused the jump for when she glanced half way
around--she was afraid her white face would betray her little panic--his
rider was galloping him back in an easy circle and heading him the second
time for the formidable break.  This time, too, the rider was letting his
reluctant beast understand who was master; and with enough of authority
to force him and enough consideration to give him confidence, he jumped
him over the gap as Kate should have jumped Dick--with room and to spare.

Her cheeks were burning again: "You did it much better," she said coolly,
as he joined her.  "Dick is getting slow."

"That wasn't Dick's fault," he remarked, for he appeared a trifle upset
himself by the misadventure.  "It was yours," he added bluntly.

Her only answer was to push ahead.  She could at least keep the man
busy--though she felt somewhat diffident about offering him further
lessons in horsemanship.

The trail led up a commanding ridge and her companion scanned the valley
lying to the north beyond.  Through it they could trace a slender water
course.  "This should be not far from Falling Wall Canyon," he suggested.
"And that creek must be a branch of the Sinking Water."

"Oh, I've heard about that wonderful canyon," she exclaimed.  "Tell me
about it."

"It breaks through that near range," he said, pointing.  "There are elk
in the park across the next divide.  There isn't a great deal to tell
about the canyon--it's just there, that's about all."

"How deep is it?"

"Three to six hundred feet."

"Straight up and down, they say."

"As near as the Lord could make it."

"Is there any way of getting to the bottom of it?"

"The easiest way would be to jump from the rim."

"Oh, could we see it?"

"Not tonight unless you want to camp out; and we're not exactly fixed for
that.  Up close to the old mine bridge there's a trail into the canyon.
It's pretty stiff.  A sailor would warp his way down with a rope."

The horses had halted by consent and their riders were contemplating the
mountains and valleys surrounding them.  Her companion took advantage of
the pause to dismount and inspect the legs of the ponies--and while he
examined those of his own horse for politeness' sake--he looked more
closely at Dick's.

"He must have got a wrench in that jump," confessed Kate, watching.  "We
were riding pretty fast, weren't we?"

"For that kind of country, yes.  I thought for a while," added her
companion, in a dry way, "you must be showing me how to ride.  Then I
figured out you must be showing me how _you_ could ride."

Kate stared straight ahead: "How absurd!" she exclaimed with cold
contempt for his conclusions, yet feeble in her sarcasm against his
penetration.

"All I want to say is," he continued, remounting, "that I see you can
ride.  You don't have to cover much country to prove that.  You ride like
a Western girl--and talk like an Eastern girl.  Which are you?"

She unfeelingly closed all inquiries: "Both," she answered indifferently.
"Let's head for the bottoms; about two miles from here there's a
spring--good water."

He looked skeptical: "If you can show me good water near here, I'll be
learning something.  I didn't know there was a water hole within ten
miles--but I don't know this lower country as well as my own."

"What is your own?"

He pointed to the Northeast to where a range of snow-capped peaks rose
above from the desert: "Those are the Lodge Pole mountains.  That's where
the Falling Wall river begins--where you see that snow.  It circles clear
around the range, crosses the Reservation to the West and opens South
into a high basin--that's my country--the Falling Wall.  Then the river
cuts out of there through the canyon we're talking about and gets away to
the West again."  Coming a step nearer to her he pointed again: "Now look
close to the left of that strip of timber.  You can just see a break
above it--that's the high point of the canyon.  A long time ago there was
a mining camp in those mountains--Horsehead--they started to build a
railroad up there--did a lot of grading and put in the abutments for a
bridge across the canyon.  Before they got the road built the camp played
out; they never finished it.  All that country below there is the Falling
Wall."

"Are they all thieves and outlaws over there?"

He started a little in spite of himself and took his time to reply: "It
must have been a thief or an outlaw that put that idea in your head," he
observed finally.

"Oh, no, it was Tom Stone."

His expression changed into contempt: "I didn't need but one guess."

Kate asked him to explain, but he did not and she was not in a position
to object.  She found the trail to the spring.  Van Horn had taken her
there once.  Dismounting at a little distance, the two made their way
down to it.  "Score one for the rough rider," said her companion after he
had drunk.  "And I thought I knew every drop of water in this country."

[Illustration: "And I thought I knew every drop of water in this
country."]

He produced the sandwiches and they sat down.  Kate could judge the hour
of the day only from the sun and dared not mention "time."  Her companion
asked as many questions as he could think of, and she managed her answers
with a minimum of information.  And she asked herself one question that
did not occur to him: "Why was she not frightened to death?"  It must
have been the duel she felt she was fighting with this man to keep him
away from her father that banished her fears.  In the saddle, events
moved too rapidly to admit of extended misgivings, and she had purposely
assigned to him the slower horse.

It was only when they were taking the almost enforced moment of rest
together at the water hole--which might as well have been a thousand
miles from help as ten--that little chills did run up and down her back.
As for her companion, it was useless to try to read him from his face or
manner; if she were playing one game, he might well be playing another as
far as anything she could gather from his features was concerned.  But
she had to confess there was never a look in his eyes--when she did look
into them--that frightened her.

And as she cautiously regarded him munching a sandwich and keeping his
own eyes rather away from than on her own, she asked herself whether she
had undertaken too much, and whether this sphinx-like face might hide
danger for her.  She at least knew it was far from being possible to tell
by looking at the outside of a man's head what might be going on inside.
Only the plight of her father's affairs had seemed to justify her; even
this did not seem to now, but it was too late to wish herself out of it.
Besides--for most extraordinary notions will come into foolish girls'
minds--was she not in the company of a great Federal court; and shouldn't
she feel safe on that score?

He certainly ate slowly.  His appetite was astonishing.  He invited Kate
more than once to continue eating with him, but her first hasty sandwich
and her latent uneasiness had more than satisfied her.

"It must be very exciting, to be a deputy marshal," she remarked once,
when she could think of no other earthly thing to say, and was still
afraid they might get back in time for the train.

"It must be sometimes."

"How does it feel to be chasing men all the time?"

"I've had more experience myself in getting chased."

She attempted to laugh: "Do they ever chase deputy marshals?"

He took up, gravely, the last sandwich: "I expect they do once in a
while."

"You ought to know, I should think."

He offered her the sandwich and on her refusal bit into it: "No," he
returned simply, "for I'm not a deputy marshal."

Kate was stunned: "Why, you said you were!  What do you mean?" she
demanded when she could speak.  He ate so deliberately!  She thought he
never would finish his mouthful and answer: "I mean--not regularly.  Once
or twice I've been deputized to serve papers--when the job went begging.
Farrell Kennedy, the marshal at Medicine Bend, is a friend of
mine--that's the nearest I come to working for him."

"But if you're not a deputy marshal, what are you?" demanded Kate,
uneasily.

His face reflected the suspicion of a smile: "I guess the answer to that
would depend a good deal on who told the story."

"I could hardly imagine anyone chasing you," she continued, not knowing
in her confusion what to say.

"You ought to see me run sometime," he returned.

"Oh, there's a prairie dog!" she exclaimed.  She was looking to the
farther side of the water hole.  "See?  Over there by that bush!  I
wonder if I could hit it?"  She put her hand to her scabbard: "I've lost
my revolver!"  She looked at him blankly.  "Had it when you started,
didn't you?" inquired her companion, undisturbed.  Her hand rested on the
empty scabbard in dismay: "I must have lost it on the way."

He plunged his left hand into a capacious side pocket and drew out her
revolver.  But instead of handing it to her he began to examine it as if
he might return it or might not.  She was on pins in an instant.  Now she
_was_ at his mercy.  "Is that mine?" she asked, frightened.

"It is."

"Where did you get it?" she demanded.  Was she to get it back?  He made
no move to let her know; just fingered the toy curiously.  "Where you
dropped it--before you made your leap for life."  And looking up at her,
he added: "We ought to've eaten our sandwiches first and drank afterward."

"I don't understand--what did I do?"  Kate knew her voice quivered a bit
though she was bound she would not show fear.  "And while we are
talking"--she pointed--"the prairie dog is gone."

"He'll be back," predicted her companion with slow confidence.  "The gun
bounced from your scabbard when you were running your horse along the
bench.  So I picked it up for you."  He presented it on the palm of his
hand.

"How odd!" she exclaimed, trying to take it without appearing in a hurry.
"How stupid of me!"  She knew her face, in spite of herself, flushed
under his gaze.

"You were going a pretty good clip," he continued.

"But a man would never do such a thing as to drop a revolver--you never
would."

"It might be a whole lot worse for me to do it than it would for
you--though if I carried a nice little gun like that it maybe wouldn't
make so very much difference.  There's your prairie dog again," he added,
looking across the hole.

"Of course a man would have to make fun of a pistol like this," she
answered, the revolver lying in her hand.  "Let me see yours."  Thus far
she had seen no sign of any scabbard or holster.  "And shoot that prairie
dog for me," she added.

"Mine would be pretty heavy for a prairie dog.  You try him."

"Oh, my poor little pistol is in disgrace," she returned, putting it up.
"Sec what you can do."

He slipped his left hand under the right lapel of his coat and drew from
a breast harness a Colt's revolver.  Had she realized it was carried that
day in this very unobtrusive manner in anticipation of an unpleasant
interview with her father, Kate would have been speechless with fear.  As
it was, no gun, though she had seen many since coming to the mountains,
ever looked so big or formidable.  The setting of the scene and her
situation may have magnified its impressiveness.

"Why smash the prairie dog?" he asked quietly.  "Look at his whiskers--he
may be the father of a family."

"You might miss him."

"If I should it would be time for me to quit this country."

"Shoot at something else."

"Why shoot at all?"

"I want to see you."

"We might get a shot at something on the way home."

"You're not obliging."  She held out her hand for his revolver.  "Let me
see."

"It makes me feel kind of foolish," he said defensively, "kind of like an
old-fashioned cowboy, to be shooting right and left."  On his right hand
he held the heavy gun toward Kate.

"How do you get practise?" she asked.

He lifted his eyebrows the least bit: "To tell the truth I haven't had
much lately."

"How can you tell then whether you could hit anything if you did shoot at
it?"

"That wouldn't be hard.  If I didn't hit it, it would most likely hit me."

"How could I practise to learn to shoot the way you do?"

He looked at her inquiringly; "What do you know about the way I shoot?"

"Nothing, of course.  I mean the way that men who carry guns like this
shoot."

He thought a moment.  "Get down into a dark cellar with just one window.
Block out all the light from that window except one small circle.  Shoot,
off-hand, till you can put five bullets through the circle without
mussing up the general surroundings."

"That sounds like hard work."

"It's certainly----"  He just hesitated and then continued: "hard on the
ammunition."

She found by this time she could tolerate the dry smile that lighted his
face now and again, and the drawl of words that went with the expression.
At times he seemed simple, yet there was shrewdness behind his humor.

"I didn't see you stop back there on the bench to pick anything up," she
remarked abruptly, thinking of her own pistol again.

"I circled back to get it."

"Without dismounting?'"

"You wouldn't hardly want to get off to pick up anything as light as
that."

"I wish I'd seen you do it."

"If you'd been looking I might've been trying to get hold of it yet."

She examined the Colt's gun curiously.  She asked him how to handle it.
He obligingly broke it, emptied the cylinders and explained how it was
fired.  But she was not equal to handling the big thing, and told him so.

"Though if I should want to kill you now it would be easy, wouldn't it?"
she reflected, after he had reloaded the gun and laid it in her hand, the
muzzle pointing toward himself and her finger resting on the trigger.

"Not without cocking the gun."

"No, but I mean suppose I really _should_ want to kill you----"

"I'll show you."  He cocked the revolver and placed it again in her hand
and it lay once more with her finger on the trigger.

"Now," he explained, "I'm covered."

"And to kill you all I have to do is to pull the trigger."

"Pulling the trigger, the way things are now, would certainly be a big
start in that direction.  But"--the dry suspicion of a laugh crossed his
eyes--"to point a gun at a man and pull the trigger doesn't always kill
him--not, anyways, in this country.  If it did, the population would fall
off pretty strong in some of these northern counties.  And you might be
surprised if I told you you couldn't pull the trigger right now, anyway."

"How do you know that?"

"Try it."

"But I might kill you!"

"That's the point."

"Nevertheless," she persisted, "I could if I _wanted_ to."

"No matter how you put it, it's all the same--you can't want to."

"No, but suppose I were bound to keep you from doing something--like
serving papers, for instance."

His legs were crossed under him and he was tossing bits of the gravel
under his hand: "You'd have a better show to do that if you went at it in
another way."

"What way?"

"Well--by asking me not to serve them, for instance."

"Do you mean to say if I asked you not to serve papers you wouldn't do
it?"  She eyed him with simulated indignation.

He returned her gaze unafraid: "Try it," was his answer.

She took a deep breath.  Then she tossed her head: "I probably shouldn't
care enough about it for that.  Why don't you carry two revolvers?"

"Too much like baggage."

"Wouldn't it be a lot safer?"

He smiled: "If one gun refused to go off promptly, two wouldn't help a
lot."

Her eyes and her thoughts returned to the gun in her hand.  For a moment
she had forgotten it.  Suppose her finger, while she was talking, had
mechanically closed on the trigger.  She blanched.  "Take it," she said,
holding the gun out in both hands and looking away.

"Shall we let the dog go this time?" she heard him ask as he lowered the
hammer.



CHAPTER VII

THE CLOSE OF THE DAY

They rode straight home.  On the way Dick went lame and both dismounted
to examine him.  "This will make you miss your train," she suggested,
hypocritically.

He had Dick's foot up.  His comment on the remark was very like the
rest of his comments.  "Not this," he said--and without looking up.

"Do you mean to say you've missed it anyway?" asked Kate.

"What does the sun say?"

She bit her lip: "Too bad," she exclaimed, looking across the distance
that still lay between them and the Junction.

"I don't see anything wrong with his foot," he announced, completing
his inspection.  "I think he wrenched himself."

He said no more till they started again.  And then resumed in his odd
way just where they had left off talking: "I've been trying to figure
out why you wanted me to miss the train."  She looked at him in
surprise.  "I think you did want me to," he continued.  "But I can't
figure out why."

She protested, but not with too many words.  She felt sure he was not
easily to be deceived.  In any case, however, he was unflinchingly
amiable.

After they got back to the Junction the totally unexpected happened.
They dismounted and she went into the lunch room.  Her victim pursued
an examination of Dick's leg.  An early supper was being served in the
dining-room to a freight train crew.  Two of the Doubleday cowboys from
the ranch came into the lunch-room from the front door.  Kate, at the
desk, was making ready to manage her own escape from the scene.  The
smaller cowboy, walking in last, looked back curiously at her riding
companion as he stood with Dick's hoof on his knee.  The man slouched
up to the counter: "Wouldn't that kill you?" muttered the smaller man
to his partner.

"What do you mean?" demanded the other.

The first speaker hitched his thumb guardedly over his shoulder: "Know
who that is out there?"

"No, I don't--who is he?"

Kate's ears were wide open: "None other," continued the man, pulling a
face, "than the well-known Jim Laramie himself."  His partner checked
him and the two, talking in low tones, walked into the dining-room.

Kate could not at first believe her ears; then she felt that the cowboy
must know what he was talking about.

Worst of all, Laramie, at that moment--before she could think of
collecting herself--walked in through the open door.  He came directly
to the counter.  She hardly attempted to hide her consternation: "Are
you Jim Laramie?" she burst out in her excitement.

It must have been the manner of her words rather than the words
themselves that startled him.  For just an instant the curtain lifted;
a flash of anger shot from his eyes; it was drawn again at once: "Is my
reputation over here as bad as that?" he asked.

Kate was dumb.  Try as she would, she could not think of a thing to
say; the recollection of her reckless ride overwhelmed her.  "What's
happened?" he continued with a little irritation.  "If you weren't
afraid of me when you didn't know my name, why be afraid now?"

She stammered something, some apology, which he received, she afterward
thought, coldly: "I'm running up to the house now to change," she went
on hurriedly, "but I must thank you for----"

What on earth was she to thank him for?  He helped her out: "Before you
go," he interrupted, sitting up on the counter stool nearest her and
looking at her without paying the slightest attention to her
meaningless words, "before you go, tell me your name."

Oddly enough, by just speaking he restored order to her faculties.  She
looked straight at him: "You guessed that this morning," she said
frankly.

"Kate?"

She nodded.

"That's queer," he mused.  "It must've been pure accident.  I heard
that the man I came to round up today had a girl named Kate, so I
suppose that was the first name came into my head.  Kate, what else?"

"Suppose," she suggested gravely, "we keep the rest for the next time."

"For our next ride?"

She looked just away from his persistent eyes: "Perhaps."

"Will your name," he went on, "surprise me as much as my name surprised
you?"

"Who knows?" she retorted, and speaking she started for the front door.

"Stop."  He stepped in front of her just enough to bar her way.  There
was a tinge of command in his voice and manner quite new.  Halted, but
not pleased, she waited for him to go on: "You'll come back, won't you?"

"I'll try to."

"I want to listen," he added coolly, "to the worst story you ever heard
about Jim Laramie."

"I don't pay much attention to cowboy stories."

He certainly paid no attention to her words: "Will you come back?" he
persisted.

"I will if I can," she said, confusedly.

He was just enough in front of her to detain her: "Say you will."

It was somewhat between command and entreaty.  Old Henry at the side of
the platform was just mounting the dun horse.  Kate was getting
panicky: "Very well," she answered, "I'll come back."

The moment she got to the cottage she locked the front door and drew
all the shades.  And every mouthful of the cold supper she ate with her
father lodged in her throat.  To him she dared not say a word.  Once in
the evening the door bell rang and some man asked for Barb Doubleday.
He made a few inquiries when Henry answered that Doubleday was not in
town, but he did not ask for Kate.  She felt curious tremors, listening
to the low voice.  But Laramie--for it was he--presently turned from
the door and she heard his footsteps crunching down the gravel path to
the street.

In the morning Henry told her a man had lingered around the lunch room
until the lights were put out at ten o'clock.  By that time he must
have known every pine knot in the varnished ceiling.  When peaceably
put out of the room by the night man he had walked out on the platform
to the post where the horses had stood and looked long across the
tracks toward Doubleday's cottage on the hill.  No lights were burning
in the cottage.  He turned to walk toward it.  But as he stepped into
the street the whistle of the eastbound Overland train sounded in the
hills to the west.  Evidently this changed his mind, for he retraced
his steps and entered the waiting-room, walked to the ticket window and
bought a ticket for Sleepy Cat.  He waited until the train pulled in
and loitered on the platform till it was ready to pull out, speaking to
no one.  When the conductor finally gave the starting signal the man
looked for the last time around toward the lunch room door.  Everything
was dark.

He caught the hand rail of the last open sleeper and swung up on the
step.  There he stood looking down the platform and across the street
while the train drew slowly out.  Then turning to go into the car he
uttered only one word to himself--and that a mild one: "Gypped!"

But, even then, had Kate heard it she would have been frightened.



CHAPTER VIII

THE HOME OF LARAMIE

Almost due north of Sleepy Cat the Lodge Pole Mountains, tumbling over
one another in an upheaval southward, are flung suddenly to the west
and spread in a declining ridge to the Superstition range.  South of
the Lodge Poles the country is very rough, but at the point where the
range is so sharply deflected there spreads fanlike to the east an open
basin with good soil and water.  It is known locally as the Falling
Wall country, and, as the names of the region indicate, it was once
famous as a hunting ground, and so, as a fighting ground, for the
powerful tribes of early days.  And an ample Reservation in this
basin--ending just where the good lands begin--is the stamping ground
of the last of the mountain red men.

But the struggle for possession of the Falling Wall country did not end
with the red men.  White men, too, have coveted the lands of the
Falling Wall and fought for them.  Among the blind the one-eyed are
kings, and the Falling Wall basin lies amid inhospitable deserts,
barren hills and landscapes slashed to rags and ribbons by mountain
storms--regions that have failed to tempt even a white man's cupidity.
The Indians fought for the basin with arrows, bullets, tomahawks and
scalping knives; the whites have fought chiefly in the land offices and
courts, but, exasperated by delays and inflamed by defeat, they have at
times boiled over and appealed to the rifle and the hip holster for
decrees to quiet title.

It is for these reasons, and others, that the Falling Wall country has
borne a hard and somewhat sinister name, even in a region where men
have been habitually indifferent to restraint and tolerant of violent
appeals to frontier justice.  In the very early days of the white man
the Indian clung to the Falling Wall country as his last stand; for the
bad lands along the canyon of the Falling Wall river made, as they yet
make, an almost impenetrable fastness for sally and retreat.

But even before the Indians were driven into their barren cage to the
north, white adventurers had penetrated the basin and it became, with
the shifting of possession, a region for men of hard repute.  Its
traditions have been bad and few in the Falling Wall country have felt
concern over the fact.

Yet, from the earliest days, despite the many difficulties of living in
the widely known but not large park, a few hardy settlers managed from
the beginning, in secluded portions of the region, to keep their scalps
and their horses and to live through Indian days and outlaw
days--though not often in peace, and never in quiet.

Among these early adventurers was one known as "Texas" Laramie, because
he had the extraordinary courage, or hardihood, to bring into the
Falling Wall the first cattle ever driven into the mountains from the
Panhandle.  In a country where the sobriquet is usually the only name
by which it is courteous or safe to address a man, and where it is
invariably apt, few men are accorded two.  But Laramie had also been
known as "Pump" Laramie because he brought into that country the first
Winchester rifle; and the instinctive significance the mind attaches to
the combination of cows and a repeating rifle was, in this instance,
justified--there was between the two a direct, even dynamic,
connection.  Laramie thus figured prominently in the older Falling Wall
feuds.  It would have been difficult for him to figure obscurely, and
do it more than once.

Enemies said that he stole the bunch of cattle he first drove into the
Falling Wall.  It was not true but it made a good story.  And in any
event, Texas Laramie defended his steers vigorously against all men
advancing claim to them between darkness and daylight--as enterprising
neighbors not infrequently undertook to do.  With the cattle, Laramie
had brought into the mountains a wife from Texas.  She was a young
mother with a little boy, Jim; a good mother, never happy in the
country so far away from the Staked Plain--and not very long to live
there.  But she lived long enough to send Jim year after year to the
Sisters' School on the Reservation.

To obtain for a boy any sort of an education in a region so wild and so
inhospitable would have seemed impossible.  Yet devoted
Sisters--refined and aristocratic American women--were already in this
mountain country devoting their lives to the Indian Missions.  Under
such women little Jim learned his Catechism and his reading and from
them and their example a few of the amenities of life--so far removed
from him in every other direction.  Under their care he grew up, after
he had lost his mother, among the Indian boys.  With these he learned
to fish and hunt, to trap for pocket money, to use a bow and arrow and
a knife, to trail and stalk patiently, to lie uncomplainingly in cold
and wet, to ride without saddle or bridle or spur, to face a grizzly
without excitement, to use a rifle where the price of every cartridge
was reckoned and a poor aim sometimes cost life itself.

And every summer at home his father added extension courses in the
saddle and bridle, spur, hackamore and lariat to his education.  He
taught him to rope, throw and mark, to use a coffee pot and frying pan,
and at last on the great day--the Commencement day, so to say of the
boy's frontier education--he presented him with his degree--a Colt's
revolver and a box of cartridges--and died.  As he lay on his deathbed,
Texas Laramie left a parting advice to his young son: "You've learned
to shoot, Jim--you don't shoot bad for a youngster.  A man's got to
shoot.  But the less shooting you do, after you've learned--without
you're forced to it, mind you--the more comfortable you'll feel when
you get where I am now.  All I can say is: I never killed an honest man
that I knowed of.  In fact," his breath came very slowly, "I never yet
seen an honest man in the Falling Wall to kill."

And Jim began life with the ranch, youth, a little bunch of cattle, no
money and much health in the Falling Wall.  His first year alone he
never forgot, for in the spring he drove all his steers--not a great
many--into the new railroad town, south--Sleepy Cat--and sold them for
more money than he had ever seen at one time in his life.  He wandered
from the bank into Harry Tenison's gambling rooms--Harry having sold
out his livery stable to Joe Kitchen shortly before that--just to look
on for a little while before starting home.  When Laramie did start
home, Tenison had all his steer money and Laramie owed the sober-faced
gambler, besides, one hundred dollars.  Laramie then went to work on
the range for twenty-five dollars a month.  He worked four months, and
it was hard work, took his pay check in and handed it to Tenison.  That
was strangely enough the beginning of a friendship that was never
broken.  Tenison tried to give the check back to Laramie.  He could
not.  But Laramie never again tried to clean out the bank at Tenison's.

The Laramie cabin on Turkey Creek--the son built afterward on the same
spot--stood on a slight conical rise some distance back from the little
stream that watered the ranch.  From his windows Jim Laramie could look
on gently falling ground in all directions.  Toward the creek lay an
alfalfa field which, with a crude irrigating ditch and water from the
creek, he had brought to a prosperous stand.  Below the alfalfa stood
the barn and the corral.


The day after Kate Doubleday's adventure with him at the Junction,
Laramie was riding up the creek to his cabin when a man standing at the
corral gate hailed him.  It wag Ben Simeral.  Ben, old and ragged, met
every man with a smile--a bearded, seamed and shabby smile, but an
honest smile.  Ben was a derelict of the range, a stray whose appeal
could be only to patient men.  Whenever he wandered into the Falling
Wall country, where he had a claim, he made Laramie's cabin a sort of
headquarters and spent weeks at a time there, looking after the stock
in return for what John Lefever termed the "court'sies" of the ranch.

Laramie, greeting Ben, made casual inquiry about the stock.  Ben looked
at him as if expectant; but Ben was not aggressive for news or anything
else.  He grinned as he looked Laramie over: "Well, you're back again,
Jim."

Laramie responded in kindly fashion: "Anybody been here?"

"Nary critter," declared the custodian, "'cept Abe Hawk--he came over
to borry your Marlin rifle."

"What did he want with that?"

"Said he was going up into the mountains but he's comin' over again
before he starts.  I knowed he helped you track them wire scouts over
to Barb's.  The blame critters tore off all the wire t'other side the
creek, too.  Get any track of 'em?" he asked, sympathetically alive to
what had been most on Laramie's mind when he had started from home.

Laramie barely hesitated but he looked squarely at Ben and answered in
even tones: "No track, Ben."

Ben looked at him, still smiling with a kindly hope:

"Hear from the contest on the creek quarter?"

"They told me at Medicine Bend it had gone against me."

"Psho!  Never!  You've got another 'go' to Washington, hain't y'?"

Laramie nodded and got down from his horse.  Ben, removing the saddle,
asked more questions--none of them important--and after putting up the
horse the two men started for the house.  Its rude walls were well laid
up in good logs on which rested a timbered roof, shingled.

A living-room with a fireplace roughly fashioned in stone made up the
larger interior of the cabin.  To the right of the fireplace a kitchen
opened off the living-room and adjoining this, to the right as one
entered the front door, was a bedroom.  To the left stood a small
table, on which were scattered a few old books, a metal lamp and
well-thumbed copies of old magazines.  Beside the table stood a heavy
oak Morris chair of the kind sold by mail-order houses.  Two other
chairs, heavily built in oak, were disposed about the room, and on the
left of the entrance--there was but one door--stood a cot bed.  On the
floor between the door and the fireplace lay a huge silver tip
bearskin, the head set up by an Indian taxidermist.  It was some time
afterward when Kate saw the cabin, but she remembered, even after it
lay in ruins, just how the interior had looked.

The four walls were really more furnished than the rest of the room.
To the right and left of the fireplace hung twin bighorn heads, and elk
and stag antlers on the other walls supplied racks for an ample variety
of rifles, polished by familiar use and kept, through love of trusty
friends, in good order.  Trophies of the hunt, disposed sometimes in
effective and sometimes in mere man fashion, flanked the racks and
showed the tastes of the owner of the isolated habitation; for few
trails led within miles of Laramie's ranch on the Turkey.

"Breakfast?"  Simeral looked at his companion, who stood vacantly
musing at the door of the kitchen.

"Coffee," answered Laramie, taking off his jacket, laying his Colt's on
the table and slipping off his breast harness.

"I got no bread," announced Ben, to forestall objection.  "Flour's low
'n' I didn't bake."

"Crackers will do."

"Ain't no crackers, neither," returned Ben, raising his voice and his
smile in self-defense.

"Give me coffee and bacon," suggested Laramie, impatiently.

"'N' I'll fry some potatoes," muttered Ben, shuffling with a show of
speed into the kitchen, and calling inquiries back in his unsteady
voice to the living-room, patiently digging at Laramie for scraps of
news from Sleepy Cat, volunteering, in return, scraps from the range
and ranch.  Laramie sat down in the nearest chair, tilted it slightly
back, and resting one arm on the table gazed into the empty fireplace.
He appeared as if much preoccupied--nor would, nor could, he talk of
what was in his mind, nor think of anything else.

Some minutes later he began in the same absent-minded manner on a huge
plateful of bacon, with a pot of coffee in keeping, and was eating in
silence when the stillness of the sunshine was broken by the sound of a
horse's hoofs.  Laramie looked out and saw, through the open door, a
horseman riding in leisurely fashion up from the creek.

The man was tall.  He swung lightly out of his saddle near the door,
and as he walked into the house it could be seen that he was
proportioned in his frame to his height; strength and agility revealed
themselves in every move.  A rifle slung in a scabbard hung beside the
shoulder of the horse, and the man's rig proclaimed the cowboy, though
aside from a broad-brimmed Stetson hat his garb was simplicity itself.

It was the way in which he carried his height and shoulders that
arrested attention, nor was his face one easily to be forgotten.  He
wore a jet-black beard that grew close and dropped compactly down.  It
was neither bushy nor scraggly and with his black brows it made a
striking setting for strong and rather deep-set eyes which if not
actually black were certainly very dark.  His smile revealed white,
regular teeth under his dark mustache, and his olive complexion, though
tanned, seemed different from those of men that rode the range with
him--perhaps it was owing to the glossy, black beard.

Abe Hawk was evidently at home in Laramie's cabin.  He stepped through
the door and pushing his hat back on his forehead took a chair and sat
down.  The two men, masters of taciturnity, looked at each other while
this was taking place, and as Hawk seated himself Laramie called for a
cup and pushed the coffee pot toward his visitor.  Paying no attention
to the unspoken invitation, Hawk's features assumed the quizzical lines
they sometimes wore when he relaxed and poked questions at his friend.

"Well," he demanded, banteringly, "where's Jimmie been?"

"Medicine, Sleepy Cat--pretty near everywhere."

"I hear you got a job."

"I was offered one."

"Deputy marshal, eh?"

"Farrell Kennedy got me down to Medicine Bend to talk it over."

"What's the matter, couldn't you hold it?"

"I didn't want it."

"You're out of practise on this law-and-order stuff--you've lived up
here too long among thieves, Jim.  Find out who tore down your wire?"

Laramie replied in even tones but his voice was hard: "I trailed them
across the Crazy Woman.  It was somebody from Doubleday's ranch."

"They had a story at Stormy Gorman's you'd gone over there to blow
Barb's head off."

"Barb wasn't home."

Hawk was conscious of the evasion.  "Was Stormy's talk true?" he
demanded curtly.

"I expected to ask Barb whether he wanted to put my wire back.  I was
going to give him a chance."

"It wouldn't be hard to guess how that would come out.  Where was he?"
asked Hawk, with evident disappointment.

"They said he was in Sleepy Cat.  I rode in and missed him there.  He'd
gone to the mines.  I took the train up to the Junction, There I
accidentally got switched off my job and came home."

"How'd you get switched off?" asked Hawk, resenting the outcome.

Laramie's manner showed he disliked being bored into.  He leaned
forward with a touch of asperity and looked, straight at his visitor:
"By not 'tending strictly to my own business, Abe."

Hawk knew from the expression of Laramie's eyes he must drop the
subject, and though he lost none of his bantering manner, he desisted:
"They didn't have a warrant for me down at the marshal's office, did
they?"

"They were short of blanks," retorted Laramie coolly.

"How you fixed for flour?"

"Plenty of it."  Laramie spoke loudly for fear Simeral might protest.
Then he called promptly to the kitchen: "Ben, get up some flour for
Abe."

Ben quavered a protest.

"Get it up now before you forget it," insisted Laramie.

"Is Tom Stone still foreman over at Doubleday's?"

"I guess he is," returned Laramie.

"What does Doubleday aim to do with Stone?" asked Hawk, cynically,
"steal his own cattle from himself?"

"A cattleman nowadays might as well steal his own cattle as to wait for
somebody else to steal 'em."  Laramie spoke with some annoyance.
"There's going to be trouble for these Falling Wall rustlers."

"Meaning me?" asked Hawk, contemptuously.

"I never mean you without saying you, Abe--you ought to know that by
this time.  But this running off steers is getting too raw.  From the
undertalk in Sleepy Cat there's going to be something done."

"Who by?"

"By the cattlemen."

"I thought," Hawk spoke again contemptuously, "you meant by the
sheriff."

"But I didn't," said Laramie.  "I meant by the bunch at the range.  And
when they start they'll stir things up over this way."

Hawk hazarded a guess on another subject: "It looks like Van
Horn--putting in Stone over at Doubleday's."

"It is Van Horn."

Hawk looked in silence out of the open door at the distant snow-capped
mountains.  "Why don't you kill him, Jim?" he asked after a moment,
possibly in earnest, possibly in jest, for his iron tone sometimes
meant everything, sometimes nothing.

Laramie, at all events, took the words lightly.  He answered Hawk's
question with another.  But his retort and manner were as easy as
Hawk's question and expression were hard.  "Why don't you?"

The bearded man across the table did not hesitate nor did he cast about
for words.  On the contrary, he replied with embarrassing promptness:
"I will, sometime."

"A man that didn't know you, Abe, might think you meant it," commented
Laramie, filling his coffee cup.

Hawk's white teeth showed just for the instant that he smiled; then he
talked of other things.



CHAPTER IX

AT THE BAR

The arrival of a baby at the home of Harry Tenison in Sleepy Cat had an
immediate effect on Kate Doubleday's fortune in the mountains--and,
indeed, on the fortunes of a number of other people in Sleepy Cat--wholly
out of proportion to its importance as a family event.  It was not, it is
true, for the Tenisons a mere family event.  Married fifteen years, they
had been without children until the advent of this baby.  And the birth
of a boy to Harry Tenison excited not alone the parents, but the town,
the railroad division and the hundred miles of range and desert, north
and south, tributary to the town.

For a number of years Tenison had run his place in Sleepy Cat undisturbed
by the swiftly changing fortunes of frontiersmen and railroad men.
Tragedies, in their sudden sweep across the horizon of his activities,
the poised gambler and hotel man had met unmoved.  Men went to the
heights of mining or range affluence and to the depths of crude passion,
inevitable despair and tragic death, with Harry Tenison coldly unruffled.
He was a man in so far detached from his surroundings, yet with his
finger on the pulse of happenings in his unstable world.  But the birth
of one baby--and that a small one--upset him completely and very
unexpectedly shocked others of his motley circle of acquaintance.

The complications followed on the announcement--on a Monday when the baby
was three days old and the mother and boy were reported by the nurse to
be coming along like kittens--that the following Saturday would be "open
day" at the Mountain House--Tenison's new and almost palatial hotel; with
the proprietor standing host for the town and the countryside.

Before the week was out this word had swept through the mountains, from
the stretches of the Thief River on the South to the recesses of the
Lodge Poles on the North.  It was the one topic of interest for the week
on the range.  Few were the remote corners where the news did not
penetrate and the unfortunates who missed the celebration long did
penance in listening to long-winded accounts of Sleepy Cat's memorable
day.

It dawned in a splendor of blue sky and golden sun, with the mountain
reaches, snow-swept and still, brought incredibly near and clear through
the sparkling air of the high plateau.  The Sleepy Cat band were
Tenison's very first guests for breakfast.

"'N' you want to eat hearty, boys," declared Ben Simeral, who had reached
town the night before in order that no round crossing the Tenison bar
should escape him: "Harry expec's you to blow like hell all day."

Few men are more conscientious in the discharge of duty than the members
of a small-town brass band.  The Sleepy Cat musicians held back only
until the arrival of the early local freight, Second Seventy-Seven, for
their bass horn player, the fireman.  When the train pulled up toward the
station on a yard track, the band members in uniform on the platform
awaited their melodic back-stop, and the fireman, in greeting, pulled the
whistle cord for a blast.  The switch engine promptly responded and one
whistle after another joined in until every engine in the yard was
blowing as Ben had declared Tenison expected the band itself to blow.

In this wholly impromptu and happy way the day was opened.  The band,
laboriously trained for years by the local jeweler--said to be able to
blow a candle through an inch board with his South Bend B flat
cornet--now formed in marching order, the grimed fireman gamely in place
even after a night run, with his silver contrabass.  At an energetic
signal from their leader they struck up a march and started down street
with the offering as a pledge of what they might be expected to do.  They
were not called on, however, to do all, for at noon the Bear Dance Band
arrived from the West and an hour later came the crack thirty-two-piece
military band from Medicine Bend, carrying more gold on their lacings and
their horns than the local musicians carried in the savings bank.

By the time the noon whistle blew at the roundhouse every trail and road
into Sleepy Cat showed dust--some of them an abundance.  The hotel was
naturally the center of attraction, and Main Street looked like a
Frontier Day crowd.  The Reservation, too, sent a delegation for the
occasion and mingling in the jostling but good-natured crowd were chiefs,
bucks and squaws, who, in a riot of war bonnets, porcupine waistcoats,
gay trappings and formal blankets, lent yellows and reds and blues to the
scene.  All entrances to the Mountain House were decorated and a stream
of visitors poured in and out, with congratulations for Tenison, who
received them at the bar in the big billiard hall opening on Main Street.

By evening the hall presented an extraordinary scene.  Every element that
went to make up the shifting life of the frontier could be picked from
the crowd that filled the room.  Most numerous and most aggressive in the
spectacle, cattlemen and range riders in broad hats, leathern jackets and
mottled waistcoats, booted and spurred and rolling in their choppy steps
on pointed heels, moved everywhere--to and from the bar, around the pool
tables and up and down the broad flight of stairs leading to the second
floor gambling rooms.  At the upper end of the long bar there was less
crowding than nearer the street door and at this upper end three men,
somewhat apart from others, while nominally drinking, stood in confab.
First among them, Harry Van Horn was noticeable.  His strong face, with
its hunting nose, reflected his active mind, and as he spoke or listened
to one or the other of his companions--standing between them--his lively
eyes flashed in the overhead light.  On his left stood Tom Stone, foreman
of the Doubleday ranch.  His head, carried habitually forward, gave him
the appearance of always looking out from under his eyebrows; and the
natural expression of his face, bordering on the morose, was never
lighted by more than a strained smile--a smile that suggested a grin,
that puckered the corners of his eyes and drew hard furrows down his
cheeks, but evidenced nothing akin to even the skim-milk of human
kindness.

On Van Horn's left stood an older man of massive features, the owner of
the largest ranch in the north country, Barb Doubleday.

Miners from Thief River, with frank, fearless faces, broad-throated,
belted and shifted, and with brawny arms for pick and sledge and
doublejack, moved to and from the bar like desert travelers breathing in
an oasis.  Men from the short spillway valleys of the Superstition
Range--the coyotes and wolves of the Spanish Sinks--were easily to be
identified by their shifty eyes and loud laughter and handy six-shooters.
Moving in a little group rather apart from these than mingling with them,
talking and drinking more among themselves, were men from the Falling
Wall--men professedly "ranching" on the upper waters of the Horse, the
Turkey and Crazy Woman creeks, tributaries of the Falling Wall river--in
point of fact, rustlers between whom and the big cattlemen of the range
there always existed a deadly enmity and at times open warfare.

At two card tables placed together in the upper inner corner of the room
sat a little party of these Falling Wall men smoking and drinking in
leisurely, or, more correctly, in preliminary fashion, for the evening
was still young; and inspecting the moving crowd at the bar.  At the head
of the table sat the ex-cowboy and ex-pugilist, Stormy German, his face
usually, and now, reddened with liquor--square-shouldered, square-faced
and squat; a man harsh-voiced and terse, of iron endurance and with the
stubbornness of a mule; next him sat Yankee Robinson, thin-faced and
wearing a weatherbeaten yellow beard.  And Dutch Henry was there--bony,
nervous, eager-eyed, with broken English stories of drought and hardship
on the upper Turkey.  These three men--brains and resource of several
less able but not less unscrupulous companions who preyed on the cattle
range north of Sleepy Cat--led the talk and were the most carefully
listened to by the men that surrounded them.

It was later that two men entered the room from the hotel office
together.  The contained, defiant walk of the slightly heavier and taller
of the two was characteristic, and without the black beard, deep eyes and
the pallor of his face, would almost have identified him as Abe Hawk;
while in the emotionless, sandy features of his companion and in his more
frank, careless make-up, the widely known ranchman of the Falling Wall,
Jim Laramie, was easily recognized.

Hawk, separating from his companion, walked to the right.  German hailed
him and Hawk paused before the table at which the former prize fighter
sat with his friends.  Each of these in turn had something effusive to
say to Hawk.  Hawk listened to everything without a change of
countenance--neither smile nor word moved him in the competition to
arouse his interest.  When all had had their fling of invitation and
comment he refused an oft-repeated invitation to sit down: "I might
injure your reputations," he said grimly, and moved unconcernedly on.

Van Horn's eyes had not missed the inconspicuous entrance of the two
Falling Wall men: "There's the man himself, right now," he exclaimed,
looking toward Laramie.

"No better time to talk to him, either, than right now," added Barb
Doubleday hoarsely.  "Take him back into the office, Harry.  When you're
through come up to the room."

Van Horn, leaving the bar, intercepted Laramie.  Doubleday and Stone,
pretending not to observe, saw Van Horn, on the plea of important talk,
succeed, after some demur, in inducing Laramie to return with him to the
hotel office.  Once there and in a quiet corner with two chairs, Van Horn
lost no time in opening his subject: "You know as well as I do, Jim, what
shape things are in on the North range.  It can't go on.  Everybody is
losing cattle right and left to these rustlers.  They've been running
Doubleday's steers right down to the railroad camp on the Spider
Water--we traced the brands on 'em.  You know as well as I do who took
'em."

Laramie listened perfunctorily, his eyes moving part of the time over the
room.  "Speak for yourself.  Harry," he intervened at this juncture.  "I
know exactly nothing about who took anybody's steers, nor that any were
taken."

Van Horn uttered a quick exclamation: "Well, you sure heard about it!"

"In this country a man can hear anything," observed Laramie, not greatly
moved.  "I've heard there isn't a crooked cattleman north of Sleepy Cat."

Van Horn stared.

"Go on," continued Laramie, looking at the passers-by, "I'm listening."

"Doubleday has sold the eating house and disposed of his property at the
Junction----"

"You mean his creditors took it, don't you?"

"Put it any way you like.  He's going in for more cattle and we're going
to put this range on the map.  But--we've got to clean out this Falling
Wall bunch first.  The big men can't stand it any longer and won't stand
it."

"What then?"

"I want you to get in right, on the move, with us, Jim--this is your
chance.  You're in a tough neighborhood over there.  Now I know you're
not a rustler."

"No, you don't."

"Yes, I do," averred Van Horn.  "But everybody doesn't know you as well
as I do.  And your name suffers because you don't get along with the
cattlemen--Doubleday, Pettigrew and the rest."

"What then?"

"What then?" echoed Van Horn, feeling the up-hill pull.  "Why, line up
with us against these rustlers.  We're going to have a big get-together
barbecue this summer and when it's pulled we want you there.  You'll have
a friend in every man on the range--however some of 'em feel now.  They
know the stuff you're made of, Jim; they know if you put your hand to
your gun with them, you'll stay; and if you do it, they know it's good-by
to the rustlers."

Closely as Van Horn, while speaking, watched the effect of his words, it
was impossible to gather from Laramie's face the slightest clue as to the
impression they were making.  Laramie sat quite relaxed, his back to the
corner, his legs crossed, listening.  He looked straight ahead without so
much as blinking.  Van Horn, nervous and impatient, scrutinized him:
"That's my hand, Jim," he said flatly.  "What have you got?"

Laramie paused.  After a moment he turned his eyes on his questioner: "No
hand.  This is not my game."

"Make it your game and your game in this country is made.  Doubleday and
Dan Pettigrew want you.  They're the men that run this country--what do
you say?"

"The men that run this country can't run me."

Van Horn, in spite of his assurance, felt the blow.  But he put on a
front.  "What makes you talk that way?" he flared.

"This is the same bunch," continued Laramie evenly, "that sent two
different men to get me two years ago--and when I defended myself--had me
indicted.  That indictment is still hanging for all I know.  This is the
bunch that owns the district court."

Van Horn made a violent gesture.  "What's the use raking up old sores?
That's past and gone.  That indictment's been quashed long ago."

"This is the bunch," and Laramie spoke even more deliberately; he looked
directly, almost disconcertingly at Van Horn himself, "that sent the men
to rip off my wire just a while ago.  I tracked 'em to Doubleday's and if
I'd found Doubleday or you or Stone there that day--if I'd got my eyes on
Barb Doubleday that day--you'd 've turned the men that pulled that wire
over to me or I'd known the reason why.

"Now these same critters and you have the gall to talk to me about
joining hands.  Hell, I'd quicker join hands with a bunch of
rattlesnakes.  When that crowd want me let them come and get me.  I'm not
chiding.  They talk about cattle thieves!  Why, your outfit would steal
the spurs off a rustler's heels.  And when men like Hawk and Yankee
Robinson and German set up a little ranch with a few head of cows for
themselves your bunch blacklists them, refuses 'em work anywhere on the
range.  Where did Dutch Henry learn to steal?  Working for Barb
Doubleday; he branded mavericks for him, played dummy for his land
entries, swore to false affidavits for him.  Now when he turns around and
steals the steers he stole for Barb, Barb has the nerve to ask me to
round him up at my proper risk and run him out of the country!"

Van Horn rose: "That's the answer, is it?"

Laramie sat still.  He looked dead ahead: "What did it sound like?" he
asked, as Van Horn stood looking at him.

"Just the same, Jim," muttered Van Horn, "the rustlers have got to go."

Laramie looked across the office: "That all may be," he observed, rising.
And he repeated as Van Horn started away: "That all may be.  And the men
that ripped off my wire have got to put it back.  Tell 'em I said so."

Van Horn whirled in a flash of anger: "You talk as if you think I'd
ripped it off myself."

"I do think so."

For one instant the two men, confronting, eyed each other, Van Horn's
face aflame.  Both carried Colt's revolvers in hip holsters; Van Horn's
gun slung at his right hip, Laramie's slung at his left.  Both were known
capable of extremes.  Then the critical moment passed.  Van Horn broke
into a laugh; without a yellow drop in his veins, as far as personal
courage went, he had thought twice before attempting to draw where no man
had yet drawn successfully.  He put out his hand in frank fashion: "Jim,
you wrong yourself as much as me when you talk that way."

He made his peace as well as it could be made in words.  But when his
protestations were ended Laramie only said: "That all may be, Harry.  But
whoever pulled my wire--and left it in the creek--will put it back--if
it's ten years from now."

The two men, Van Horn still talking, made their way back to the billiard
hall--Laramie refusing to drink, and halting for brief greetings when
assailed by acquaintances.  After they parted, Van Horn, as soon as he
could escape notice, passed again through the door leading to the hotel
office.  He walked up the main stairway to the second floor, thence to
the third floor and following a corridor stopped in front of the last
room, slipped a pass key into the lock and, opening the door, entered and
closed it behind him.

Two men sat in the room, Doubleday and Stone.  Stone was just out of the
barber's chair, his hair parted and faultlessly plastered on both sides
across his forehead, and his face shaven and powdered.  His forehead
drawn in horizontal wrinkles rather than vertical ones, looked lower and
flatter because of them.  To add to the truculence of his natural
expression, he was now somewhat under the influence of liquor and looked
perplexed.

Van Horn did not wait to be questioned; he walked directly to the table
between the two men and took a cigar from the open box: "Can't do a thing
with that fellow," he reported brusquely.

Doubleday, by means of questions, got the story of the fruitless
interview.  Stone listened.  The slow movement of his eyes showed an
effort but none of the story escaped him.

Van Horn, answering with some impatience, had lighted one cigar, and
bunching half a dozen more in his hand stowed them in an upper waistcoat
pocket.  Doubleday, between heavy jaws and large teeth, shifted slowly or
chewed savagely at a half-burned cigar and bored into Van Horn.  Van Horn
was in no mood for speculative comment: "You might as well talk to a
wildcat," he said.  "Pulling that wire has left him sore all over."

Doubleday looked at Stone vindictively: "That was your scheme."

"No more than it was Van Horn's," retorted Stone.

"What's the use squabbling over that now?" demanded Van Horn impatiently.
"I'm done, Barb.  You've got to go ahead without him."

Doubleday chewed his cigar in silence.  Van Horn, restless and
humiliated, spoke angrily and thought fast.  From time to time he looked
quickly at Stone--the foreman was in condition to do anything.

"Look here, Tom," exclaimed Van Horn in low tones, "suppose you go
downstairs and give him a talk yourself.  What do you say, Barb?"  He
shot the words at Doubleday like bullets.  Doubleday understood and his
teeth clicked sharply.  He said nothing---only stared at the foreman with
his stony gray eyes.  Stone drew his revolver from his hip and, breaking
the gun, slipped out the cartridges and slipped the five mechanically
back into place.

Laramie in the meantime had joined a group of men at the upper end of the
bar in the billiard hall--McAlpin, Joe Kitchen's barn boss; Henry Sawdy,
the big sporty stock buyer of the town, and the profane but always
dependable druggist and railroad surgeon, Doctor Carpy.  With one of
these, Sawdy, Harry Tenison from behind the bar was talking.  He
interrupted himself to hold his hand over toward Laramie: "Been looking
for you, scout," he said, in balanced tones.  "Been looking for you," he
repeated, releasing Laramie's hand and holding up his own.  "If you'd
failed me today, Jim----"

"I wouldn't fail you, Harry."

"It's well you didn't--champagne, Luke," he added, calling to a
solemn-faced bartender who wore a forehead shade.

"No champagne for me, Harry," protested Laramie.

"What are you going to have?" asked the mild-voiced bartender,
perfunctorily.

Laramie tilted his hat brim: "Why," he answered, after everybody had
contributed advice, "if I've got to take something on this little boy, a
little whisky, I suppose, Luke."

"No poison served here tonight, Jim," growled Sawdy, throwing his
bloodshot eyes on Laramie.

"I don't want any, anyway, Henry," was the unmoved retort.

Luke, wrapping the cork of the champagne bottle under his long fingers,
hesitated.  Tenison, looking with his heavily-lidded eyes, did not waver:
"You'll drink what I tell you tonight," he maintained coldly.  "Open it,
Luke."

Laramie stood sidewise while talking, one foot on the rail, his elbow
resting on the bar, and with his head turned he was looking back at
Tenison, who stood directly opposite him behind the bar.  Laramie
submitted to the dictation without further protest: "A man will try
anything once," was his only comment.

As he uttered the words he felt a point pressed tightly against his right
side and what was of greater import, heard the familiar click of a gun
hammer.

It was too late to look around; too late to make the slightest move.  All
that Laramie could get out of the situation, without moving, he read,
motionless, in Tenison's eyes, for Tenison was now looking straight at
the assailant and with a frozen expression that told Laramie of his
peril.  The next instant Laramie heard rough words:

"Turn around here, Jim."

They told him all he needed to know, for in them he recognized the voice.
In the instant between hearing the words and obeying, a singular change
took place in the Falling Wall ranchman's eyes.  Looking over at Tenison
his eyes had been keen and clear.  Slowly and with a faint smile he
turned his head.  When his eyes met those of Tom Stone, who confronted
him pressing the muzzle of a cocked Colt's forty-five gun against his
stomach, they were soft and glazed.  Laramie had changed in an instant
from a man that had not tasted liquor to a man half tipsy.

It was a feint, but a feint made with an accurate understanding of a
dangerous enemy.



CHAPTER X

LARAMIE COUNTS FIVE

There was not a chance of escape.  Laramie's left arm was resting on
the bar.  Under the overhang, Stone, as he faced Laramie, now pressed
the gun with his right arm, into Laramie's stomach.  For Laramie to
attempt to knock it away with his own right hand would be to take an
almost certainly fatal chance; while for any friend of his to touch
Stone or shoot him would mean certain death to Laramie.  Feeling that
he had his enemy dead to rights, Stone baited him:

"Laramie," he began, fixing his eyes on those of his victim, "there's
some men's lived in this country too long."

The words carried the irritable nasal tone familiar to Stone's
acquaintances.  Laramie's eyes merely brightened a little with the
effort to reply: "Tom," he declared, with just enough of hesitation to
play the game, "that's the first thing my wife said yes'day morning."

Stone stared: "When," he demanded, "did you get married?"

"Put up your gun.  I'll tell you about it."

Stone only grinned: "I can hear pretty well, right now."

"If you want to see her picture, Tom, uncock your gun."

"Not a little bit.  I've got you right."

Laramie smiled: "Sure, Tom, but there's plenty of time; put down the
hammer."  Stone, without moving his gun, did silently lower the hammer.
Laramie counted one.  Then he began to describe his trick bride.  Stone
cut him off.  He cocked his gun again: "Show me her picture," he
snarled.

Tenison took the instant to lean impressively across the bar.  He
pointed a long finger at Stone: "Tom," he said, with measured emphasis,
"no man can pull a gun here tonight and get away with it.  That'll be
enough."

Stone scowled: "Harry, this scout is through; nobody wants him any
longer in this country," he said.

"Take your quarrel somewhere else tonight--this is my celebration--do
you get me, Tom?"

Under the implied threat of the determined gambler the hammer of
Stone's gun came down: "I c'n get along with any man that'll do what's
right," asserted Stone, trying to keep his head clear.  "Laramie won't."

"Why, Tom!" expostulated Laramie, reproachfully.

The revolver clicked; the hammer was up again.

"Y' won't do what's right, will y', Laramie?" demanded Stone thickly.

There were probably fifty men in the room.  As if by instinct each of
them already knew on what a slender thread one man's life hung.  Hawk,
the quickest and surest of Laramie's friends, stood ten paces away, up
the bar, but the silence was such that he could hear every deliberate
word.  Glasses, half-emptied, had been set noiselessly down,
discussions had ceased, every eye was centered on two men and every ear
strained.  A few spectators tiptoed out into the office.  Others that
tried to pass through the swinging front-door screen into the street
found a crowd already peering intently in through the open baize.

"Tom," resumed Laramie, in measured seriousness, "it's not you 'n' me
can't get on--it's men here has made trouble 'tween you and me, Tom.
You 'n' me rode this range when we didn't have but one blanket atween
us--didn't we, Tom?" he demanded in loud tones.

Stone, in drunken irresolution, uncocked his gun but held it steady.
"That's all right, Laramie," he growled.

"Did we quarrel then?" demanded Laramie, boisterously.  "I'm asking
you, Tom, did you 'n' me quarrel then?"

"When a man can't turn in with Harry Van Horn an' Barb Doubleday,"
grumbled Stone, "it's time for him to quit this country."  His revolver
clicked again; the hammer went up.

Laramie regarded him with sobering amazement: "Who told you I wouldn't
turn in with Barb Doubleday?" he exclaimed loudly.  "Who told you that?"

"Harry Van Horn told me."

Tenison tried to interpose.  "You shut up, Tenison," was the answering
growl from Stone.  But Tenison stuck to it till the hammer came down.
It was only for a moment--the next instant a score of breathless men
heard the click of the gun as it was cocked again.

"Why," demanded Laramie, more cool-headed than his friends, drawn-faced
and tense about him, cooler far than his maudlin words implied, and
still fighting for a forlorn chance, "why didn't Harry Van Horn tell me
to turn in with a friend--why didn't he tell me to turn in with you,
Tom Stone--with a man I rode and bunked with?  Why did they make you
their scapegoat, Tom?  You've got me all right; I know that.  But what
about you?  You can't get ten feet.  Abe Hawk's right back of you,
waitin' for you now.  They'd dump us into the same hole, Tom.  You
don't want to go into the same hole with me, do you?  Let's talk it
over."

The rambling plea sounded so reasonable it won a brief reprieve from
Stone.

"Don't uncock your gun till I'm through, Tom," urged Laramie.  "I don't
want to take any advantage at all of an old pardner.  Keep it cocked
but listen.

"I don't want to talk with Van Horn," Laramie went on, "not even with
Barb Doubleday, fine a man as he might be--I ain't 'a' sayin', Tom.
But I don't want to talk to him.  I want to talk to you.  Just you and
me, Tom--talkin' it over together.  Don't be goat for nobody, Tom.
What?"

The drunken foreman's brow contracted in irresolute perplexity: "What
do you say?" urged Laramie.  Vacillating, Stone let down the hammer to
talk it over.  It went up again almost instantly.  There may in that
last brief instant have flashed across his muddled consciousness a
realization of his fatal mistake; perhaps he saw in the wicked flash of
Laramie's glazed eyes a warning of blunder.

Knowing that mountain men carry only five cartridges in their
revolvers, leaving the hammer for safety on an empty chamber, Laramie
had parleyed with Stone only long enough to suit his own purpose.  His
right arm shot out at Stone's jaw.  As his fist reached it, the gun
against his stomach snapped viciously.  But the hammer, already raised
six times, came down on the sixth and empty chamber.  It was the chance
Laramie had played for.  Stone sank like an ox.  As he went down his
head struck the foot-rail.  He lay stunned.

Men drew long breaths.  McAlpin, stooping in a flash, wrenched Stone's
revolver from his hand and with a grin, laid it on the bar.  Laramie,
watching Stone coldly, did not move.  His left foot still rested on the
rail, his left arm on the bar.  But without taking his eyes off the
prostrate man he in some way saw the white-faced bartender peering over
in amazement at the fallen foreman:

"It seems to take you a good while, Luke," protested Laramie, mildly,
"to open that bottle."



CHAPTER XI

A DUEL WITH KATE

When the eating-house at the Junction was closed, Harry Tenison sent
for Belle and offered her the position of housekeeper at the Mountain
House.  This Belle declined.  She had long had in her head the idea of
taking a place and serving meals on her own hook, as she expressed it.
Her instinct for independence, always strong, had not only prevented
her getting married but made her restive under orders.  She was
stubborn--her enemies called her abusive names and her best friends
admitted that she was sometimes difficult.  At Sleepy Cat she took a
cottage in lower Main Street.  She had some furniture, and having a
little money saved and a little borrowed from McAlpin, Belle bought a
few new pieces, including a folding bed secured at a bargain, and
opened her doors for business.  And whatever her faults of temperament,
Belle could cook.

Kitchen's barn was headquarters for the small ranchers from the north
and for the Falling Wall men, and McAlpin soon had a trade seeking
Belle's place.  The cottage itself faced the side street, but a little
shop annex opened on Main.  In this and in the cottage dining-room
Belle served her meals.  Very soon, however, she made trouble for
McAlpin.  It developed that she would not serve anybody she did not
like and as her fancy was capricious she gave most of McAlpin's
following the cold shoulder.  He spent much time in the beginning,
hot-footing it, as Belle termed it, between the barn and the cottage
trying to straighten things out.  In the end he gave over and told
Belle she could starve if she wanted to.  Whereupon she said tartly
that she did want to; and McAlpin snatching off his baseball cap, as he
did when greatly moved, and twirling it in his hand asked for his
money--which he failed to get.

Yet one man among the hardy friends of the barn boss did find favor at
the cottage and he the last whom McAlpin would have picked for a likely
favorite.  This was Jim Laramie.  Laramie soon became a regular
customer of Belle's and his friends naturally followed him.

The closing out of her father's interests at the Junction was without
regret for Kate, since it sent her up to where she wanted to be--at the
ranch.  For some time after establishing herself there she rarely came
into Sleepy Cat.  Then as the novelty wore off and small wants made
themselves felt, she rode oftener to town--mail and shopping and
marketing soon established for her a regular round and when she did
ride to Sleepy Cat she nearly always saw Belle; sometimes she lunched
with her.  Belle was a stickler in her home for neatness, even though
the cyclone might have been supposed to harden her to dust.

More than this, Belle knew what was going on--she had the news.
Little, in the daily round of the town and its wide territory, got by
the modest scrim curtains of Belle's place; she became Kate's reporter.
Men would say this was the principal attraction for Kate, and that the
cooking came second--not so.  The real reason Belle got the gossip of
the country was because her customers were men.  Kate was probably the
only woman, certainly almost the only one, among her patrons.  Belle
explained this by saying that none of the rest of the ranchwomen would
spend their money for lunch.  The truth really was that Belle did not
like women, anyway--Kate she tolerated because she did like her.

It was the day after Tenison's big celebration that Kate rode into town
for the mail, and after some shopping walked down to Belle's for lunch.
Belle was at the butcher shop across the street, telephoning.  She came
in after a moment.

"It seems to me you spend a good deal of time with that butcher," said
Kate, significantly.

"Oh, no, he's got a club foot.  Has Harry Van Horn been shining up to
you?"

Kate was taken aback, but she had been to blame for giving Belle an
opening and could only enter a confused denial.

"The first serious symptom," said Belle, garrulously, "will be, he'll
have a headache; he'll ask for cold cloths on his forehead.  When that
works pretty well he'll tell you your hair is like his sister's and
some evening he'll ask you to take it down.  He asked me one night to
take mine down.  I handed him my wig.  Say! he was the most surprised
man in Sleepy Cat.  I've been trying for an hour to get that rascally
milkman on the telephone--there's not a drop of cream in the house.
Well, how are you?  Was Tom Stone home when you left?"

One question followed another.  Kate had not only not seen the ranch
foreman--she had not heard of the excitement of the night before.  From
Belle she got the details of Stone's attempt to kill Laramie.  The
story lost nothing in Belle's hands.  She had heard all versions and
was pretty good at story telling herself.

"After McAlpin picked up Stone's gun Laramie told him to turn it over
to Luke; and he told Luke not to give it back to Stone till this
morning--I guess they hid Stone last night."  She wound up with an
abusive fling at Doubleday's foreman.  "What do you keep such a beastly
critter around for?" she asked, looking at Kate hard for an answer.

Humiliated at the recital, Kate thought it time to say something
herself: "Why do you ask me a question like that?"'

Belle arched her eyebrows belligerently.  "Why shouldn't I?" she
demanded.  And bridling with further criticism of Stone and by
implication of those that employed him, she let fly again.

Kate tried to ignore her outburst: "You know perfectly well," she said
firmly, "I have nothing to say about the ranch or how it is run, or who
runs it.  And I don't care to listen to any comments on that subject."

"If you don't like my comments you needn't come here to listen to
them," retorted Belle, flaming.

The two were standing at the cook stove.

"While I am here," returned Kate with tart dignity, "please don't abuse
me."

"I say what I please to anybody if it's right," exclaimed Belle rudely.

"You'll be ashamed of yourself when you cool off," Kate returned,
pointing to the broiler: "You don't expect me to eat all that meat, do
you?"

Belle answered with an offended dignity of her own: "I expect Jim
Laramie to eat the biggest part of it.  And there he comes now!"

The front door opened, in fact, while she was speaking; Kate stood with
her back to it and though by turning she could have peeped through the
curtained archway, she would not have looked for a million dollars.  If
Belle wanted her revenge she had it at that moment.  Kate could not
sink through the floor to escape, but how she wanted to!  She did step
quickly aside hoping she had not been seen, and retired to the farthest
corner of the kitchen.  Belle's mouth, before the stove, set grimly and
with her left hand she gave her wig the vicious punch she used when
wrought up.  Kate motioned to her frantically.  Belle regarded her
coldly but did come closer and Kate caught at her sleeve: "For heaven's
sake," she begged in a whisper, "don't let him know I'm here."

Kate eyed her anxiously.  Belle's face was hard, and quick, firm steps
were coming from the front door.

"Hello, Belle!" was the greeting.  Had they been Kate's death message
the words could not have frightened her more.  She knew, too well, the
voice.

"You didn't get my message," were the next words flung through the
archway.

"I got it," answered Belle, going forward and providentially stopping
Laramie before he reached the curtains.

"Sit down right there," she added, pointing to a table at the rear of
the lunch room.  "I hurried all I could but that rascally milkman
hasn't been here yet and there's no cream for your coffee.  Your
dinner's most ready though."

She started back to the kitchen.

"Not enough for two, is there?" asked Laramie.

"Who's coming?" demanded Belle, stopping in her tracks.

"Belle, you're suspicious as a cattleman.  Nobody's coming, but I'm
hungry."

While he continued his banter she served him and attempted to serve
Kate behind the curtains.  By persistent, almost despairing pantomime,
Kate dissuaded her from this.  But at that moment the front door opened
again, a brisk greeting was called out and a heavy tread crossed the
uneven floor of the outer room.

"John Lefever!"  Laramie got up to welcome the big deputy marshal.
"Just in time.  Take off your manners and sit down."

A bubbling laugh greeted the sally: "Jim, I just can't do it."

"Oh, yes, you'll eat with me.  Where you from?"

"Bear Dance; and Medicine Bend on the next train.  Heard you were in
town and dropped off for just one hour.  Say, this is more like life's
fitful fever to set eyes on you.  Heard you were threatened last night
with appendicitis.  How about it?" and John bubbled over again.  In the
next breath he greeted Belle as gaily.  Laramie asked for another plate
and Lefever promptly resumed: "You look kind of down in the mouth, Jim.
What's the matter with you?"

"Nothing's the matter with me."

Lefever shrugged his shoulders: "You're a kind of low-spirited Indian,
anyway.  What you doing up in the Falling Wall?"

"Nothing."

"Always nothing," repeated Lefever.

"Better come up," suggested Laramie.  "What are you doing?"

Lefever's eyes expanded with cheer, but his voice choked with emotion:
"Doing?  Rusting!"

"That doesn't sound much like 'life's fitful fever.'"

John glared at his companion: "Life's fitful _fever_!  Why, this is
only a passing flash!  How about it when you can't raise even a normal
temperature?  Fever?  I haven't felt so much as a gentle perspiration
for months!  The rust is eating into my finger tips," he declared with
violence.  "I'm a fat man.  A fat man must have action,"--his voice
fell--"else he gets fatter.  I've got to do something.  Once or twice
I've come pretty near having to go to work."

Laramie's expression may have been skeptical; at all events John
pointed a corroborating finger at him: "You don't believe it!  Just the
same," he added, moodily, "it's straight."

"What's de Spain doing, John?"

The tone of the answer bordered on the morose: "Running a nursery at
Medicine Bend."

"Trees?"

"Trees!" John snortingly invoked the hottest place he could think of.
"Trees?  Babies!  Jim," he exclaimed, "I'm no family man--are you?"

"You like Medicine Bend, don't you?"

"Too many people there."  John settled gloomily back.  Then with
wide-open eyes he started suddenly forward: "Give me a gun, Jim," he
said wildly, "a gun and a horse."

"And a north wind!" exclaimed Laramie.

"And a high country," cried Lefever with flashing eyes, "a country
where you can't see a damned thing in any direction for a hundred and
fifty miles!"

Though talking vigorously he was eating, without protest from Laramie,
everything in sight.  Kate could not help listening; Lefever's high
spirits were contagious.

"Jim," came next between mouthfuls.  "What was that story about you
being up at the Junction the day I wanted you to serve those papers on
old Barb Doubleday?"

"I went up there that day because I had business of a different kind
with Barb."

"About the wire ripping, yes.  But I heard you got sewed up by a skirt
and didn't talk wire to Barb at all."

"No more of that, John."

"What was there to it?"

"I guess there was."

"A ride or something--what?"

"Something, John."

"Thunder!  It must have been the ride.  I had a deputy marshalship all
lined up for you if that hadn't happened.  And believe me, boy, a
deputy marshalship isn't lying around loose every day!"

Kate listened keenly for Laramie's comment:

"The ride was worth the price, John," was all he said.

"Some skirt, eh?"

Laramie squirmed and with an expletive protested:

"Hang it, John----"

"No matter, no matter.  I'll get it all from Belle some day.  And after
you get through with your wire thieves we'll tell the story of your
brief romance----"

"Over my grave."

"Right, Jim--over your grave."

"John," Laramie ran on, "do you remember that song Tommie Meggeson used
to sing on the round-up--a pretty little thing.  It had one good line
in it: 'Death comes but once, and then, sometimes--too late.'"

Belle appeared with a vegetable: "It won't keep you waiting an awful
while if things go on the way they're going now," she put in grimly.

"That was a good song," mused Laramie, "a good old song."  But he heard
a slight sound in the kitchen and his eyes were turned toward the
archway.

"Just the same that song won't keep you from getting killed," persisted
Belle.

"Even that would beat appendicitis clean to death, Belle," maintained
Laramie, still listening.

"You've got lots of time," he added, as Lefever looked at his watch.

"I haven't," exclaimed his companion.  "I've got to send a message.
Come over to the train."

"I've got to write a couple of letters."

"Come over to the station and write your letters."

Laramie shook his head: "I couldn't even get to the station by one
o'clock.  Every man in Main Street wants to talk about Tom Stone.
You'd think I had a million friends among the cattlemen this morning."

"I heard old Barb Doubleday is grinning like a hangman today."

"If Belle's got some ink I'll write my letters right here."

Kate's spirits, which had risen at the hope of being so luckily rid of
one who might prove troublesome, fell at his refusal to leave.  John
urged, but Laramie only asked Belle again for the ink.  Lefever tried
to coax Belle to go to the train with him.  Belle would do almost any
fool thing--as John bluntly averred--but this time she must have had
pity on Kate and would not leave her unprotected.  Lefever went his
way.  From a shelf near where Kate, with clasped hands, sat in silence
Belle took paper and ink in to Laramie and began to clear the table.

At this unlucky moment the front door was opened swiftly and a boy from
the butcher shop stuck his head inside.

"Miss Shockley," he called, "the milkman is on the 'phone now, if you
want him."  Closing the door he ran back across the street.  With a
sense of her wrongs keen upon her, Belle, forgetting her charge in the
kitchen, hurried after him.

Even then, Kate hoped that by keeping deathly still she might escape an
unpleasant meeting.  She never breathed more carefully in her life, yet
she was doomed.  She heard Laramie's chair pushed back and heard his
footsteps.  She could not be sure which way he was walking, but she
thought only of flight.  As stealthily and rapidly as possible, she
started for the back door.  Without looking around she felt as if he
had come to the archway and was looking at her.  With courage and
resolve, she grasped the knob to open the door.  It was locked.  She
fumbled with the key.  Behind her, silence.  She locked and unlocked
the door more than once, and with a fast-dying hope, for the wretched
door would _not_ open.  Flushed with annoyance, she turned around only
to see Laramie standing precisely where she had imagined him.

They faced each other.  Kate could not have found a word to say had her
life depended on it.  Laramie held in his left hand an ink bottle, in
his right a pen.  He, too, seemed surprised but he recovered himself:
"You are certainly unlucky with doors," he said.  "If you'll tell me
where Belle keeps her ink, I'll tell you how to open that," he added
calmly.

Kate stiffened and shrugged her shoulders the least bit: "I haven't any
idea where Belle keeps the ink," she replied, clearing her throat of
its huskiness.

He pointed to beyond where she stood: "I think the ink supply is on
that shelf; she gave me an empty bottle.  Should you mind handing me
one with ink in it?"

Kate turned to the shelf: "There seem to be two kinds here," she said
as coldly as possible.

"Any bottle with a hole in the top will do," he suggested.  "This one,"
he held the bottle up in his hand and looked at it, "seems to have a
hole top and bottom.  Give me the blue ink, will you?"

"I am sure I don't know which is which.  Perhaps you had better help
yourself," Kate said icily.

"Thank you.  But I'll show you how to open the door first."

"Don't trouble yourself."

"No trouble at all."  He walked to the door, explaining as he took hold
of the knob: "The door wasn't locked, but the catch held the latch.  I
could tell that from the way you handled it.  You locked it,
yourself----"

Kate could not hide her resentment: "It wouldn't open when I first took
hold of it," she declared hastily.  "I tried it before I touched the
key."

"That's what I'm explaining.  When you did take hold of the key you
locked the door with the dead bolt and then you couldn't open it; so
you unlocked it and tried it again.  After that you worked so fast I
lost track."  He pointed to the back of the rim lock: "The catch was
on."  And pushing down the catch, he turned the knob and opened the
door.

Kate was thoroughly incensed: "You are doubtless better acquainted here
than I am."

"To tell the truth, I have to be acquainted with rooms I go into.  If
_I_ ever tried to get through a door and failed, it might not be
pleasant for me.  And there's a board fence, six feet high, all around
this yard, so unless you're a good climber you couldn't have got out
anyway."

Kate felt she looked very silly, standing staring at him, and perhaps
looking frightened--as she really was---for he went on as if he were
explaining to a child: "I'm not permitted to tell you, but I'm going
to----"

"Don't bother, please----"

"Yes, I'd rather: There is a way to get out without climbing the fence;
a loose board I'll show you sometime--but you must handle yourself fast
to make your get-away."

"I never expect," she said contemptuously, "to have to make a get-away."

"Then I was wrong," he returned frankly, "for I kind of thought you
were trying to make one a minute ago."

His composure irritated Kate:  "You are very much mistaken," she
declared with spirit in her words, for she saw--indeed knew--how
persistent he was.  "I was only trying to leave for home quietly and
quickly."

His eyes were a study in silent laughter: "That's all I've ever claimed
to be doing, any time in my life."

"But I can just as well leave by the front door--which, perhaps,"
retorted Kate, "you haven't always been able to do."

"Before you go"--he was standing directly in the archway, so she had to
listen--"tell me about things at the Junction; I hear the lunch room
was closed up a while ago."

"It was.  But"--Kate thought the time for explanation had come--"I was
not working at the eating-house when you came in there.  I am Kate
Doubleday and I wanted to save my father that day and I'm not a bit
sorry for it."

"I suppose, then, I ought to speak out, too.  I was sure you were Kate
Doubleday soon after I got into the lunch-room that day and I'm not a
bit sorry for it.  And I knew pretty soon you were trying to save your
father.  And I helped you."

"Oh--"  Kate suppressed an incredulous exclamation.

"Believe it or not as you like, I helped you.  And I'm not a bit sorry
for it.  Though he is no friend of mine, you have been, from that day
on; and if you ever give me a chance I'll prove it.  The worst thing
you did was to go back on your word----"

"My word was not freely given," Kate was speaking furiously.

"It shouldn't have been given at all, then.  But it's all right.  Will
you be friends with me?"

"No man that speaks of my father as you spoke of him a moment ago can
be my friend."

"It was Lefever spoke of your father.  I couldn't shut him off.  Of
course he didn't know you were here.  I did know after I'd been here
awhile.  I heard you whisper.  That's why I asked for the ink--I had no
letters to write.  There's a lot of hard feeling in this country right
now.  Every man in it has his friends and enemies.  You mustn't take it
seriously when you hear hard words--I don't; and I hear plenty.  Hadn't
you and I better be friends to begin with, anyway?"

"No," she exclaimed angrily.  "Please let me pass."

He stepped promptly aside: "I never dreamed of doing anything less."

Kate started rapidly for the front door.  Whom should she run into just
as she opened it but Belle coming back from her wretched telephoning
and with a bottle of cream!  Kate inwardly blamed her for all her
trouble, and she was on edge, besides: "Where you going?" demanded
Belle.

"Home," answered Kate, shortly.

"Home?  You haven't had your lunch."

"I don't want any."

Belle caught Kate's arm: "Now you just hold on.  What's the matter?  Is
it Laramie?"  Belle must have read her face for she answered nothing,
only tried to get away.  "But, child!" she exclaimed.  "Where's your
coat--wait till I bring it--and your gloves!"  Kate paused at the door.
In a minute Belle came running back: "He's gone, absolutely.  There
isn't a soul anywhere about.  Now you shan't go till you take a cup of
coffee.  Here's the cream--he left it at the wrong door, the stupid!"

Kate could not get away.  And Belle had told the truth: Laramie was
gone.



CHAPTER XII

THE BARBECUE

Whatever the shortcomings of the American frontier code there never was
a time in its history when a man could violate the principles of fair
play and keep public opinion on his side.  In this instance, Stone's
conduct reacted unfavorably on the cattlemen.  The townspeople that
made money out of the trade of the big ranches always stood up for the
cattlemen, but they were put most unpleasantly on the defensive by the
incident.  Even had Stone's attempt on Laramie's life succeeded it
would have been easier, for the partisans, to handle than the failure
it proved.  As a _fait accompli_ it would have been regretted, but
forgotten; as a failure it settled nothing.

Among the few townspeople that sturdily retained independence of
opinion on all matters, none stood higher than the surgeon, Doctor
Carpy.  And encountering Doubleday in the street shortly after the
Stone incident, he took it on himself to talk to him.

The doctor had his office at his home, but back of the prescription
case in his little drug store--no bigger than a minute--he had a small
room for emergency consultations.  To this he invited Doubleday, and,
having ushered him in, seated him and closed the door, Carpy sat down:
"There's few men, Barb, in this country," the doctor began, "that dare
talk to you the way you ought to be talked to; of them few, I'm
probably the only one that would take the trouble.  Your enemies won't
talk and everybody friendly with you is afraid of you.  You've got so
much property and stuff here they're plumb afraid of you.  I'm a poor
man, Barb--don't never expect to be anything else, and I don't give a
hang for anybody," averred the erratic surgeon, "and nobody gives a
hang for me."

Doubleday, chewing the stub of a cigar, eyed his medical adviser with
an unsympathetic stare, but this in no way disturbed the self-appointed
critic.  "For a long time now, Barb," he continued, "you've been in the
nastiest kind of a fight on Jim Laramie.  You've tried to run him off
the range and you tried to beat him out of his land and you've tried to
break him.  He's got the best land in the Falling Wall and he's in your
way.  One time his wire is all pulled off his fence.  Another time your
foreman pokes a gun into his stomach."

Doubleday flared up: "Am I the only man that Laramie's got differences
with?  When his fence is tore down, am I to blame?  Am I to blame for
every drink Tom Stone takes?  What are you talking about?" demanded
Doubleday with violence.

The doctor could not have been calmer had he been reaching at the
critical moment of an operation for Doubleday's appendix.  "Be patient
a minute; be ca'm, Barb; I'll tell you what I'm talking about.  I don't
know who cut his wire.  I don't know who done it and I won't undertake
to say, but what I do say to you, Barb, and I say it hard, you're
making a big mistake on this man, and if you don't slow up it'll cost
you your life yet."

Doubleday was grimly silent.  "I've known Jim Laramie," Carpy went on,
"since he was a boy.  He's stubborn as a broncho if you try to ride
him.  He's the easiest man in the world to get along with if you make a
friend of him.  No matter what's said of Jim Laramie there ain't a
crooked hair in his head; but he's no angel and when his patience
quits--look out.  What I'm going to tell you now, Barb, is on the
square.  It can't go no further.  I tell you because you ought to know.
A while back, just after this wire pulling, Jim Laramie walked into
this room, shut the door and locked it and sat down right where you're
sittin' now.  He told me the wire story; he told me he was through.
He'd tracked the men to your ranch and was going to square accounts
with you and Stone and Van Horn.  He was on his way to the Junction and
he told me he might not come back and wanted to tell me how to dispose
of his property.  He was after you and he meant, before he fell down,
to get some or all of you.  He asked me where you were, because he
heard I knew.  I did know but I didn't tell him.  I lied, Barb.  I told
him the mines, but I knew you were at the Junction.  He started for the
mines.  What happened to turn him off your trail I never yet learned.
I never asked.

"Now you saw, or you heard anyway, what happened when Stone tried to
kill him the other night.  That man never can get Laramie.  And don't
depend on Stone and Van Horn to play you fair, for if they had to save
their hides, Barb, they'd sell you.  My advice is this: Put back
Laramie's wire.  Let the cattlemen, you and Pettigrew to lead 'em, do
it to clear their own names.  Say you know nothing about it, but it was
a dirty trick, and tell this town that cattlemen fight but they fight
fair.  It'll do more to set you right and to set everything else right
on the range than anything else you could possibly do.  And don't make
a mistake.  Laramie'll follow that wire pulling for years but what
he'll get the man that did it.  I know him.  He's got a memory like an
Indian."

Like all well-meaning and candid friends, the doctor found himself at
once in for a deal of angry abuse, but, as he explained, he had taken
so much abuse from patients at various periods of his career--and abuse
fully justified--that nothing Barb could add, deserved or undeserved,
to the volume would move him: "As our old governor back in Wisconsin
said, Barb, 'I seen my duty and I done it,'" was the doctor's only
retort to Doubleday's wrath.  "Now if you're in a hurry, Barb, don't
let me keep you, not a minute.  I had my say and if there's anything
pressing you down street go to it."

But angry as Doubleday appeared, Carpy had given him something to think
about.  Consultations were held--by precisely whom, no one could say,
but in them there was dissension.  Van Horn vehemently opposed any
further overtures to Laramie and he was vastly put out at being
overruled.  While the discussions were going on, he talked in a veiled
but emphatic way to Kate about the queer way her father was acting.
Van Horn would shake his head with violent emphasis at the way things
were going.  But when Kate poured oil on the waters of his discontent,
Van Horn was always responsive and stayed to supper or for the evening,
if he were asked--and Kate was alone.  On the gentler side, however, he
could make no headway.  When he tried headaches for sympathy, Kate was
stony hearted.  When he asked her one day at the spring to take down
her hair, she told him she wore a wig.  He looked at her amazed.

And in spite of his objections to placating Laramie a decision very
unpalatable to him was reached.  Pettigrew, as spokesman, approached
Laramie and insisted, in order to allay bad feeling, on replacing the
barb wire.  When Laramie declared the wire must be put back by the men
that had cut it, there was naturally an _impasse_, but Tenison and
Carpy aided jointly by the representations of Lefever and Sawdy,
induced Laramie to forego his punitive attitude and accept the amende
as offered.  This, as the doctor had predicted, put a pleasanter face
on the tangled affairs of the range.  And to strike while their iron
was hot, and to keep it hot, the cattlemen announced a big Fourth of
July celebration, at which old scores should be forgotten and friends
and enemies meet in good-fellowship.  The place for it, after much
talk, was fixed at Doubleday's ranch.  The saloon-keepers of Sleepy
Cat, except Tenison, fought this, but they lost out.

Since her own home was to be the scene of the celebration, Kate took a
particular interest in the undertaking.  She made herself, in a way,
hostess and her father gave her free rein.  The eager crowd that
responded to the public invitation found awaiting them, as they
picturesquely rode in twos and threes and groups up the creek to the
ranch house, all the "fixin's" for a rousing celebration.  Men came for
as much as fifty miles and some of them by trails and over passes Kate
had never even heard of.  There were cattlemen, cowboys, sheepmen,
little ranchers--all the conflicting elements of the country, besides a
crowd from Sleepy Cat with the band, and all the town loafers that
could possibly secure conveyance.

There was for these latter worthies the attraction of a free feed--for
they knew the prodigality of cattlemen; but there was also the
underlying hope that where so discordant elements were assembled a
fight _might_ occur; and nobody wanted to miss a fight.  The principals
necessary for a serious affair were present.  The fact that all were
armed was not significant, merely prudent.  Men careless on this point
were no longer attending celebrations of any sort around Sleepy Cat.

From the Falling Wall came the rustlers, every one of them except
Doubleday's old foreman, Abe Hawk, who scorned all pretense of
compromise.  He advised Laramie not to go near the celebration.  When
Laramie intimated he might go, Abe was greatly incensed.  A master of
bitter sarcasm, he trained his batteries on his sandy-haired friend and
these failing he warned him he would be in serious danger.  He
intimated that the scheme was to get the rustlers all together and
finish them in a bunch.  In which event, one as hated as Laramie could
hardly hope to escape unmolested.  But Laramie persisted in his resolve
to go, and he went.

Doctor Carpy made it a point to go.  He was usually needed
professionally at Fourth of July celebrations.  But on this occasion he
was, in matter of fact, a sort of sponsor for the whole affair and he
brought Sawdy, Lefever and Tenison along.  The four drove out in the
smartest wagon and behind the best team in the Kitchen barn, Kitchen
with them and McAlpin driving.

By noon the big end of the crowd had arrived.  The barbecue tables were
set out under the trees along the creek.  The roasting itself was in
the skilled hand of John Frying Pan and before one o'clock he was ready
to serve.

Doubleday had told Kate, when arranging for the tables, that his
particular friends would sit at his table, and she was on her way down
to the creek to ask him how many there would be in the party when whom
should she find him talking with, of all men, but Laramie, who had just
ridden over from the Falling Wall.

Before Kate could retreat, her father had seen her.  He called her
over.  To her astonishment he insisted on introducing her to his
friend, Jim Laramie, of whom he was making as much as it was possible
to make of a wholly undemonstrative man.

The band not far away was playing full tilt.  Kate wished they could
have made even more noise to hide her confusion, but there was nothing
except to face the situation, much as it surprised her.  Laramie,
fortunately, seemed indisposed to say anything.  He spent most of his
time listening.  Kate, being far from animated, her father was left to
do the honors.  And on such rare occasions as Barb was communicative,
he was quite capable of good-fellowship.

Laramie, however, seemingly under some restraint, soon made excuses and
left to join the crowd.

Some of the little ranchmen had brought their wives along.  A few of
these women had their babies with them, and Kate returned to the house,
where she made the mothers comfortable.  There, her father afterwards
ran across her.  He stopped as he came up: "You remember that man I
introduced you to--Laramie?"

"Very well," assented Kate, wondering.

"Treat him well at dinner."

"But I'm going to eat here at the house."

He shook his head: "You eat at the creek at my table."

She had no choice but to obey.  When she returned to the pits the
stones had been removed and John Frying Pan, with a pair of Sleepy Cat
ice tongs, was lifting out the first big chunks of roasted meat.  The
crowd, being called, ran for the creek whooping and yelling, and while
Kate watched John and his helpers dish up the meat, the guests--nearly
all men--seated themselves pell mell at the long benches.  It was a
noisy assemblage, overflowing with good-nature, and when Kate, very
trim in corduroy, appeared again at the tables the demonstrative ones
rose and led in a burst of cheers.  Kate enjoyed it but when they began
calling for a speech, she ran to join her father.  She found him and
old man Pettigrew at the table, Laramie calmly seated with them and the
fourth place waiting for her.

Van Horn, as host to other cattlemen and guests, presided at the next
table.  Unluckily, where he sat, he could see Laramie opposite Kate.
But if he was discomfited, the group at the next table below, where
Doctor Carpy presided, flanked by Lefever, Sawdy, Kitchen and McAlpin,
was correspondingly elated at the spectacle of the Falling Wall and the
Crazy Woman sitting in harmony.

Despite the unpleasant stories Kate had heard about him she found
nothing to complain of in Laramie's manners.  But he was, she told
herself, on his good behavior, and under the circumstances would
naturally try to appear at his best.  Little as she relished her
assignment of making things pleasant for him, the friendly spirit of
the occasion to some extent infected her, and soon she found it not
difficult to help along with small talk and make the queer combination
at the table go.

There was really no great need for her to work hard in this way--both
her father and Pettigrew were very lively.  Laramie seemed a bit dazed
at being set up with such honors in the house of his enemies.  But
though he did not volunteer much, when Kate said anything that afforded
a chance for comment, he improved it.

The talk went a good deal to cattle, and range matters, but Pettigrew,
a crafty fellow, told good stories about men that everybody in and out
of Sleepy Cat knew, and appealed frequently to Laramie for confirmation
or a laugh.  Some of the laughs he got were a little dry but they were
not ill-natured, and Kate enjoyed the rough humor.  The two cattlemen
finished their dinner, and without ceremony got up to see how the crowd
was being served, leaving Kate with Laramie.  "How do you like old
Pettigrew?" was the first thing Laramie asked as the bearded cattleman
moved away with her father.

"The only thing I don't like about him," answered Kate candidly, "is
his eyes."

She was looking at Laramie as she spoke.

"You're a good observer," he said.

"How so?"

"A man's eyes are all there is to him.  You don't mind if I smoke?"

"Not a bit."

He drew a sack of tobacco from a breast pocket.

"Not going to run away, are you?"  He was fishing for cigarette paper
when he asked.  He spoke as if he had no special interest in the
matter, yet the question startled her.  Kate had not made a move to go,
but she _was_ thinking, when the question came, of how she might manage
to escape.  She flushed a little at being anticipated in her
intention--just enough perhaps to let him see he had caught her, not to
say irritated her.  As luck would have it, Van Horn, who had risen,
sauntered towards them.  Kate was glad just then to see him: "I hope
you got enough to eat," she said as he approached.

He seemed stiff--Kate did not realize what he was put out about.  He
made some answer and turned to Laramie.  She felt at once the friction
between the two men, not from anything she had reason to suspect or
know--for she knew then nothing whatever of their personal relations.
Nor was it from anything said; for an instant neither man spoke.
Instinct must have made her conscious for as soon as Van Horn looked at
Laramie she felt the tension: "Well, Jim, where'd you blow from?"
demanded Van Horn after a pause.

Laramie was making ready to smoke.  He was in no haste to answer, nor
did he look at Van Horn, but continued, cowboy fashion, rolling his
cigarette in the finger-tips of one hand, his other hand resting on his
hip: "I didn't blow," he retorted.

"How'd you get here?" asked Van Horn.

"I was invited."

Van Horn laughed significantly.  While Kate would rather have been out
of it, she thought it proper, since she was in it, to say something
herself: "I didn't suppose anybody needed a special invitation for a
Fourth of July celebration," she interposed.  "The town has been
covered for two weeks with bills inviting everybody."

Van Horn laughed again.  "It wasn't you invited him, eh?" he demanded
of Kate.  The thing was said so unpleasantly she would have retorted on
impulse, but Laramie took any possible words out of her mouth.

"Why don't you ask me who invited me?  Barb Doubleday invited me.
That's enough, isn't it?  And Pettigrew invited me.  And," he added,
completing his cigarette in leisurely fashion, "while that wouldn't be
any particular inducement--you invited me."

Van Horn stared: "How do you make that out?" he asked quickly.

"You asked me to take in this barbecue when you tried to get me to line
up with you at the Mountain House."

Van Horn took alarm: "That was put up to you in confidence," he said
angrily.

"So was the barbecue," responded Laramie.  "I wouldn't take in the
first proposition, so I'm enjoying the second."  He turned from Van
Horn, and, ignoring him, spoke to Kate: "You remember you said you were
going to show me your ponies."

It was Kate's turn to stare: "You must be mistaken."

He did not press the subject: "Perhaps you've forgotten," was all he
said.

"When or where did I ever say that?" Kate asked, resenting the
intimation.

He looked down, then looking up his eyes rested on Kate's.  He was not
disturbed: "Is that a challenge?" he asked.

"If you wish to make it one," she returned coolly.

"The 'where' was one day at Sleepy Cat Junction, the 'when' was the day
we rode up the Falling Wall river."

"Oh," she exclaimed, collecting herself, "I had forgotten."

"Do you remember now?" he asked; and she thought there was resentment
in the question.  "If you don't," he added, "we'll let it go."

"Why, I suppose I must have said something like that.  Anyway," she
added, "we'll go see them to make sure I've kept a promise.  Come, Mr.
Van Horn," she suggested, turning sweetly to him, "don't you want to
see the ponies?"  To include Van Horn, it was plain to be seen, would
spoil the trip for Laramie, but she cared little for that.  "Wait just
a minute," she continued, "I must tell John Frying Pan before I go to
give the Indians something to eat."

The feeling between the two men she left together flared up at once:
"Does this mean you're going to hitch up with the cattlemen, after
all?" demanded Van Horn.

Laramie, who had lighted his cigarette, stood looking after Kate: "I
hitch up with nobody."

"Then don't spend your time hanging around Kate Doubleday."

"So that's where the shoe pinches?"  Laramie threw away his cigarette
as he spoke.  "I've taken a good deal from you, Van Horn."

Van Horn egged him on unabashed: "You've got your nerve with you to
show up here at all."

"A man needs his nerve, Van Horn, to do business with crooks like you."

Doubleday, passing near the two men at that moment, heard the last
exchange.  He called out in his heavy, raspy voice to Van Horn:  "Look
here, Harry."  Laramie walked away and Doubleday took Van Horn in hand:
"You messed up things once with Laramie, didn't you?  And you didn't
get him, did you?" continued Doubleday, choking off Van Horn's words:
"Now we've got him here, let me run this thing."

"I can tell you right now you won't line him up," blurted out Van Horn,
very angry.

Doubleday had a way of raising his chin to override objection; and his
voice grew huskier with stubbornness: "Just let me run this thing, will
you?"

"Do as you please," retorted Van Horn, but with a stiff expletive that
irritated Barb still further.  Then swinging on his heel, Van Horn
marched off.  Barb was so incensed he could only keep his raised finger
pointed after Van Horn; and as his eyes blazed he shouted through a
very fog of throat-scraping: "I will."



CHAPTER XIII

AGAINST HIS RECORD

On the level stretch between the ranch-house and the creek the cowboys
staged, after dinner, a Frontier Day show and a Fourth of July
celebration combined.  The fun began mildly with the three-legged races
and the business of the greased pig.  From these diversions it
proceeded to foot races, in which Indians shone, and to keenly
contested pony races between cowboys, Reservation bucks and sports from
Sleepy Cat.  Money was stacked with freedom and differences of opinion
were intensified by victory and defeat.

While the spirit ran high, rodeo riding began with the master artists
of the range and the pink of American horsemanship in the saddle.  In
each succeeding contest the Sleepy Cat visitors headed by Sawdy and
Lefever with big loose bunches of currency backed their favorites
freely, and men that counted nothing of caution in their make-up took
the other end of every exciting event.  Flushed faces and loud voices
added to the rapidly shifting excitement as one event followed another,
and the betting fever keenly roused called, after every possible wager
had been laid, for fresh material to work on.

It was at this juncture that the shooting matches began.  In a line and
in a country in which many excelled in perhaps the most important
regard, rivalry ran high and critics were naturally fastidious.  The
temptation to belittle even excellent work with rifle and revolver was,
in Sawdy and especially in Carpy, partly due to temperament.  Both men
were bad gamesters because they bet on feeling rather than judgment.
They would back a man, or the horse of a man they liked, against a man
they did not like and sometimes thereby knew what it was to close the
day with empty pockets.

On this Fourth of July at Doubleday's, both men, as well as Lefever,
had been hit by hard luck.  Their free criticism of the horse-racing
and the shooting did not pass unresented and the fact that Tom Stone
and his following had most of the Sleepy Cat money while the sun was
still high did not tend to temper the acerbity of their remarks.

Nothing that the crack shots of the range could do would satisfy either
Sawdy or Carpy.  Van Horn, himself an expert with rifle and gun, was
master of these ceremonies and the belittling by the Sleepy Cat sports
of the best the cowboys could show, nettled him: "Before you knock this
any more," he said, "put up some better shooting."

The taunt went far enough home to stir the fault-finders.  Sawdy and
Carpy took grumpy counsel together.  Presently they hunted up Laramie,
who in front of the ranch-house was talking horses with Kitchen and
Doubleday.  They told him the situation and asked for help: "Come over
to the creek and show the bunch up, Jim," was Sawdy's appeal.

The response was cold.  Laramie refused to take any part in the
shooting.  Sawdy could not move him.  In revenge he borrowed what money
Laramie had--not much in all--and went back in bad humor.  With the
peeve of defeated men, the Sleepy Cat sports called for more horse
racing to retrieve their fortunes--only to lose what money they had
left and suffer fresh jeering from Van Horn and his following.

But abating in defeat and with empty pockets, nothing of their
confident swagger, Carpy and Sawdy reinforced this time by
Lefever--McAlpin trailing along as a mourner--headed again for the
ranch-house after Laramie.

They found him on a bench where he could command the front door,
whittling and talking idly with Bill Bradley.  Laramie was there intent
on waylaying Kate, within.  His friends descended on him for the second
time in a body.  They laid their discomfiture before him.  They begged
him to pull them out of the hole.  It was too much in the circumstances
to refuse men he counted on when he, himself, needed friends, but he
yielded with an ill grace: "What do you want me to do?" he demanded
finally.

They told him.  He would not stand up before a target, nor would he
shoot in competition with anybody else.

"I've only got a few cartridges, anyway," he objected.  "Suppose when
they're shot away these fellows get a fight going on me?"

It was argued that there were enough gunmen in the Sleepy Cat crowd for
defensive purposes and that there was no end of available ammunition.
A way was found to meet Laramie's objection on every point and it only
remained to hatch up a scheme for lightening the cattlemen's pockets.

With Carpy, Lefever and Sawdy, Laramie sat down apart.  An exchange of
views took place.  Sawdy had in mind something he had once seen Laramie
achieve and on this--and the possibility of its success--the talk
centered.  The feat, it was conceded, would be a stiff one.  It was put
up to Laramie; he consented, after some wrangling and with misgivings,
to try to save the day for his misguided Sleepy Cat friends.  The
moment consent was assured, his backers hurried away in a body--McAlpin
as crier, Lefever and Sawdy to raise money, and Carpy to bully Van Horn
and Stone and their following.

The news that Laramie would shoot caused a stir.  Not everyone present
had seen him shoot.  His reputed mastery of rifle and gun was often in
question; and no more grueling test before friends and enemies could
ever be given than what he was to attempt now.

Not everyone got clearly as the talk went on just what the trial was to
be.  Sawdy having reinforced his resources, announced the event as
Laramie against his record--to tie or to beat.

Laramie, himself, unmindful of the controversy, held to the bench.  He
was still sitting, head down, and still whittling, when Bradley came to
say the crowd was waiting.  He asked Bradley to bring up his horse.

Kate coming out of the house drew his attention.  He threw away the
stick in his hand and rose.

"I hear you are going to shoot," she said.

"Can't get out of it very well, I guess."

"You wouldn't shoot, the time I asked you to."

"I didn't actually refuse, did I?"

"Pretty near it."

"It's a harder case today.  Your men have got all the money.  My
friends are broke.  And they've asked me to help them out somehow.
That's the only reason.  If you really want to see me shoot, all you've
got to do is to tell me the next time you see me."

"Oh, I'm going to see you shoot now."  She looked at the gun holster
slung at his left hip.  "I hear you are left-handed."

"They've got work enough lined up today for two hands."

Bradley returned with the horse and climbed awkwardly down from the
saddle.  Laramie tried the cinches and turned to Kate.

"Are you all ready?" she asked.

"Just about."

"You try the cinches; I should think you'd want to try your gun."

"I tried that this morning before I left home.  All I've got to do
before I begin is to slip an extra cartridge into the cylinder."

Leading his pony, Laramie, clinging to the talk as long as he could,
walked with Kate toward the creek.  Leaving her on a slight rise, where
he told her he thought she could see, he got into the saddle and rode
down to where the crowd had assembled.

On a stretch of the trail extending along the creek, John Frying Pan,
under the direction of Sawdy and Van Horn, was placing at intervals of
from fifty to one hundred and fifty yards a series of targets.  These
were ordinary potatoes, left over from the barbecue, but selected with
great care as to size and shape by the man whose money was up--Sawdy;
Frying Pan's work was to impale them on low-growing scrub along the
trail to serve as targets.  Against these targets--six in
number--Laramie was to undertake to ride and to split five out of the
six as he galloped past them with six and no more bullets.  The
potatoes were up when Laramie joined Sawdy, and Lefever with leather
lungs announced the terms of the test.  Accompanied by Sawdy, Van Horn
and Frying Pan, Laramie rode slowly down the course--a quarter of a
mile long--examining the roadway and the targets.  Here and there a
loose stone was removed from the trail; one potato was moved from a dip
in the course to a safer point; one was raised and one placed more
clearly in sight.

Having ridden to the end, Laramie expressed himself as satisfied with
the conditions.  Alone, he went back over the course and starting down
the creek made a trial heat at full speed past the targets.  One of
these at his request was shifted again.  While he watched this change,
Sawdy and Lefever, surrounded by their followers, were crowding him as
race touts crowd a favorite jockey with final words of admonition and
advice.  When the one target was satisfactorily adjusted, Laramie
breaking away from everybody returned alone to the starting point.
Dismounting, and taking his time to everything, he again tested his
cinches, drew his gun from its holster and breaking it slipped a sixth
cartridge into the cylinder.  Dropping the gun back into place, he
pulled his hat a little lower, glanced down the course and up toward
the little hill on which he had parted from Kate.  She was standing
where he left her but Van Horn had ridden up and, joining Kate, was
talking to her.  While she listened to him she watched the preparations
below.

Laramie spoke to his pony, patted him on the neck and mounted.
Wheeling, he swung out into a wide circle across the level bench and
with gradually increasing speed into a measured gallop.  Molded into
one flesh with his mount, Laramie, impassive in the saddle as a statue,
watched and nursed to his liking the pony's gait.  When the rhythm
suited, he urged the horse to a longer stride and circling back into
the course, drew his gun, held it high in the air and, swinging it
slowly as if like a lariat, bore down at full speed on the first target.

Markers for both sides in the betting stood to watch each potato.  No
signal would mean the potato had been missed; for each hit, a hat was
to be thrown into the air.  In a complete silence among the spectators
every eye was fixed on Laramie.  Those close at hand saw him, with his
left arm still high in the air, sway slightly backward and slowly
forward, while with the circling gun poised at arm's length he shrank
closer and lower into the saddle.  When he neared the first target,
throwing his left arm toward it like a bolt, he fired, sped on and was
again swinging his gun.  He had hardly covered six more paces before a
hat was tossed into the air behind him.

A yell went up from his friends.  Horsemen wheeled into the course
behind the flying marksman.  With five potatoes still to negotiate they
were afraid to cheer.  But as one hat after another along the shooting
line--the second, the third and the fourth--were tossed up from the
target behind the speeding horseman, the Sleepy Cat men bellowed with
joyful confidence.  The fifth target was of unusual distance--a hundred
and fifty yards--from the fourth.  Leaving the fourth, Laramie's horse
broke and the onlookers saw that his rider was in trouble.  He kept the
swing of his gun without breaking the rhythm, but his efforts were in
his bridle arm to steady his horse.

The hopes of his backers fell as they saw how stubborn the pony had
become.  The hundred and fifty yards were barely enough to bring him
under control.  Laramie still circling his raised gun did bring him
under.  But he was already nearing the fifth target.  And to the horror
of his friends passed it without attempting to fire.

Of the two chances left him to tie--which meant to win--he had passed
up one; the sixth and last meant life or death to the shaken hopes of
his backers.

They saw him settled once more into the long, even stride he needed for
the shot and their breaths hung on each flying leap that brought the
rider nearer his last chance.  The sixth target was separated by barely
fifty yards from the fifth.  Laramie had covered half the distance when
he completely reversed his form.  He stretched gradually up in the
saddle and riding close in on the target itself, rose to his full
height in the stirrups and smashed his fifth shot almost straight down
on it; the potato split into a dozen fragments.  Bill Bradley at the
sixth was watching for Sawdy; his hat sailed twenty feet in the air.
The yelling crowd rode Laramie down as he galloped in a long circle
back, his lines swung on his forearm, while he slipped four fresh
cartridges into the warm cylinder of his revolver.

He dismounted to ease his cinches.  "I guess I over-did it," he
explained to the friends that crowded closest.  "I got the cinches a
little tight.  The pony didn't like it.  I couldn't get the gait in
time for the Number Five.  But I knew I could make Number Six."

Remounting, he made his way through the crowd back over the course.
Kate was still on the hill.  "You won, didn't you?" she cried as he
rode toward her.

"If I hadn't, I guess I'd have had to head straight across the creek
for home.  Could you see?"

"I watched you the whole way.  What a long arm you have."

"While these tin horns are counting their money, would you like to show
me the ponies?"

"You have a long memory, too."

"I was brought up a good deal with Indians.  Shall I hunt up Van Horn
to go with us?"

She darted a quick glance at him: "Why, yes, surely," she retorted, "if
you want him."

Laramie was tearing out a cigarette paper: "I could look at them
without him," he returned calmly.

"I don't see him, anyway," murmured Kate, professing to sweep the
crowded course with her eyes.

"Don't look too hard," cautioned Laramie.

"I suppose we might save time," she suggested, ignoring his last
remark, "by going without him."



CHAPTER XIV

LEFEVER ASKS QUESTIONS

Those closest to headquarters sometimes know least of what is going on.
That the big celebration at the ranch could have been anything more or
less than what it professed to be, did not occur to Kate; nor could
anyone actually say that it was more or less.  Hawk could
contemptuously refuse its overtures; Laramie could for reasons of his
own accept them; the Falling Wall rustlers were out for a good time or
they would not have been rustling and they would celebrate any time at
anybody's expense--except their own; Carpy could believe it was to
usher in a better feeling--everyone to his taste.

But the suspicious, because they did not quite understand such a move,
harbored their suspicions, and among the doubting was Belle
Shockley--shrewd and very much alive to the drift of things since her
struggle with a cyclone.  Had Belle, instead of Kate, been out at the
ranch, things now coming along that Kate failed to see, would have told
volumes to her.

But Kate did not feel at liberty to make of Belle a confidant in
everything--certainly not in what happened at home; so she neither said
anything to Belle nor asked of her any explanation of things that she
herself did not understand--such as guarded and more frequent
consultations between her father and Van Horn, Pettigrew and Stone; and
such as men riding up with a clatter to the ranch-house at night and
calling Doubleday out and calling for Van Horn who often now spent the
night at the ranch and left before daybreak.

Some of this, Kate saw.  She could see how absent-minded her father
was.  He grew so taciturn she hardly knew him but the reason for it was
beyond her.  More than she saw, she picked up from Bradley, working
then at the ranch.  Bradley had taken a liking to Kate and often
reminded her of the night he brought her into the Falling Wall country.

Whenever she was in Sleepy Cat, Belle was inquisitive.  She always
wanted to know what Van Horn was doing, what her father was doing, and
then fell back on vaguely general questions about ranches and the range
and rustlers.  More than once she spoke of strangers in town, Texas
men--cowboys and gunmen she called them--who bothered her for meals,
and whom she scornfully sent packing.

And Henry Sawdy, too, one of her frequent visitors, was trying to court
her, she complained; all this made her suspicious.  Of whom? Of what?
Kate asked.  Belle could not tell exactly of whom, of what--she was
just suspicious: "Why should that big fat man come courting me?" she
demanded one day when Kate had come in for lunch.

"You don't think it possible he likes you?" suggested Kate, barely
glancing Belle's way, and taking care to make her tone very skeptical.
Belle only snorted contemptuously and turned to her cooking; but as she
did so, she gave her wig a punch.

By the merest chance, John Lefever came in a few minutes later.  Belle
and Kate were at the table.  John asked for something to eat.  When
Belle wanted to be rid of him he refused "no" for an answer:

"You wouldn't send me away without a cup of coffee, would you?  No
potatoes?  Well, I never eat potatoes"--John coughed.  "They are
fattening."  Then he looked up cheerfully as if a new idea had struck
him: "What's the matter with a little soft-boiled ice cream?"

The upshot was that he had to be asked to share the lunch which he did
with relish, paying his way with his usual foolery.  When the plates
were emptied and John had officiously asked leave to light a cigarette,
he glanced toward the folding bed and asked Belle to play something.

"That's no piano," exclaimed Belle, with contempt.  "That's a bed."

John seemed undisturbed: "Curious," he mused, "we used to have an
upright piano at home with that same kind of wood, same pattern
exactly; you could have that bed made over into a piano, Belle.
Straighten out the springs and you wouldn't have to buy hardly any wire
at all."

Belle stared at him: "Where would I sleep if I did?" she demanded.

John threw back his head, blew a delicate puff of smoke toward the
ceiling and looked across at his unsympathetic hostess.  Then he
brought his fist down on the table; "Marry me, Belle, and sleep in a
regular bed!  What?"

Belle was justly indignant.  Kate's laughing made her more indignant.
For John had fairly bubbled his proposal through a laugh of his own.

"I used to sleep in a box like that myself," he went on.  "But the year
it was so dry the grasshoppers got into it."  John coughed again
unobtrusively.  "I raffled that bed off," he continued, low and
reminiscently.  "A conductor won it.  But it didn't fool him.  He knew
the bed as well as I did; he'd slept in it.  So I bought it in again,
cheap, and traded it to an old Indian buck--a one-eyed man--for a pony.
Many a time I've laughed, thinking of that bed up on the Reservation.
Those bucks, you know, are desperate gamblers.  I understand they've
been playing hearts with that blamed bed ever since and putting it on
the high man."

At this, John laughed harder than ever, Belle sputtering as she watched
him.

Then he turned his amiable face on Kate: "How are you all at the home?"

"Very well."

"What's the news up your way?"

"Not a thing since the Fourth of July."

"Father pretty well?"

"Quite."

"When did you see him last?"

It was an odd question:  "Last night--why?" asked Kate in turn.

"He didn't come in town with you today?" countered John.

"He rarely does," said Kate.

John nodded soothing assent to her explanation: "How's Van Horn?" he
asked casually.  "And Stone?" he added, with undiminished interest.
"All well," was his echo to her perfunctory answers.  "Say, Belle, was
Jim Laramie in town yesterday?"

Belle shook her head.  "How about the day before?" he asked.  Again she
said, "no"; and went on with an impatient comment of her own: "You're
always asking questions.  What for?  That's what I want to know."

John laid his cigarette on the rim of his plate and appealed to Kate:
"Did you ever in your life see a more unreasonable woman than Belle?
How am I to find things out without asking questions of my friends?
And among them I number you both," he added.

Leaning forward, he spoke on: "Now I'll tell you why I asked those
harmless little questions--for I wouldn't ask either of you any other
kind.  This news will get to each of you, about evening.  By morning it
will be all over Sleepy Cat and by tomorrow noon across the Spanish
Sinks.  This morning, early, Van Horn, Tom Stone, Pettigrew with
Bradley, and a bunch of Texas men and cowboys rode over into the
Falling Wall country and there's been hell to pay there every minute
since daylight--that's the word I got about half an hour ago, by
telephone, from a little ranch away up on the head-waters of the Crazy
Woman."

He drew his handkerchief and wiped his brow.  "The only man up
there--Belle knows that--that I'm any ways interested in, is Jim
Laramie.  According to what I can hear, Jim is home.  That's worrying
me just a little.

"What will Jim do?  That's what I'm thinking of.  How will he stack up
if that bunch goes to his ranch on the Turkey?  He hates 'em like
poison.  They've gone up there, you understand," he added, speaking to
Kate, as if some further explanation were due a comparative stranger,
"to clean out the rustlers.  You can imagine it'll be done--or at least
attempted--without much talk.  There won't be very much talk.  I've
known for some little time what's been going forward.  They tried to
get Jim to join them; offered him about anything he wanted; offered to
see that the contests on his preemption and homestead be withdrawn;
offered him quite a bunch of cattle, I heard; and some money."

Belle's face, her staring eyes and strained expression as she listened,
showed how well she knew what the news meant.  "What answer did Jim
give?" she asked anxiously.

"From what I can pick up," declared John, dropping calmly into the
inelegant expression, "he told 'em to go to hell.

"That's what I'm worrying about now.  Not about their going, but about
what Jim will do.  What do you think, Belle?"

Belle shook her head; she offered no comment.

"And," John added, looking at Kate, "that was hatched mostly, right at
your place.  And they rode away from there about two o'clock this
morning.  That's why I was pumping you a little, till I see you didn't
know a thing about it."

Why Kate had not asked before, she could not tell; but the possibility
never crossed her mind--until Lefever told her of their starting from
the ranch that morning--that her father might have gone.  She
recollected now she had not seen him, as she usually saw him, the first
thing when she came from her room.  Her heart leaped into her throat:
"Was my father with them?" she asked.

She must have shown her excitement and fear in her manner, as well as
in her words, for Lefever looked at her considerately: "According to my
reports," he answered carefully, "your father was with them."

"Godfrey!" muttered Belle.  Kate could say nothing.



CHAPTER XV

THE RAID OF THE FALLING WALL

Against the alert, the effective blow is a sudden blow.  Secrecy, and a
surprise, were the only hope of success in what the cattlemen were now
attempting in the Falling Wall.  Of the men on whom they could count to
organize and carry through such a raid, they had just one capable of
energizing every detail--Harry Van Horn.  Laramie, the man Doubleday
and Pettigrew would have chosen, they had failed to enlist, and what
was more serious--though this, perhaps, Doubleday did not realize--they
had likewise failed to rid themselves of; Tom Stone had bungled.

But Doubleday in especial was not a man to lose time over a failure.
He knew that Van Horn had "go" enough in him to clean out a whole
county if he were given the men and backing, and that he stood high in
the councils of the range.  When Van Horn spoke, men listened.  His eye
flashed with his words and his long, straight hair shook defiance at
opposition.  He swore with a staccato that really meant things and cut
like a knife.  When once started, mercy was not in him.

In the Falling Wall park there lived a mere handful of men, and these
widely scattered; but Van Horn was the last man to underestimate the
handful he was after.  He knew them every one, and knew that no better
men ever rode the range than Stormy Gorman, Dutch Henry, Yankee
Robinson and Abe Hawk, and their associates--if, indeed, for a man that
never mixed with other men, Hawk could be said to have associates.

But the four named were the men to whom the lesser rustlers of the park
looked; the men whose exploits they imitated, and these were the men on
whose heads a price had, in effect, been set.

Van Horn assembled his men, earlier than Lefever had been informed.  An
old trail from Doubleday's ranch to the Falling Wall crosses the road
to the Fort some distance north of Sleepy Cat.  The party from the
ranch--Tom Stone with some of the most reckless cowboys and
Doubleday--waited there for the Texans whom Van Horn was bringing from
Pettigrew's.  Both parties were at the rendezvous that night by twelve
o'clock, and within thirty minutes were headed north by way of the
Crazy Woman for Falling Wall park.

The night for the raid had been chosen.  The sky was overcast, and when
the party left the crossing between twelve and one o'clock their exact
destination was still a secret to the greater number.  Small ranchers
along the creek might have wakened at the smart clatter of so many
horses, but men to and from the Fort traveled late at times and made
even more noise.  This night there were riders abroad; but there was no
singing.

Dawn was whitening the eastern sky when the raiding party halted near a
clump of trees on the south fork of the Turkey.  The valley into which
they had ridden during the night was very broken, but offered good
grazing.  Along the tortuous water course, Stormy Gorman, the old
prize-fighter, and Dutch Henry, the ex-soldier, had preempted two of
the very few pieces of land that did not stand directly on edge and
built for themselves cabins.  Gorman's cabin lay a mile above the fork
where the raiders had halted; Henry's lay a few miles farther up the
creek.

During the long night ride it had been decided to strike at Gorman's
ranch first; thence to follow the creek trail up to Dutch Henry's,
despatch him in turn, to cross rapidly a narrow rough divide beyond
which they could reach Hawk's cabin on the east fork of the Turkey and
thence sweep into the northwest to clean out the smaller fry--the
"chicken feed" rustlers--as Van Horn called them.  But toward morning,
following much ill-natured dispute between Stone and Van Horn, the
tactics were changed.  It was decided to go after Dutch Henry first--as
the more alert and slippery of the two--and as quietly as possible the
silent invaders rode slowly along the creek past Gorman's place up to
Henry's.

Day was breaking as the riders, dismounting and leaving their horses on
the creek bottom, crept noiselessly, under Stone's guidance, up a wash
to the bench on which Henry's cabin stood.  Hiding just below a shallow
bank at the head of a draw, they lay awaiting developments.  Where
Stone had posted them they commanded the cabin perfectly.  He had lived
part of one year with Henry when they two preyed jointly on the range
and he knew the ground well.

They had hardly disposed of themselves in this manner and were
beginning, in the gray dusk, to distinguish objects with some
certainty, when the door of the distant cabin opened and a mongrel
collie bounded out followed by a man who left the door ajar.  The man,
carrying a water pail, set it down, yawned, stretched himself and
tucked his shirt slowly inside his trousers.  Wild with joy the dog
danced, leaped and barked about his master--only to be rewarded by a
kick that sent him yelping to a little distance, where turning,
crouching with extended paws, whining and frantically wagging his tail,
the poor beast tried to beg forgiveness for its half-starved happiness.
The man, giving this demonstration no heed, picked up the pail and
started for the creek.

His path took him in a direction roughly parallel to the line along
which his hidden enemy lay.

"Don't fire at that man," exclaimed Van Horn to his companions under
cover of the draw.  "That's not Dutch Henry," he whispered the next
moment.  "Don't fire.  I'll take care of him."

The rustler, quite unconscious of his deadly danger, tramped unevenly
on.  His dog, no longer repulsed, dashed joyously back and forth,
scenting the trails of the night and barking wildly at his master by
turns.  The man was walking hardly three hundred yards from where
Stone, rifle in hand, lay, and had reached the footpath leading from
the bench to the creek bottom when Stone, half rising, covered him
slowly with point-blank sights.  In the path ahead, the dog had struck
a fresh gopher hole and, still yelping, was pawing madly into it, when
a rifle cracked.  The man with the pail, swung violently half around by
the shock of a spreading bullet, jerked convulsively and the pail flew
clattering from his hand.  He struggled an instant to keep his footing,
then collapsing, fell prone across the path and lay quite still.

Stone, followed by a man nearest him, scrambling down the draw, hurried
along the creek bottom, and ran up to reach the path where the murdered
man lay.  The dog, barking and dashing wildly around his prostrate
master, spied the foreman and sprang furiously down the trail at him.
Stone, rifle in one hand and revolver in the other, was ready, and,
firing from the hip, broke the collie's back.  With a howl the stricken
brute turned, and, dragging his helpless hindquarters along the ground
with incredible swiftness, pawed himself back to the dying man's head
and yelping, licked frantically at the hand of his master.  Coming up
into plain sight, Stone got a good look at the man he had killed:
"Stormy Gorman!" he exclaimed, with an oath of surprise.  "Who'd 'a'
thought," he continued, "that big bum would be up at Dutch Henry's this
morning!"

The old prize-fighter was struggling in his last round.  His
heavy-lidded eyes, swollen with drink and sleep, were closed, and from
his mouth, as his head hung to one side, a dark stream ran to a little
pool in the dust.  Only a stertorous breathing reflected his effort to
live and even this was fast failing.  Van Horn hurried up the path from
the bottom, whither he had followed Stone; anger was all over his face:
"Kill that damned dog," he exclaimed, out of breath, to those about
him.  Two of the three men drew revolvers and shot the collie through
the head.

"Damnation!" cried Van Horn in a fury.  "Stop your shooting.  Couldn't
you knock him in the head?  Do you want to start up the whole country?"
he demanded, as he saw the man who lay at his feet and had taken the
brief count for eternity was Gorman.  He turned on Stone with rage in
his eyes and his voice: "Now," he cried, punctuating his abuse with the
fiercest gestures, "you've done it, haven't you!"  Anger almost choked
him.  "You've got Gorman with a brass band and left Dutch Henry in the
cabin waiting for us, haven't you?  Why," he roared, "didn't you obey
orders, let this tank get down to the bottom and knock him on the head
into the creek?"  A violent recrimination between Stone and Van Horn
followed.  But the milk was spilt as well as the blood of the stubborn
rustler, and there was nothing for it but new dispositions.

Gorman's presence indicated that Henry was at home.  If he were at
home, he was, no doubt, within the cabin; but just how, after Stone's
blunder, to get at him, was a vexing question.

Van Horn started down the foot trail back to the bottom and around to
the first hiding place.  Lingering with a companion to look at Gorman
in his blood, Stone turned for approval: "See where I hit him?" he
grinned.  "Poor light, too."

A brief council was held in the draw.  Watched for more than an hour,
not the slightest sign of life about the lonely cabin could be
detected.  Various expedients, none of them very novel, were tried to
draw Henry's fire should he be within.  But these were of no avail.  A
dozen theories were advanced as to where Henry might or might not be.
To every appearance there was not, so far as the enemy could judge, a
living man within miles of the spot.  The older heads, Pettigrew,
Doubleday, Van Horn, even Stone, talked less than the others; but they
were by no means convinced that the house was empty.

One of the least patient of the cowboys at length deliberately exposed
himself to fire from the sphinx-like cabin.  He stood up and walked up
and down the edge of the draw.  Nothing happened.  Emboldened, he
started out into the open and toward the cabin.  No shot greeted him.
A companion, jumping up, hurried after him; a third, a Texas boy,
sprang up to join them.  For those watching from hiding it was a
ticklish moment.  Toward the draw there was a considerable growth of
mountain blue-stem, none of it very high and gradually shortening
nearer the house.  The three men were hastening through the grass,
separated by intervals of perhaps fifty feet.  The foremost got within
a hundred yards of the cabin door, which still stood open as Gorman had
left it, before Van Horn's fear of an ambush vanished.  He himself, not
to be too far behind his followers, then rose to join the procession
through the blue stem and the crack of a rifle was heard.  Van Horn,
with a shout of warning, dropped unhurt into the draw.  But the last
man of the three in the field stumbled as if struck by an ax.  Of the
two men ahead of him, the hindermost dropped into the grass and crawled
snakelike back; the man in front dropped his rifle and started at top
speed for safety; from the edge of the draw his companions sent a
fusillade of rifle fire at the cabin.

Apparently the diversion had no effect on the marksman within.  He
fired again; this time at the Texan crawling in the blue stem, and the
half-hidden man, almost lifted from the ground by the blow of the
bullet, dropped limp.  Meantime the first cowboy in his dash for safety
was making a record still unequaled in mountain story.  He jumped like
a broncho and zig-zagged like a darting bird, but faster than either.
The efforts of his companions to divert attention from him were
constant.  Some of them poured bullets at the cabin.  Others jumped to
their feet, and, yelling, sprang from point to point to expose
themselves momentarily and draw the fire of the enemy.  This was of no
avail.  The hidden rifle with deliberate instancy cracked once more.
The fleeing cowboy, slammed as if by a club, dashed on, but his right
arm hung limp.  No snipe ever made half the race for life that he put
up in those fleeting seconds; and by his agility he earned then and
there the nickname of the bird itself, for before the deadly sights
could cover his flight again he threw himself into a slight depression
that effectually hid him from the range of the enemy.

A swarm of hornets, roused, could not have been more furious than the
company under the lee of the draw.  Shooting, shouting, cursing deep
and loud, they made continual effort to keep the deadly fire off their
fallen companions.  They saw the half-open door of the cabin swing now
slowly shut and they riddled it with bullets.  They splintered the logs
about it and, scattering in as wide an arc as they dare, continued to
pour a fire into the silent cabin.  At intervals they paused to wait
for a return.  There was no return.  All ruses they had ever heard of
they tried over again to draw a fire and exhaust the besieged man's
ammunition.  Nothing moved the lone enemy--if he were, indeed, alone.
The day wore into afternoon.  By shouting, the assailants learned that
two of their three hapless companions lying in the blue stem were still
alive--the Snipe very much alive, as his stentorian answers indicated.
He called vigorously for water but got none.  His refuge was too
exposed.

How to get rid of Dutch Henry taxed the wits of the invaders.  The
whole morning and the early afternoon went to pot-luck firing from the
trench along the draw, but although it was often asserted that Henry
must long since be dead--having returned none of the shooting that was
meant to call his fire--no one manifested the curiosity necessary to
prove the assertion by closing in on the cabin.  Stone was still
sulking over Van Horn's sharp talk of the morning when Van Horn came
over to where the foreman had posted himself to cover the cabin door:
"We've got to get that guy before dark, Tom, or he'll slip us."

"All right," replied Stone, "get him."



CHAPTER XVI

THE GO-DEVIL

"I want a wagon," scowled Van Horn.  "There's one down at Gorman's
place he won't need any more.  There's some baled hay down there, too.
Take the men you need, load what hay you can find on the wagon and
hustle it up here."

Too stubborn to ask questions, and only starting after many hard
words--with which all the ground of the morning quarrel and much more
was traversed--Stone took two men and started reluctantly for Gorman's.
He spent a long time on his job, but came back as directed with the
wagon loaded with hay.

The wagon was not much to view.  It looked like the wagon of a man that
spent more time in Sleepy Cat saloons than on his ranch.  A rack,
equally old and dilapidated, had been set on the running gear.  The
paint had long since blown off the wheels, and one of these, a front
wheel, had lost a tire on the rough trip up the creek.  But the felloes
hung to the spokes and the spokes to the hub.

Van Horn inspected the outfit grimly.  With half a dozen men he set
quickly to work and under his resourceful ingenuity the wagon and hay
were speedily turned into what would now-a-days be termed a tank.  Only
lack of hay kept him from making a mobile fortress of it.  By means of
wire he slung along the sides what baled hay he could spare, and with
much effort to avoid exposure the armored wagon was dragged over the
roughest kind of ground, to the north and west of the cabin.  From this
direction the ground, fairly smooth, sloped from a ridge fringed by
jutting patches of rock, directly toward the cabin itself and eager
hands made the final preparations to smoke Henry out.  With the load of
hay set ablaze and the wagon run down against the cabin the defender
was bound to be driven from cover or burnt.

When the bustling, contradicting and confusion finally subsided, the
wagon was stealthily pushed over the ridge, the hay fired and the
blazing outfit, christened a go-devil, was started with a shout down
the slope.

If there existed in the minds of those that talked least a lingering
suspicion that Dutch Henry was still alive it was soon strongly
justified.  Before the wagon had rolled twenty feet the challenge of a
rifle-shot from the cabin answered the attack.  Everybody dodged quick,
but no one was hit and a yell of derision rose from behind the rocks.
With ropes, borrowed from the men that carried them, and knotted
together, the wagon was kept under partial control and the line, as
paid out, served in some measure to guide it.  On it went accompanied
with shouts and yells.  From the threatened cabin came no answering
defiance.  Henry's case looked bad as the wagon rolled down on him, but
his rifle fire, though seemingly wasted, answered unflinchingly.

Stone danced with joy: "He'll be running the gauntlet next clip.  He's
not hitting anybody.  He must be shooting," yelled the excited foreman,
"at the blamed wagon."

A steady fire, undismayed, did continue to come from the cabin.  Van
Horn, who had run to the extreme right of the new sector, and was
keeping a close watch on the go-devil, was the first to perceive
trouble.  "Hell's delight, boys," he cried, taken aback, "he's shooting
up the wheels."

The words flew around behind the rocks.  The rifle fire was explained.
Every eye was turned to the danger point, the wheel without the tire
which, as the wagon wobbled, was unluckily exposed to the cabin fire.
It could easily be seen where the deliberate marksman was getting in
his work.  He had knocked one felloe off the rim and was hitting at the
spokes.  It began to look like a race between the burning wagon and
Henry at bay.  The hay was a mound of flame and sparks and smoke shot
high into the air.  A hundred feet more would lodge the fire trap
against the rear wall of the cabin.  But under the steady pounding of a
rifle that seemed never to miss its mark the injured wheel showed fast
increasing signs of distress.  A second felloe was tracking uncertainly.

As a diversion, Van Horn, active, energetic and covering every part of
his little line at once, ordered an incessant fire centered on the
threatened cabin.  Nothing seemed to check the regular report of the
hidden high-powered rifle and the bullets that were splintering the old
oak spokes.  When the roaring wagon struck a loose stone or rough spot
in its trackless path it wobbled and hesitated.  Yet, jerked, steadied,
halted and started by means of the long cable, it rolled to within
twenty yards of its mark.  There it pitched a bit, recovered and for
another ten yards sailed down a smooth piece of ground.  The cowboys
were yelling their loudest when a lucky shot from the cabin knocked off
a second felloe.  A second and third shot smashed rapidly through the
spokes of the staggering wheel.  A threatening boulder lying to the
right of the wagon's course could not be avoided.  The men on the line
jerked and swore.  It was useless.  One side of the wheel collapsed,
the front axle swung around and the blazing wagon straddled the
troublesome boulder like a stranded ship.  The men guiding heaved to on
the line--it parted; the cabin stood safe.

At once, the rifle fire from the cabin ceased.  No taunt, no threat
could draw another shot from the silence.  Chagrined, eyes flashing,
silent in his defeat, Van Horn, contemplating the last of the burning
wagon and watching the cabin as a dog, baffled, watches a cat on a
fence, was let alone even by the most reckless of his companions; for
the failure no one tried to bait him.  Nor were he and Doubleday ready
to quit.  They got ready a circle of fires to block any attempt made to
escape the beleaguered place after dark.  This proved a difficult
undertaking, both because fuel was scarce and because the dead line,
drawn by the rifle fire of the wary defender, extended a long way in
every direction around his log refuge.

The night, however, was fairly clear and a pretty good moon was due by
ten o'clock.  The fires were lighted, not without some sharp objection
from the cabin, the moment darkness fell.  The difficulty then was to
keep them replenished and maintain an adequate guard.  Dark spots and
shadows fell within and across the circle around the cabin.  Van Horn
ordered a rifle fire directed into these places; it was placed so
persistently that when the moon rose, the besiegers felt pretty
confident Henry had not escaped.  And just before its light had
penetrated the narrow valley, the invaders had a cheering surprise when
the wounded man, nicknamed "The Snipe," crawled from his hollow between
the lines back to his comrades and told them in immoderate terms what
he thought of them for leaving him wounded and thirsty under the enemy
fire.  Volunteers, inspired by his abuse, crawled out to the second man
that had fallen in the morning and by really heroic effort got him back
into the draw; badly hit, he was given long-needed attention.  The
first man, shot through the head, the rescuers reported dead.

When midnight came, the men had been fed and the watch well maintained.
A steer, interned earlier, had been cut up for the men's supper and Van
Horn and Doubleday were seated together before the camp fire near the
creek eating some of the reserve chunks of meat when a hurried alarm
called them up the draw--the cabin was on fire.

Nothing could have happened to take the besiegers more by surprise.
There was hasty questioning but no explanation.  Of all the
possibilities of the night none could have been so unexpected.  But
whatever the cause, and theories were broached fast, the cabin was
ablaze.  Smoke could be seen pouring through the chinks in the roof and
little tongues of flame darted out at the rear under the eaves.  Though
there was not a breath of air stirring, the roof within fifteen minutes
was in flames and the cowboys, confident of victory, set up, Indian
fashion, their death chant for Dutch Henry.

The old shack made a good fire.  The roof collapsed and with the
incantations of the cowboys, the stout walls, worm-eaten and
bullet-splintered, falling gradually, blazed on.

"The jig's up here, boys," announced Van Horn, as the fire burned down.
"The two biggest thieves on the range are accounted for.  It's a good
job.  If I guess right you'll find the Dutchman in the fire.  Yankee
Robinson's next.  He won't put up much of a fight, but the hardest man
to get is still ahead of us.  This was a boy's job beside rounding up
Abe Hawk.  He'll never be taken alive, because he knows what's comin'
to him.

"There's not a minute to lose now.  Stone and I will take two of your
men, Barb, and round up Yankee Robinson.  From there we'll ride over to
Abe's place on the Turkey.  About our only chance is to catch him
before he's up.  If he's got wind of this, we'll have a hell of a chase
to get him.  Feed the horses, the rest of you eat, and we're off!  You
can follow us with Pettigrew and the bunch, Doubleday, just as soon as
you look the cabin over after daylight."  Within half an hour Van Horn
and Stone and the two men crossed the creek, rode into the hills and
disappeared into the night.

Setting a watch, Doubleday and his men curled up on the ground.  When
earliest dawn streaked the sky the logs were still smoking, and the
cowboys, rifles in hand, walked down to where the cabin had stood.

Everything within the walls had been consumed.  Long after daylight,
with some of the men asleep, and others waiting for the fire to cool,
one of Doubleday's cowboys, poking about the sill log of the rear wall
with a stick, gave a shout.  What had been taken for a half-burned log
was the charred body of a man.  The invaders gathered and the body was
presently declared by those who knew him well to be that of Dutch
Henry.  There was nothing more to detain the men that were waiting.
The cowboy worst wounded had started with a companion for home.  The
Snipe insisted on going on with Doubleday.

The horses had been left in good grass a little way down the creek.
When they were disturbed it was found that one was missing.  A hurried
search failed to recover the horse.

While trackers were at work, the Snipe, always alert, found a clue that
upset all calculations.  It was a small dark red spot soaked into the
dust of the creek trail.  It was very small, such as might have been
made by a single drop of blood; but one such sign was enough to put on
inquiry a man versed like the Snipe in mountain craft.  Keeping his
discovery to himself, he tracked back and forth from his single spot,
almost invisible in the dust, until he found a second similar spot.
This he marked, and dodging and circling, like a hound on a scent, the
Snipe ran his trail from his first tiny spot to the trees near the
creek where the horses had been left.  Doubling, he patiently tracked
the telltale spots up the path that led to the cabin.  Then he called
to Barb.

Doubleday, much out of temper, was in the saddle waiting to get
started.  He bawled at the Snipe, and not amiably.

"Keep cool," was the answer; "I'm 'a' comin'.  But look here before you
start; there was two men in that cabin, Barb."

"What are you givin' us?" blurted out a cowboy.  Doubleday stared
ferociously.  "There was two of 'em, boys," persisted the Snipe.

"You must 'a' seen double when you was runnin'," was the skeptical
suggestion of another man.  But Doubleday listened.

The Snipe took him from the cabin down to the creek.  Then back to the
cabin.  There he showed him where someone had dug what might have been
a hole under the sill log, near the door.

A horse was certainly missing.  Then, shells from two different rifles
were picked out of the ashes.  One size had been fired from a
Winchester rifle; the others, much more numerous, belonged to a Marlin.

"Who was it, Barney?" asked Doubleday, breathing heavily.  He was so
wrought up and so hoarse he could hardly frame the words.  But he was
already convinced.

The Snipe shook his head.  "There's two or three fellows up here shoots
a Marlin rifle.  If I got one guess on this man that's made his
get-away, Barb, I'd say----"  The Snipe poked further into the ashes.

"Well, say!" thundered Doubleday.

"I'd say it was Abe Hawk."



CHAPTER XVII

VAN HORN TRAILS HAWK

A bomb exploding in the smoking remnants could hardly have caused more
consternation among the man hunters than the Snipe's naming of Abe
Hawk.  But however Doubleday's jaw set at the unwelcome surprise he was
not the one to swerve in the face of any personal danger, and those
with him were not men to bolt whatever adventure they embarked in.
However, it was remarked by the Snipe that those least acquainted with
Abe were least disturbed by the news of his almost certain presence in
the cabin the day and night before and his escape after the fight.

Common prudence made it necessary to cross the small divide with care
and to get word of the unpleasant discovery as soon as possible to Van
Horn in order that he and his companions might not be picked off by the
wounded man from ambush.  The Snipe was assigned to Hawk's trail and
two men were sent to the wings to scout for him among the rocks.
Bradley rode to warn Van Horn; but the old man did not sweat his horse
in the effort.

The trackers soon made it plain to those behind that the escaping man
had ridden a pretty straight course himself, and had picked his way in
the night like one thoroughly at home in the hills of the Turkey.  And
though losing the trail at times, the Snipe had no serious trouble in
picking it again from the grass or the rocks.

The country lying north of the forks of the Turkey is rougher than to
the south and pretty well covered with pine.  On the Northern slope,
Hawk's trail led down a long and winding break mile after mile and in
the end pointed straight for his shack on the creek.

Moving as nearly as possible in the order in which they had started,
the party emerged from the hills half a mile from the creek, and not
much farther from Hawk's, when they encountered Bradley and Van Horn
with one of his men.  Doubleday hoarsely asked for the news.

Van Horn rode up close before he answered, and, though his tone was
confident, his manner showed his annoyance at the way things had
turned: "Robinson's shack was empty," he said.  "Whether he got wind of
yesterday I don't know; anyway, he's skipped--there's nothing left on
his place."

"What's there to this talk of Barney's about Abe Hawk?" demanded
Doubleday.

"From what Bradley says, it looks as if he might be right," said Van
Horn.  "The horse Hawk took is eating grass in front of his cabin; we
saw him when we got here and waited for Hawk to show himself."

"He didn't do it," interrupted Doubleday huskily and baring his teeth
as he spoke.

"Stone's watching the place."

"Is Abe there?" demanded Doubleday.

"You tell," responded Van Horn.  "He may or may not be.  That horse may
be a stall.  We've got to close in somehow on the shack and find out."

A cowboy clattered up from the creek and pulled his horse to its
haunches between Doubleday and Van Horn: "He's just closed the door,"
declared the cowboy.  "The door was open when we got here--wasn't it,
Harry?"  He pointed his finger at Van Horn in his excited appeal.

Van Horn scowled and waved his head from side to side in irritation:
"The door was open, yes; the door is shut, yes."  Then he swore at the
alarmist: "You blamed monkey," he pointed to the cottonwood.  "Don't
you see how the wind is blowing?  That door has been swinging half an
hour.  The shack is empty."

But nobody could be found with confidence enough in Van Horn's belief
to close in and demonstrate its truth.  After a litany of hard words in
which everybody took more or less part, Van Horn declared he would
demonstrate.  Whatever his faults, he was dead game, a formidable
antagonist in an encounter.  He was risking his life on his belief that
either Hawk was disabled, or the cabin was empty.  Stripping himself to
shirt and trousers, turning his effects over to a cowboy, bare-headed
and with only a six-shooter in hand, he shook out his long, brown hair,
hooked up his belt and started to crawl up a little wash breaking into
the creek not far from the cabin.

There was no point from which he could be seen and his companions,
secreted where they could watch, bent their eyes along the course of
the wash up which their hidden leader was making his way.

Fortunately for the slippery undertaking, Van Horn, by a little digging
as he made his way carefully ahead, was able to crawl to within fifty
feet of the door without exposing himself to fire.  Reaching the
nearest spot he could attain with safety, he called in stentorian tones
to the cabin:

"You're surrounded, Abe.  You can't get away.  If you want to
surrender, I'll guarantee your life.  Come out unarmed and I'll meet
you unarmed.  If not, it's what Gorman and Dutch Henry got, for you,
Abe."

The cabin gave no answer back.  But Van Horn would not be baffled.
Knowing it would be suicide to venture closer he patiently sought his
answer on the ground he now began to cover on his way back to the
creek.  And on the ground he found it.

"He's slipped us," Van Horn called out when Doubleday arrived, "but
I've got his trail."

"Two hundred and fifty dollars to the man that gets him!" shouted
Doubleday, huskily.  Some of the boys gave a whoop and began to look
around, but they did not scatter much.

Van Horn, losing no time, led Doubleday part way up the break along
which he had crawled.  Telltale traces of blood at irregular intervals,
sometimes imprinted as if by a hand on the flat face of rock that
bedded the wash; sometimes smeared on a starving bunch of grass, where
it clung desperately to a crevice in the scant soil--all so slight and
so well concealed that only the mere chance of Van Horn's crawling up
the very break chosen by Hawk for his escape to the creek had revealed
it to his pursuers.  The tracker took the slender trail, followed the
wounded rustler to the creek bottom and thence down the creek to its
junction with the North Fork.  There they lost the trail in a pool of
water, nor could they pick it up again.

A mile below the fork of the Turkey stood Jim Laramie's cabin.  The
raiders had already entered on his land; his cattle and some of his
horses were, in fact, grazing in and about the creek fork.  The
following of Hawk's trail had been a nerve-racking job.  Hawk, his
enemies knew, might be waiting at any turn in it and that meant, in all
probability, death for someone.  In consequence, the pioneering fell
chiefly on Van Horn; even Stone showed little stomach for the job.  But
the trail was completely lost.

"There's a bunch of horses grazing at the fork," reported Van Horn, as
Doubleday reached the front, "Laramie's, I guess--anyway, the trail's
gone."

A council was held.  Doubleday, long-headed and crafty, listened to all
that was said.  Van Horn finally asked for his opinion.

"I don't know no more than the rest of you; but a blind man can figure
a few things out.  He's hit, ain't he?"  Barb put the question as one
not to be gainsaid and found none to say him nay.  "He's looking for
help, that's more'n likely, ain't it?  He's a mile from Jim Laramie's
cabin, not more; he's three miles from anybody else's--what?" he
exclaimed, as Bill Bradley interrupted to suggest that it was less than
two miles over to Ben Simeral's.  "All right," shouted Barb, "Hawk's
here, ain't he?  He's close to Laramie.  Laramie's his friend.  Where
would he go--what?"

Chopping his ideas out as with an ax, Doubleday showed his companions
what they should have thought of without being told.  "The thing to
do," he added, "is to go down to Laramie's cabin and see what we can
see--and find out what we can find out."

It was precisely what Bradley had feared would happen, but there was no
escape from Doubleday's logic and no help for what others as well as
Bradley feared might follow.



CHAPTER XVIII

HAWK QUARRELS WITH LARAMIE

On the morning the raiders entered the Falling Wall, Laramie had
started with Henry Sawdy for the Reservation to appraise some allotted
Indian lands.  Laramie rode home that night; Sawdy, promising to stop
at the ranch on his way down in the morning, stayed overnight at the
Fort with Colonel Pearson.  Laramie got home late.  He was asleep next
morning when a door was pushed open and a man walked unceremoniously in
on him.  To what instinct some mountain men owe their composure when
disturbed in their sleep by a friend, as contrasted with the instant
defense they offer in like circumstances to an enemy, it would be
difficult to say--certainly there is a difference.

Laramie half opened his eyes to realize that Abe Hawk had come into his
room and seated himself on the one chair.  The sleepy man was not
inclined to wake up.  "You're early, Abe," was his only greeting.  Hawk
made no answer.

After a further effort the drowsy man roused himself to the attention
that seemed demanded in the case: "Going somewhere?" he mumbled
perfunctorily.

"Yes."  Hawk's hard tone might have surprised his host for a moment;
but if it did, drowsiness overpowered his senses once more and it was
some time before he realized that his visitor was sitting silent at his
side and that he himself ought to say something.  In protest he shifted
his comfortable position in bed: "Get your breakfast ready, Abe," he
suggested, hospitably, but with his heavy eyes closed.

"I've had breakfast."

"Where you bound for today?"

"On a long trip."

"Which way?"

"Home."

"What do you mean, 'home'?"

"I mean hell, Larrie--the home long waiting for me."

Laramie's eyes batted slowly.  Not a half a dozen times in all their
long acquaintance had Hawk shortened Laramie's name in speaking to him;
and then only when he spoke as he rarely did from a depth always hidden
from the men among whom his wasted life had been spent.  Roused by
something in the utterance of his guest, Laramie looked up.

If the sight was a shock, the mountain man gave no outward sign of it.
The lower right side of Hawk's face had been torn away as if by some
explosion, and blood, darkened by clay and rude styptics, clotted the
long beard that naturally fell in a glossy black.  His disordered
garments, blood-smeared and hanging loose--his coat sleeve and his
shirt torn from his forearm for bandages, his soft hat jammed low over
his eyes--for an instant, Laramie hardly recognized him.  But the cold
black eyes that looked out of the wreck of a man before him pierced so
clearly the long shadows of the early light that Laramie had no choice
but to realize it was Hawk and even the shock only served to restrain
and steady him.  He showed but little of his amazement when he sat up
and spoke quietly: "What's up, Abe?"

"Night before last I was playing cards with Gorman over at Henry's.
After daylight Gorman went out for a bucket of water.  We heard a rifle
crack.  I looked out the window.  Stormy was tumbling.

"You know the draw that runs down past his corral?  Barb Doubleday,
Pettigrew, Van Horn, Stone and a bunch of cowboys and Texas men lay in
that draw.  It was hell to pay from daylight till dark.  The Dutchman
got laid out cold right at the start.  They tried to rush me.  I
stopped three of 'em and dug myself in.  We went at it hammer and
tongs.  In the afternoon they put a hole through my whiskers.  After
awhile they clipped my shoulder.  Then I got a bullet through my arm."
He held up his left forearm swathed in a mass of soiled and
blood-soaked bandages.  And he told of Van Horn's go-devil.

"The raid's on," muttered Laramie.

"Soon as it was dark, I began to dig under the sill," Hawk went on.
"They began lighting fires.  I knew they couldn't keep those going a
great while.  About ten o'clock I crawled out under the front sill and
got to the creek; I never was so gone for water in my life.  I set a
candle so it would fire the shack when it burned down and sneaked a
horse from their bunch and got over to my place."  He looked at his
arm.  "I tried to keep things bound up.  Maybe I left a little red
behind me.  If I did, they'll be after me."

His story haltingly told; his utterance through his torn cheek thick
and painful but savagely uncompromising; carrying a physical burden of
wounds that would have overwhelmed a lesser man but with a deadly hate
showing in his manner, Hawk, from sheer weakness, paused: "I went to my
cabin to look for more cartridges," he added slowly, "and not a one was
there left on the place."  He hesitated again.  "I didn't want to come
here----"

Laramie sprang to his feet: "Where the hell else would you go?"

Hawk heard unmoved the rough assurance; perhaps his eyes flashed, for
Laramie's voice rang strong and true.  He already had his hand on
Hawk's chair: "Come over here to the light," he said, "till we get some
of this dirt off you.  You need a bath, Abe.  For a clean man you look
like----"

Hawk put up his right hand: "I'll do for all the job that's left ahead
of me."

"What job's left ahead of you?"

"You've got a rifle like mine, Jim; the Marlin you don't use."

"Well?"

"I come to see if you'd lend it to me again."

"Why not?"

"Got any shells for it?" snapped Hawk.

"I guess so."

"I left the horse at the cabin to stand 'em off awhile.  They'll lose a
little time there.  They'll come down the creek--can't come any other
way.  I'm going to wait for 'em in the timber."

"What for?"

"I'll finish with Doubleday and Van Horn, anyhow.  Maybe I can with
Stone."

"And they'll finish with you."

"After I get them three the rest are welcome to what's left of me.
I've got to be moving."

"Hold on a minute, Abe."  Laramie sat down on the side of his cot, his
knees spread apart, his elbows resting on them, and his hands clasped
as he leaned forward, head down, to think.

"Them fellows are riding every minute," Hawk reminded him grimly.

"Let's talk this thing over," persisted Laramie.

"I'll pay you for your rifle right now," mumbled Hawk, feeling with his
right hand in his trousers pocket for some gold pieces.

"Don't talk monkey stuff, Abe."

"Then don't make a monkey out of _me_," snapped Hawk.  "Give me your
rifle and let me go!"

"After we've talked it over."

Hawk pulled himself up out of the chair.  "You blamed fool," he said
brokenly.  "Don't you know that bunch will track me to your door and
smash us with lead or burn us up in this shack if they get here first?
Give me the rifle," he thundered, "or I'll go into the timber with this
six-shooter.  What do you mean?  Are you going to turn yellow on me
because I'm a thief?"

Laramie moved neither hand nor foot: "You're an older man than I am,
Abe," he replied, without even looking up.  "I can take words from you,
I'd hate to take from anybody else--you know that; and you know why.
You won't talk; all right.  Now I'll tell you where you get off; you're
not going down to the timber--not a blamed step," he added
deliberately.  "Finger your six-shooter as much as you like."  Laramie
waved his hand with his words.  "Use it on me if you like.  But, by
----, Abe----"  As his voice changed, he jumped to his feet, adding
like lightning, "you're not going to use it on yourself!"

He sprang for Hawk, reaching with his left hand for the gun.  In
tigerish ferocity the two men came together.  Sleepy Cat worthies had
sometimes speculated on what might happen if the two men most known and
most feared in the Falling Wall country, Hawk and Laramie, should ever
quarrel.  They met now; but in a quarrel the wildest gossip had not
fancied.  Reeling, feet slipping, knees and hands locking, eyes
staring, no word spoken and breathing hard, the two struggled in the
middle of the cooped-up room--Hawk striving to free and kill himself;
Laramie determined to wrest the gun from his grasp.

It was an unequal contest.  Weakened by loss of blood, Hawk was not
long a match for the only man on the range who under other conditions
could have stood up before him.  Gradually, with the gun in his right
hand, Hawk was bent backward, with Laramie's left hand slipping along
the barrel closer and closer to the grip.  Prolonged by the fear of
further injuring the wounded man, the tempestuous effort for mastery
ended when Hawk was forced to the bed and Laramie's iron fingers,
closing on the gun, wrenched it from him.

Hawk was done out and Laramie without more resistance straightened him
out on the bed.

"You're worse hit than you think," panted the conqueror.  "I've got a
scheme better than yours, if there's time to put it through.  Wait till
I get a couple of horses."

The clatter of a horse outside cut into his last words.  Laramie
instantly slipped Hawk's revolver back into his hand, picked up his own
gun and holster, strapping it to his waist as he ran, crossed the room,
tore up a board in the floor, snatched a pair of rifles from their
cache and hastening back to Hawk, his eyes glued all the while to the
door, pushed one rifle into Hawk's hand and swung the other to his hip.

Not a word had been spoken.  But preparations for a reception had been
made complete and eventualities thoroughly considered.  Heavy footfalls
outside announced the approach of a man.  The next moment the door was
flung open and the intruder heard Laramie's voice in savage emphasis:

"Pitch up!"

The intruder did not, however, pitch up.  It was John Lefever.  He
stood amazed.  "For the love of God," he exclaimed, "what's broke
loose?"

"Come in, John," cried Laramie, seizing his arm.  "I want your horse a
minute.  Stay here till I get back--come, Abe, lively!"

"Where you going?" demanded Lefever, staring as he tried to collect his
wits.

Laramie hurried Hawk past him: "That'll depend on the shooting, John,"
was all Laramie hastily said.  "Doubleday and Van Horn have got a bunch
of Texas men raiding the Falling Wall."

Lefever, gazing stunned at Hawk, talked as if he saw nothing.  "I know
all about that," he cried.  "Man alive, that's what I'm here for.  Hold
on, can't you?"

"Not now.  Stick around till I get back."

Lefever caught his breath in time to fire one more question:

"What about Abe?"

"He's not coming back.  Scout around down along the creek, John, so you
can see those fellows when they ride in.  Hold 'em as long as you can
and for God's sake keep 'em out of this cabin--there's blood on
everything."



CHAPTER XIX

LEFEVER RECEIVES THE RAIDERS

Laramie knew Lefever to be quite equal to the highly particular job he
had assigned to him and that John would give his best to it.  Hardly
thirty minutes later, the raiders rode out of the timber along the
creek.  Van Horn stopped his pack for a word of warning:

"Look to your guns," he said harshly.  "You can guess most o' you what
you'll be up against, if there's trouble at this joint."  Leaving the
creek, the party rode out on a rarely used trail that, Stone told them,
led to Laramie's cabin.  They followed this for some distance, keeping
two men ahead as they had done in the early morning.  These two men,
reaching the bench, which at that point had been cut sharply away by a
flood, halted.  The main party riding up the hill debouched on level
ground at the crest and joined their scouts.  Half a mile to their
right stood Laramie's cabin.  The bench land lying in front of it was
as smooth as a table and covered with mountain blue stem.  Out of the
level ground, a hundred yards from the edge of the bench where
Doubleday's party had halted, rose a huge and solitary fragment of rock.

Beside this rock stood a large man facing the intruders; slung over his
left forearm he carried a rifle and his right hand he held well out
toward them with its open palm raised in the air.  The raiders
understood the signal; it warned them to advance no farther.

"What's that fat buck doing up in this country?" asked Van Horn,
angrily.

"Who is it?" demanded Doubleday.

"John Lefever," returned Van Horn, greatly nettled.  "What are you
doing here?" he bellowed at the unwelcome sentinel.

John pointed a stubby forefinger at Van Horn and returned a perfectly
intelligible retort: "That's not the first question, Harry; that's the
second question," he yelled.  "What are you doing here?"

This was not in all respects a question easy to answer.  But Van Horn
was resourceful: "We're on our way down the creek, John.  Rode up from
the bottom to see Jim Laramie a minute."

"Just a friendly call," assented John.  "Well, how about sidearms," he
shouted, "and how many of you are there?"

Van Horn looked around him: "Why, maybe a dozen, I reckon, John.  You
know most everybody here."

"How many of you are there want to see Jim a minute, Harry?" asked
Lefever, calm but conveniently close to the rock and quite conscious of
the delicacy of his position should shooting begin.

There was some exchange of talk before the question was answered: "Look
here, Lefever," roared Doubleday huskily; "what the hell's all this
fuss about?"

"Why, it's like this, Barb," returned Lefever, nothing abashed.  "When
I seen you crossing down there at the forks I thought maybe you'd lost
your Bibles in the creek.  That's the way you acted.  But when I seen
you and Harry Van Horn and Tom Stone loading your rifles in the timber,
I reckoned you must be comin' up to ask Jim to run for sheriff on the
cattle ticket."

Sarcasm could hardly convey more defiance and contempt.  The riders
realized they had been watched and that deception was useless; Van Horn
was furiously angry.  "Look here, Lefever," he called out, short and
sharp.

"I'm looking right there, Harry," yelled Lefever irreverently.  "With a
bunch of mugs like that on the horizon I sure wouldn't dare look
anywhere else!"

"These boys won't stand any more fooling," roared Doubleday.

"I wouldn't either, Barb, if you'd got me into this scrape as deep as
you've got them," was the retort.

Nothing less than violent outbursts of profanity served now.  And these
proceeding to a climax of strength and rapidity, gradually subsided as
such outbursts do and the two sides started to argue all over again.

After much parley and protestations of peaceful intent, provided they
were treated fair, Doubleday and Van Horn were allowed to ride up to
the rock, but not to dismount.  "Now," suggested Lefever to the two,
"talk just plain business."

"Right you have it, John," returned Van Horn briskly.  "The rustlers
have got to go.  We're looking for Abe Hawk.  Gorman and Dutch Henry
are lifting cattle now in the Happy Hunting Grounds.  We're going to
clean out the rest of 'em.  We've tracked Abe here.  Without any hard
words, we want him."

"Then, boys, you want to ride right on; keep on riding, for he's not
here.  I don't know anything, but that much I do know," asserted the
big fellow positively.

"How do you know?" demanded Doubleday grimly.

"I just walked down here from the cabin; there's no one there.  I rode
in here this morning from the Reservation, Barb.  A buck looking for
horses over on the North Fork yesterday saw the fight at
Gorman's--everybody knows about it."

Van Horn showed his teeth: "You're a pretty good artist, John, with
your buck looking for horses."

Lefever deprecated the compliment: "You must remember, Harry, I worked
seven year for you.  Seven year--and then didn't get all was coming to
me."

"If you had," returned Van Horn candidly, "your headstone would be
covered with moss by this time, John.  Where's Laramie?"

Lefever stood with his left hand eagerly extended and appeared as if
sensitive at Van Horn's incredulity:

"All the same, Harry," he exclaimed, "I can take you to that buck
inside two hours' ride and get his story.  I've got five twenty-dollar
gold pieces in my pocket that says so.  I'll put 'em up in Barb
Doubleday's hands right now against your five."

"A man couldn't pry you loose from five twenty-dollar gold pieces if
you had five thousand in your pocket, John.  What are you stalling
around for?" demanded Van Horn suspiciously.  "Where's Laramie?"

Lefever was frankness itself; almost over-frank in his genuine
simplicity.  Had it not been for his big, blunt eyes and round, smooth
face he might have been suspected of duplicity--but not by the two men
now talking to him; they knew beyond a doubt that John was "stringing"
them.  Unfortunately they could not prevent it.  He answered Van Horn's
sharp question as innocently as a child.

"That's more than I can say this minute, Harry, where Jim Laramie is;
but he's not far, I can tell you that, for the coffee pot was on the
stove when I got to the shack a while ago."

"Then what are you holding us up here for?" barked Doubleday with rough
words.

"I'm a peace officer, Barb, a deputy marshal."  The bursting expression
of disgust on his questioners' faces did not ruffle John's candor.  "I
know what you fellows are up to.  I won't have any bloodshed here this
morning--that's flat.  Laramie gets hot sometimes and this is one of
the times for folks to go slow.  If you want to talk to Laramie come
along up to the shack.  But send them longhorns over there down to the
creek," he added, as an afterthought and in the bluntly candid tone of
appeal that distinguished his persuasiveness.

"Long hell!" spluttered Doubleday.

"Longhorns," persisted Lefever.

Barb growled at the proposal to send the boys down to the creek, and
Van Horn objected, but there was no escape from Lefever's stubbornness,
except a fight and this was not wanted.  Lefever passed his word that
Hawk was not in the cabin, but he was adamant on sending the men to the
bottoms and his demand was grudgingly acceded to.  In point of fact,
John reckoned himself on foot with a rifle equal to two men on
horseback, even if Van Horn were one.  But not being able to take care
of a dozen horsemen he was resolved to have no volleying applause from
other guns, if the unexpected should happen on the open bench land.

After Doubleday and Van Horn's following had at length filed down to
the creek bottom, Lefever walked beside the two horsemen toward the
cabin, and, since he would not walk fast and the two refused to ride
ahead of him, the pace was deliberate all the way.  Nor could Lefever
be persuaded even to walk between the two horsemen; he kept them both
religiously on his left, his rifle lying carelessly across his forearm
as he entertained them with a moderately timed and unfailing flow of
Reservation small talk.

But he could not control Van Horn's quick, flashing eyes, and these
were busy every moment and every foot of the way with reconnaissance
and inference.  It did not escape either him or Doubleday that a bunch
of horses had been but lately driven over the ground they were
crossing, and every trail leading to and from the cabin obliterated;
this, however, only assured both that their man was close at hand and
strengthened their determination to get him in their own way when they
were ready.  So intent were they on reading the ground as well as on
keeping a sharp eye on the cabin itself, that they had almost reached
it before Van Horn, halting, fixed his eyes on the hills to the
left--that is, down the creek--and exclaimed sharply: "Who's that?"

Riding in a leisurely fashion down and out of the rough country to the
South, a mile away, a man emerging from a rift between two hills could
be seen following one of the cattle trails toward the creek.

Lefever, after a minute's study, answered the question blandly: "I'm
thinkin' that's Jim Laramie, right now."

He waved his hat at the distant horseman, who, also rode with a rifle
slung across his pommel and carried his lines high in his right hand.
The horseman continued for some moments toward the creek, then looking,
seemingly by accident, toward the house he saw the signaling, stopped
his pony, paused, and reigning him around, headed at an easy pace for
the group before the cabin.  It was, as Lefever had said, Laramie.

A few minutes later he trotted his horse across the field and slowed
him up in front of Van Horn and Doubleday.  His greeting to his
visitors was dry; their own was somewhat strained, but Lefever at once
took the initiative: "Jim," he said, identifying himself in his bluntly
honest way with the interests of the raiders, "we're looking for Abe
Hawk."

Laramie's response was merely to the point: "He's not here."

"Has he been here?" demanded Van Horn.

"Yes," answered Laramie.  Lefever at intervals looked virtuously from
questioner to questioned.

"How long ago, Jim?" continued Van Horn.

Laramie regarded him steadily: "Several times in the last few weeks."

"Was he here yesterday?" asked Van Horn suddenly.

"I was on the Reservation yesterday."

"Has he been here this morning?"

"Yes."

If Lefever jumped inwardly at this most unexpected admission he
suppressed all outward sign of surprise; his wide open eyes did not
blink and his close-cut mustache preserved its honesty undefiled.  But
he wondered what might be coming.

"How long ago?" continued Van Horn.

"Early.  What's all this questioning about?" Laramie demanded in turn,
looking from Van Horn to Doubleday and to Lefever.  "Who wants Hawk?"

"Jim, we're cleaning up the rustlers," said Van Horn.  "Things have got
so bad it had to be done.  We want Hawk.  We've got Gorman and Henry.
Now, if it's a fair question, is Abe here?"

"He's not."

"Not in your shack?"

"No."

"Are you willing we should search it?"

"Search hell!  What do you mean?" asked Laramie curtly.  "Isn't my word
good as to who's in my shack?"

"Jim!"  Lefever held up a peacemaker's hand.  "We thought maybe he
might have come in since you rode away."

"Well----" Laramie cooled somewhat, "if it'll do you any good, I'll
look inside and see."

Van Horn sarcastically demurred: "Don't take the trouble, don't take
the trouble, Jim."

"Still he might be there," urged Lefever, "in the way I say--he
might've walked in since you went into the hills--what?  No objection
to my looking in there, is there, Jim?"

"No man can search my cabin," snapped Laramie.  "Have you got a warrant
for Abe Hawk?"  He threw the question sharply at Lefever.

With Lefever's disclaimer, Doubleday interposed a savage rejoinder: "A
rope'll fit Abe's neck better than a warrant."

Laramie eyed the old cattleman unmoved: "And you're here to get me to
help you slip the noose, are you?"

"We're here to clean out these cattle thieves," stormed Doubleday.

"There are no cattle thieves here," retorted Laramie undisturbed.
"You're wasting the time you'll need on your job.  Move on!"

Even Van Horn was taken aback by the rude command; he pulled his horse
around: "Look here, Jim; let me talk to you a minute alone."

Laramie, guiding his horse with his heels, followed Van Horn twenty
feet away and listened: "Jim, I'm leading this bunch, and whatever
troubles you've had with Barb and his friends, now's the time to fix
'em up.  They'll give you the best of it.  If you've got any line on
where Hawk is, say so and it puts you with us; say nothing, and you're
against us."

Laramie eyed him without a quiver: "I'm against you, Harry."

Van Horn did not give up.  He talked again, and talked hard.  It was
useless.  Doubleday rode over to where Van Horn held Laramie in deadly
earnest conference.  Van Horn, ready to quit, gladly let the older man
take over the case.  But Doubleday made no better success.  Laramie
could not be moved.  If coaxed, he was obstinate; if threatened,
impatient--contemptuous.  Doubleday, when Laramie coldly refused even
to answer his questions concerning Hawk, boiled over.

He moved his horse a step and opened his vials of wrath: "Laramie,
you've turned down the last chance decent folks on the range'll ever
try to hand you--the last chance you'll ever see to pull away from
these Falling Wall thieves.  Now," he exclaimed, raising his right hand
and arm with a bitter imprecation, "we'll show you who's going to run
the Sleepy Cat range.  I'll drive you out of this country if it takes
every cowboy I can hire and every dollar I've got.  This country won't
hold you and me after today.  D'ye hear?" he shouted, almost bending
with his huge frame over Laramie and beside himself with rage.  Then
spurring his horse, he wheeled it around to rejoin Van Horn.

Even then Laramie was too quick for him.  Almost in the very instant,
he jumped his own pony after the angry man and gaining the head of
Doubleday's horse, caught the bridle and jerked the beast almost to its
haunches.

It was a ticklish instant.  Van Horn, with his hand on his revolver,
attempted to spur to Doubleday's assistance.  Lefever interposed with a
sharp move that put him plumply in front of Van Horn: "Not till them
two are through, Harry.  We stay right here till them two's done."

The very impudence of Laramie's move had taken Doubleday by surprise
and Laramie was hurling angry words at him before Lefever had
intervened: "Hold on, Doubleday," Laramie said bluntly, "you can't put
your abuse all over me first and then run away with it.  You'll hear
what I've got to say.  I rode this range before you ever saw it; I'll
ride this range when you're gone.  I was born here, Doubleday; my
father lived here before me.  The air I breathe, this sky over my head,
this ground under my feet, are mine, and I stick here in spite of you
and your cattle crooks.  If men run off your cattle it's your sheriff's
business--you own him.  And it's your business to run 'em down--not
mine.  You come here without a warrant, without a definite complaint,
and ask me to turn an old man over to a bunch of lynchers!  Not on your
life.  Not today or any other day."

Doubleday interrupted, but he was forced to listen: "You talk about
thieves," Laramie spoke fast and remorselessly, "and you belong to the
bunch that's tried to steal every foot of land I own in the Falling
Wall.  After you and your lawyers and land office tools have stolen
thousands of acres from the government, you talk as if you were an
angel out of heaven about the men that brand your mavericks.  Hell!"
The scorn of the expletive drew from the very depths of furious
contempt.  "I'd rather stand by a thief that calls himself a thief,
than a thief that steals under a lawyer.  Send your hired men after me;
give 'em plenty of ammunition.  They'll find me right here, Barb--right
here where I live."



CHAPTER XX

THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE

When Sawdy rode into Sleepy Cat next morning it was known that he had
come from the Reservation and he was besieged for news from the Falling
Wall.  At Kitchen's, where he put up his horse; on his way up street to
his room over McAlpin's pool hall, he was assailed with questions.
Pretty accurate reports of the two exciting days in the North country
had already trickled into Sleepy Cat.  To these, Sawdy listened with
stolid attention but he managed to add to them very little.  He
possessed to a degree the faculty of talking freely, sententiously
even, without contributing anything strictly pertinent to a subject.
What he conveyed, when he meant to withhold information, was really no
more than an air of reserve in which wisdom seemed discreetly
restrained.  On this present occasion he realized it would be known
that he had encountered the raiders the day before at Laramie's--but
while admitting this profusely, he minimized all else.

Not until he had bathed, slept, shaved and set himself down near
nightfall at Belle Shockley's did he tell any considerable part of his
story.  But all that prudence would permit he told, or rather, Belle
demanded and received at his hands.  Where the heart is involved the
strongest men are helpless.

"I ran into the bunch on my way down, right at Laramie's cabin," Sawdy
said to Belle.  "Laramie and Doubleday were having the hottest kind of
a row when I rode up.  I made sure we'd be shooting in the next couple
of minutes.  But John Lefever was watching pretty close and holding Van
Horn.  Barb cooled down when he saw three of us on deck.  I told him on
the side, the Governor had telephoned Pearson and the Colonel was going
to send cavalry down after them and they'd better scatter.  It was a
bluff, but for a few minutes I had him and Van Horn guessing.  They
said they'd go home when they got Hawk.  Lefever is staying up there
for a day or two."

"What did they do after that?" demanded Belle, referring to the men
whose names were on everybody's tongues.

"Beat the bushes from Laramie's to the Reservation," answered Sawdy.
"Didn't leave a square yard of country unturned from the Falling Wall
to the Crazy Woman."

"Will they ever find Hawk?"

"Did you ever find a needle in a haystack?"

"I never looked for one."

"Them fellows are looking for the stack.  They can't locate the hay.
Slip me that Worcestershire sauce, Belle.  Yours truly.  No more
potatoes.  This is a good piece of ham, Belle.  I wish to God you'd
serve a glass of beer with a man's supper."

"You can get all the supper and all the beer you want at the hotel,"
flared Belle.  "This is no blind pig----"

"It's the only place in Main Street, then, that ain't."

"And it never will be," averred Belle, indignantly.

"Come up to the hotel with me right now," returned Sawdy coldly, "and
I'll buy you a bottle of beer.  Bet you ten dollars you da'ssent do
it--who the devil--"  Sawdy almost choked as the two heard a knock at
the door--"who the devil is that?" he repeated.  The door opened and
Jim Laramie walked in.

He sent his hat sailing toward a side table, stepped forward and,
catching at a chair on the way, greeted Belle and her guest and sat
down before a plate cover opposite Sawdy.  He pointed to what remained
of Sawdy's supper and, with knife and fork, started in: "There's enough
for me right here, Belle," he said.

Sawdy raised his chin: "Not this time, Jim.  Not on your life.  That's
the way you always eat my supper."

"You eat too much, Henry--it will kill you some time," observed
Laramie, losing no time in his initiative.  He ignored Sawdy's stare
and the big man, disgusted, sat dumb: "Don't surrender, Sawdy,"
counseled Laramie.  "Keep going, and excuse me if I seem to begin."

Sawdy paused, his knife and fork firmly in hand, but pointing
helplessly into the air: "This is the first square meal I've had for
two days," he said, as one whose hopes have been dashed.

"First I've had for ten days," returned Laramie.

"What are they doing up there, Jim?" asked Sawdy peremptorily.

"Killing their horses."

"They won't find him," Sawdy predicted in words inaudible six feet away.

"I hope not."

"How's he holding out?"

"Hard hit, Henry."

"Will he make it?"

"You can't kill a cat."

"Well"--Sawdy resumed his supper, "it's your game, Jim, not mine; but
I'd think twice before I'd get that range bunch after me on any man's
account."

Laramie's eyes flashed, but he spoke quietly: "I couldn't see Abe
killed like a rattlesnake."

"What are you down for?"

"I've got to have a couple of needles, a little catgut and some gauze."

"Where are you going to get them?"

"Going to steal them over at Doc. Carpy's."

"Nervy."

"You can do it for me, Henry."

"Me?"

"I'll give you the key to his cabinet."

"Where'd you get that?"

"Met him on my way in.  He was going up to Pettigrew's to look after
the wounded.  The window in the end of the wing opens into the
operating room, where the supplies are."

"I'd look fine climbing into a window at two hundred and twenty pounds."

"It's on the ground floor," returned Laramie, unmoved.

"What will the family be doing while I'm burgling?"

"Mrs. Carpy and the girls are in Medicine Bend.  The house is empty.
When you're through, leave the key in the skull of the skeleton behind
the door."

Sawdy stared without much enthusiasm at the little key that Laramie
passed to him; then he slipped it without comment into his pocket.  The
talk went on in low, leisurely tones until the second portion of ham
had been served, when both resumed their supper as if nothing had been
eaten or said.  Afterward, Laramie spent an hour getting together some
things he needed at home.  He met Sawdy later at Kitchen's barn.
Sawdy, with abundance of grumbling at his assignment, had the gauze and
the catgut, but he had brought the key back.  He could not find the
surgeon's needles.  There seemed nothing for it but for Laramie to go
to the office and make the search himself.  He thought of Belle; she
would do it for him, he knew, but he felt it would not be right to mix
her up in what might prove a still more tragic affair.  After brief
reflection he started for Carpy's himself.

The doctor's house stood back of Main Street, a block and a half from
the barn.  Laramie walked half a mile to reach it, choosing unlighted
ways for the trip.  The night was dark and by crossing a vacant lot he
reached the rear of the house unobserved.  The office, divided into a
consulting room and an operating room, consisted of a one-story wing
connecting with the residence--the consulting room adjoining the
residence, the operating room occupying the end of the wing.  This
latter was the room Laramie sought.  The window that Sawdy had already
burglariously entered, opened easily, and Laramie, standing alone in
the dark room, felt in his pocket for a match.

He had been in the office more than once before and knew about where
the cabinet containing the surgical instruments stood.  A connecting
door led from the room he had entered to the office proper.  He tried
this.  It was unlocked and he left it closed.  The curtains of the
windows were drawn and he took a match from his pocket, lighted it and
looked around.  The first thing he saw was the articulated skeleton
suspended near the door from the ceiling.  It would have been a shock
had he not seen it before and been familiar with the label fastened to
the breastbone reciting that this had once been Flat Nose George, an
early day desperado of the high country.

Turning from this relic, Laramie set about his work, disdaining to
inspect various gruesome specimens in alcohol ranged along a shelf.
Aided by an occasional match which he lighted and shielded in his left
hand, he found the cabinet and with his key opened the door.  The flame
of his match too carefully guarded, flickered in his fingers, failed
and went out.  He thrust it hastily into one pocket, drew a fresh match
from another and was about to scratch it across his leather wristlet
when he heard a door open.  The next moment he saw, under the door
leading from his room to the consulting room, a flash of light.

Awkward as it was to be interrupted, he faced the surprise with such
composure as he could muster.  Who could it be? he asked himself.  The
family was accounted for, the house locked.  He scratched the match
again.  As it flared up he looked into the cabinet, found the packet of
needles, tore a card of them in two, slipped one piece into a waistcoat
pocket and closed the cabinet door.  He turned to listen to the office
intruder.  Laramie hoped that nothing would bring the unwelcome visitor
into the operating room, but as he stood awaiting developments the
unlocked door was pushed open and a tiny flashlight was thrown into the
room in which he stood.

Fortunately Laramie outside the circle of light was left in the dark.
The intruder was a woman.  He shrank back and she luckily turned her
light from him but only to encounter, as she stepped forward, Flat Nose
George, no less forbidding now than he had been in life.  The woman
with the light started back in horror and a sharp little exclamation
betrayed her identity; Laramie was at once aware that he was facing
Kate Doubleday.

Nothing could have pleased him less.  In so small a room it was
impossible to escape detection.  He could almost hear her breathe and
would have reveled in her presence so close, but that the apprehension
of frightening her weighed on him like a mountain.  Hardly daring to
breathe himself he cursed the erratic doctor's skeleton pet--hung, of
all places, where every little while he was cutting people open.

The skeleton had already set the girl's nerves on edge.  What would
happen if she discovered a live man as well as the ghastly remains of a
dead one--not to mention alcoholic clippings from other subnormal
notables of the mountains?  With the flashlight she was evidently
searching for something and Laramie surmised it must be the electric
light switch: "I think," he suggested in as steady a tone as possible,
"you'll find the light button to the right of the door behind you."

He was prepared for a scream or a swoon.  Instead, the flashlight was
turned directly on him: "Who are you?" came sharply and quickly from
behind it.

"I might ask the same question.  You can see I'm Jim Laramie.  I can
guess you're Kate Doubleday."

"I am, and I've come here for dressings for wounded men at Pettigrew's.
What are you doing here?" she demanded, peremptorily.

His lips were sealed for more reasons than one.  Least of all would it
do for him to expose Doctor Carpy's friendliness and embroil him in a
feud which Laramie knew he ought to face alone.

Kate held the light excitedly on him.  It was an instant before he had
his answer in hand: "I've lied to a good many people at different times
about different things," he said deliberately.  "I've still got my
first lie to tell to you, Kate.  And I certainly won't tell it tonight.
Don't ask me what I'm doing here.  Turn on the light by the door, or
let me do it, so I can see you.  You here alone?"

"No, there are plenty of men outside with me," she exclaimed abruptly.

"I shouldn't have asked that question," he continued in the same tone.
"I know you're alone.  You say 'men' because you're afraid of me----"

"I'm not the least afraid of you.  And don't deceive yourself.  There
are men here."

"But they are mostly in bottles, Kate--and in pieces.  Live men don't
ride up to a place like this without making a noise.  Flat Nose George
is the only man here besides me, outside the alcohol, and I can claim
him as well as you can."

"I'm sure you would feel perfectly at home with Flat Nose George," she
retorted swiftly.

If the words stung, Laramie kept his temper.  "Probably there's a good
deal I deserve that you haven't heard about me," he said slowly.  "But
from the way you talk, you've heard a few things maybe I don't deserve.
Nobody's got any right to class me with Flat Nose George or anybody
else in Carpy's museum."

"You've classed yourself with him," she exclaimed vehemently.
"Defending cattle thieves and harboring them!  Everyone knows that!"

"I did talk rough to your father this morning.  I was pretty angry.
Just the same, don't believe everything you hear about me.  At present,
it's just us two.  What do you want to do, surrender to me?"

"No!" she snapped the word out furiously.  "I won't, not if you kill
me."

"Suppose I surrender to you?  What do you want me to do--stick up my
hands?  So far, they haven't been up--if I remember right.  But I
expect I'll have to learn sometime how to surrender."

"I want no surrender, no parley with you.  The doctor told me his house
was empty and directed me here for the dressings.  When I come, I find
you.  I'll get away at once.  Before I go----"

"No, I'll go.  But let me turn on the light."  He stepped to the door
and pressed the button.  "I wanted," he continued, as a light flooded
the queer room, "to have just one look at you before I go."  She stood
before him quite unafraid.  Her eyes flashed as if she were actually
mistress of the situation instead of really helpless in the presence of
her father's most resourceful enemy.

Laramie half-smiled at her serenity: "Why don't you go?" she exclaimed.

Still regarding her, he shifted his position a little and replied with
entire good-nature: "I only live along, from one sight to another of
you.  I'm just filling up, like a man at a spring.  You don't object to
my only looking at you for a minute?"

"I object to being delayed and annoyed," she declared in a blaze.
"I've come here for dressings needed for wounded men----"

"Well, so have I, if you must have it."

"I was sent here by Doctor Carpy for things he wants tonight; you have
no more right here helping yourself to his property than you have
taking other people's."

"Don't say I take other people's property!" Laramie spoke fiercely.
"Don't call me a thief."  His words burned with anger.  "My hands may
not be as white as yours--they're just as clean!"

Stunned as she might well have been at the outburst, Kate stood her
ground: "Did Doctor Carpy give you permission to come here tonight?"
She shot the words at Laramie without giving him time to breathe.

Laramie checked the flood of anger he had loosed: "I don't need
permission from Doctor Carpy to come here night or day.  Ask him if you
want to," he said with scornful disgust.  He sank down on the chair at
his side in complete resentment of the whole situation and, leaning
forward with a hand spread over one knee and one fist clenched on the
other, he stared not at Kate's eyes, but at the floor, with only her
trim boots in his field of vision.  "What's the use?" he exclaimed,
drawing the words up seemingly all the way from his own disorderly and
alkali-stained foot coverings.  "What's the use?" he repeated, in
stronger and more savage tones.  "I've treated her from the first
instant I saw her, and every instant since, as I thought a woman ought
to be treated--would like to be treated.  Now I get my reward.  She
calls me a thief--and, my God!  I take it.  I don't ride out and kill
her father who taught her to do it, quick as I can reach him; I just
take it!" he exclaimed.

He hesitated a moment.  Then he flung a question at her like a
thunderbolt: "What do you want here?"

She was frightened.  His rage was plain enough; who could tell the
lengths to which it might carry him?

She kept her dignity but she answered and without quibbling: "I want
some gauze and some cotton and some medicines."

He strode to the cabinet and, concealing the movement as he unlocked it
with Carpy's key, he threw open the glass door: "You'd be all night
finding the stuff," he said curtly, taking the supplies from various
cluttered piles on different shelves.  "You say he wants this tonight,"
he added, when her packet was complete: "How are you going to get it to
him?"

"Carry it to him."

"At Pettigrew's?  What do you mean?  It would take an experienced
horseman all night to ride around by Black Creek."

"I'm going over the pass."

He could not conceal his anger: "Does your father know that?"

"He said I might try it."

Laramie flamed again: "A fine father to send a tenderfoot girl on a
night ride into a country like that!"

She was defiant: "I can ride anywhere a man can."

"Let me tell you," he faced her and his eyes flashed, "if you try
riding 'anywhere' too often, some night your father's daughter will
fail to get home!"

Ignoring the door, he stepped to the open window by which he had
entered and, springing through it, was gone.



CHAPTER XXI

THE HIDING PLACE

Disdaining any further attempt at concealment, Laramie rode angrily
over to Kitchen's barn; anyone that wanted a dispute with him just then
could have it, and promptly.  Kitchen got up his horse and, cutting
short the liveryman's attempt to talk, Laramie headed for home.

The sky was studded with a glory of stars.  He rode fast, his fever of
anger acting as a spur to his anxiety, which was to get back to dress
Hawk's wounds.

His thoughts raced with the hoofs of his horse.  Nothing could have
galled and humiliated him more than to realize how Kate Doubleday
regarded him.  Plainly she looked on him as no better than one of the
ordinary rustlers of the Falling Wall country.  This was distressingly
clear; yet he knew in his own heart that hers was the only opinion
among her people that he cared anything about.  Furious waves of
resentment alternated with the realization that such an issue was
inevitable--how could it be otherwise?  She had heard the loose talk of
men about her--Stone, alone, to reckon no other, could be depended on
to lie freely about him.  Van Horn, he was as sure, would not scruple
to blacken an enemy; and added to Laramie's discomfiture was the
reflection that this man whose attentions to Kate he most dreaded, held
her ear against him and could, if need be, poison the wells.

To these could be added, as his implacable enemy, her own father.  This
last affair had cut off every hope of getting on with the men for whom
he had no respect and who for one reason or another hated him as
heartily as he hated them.

Under such a load of entanglement lay the thought of Kate.  What utter
foolishness even to think of her as he let himself think and hope!
Clattering along, he told himself nothing could ever come of it but
bitterness; and he cast the thought and hope of knowing her better and
better until he could make her his own, completely out of his heart.

The only trouble was that neither she, nor the bitterness would stay
out.  As often as he put them out they came in again.  The first few
miles of his road were the same that she would soon be riding after
him.  Again and again he felt anger at the idea of her riding the worst
of the Falling Wall trail at night to Pettigrew's.  More than once he
felt the impulse to wait for her, and even slackened his pace.

But when he did so, there arose before him her picture as she flung the
hateful words at him; they came back as keenly as if he heard them
again and he could feel his cheeks burning in the cold night air.
Self-respect, if nothing else, would prevent his even speaking another
word to her that night.  His hatred of her father swelled in the
thought that he should let her attempt such a ride.

For several miles beyond where he knew Kate must turn for the pass,
Laramie rode on toward home; then watching his landmarks carefully he
reined his horse directly to the left and headed for the broken country
lying between the Turkey and the mountains.  At some little distance
from the trail, he stopped and sitting immovable in his saddle,
listened to ascertain whether he was followed.  For almost thirty
minutes--and that is a long time--he waited, buried in the silence of
the night and without the slightest impatience.  He heard in the
distance the coyotes and the owls but no horseman passed nor did the
sound of hoofs come within hearing.  Then reining his pony's head again
toward the black heights of the Lodge Pole range he continued his
journey.

Soon all semblance of any trail was left behind and he rode of
necessity more slowly.  More than once he halted, seemingly to reassure
himself as to his bearings for he was pushing his way where few men
would care to ride even in daylight.  He was feeling across precipitous
gashes and along treacherous ledges esteemed by Bighorn but feared by
horse and man; and among huge masses of rocky fragments that had
crashed from dizzy heights above before finding a resting place.  And
even then they had been heaved and tumbled about by the fury of
mountain storms.

Laramie was, in fact, nearing the place--by the least passable of all
approaches--where he had hidden Hawk.  Yet he did not hesitate either
to stop or to listen or to double on his trail more than once.
Maneuvering in this manner for a long time he emerged on a small
opening, turned almost squarely about and rode half a mile.
Dismounting at this point and lifting his rifle from its scabbard he
slung his bag over his shoulder and walked rapidly forward.

The hiding place had been well chosen.  On a high plateau of the
Falling Wall country, so broken as to forbid all chance travel and to
be secure from accidental intrusion--a breeding place for grizzlies and
mountain lions--there had once been opened a considerable silver mining
camp.  Substantial sums had been spent in development and from an old
Turkey Creek trail a road had been blasted and dug across the open
country divided by the canyon of the Falling Wall river.  In its escape
from the mountains the river at this point cuts a deep gash through a
rock barrier and from this striking formation, known as the canyon of
the Falling Wall, the river takes its name.

Where the old mine road crosses the plateau an ambitious bridge, as
Laramie once told Kate, had been projected across the river.  It was
designed to replace a ferry at the bottom of the canyon but with the
ruinous decline in the value of silver the mines had been abandoned; a
weather-beaten abutment at the top of the south canyon wall alone
remained to recall the story.  The earth and rock fill behind this
abutment had been washed out by storms leaving the framing timbers
above it intact, and below these there remained a cave-like space which
the slowly decaying supports served to roof.

Laramie on a hunting trip had once discovered this retreat and had at
times used it as a shelter when caught over night in its vicinity.
During subsequent visits he found an overhang in the rock behind the
original fill that made a second smaller chamber and in this he had as
a boy cached his mink and rat traps and the discard of his hunting
equipment.

To the later people coming into the Falling Wall country with cattle
the existence of all this was practically unknown.  Nothing visible
betrayed the retreat and to men who rarely left the saddle and had
little occasion to cross the bad lands, there was slight chance to
stumble on it.  It was here, a few miles west of his own home, that
Laramie had carried Hawk.

Making his way in the darkness toward the dugout, Laramie whistled low
and clearly, and planting his feet with care on a foothold of old
masonry swung down to where a fissure opening in the rock afforded
entrance into the irregular room.

A single word came in a low tone from the darkness: "Jim?"

Laramie, answering, struck a match and, after a little groping, lighted
a candle and set it in a niche near where Hawk lay.  The rustler was
stretched on a rude bunk.  The furnishings of the cave-like refuge were
the scantiest.  Between uprights supporting the old roof, a plank
against the wall served as a narrow table; the bunk had been built into
the opposite wall out of planking left by the bridge carpenters.  For
the rest there was little more in the place than the few belongings of
a hunter's lodge long deserted.  A quilt served for mattress and
bedding for Hawk and his sunken eyes above his black beard showed how
sorely he needed surgical care.  To this, Laramie lost no time in
getting.  He provided more lights, opened his kit of dressings and with
a pail of water went to work.

What would have seemed impossible to a surgeon, Laramie with two hours'
crude work accomplished on Hawk's wounds.  But in a country where the
air is so pure that major operations may be performed in ordinary
cabins, cleanliness and care, even though rude, count for more than
they possibly could elsewhere.  The most difficult part of the task
that night lay in getting water up the almost sheer canyon wall from
the river three hundred feet below.  It would have been a man's job in
daylight; add to this black night and the care necessary to leave no
traces of getting down and climbing up.

Leaving Hawk when the night was nearly spent, Laramie returned to his
horse, retraced his blind way through the bad lands and got to the road
some miles above where he had left it.  He started for home but left
the road below his place and picking a trail through the hills came out
half a mile northwest of his cabin.  Here he cached his saddle and
bridle, turned loose his horse and going forward with the stealth of an
Indian he got close enough to his cabin to satisfy himself, after
painstaking observation, that his cabin was neither in the hands of the
enemy, nor under close-range surveillance.  When he reached the house
he disposed of his rifle, slipped inside and struck a light.  On the
stove he found his frying pan face downward and the coffee pot near it
with the lid raised.  From this he knew that Simeral in his absence had
cared for his stock; and being relieved in his mind on this score he
laid his revolver at hand and threw himself on the bed to sleep.  Day
was just breaking.



CHAPTER XXII

STONE TRIES HIS HAND

In getting home safely, Laramie had not flattered himself that he was
not actually under what in mountain phrase is termed the death watch.
In matter of fact, Van Horn and Doubleday had gone home to stay until
the excitement should blow over.  But they had left Stone and two men
charged with intercepting Laramie on his return.  The investing lines
had not, however, been skilfully drawn and Laramie had slipped through.

He slept undisturbed until the sun was an hour high.  Then peering
through a corner of the blanket that hung before the window he saw
Stone and two companions half a mile from the house, riding slowly as
if looking for a trail; particularly, as he readily surmised, for his
own trail.  As to his horse betraying him, Laramie had no fear, knowing
the beast would make straight for the blue stem north of the hills.  It
was no part of Laramie's plan of defense to begin fighting or to force
any situation that favored him--as he believed the present one to do.

Few men that knew his enemies would have agreed with him in this view;
they would, indeed, have thought it extremely precarious for Laramie to
be caught in any place he could not escape from unseen.  But Laramie
was temperamentally a gambler with fortune and he put aside the worries
that occasionally weighed on his friends.  Standing at his one small
window--though this was by no means the only peephole in the cabin
walls--he watched without undue concern the scouting of the trio, who
beyond doubt had been hired to kill him and were only waiting their
chance.

After a long inspection of the ground--much of it out of sight of the
cabin--broken by frequent colloquies, the three rode from the creek
bottom out on the upper field and, halting, surveyed the distant cabin
with seeming doubt and suspicion.  Two of them reined their horses
toward the creek.  The third man spurred up the long slope straight for
the house.

This put a different aspect on things.  Laramie tightened a little as
he watched the oncoming rider.  If it should prove to be Stone--he
hesitated at the thought, deciding on nothing until sure who the man
might be.  But watching the approach of the unwelcome visitor coldly,
Laramie put out his hand for his rifle.  He thought of firing a warning
shot; but to this he was much averse since it would mean a fight and a
siege--neither of which he sought.  As the man drew closer it was
apparent that it was not Stone and Laramie decided that milder measures
might answer.  He held his rifle across his arm and waited.  But the
man, as if conscious of the peril to which he was so coolly exposing
himself, galloped rapidly away, rejoined his companions and the trio
disappeared.

Laramie at the window watched the departing horsemen.  It appeared,
from what he had seen, as if the watch had really been set on him.  He
got out his little bottle of oil and a rag and ramrod to clean his
rifle.  He made the preparations and sat down to his task in a brown
study.

The rifle had not been fired for some time, and it was a very long time
since it had been trained on a man.  He took it apart slowly, thinking
less of what would next appear through the range of the sights than of
Kate, as she confronted him the night before in Carpy's office.  He
realized with a sort of shame that he was trying to forgive her for
calling him a thief--which, in point of fact, he argued, she had not
actually done.  And though she had certainly spoken careless-like, as
Bill Bradley might say, she had only credited the tales of his enemies
in her own household.

Laramie poked and squinted as he pondered his difficulties.  He had
refused to give up Hawk to be merely murdered; he could not do less and
respect himself.  It had made her father more than ever his enemy;
still he wanted Kate.  Stone would assassinate him at any time for a
hundred dollars; Van Horn, now that he was aware Laramie liked Kate,
would do it for nothing.  Laramie, indeed, realized that if he stood in
Van Horn's way with a woman he would not figure any more in Harry's
calculations than a last year's birds' nest.  And back of all loomed
rancorous Barb Doubleday.

How, he asked himself, could a girl like Kate, pick such a bear for a
father?  All of which troublesome thinking brought him no nearer a
solution of his difficulties.  He had his life to look out for, Hawk to
take care of and a strong-willed girl to bring to his way of thinking.

He reached, at last, the conclusion that the sooner he knew whether he
could leave his own place and ride to and from Sleepy Cat without being
"potted" from ambush, the sooner he would know what to do next.
Persuading himself that the watch would wait for him somewhere down the
road, Laramie, making coffee and cooking bacon, breakfasted, made his
final preparations for death by shaving himself with a venerable razor,
and rifle in hand, got down as directly and briskly as possible to the
corral.  He got up a horse, rode back into the hills, and recovering
his saddle, started for Simeral's.  Having spoken with Ben, Laramie
made a detour that brought him out on the creek a mile below his usual
trail.  Thence he rode as contentedly as possible on his way.

The country for a few miles ahead was adapted for ambuscades.  The
valley was comparatively narrow and afforded more than one vantage
point for covering a traveler.  It was wholly a matter, Laramie felt,
of bluffing it through.  And beyond keeping a brisk pace with his
horse, he could do nothing to protect himself.  "You're a fool for
luck, Jim," he remembered Hawk's saying once to him, "but you'll get it
sometime on your fool's luck, just the same."

When old Blackbeard, as he sometimes called Hawk--though no one else
ventured to call him that--uttered the warning, it made no impression
on Laramie.  Now it came back.  Not unpleasantly, nor as a dread--only
he did recall at this time the words--which was more than he had ever
done before.  And he reflected that it would be very awkward for Hawk,
if their common enemies should get his nurse at this particular time.

While this was running through his mind, he was not sorry to notice
ahead of him the dust of the down stage.  At that particular stretch of
the road it would be less nerve-wearing to ride beside it a way.  He
overtook the wagon and to his surprise found McAlpin on the box.
McAlpin, overjoyed to see him, explained with a grin he was filling in
for a sick man.  In reality, he had substituted for the northern trip
in the hope of seeing some fighting while out and the sight of Laramie
was the nearest he had got to it.  Laramie, after a long talk, made an
appointment to meet him in town in the evening and as they reached the
foot of the hill where the road climbed to the Sleepy Cat divide,
Laramie feeling he had no further excuse for loitering, put spurs to
his horse and took a bridle trail, used as a cut-off, to get into safer
country.

He rode this trail unmolested, crossed the divide and coming out of the
hills could see, to the south, Sleepy Cat lying below.  He made up his
mind that his judgment was more nearly right than his apprehension, and
rode down the slopes of the Crazy Woman, over the Double-draw bridge
and up the south hill in good spirits.  He had, in fact, got half-way
up the long grade when he heard a rifle shot.

Knocked forward the next instant in his saddle, Laramie drooped over
his pommel.  As his heels struck the horse's flanks, the beast sprang
ahead.  The rebound jerked back the rider's head and shoulders.  While
the horse dashed on, Laramie with as little fuss as possible pulled his
rifle from its scabbard, trying all the time to get his balance.  A
careful observer could have noted that the rifle was drawn but held low
in the right hand as if the rider could not bring it up.  Yet even a
close observer could hardly have detected in his convulsive swaying
that the wounded man was closely scanning the sides of the narrow road
along which his horse was now flying.  At all events, he seemed with
failing strength to be losing his seat as he lost control of his horse,
and a hundred yards from where he had been struck he toppled helplessly
from the saddle into the roadway.  The speed at which the horse was
going sent the fallen rider rolling along the grade, the sides of which
had been torn in spots by summer torrents.  Near one of these holes,
Laramie had left the saddle, and into it he rolled headlong.

[Illustration: Knocked forward the next instant in his saddle, Laramie
drooped over his pommel]

The hole, between four and five feet deep, looked like an irregular
well with an overhang on one side and to the bottom of this, Laramie,
covered with dust, tumbled.  He righted himself and turning under the
overhang took breath, put down his rifle, whipped out his revolver,
looked toward the top of his well and listened.

Not a sound broke the stillness of the sunny morning.  With his right
hand, but holding his eyes and ears very much at attention, he drew a
handkerchief, wiped the dust from his eyes and face and twisted his
head around to investigate the stinging sensation high on his left
shoulder, almost at the neck.  The rifle bullet had torn his coat
collar and shirt and creased the skin.  He could feel no blood and soon
inventoried the shot as only close.  But he was waiting for the man
that fired it to appear at the hole to investigate; and with at least
this one of his enemies he was in a mood to finish then and there.

Taking off his coat, as his wits continued to work, he spread it over a
little hump in front of him so it would catch the eye for an instant
and with patient rage crouched back under the overhang.  He so placed
himself that one could hardly see him without peering into the hole and
that might mean any one of several things for the man that ventured
it--much depended, in Laramie's mind, on whose face he should see above
the rim.

An interminable time passed.  The first sound he heard was that of
horses toiling up the long grade and the creaking of battered hubs;
this he reckoned must be McAlpin with the stage.  Where his hat had
rolled to, when he tumbled out of the saddle to simulate death, he had
no idea.  If it lay in the road he might expect a visit from McAlpin.
But without stopping, the stage rattled slowly up the grade.

It seemed then as if the distant gunman, after waiting for the stage to
pass, would not fail to reconnoiter the hole.  Yet he did so fail.  The
high hours of midday passed with Laramie patiently resting his Colt's
up between his knees and studying the yellow rim of the hole and the
heavenly blue of the sky.  His neck ached from the cramped position,
long held, in which he had placed himself; but he moved no more than if
he had been set in stone.  Neither hunger, which was slight, nor
thirst, at times troublesome, disturbed his watch.  But it was in vain.

He sat like a spider in its web through the whole day without an
incident.  A few horsemen passed, an occasional wagon rumbled up and
down the hill; but none of the travelers looked in on Laramie.  Toward
dusk he heard a freighting outfit working laboriously up from the
creek.  Resolving to give up his watch and go into town with this, he
felt his way cautiously out of his hiding place.  Without really hoping
to recover it, he began to search for his hat and to his surprise found
it in another gully near where he had tumbled from his horse.  The
driver of the freighting outfit wondered at seeing Laramie on foot.  He
explained that he had been hunting and that his horse had taken a
short-cut home.


Stone's companions under instructions had left him and returned to
Doubleday's before the shot across the Crazy Woman.  Stone himself got
back to Doubleday's ranch at about the time that Laramie started for
Sleepy Cat in the evening.  But Barb Doubleday and Van Horn, he was
told, were in town.  He followed them and discovered Van Horn in the
bar room at the hotel.

"I hear you got him," muttered Van Horn, bending his keen eyes on Stone.

"Who said so?" demanded Stone.

"His horse came into Kitchen's barn this afternoon, all saddled.
McAlpin is telling he heard a rifle shot on the Crazy Woman.  They're
wild down at the barn over it.  Did you get him?"

Stone paused over a glass of whisky; his face brightened: "I tumbled
him off his horse, if you call that getting him."

Van Horn asked questions impatiently.  Stone answered with the
indifference of the man that had turned a big trick.  But Van Horn
insisted on knowing what had become of Laramie.

"He tumbled into a hole," said Stone.  "I didn't cross the creek to
look for him."

"Why didn't you?" asked Van Horn nervously.

Stone dallied with his glass: "I watched the hole all day.  He didn't
come out.  That was enough, wasn't it?"

"No," snapped Van Horn.

"Well, I'll tell you, Harry; next time you and the old man want a job
done, do it yourself.  I never liked Laramie: I didn't care for getting
too close to the hole he tumbled into.  After he was hit, he stuck to
his horse a little too long to suit me," said Stone shrewdly.

Van Horn's retort was contemptuous and pointed.  He laughed: "Afraid of
him, eh?"

Stone regarded him malevolently: "Look here!" he exclaimed harshly,
"I'll make you a little proposition.  When I get shaved we'll ride over
to the Crazy Woman and you c'n look in the hole for yourself."

The uncertainty irritated Van Horn.  When Stone, newly plastered,
emerged from the barber shop, Van Horn took him with his story to
Doubleday whom they found in his room, chewing the stub of a cold cigar
and looking over a stock journal.  He did not appear amiable, nor did
his face change much as the news was cautiously conveyed to him.  When
Van Horn announced he would ride out with Stone to examine the road
hole, Doubleday, whose expression had grown colder and colder, broke in:

"Needn't waste any time on that," he said with a snap of his jaw.

Stone snorted: "Maybe _you_ think he wasn't hit."

"Hit!" exclaimed Barb.  "Hit!" he repeated, raising a long forefinger
with deep-drawn disgust.  "He's sittin' in that room across the hall
right now----"

"What's he doin'?"

"Playin' poker," muttered the old cattleman grimly, "with Doc. Carpy
and Harry Tenison."



CHAPTER XXIII

KATE RIDES

In strict point of fact, Laramie had left the room across the hall and
at that particular moment was sitting down for a late supper at Belle
Shockley's whither Sawdy and Lefever had dragged him from the hotel.
Carpy had come with them.

At the table--after Laramie had told part of his story--the talk,
genial to cheerfulness, was largely professional criticism of the shot
across the Crazy Woman.  The technical disadvantages of shooting
uphill, the tendency to over-elevate for such shots, the difficulty of
catching the pace and speed of a horse, all supplied judicial
observations for Lefever and Sawdy, while Laramie--so nearly the
victim--leaving the topic to these Sleepy Cat gun pundits, conferred
with Carpy about the care of gunshot wounds; and protested against Flat
Nose George and the Museum of Horrors in the Doctor's office.

"But I want to tell you, boys," remarked the doctor, when the talk
turned on the discomfiture of the enemy group, "what Barb asked me
tonight--this is on the dead."  The doctor looked around to include
Belle--who was standing with folded arms, her back against the
sideboard and listening to the conversation--in his injunction of
secrecy.  "He came to me at the hotel.  'Doc,' says Barb, 'I want to
ask you a question.  There's stories circulating around about Laramie's
getting shot this morning, on his way into town.  Has Laramie been to
you to get fixed up, at all?'

"'Well, Barb,' I says, 'that's not really a fair question for me to
answer--you know that.  But since you spoke about it, Jim was in awhile
ago----'

"'Was in, eh?'

"'For a few minutes----'

"'Hit?'

"'That I couldn't say.  What he asked for, Barb, was a bottle of Perry
Davis' painkiller--said the rheumatiz was getting him to beat the
band.'"

Carpy paused:  "'Rheumatiz!' says Barb.  He didn't stop to swear--he
just bit his old cigar right square in two in the middle, dropped one
end on the floor and stamped on it."  The Doctor leaned forward and
spoke to Laramie: "How's longhorn, Jim?"

Laramie looked troubled: "If it wasn't for dragging you into it, I'd
ask you to go out and see him."

"Jim, a doctor's place is where he's needed."

"I left a twenty dollar gold piece in your medicine chest for the stuff
I took."

"You go to hell!"  The Doctor pulled a handful of money from his pocket
and threw a double eagle at Laramie.  "There's your gold piece."

"Belle, look at them fellows," exclaimed Sawdy moodily, "pockets
loaded.  I never had more than twenty dollars at one time in my life.
My mother told me to take care of the pennies and the dollars would
take care of themselves.  The blamed dollars wouldn't do it.  I took
care of the pennies.  I've got 'em yet--that's all I have got.  Jim,
I'll match you for that gold piece."

"Gamblers never have a cent," commented Belle darkly.

"That gold piece," explained Laramie, "is not my money, Harry.  It's
Carpy's money and he'll keep it if I have to make him swallow it."

"That's not the question," declared Carpy.  "Did you get what you
wanted?"  Laramie told him he did.  "And by the great Jehosaphat,"
added the doctor, "you bumped into Kate Doubleday!"

"What else did you expect?" retorted Laramie, not pleased at the
recollection.

Carpy, throwing back his head, laughed well: "After Kate Doubleday told
me she was going for the dressings herself, I says to myself, 'There'll
be two people in my house tonight--a man and a woman--I hope to God
they don't meet.'"

"Jim," intervened Belle, "you ought to get Abe Hawk to a hospital."

"He's got to get him to one," affirmed Lefever.  "I've seen that man,"
he added emphatically, "I know."

"How's he going to do it," inquired Carpy, "without starting the fight
all over again?"

Lefever stuck to his ground: "Get him down to Sleepy Cat in the night,"
he insisted.

"Can he ride?" asked Sawdy.

"He may have to have help," said Laramie.

"There's a moon right now.  They'd pick you off like rabbits," objected
Sawdy, "and they've got that whole trail patroled to the Crazy Woman.
They're watching this town like cats.  You'll have to waste a lot of
ammunition to get Abe to a hospital."

"From all I hear," observed Carpy, "if Abe gets any more lead in him
you won't need to take him to the hospital.  He'll be ready to head
straight for the undertaker's."

"We've got to wait either for a late moon or a rainy night; then we'll
get busy," suggested Lefever.

"He might die while you're waiting," interposed Carpy.

Lefever could not be subdued: "Not as quick as he'd die if Van Horn's
bunch caught sight of him on the road," he said sententiously.  "We'll
get him down and he won't die, either."

"Well, pay for your supper, boys, and let's get away," said Carpy.  "I
want some sleep."

But for Lefever and Sawdy there was little sleep that night.  The
echoes of the "fatal" shot--almost fatal, as it proved, to the prestige
of the enemy--were being discussed pretty much everywhere in Sleepy Cat
and wherever men that night assembled in public places, Sawdy and
Lefever swaggered in and out at least once.  The pair looked wise,
spoke obscurely, looked the crowd, large or small, over critically,
played an occasional restrained and brief finger-tattoo on the butts of
their bolstered guns and listened condescendingly to everyone that had
a theory to advance, a reminiscence to offer, or a propitiating drink
to suggest.

Wherever they could induce him to go, they dragged Laramie--at once as
an exhibit and a defi; but Laramie objected to the thoroughness with
which his companions essayed to cover the territory, and unfeelingly
withdrew from the party to go to bed.  Sawdy and Company, undismayed by
the defection, continued to haunt the high places until the last
sympathizer with Van Horn and Company had been challenged and bullied
or silenced.

But the differing sympathies on the situation in Sleepy Cat were not to
be adjusted in a single night, either by force or persuasion.  The
whole town took sides and the cattlemen found the most defenders.  What
might be designated, but with modesty, as "big business" in Sleepy Cat
stood stubbornly, despite the violence of their methods, with Van Horn,
Doubleday and their friends; the interest of such business lay with the
men that bought the most supplies.  The banks and the merchants were
thus pretty much aligned on one side.  The surgeon of the town
professed neutrality--at least as regarded operations--for he was
needed to administer to both factions.  Harry Tenison, as dealer of the
big game in town and owner of the big hotel, was of necessity neutral;
though men like himself and Carpy were rightly suspected of leaning
toward Laramie, if not even as far as toward Abe Hawk.  The open
sympathizers of the Falling Wall men were among trainmen, liverymen,
the clerks, the barbers and bartenders, and those who could be usually
counted as "agin the government."

Meantime, the element of mystery in the still unclosed tragedy of the
upper country concerned the disappearance of Hawk; and this naturally
centered about Laramie.  None but he knew to a certainty the fate of
the redoubtable old cowboy, so long a range favorite.  And whenever
Laramie appeared in town, speculation at once revived every feature of
the situation, and Kate Doubleday when she came to Sleepy Cat, whether
she would or not, could not escape the talk concerning the Falling Wall
feud.

Loyalty to her own and the intense partizanship of her nature, combined
to urge her to sympathize with the fight of the range owners against
the Falling Wall men.  But in this attitude, Belle Shockley was a trial
to Kate.  Belle would not drag in the subject of the fight but she
never avoided it; and Kate, even against her inclination, seemed
impelled to speak of the subject with Belle.  She instinctively felt
that Belle's sympathies were with the other side; and felt just as
strongly in her impulsiveness, that Belle should be set right about
rustlers and their friends--meaning always, by the latter, Jim Laramie.
Belle, stubborn but more contained, clung to her own views.  Though she
rarely talked back, the attempt to assassinate Laramie had intensified
everyone's feelings, and for days only a spark on that subject was
needed to fire more than one Sleepy Cat powder magazine.  One afternoon
rain caught Kate in at Belle's and kept her until almost dark from
starting for home, and one magazine did explode.

The two women were sitting on the porch watching the shower.  McAlpin
on his way uptown from the barn, had stopped at Belle's a moment for
shelter.

"I'll tell you, Kate," said Belle, after listening as patiently as she
could to what Kate had to say about the Falling Wall fight and its
consequences, "I like you.  I can't help liking you.  But the only
reason you talk the way you do is because you haven't lived in this
country long.  You don't know this country--you don't know the people."

McAlpin nodded strongly: "That's so, that's true."

"I, at least, know common honesty, I hope."

"But you don't know anything at all of what you are talking about,"
insisted Belle, "and if you think I'm ever going to agree with you that
it was right for Van Horn and your father and their friends to take a
bunch of Texas men up into the Falling Wall and shoot and burn men
because they're rustlers, you're very much mistaken.  And I can tell
you the people of this country won't agree with you either, no matter
what some folks in this town may say to tickle your ears."

"Do you mean to say you stand up for thieves, too?" asked Kate, hotly.

McAlpin looked apprehensively out at the clouds.  Belle twitched her
shoulders: "You needn't be so high and mighty about it," she retorted.
"No, I don't.  And I don't stand up for burning men alive because they
brand mavericks.  You talk very fierce--like everybody up your way.
But if Abe Hawk or Jim Laramie walked in here this minute, you wouldn't
agree to have them shot down.  And don't you forget it, Jim Laramie
doesn't claim a hoof of anybody's cattle but his own."

Kate would not back down: "Why do they call him king of the rustlers?"
she demanded.

"King of the rustlers, nothing," echoed Belle in disgust.  "That's
barroom talk.  No decent man ever accused him of branding so much as a
horse hair that didn't belong to him."

"And his reputation is, he's not very slow when it comes to shooting,
either," declared Kate.

McAlpin thought it a time for oil on the waters!  "You've got to make
allowances," he urged with dignity.  "Ten years ago--less'n that,
even--they was all pretty quick on the trigger in this country.  Jim
was a kid 'n' he had to travel with the bunch."

"And he was quicker 'n any of them," interposed Belle, defiantly,
"wasn't he, Mac?"

McAlpin was for moderation and better feeling:

"Well," he admitted gravely, "full as quick, I guess."

"It seems to me," observed Kate, still resentful, "as if men here are
pretty quick yet."

"Oh, no," interposed McAlpin at once; "oh, no, not special now'days.
More talk'n there used to be--heap more."

"Bring over my pony, Mr. McAlpin, will you?" asked Kate, very much
irritated.

McAlpin looked surprised:  "You wouldn't be ridin' home tonight?"

"Yes," replied Kate, sharply, "I would."

As McAlpin started on his way she turned on Belle: "And you mustn't
forget, Belle, that vigilantes, no matter whether they do make mistakes
or go too far, have built this country up and made it safe to live in."

Belle's face took on a weariness: "Oh, no--not always safe to live
in--sometimes safe to make money in.  There's nothing I'm so sick of
hearing as this vigilante stuff.  The vigilante crowd are mostly big
thieves--the rustlers, little thieves--that's about all the difference
I can see."

"Well, is there any difference between being a rustler, and protecting
and being the friend of one?"

Belle's restraint broke: "You'd better set your own house in order
before you criticize me or Jim Laramie.  He's never yet tried to
assassinate anybody."

"Neither has my father, nor the men that raided the Falling Wall."

"Don't you know," demanded Belle, indignantly, "that the men who raided
the Falling Wall are the men that tried to murder Laramie?"

"I don't believe it," said Kate, flatly.  "Father doesn't believe
_any_body tried to murder him."

Belle's wrath bubbled over: "Your father's as deep in it as anybody."

She could have bitten her tongue off the instant she uttered the angry
words.  But they were out.

Kate sprang to her feet.  Even Belle, used to shocks and encounters,
was silenced by the look that met her.  For a moment the angry girl did
not utter a word, but if her eyes were daggers, Belle would have been
transfixed.  Kate's breast rose sharply and she spoke low and fast:
"How dare you accuse my father of such a thing?"

Belle, though cowed, was defiant: "I dare say just what I believe to be
true."

"What proof have you?"

"I don't need proof for what everyone knows."

"You say what is absolutely false."  Kate's tranquil eyes were aflame;
she stood child, indeed, of her old father.  Belle had more than once
doubted whether Kate _could_ be the daughter of such a man--she never
doubted it after that scene on the day of the rain.  Barb himself would
have waited on his daughter's words.  "You're glad to listen to the
stories of our enemies," she almost panted, "because they're your
friends; you're welcome to them.  But my father's enemies are my
enemies and I know now where to place you."

White with anger as she was herself, Belle, older and more controlled,
tried to allay the storm she had raised: "I didn't meant to hurt you,
Kate," she protested, "you drove me too far."

"I'm glad I did," returned Kate, wickedly, as she stepped back into the
living-room, pinned on her hat and made ready as fast as possible to
go.  "I know you in your true colors."

"Well, whether I'm right or wrong, you'll find my colors don't fade and
don't change."

A boy stood at the gate with Kate's pony.

The two women were again on the porch.  Belle looked at the sky.  The
rain had abated but the mountains were black.  "Now, Kate, what are you
going to do?"

Kate had walked out and was indignantly throwing the lines over her
horse's neck.  "I'm going home," she answered, as sharply as the words
could be spoken.

Belle crossed the sidewalk to her side: "This is a poor time of day for
a long ride.  We've quarreled, I know, but don't try a mountain trail a
night like this.  The rain isn't over yet."

"I'll be home before it starts again," returned Kate, springing into
the saddle.  "I'm sick of this town and everybody in it."

So saying, she struck her horse with the lines and headed for the
mountains.



CHAPTER XXIV

NIGHT AND A HEADER

For John Lefever the rainy night promised to be a busy one; darkness
and the storm would, he felt, give Laramie a chance to get Hawk safely
into town; but to do this successfully would call for precaution.

The rain had hardly begun to fall that afternoon--to the discomfiture
of Kate and her undoing with Belle--before Lefever began to cheer up in
speculating on what might be done.  He found Laramie at the hotel and
set out to round up Sawdy.  The rendezvous was set at Kitchen's barn
and half an hour later the three men were shut up in the old harness
room back of the office to talk the venture over.

Laramie made no effort to discourage John concerning the project; it
had become a pet one with the big fellow; but he did not give the idea
strong endorsement.  "You're too blamed pessimistic, Jim," growled
Lefever.

"No, John," protested Laramie evenly, "I'm only trying to see things as
they stand.  Don't figure we are going to pull this thing without
trouble.  Harry Van Horn's got a good guess that Dave is pretty well
shot up; and that he's hiding out.  He knows a man can't hide out
without friends."

"I grant you that," interrupted John.  "But if you can get him across
the Crazy Woman, Jim, it's a cinch to run him into town."

"Don't figure that every mile of that road isn't watched, for it is.  I
ride it oftener than you and I see plenty of sign.  And Harry knows
what a rainy night means just as well as we do.  He'll be on the job
with his men--that's all I'm saying.  Now, go ahead.  You want Abe
brought in--that's your business.  I'm here to bring him in--that's my
business.  Shoot."

Laramie and Lefever arranged things.  Number Seventy-eight, the through
fast freight, would be due to leave Sleepy Cat for Medicine Bend at
4:32 in the morning.  The crew were friendly.  Could Laramie make it
with Abe, starting by midnight?  He could.  It was impossible to meet
Laramie outside town because no one could tell which trail he might
have to choose to come in on.  But Sawdy and Lefever could look for him
out on the plateau at the head of Fort Street.  Henry Sawdy, his heavy
mustaches sweeping his thick lips, and his bloodshot eyes moving from
one to the other of the two faces before him only stared and listened.

"Why don't you say something, Henry?" demanded Lefever, exasperated.

Sawdy turned a reproachful look on his lively partner:  "When you're
talking, John, there ain't no chance to say anything.  When Jim's
talking, I don't want to say anything."

Laramie ordered his horse, got into oilskins, and riding out the back
way of the stable started for the Falling Wall.  The day was spent and
the rain had turned soft and misty.  He rode fast and with a little
watchfulness, exercised before reaching the Crazy Woman, satisfied
himself that he had not been followed out of town.

What had actually happened was that he rode north not long after Kate
herself started for home.  But Laramie followed old trails out of
town--even at the price of rounding fences and at times dodging through
wire gates for short cuts.  Night was upon him when he reached the
bluffs of the creek.  Between showers the sky had lightened, but the
north was overcast, and Laramie knew what to look forward to.  When he
had got up the long hill, and reached the northern bluffs, it was
raining steadily again, and night had spread over mountain and valley.

Abating something of his usual precaution in riding to reach Hawk's
hiding place, Laramie went slowly into the bad lands by a route less
dangerous than that he usually followed.  As the night deepened, the
wind rising brought a heavier rain.  The trail became increasingly
difficult to follow; rough at best, it was now almost impassable.
Sheets of water trickled over stretches of rock causing the horse to
slip and flounder.  In other places rivulets shooting out of crevices
cut the loose earth from under the horse's feet.  Leg-tired, the horse
finally resented being headed into the driving rain and went forward
slipping, hesitating and groping like a man on hands and knees.

When Laramie got him to the old bridge, the pony was all in.  Laramie
found shelter for him under a ledge and rifle in hand clambered along
the side of the canyon toward the abutment.  Close to the entrance he
set his rifle against the rock, listened carefully, as always, felt
down at his feet for the few chips of rock he had so placed that they
would be disturbed if trodden by an enemy, listened again carefully,
and with his revolver cocked in his right hand, and the muzzle lying
across his left forearm, Laramie slowly zigzagged his way to the
inside.  Once there, he stood perfectly still in the darkness and
called a greeting to Hawk.  He failed to receive the usual gruff
answer.  This never before had happened, and without trying for a
light, Laramie moved slowly and with much caution over to the recess
within which Hawk lay.  There he could hear the cowboy's labored, but
regular breathing as he slept.  The storm, waking the water crevices of
the mountains into a noisy chorus, had lulled the hunted man into an
untroubled sleep.

Laramie shook his oilskins in a heap on the floor, cautiously lighted a
candle and set it on the board that served as a table.  In spite of his
slickers he was wet through.  He hung his hat on the end of a broken
timber and laid his revolver beside the candle.  Bethinking himself,
however, of his rifle, he picked up the six-shooter again, stepped
outside the entrance, brought in his rifle, wiped it, stood it in a
convenient corner and turned toward Hawk.

The candle, burning at moments steadily and at moments flickering,
threw its uncertain rays into the recess where the wounded rustler lay.
They lighted the sallow pallor of the sleeping man's face, fell across
his sunken eyes and drew the black of his long beard out of the gloom
below it.  Laramie seated himself on a projecting ledge and looked
thoughtfully at his charge.  He was failing; of that there could be no
doubt.  Steel-willed and hard-sinewed though he was, the wounds that
would long ago have put an ordinary man out of action, were undermining
his great vitality and Laramie, in a study, felt it.

Yet such was the younger man's natural stubbornness that left to his
own devices he would have fought out the battle against death right
where the failing man lay; only the judgment of Lefever and Carpy
swayed him in the circumstances.

Believing sleep was the best preparative for the ordeal of the ride to
town, Laramie hesitated about waking Hawk--yet the hours were precious,
for the trip would be long and slow.  Fortunately he had not long to
wait before Hawk woke.

Laramie was sitting a few feet away and silently looking at him when
Hawk opened his eyes.  They wandered from one object to another in the
dim candle gloom, until they rested on Laramie's face; there they
stopped.

Laramie's features relaxed into as near a smile as he permitted himself
on duty: "How you coming, Abe?"

Hawk eyed him steadily: "What are you doing here tonight?"

Laramie answered with a question: "How about trying the gauntlet?"

"That what you want?"

"It's what Lefever and Carpy want."

"They running things?"

"They think you'd get well full as quick at a hospital."

"What do you think?"

"I guess you would."

"Tired taking care of me?"

"Not yet, Abe."

"Raining?"

"Hell bent."

"What's the other noise?"

"Thunder; and the river's up."

The roar of the waters was not new to the ears of the two men who
listened, however much it might have disturbed others unused to their
tearing fury.

Hawk listened thoughtfully: "Why didn't you pick a wet night?" he asked.

"We had to pick a dark one, Abe."

"Where's the horses?"

"Over at my place--what's that?"

The last words broke from Laramie's lips like the crack of a pistol.
He sprang to his feet.  Hawk's hand shot out for his gun.  Only
practised ears could have detected under the steady downpour of rain,
the deep roar of the canyon and the reverberation of the thunder, the
hoof beats of a stumbling horse.  The next instant, they heard the
horse directly over their heads.  Laramie, whipping out his revolver,
looked up.  As he did so, a deafening crash blotted out the roar of the
storm--the roof overhead gave way and amid an avalanche of rock and
timbers, a horse plunged headlong into the refuge.

In the narrow quarters so amazingly invaded, darkness added to an
instant of frantic confusion.  Laramie was knocked flat.  In the midst
of the fallen timbers, the horse, mad with terror, struggled to get to
his feet.  A suppressed groan betrayed the rider under him.

Laramie, where he lay, gun in hand, and Hawk, had but one thought:
their retreat had been discovered and attacked.  It was no part of
their defense to reveal their presence by wild shooting.  The enemy who
had plunged in on top of them was at their mercy, even though unseen.
He was caught under the horse, and to clap a revolver to his head and
blow the top off was simple; it could be done at any moment.  Of much
greater import it was, carefully to await his companions when they rode
up, above, and pick them off as chance offered.  Escape, if the raiding
party were properly organized, both men knew was for them
impossible--and they knew that Harry Van Horn organized well.  The
alternative was to sell their lives as dearly as possible.

This was by no means a terrifying conclusion to men inured to affray.
And for the moment, at feast, the situation was in their hands, not in
the enemies'.

A deluge of wind and rain swept through the broken roof.  Laramie,
stretching one arm through the debris, felt the shoulder of the rider,
flung in the violence of the fall close to him.

The prostrate horse renewed his struggles to get to his feet.

Laramie, exposed to the pouring rain, covered with mud, bruised by
broken rock still rolling down the open crater, and caught among rotten
timbers, struggled to right himself before his enemy should do so.  He
raised himself by a violent effort to his elbow, freed his pistol arm
and reaching over, pushed his cocked revolver into the side of the
fallen horseman.

A bolt of lightning shot across the crater, leaving behind it an inky
blackness of rain and wind.  The sudden onslaught from overhead might
well have confused his senses; but he had seen the lightning sweep
across a white, drawn face turned toward the angry sky--and in the
flash he had caught the features of Kate Doubleday.

Stunned though he was by the revelation, he knew his senses had not
tricked him.  There was in his memory but one such riding cap as that
which shaded her closed eyes; for him, but one such coil of woman's
hair as that falling now in disarray on her neck.  Completely unnerved,
he carefully drew away his revolver, averted the muzzle and spoke
angrily through the dark: "Who's here with you?"

There was no answer.  He asked the question sternly again, listening
keenly the while for sounds of other riders above.  Had she discovered
the retreat and led to it his enemies?  Could it be possible that even
they would allow her with them on such an errand and on such a night?

He called her name.  The roar of the canyon answered above the storm;
there was no sound else.  Once more he stretched out his arm.  His hand
rested on her breast and he was doubly sure his senses had not tricked
him.  But she might be dying or dead.  The fear struck home that she
was dead.  Then her bosom rose in a hardly perceptible respiration.

A storm of emotion swept Laramie.  He squirmed under the debris that
pinned him and got nearer to her.  He listened still for sounds of an
enemy, of those who must be with her--where could they be?  The
delicate breathing under his heavy hand came more regularly.  Then a
moan of pain checked and, again, released it.

Feeling slowly in the stormy dark for obstructions that might have
caught her, Laramie freed one of her feet caught in the stirrup and by
pushing and lifting at the shoulder of the horse succeeded after much
exertion in freeing her other foot, caught under it.  He felt his way
back to Kate's head and getting on his feet placed his hands under her
shoulders to draw her toward him.

As he did so, a sharp question of fear and confusion was flung at him:
"Where am I?  Who are you?"

"Who are you?" echoed Laramie, pulling her away from the horse which
had begun to struggle again.  "Who's here with you?" he demanded.
There was no answer.

"Who's here with you?" he repeated sternly.  "Tell me the truth."

"I've lost my way.  Where am I?  Who are you?"

The truth in her manner was plain.  Incredible as it seemed that she
could have strayed so far, all apprehension of an attack vanished with
her questions.

"You're a long way from home," he said, shortly.

She made no reply.

"Your horse took a header.  You fainted.  I suppose"--he hardly
hesitated in his words--"you know who is talking to you?"

In her silence he heard his answer.



CHAPTER XXV

A GUEST FOR AN HOUR

"Can you stand on your feet?" he asked.

Supporting her as she made the trial he felt his way from where the
horse had plunged through to where he found a partial seat for her.
"Are you much hurt?" he asked again.

She could not, if she would, have told in how many places she was
broken and bruised.  All she was sharply conscious of was a pain in one
foot so intense as to deaden all other pain.  It was the foot that had
been caught under the horse.  "I think I'm all right," she murmured, in
a constrained tone and, in her manner, briefly.  "How did you find me
here?" she asked, almost resentfully.  "Where am I?"

He knew from her words she had neither headed nor followed any
expedition against him but he did not answer her question: "I'll see
whether I can get the horse up."

While he worked with the horse--and once during the long, hard effort
she heard between thunder claps a sharp expletive--Kate tried to
collect in some degree her scattered and reeling senses.  What quieted
her most was that her long and fear-stricken groping for hours in the
storm and darkness seemed done now.  Without realizing it she was
willingly turning her fears and troubles over to another--and to one
who, though she stubbornly refused to regard him as a friend, she well
knew was able to shoulder them.  She heard the kicking and pawing of
the horse, then with new dismay, the low voices of two men; and next in
the terrifying darkness, more kicking, more suppressed expletives, more
heaving and pulling, and between lightning flashes, quieting words to
the horse.  The two men had gotten the frightened beast to his feet.

Laramie groped back to Kate.  He had to touch her with his hand to be
sure he had found her: "I'm taking you at your word," he said, above
the confusion of the storm.

"What do you mean?"

"That you're alone and don't know where you are."

"I am alone.  I wish I might know where I am."

Both spoke under constraint: "It's more important to know how to get
home," he replied, ignoring the request in her words.  "Your horse is
here for the night--that's pretty certain," he declared, as a sheet of
rain swept over the crater.  "I've got a horse near by and we'll start
for where we can get more horses."

There was nothing Kate could say or do.  She already had made up her
mind to submit in silence to what Laramie might suggest or impose.  One
thing only she was resolved on; that whatever happened there should be
no appeal on her part.

His first thought was to get her out of the pit by the way she had
plunged in.  A moment's reflection convinced him that such a precaution
was unnecessary.  When he asked her to follow him he held her wet
gloved hand in his hand.  "Look out for your footing till we get to the
horse," was his warning.  "The way we're going, we should never make
but one slip.  Take your time," he added, as she stepped cautiously
after him out into the drive of wind and rain.  "It's only about twenty
steps."

In obeying orders she gave him nothing to complain of, but there was
little relaxing of the tension between the two.  Every step she took on
her injured foot was torture, made keener by the uncertain footing.
More than once, even despite the dangers of her situation, she thought
she must cry out or faint in agony.  The twenty steps along the steep
face of the canyon, pelted by rain, were like two hundred.  Kate made
them without a whimper.  Thence she followed him slowly between rocky
walls guarding the nearly level floor of the widening ledge, till they
reached the horse.  She stumbled at times with pain; but if it were to
kill her she would not speak.

Hawk had followed the two from the abutment.  He joined them now.  Kate
was only aware that a second man had come up and was moving silently
near them.  Laramie spoke to him--she could not catch what he
said--then helped her into the saddle.  "I'm going to the house again,"
he said, "this man will stay with you.  I'll be back in a moment."

Little as she liked being left with another, she could not object.  The
rocky wall saved her partly from the storm and as to the other man she
was only vaguely conscious at intervals of a shapeless form outlined
beside the horse.

Laramie was gone more than a moment but under Kate's shelter nothing
happened.  The horse, subdued by storm and weariness, stood like a
statue.  Uneasy with pain, Kate was very nervous.  New sounds were
borne on the wind from the darkness; then she heard Laramie's voice;
and then a rough question from another voice: "How the hell did you get
him out?"

"Walked him out," was the response.  Laramie had brought back her own
horse.  "Get on him," added Laramie, speaking to the other man.  "I'll
lead my horse--he's sure-footed for her.  You know the way down."

Kate made only one effort as the man she knew must be Laramie came to
the head of the horse she was on, patted his wet neck and took hold of
the bridle.  She leaned forward in the saddle: "I'll try again to get
home if you'll help me get out of here."

"I'm helping you get out," was the reply.  "If you knew where you were,
you wouldn't talk yet about trying for home."  He stepped closer to the
saddle, tested the cinches and spoke to Kate: "It's a hard ride.  You
can make it by letting the horse strictly alone.  I'll lead him but he
won't stand two bosses in this kind of a mess, over the only trail that
leads from here.  How you ever got in, God only knows, and He won't
tell--leastways, not tonight.  Sit tight.  Don't get scared no matter
what happens.  If the horse should break a leg all we can do is to
shoot him and you can try your own horse; but your horse is all in now."

To ride at night a mile in the chilling blackness of a mountain storm
is to ride five.  To face a buffeting wind and a sweep of heavy rain
mile after mile and keep a saddle while a horse pauses, halts, starts
and staggers, rights himself, gropes painfully for an uncertain
foothold among rocks where a bighorn must pick his way, is to test the
endurance even of a man.

Laramie, moving unseen and almost unheard in the inky blackness,
piloted the nervous beast with an uncanny instinct, past the dangers on
every hand.  He guided himself with his feet and by his hands, halting
on the edge of crevices and heading them with the horse at his
shoulder, feeling his way around slopes of fallen rock and clambering
across them when they could not be escaped, holding the lines at their
length ahead of the horse and speaking low and reassuringly to urge him
on: waiting sometimes for a considerable period for a flash of
lightning to give him his bearings anew.

Kate could see in each of these blinding intervals his figure.  Each
flash outlined it sharply on her retina--always the same--patient,
resourceful, silent and unwearied.  The man who had been directed to
ride her own horse she never caught sight of.  When they reached open
country and better going her guide did not break the silence.  He spoke
only when at last he stopped the horse and stood in the darkness close
to her knee:

"This brings us to the end of our trail--for awhile.  We're in front of
my cabin.  Of course, it's small.  And I've been thinking what I ought
to say to you about things as you'll find them here.  The man that rode
behind us and passed us on your horse is Abe Hawk.  You know what they
call him over at your place; you know what they call me for taking his
part--you know what you called me."

She repressed an exclamation.  When she tried to speak, he spoke on,
ignoring her.  "Never mind," he said, in the same low, even tone that
silenced her protest, "I'm not starting any argument but it's time for
plain speaking and I'm going to tell you just what has happened
tonight, so, for once, anyway, we'll understand each other--I'm going
to show my cards.",

The chilling sheets of rain that swept their faces did not hasten his
utterance: "When you get home and tell your story, your men will know
it was Abe Hawk you ran into whether you knew it or not.  They'll ask
you all about his hiding place and you'll tell them all you know--which
won't be much.  I don't complain of all that--it's war; and part of the
game.  All I'll ask you not to say is, that I brought Abe Hawk with you
to my cabin.  Abe won't be here when they come--it isn't that.  We can
take care of ourselves.  I'm speaking only because I don't want my
place burned.  It isn't much but I think a good deal of it.  Burning it
won't help get rid of me.  It will only make things in this country
worse than they are now--and they're bad enough.  I wouldn't have
brought you here if there'd been any other place to take you.  There
wasn't; and for awhile you'll have to make partners with the two men
your father and his friends are trying to get killed."

She almost cried out a protest: "How can you say such a thing?"

"Just the plain fact, that's all."

"Is it fair because you are enemies to accuse my father in such a way?"

"Have it as you want it but get my view of it with the one you get over
at your place.  And if you'll climb down we'll go under cover."

"Now may I say something?"

"No more than fair you should."

She spoke low but fast and distinctly; nor was there any note of fear
or apology in her words: "You must put a low estimate on a woman if you
would expect her to go home with tales from the camp of an enemy that
had put her again on her road.  It may be that is the kind of woman you
know best----"

Laramie tried to interrupt.

"I've not done," she protested instantly.  "You said I might say
something: It may be that is the kind of woman you understand best.
But I won't be classed with such--not even by you.  If you've saved me
from great danger it doesn't give you the right to insult me by telling
me you expect me to be a tale-bearer.  It isn't manly or fair to treat
me in that way."

"You mustn't expect too much from a thief."

"You shame yourself, not me, when you use a word I never in my life,
not even in anger, ever used of you."

"You shame your friends when you call me or think of me as anything
else.  I'm no match for you----"

"I've not done----"

"I'm no match for you, I know, in fine words--or in any other kind of a
game--don't think I don't know that; but by----" he checked himself
just in time, "thief or no thief, you've had a square deal from me
every turn of the road."

Bitter with anger, he blurted out the words with vehemence.  If he
looked for a quick retort, none came.  Kate for an instant waited:
"Should you wish me," she asked, "to look for anything else at your
hands?"

"Well, we're not holding up this rain any by talking," he returned
gruffly.  "Get down and we'll get inside.  You can stay here till
morning."

"Oh, no!"

"Why not?"

"Just put me on the road for home and let me be going."

"This is my cabin.  I told you that."

"I can't _stay_ here."

"This is my cabin.  I'm responsible for the safety of everyone that
steps under my roof."

"I know, but I must go home.  They have most likely been searching the
trails for me.  Father would telephone"--she was desperate for
excuses--"to Belle and learn I'd started home--and the storm----"

He did not hesitate to cut her off: "Afraid of me, eh?"

The contempt and resentment in his words stirred her.  Without
answering she sprang as well as she could in her wet habit from the
saddle and faced him, close enough almost to see into his eyes in the
darkness.  From the fireplace inside a gleam of light, from the blaze
that Hawk had started, piercing the tiny window sash shot across her
face: "Does this look like it?" she demanded, her eyes seeking his.  He
was stubborn.  "Answer me!" she exclaimed in a tone of a dictator.

"Then why don't you do what I ask you to do instead of giving me a
story about Barb Doubleday telephoning?" he demanded.  She winced at
her mistake in urging an impossible thing.  She felt when she made it,
Laramie would not credit so wild an assertion.  Her father would not
take the trouble to telephone to save even a bunch of his steers from a
storm, much less his daughter.  "But there may be others over there,"
Laramie added grimly, "that would."

The reference to the man he hated--Van Horn--was too plain to be passed
over.  "Now," she returned, as if to close--and standing her ground as
she spoke, "have you said all the mean things you can think of?"

He evaded her thrust.  "The wires are down a night like this, anyway,"
he objected.  "If you'd be as honest with me as I am with you we'd get
along without saying mean things."

"I am honest with you.  Can't you see that a woman can't always be as
open in what she says as a man?"

"What do I know about a woman?"

"But since you make everything hard for me I shall be open with you."

"Come inside then and say it."

"I couldn't be any wetter than I am and if I've got to say this to one
man I won't say it to two: You ask me to stay all night in your cabin
as it I were a small boy--instead of what I am."

"You could take all the shooting irons on the place into your own room
with you."

"I shouldn't need to.  But what would people say of me when they heard
of it?  That I had stayed here all night!  You know what they can do to
a woman's reputation in this country--you know how some evil tongues
talk about Belle.  I would like to keep at least my reputation out of
this bitter war that is going on--can't you, won't you, understand?"

He was silent a moment.  "Come in to the fire, then," he said at
length, "and we'll see what we can do.  You've been on the wrong road
all night.  There's no need of any secrets now on anybody's part, I
guess.  But I'd rather turn you over to ten thousand devils than to the
man you're going back to tonight."

"Surely," she gasped, "you don't mean my own father?"

"You know the man I mean," was all he answered.  Then he threw open the
cabin door and stood waiting for her to pass within.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE CRAZY WOMAN WINS

It would have been idle for Laramie to deny to himself, as she stepped
without hesitation under his roof, that he loved her; or that he could
step in after her and close his door for her and for him--even for an
hour--against the storm and the world, without a thrill deeper than he
had ever felt.

He leaned his rifle against the cabin wall; a blanket had been hung
completely over the window and he let down two heavy bars across the
door.  Kate, in front of the fire, followed him with her eyes.  "Don't
mind this," he said, noticing her look.  "The place is watched a good
deal.  I couldn't afford too much of a surprise any time."

While he was searching for a lamp, her eyes ran quickly over the dark
interior, lighted fitfully as the driftwood, snapping on the stone
hearth, flared at times into a blaze.  Kate herself, despite the doubts
and fears of her situation, was conscious of a strange feeling in being
under Laramie's roof--at one with him in so far as he could make her
feel so.  Like a roll of fleeting film, strange pictures flashed across
her mind and she could not help thinking more and more about the man
and his stubborn isolation.

He had taken off his coat and was trying to light the lamp.  She looked
narrowly at the face illumined by the spluttering flare of the wick as
he stood over it, looking down and adjusting the flame; he seemed, she
was thinking--for her at least--so easy to get along with--for everyone
else, so hard.

A pounding at the door gave her a start.  Hawk was returning from the
barn where he had taken the horses.  Laramie showed no surprise and
walked over to lift the double bar only after he had got the lamp to
burn to suit him.  She felt startled again when Laramie in the simplest
way made the formidable outlaw, who now walked in, known to her.  The
picture of him as he swung roughly inside from the wild night was
unforgettable.  Erect and with his piercing eyes hollowed by illness,
his impassive features made slender by suffering and framed by the
striking beard, Hawk seemed to Kate to confirm in his appearance every
fantastic story she had ever heard of him.

Not till after Laramie had urged him and Kate herself had joined in the
plea, would he come near her or near to the fire.

"A wet night and a blind trail do pretty well at mixing things up,"
observed Laramie.  "However, we needn't make any further secrets.  Abe,
here, has got it in his mind to head for a hospital tonight.  You," he
looked at Kate, "are heading for home.  I don't like either scheme very
much but I'm an innocent bystander.  We'll ride three together till the
trails fork.  Then," he spoke again to Kate, "we'll put you on a sure
trail for the ranch, and the two of us will head into town.  It isn't
the way I planned, but it's one way out."

"The sooner we get started the better," said Hawk, curtly.  The two men
discussed for a moment the trip; then Laramie and Hawk left the house
for the barn and corral to get up horses.  Before leaving, Laramie
showed Kate how to drop the bars and cautioned her not to neglect to
secure the door.  "Some of this bunch Van Horn has got out wouldn't be
very agreeable company."

"Surely they wouldn't harm me!"

"It would mean a nasty fight for us when we bring up the horses."

Kate secured the door.  Wet and uncomfortable but undismayed by the
various turns of her predicament she sat down to study the fire.  Her
eyes wandered through the gloom to the dark corners of the rough room
and over the crude furnishings.

The long, slender snowshoes on the wall, the big beaded moccasins with
them, the coiled lariats hung on the pegs in company with old spurs;
the bunk in the corner strewn with Indian blankets from the far-off
Spanish country, and overflowing with the skin of a grizzly--all
brought to mind and reflected an active life.  The firelight glinted
the bright, bluish barrels of the rifles on the rack, to Kate, almost
sinisterly, for some of them must suggest a side of Laramie's life she
disliked to dwell on--yet she allowed herself to wonder which rifle he
took when he armed not for elk or grizzlies but for men.  And then at
the side of the fireplace she saw fastened on the rough wall a faded
card photograph of a young woman--almost a girl.  It was simply
framed--Kate wondered whether it might be his mother.  Over the crude
wooden frame was hung an old rosary, the crucifix depending from the
picture.  The beads were black and worn by use as if they had slipped
many times through girlish fingers.

She had a long time to let her thoughts run.  The two men were not soon
back and she was beginning to wonder what might have happened, when,
standing at the door to listen, she heard noises outside and Laramie's
voice.  She let him in at once.  "You didn't have the door barred," he
said, suspiciously.

"Oh, yes, but I heard you speak."

He was alone.  "We're ready," he said.  "No dry clothes for you, but we
can't help it."

She protested she did not mind the wet.  Hawk in the saddle was waiting
with their horses.  Rain was still falling and with the persistent
certainty of a mountain storm.  Kate, mounting with Laramie's help, got
her lines into her hands.  "It's pretty dark," he said, standing at her
stirrup.  "We'll have to ride slow.  I go first, Hawk next, then you;
if our horses can make the trail yours likely can.  I don't think we'll
meet anybody, but if we do it's better to know now what to do.  If you
hear any talk that sounds like trouble, push out of the line as quick
as you can and throw yourself flat on the ground.  Stay there till you
don't hear any more shooting, but hang on to your lines so you don't
lose your horse.

"The only other trouble might be your getting lost from us." He spoke
slowly as if thinking.  "That must depend a good deal on you.  Keep as
close as you can.  Can you whistle?"  Kate thought she could.  "If you
can't make us hear," he continued, "shoot--have you got a pistol?"  She
had none.  He brought her a double action revolver from the cabin and
showed her how it worked.  "Don't use it unless you have to.  It might
be heard by more than us."

Kate stuck the revolver under her wet belt.  "Why couldn't I ride with
you?" she asked.

"There's more danger riding ahead."

"No more for me than for you."

"I wouldn't say that.  But if you want to try it, all right.  Keep
close.  Don't be afraid of bumping me--and Hawk can follow us."

There was nothing in the night to encourage heading into it.  That men
could find their way with every possibility of landmark and sight
blotted out and nothing of sound above the downpour except the
tumultuous roar of the Turkey which they were following, was to Kate a
mystery of mysteries.  Even the lightning soon deserted them.  Their
pace was halted by washouts, obstructed by debris in the trail.  In
places, the creek running bank-full, backed up over their path.

At times, Laramie halting his companions, rode slowly ahead, sounding
out the overflows and choosing the footing.  Where streamlets poured
over rock outcroppings the horses slipped.  Frequently to get his
bearings, Laramie felt his way forward by reaching for trees and
scraped his knees against them as he pushed his horse close.  And in
spite of everything to confuse, intimidate and hold them back, they
slipped and floundered on their way, until quite suddenly a new roar
from out of the impenetrable dark struck their ears.

Laramie halted their party, and the three in silence, listened.
"That," said Laramie, after a moment, to Hawk, "sounds like the Crazy
Woman."

He went ahead to investigate.  He was gone a long time, yet he groped
half a mile down the road and made his way back to his companions
without a signal.  He was on foot.  "We're all right," was the report
he brought, "it's a little dryer ahead.  While I'm down," he said to
Kate, "I'll try your cinches.  It's a mean night."

"Did you ever see such a night?" she echoed, shuddering.

"Plenty of 'em," returned Laramie.  "Once we cross the creek the going
will be better."

Of the going between them and the creek, Laramie prudently said
nothing.  It was the worst of the journey.  Two stretches were filled
with backwater.  Across these they cautiously waded and swam the
horses.  When they gained high ground adjoining the creek, Kate
breathed more freely.  There was a halt for reconnaissance.  For this,
Laramie and Hawk, after placing Kate where she would be safe whether
they should come back or not, went forward together.

The splashing and floundering of their horses as the two left her side,
was gradually lost in the roar of the night and she was alone in the
darkness.  They were gone a good while but Kate had enough of confused
and conflicting thought to occupy her reflections.  After a long
interval the report of a Colt's struck her anxious ear.  She swallowed
in sudden fear to listen more keenly.  If there were a fight it would
be followed by another report and more.  With her heart beating fast
she listened, but there was no successor to the single shot and,
calming somewhat, she speculated on just what it might mean.  Again she
waited with such patience as she could until the measured splash of a
horse's feet nearing her through the shallow water announced someone's
approach.  Laramie was back and alone.

Almost anybody in the world would have been welcome at such a juncture.
He called and she answered quickly, but he brought unwelcome news--the
little bridge that spanned the creek at this point was out.

"We can't get across, can we?" she exclaimed in disappointment.

"We can swim the creek if you're game for it."

"Could we possibly get across?"

"If I didn't expect to get across I'd sure never try it.  It'll be a
wet crossing."

"I couldn't be wetter."

"Hawk asked if you could swim."

"I can't."

"I told him I didn't suppose you could."

"Are we all to go together?"

"He's over now.  He signaled a minute ago.  I told him I'd get you
across if he'd get you out.  It's close to daybreak.  Better take off
your coat."

While he strapped her coat to the saddle, she lightened and freed
herself as much as possible, disengaged, as he directed, her feet from
the stirrups, and they started for the creek.  At the point he had
chosen for the plunge, he gave her a few admonitions, chiefly to the
effect of doing nothing except to cling to her seat in getting into the
flood and getting out.  Just as her horse poised beside Laramie's a
wave of dread swept over her.  It was very literally a plunge into the
dark.  "Are you afraid?" he asked, divining her feeling.

Pride dictated her answer: "No," she said stoutly.  "Though, of
course," she added with an attempt at lightness, "I'd prefer to cross
on a bridge."

"All in getting used to it, I suppose.  I guess I've crossed here a
hundred times before there was any bridge.  Don't get scared if your
head goes under water when your horse jumps in.  The bank here is a
little high, but it's clean jumping.  Say when you're ready."

"I'm ready."

"Go!"

With his hand on her bridle, he spoke loudly and sharply, kicked her
horse with one foot and punched his own horse with the other at the
same time.  The next instant, gripped by an overpowering fear, and
breathless, Kate felt herself jerked into the air, then she plunged
headlong forward and sank into the boiling flood.  Down, down she went,
her ears swooning with water, mouth and eyes tight shut, and moving she
knew not where or how until her head rose out of the flood and a voice
yelled above the tumult: "You're all right!  Horse's doing fine.  Hang
on!"

Then she was conscious of a hand clutching her upper arm, a hand so
strong her flesh winced within its grip.  And she could feel the
powerful strokes of her horse as he panted and swam under her.

Above the terrifying swirl of the waters, carrying in the hardly
distinguishable light of the breaking day, a mass of debris that swept
about the two riders, the only sound was the hard breathing of the
horses and a shout repeated by Laramie, until at last it was answered
by Hawk somewhere in the darkness ahead.

Urging the horses to their task, Laramie guided them to where Kate
could make out portions of the creek bank.  She could realize how fast
they were being carried down stream by the wild sweep of the current.
Trees flashed past her like phantoms, as if the bank were mad instead
of the creek.  It seemed impossible she could ever make the bank, now
very near, and get up out of the water; only Laramie's hand locked firm
now in her horse's mane, his strong voice as he urged the horses or
called to Hawk, gave her the slightest hope of coming out alive.

Laramie cried to her to duck as a cottonwood leaning over the water
almost tore her cap and hair from her head.  The next instant the
cottonwood was gone and, looking ahead, she saw a horseman on a slope
in the bank, his own horse half submerged.  They had reached one of
several old fords.  Here the two men had purposed to get Kate ashore.
But she did not know that this was the last of the ford crossings for a
mile--the only shelving bank--nor why Laramie made such superhuman
efforts to head her horse toward Hawk, to get to where the horse could
ground his feet.  Hawk, in an effort to catch Kate's bridle, spurred
down to them till his own horse was afloat.  Kate's horse struggled
desperately, lost headway and was swept below the ford opening.  The
two men with shouts, curses and entreaties, guiding their own horses,
urged the hapless beast to greater effort; it was evident he could not
reach the ford.

"The roan can't make it," shouted Hawk.  "Crowd him up to the ledge
where I can get hold of her."

Hawk, reining his horse hastily about, got him back up the shelving
ford, spurred down the bank to where Kate, despite Laramie's efforts,
was being driven by the sweep of the water and sprang from his horse.
Where Kate's horse struggled at that moment the creek bank rose
vertically above the peak of the flood.  Deep water gave the horse no
chance for a foothold and it swam helplessly.  Hawk, running along the
ledge, awaited his chance.  It came at a moment that Laramie succeeded
in crowding the roan to the bank.  Hawk saw the opportunity and held
his hand out to Kate:

"Reach up!" he shouted.

"Give him both hands!" cried Laramie, punching and pushing her horse
against the bank.  As Kate swept along, her hands upstretched, Hawk
caught her wrists and, bracing himself in the slipping earth, dragged
her up and out of the saddle.  The roan, with Laramie's hand on his
bridle, swept on downstream.  The clay bank, under the strain of the
double load, gave under Hawk's feet.  But without releasing Kate's
hands he threw himself flat and, matching his dead weight against the
chance of being dragged in, caught her with one arm and flung the other
backward into the dark.  A clump of willow shoots clutched in his
sinewy fingers gave him a stay and, putting forth all his strength, he
drew Kate slowly up.  She scrambled across his prostrate body to safety.

The force of the gnawing current had already undercut the soft clay.
The next instant the whole bank began to sink.  Hawk shouted to Kate to
run.  She saw him struggling in the crumbling earth.  Crying out in her
excitement she stretched her hands toward him.  He waved her back.  As
he did so, a great section of the bank on which he was struggling
broke, and in the big, soft splash, Hawk went into the creek.



CHAPTER XXVII

KATE DEFIES

The instant he saw Kate in Hawk's keeping, Laramie rode down with the
flood, looking sharply for a chance to get out the two horses; when
finally he did get them ashore he was spent.  Leading Kate's horse, he
made his way up-creek through the willows to where she should be with
Hawk.

Hawk's horse he found browsing in the heavy wet grass at the old ford.
Neither Kate nor Hawk were in sight.  Laramie walked down to the
water's edge where Hawk had pulled her out.  Familiar with the meander
of the bank below the ford, he saw what had happened.  The bank,
under-cut, had been swallowed by the flood.  Laramie ran down stream
and came suddenly on Kate standing alone on a rock jutting out above
the torrent.

In the uncertain light of the gray morning he saw her anxious face.
She explained what had happened.  Laramie showed no alarm.  "I guess
Abe will handle himself," he said.

"Can't we do anything to help him?"

"I'll put you on your trail, then I'll ride down the creek and look for
him.  He'll make it if his strength doesn't give out."

Laramie took Kate up the creek and, riding through the hills, brought
her, unexpectedly, out on a trail within sight of her father's
ranch-house hardly three miles away.  He pointed to a break heading
from the creek.  "You can follow that draw almost to the house," he
explained.  Then, reining about, he wheeled his horse to take the back
trail.  "Are you going to run away without giving me a chance to thank
you?" she exclaimed, with a feminine touch of surprise.

"There's a gate near the head of the draw where you can get through the
wire," he rejoined stubbornly.

"I can't see how I can ever repay you for what you've done tonight,"
she persisted.

He was coldly uncompromising.  "You needn't bother about any pay, if
that's what you call it."

Skilfully she drew her horse a step closer to him.  "What shall I call
it?" she asked innocently, "debt, obligation?  I owe you a lot, ever so
much to me--my life."

"I've done no more for you than I've done for less than a human being,"
he returned impatiently.

"I'm sure that's so.  But human beings," she added, with a touch of
gentle good-nature, "are supposed to have more feeling than cows or
steers, you know."

"I never had a cow or a steer call me names," he retorted rudely.

"If you weren't a human being you wouldn't mind being called names; you
wouldn't be so angry with me, either."

"I'm not angry," he said resentfully.  His very helplessness in her
hands pricked her conscience at the moment that it restored her
supremacy.  His strength might menace others--she at least had nothing
to fear from it.

"Do you know," she exclaimed, shaking off for the moment all restraint,
"what I'd like to do?"

He looked at her surprised.

"I'd like to ride back this minute with you and help find Abe Hawk.  I
know I mustn't," she went on as he listened.  "But I'd like to," she
persisted hurriedly.  And then, afraid of herself more than of him, she
repressed a quick "good-by" and, without giving him time to answer,
galloped away.

She reached the ranch-house without further difficulty.  No one was
stirring.  She stopped at the corral and turned in her horse and,
walking awkwardly on her swollen ankle to the kitchen, built a fire,
warmed herself as best she could and went to her room.  By the time her
father was stirring, Kate, under her coverlets, quite exhausted, was
fast asleep.

It was broad day when she woke.  Through an open window, she saw sullen
gray clouds still rolling down from the northwest, but between them the
sun shot out at ragged intervals--the storm had broken.  Walking
gingerly from her room, on her lame foot, she found the house empty.
Her father, Kelly told her, had gone out early, and she sat down to a
late breakfast glad to be undisturbed in her thoughts.  Her mind was
still in a confusion of opinions; some, long-cherished being crowded,
so to say, to the wall; others, more than once rejected, growing
bolder.  It was in this mental condition that her seclusion was invaded
by Van Horn.

He swept off his hat with a show of spirits.  "Just heard you'd got
home."  He sat down with her at the table.  "Everybody thought you
stayed in town last night.  Got lost, eh?"

Kate raised her coffee cup non-committally.  "For awhile," she murmured
between sips.

"What time did you get here?"

"I was so glad to get to bed I never looked at my watch."  Again she
regarded him, quite innocently, over the rim of her cup.  "Did anybody
lose any stock?"

He did not abandon his inquisition willingly, but each time he asked a
question, Kate parried and asked one in turn.  He gave up without
having gained any information she meant to withhold.

It was not hard to keep him in good humor; indeed, it was rather too
easy.  He pushed back his chair, crossed his legs, talked of a strong
cattle market for the fall and spoke of Hawk and the hunt he was
keeping up for him.  "They had a story around--or some of the boys had
the idea--that his friends would pick a wet night like last night to
take him into town."

"Is he still in the country?"

"Sure he is.  Say, Kate," he changed his attitude as lightly as he did
his subject--uncrossed his legs, squared himself in his chair and threw
his elbows on the table.

She met the new disposition with a tone of prudent reserve: "What is
it?"

"When are you going to do something for a lonesome old scout?" he asked
bluntly.

With as little concern as possible, she put down her knife and fork,
and, with her hands seeking her napkin, looked at him.  "What do you
mean?" she returned collectedly, "by 'doing something'?"

"Marry me."

"Never."

The passage was disconcertingly quick.  Van Horn, thrown quite aback,
remonstrated.  His discomfiture was so undisguised that Kate was
embarrassed.  The next moment he was very angry.  "If that's the case,"
he blurted out, "what's the use o' my sticking around here fighting
your battles?"

"You're not fighting my battles."

"Maybe you don't call 'em your father's, either," he exclaimed
scornfully.

"They're your own battles," declared Kate.  "You know that as well as I
do."

"All the same, your father gets the benefit of them," he continued
hotly.

"I wish to heaven he had kept out of them."

Van Horn eyed her sharply.  His face reflected his sarcasm.  "Of
course, you needn't worry," he grinned, with implication.  "They
wouldn't steal your horse even if you do always leave it in Kitchen's
barn; the Falling Wall bunch think too much of you for that."

Surprised as she was at this outbreak, Kate kept her head.  "There are
some of the rustlers I'd trust as far as I would some of the raiders,"
she rejoined coolly.

"Why don't you say Jim Laramie," he exclaimed harshly.

"Jim Laramie," she returned defiantly, "is not the only one."

"He'll be the 'only one' after our next clean-up in the Falling Wall.
And he won't be 'one' if he doesn't change his tune."

Kate's eyes were snapping fire.  "Take care that next time the Falling
Wall doesn't clean you up," she said bitingly.

He snorted.  "I mean it," she exclaimed.  "Next time you'll need to
look out for yourself."

He bolted from his chair.  "That's the first time I ever heard anybody
on this ranch take sides with the men that's robbing it--or carry a
threat to this ranchhouse for rustlers."

"Call it whatever you please, you won't change my opinion of you.  But,
of course, I'm only a woman and don't know anything."

"I'm thinking you know a whole lot more than you let on," he declared.

"Anyway, I wish you'd leave this ranch out of the rest of it.  If you
keep on 'cleaning up,' as you call it, you'll go farther and fare
worse."

He brought down his fist.  "Not until I've cleaned out two more pups,
anyway!  Now, look here, Kate," he went on, "you may be fooling about
this marrying, but you can bet I'm not."

"Well, you can bet _I'm_ not," she returned, echoing his pert slang
sharply.

"Who's the man?"  He flung the question at her point-blank.

If she flushed the least bit it was with anger at his rudeness.  "There
isn't any man, and there isn't going to be any--so please never talk
again about my marrying you or anybody else."

She rose and left the table.  He jumped to intercept her and tried to
catch her hands.  She let him see she was not in the least afraid and
as he confronted her, she faced him without a tremor.  "Let me pass!"
She fairly snapped out the words.

Van Horn, without moving, broke into a boisterous laugh.  Kelly walked
in just then from the kitchen and Van Horn, losing none of his
malevolence, did stand aside.

"All right," he said, "--this time."



CHAPTER XXVIII

A DIFFICULT RESOLVE

For two days Kate burned in feverish reaction from her exposure,
wretched in mind and body.  Her only effort in that time was to get
down to the corral and see that Bradley, acting as barn boy, should do
something for her cut and bruised pony.

Her father was still in Medicine Bend, and Van Horn, much to her
relief, had disappeared.  When she left her bed she spent the morning
trying to rehabilitate her riding suit.  The task called for all her
ingenuity and she was still in the kitchen working on it late in the
afternoon when Bradley came in.

He had no sooner sat down by the door to report to Kate at his ease,
than Kelly interrupted him with a call for wood.  Even after he had
filled the box, Kelly warned him he would have to split more next
morning to get a supply ahead.

"Easy, Kelly," remonstrated Bradley, in his deeply tremulous voice.
"Easy.  I can't split no wood t'morrow mornin', not for nobody."

"Why not?"

"Got to go to town."

"What for?"

Bradley declined to answer, but Kelly, persistent, bored into his
evasiveness until Kate tired at the discussion: "Tell him what you're
going for and be done with it," she said tartly.  The reaction of three
days had not left her own nerves unaffected; she admitted to herself
she was cross.

Bradley, taken aback by this unexpected assault, still tried to
temporize.  Kate refused to countenance it.  When he saw he was in for
it, he appealed to her generosity: "It'd be most 's much 's my job's
worth if they knew here what I'm goin' to town tomorrow f'r."

"If that's all," said Kate, to reassure the old man, "I'll stand
between you and losing your job."

Bradley drew his stubby chin and shabby beard in and threw his voice
down into his throat: "D' y' mean that?  Then don't say nothin', you
and Kelly.  Least said, soonest mended.  I'm goin' t' town t'morrow t'
see the biggest funeral ever pulled off in Sleepy Cat," he announced
with bleary dignity.

"What do you mean--whose funeral?" demanded Kate, looking at him
suddenly.

"Abe Hawk's.  It's goin' t' be t'morrow er next day."

If the old man had meant to stupefy his questioner, he could not better
have succeeded.  Kate turned deathly white.  She bent over the table
and busied herself with her ironing.  Bradley, pleased with his
confidence safely made, talked on.  He found a pride in talking to
Kate, with Kelly in and out of the room, and launched into unrestrained
eulogies of the famed rustler, always the friend of the poor man, once
king of the great north range itself.

"It's a pity," murmured Kate, when she felt she must say something,
"that he ever went wrong."

Bradley had a point to offer even on that.  "It's a pity they ever
blacklisted him; that was Stone's get-up.  And Stone, when I was
sheriff, was the biggest thief in the county an' the county was four
times as big then as it is now--that's 'tween you 'n' me."

"Were you ever sheriff, Bill?"

"You won't believe it, but it's so--dash me 'n' dash drunkards one and
all."

"I hear, though," returned Kate, only because in her distress of mind
she could think of nothing else to say, "that Tom Stone has stopped
drinking."

"That man," was Bradley's retort, and he kept his tremulous voice still
far down in his throat, "is mean enough to do any d--d thing."

"You used to be sheriff?"

"Yes.  And when I was sheriff, Kate, I found out it was better to trust
an honest man turned thief than a thief turned honest man."

Kate, listening to his halting maunderings, hardly heeded them.  She
heard in her troubled ears the rush of mad waters; phantom voices
cracked again in pistoled oaths at the horses, the fear of sudden death
clutched at her heart, and in the dreadful dark a powerful arm caught
her again and drew her, helpless, out of an engulfing flood.

She got out of doors.  The sunshine, clear and calm, belied the
possibility of a night such as Bradley's words had summoned.  "Dead,"
she kept saying to herself.  Laramie had been sure he would get out of
the creek.  What could it mean?

She went back to the kitchen where Bradley, eating supper, had switched
from his long-winded topic.  Kate had to question him: "What was the
matter with Abe?  When did he die?" she asked, as unconcernedly as she
could.

There was little satisfaction in Bradley's slow, formal answer: "Some's
got it one way and some's got it another, Kate.  I can't rightly say
what ailded him or when he died 'n' I guess nobody else can, f'r sure.
Some says he got shot; some says he was drownded 'a' las' Tuesday night
in the Crazy Woman; some says they's been a fight nobody's heard of
yit, 't' all.  The only man that knows for sure--if he does know--is
the man that brought him into Sleepy Cat 'n' if he knows he won't
tell."  He held out his big enameled cup.  "Kelly, gi' me jus' a squirt
o' coffee, will y'?"

Kate, on nettles, waited to hear who had brought Hawk in.  Bradley
would not volunteer the name.  Some deference was due him as the
purveyor of the big news, and he meant that anyone curious of detail
should do the asking.  Kate, realizing this, framed with reluctance the
question he was waiting for: "Who brought Abe in?"

Even so, she knew there would be but one answer.  Bradley gulped
another mouthful of scalding coffee and set down his cup.  "Jim
Laramie," he answered laconically.

She said to herself that Hawk had never got out of the creek; that he
had drowned miserably in the flood.  She tortured herself with
conjecture as to exactly what had happened.  And night brought no
relief.  Sleepless, she tossed, marveling at how close his death had
come home to her.  Every scrap of the meager news added to what she
already knew--pointed to what she most feared.

She lay propped up on her pillows and looked through the open window
out on the glittering stars.  Strange constellations passed in
brilliant procession before her eyes.  And while she lay thus
reflecting and revolving in her mind the loneliness and unhappiness of
her surroundings, a startling suggestion far removed from these doubts
offered itself to her mind.  Repelled at first, it came back as if
demanding acceptance.  And not until after she had promised herself she
would consider it, did her thoughts give her any peace.  She fell into
an uneasy slumber and woke with day barely breaking; but without an
instant's delay she dressed and slipped from her room out to the barn.

Forehanded as she had been in getting an early start, Bradley was
already stirring.  Pail in hand, the old man, standing in front of the
feed bin, stared at Kate speechless as she walked in on him.

"Who's sick?" he demanded after a moment.

"Nobody, Bill.  I'm going to town with you, that's all."

"With _me_?"

She half laughed at herself and at his surprise.  "I mean, I'm for town
early.  Get up a pony for me--Spider Legs will do."

Born of long-forgotten experience in waiting for women, Bill Bradley,
as Kate walked away, put in a caveat: "I'm headin' out jus' soon's I
c'n get breakfast."

"I, too, Bill.  I'll be across the divide before you are."

Curiosity would not down: "What y' goin' t' town f'r?" he called.

Turning half around, Kate, with a little shrug, paused.  She would not
be ungracious: "To pick up a few things," she answered unconcernedly.

Bill, not satisfied, felt obliged to desist.  "Startin' airly," was his
only grumble.  Had he known what possibilities for that day had lodged
themselves in Kate's mind, he would not have been able to slip Spider
Legs' bridle over his ears.  But his business being only to get up the
horse, he discharged it with shaky fidelity and for himself started
with high expectations for town.  Had he been given to speculating on
the variableness of woman, he might have found a text in Spider Legs'
standing for hours after he was made ready.  And in the end his
mistress unsaddled him and turned him back into the corral.

The truth was, Kate had been seized with cruel fits of doubt and for a
long time could not decide whether she ought to go to town or not.  But
as often as she gave up the idea of going, a heart-strong impulse
pleaded against her uneasy restraint.  She felt she _must_ go.



CHAPTER XXIX

HORSEHEAD PASS

Bradley had not been able to tell her just when the funeral was set
for.  But it surged in Kate's heart that after what Abe Hawk had done
for her, to let the poor, bullet-torn, neglected body be put into the
ground without some effort to pay a tribute of gratitude to the man
that had once animated it, would be on her part fearfully cold.

The difficulties of the situation were many.  She feared the anger of
her father, and owed his feelings something as well.  But every time
she decided she ought to stay at home, the pricking at her heart grew
keener.  In the end, her feelings overrode her restraint.  She resolved
at least to go to town.  The funeral might have already taken place--it
would be a relief even to learn more about his death.

Late in the afternoon, she got Spider Legs up again, saddled him and,
telling Kelly she might not be back that night, rode away.

It was dark by the time she reached town and leaving her horse with
McAlpin she crossed the street from the barn and walked hurriedly
around the corner to Belle's.  The front door stood open and the
red-shaded lamp burned low on the dining-room table.

Tapping on the screen door, Kate, without waiting for Belle to answer,
opened it and went in.  There was no light in the living-room and the
portières were drawn.  She walked down the hall to the dining-room,
where she laid down her gloves and took off her coat and hat.
Smoothing her hair, she knocked on the door of Belle's room, but got no
answer.  Conjecturing that she had gone out on an errand, Kate sat down
in a rocking chair and, taking a newspaper from the table, tried to
read.

Her thoughts soon blurred the print.  She read on only to think of what
had brought her so irresistibly to town and to wonder what she should
hear now that she had come.

After some struggle to concentrate, she tossed the paper aside to ask
herself why Belle did not return, and, being tense, began without
realizing it, to rock softly.  Her eyes naturally turned to the
familiar lamp.  Its somber paper shade threw the light in a circle on
the table, leaving the room in the heavy shadows of its figured
pattern.  Kate became all at once conscious of the utter silence, and
impatient for Belle's return, got up and walked through the dark hall
toward the front door.

Passing the living-room portières, she pushed open the screen door and
stepped out on the porch.  There she stood for a moment at the top of
the steps looking at the stars.  Lights here and there burned in
neighboring cottage windows.  No wind stirred.  The street and the town
were as still as the night.  After some minutes, Kate descended the
steps, opened the gate, leaving it to close with a click behind her,
and walked to the corner of Main Street.  It looked dark.  The stores
were closed.  From the saloon windows spotty lights shot at intervals
across the upper street, but these only made the darkened store fronts
blacker and revealed the nakedness and desertion of the street itself.
Not a man, much less a woman, could she see anywhere moving.

Either the silence, or the night, or her long wait changed her
impatience into a feeling of loneliness.  She turned back toward the
cottage gate.  She had not noticed before how very dark the side street
was.  Reaching the gate she hesitated, pushed it open and then stopped,
conscious of a curious repugnance to entering the house.

Her feeling refused to explain itself.  Through the screen she could
see the lamp still burning on the dining-room table.  Things appeared
just as she had left them, yet she did not want to go in.  But,
dismissing the qualm, she walked up the steps, crossed the narrow
porch, opened the screen door and, stepping inside, closed it after her.

This time that she passed the living-room she noticed the portières
were partly open.  Both times she had passed before, she felt sure,
they had been closed.

Kate sat down in the dining-room and looked suspiciously back at the
portières.  She was already sorry she had come into the house, for the
silence and her aloneness added to the conviction fast stealing over
her that someone must be in the dark living-room.

Once entertained, the suspicion became insupportable.  Her ears were
pitched to a painful intensity of listening and her eyes were fastened
immovably on the motionless curtains.

She carried a ranchwoman's revolver and, putting her hand on it, she
rose, stepped close to the door of Belle's room--into which she could
retreat--and, with one hand on the knob, called sharply toward the
living-room: "Who's there?"

Not a sound answered her.

"Who is in the living-room?" she demanded again.  This time, after a
moment's delay, she heard something move in the darkness, then a man's
step and Laramie stood out between the portières.

Except for a fatigued look as he rested one hand on the portière and
the other on his hip, he appeared quite as she had last seen him.  "Are
you calling me?" he asked.

"Yes," she responded tartly.  "Why didn't you answer?"

"I didn't know who you were speaking to at first.  I've been here all
the evening.  I didn't know you were in town till I saw your hat on the
table a few minutes ago."

"Where is Belle?" asked Kate, still on edge.

"She went over to Mrs. Kitchen's."

"When will she be back?"

He seemed to take no offense at her peremptory tone.  "She said she
wouldn't be gone a great while.  But," he added, with his customary
deliberation, "all the same, I wouldn't be surprised if she stayed over
pretty late--or even all night."

This was not just what Kate wanted to hear.  "Why didn't you say
something when I first came in?" she asked, her suspicion reflected in
her voice.

He did not seem nonplused but he answered slowly: "I heard someone come
in.  I didn't pay much attention, that's about the truth."

"What are you doing in there in the dark?"

He was provokingly deliberate in answering.  "You probably haven't
heard about Abe Hawk?"

Her manner changed instantly and her voice sank.  "Is it true that he
is dead?"

"Yes."

"He didn't drown that morning, did he?" she asked eagerly anxious.
"You thought he could get out--what happened?"

"He got out of the creek.  But he strained his wounds--they opened.  I
wasn't much of a surgeon.  I got him to the hospital--he died there.  I
had no place to take him then.  I wouldn't leave him there alone.
Belle said I might bring him here.  I'm spending my last night with
him."

"You're not trying to spare me, are you?" she asked, unsteadily.  "He
really did get out of the creek?"

"He did get out."

She spoke again brokenly: "He saved my life."

"Well," remarked Laramie, meditating, "he wouldn't ask anything much
for that.  Do you mind if I smoke?"

"Not a bit."

"I'm kind of nervous tonight," he confessed simply.  Then he crossed
the room, rested his elbow on the mantelpiece and made ready a
cigarette.  "I wonder," he said, "if I could ask you a question?"

"What is it?"

"You always act kind of queer with me.  Why is it?  You've never been
the way you were the first day we met.  Haven't I always been square
with you?"

She hesitated but she answered honestly: "You always have."

"Then why are you so different?"

"I've made that confession once.  I was acting a part that day."

"No, I can't figure it in that way.  That day you were acting natural.
Why can't you be like that again."

"But, Mr. Laramie----"

"No--Jim."

"But----"

"Every time you call me Mr. Laramie I'm looking around for a gentleman.
Why can't you be the way you were the first time?"

She realized his eyes were on her, demanding the truth--and his eyes
were uncomfortably steady as she had reason to know.  "If I spoke I
should hurt your feelings," she urged, summoning all her courage.  "You
know as well as I do that the first time I met you I didn't know who
you were."

He did not seem much disconcerted, except that he tossed away the
unlighted cigarette.  "You don't know now," was his only comment.

"I can't help knowing what is said about you--you and your friends."

He made an impatient gesture.  "That gives you no clue to me."

"What are people to believe when such stories are public property?"

"Only what they know to be true."

"How are they to find out what is true?"

"By going straight to the person most concerned in the stories."

"Would you honestly expect a young woman to go to work and investigate
all the charges against men she hears in Sleepy Cat?"

"We are talking now about the charges against one man--against me.  I
want to give you an instance:

"I suppose there's been a good many hard words over your way about my
keeping Abe Hawk out of the hands of your people.  Because I did
shelter him--you know how--they've blackened my name here at Sleepy Cat
and down at Medicine Bend.  A man doesn't have to approve all another
man does, to befriend him when he's down and a bunch of men--not as
good as he--set out to finish him.  I haven't got any apologies to make
to anybody for protecting Abe when he was wounded--and if he wasn't
wounded, no man would talk any kind of protection to him.  But you've
been fed up with stories about it--I know that--so," he added grimly,
"I'm going to tell you one story more.

"I grew up in this country when the mining fever was on--everybody
plumb crazy in the rush for the Horsehead Camp in the Falling Wall
country.  One winter five hundred men in tents were hanging around
Sleepy Cat waiting for the first thaw, to get up to the camp.  That's
when I got acquainted with Abe Hawk.  Abe was carrying the mails to the
mines.  He hadn't a red cent in the world.  My father had just died; I
was a green kid with a pocketful of money.  Abe didn't teach me any bad
habits--I didn't need any teacher.  One night we were sitting next to
each other, with Harry Tenison dealing faro.

"I heard Abe was going up over the pass to Horsehead with the Christmas
bag.  The few miners that got in the fall before had hung up a fat
purse for their Christmas mail and Abe needed the money.  He was the
only man with the crazy nerve to try such a thing.  And there were
twenty men, with all kinds of money, crowding him to take them along:
to beat the bunch in might mean a million dollar strike to any
tenderfoot in Sleepy Cat.

"Abe wouldn't hear a word of it, not from anybody--and he could talk
back awful rough.  He was sure he could make the trip alone.  He was
the strongest man in the mountains.  I never saw the day I could handle
Abe Hawk.  But the pass in December was not a job for any ordinary
mountain man--let alone a bunch of greenhorns.  Just the same, I made
my play to go with him.  He cursed me as hard as he did anybody and
turned me down.

"One night, after that, I was at Tenison's again.  I was losing money.
Hawk was near me.  He saw it.  I waited for him to come out.  I knew
he'd be starting soon and I was desperate.  I tackled him pretty
strong.  He swore if I talked again about going with him he'd kill me.
Old Bill Bradley ran the livery.  My horse was in the same barn with
Abe's and Bill promised to tip me off when Abe was ready to start.  He
waited for a blizzard.  When it passed he was ready.  But I got ahead
of him, out of town, and trailed him--I knew how.  Only it snowed
again, as if all hell was against me; I had to close up on Abe or lose
him, but he never saw me till we got so far I couldn't get back; though
he could have dropped me out of the saddle with a bullet, and had the
right to do it.

"When I rode up he only looked at me.  If I had been as small as I
felt, he'd never seen me.  He ought to have abused me; but he didn't.
He ought to have shot me; but he didn't; or turned me back and that
would have been worse than shooting.  But if he'd been my own father he
couldn't have acted different.  He just told me to come along."

Laramie paused.  He was speaking under a strain: "I didn't understand
it then; but he knew it was too late to quarrel.  He knew there was
about one chance in a hundred for him to get through; for me, there was
about one in a hundred thousand--in fact, he knew I _couldn't_ get
through, so he didn't abuse me.

"You don't know what the winter snow on the pass is.  When it got too
bad for us, he put his horse ahead to break the trail, but he let me
ride mine as far as I could--he knew what was coming.  When my horse
quit, he told me to tramp along behind him.

"I guess you know about how long a boy's wind would last ten thousand
feet up in the air.  I wasn't used to it.  I quit."

Laramie drew from his pocket a handkerchief and knotted it nervously in
his fingers: "He told me to get up," he went on.  "I did my level best
a way farther.  It was no use.  I quit again.  He was easy with me.
But I couldn't get up and I told him to go on.

"Abe wouldn't go.  I couldn't walk another step in that wind and snow
to save my soul from perdition.  I just couldn't.  And when I tell you
next what I asked of him, then you'll understand how mean a common
tramp like me can be.  But I've got past pretty much caring what you
think of me--only I want you to know what _I_ think, and thought, of
Abe Hawk.  I did the meanest thing then I ever did in my life--I asked
him to let me ride his horse.  It was useless.  I offered him all the
money I had.  He refused.  He didn't just look at me and move on, the
way most men would to save their own skins and leave me to what I
deserved.  He stopped and explained that if his horse gave out we were
done--we could never break a trail to the top without the horse.

"It was blowing.  He stripped his horse.  The mail went into the snow.
I tried again to walk.  I didn't get a hundred feet.  When I fell down
that time he saw it was my finish.

"He stood a minute in front of me, looking all around before he spoke.
His horse was breathing pretty heavy; the snow blowing pretty bad.
After a while he loosened the quirt from his saddle and looked at me:
'Damn you,' he said, 'you were bound to come.  All hell couldn't keep
you back, could it?  Now it's come in earnest for you.  You're goin'
over the pass with me.  Get up out of that snow.'

"I could hear him, but I couldn't move hand or foot.  And I never
dreamed what was going to happen till he laid the quirt across my face
like a knife.

"All I ever hoped for was to get up so I could live long enough to kill
him.  He gave me that quirt till I was insane with rage; long afterward
he told me my eyes turned green.  I cursed him.  He asked me whether
I'd get up.  I knew, if I didn't, I'd have to take more.  I dragged
myself out of the snow again and pitched and struggled after him--to
the top of the pass.

"Then he put me on his pony--we got the wind worse up there.  Abe had a
little shack a way down the pass, rigged up for storm trouble.  But the
pony quit before we got to the shack, and when the pony fell down, my
hands and feet were no use.  Abe carried and dragged and rolled me down
into the shack.  I was asleep.  There was always a fire left laid in
the stove.  Abe had a hard time to light it.  But he got it lighted and
when he fell down he laid both hands on the stove--so when they began
to burn it would wake him up; if the fire didn't burn he didn't want to
wake up.  The marks of that fire are on his hands right in that room
there now, tonight.  He saved my hands and feet.  He stayed with me
while I was crazy and got me safe to Horsehead.

"Do you suppose I could ever live long enough to turn that man,
wounded, over to an enemy?  He didn't ask me for any shelter after Van
Horn's raid.  All he ever asked me for was cartridges--and he got 'em.
He'd get anything I had, and all I had, as long as there was a breath
left in my body, and he asked within reason.  And Abe Hawk wouldn't ask
anything more."

Kate rose from her chair: "I've a great deal to learn about people and
things in this country," she said slowly.  "Not all pleasant things,"
she added.  "I suppose some unpleasant things have to be.  Anyway, I'll
ride home tonight better satisfied for coming in."

"You going home?" he asked.

She was moving toward the door: "I only hope," she exclaimed, "this
fighting is over."

"That doesn't rest in my hands.  It's no fun for me.  You say you're
going to ride home?"

"There's a moon.  I shan't get lost again."

He was loath to let her get away.  At the door he asked if he couldn't
ride a way with her.  "I'll get Lefever or Sawdy to stay here while I'm
gone," he urged.

"No, no."

"It isn't that they don't want to," he explained.  "But the boys felt
kind of bad and went down to the Mountain House.  Why not?"

She regarded him gravely: "One reason is, I'd never get rid of you till
I got home."

"I'll cross my heart."

"We might meet somebody.  I don't want any more explosions.  Let's talk
about something else."

He asked to go with her to the barn to get her horse.  The simplicity
of his urging was hard to resist.  "I must tell you something," she
said at last.  "If you go with me to the barn we should be seen
together."

"And you're ashamed of me?"

"I said I must tell you something," she repeated with emphasis.  "Will
you give me a chance?"

"Go to it."

She looked at him frankly: "I don't always have the easiest time in the
world at home.  And there is always somebody around a big ranch to
bring stories to father about whom I'm seen with.  Everybody in town
talks--except Belle.  I must just do the best I can till things get
better."

"Here's hoping that'll be soon."

"Good-by!"

"Safe journey."



CHAPTER XXX

THE FUNERAL--AND AFTER

The funeral had been set for the following afternoon, but preparations
were going forward all morning.  In spite of the brief notice that had
got abroad of Hawk's death, men from many directions were riding into
town that morning to help bury him.  A reaction of sentiment concerning
the Falling Wall raid was making itself felt; its brutal ferocity was
being more openly criticized and less covertly denounced.  Hawk's
personal popularity had never suffered among the cowboys and the cowboy
following.  He had been known far and wide for open-handed generosity
and blunt truthfulness--and these were traits to silence or to soften
reprobation of his fitful and reckless disregard for the property
rights of the big companies.  He was a freebooter with most of the
virtues and vices of his kind.  But the crowd that morning in Sleepy
Cat was assembling to pay tribute to the man--however far gone wrong.
His virtues they were, no doubt, willing to bury with him; the memory
of his vices would serve some of them when they might need a lawless
precedent.

Up to the funeral hour the numerous bars of Sleepy Cat were points of
interest for the drinking men.  In front of these, reminiscences of the
dead man held heated sway.  Some stories pulled themselves together
through the stimulus of deep drinking, others gradually went to pieces
under its bewildering effects, but as long as a man could remember that
he was talking about Abe Hawk or the Falling Wall, his anecdotes were
tolerated.

Nor were all the men that had come to town to say good-by to Abe, lined
up at the bars.  Because Tenison had insisted that it should, Hawk's
body lay during the morning at the Mountain House in the first big
sample room opening off the hotel office.  All that the red-faced
undertaker could do to make it presentable in its surroundings had been
done at Harry Tenison's charge.  Laramie's protests were ignored:
"You're a poor man, Jim," declared Tenison, "and you can't pay any
bills now for Abe.  He thought more of you than he did of any man in
the world.  But most of his money he left here with me, upstairs and
down.  Abe was stiff-necked as hell, whether it was cards or cattle,
you know that.  And it's only some of his money--not mine--I'm turning
back to him.  That Dutchman," he added, referring with a contemptuous
oath to the unpopular undertaker of Sleepy Cat, "is a robber, anyhow.
The only way I'll ever get even with him is that he'll drink most of it
up again.  I played pinochle with that bar-sinister chap," continued
Tenison, referring to the enemy by the short and ugly word, "all one
night, and couldn't get ten cents out of him--and he half-drunk at
that.  What do you know about that?

"Jim," Tenison changed his tone and his rambling talk suddenly ceased,
"you've not told me rightly yet about Abe."

Laramie looked up: "Why, Harry," he said quietly, "I told you where I
found him that night--he got out of the creek at Pride's Crossing."

Tenison shook his head: "But what I want to know is what went on before
he got to Pride's Crossing."

"Well, I started with him that night for town."

"That's what you said before," objected Tenison with an impatient
gesture.  "What you didn't say is what I want to hear."

"Harry, I won't try to give you a long line of talk.  I can't tell it
all--and I don't want to try to fool you.  There's another name in the
story that I don't feel I've got a right to bring in--that's all.  Some
day you'll hear it."

Neither Lefever nor Sawdy could get any more out of Laramie.  He showed
the strain of sleeplessness and anxiety.  Sawdy kept the crowd away by
answering all questions himself--mostly with an air of reserve, backed
by intimations calculated to lead a man to believe he was really
hearing something, and counter-questions skilfully dropped into the
gravity of the occasion.  Those who could not be put off by Sawdy were
turned over to Lefever, who could hypnotize a man by asking questions,
and send him away satisfied, but vacantly speculative as to whether he
was crazy or Lefever was.

To Lefever also were referred the men arranging the details of the
funeral.  Not till two o'clock was the word given for the procession to
move from the Mountain House, but for two hours before that,
horsemen--peers of any in the world--dashed up and down Main Street
before keen-eyed spectators, on business if possible, but always on
display.

Stage drivers and barnmen from Calabasas and Thief River mingled with
cowboys from the Deep Creek country--for Hawk himself had, years
before, driven on the Spanish Sinks line.  From the barn at Sleepy Cat
these men brought out and drafted the old Wells-Fargo stage coach that
Abe had driven on the first trip to the Thief River mines.  Six of the
best horses in the barn were to pull it in the procession.  These
horses were driven by the oldest man in service on the Calabasas run,
mounted on the near wheel horse with the driver's seat on the box empty
and covered with wreaths of flowers.  Old-time Indians from the
Reservation who had known Hawk when he first went into the Falling Wall
country, were down to see him buried; they rode behind the cowboys.

At two o'clock the roundhouse whistle blew a long blast.  It was taken
up by the engines in the yard and those of an overland train pulling
out; and the procession, long and picturesque, moved from the hotel.
Laramie, Tenison, Lefever and Sawdy rode abreast, behind the hearse,
and as the procession moved down Main Street, the cowboys chanted the
songs of the bunkhouse and the campfire, the range and the round-up.

"My God!" exclaimed Carpy when it was all over, "if Sleepy Cat could do
that much for a thief, what would it do for an honest man?"  With Sawdy
and Lefever, the doctor sat at a table in the billiard room of the
Mountain House.  Tenison and Laramie sat near them.

"Not what they did for Abe," averred John Lefever promptly, "and don't
you forget it.  But I don't call Abe Hawk a thief--never.  Abe was a
freebooter born out of time and place.  He called himself a thief--he
wasn't one.  He hadn't the first instincts of one--no secrecy, no dark
night stuff, no lying.  He never denied a raid if he made one.  And
never did worse when the big cattlemen protested, than to tell them to
go to hell.  He had a bunch of old Barb's calves branded along with his
own one year: 'Well, you're the coolest rustler in the Falling Wall,' I
says to him.  'They're my share of Barb's spring drop,' was all he
said.  You know he lent Barb all his savings one year--that was when he
used to save money, before his wife died.  He never got a red cent of
it back, never even asked for it.  But when he wanted money he'd drive
off some of Barb's steers.  Yes, Abe stole cattle, I admit; yet I don't
call him a thief--not today, anyway," said John, raising his glass.
"Why, if Abe Hawk owed a man a hundred dollars he'd pay him if he had
to steal every cow in the Falling Wall to do it.  But take a hoof from
a poor man!" he went on, freshened, "The poor men all used to run to
Abe when Dutch Henry or Stormy Gorman branded their calves.  They'd
yell fire and murder.  And Abe would make the blamed thieves drive
their calves back!  You know that, Jim."  Lefever between breaths threw
the appeal for confirmation across at Laramie who sat moodily listening
and trying without success to interest himself in a drink that stood
untouched before him.

Laramie made no response.  "Have it your own way, John," nodded Carpy
tolerantly, "have it your own way.  But whatever they say against old
Barb, the man ain't livin' that can say a word against his girl--not
while I'm in hearing.  And I'll tell you, you could have knocked me
over with a feather when I seen her this afternoon and she bound to
ride in that procession behind Abe Hawk."

"What do you mean?" asked Lefever.

"I mean riding to the graveyard," insisted Carpy.

"What are you talking about?" demanded Lefever, to bring out the story.
"You never saw it."

"I'll tell you what I saw."  Only those who knew Laramie well could
have told how keenly he was listening.  "I drove down Hill Street,"
said the doctor, "just after the funeral started, and sat there, quiet,
to one side, waiting for it to pass; a doctor's got no business around
funerals.  Right then, Kate Doubleday pulled up close to me on
horseback.  She was just from the trail, that was sure; her horse
showed the pace and the girl was excited--I seen that when she spoke to
me.  'Doctor'--then she hesitated.  'Is that Abe Hawk's funeral?'  'It
is,' I says.  She looked at it and kept looking at it.  The tail-end of
the procession was passing Hill Street.  I noticed the girl bite her
lip; she was as restless as her horse.  'Doctor,' she says, hesitating
just the same way the second time, 'do you think people would think it
awfully strange if I--rode to the cemetery with them?'

"I never was more dashed in my life.  'Well,' I says, 'I expect they
would, Kate.'  'I feel as if I ought to do it,' she says.  'Don't do it
for the fun of the thing, Kate.  The boys wouldn't like that.'  'Oh,'
she says, looking at me mighty hard.  'I've got the best of reasons for
doing it.'  'Then,' says I, 'do it, no matter what they think or don't
think.  That's what Abe Hawk would 'a' done!'  'I'm such a coward,' she
says, but I want to tell you there was fire in her words.  'Go ahead,'
says I.  'Doctor, will you ride with me?'  'Hell!' says I, 'I never
went to a funeral in my life.'  'Will you ride to this one with me?  I
can't ride alone; all the rest are men.'  'Dog gone it!  Come over to
the barn,' says I, 'till I get a horse.'

"That's the way it happened.

"When we got to the graveyard we kept back to one side.  All the same,
she saw the whole thing.  But just the minute the boys turned from the
grave, away we went down the hill lickety-cut.  We took the back
streets till we struck the divide road, and she turned for home.  When
we stopped there, she says: 'Doctor, tell me the truth: Did Abe Hawk
drown?'  'No,' I says, 'he didn't drown.  I reckon he strained himself.
Anyway, one of his wounds opened up.  The old man bled to death."


Laramie felt no inclination that night to go home.  In his depression,
he could think only of Kate Doubleday and reflect that the years were
passing while he faced the future without an aim, and life without an
outlook.

It was not the first time this conviction had forced itself on him.
And it was getting harder and harder, he realized, to shake it off.
But tonight, talk served in some degree as an anodyne, and he sat with
the idlers late.  The one bit of news that did stir him in his torpor
was that Kate Doubleday had had at least the feeling to appear at the
funeral of the man who, though rightly regarded as her father's enemy,
had, Laramie knew, let go his own life, without a thought, to save hers.

This was the last reflection on his mind before he went to sleep that
night.  It was the first when he woke.  Late in the morning he was
sitting in Belle Shockley's at breakfast when McAlpin walked in.

"Jim," exclaimed the excitable barn boss, "I got a word this morning
from the Falling Wall."

Laramie regarded him evenly, but did not speak till McAlpin looked
inquiringly toward Belle: "No secrets here, Mac," he said briefly.

"Probably couldn't keep 'em from a woman if you tried," returned
McAlpin, grinning.  He pointed calmly toward the kitchen: "If we're all
alone here----"

"Go ahead," intervened Belle impatiently, "we are."

"Punk Budd brought the stage from the Reservation this morning.  Coming
down the Turkey he met Van Horn.  They had a bunch of Barb's boys with
them driving in some cattle."

"Whose cattle?"

"Punk says when he run into 'em they was roundin' up yours."

"Was Punk sober?" asked Laramie.

"He sure was," replied McAlpin.

Belle, with folded arms, stood in the archway immovable as a statue;
McAlpin sat in silence; Laramie, continuing his breakfast, looked only
at his plate.  The silence grew heavy, but two of the three had no
reason to break it and the third did not choose to.

Laramie, at length, took up his coffee, and, drinking slowly, finished
the cup.  Setting this down, he wiped his lips and looked at McAlpin.

"Much obliged, Mac," he said, laying down his napkin.

McAlpin regarded him inquiringly: "What you going to do about it, Jim?"
he demanded, when he saw Laramie would say no word.

Laramie pushed back his chair: "What would you do?"

McAlpin spoke seriously: "I'm askin' you."

"I can tell better after I know more about it, Mac."

The barn boss evidently thought Laramie was taking the news too
quietly.  He was for violent measures but Laramie calmed him.  "If
they've got any of my cattle, they won't run away," said he, "and they
won't blow up.  They'll keep, and I'll get them back--every hoof.  I'm
riding home this morning, anyway, so I'll be over after my horse in a
minute."

McAlpin went away somewhat disappointed.  Laramie only laughed when he
talked it over with Belle: "So long as they don't burn my place, I can
stand it," he said, philosophically.

Nevertheless, he felt disturbed at McAlpin's news--not for its
substance so much as for what it might note in renewed warfare.
Getting his horse, he followed the railroad right of way out of town
and struck out upon open country toward the north.  He had no intention
of taking the direct road home; that had long become dangerous, and he
rode along abandoned cattle trails.  At times he struck, swiftly and
straight, across open country, at times disappeared completely in
favoring canyons, and emerging again, headed winding draws up to the
divide--any ground that carried him in his general direction was good
ground.

He tried always to be thinking just what the other fellow must be
thinking as to favorable points to pick a man off--the fellow patiently
waiting with a rifle day after day in ambush for him.  And not having
gone home of late twice by the same route, he meant to keep the other
fellow continually guessing.  Today, he was somewhat handicapped, in
that he was riding in broad daylight instead of in the dawn or in the
twilight when the uncertain light made it more difficult with the fine
sights of a Winchester or Savage to cover a distant man.

This hazard, however, called only for a little more precaution, which
Laramie did not begrudge to the pride of disappointing an enemy.  At
points in his route where the main road could not well be avoided, he
rode faster and with quickened circumspection.  The Double-draw bridge
he could not avoid without a long and difficult detour.  Moreover,
there, or beyond, he might expect to intercept the raiding party, and
this was his business.

He did, however, approach the Double-draw bridge with an uncertainty
and a caution not reflected in the pace which he rode toward it; but
his horse was under close control and his rifle carefully in hand.

Despite his misgivings, no enemy was sighted.  Only a flight of bank
swallows, disturbed by the footfalls of his horse, darted noisily from
their nests under the south bridge abutment and scattered twenty ways
in the sunshine.  Spurring freely, as they flew away, Laramie galloped
briskly across the bottoms and up the hill.  Skirting the long trail
toward home, he rode on without meeting a living soul or hearing the
unwelcome singing of a bullet.

In fact, things were too quiet; the silence and the absence of any sort
of life as he approached his ranch were a surprise.  The few head of
cattle and horses he usually met, when riding home along the creek,
were nowhere to be seen.  Evidently the raid had been made.  To survey
the whole scene without exposing himself, Laramie rode out of the
tangle along the creek bottom and took the first draw that would bring
him out among the southern hills.  As he emerged from the narrow gorge,
his eyes turned in the direction of the house.  But where the house
should be he saw above the green field, only a black spot with little
patches of white smoke drifting lazily up from it into the still
sunshine.



CHAPTER XXXI

AN ENCOUNTER

Kate awoke the morning after Hawk's funeral with a confused sense of
having consorted with her father's enemies; and of trying to justify
herself for having done what she had felt compelled to do to answer her
sense of self-respect.

And all this before anyone had accused her.  But being extremely
dubious as to how her father would take her conduct, she was not only
ill at ease until she should meet him, but glad he had been away.  And
it was something of a shock to her that morning to find his bedroom
door closed; it meant that during the night he had unexpectedly come
home.

After her breakfast she walked down to the corral to talk to Bradley
about the saddle horses.  Not that she had anything to suggest, but
because she was nervous.  Laramie was intruding more and more into her
mind; every time she banished him he returned, frequently bringing
someone else with him.  Between the perplexities and the men that beset
her, Kate was not happy.  And when, after a ramble along the creek, she
returned to the house, she was not surprised to find that her father,
coming from the breakfast table, hardly responded to her greeting.  He
was much engrossed in cutting off the end of a cigar as he passed her
and in walking to the fireplace to find a match.

But the matches were not on the mantelpiece, where they belonged, and
this annoyed him.  If he said nothing, it did not deceive Kate as to
his feelings.  She hastened to hand him the matchbox from the table.
He took it without saying a word, but he slammed it back to its
accustomed place with a silent and ominous emphasis.

She knew it was coming.  What surprised her was that she felt no
further inclination to shrink from the moment of reckoning she dreaded.
Doubleday, his cigar lighted, seated himself in his heavy chair beside
the fireplace.

"What kind of a trip had you, father?"  Kate, as she asked, made a
pretense of arranging the papers and magazines on the table.

There was little promise of amiability in her father's answer; "What
d'y' mean," he asked.

"Did you get your notes extended?"

"Yes."  His heavy jaw and teeth, after the word, snapped like a steel
trap.  "Did you go to Abe Hawk's funeral?"  He flung the question at
her like a hammer.

"Were you told I did?" Kate asked.

"Rode to the graveyard with him, didn't you?"

Kate saw there was no use softening her words: "Father," she said
instantly and firmly, "the night I came out from town in the storm I
got lost.  I got on the wrong side of the creek.  My horse gave out; I
was dead with the cold."

Her father flung his cigar into the fire: "What's that got to do with
it?" he broke in harshly.

"Just wait a moment."

"I don't want any long-winded story."

"I won't tell any."

"I won't listen to you," he shouted.  "Answer my question."

Her eyes kindled: "You may call it whatever you like, but you will
listen to my answer in the way I make it.  When I'd given up hope of
saving my life, and my horse was drifting, he fell into a dugout.  And
in the dugout were two men--Abe Hawk and Jim Laramie.  They thought
there was a party of men with me.  They seized me.  They got ready to
fight.  I was at their mercy."

"What dugout?" demanded Doubleday.  His husky tone seemed to indicate
he was cooling a little; the question took her off her guard.

"At the old mine bridge."

A flash of cunning lighted her father's eyes.  The curtain fell
instantly, but not before Kate had seen.  "When they questioned me,"
she hurried on, "I told them what had happened.  They believed me.
They rode with me back to the creek.  We swam our horses across.  Mine
couldn't make the bank.  Abe Hawk pulled me out and Laramie saved my
horse.  But the bank caved in with Hawk when he pulled me out of the
creek and the next thing I heard, he was dead.  I didn't go to his
funeral except to ride to the cemetery in the procession.  Father,
could I do any less?" she demanded, wrought up.

Barb's harsh, red features never looked less uncompromising: "D' you
expect me to believe that stuff?" he asked, regarding her coldly.  She
only eyed him as he eyed her: "D' you expect anybody to believe it?" he
continued, to drive in his contempt.

Kate turned white.  When she spoke, her words were measured: "Oh, no,"
she said quietly.  "I don't expect you any more to believe anything I
say.  Those other men would believe me when they had me at their
mercy--when they might have choked or shot me or thrown me into the
Falling Wall canyon--they only believed me.  But my own father--he
couldn't believe me----"

Neither appeal nor reproach moved her father; his mind was fixed.  Van
Horn had been sarcastic over Kate's escapade; Barb's own men were
laughing at him.  He interrupted Kate: "Pack up your things," he said
ruthlessly.

She faced her father without flinching: "What do you mean?" she asked.

He tossed his head with as little concern as if he were discharging a
cowboy: "Don't want you around here any longer," he snapped.  "Pack up.
Get out."

She looked at him in silence.  Perhaps, as she turned defiantly away
and walked to her room, she thought of the man that had deserted her
mother when she herself was a baby in her mother's arms.  At any rate,
anger fortified her against the shock.  Her preparations were soon
made.  A trunk held all she wished to take.  She asked Bradley to get
up her pony.  Bradley was hitched up for a trip to Sleepy Cat and,
putting her trunk in the wagon, was on the road ahead of Kate.  She
spent a little time in straightening up her room and shortly afterwards
rode down the trail for town.

Absorbed in thoughts tinged with bitterness and anger, she rode toward
the creek as if casting things up again and again in her mind, but
reaching no conclusion.  When her horse struck the Sleepy Cat road he
turned into it because he was used to doing so, not because she guided
him.  In this haphazard way she was jogging on, her eyes fixed on
nothing more encouraging than the storm-worn ruts along her way when a
shout startled her.  Looking up, she saw she was nearing the lower gate
of the alfalfa patch and across the road a party of horsemen had
stopped Bradley with the wagon.  She recognized Harry Van Horn--his
smart hat, erect figure and scarlet neckcloth would have identified him
before she could distinguish his features; and he always rode the best
horse.  Stone and three of the Texas men were with him.  With the
exception of Van Horn, they had dismounted, and with their drooping
horses close at hand were stacking their rifles against the gate and
yelling at Bradley.

Swinging his hat, Van Horn dashed toward Kate just as she looked up
and, whipping out his revolver, pulled his horse to its haunches
directly in front of her: "You're held up!" he cried.

The shock on her reverie was sudden and Kate was too confused and
frightened to speak.

"You can't get by without giving up your tobacco, girlie," Van Horn ran
on in sing-song raillery.  "Shell out!"  He held out his left hand for
the spoil and poised his gun high--a picture of life and dash.  "You
see what's happening to Bradley."  The cowboys, in great feather, were
dragging the old man with mock violence from the wagon.

Kate recovered her breath: "What's it all about?" she asked.

Van Horn put away his gun.  He was in very good humor as he glanced
over at the boys crowding around Bradley: "They want tobacco," he
laughed.

"Oh."

"You know what I want."

Kate regarded his expectancy unmoved: "How should I know?" she asked,
chilling her question with indifference.

"Because," he exclaimed, sweeping back with a flourish the brim of his
hat, "I want you."

She eyed him without a tremor and responded without hesitation: "Well,
I can say you will never get me if that's all you want."

He laughed again: "Talk it over with me, Kate; talk it over."

His eyes, always bright and liquid, were a little inflamed.  Still
laughing, he glanced toward the wagon.  The boys were boisterous.  Kate
could hear Bradley's voice in shrill protest: "What'd I be goin' to
town f'r, if I had a bottle?" he was demanding angrily.  But, while she
looked and listened, Van Horn slipped quickly from his saddle and
caught her bridle rein: "Come on," he said, at her horse's head, "let's
walk down to the creek, girlie, and talk it all over."

Kate was indignant: "I won't walk anywhere----"

"I'll carry you."

She suppressed an angry word: "I'm on my way to town," she exclaimed.
"Let go my bridle!"  She struck her horse.  The beast jumped ahead.
Van Horn, laughing, held on.  But the shock jerked him almost from his
feet.  As he staggered forward, clinging to the rearing animal, the
half-muffled report of a revolver was heard.  Almost like a
thunderbolt, it changed the situation.  One of the Texas men had fired
in the air, but no one had seen him fire and the other Texans jumped
like longhorns.  Stone, clapping his hand to his holster, whirled from
the wagon wheel.  Kate, frightened more than ever, struck her horse
again; the bridle was jerked from Van Horn's hand and he turned
sharply.  Quickest to grasp what he saw as his eye swept the road, he
yelled: "Look out, boys!  There's Laramie!"

The words were not out of his mouth when Kate caught sight of a man
down the road leaping from a horse.  As the rider touched the ground he
slapped his pony's shoulder and the beast dropped flat.  The man, rifle
in hand, threw himself behind the prostrate animal and Kate heard his
brusque yell to Van Horn and the Texans: "Pitch up!"

It would have been hard to say who was most astonished.  Laramie
evidently was not expecting an encounter.  To dash on horseback into
any five men on foot, of the enemy's camp, was the last thing he would
be likely to attempt.  If he did attempt it, he would never choose Van
Horn or Stone to be of the party.  The ground about the scene was flat,
or only slightly rolling, with the branch road and its old ruts running
across it.  Caught squarely in the open and without a sagebrush for
cover, he had been forced to drop behind his horse for shelter.  Lying
flat and covering Van Horn and the men with his rifle, he awaited the
unpleasant odds against him.

The situation of the five men in front was even worse.  Their rifles
were stacked against the gate hardly a dozen feet away.  But to run a
gauntlet of a dozen feet against Laramie's rifle fire was a feat none
had stomach for, nor were they ready at a hundred yards to pit
revolvers against it.  One of them might get him but they knew it would
be after some of the others had practically ceased to be interested in
the result.

The minds of the Texas men were perfectly clear; their hands shot up
like rockets.  Stone had taken one big step toward the gate post--he
changed his mind, halted and his hands went up at the very instant
Laramie changed _his_ mind, and did not press the trigger against the
burly outline darkening the field of his sights.  Van Horn, caught,
stood helpless and enraged--humiliated in circumstances he least
relished for humiliation.  Everybody's hands were up.  His one chance,
Van Horn realized, was to use his Colt's against the Winchester behind
the prostrate horse--it was not a living chance and no one knew it
better than he; his hands moved grudgingly up to his shoulders and he
sang out savagely: "What the blazes do you want?"

There was no answer from Laramie.  To add to a difficult situation,
Kate's horse, nervous from the shouting and catching its mistress's own
fright, jumped and bucked till she was halfway down the road toward
Laramie before she could check him.  To add to her confusion, words
came from ahead just loud enough for her to hear: "Pull the blamed
brute to one side, will you?"  It was Laramie speaking, she knew.  "If
he gets between me and that bunch," she heard him say, "I'm a goner."
She jerked her horse violently out of the road; Laramie had raised his
voice and kept right on talking: "Turn your back, Van Horn--you, too,
Stone.  Shoot up your hands, you Texas--higher!" he called to one of
the Texans.  And with the words not out of his mouth, he leaped as if
on springs to his feet.  It seemed as if his rifle covered his enemies
all the time, even while he was doing it.

With his head forward, his elbows high and the Winchester laid against
his cheek; stepping like a cat, and swiftly and with his eyes fixed on
the men ahead, Laramie walked toward the wagon.  In doing so he
approached Kate, whose horse had subsided.  Laramie took no note of
her.  She only heard his words as he passed: "You'd better get out of
this."  Approaching his prisoners in such a way they could not reach
either the gate or the wagon without crossing his fire, Laramie
compelled Bradley, really nothing loath, to disarm the three cowboys in
turn and drop their guns into the wagonbox.  Stone, sullen, was
gingerly approached by Bradley, under strict orders to keep out of
reach of his arms.  But the old man knew all the tricks of the play
being staged, even though he was not able to turn them.  And when
Stone, cursing, was ordered to lower his right arm and hand his
revolver to Bradley at arm's length, the old man's feet were planted at
least six feet from the foreman for a jump-away in case Stone tried to
clinch him and shoot at Laramie from behind Bradley's cover.

But after he was disarmed, Laramie was not through with Stone.  Sullen
and obdurate, he was ordered to face away, while Bradley from behind
searched his pockets.  And the crown of his abasement was reached when
Bradley drew from a hip pocket a full flask of whisky.  The material
advantage of the find was not great, but the tactical advantage was
enormous.  Behind Stone, Bradley silently but jeeringly held it up as
an exhibit for the thirsty Texas men; and to show it was full, uncorked
and with gusto sampled it.  Stone was ordered back to his horse.

"How long is this joke, Laramie?" sang out Van Horn, his humor oozing.
"Can't you frisk a few cowboys in less than all day?"

"When I frisk a pair of cut-throats with them, it's different."

"Well, don't waste your valuable time on me.  This is your
innings--I'll wait for mine."

"Drop your gun to the ground," returned Laramie.  "Pick that up, Bill,"
he added to Bradley as Van Horn threw his revolver contemptuously from
its holster.  He was searched with the same scrupulous care by old
Bradley, his morale greatly strengthened by Stone's flask: "I don't
give a d--n whether you get me or not," he retorted at Van Horn, in
answer to a low threat from his victim.

Laramie having told Van Horn to mount, turned to the Texas men: "Which
one of you boys wants to carry the rifles over to that big cottonwood
for me?" he asked, pointing toward the creek.

"I do," responded the nearest man, promptly.

"Don't you do it, Tex," called out Stone.

The Texan eyed his foreman: "Why not?" he demanded.  "Ain't I been
ridin' this country all day with a man squealin' for a drink as loud as
I was, an' had his pocket full of it all the time?  I'm through with my
job."

Laramie broke in without losing the precious moment: "Who set my house
on fire, Tex?" he demanded.

The Texan nodded in Stone's direction: "Ask him."

"He'd lie, Tex; I'm askin' you."

The rawboned horseman hesitated: "I'll talk that over with you when I'm
rested," he drawled.

"Go get your Colt's out of the wagon, Tex."  Laramie pointed the way.
"Pick out the guns of the other two boys and tote them over to that
tree with you.  The boys'll ride over there after you.  Tell Barb I'll
give him twenty-four hours to get every hoof, round or split, that
belongs to me back to the Falling Wall--failing which I'll be over to
talk to him privately.  Will you do that, Tex?"

"I sure will."

"These rustlers here," he looked toward Stone and Van Horn, "won't be
able to carry messages for awhile.  They're ridin' to town with me.
Bill," he added, turning to Bradley, "dump their rifles into the wagon
and follow on along."

"What's this?" snapped Van Horn with an oath.  "Going to town with you!
Not on your life."

"You're headed for jail tonight, Harry; that's all.  You boys," he
spoke to the Texans and gave no heed to the oaths and abuse from Van
Horn, "ride down to the cottonwood and get your guns from Tex.  There's
two good trails from here to town and plenty of room on both.  Today
I'm riding the Double-draw bridge.  If any of you are going to town,
take the other trail.  Lead off now, you two."

He spoke to Van Horn and Stone, both mounted, and with the two headed
for town, and the Texans started up the road, Laramie climbed into his
own saddle.  Not until then did he look around for Kate.  She had
disappeared.



CHAPTER XXXII

A MESSAGE FROM TENISON

Speeding in a panic from what she feared might happen behind her at any
moment; soon out of sight of the scene, but with ears pitched for the
sound of a shot, and a volley of shots; her head swimming with
excitement and her heart beating a roll in her breast, Kate urged her
horse down the road.

And Belle's silence, her enigmatic face as she listened later to the
story only convinced Kate that her own apprehensions of trouble were
well founded.  "It's coming," was all she could get Belle to mutter, as
Belle hobbled on a lame foot at meal time between the table and the
stove, "but nobody can say when or where."  Both the women could tell
even earlier than this, from McAlpin's intimations, from watching
groups of men in the street and from the way in which those who could
have no direct interest in the affairs of the Falling Wall country were
hurrying to and fro, that Laramie had reached town with his prisoners
and was busy getting them jailed.

Kate, stunned by her father's utter coldness in casting her out, did
not want to talk about it.  She had left home resolved to tell Belle
everything, despite the humiliating shame of the recital.  But the
excitement of the ride and the stir in the town were excuses enough to
put off explaining.  It was possible that her father might become as
ashamed of himself as she was of him--in which event, nothing said
would be best.

But when Bradley stopped the ranch wagon before Belle's cottage door
with Kate's suitcase and trunk, something was needed to satisfy Belle.
Kate's intimation that she should spend a few days in town, and might
be called East was somewhat disjointed, but at the moment, enough.
Bradley, however, after unloading the trunk and while Belle stood
wondering, reappeared at the door with two rifles.

"Lord A'mighty, man!" cried Belle, already stirred, "what're you doing
with them rifles?"

Bradley tried to placate his nervous questioner: "I'm just leavin' 'em
here, Belle, while I go down 'n' get a load o' feed," he explained with
dignity.

"Don't you believe you're leavin' any rifles here, Bill Bradley.  This
is nobody's arsenal, I want you to know."

"Why, Belle, they belong t' the ranch," remonstrated Bradley.

"What's that got to do with it?" she exclaimed, turning from the door
and shutting it vigorously in Bradley's face as he stood discomfited.
"I wonder if everybody's going crazy in this country."

On this point Kate entertained convictions that she did not express.
She was only glad that Belle's curiosity, usually robust enough
concerning ranch happenings, was now under more engrossing pressure.

Concerning what was setting the town ablaze that day, only confused
echoes reached the secluded women; and chiefly through the butcher,
between whom and Belle a tacit armistice was soon in effect.  Chops
were slashed ruthlessly as he revealed details of what was going on,
and the patent block shook under the savage blows of the cleaver while
the butcher hinted at things more momentous to come.  From him, Belle
learned that Van Horn and Stone had been held somewhere up at Tenison's
incommunicado, by Lefever and Sawdy, while Laramie, opposed by the
cattlemen's lawyer, was demanding from Justice Druel warrants for his
prisoners; and that after they had reluctantly been issued, Sheriff
Druel had pigeon-holed them until Tenison, backing Laramie, had told
Druel after a big row, he would run him out of town if he didn't take
his prisoners to jail.

It was five o'clock when the butcher, instead of sending over the boy,
brought the meat for supper himself: "They're locked up," he said in a
terse undertone, as he handed his package to Belle.  "There was a big
bunch up there when they was put in.  Some of 'em talked pretty loud
about a jail delivery.  Laramie stood right there to see they went into
their cells and they went."

"Were you there?" demanded Belle.

"I was."

"What did Laramie say?"

"All he said to Druel was: 'If you don't keep 'em locked up, Druel, I
take no responsibility for what happens.'  I come all the way from the
jail with Laramie myself," recited the butcher; "walked right alongside
him and Harry Tenison down t' the hotel."

"Well, if you walked so far with him, is he coming here for supper?"

The butcher was taken aback: "How in thunder should I know?" he blurted
out.

"There you go, slamming away with your blasphemy again.  Couldn't you
ask him?"

"Why, yes, Belle, I reckon I could.  Maybe I can.  Say!" he returned
after starting down the steps, to point to the package in her hand,
"there's a mess o' sweetbreads in there for you."

"Shucks!  I can't use sweetbreads tonight, Heinie."

"Throw 'em away then.  A present, ain't they?  Nobody in town eats 'em
but you."

Kate unfortunately suggested braizing the sweetbreads for Sawdy and
Lefever.

"What?" exclaimed Belle.  "Men don't eat sweetbreads, don't you know
that?  You've got to give 'em steak--round steak and the tougher the
better--tough as cowhide and fried to tears.  They'd be insulted.
Lefever and Sawdy won't be here tonight, anyway.  They're in Medicine
Bend on an Indian case.  All I'm wondering is, whether Jim's coming."

But Laramie did not come--greatly to Kate's relief.  He spent the night
at the hotel and left town early.  Next morning when Belle heard the
news of the street she was thankful he had gone, for it was said that
Van Horn and Stone were out of jail.  Barb had been summoned in the
night by the lawyers, and next day the prisoners were out on bail.

Laramie had made no secret of his riding north, except that, in the
circumstances, he preferred to ride the night trail rather than the day
trail.  He wanted to look up his cattle and see Simeral and he thought
he knew Barb well enough to be sure the stock would be sent back very
promptly in as bad condition as possible.

He got to his ranch in good time.  There were no signs of life
anywhere.  Riding about noon over to Simeral's he found his shack
empty.  But he hunted up food and cooked himself a breakfast.

While he was eating peacefully at Simeral's, Van Horn was with Stone
and Doubleday, the three breakfasting in the back room of a Main Street
saloon.  Just what took place at that breakfast was not figured out for
a long time afterward, if it really ever was.  But the street heard
that Van Horn and Doubleday had had a quarrel at breakfast and that
Doubleday in a rage had turned the prisoners over to the sheriff and
asked to be released from his bail bond.

No news more exciting could have reached Belle Shockley.  She heard the
story up street and ran halfway home to tell Kate, who remained in
seclusion.  Kate herself was not less excited; the news meant so much
if it were true, and the butcher confirmed it beyond a doubt.  By
nightfall everybody knew that Van Horn and Stone were locked up again.

One man in town was not altogether at ease over the day's developments.
Tenison spent much time that afternoon in the hotel billiard room, it
being the best clearing house for the street gossip.

He tried more than once during the afternoon to get hold of Kitchen or
Carpy--neither was in town--and with the day drawing to a close,
Tenison's restlessness increased.  He was standing late in the evening
near a favorite corner at the upper end of the bar and above the
billiard tables, when among the crowd drifting in and out of the room
he caught sight of Ben Simeral.  Tenison lost no time.  Without moving,
he asked the nearest bartender to take a message to the old rancher.
And when Simeral passed through the door leading into the hotel,
Tenison was behind him.  He followed Simeral into the office and back
past the wash room, through the hallway leading to the sample rooms.
Opening the door of the first of these, Tenison pressed a light button,
and motioning Simeral to enter, followed him into the room, closed the
door, locked it, and sat down facing the rancher: "I want to get a
message to Jim Laramie, Ben," he began at once.  "You know what's been
going on here today?"

The old rancher nodded silently.

"Can you ride to the Falling Wall for me right away with a word for
Laramie?"

Simeral said nothing, but his heavy eyes closed as he nodded again.

"Laramie's gone home.  He thinks Van Horn is in jail.  The story is,"
continued Tenison, "that Van Horn and old Barb quarreled, that they
came to blows and that Barb turned Stone and him over to Druel again to
lock up."  Tenison spoke slowly and impressively: "Tell Laramie," he
said, "I copper all that stuff--every bit of it.  Tell him to look out.
I don't know what them fellows have got in their heads; but it's
something.  Van Horn won't be in jail long."

"He's out again now."

Tenison eyed his messenger steadily: "What do you mean?"

"I just come from Hinchcliffe's saloon.  They've been out an hour."

Hard as the blow struck home, Tenison did not bat a lash: "We may be
too late," he said.  "It's worth trying.  Warn Jim if you can."

"I can."

"There'll be a good horse for you at Kitchen's.  Ask McAlpin for it.
Tell him I couldn't get hold of a man any quicker.  Will Jim sleep at
your place tonight?"

Simeral shook his head: "No tellin'."

Tenison rose.  Drawing from a trousers pocket a roll of bills, he
slipped off several and passed them to Simeral.

"What's this f'r?" asked Simeral, looking at the money as it lay across
his hand and then at Tenison.

The gambler regarded him evenly: "You're getting old, Ben."

"Not when it comes to doin' a turn f'r Jim."

Tenison literally swore the money on him.  "Ride hard," he said.  "An
hour may make the difference."

Simeral listened to the injunction but he was putting the money away as
slowly and carefully as if he never expected to see money again.  This
done, he hitched his trousers, shifted his quid, pushed his hat and
followed Tenison across the room.  He was so slow that Tenison was
forced inwardly to smile at his own exasperation: "Never get nervous,
do you, Ben?" he asked imperturbably.

"Nervous?"

Tenison, unlocking the street door of the long room, only stood by with
his hand outstretched to speed his laggard messenger.  The old man
stepped out into the night.  Tenison, looking after him, shook his head
doubtfully.  But he was doing what he could and he knew that though the
old fellow walked slow, once in a saddle, he could ride fast; and that
for Laramie, he would do it.



CHAPTER XXXIII

THE CANYON OF THE FALLING WALL

Laramie, after disposing of his prisoners, had ridden north with less
of a hunted feeling experienced every time he mentally inventoried the
rocks commanding the trail, the boulders looming ahead of him, and the
cottonwoods through which he wound his way along the creek bottoms.
And when at length he looked across Turkey creek, he was not surprised
to see his cows straying down the hills toward their own range.

Even the bitter sight of the ruins of his cabin bore upon him less now
that he had put Van Horn actually in jail for the trick.  "You can't
keep him there long," Tenison had cynically warned him.

"I've put the mark on him, if he's only there overnight," had been
Laramie's reply.  "He'll be a long time explaining.  And I want you to
notice, Harry, with all the fighting they've put me to, they've never
got me locked up yet--not for a second.  I guess for that," he added,
reflecting, "I ought to thank my friends."

Never so much as that day had he realized how every aspect of his
situation, as he viewed it, was colored by the thought of Kate
Doubleday.  If he were determined that despite any intrigue worked
against him, he would never be locked up alive on a trumped-up charge,
it was chiefly because of the disgrace of such a thing in her eyes.  If
he avoided opportunities now of finishing with Van Horn, he knew it was
chiefly because of her.  She would probably never see that finish, but
she would hear the story of it from his enemies.  Laramie was not at
any time thinking merely of being justified in the last resort, nor of
the justification of his friends, which would in any case be his.  But
what would Kate think?

Yet he knew what was ahead of him; he knew what lay at the end of the
trail he and Van Horn were traveling.  Lawing, as Sleepy Cat
contemptuously termed it, was the least of it all and the most
futile--yet in thinking of the other, her judgment was what he dreaded.
This bore on him and perplexed him.  It had, more than all else, put
two little vertical furrows between his eyebrows; they were there often
of late.  Suppression of the feeling that had always and irresistibly
drawn him toward her, had only intensified this worry.  His pride had
suffered at her hands; yet he made excuses for her--he had no high
opinion of himself, of his general reputation--and had built dreams on
the fanciful imagining that she should, despite everything, some day
like him.  He wearied his brain in recalling a chance expression of her
eyes that could not have been unfriendly; an inflection of her voice
that might have carried a hope, if only their paths had been less
crossed: and his pride, despite rebuffs, sought her as a moth seeks a
flame.  It drew him to her and kept him from her, for he lacked for the
first time in his life the boldness to stake everything on the turn of
a card, and ask Kate to marry him.

Simeral had told him that John Frying Pan saw the cabin burning, and
Laramie rode up to his place on the Reservation to talk with him.
Failing to find him at home, Laramie left word with his wife and turned
south.  It was then late.  The trail had taken him high up in the
mountains and he made up his mind to ride over to the old bridge, stay
for the night, pick up the few things he had left there and take them
over to Simeral's in the morning.

Night had fallen when riding in easy fashion he reached the rim of the
canyon and made his way from foothold to foothold until he came to an
open ledge with grass and water for his horse, near the abutment.
Leaving him in this spot, Laramie, carrying his rifle, climbed by a
zig-zag footpath up a hundred feet to the shelter and rolled himself in
a blanket for the night.

He woke at what he believed to be near midnight.  The night was cold
and he began to think about something to eat.  With the aid of a candle
he found bacon cached under a crevice in a baking-powder can near his
bunk, and found some splinters of wood.  These he laid for an early
breakfast fire and wrapped himself again in his blanket.  He had closed
his eyes for another nap when a sound arrested his attention; it was
the rumbling of a small piece of rock tumbling into the canyon.

Nothing was more common than for fragments, great and small, of the
splintered canyon walls to loosen and start in the silence of the
night.  As mountain trees withstand the winter winds only to fall in
summer calms, so it seemed as if the masses of rock that hung poised on
the canyon rim through countless storms, chose the stillest hour of the
stillest night to ride like avalanches the headlong slopes, plunge over
dizzy cliffs and crash and sprawl in dying thunders from ledge to ledge
into the river below.  All these noises, big and little, were familiar
to Laramie's ears.  He could hear them in his sleep without losing the
thread of a dream; but the echo of a single footstep would bring him up
sitting.

The sound that now caught his attention had a still different effect.
Listening, he lay motionless in his blanket with every faculty keyed;
had a man at that moment stood before him reading his death warrant, he
could not have been more awake.  The noise was slight; only a small
fragment of rock had fallen and the echoes of its journey were lost
almost at once; it was the beginning of the sound that he was thinking
of--the noise had not started right.  He thought of the four-footed
prowlers of the night and as a cause eliminated them one after another.
He thought of his horse below--it was not where such a sound could
start.  But always slow to imagine a mystery when a reason could be
assigned, Laramie, lying prone, was brought back every time to his
first instinctive inference.  Numberless times when tramping the canyon
walls, his foot slipping before he recovered his balance had dislodged
a bit of loose rock.  He knew that sound too well and it was such a
sound he had just heard.  Behind the sound he suspected there was a man.

He tried long to reason himself out of the conviction.  For an hour he
lay perfectly still, waiting for some further alarm.  There was none
and the night was never stiller.  Nor was there any haste, even if it
should prove the worst, about meeting the situation.  He was caught not
like a rat in a trap but like a man in a blind canyon, with ample means
of defense and none of escape except through a gauntlet.  No enemy
could molest him where he lay, but he could not lie there indefinitely.
And with little ammunition and scarcely any food or water, he had no
mind to stand a siege.

If his enemies had actually discovered his retreat and put a watch on
him, he must in any event wait for the first peep of daylight.  The one
chance of escape lay down and not up, and the descent of the canyon was
not to be made in complete darkness.  A moon would have been a godsend.
It would have made things easy, if such a word could be used of the
situation; but there was no moon.  Acting on his premonition as if it
had been an assurance, Laramie, at the end of a long and silent vigil,
rolled out of his blanket to save his life if he could.  He lighted his
breakfast fire and fried his bacon unconcernedly.  He could neither be
rushed nor potted and if there was a touch of insolent bravado in his
seeming carelessness he was well aware that while the appetizing odors
of a good breakfast would not tantalize an enemy believing himself
master of the situation, it would make him believe he had taken the
quarry unawares.

Below, he felt that all was safe--no one without passing him could
possibly reach his horse.

By the time the eastern sky warned him of the coming dawn he had
crawled to the edge of the abutment to look down and estimate his
chances for dropping to the narrow ledge on which it stood footed.
Then he crawled noiselessly toward the overhead break through which
Kate had plunged.  The sky was alive with stars.  Worming himself close
to the opening, he lay for a time patiently scrutinizing the rocks
commanding the abutment from above.  One of these long vigils
disclosed, he fancied, against the sky the outline of a man's hat.

To satisfy himself if it were one, Laramie picked up a chip of rock and
flung it down the canyon wall.  The suspicious object moved.  Laramie
slowly took up his rifle and leaning forward raised it to his shoulder.
Against the eastern sky the man's head made a perfect target.  It was
close range.  Laramie covered the hat low.  The bullet should penetrate
the brim just where it covered the forehead.  His finger moved to press
the trigger before he thought further.  Then he hesitated.

It seemed on reflection like murder, nothing less.  He did not know the
man, though he was no doubt an enemy who had come either to kill him or
to help kill him.  And to his natural repugnance to blowing off the top
of an unknown man's head even in constructive self-defense, there was
the thought of another's view of it.  This might, after all, be merely
a Texan acting as a lookout.  It was even possible, though improbable,
that it might be Barb himself.  And if the man were not alone less
would be gained by killing him.

The rifle came down from Laramie's shoulder as slowly as it had gone
up.  He made immediate disposition for his escape.  Retreating
noiselessly from the opening, he found his blanket, cut from it four
strips, knotted these into a rope and creeping to the face of the
abutment, lowered his rifle, ammunition belt and revolver down to the
footing some twenty feet below, where they hung in darkness.  For
himself there was nothing but to drop after his accoutrements.  At one
point the horizontal footing ledge below jutted out in a blunt tongue
something like six feet; this tongue was where he must land; elsewhere
the ledge narrowed to only a foothold for a sober man already on it.

Laramie found an old mackinaw of Hawk's, put it on over his coat, and
padding his back under it with the pieces into which he tore a quilt,
strapped the mackinaw tight and returned to look over the ledge.  He
thought he knew precisely where the tongue lay, but wanted a little
daylight to dispel any misgiving about letting go at a point where he
might drop two hundred feet instead of twenty.

From the abutment the depths of the canyon looked in the half light
pretty black, but its recesses hid no terrors of sentiment for Laramie.
Fairly serene and stuffed in his baggy mackinaw, he lay for a few
minutes flat on his stomach peering over the edge.  Far below he could
hear the rush of the river.  Day was racing toward the mountain tops
and diffusing its reflected light into their recesses.  The rock tongue
below outlined itself faintly in an almost impenetrable gloom.  Waiting
no longer, Laramie, with a careful hand-hold, let himself down over the
face of the abutment and hung for an instant suspended.  Loosing one
hand he swung sidewise and threw back his head.  The fingers of the
other hand, straightened by his weight, let go.

Falling like a plummet, one of his heels smashed into the rocky gravel
and he struck the ledge on his back.  With such instinct as the swift
drop left him he threw himself toward the canyon wall when he landed
and, shocked though he was, tried to rise.

He could not get a breath, much less move.  His mind remained perfectly
clear, but the fall left him momentarily paralyzed.  His efforts to
regain his breath, to make himself breathe, were astonishingly futile,
and he lay annoyed at his helplessness.  It seemed as if minute after
minute passed.  Listening, he heard sounds above.  Daylight was coming
fast and every ray of it meant a slenderer chance of escape.

To his relief, his lungs filled a little.  Soon they were doing more.
He found he could move.  He turned to his side, and, beginning life
over again, crawled on hands and knees to where his belt, revolver and
rifle hung suspended.  He stood up, got out of the mackinaw, adjusted
his belt and revolver, and with his rifle resting across his forearm
looked around.  He was battered and had a stinging ankle, but stood
with legs and arms at least usable.  Listening, he tiptoed as fast as
he could to the narrow footpath leading into the canyon, and turning a
corner of the rock wall hastened down to where he had picketed his
horse.  This trail was not exposed from above.  But when he reached his
horse and got stiffly into the saddle his problem was less simple.

To get out of the tremendous fissure in which he was trapped from
above, Laramie had one trail to follow.  This led for a hundred feet in
an extremely sharp descent across the face of a nearly vertical canyon
wall that flanked the recess where the horse had been left.  This first
hundred feet of his way down to the river, so steep that it was known
as the Ladder, was all that caused Laramie any uneasiness; it was
commanded every foot of the way from the abutment above.

Making all possible haste, Laramie headed his horse stealthily for the
Ladder.  He knew he had lost the most precious juncture of the dawn in
lying paralyzed for some unexpected moments after his drop.  It was a
chance of war and he made no complaint.  Indeed, as he reached the
beginning of his trail and peered downward he realized that he needed
daylight for the perilous ride.  To take it slowly would be child's
play for him but would leave him an easy target from above.  To ride it
fast was to invite a header for his horse and himself; one misstep
would send the horse and rider bolting into space.  How far it was to
the river through this space Laramie felt little curiosity in figuring;
but it could hardly have been less than two hundred and fifty feet.

There was no time for much thinking; the trail must be ridden and the
sooner and faster the better.  He struck his horse lightly.  The horse
jumped, but not very far ahead.  Again Laramie used his heels and again
the frightened beast sprung as little as he could ahead.  A stinging
lash was the only reward for his caution.  If horses think, Laramie's
horse must have imagined himself backed by a madman, and under the
goading of his rider, the beast, quivering with fear, peered at the
broken rocks below and sprang down among them.  Concealment was no
longer possible.

Like a man heading into a hailstorm, Laramie crouched to the horse,
dropped the reins low on the beast's neck, and, clinging close, made
himself as nearly as he could a part of the animal itself.  The trail
was five to six feet wide, but the descent was almost headlong, and
down it the horse, urged by his rider, sprang in dizzy leaps; where the
footing was worst Laramie tried to ease his frantic plunges.  Stricken
with terror, the beast caught his breath in convulsive starts and
breathed in grunting snorts.  Halting and bucking in jerky recoveries;
leaping from foothold to foothold as if every jump were his last, and
taking on a momentum far beyond his own or his rider's control, the
frightened pony dashed recklessly ahead.  It was as if a great weight,
bounding on living springs, were heading to bolt at length against the
sheer rock wall across the canyon.

Half the distance of the mad flight, and the worst half, was covered
when a rifle cracked from the top of the abutment.  Laramie felt a
violent blow on his shoulder.  There was no possible answer; there
could be no more speed--no possible defense; the race lay between the
rifle sights covering him and the four slender hoofs of the horse under
him.  Ten yards more were covered and a second rifle shot cracked
crisply down the canyon walls.  Laramie thought it from a second rifle;
the bullet spat the wall above his head into splinters.  They were
shooting high, he told himself, and only hoped they might keep trying
to pick him off the horse and let the horse's legs alone.  None knew
better than he exactly what was taking place above; the quick alarm,
the fast-moving target in the gloomy canyon; the haste to get the feet
set, the rifle to the shoulder, the sights lined, the moving target
followed, the trigger pressed.

It was a madman's flight.  As one or other of the rifles cracked at
him, Laramie threw himself back in the saddle.  With his hat in his
hand, his arm shot straight up, and pointing toward the abutment he
yelled a defiant laugh at his enemies.  In an instant the hat was
knocked from his fingers by a bullet; but the springing legs under him
were left untouched.  The trick for the rider now was, even should he
escape the bullets, to check the flight of the horse before both shot
over the foot of the Ladder into the depths.  Laramie threw his weight
low on the horse's side next the canyon wall and spoke soothingly into
his ear as his arms circled the heaving neck.

And on the rim of the precipice, high above, two active men, bending
every nerve and muscle to their effort, stood with repeating rifles
laid against their cheeks, pumping and firing at the figure plunging
into the depths below.



CHAPTER XXXIV

KATE GETS A SHOCK

Late that afternoon a stable boy from Kitchen's barn appeared at
Belle's, making inquiries for Doctor Carpy.  Kate heard Belle at the
door answering and asking questions, but the messenger was not able to
answer any questions; his business was to ask only.  When Kitchen
himself came over a little later there was more talk at the door, this
time in low tones that left Kate in ignorance of its purport.  But the
moment Kitchen went away, Belle, never equal to hiding an emotion,
passed with compressed lips and set face through the room in which Kate
sat sewing.  Kate looked up as Belle walked toward the kitchen and
noticed the tense expression--fortunately she asked no questions.
After some vigorous moments in the kitchen, evidenced by the sound of a
creaking bread-board, sharp blows at the stove lids and an unabashed
slamming of the stewpans, Belle passed again through the room carrying
a plate covered with a napkin, and evidently going somewhere.

Kate felt compelled to take notice: "Where you bound for, Belle?" she
asked.

"Not far.  But if I don't get back, don't wait supper," was the only
answer.  The manner rather than the matter of it puzzled Kate as she
bent over her work.  But the next moment she was alone and thinking
about her own troubles.

Half an hour passed rapidly on her sewing--for Kate's fingers were
quick--and Belle returned more perturbed than when she left.  She gave
Kate hardly a chance to question her.

"Why didn't you eat your supper?" she demanded.

Kate answered unconcernedly: "I wasn't hungry--it isn't late, is it?"

Without answering the question Belle asked another.  "Kate," she said,
unpinning her hat as she spoke, "how long you going to stay here?"

A less sensitive person than Kate could hardly have mistaken the import
of the question.  She flushed as she looked up.  "Why, surely no longer
than you want me, Belle," she answered, as evenly as she could; but her
voice showed her surprise.  Belle stood before her, a statue of
implacability and Kate, in growing astonishment, rose to her feet:
"What is it?  What has happened?" she asked, then as her wits worked
fast: "Doesn't my father wish you to keep me?"

"I'm not thinking about what your father wants.  Things are getting too
thick here for me."  Kate made no effort to interrupt.  "I don't say I
don't like you, Kate--I've always treated you right, or tried to,"
continued Belle, laboring under evident excitement.  "But it's no use
shutting our eyes any longer to facts.  You're Barb Doubleday's
daughter and Barb Doubleday is making war all the time on my friends
and hiring men to assassinate them, and it doesn't seem right to me and
it won't to other people, me sheltering Barb Doubleday's daughter with
such things going on----"

"But, Belle----"

Belle raised her voice one key higher: "You needn't tell me, I know.
Now they're trying to murder Jim Laramie and they've close to done it,
this day----"

Belle had received and accepted strict injunctions of secrecy on the
next point she disclosed, but her feelings were not to be denied.  And
she was not prepared for the question that Kate, stung by the
accusation, flung at her: "What do you mean?"

"I mean he's lying near here bleeding to death this minute and Doctor
Carpy in Medicine Bend."

In tones broken with anger and excitement, Belle told the disconnected
story as it had come to her in jerks and nods and oaths from McAlpin at
the barn, and in the little she had pulled out of Laramie himself when
she took food to him.  Then came in terribly heated words the brunt of
her anger at Kate.  "You knew," she said, pointing her finger at Kate,
standing stupefied.  "You knew where Jim Laramie hid Hawk.  Nobody else
did know--not even Lefever or Sawdy knew--I didn't know till you told
me.  Now, after they've burned his cabin, they set a death watch there
at the bridge on Laramie.  How did they know there was such a place if
you didn't tell 'em?"

Stunned by the fire of Belle's wrath, Kate, breathless, tried to
collect her senses.  It was only her anger at the final implication
that cleared them.  But even as her words of indignant denial reached
her lips, her utterance was paralyzed by the recollection that
unwittingly she had told her father of the night she was thrown into
Laramie's retreat.  Yet even this did not check her resentment.

"Who accuses me of telling them?" she demanded.  "Who says I conspired
to murder anyone--did Mr. Laramie say so?"

She shot the question at Belle in a furious tone.  Her eyes flashed in
a way that confounded her accuser.

"I'm asking you how they found out," retorted Belle, but in spite of
herself on the defensive.

Kate's face was set and her eyes were on fire.  All the anger that a
woman could feel centered in her words and manner.  "Answer my question
before you say another word."  She confronted Belle without yielding.
"Did Jim Laramie accuse me in any way of anything?"

"Oh, you needn't be so high and mighty," flustered Belle.  "I'll answer
your question; no.  Now you answer mine, will you?"

"How can _I_ answer how they found out?  I will not say another word
until I see Mr. Laramie--where is he?"

"You can't see him--nobody knows he is here--he won't talk to you."

Kate paid no attention to her words: "He'll have to tell me that
himself," she returned.  "If he is near here--he must be at Kitchen's."

Belle could say nothing to check or swerve her.  Taking up her hat and
ignoring all warnings, Kate walked straight over to the barn.  She
found McAlpin at the stable door: "I want you to take a message for me
to Mr. Laramie," she said, speaking low and collectedly.  "Ask him if
he will see Kate Doubleday for just two minutes."

McAlpin, in all his devious career, had never passed through more or
quicker stages of astonishment, confusion, poise and evasion than he
did in listening to those words.  But at pulling his wits together,
McAlpin was a wonder.  By the time Kate had finished, his innocent
question was ready: "Where is he?"

"He is here.  I must see him at once."

"But I ain't seen him myself for a week.  He's not here.  Who told you
he's here?"

"Belle," persisted Kate calmly, "told me he _is_ here.  I must see him.
Don't deceive me, McAlpin--do just as I ask you, no more, no less."

"No more, no less, sure," grumbled the Scotchman.  "You gives me one
kind of orders--the boss gives me another kind.  I can't do no more, I
can't do no less.  I can't do nothin'--I've got a family to support and
all this damned rowing going on, a man's job is no safer nowadays in
this country than his head!"

But words were not to save him.  Kate persisted.  She would not be put
off.  McAlpin, swearing and protesting, could in the end only offer to
go see whether he could by any chance find Laramie.  After a long trip
through the winding alleys of the big barn--for Kate watched the
baseball cap and crazy vizor as long as she could follow it--then
complete disappearance for a time, McAlpin came back to Kate, immovable
at the office door, his face wreathed with a surprised smile.

He spoke, but his eyes were opened wide and his words were delivered in
a whisper; mystery hung upon his manner: "Come along," he nodded,
indicating the interior.  "Only say nothing to nobody.  He's
hit--there's all there is to it.  Here's all I know, but I don't know
all: About three hours ago Ben Simeral was riding up the Crazy Woman
when he seen a man half dropping off his horse, hat gone, riding head
down, slow, with his rifle slung on his arm.  Simmie seen who it
was--Jim Laramie.  He looked at horse 'n' man 'n' says: 'Where the hell
you bin?'  'Where the hell 'a' you been,' Laramie says, pretty short.
'Ridin' all over this'--excuse my rough language, Kate--'blamed
country, lookin' f'r to tell you Van Horn and Stone's out o' jail!'

"Laramie seen then from the ol' man's horse how he'd been ridin' 'n'
softened down a bit.  'So I heard, Simmie,' he says.  'Who'd you hear
it from?' says Simmie.  'Direct, Simmie,' he says.  'Did they pot y',
Jim?'  'Nicked my shoulder, I guess.'  'Where you goin'?'  'To town.'
'Man,' says Simmie, 'you've lost a lot o' blood.'  'Got a little left,
Simmie.'

"Then John Fryin' Pan c'm along.  Simmie tried to ride to town with
Laramie--f'r fear he'd fall off his horse.  Laramie wouldn't let
neither of 'em do a thing.  'This is my fight,' he says.  But Simmie
and John Fryin' Pan scouted along behind and Simmie rode in ahead near
town to tell me Laramie was comin'.  God!  He was a sight when he rode
into this barn.  He tumbled off his horse right there"--McAlpin pointed
to a spot where fresh straw had been sprinkled--"just like a dead man.
I helped carry him upstairs," he whispered.  "I'll take y' to him.  But
y' bet your life"--the grizzled old man stopped and turned sharply on
his companion--"y' bet your life some o' them niggers bit the dust
some'eres this morning.  This way."

Kate, pacing McAlpin's rapid step breathlessly, hung on his
half-muttered words: "He's bleedin' to death," continued McAlpin;
"that's the short of it, and that blamed doctor down at Medicine Bend.
I don't think much o' that man.  Can't none of us stop it.  Where's
this goin' to end?"

He led her by roundabout passages, up one alley and down another, and
at last opened the door of an old harness room, waited for Kate to
follow him inside and, closing the door behind her, spoke: "I didn't
want you to have to climb a barn ladder," he said, explaining.
"There's the stairs."  He pointed in the semi-darkness and led her
toward the flight along the opposite wall.  At the top of this flight
light fell from a square opening in the hay-mow.

"Walk up them stairs--I lifted the trap-door f'r ye.  He's right up
there at the head of the steps.  When y' come down, open _this_ door at
the foot, here.  It's a blind door; don't show on the other side.  See,
it's bolted.  It takes you right into the office.  We keep it bolted
from the inside, so no trouble can't come, see?"  He unbolted and
opened the door a crack to show her, closed and rebolted it.  Then
starting her up the stairs, McAlpin jerked the crazy vizor on his
forehead into a fashion once more simulating child-like frankness and
disappeared by the way he had come.



CHAPTER XXXV

AT KITCHEN'S BARN

To be so summarily left alone and in such a place was disconcerting.
Kate, in the semi-darkness and silence, put her foot on the first tread
of the steps and, placing her hand against the wall, looked upward.
Not a sound; above her a partial light through a trap-door and a
wounded man.  She stood completely unnerved.  The thought of Laramie
wounded, perhaps dying, the man that had rescued her, protected her, in
truth saved her life on that fearful night--this man, now lying above
her stricken, perhaps murdered, by her own father's friends!  How could
she face him?  Only the thought that he should not lie wounded unto
death without knowing at least that she was not ungrateful, that she
had not wittingly betrayed him, gave her strength to start up the
narrow steps.

When her head rose above the trap opening the light in the large loft
seemed less than it had promised from below.  There were no windows,
but through a gable door, partly ajar, shot a narrow slit of daylight
from the afterglow of the sunset.  Kate caught glimpses of a maze of
rafters, struts and beams and under them huge piles of loose hay.
Reaching the top step she paused, trying to look about in the dim
light, when Laramie, close at hand, startled her: "McAlpin told me you
wanted to see me," he said.  She could distinguish nothing for a
moment.  But the low words reassured her.

"I'm lying on the hay," he continued, in the same tone.  "If you'll
open the door a little more you can see better."

Picking her way carefully over to it, Kate pushed the door open
somewhat wider and turned toward Laramie.

He lay not far from the stairs.  The yellow light of the evening glow
falling on his face reflected a greenish pallor.  Kate caught her
breath, for it seemed as if she were looking into the face of death
until she perceived, as he turned his head, the unusual brightness of
his eyes.

In her confusion what she had meant to say fled:

"Are you very much hurt?" she faltered.

"Far from it."  He spoke slowly.  If it cost him an effort none was
discernible.  "Coming into the barn tonight," he went on, very
haltingly, "I had a kind of dizzy spell."  He paused again.  "I've been
eating too much meat lately, anyway.  They say--I fell off my horse;
leastways I bumped my head.  I'll be all right tomorrow."

"Belle told me there had been a fight up at the canyon bridge," Kate
stammered, already at a loss to begin.

A sickly yellow smile pointed the silence.  "I wouldn't call it exactly
a fight," he said, dwelling somewhat on the last word.  "Far from it,"
he repeated, with a touch of grimness.  "There was some shooting.  And
some running."  She could see how he paused between sentences.  "But if
the other fellows ran it must have been after me.  I didn't pay much
attention to who was behind.  I had to make a tolerable steep grade
down the Falling Wall Ladder to the river.  I was on horseback and
didn't have much leisure to pick my trail."

"And they shooting at you from the rim!"

"Well, they must have been shooting at something in my general
direction.  I guess they hit me once.  I didn't mind getting hit
myself, but I didn't want them to hit my horse.  I was heading for the
bottom as fast as the law would allow.  If they'd hit the horse, I
wouldn't have had much more than one jump from the rim to the river.
Can't ask you to sit down," he added, "unless you'll sit here on the
hay."

Without the least hesitation Kate placed herself beside him.  Without
giving her a chance to speak and in the same monotone, he added: "Who
told you I was a gambler?"

Less than so blunt and unexpected a question would have sufficed to
take her aback.  And she was conscious in the fading light of his
strangely bright eyes fixed steadily on her.  "I don't remember anybody
ever did.  I----"

"Somebody did.  You told Belle once."

"It must have been long ago----"

"Is that the reason you never acted natural with me?"

She flushed with impatience.  But if she tried to get away he brought
her back to the subject.  Cornered, she grew resentful: "I can't tell
who told me," she pleaded, after ineffectual sparring.  "I've
forgotten.  Are you a gambler?" she demanded, turning inquisitor
herself.

He did not move and it was an instant before he replied: "What do you
mean," he asked, "by gambler?"

Kate's tone was hard: "Just what anybody means."

"If you mean a man that makes his living by gambling--or hangs around a
gambling house all the time, or plays regularly--then I couldn't fairly
and squarely be called a gambler.  If you mean a man that plays cards
_sometimes_, or _has_ once in a while bet on a game in a gambling
house, then, I suppose"--he was so evidently squirming that Kate meanly
enjoyed his discomfort--"you might call me that.  It would all depend
on whether the one telling it liked me or didn't like me.  I haven't
been in Tenison's rooms for months, nor played but one game of poker."

"I despise gambling."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Why should I?"

"In one sense everybody's a gambler.  Everybody I know of is playing
for something.  Take your father and me: He's playing for my life; I'm
playing for you.  He's playing for a small stake; I'm playing for a big
one."

She could not protest quick enough: "You talk wildly."

"No," he persisted evenly, "I only look at it just as it is."

"Don't ask me to believe all the cruel things said of my father any
more than you want me to believe the things said of you.  I am terribly
sorry to see you wounded.  And now"--her words caught in her
throat--"Belle blames me even for that."

"How on earth does she blame you for that?"

Despite her efforts to control herself, Kate, as she approached the
unpleasant subject, began to tremble inwardly with the fear that it
must after all be as Belle had rudely asserted--that her father was
behind these efforts against Laramie's life.  For nothing had shaken
her tottering faith in her father more than the blunt words Laramie
himself had just now indifferently spoken.

"If I am in any way to blame, it is innocently," she hurried on.  "I
will tell you everything; you shall judge.  My father was bitterly
angry when he learned I had been seen at Abe Hawk's funeral.  I told
him about my getting lost, about falling into the place at the
bridge--how you did everything you could and how Abe Hawk had done all
he could.  He was so angry he would listen to nothing----" she stopped,
collected herself, tried to go on, could not.

"Oh, I hate this country!" she exclaimed.  "I hate the people and
everything in it!  And I'm going away from it--as far as I can get.
But I wouldn't go," she said determinedly, "without seeing you and
telling you this much."

Laramie spoke quietly but with confidence: "You are not going away from
this country."

Kate had picked up a stem of hay and looking down at it was breaking it
nervously between her fingers.  "You will have to hurry up and get well
if I stay," she said abruptly.  "I'm beginning to think you are the
only friend I have here.  And," she added, so quickly as to cut off any
words from him, "I've told you everything.  I only hope my speaking
about the hiding place at the bridge when father was angry with me--and
only to defend myself--was not the cause of _this_."

She was close beside him.  "Can it be," she asked, "that this was how
it happened?"  He heard her voice break with the question.

"No," he blurted out instantly.

"Oh," she cried, "I'm so thankful!"

Listening to her effort to speak the words, he was not sorry for what
he had said.  "If you're going to lie," Hawk had once said to him,
cynically, "don't stumble, don't beat about the bush--do a job!"  The
moment Kate told her story, Laramie knew exactly how he had been
trapped.  But why blame her?  "It's the first time I ever lied to her,"
he thought ruefully to himself.  "It's the first time she ever believed
me!"

"Does Belle know you quarreled with your father?" he asked, to get away
from the subject.

"No," she answered, steadying herself.

"She said you'd been acting sort of queer."

"I can't tell people my troubles."

"Why did you tell me?"

"You might die and blame me."

"Who says I'm going to die?"

"They were afraid you might."

"Well, I don't like to disappoint anybody, but dying is a thing a man
is entitled to take his time about."

"Can't I do something till the doctor comes?"

He turned very slowly on his side.  Kate made an attempt to examine his
shoulder.  She was not used to the sight of blood.  The clotted and
matted clothing awed and sickened her.  Even the hay was blood-soaked,
but she stuck to her efforts.  Supplementing the rude efforts of
McAlpin and Kitchen to give him first aid, she cut away, with Laramie's
knife, the bullet-torn coat and shirt and tried to get the wound ready
for cleansing.  "I'm so afraid of doing the wrong thing," she murmured,
fearfully.

"I don't care what you do--do something," he said.  "Your hands feel
awful good."

"I've nothing here to work with."

"All right, we'll go to the drug store and get something."  After
stubborn efforts he got on his feet and insisted on going down the
stairs.  Nothing that Kate could say would dissuade him.  "I've been
here long enough, anyway," was his decision.  "I'm feeling better every
minute; only awfully thirsty."

Kate steadied him down the dark stairs, fearful he might fall over her
as she went ahead.  Secrecy of movement seemed to have no significance
for him.  If his friends were disturbed, Laramie was not.  He evidently
knew the harness room, for he opened the blind door with hardly any
hesitation and stepped into the office.  The office was empty but the
street door of the stable was open.  McAlpin stood in the gang-way
talking to some man who evidently caught a glimpse of Laramie, for he
said rudely and loud enough for Kate to hear: "Hell, McAlpin!  There
comes your dead man now!"

Kate recognized the heavy voice of Carpy and shrank back.  The doctor,
McAlpin behind him dumbly staring, confronted Laramie at the door:
"What are you doin' here, Jim?" he demanded.

"What would I be doing anywhere?" retorted Laramie.

"Go back to your den.  This man says you're dying."

"Well, I'm not getting much encouragement at it--I've been waiting for
you three hours to help things along.  I'm done with the hay."

"Looking for a feather bed to die in.  Some men are blamed particular."
As he spoke Carpy caught his first glimpse of Kate.  "Hello!  There's
the pretty little girl from the great big ranch.  No wonder the man's
up and coming--what did you send for me for, McAlpin?  Where you
heading, Jim?"

With his hands on the door jambs, Carpy effectually barred the exit.
Knowing his stubborn patient well, he humored him, to the verge of
letting him have his own way, but with much raillery denied him the
drug store trip.  A compromise was effected.  Laramie consented to go
to Belle's to get something to eat.  In this way, refusing help, the
obdurate patient was got to walk to the cottage.

"Don't let him fall on y'," McAlpin cautioned Kate, as the two followed
close behind.  "I helped carry him upstairs.  He's a ton o' brick."

But Laramie, either incensed by his condition--the idea of any escort
being vastly unpleasant to him--or animated by the stiff hypodermics of
profanity that Carpy injected into the talk as they crossed the street,
did not even stumble; he held his way unaided, met Belle's amazement
unresponsively and, sitting down, called for something to eat.

"How does he do it, Doc?" whispered McAlpin, craning forward from the
background.

"Pure, damned nerve," muttered Carpy.  "But he does it."

They got him into bed.  While the doctor was excavating the channel
ripped through his shoulder, Laramie said nothing.  When, however, he
discovered that Kate was missing, he crustily short-circuited Belle's
excuses.  Words passed.  It became clear that Laramie would start out
and search the town if Kate were not produced.

"She wanted to see _me_," he insisted, doggedly.  "Now I want to see
_her_."

Carpy found he must again intervene.  He despatched McAlpin as a
diplomatic envoy over to his own house whither he had taken Kate as his
guest when she peremptorily declined to return to Belle's.



CHAPTER XXXVI

MCALPIN AT BAY

However others may have felt that night about Laramie's affairs, one
man, McAlpin, was proud of his ride, desperately wounded, all the way
to town.  Laramie had made a confidant of no one but Kate.  His
experience in being trapped was not so pleasant that he liked to talk
about it and neither McAlpin's shrewd questioning nor Carpy's
restrained curiosity was gratified that night.

In the circumstances, McAlpin's fancy had full play; and distrustful of
his imagination unaided, he repaired early to the Mountain House bar to
stimulate it.  Thus it gradually transpired along the bar, either from
the stimulant or its reaction or from McAlpin's excitement, that a big
fight had taken place that morning in the Falling Wall from which only
Laramie had returned alive.  It was known that he had come back and
inference as to who the dead men might be could center only on his two
active enemies, Tom Stone and Harry Van Horn.  The pawky barn boss, who
possessed perfectly the art of tantalizing innuendo, thus stirred the
bar-room pool to the depths.

McAlpin chose the rustler's end of the bar--as Abe Hawk's old stand was
called--and held the interest of the room against all comers.  As the
place filled for the evening, his cap, its vizor more than ordinarily
awry, was a conspicuous object and it became a favor on his part to
accept the courtesies of the bar at any man's hands.

"I knowed how it had to end," he would repeat when he had rambled again
around all aspects of the mysterious encounter.  "I knowed if they kept
after Jim how it _had_ to end.  Why, hell, gentlemen," he would aver,
planting a hob-nailed barn boot on the foot-rail, while swinging on one
elbow from the polished face of the mahogany, "I've _seen_ the boy stop
a coyote on the go, at 900 yards--what could you expect?  No, no, not
again.  What?  Well, go ahead; just a dash o' bitters in mine, Luke.
Thank you.

"Well, boys, accordin' to my notion, there's two men never would be
missed in this country, anyway, if nobody ever seen 'em again.  'N' if
my count is anywhere near right, nobody ever will see 'em again.  They
chased Laramie one foot too far--just one foot--'n' it looks as if they
got what was comin' to 'em.  I won't name 'em--they won't bother no
more in this country."

He had become so absorbed in his recital that the entrance into the
bar-room from the barber shop of a booted and spurred man escaped him.
The man, advancing deliberately, heard the last of McAlpin's words.  He
got fairly close to the unsuspecting barn boss unobserved.  A few in
the listening circle, noting the approach of the new arrival, stepped
back a little--for, of all men that might be expected, after McAlpin's
dark intimations, to appear, then and there, alive and aggressive, was
Tom Stone.

Freshly barbered, head forward, keen eyes peering from under staring,
sandy brows; thumbs stuck in his belt and his face framing a confident
leer.  Stone sauntering forward, listened to McAlpin.  So intent was
McAlpin on impressing his hearers that the foreman elbowed his way,
before McAlpin saw him, directly to the front.

"So you won't name 'em?" grinned Stone, confronting the startled
speaker.  McAlpin caught his breath.  The wiry Scotchman was not a
coward, but he knew the merciless cruelty of Stone.  Armed, McAlpin
would have been no man to affront his deadly skill; he now faced him
unarmed.

Stone, leaving his right hand hooked by the thumb in his belt, rested
his left elbow on the bar.  The bartender, Luke, just back of him,
leaning forward, mopped the bar more slowly and, listening, moved a
little farther down the bar until his fingers rested on an electric
button underneath connecting with Tenison's office in the hotel.

"Name the two men, McAlpin," said Stone, ominously, "while you're able
to talk."

McAlpin exhausted his ingenuity in his efforts to evade his danger, but
Stone drew the noose about him tighter and tighter.  He played the
unlucky man with all the malice of an executioner.  He baited him and
toyed with him.  McAlpin, white, stood his ground.  His fighting blood
was all there and he broke at length into a torrent of abuse of the man
that he realized was bent on murdering him.

Made eloquent by desperation, McAlpin never rose to greater heights of
profane candor.  It was as if he were making his last will and
testament of hatred and contempt for his murderer, and when he had
showered on his enemy every epithet stored in a retentive memory he
struck his empty glass on the bar and shouted:

"Now, you hellcat, shoot!"

It might have been thought Stone would check such a public castigation.
He did not.  Impervious to abuse, because master of the situation, he
seemed to enjoy his victim's fury.  "I'm finishing up with your gang
around here, McAlpin," he snarled, never losing his grin.  "You've run
a rustler's barn in Sleepy Cat long enough.  I've warned you and I've
warned Kitchen.  It didn't do no good.  Fill up your glass, McAlpin."

"Stone, I'd never fill up a glass with you if I was in hell 'n' you
could pull me out."

Stone's grin deepened: "Fill up your glass, McAlpin."

Onlookers, knowing what a refusal would mean, held their breaths.  But
McAlpin, white and stubborn, with another oath, again refused.

"Fill it, McAlpin," urged a quiet voice behind the bar.  Looking
quickly, like a hunted animal, around, McAlpin saw Harry Tenison,
white-faced and cold, pushing the bottle in friendly fashion toward
him.  Every man, save one, watching, hoped he would humor at least that
much his expectant murderer.  But the barn-boss had reached a state of
fear and anger that inflamed every stubborn drop in his blood.  He
swore he would not fill his glass.

Tenison spoke grimly: "Will you drink it if I fill it, you mule?" he
demanded, picking up the bottle and pouring into both glasses in front
of him.

In the dead silence McAlpin's brain was in a storm.  He collected a few
of his wildly flying thoughts.  Perhaps he remembered the wife and
Loretta and the babies; at all events he stared at the liquor, gulped
to see whether he could swallow, and, reaching forward, picked up the
glass.  Stone lifted his own.  The two men, their glasses poised, eyed
each other.

Stone barbed a taunt for his victim: "Goin' to drink, air you?" he
sneered, wreathing his eyes in leering wrinkles.

"No," said a man, unnoticed until then by any except Tenison and Luke,
and speaking as he pushed forward through the crowd to face both Stone
and McAlpin.  "He's not going to drink."

[Illustration: "No," said a man, . . . as he pushed forward to face
both Stone and McAlpin.  "He's not going to drink"]

Stone's glass was half-way up to his lips; he looked across it and saw
himself face to face with Jim Laramie.  Laramie who, unseen, had heard
enough of the quarrel, stood with his coat slung over his right
shoulder; one arm he carried in a sling, but as far as this concerned
Stone, it was the wrong arm.  Daring neither to raise the whisky to his
lips nor to set the glass down, lest Laramie, suspecting he meant to
draw, should shoot, Stone stood rooted.  "McAlpin's not going to drink,
Stone," repeated Laramie.  "What are you going to do about it?"

The mere sight of Laramie would have been a vastly unpleasant surprise.
But to find himself faced by him in fighting trim after what had taken
place in the morning was an upset.

"What am I going to do about it?" echoed Stone, lifting his eyebrows
and grinning anew.  "What are you going to do about it, Jim?" he
demanded.  "You and me used to bunk together, didn't we?"

"I bunked with a rattlesnake once.  I didn't know it," responded
Laramie dryly.  "Next morning the rattlesnake didn't know it."

"Jim, I'll drink you just once for old times."

"I wouldn't drink with you, Stone.  No man would drink with you if he
wasn't afraid of you.  And after tonight nobody's going to be afraid of
you.  You're a thief among thieves, Tom Stone: a bully, a coward, a
skulker.  You shoot from cover.  When Barb made you foreman, you and
Van Horn stole his cattle, and Dutch Henry sold 'em for you and divvied
with you.  Then, for fear Barb would get wise, you and Van Horn got up
the raid and killed Dutch Henry, so he couldn't talk.

"Now you're going to quit this stuff.  No more thieving, no more
man-killing, no bullyragging, no nothing.  Tenison will clear this
room.  Hold your glass right where it is, till the last man gets out.
When he gets out set down your glass; you'll have time enough allowed
you.  After that, draw where you stand.  You're not entitled to a
chance.  God, Stone, I'd _rather_ bunk with a rattlesnake than with
you.  I'd rather kill one than kill a thing like you.  Your head ought
to be pounded with a rock.  You're entitled to nothing.  But you can
have your chance.  Get the boys out of here, Harry."

Not for one instant did he take his eye off Stone's eye, or raise his
tone above a speaking voice, and Laramie's voice was naturally low.  To
catch his syllables, listeners crowded in and craned their necks.  Few
men withdrew but everyone courteously and sedulously got out of the
prospective line of fire.

What it cost Laramie even to stand on his feet and talk, Tenison could
most shrewdly estimate.  From behind the bar he coldly regarded the
wounded man.  He knew that Laramie must have escaped Carpy and escaped
Belle, to look for the men that had tried that morning to kill him.
Having found Stone he meant then and there to fight.

Tenison likewise realized that he was in no condition to do it, and
promptly intervened: "Don't look at me, Jim," he said.  "But I'm
talking.  There's no man in Sleepy Cat can clear this room now.  Most
of this crowd are your friends.  They want to see this hell-hound
cleaned up.  But you know what it means to some of 'em if two guns cut
loose."

Stone saw the gate open.  He welcomed a chance to dodge.  Eyeing
Laramie, he swallowed his drink, set his glass on the bar.  With a
voice dried and cracked, he cried: "Keep your hands off, Tenison.  I'll
give Jim Laramie all the fight he wants, here or anywhere."

Tenison was willing to bridge the crisis with abuse.  "Shut up, you
coyote," he remarked, with complete indifference.

"You'll throw a man down no matter how much of your whisky he drinks,
won't you, Tenison?" cried Stone.

Tenison, both hands judicially spread on the bar, seemed to fail to
hear.  "McAlpin," he said contemptuously, "walk around behind Laramie
and lift Stone's gun."

Stone started violently.  "Look out, Tenison!  I lift my gun when
there's men to stand by and see fair play!"

A roar of laughter went up.  "I don't lift it for no frame-up," he
shouted, turning angrily toward the unsympathetic crowd.  "Get out!"
cried one voice far enough back to be safe.  "Send for Barb," shouted a
second.  "Page Van Horn," piped a barber, as Stone moved toward the
door.

The baited foreman turned only for a parting shot at Laramie: "I'll see
_you_ later."

"If I was your friend," retorted Laramie, unmoved, "I'd advise you not
to.  If you ride my trail don't expect anything more from me.  And I
make this town," he hammered home the point with his right forefinger
indicating the floor, "and the Falling Wall range _my_ trail."

"Stone ought to have tried it tonight," observed Tenison at the cash
register.  He was speaking to his bartender long after Stone had
disappeared, Laramie had been put to bed again and the billiard hall
had been deserted.  "He'll never get a chance again at Laramie half
shot to pieces."



CHAPTER XXXVII

KATE BURNS THE STEAK

Laramie, held for a week in bed, learned from the Doctor of Belle's
outburst at Kate, and, acting through him and with him, arranged peace.

Complaining of a cold, with her other troubles, Belle took to bed when
Laramie was moved to the hotel and Kate turned in to nurse her.

"You won't starve while she stays, Belle," declared Carpy, leaving Kate
in possession at the cottage, "and while I think of it," he added,
turning to Kate, "Laramie says he wants to see you.  You call him up on
the telephone, will you?"

"What for, doctor?"

"To oblige me, girl.  I want to hold that fellow in his room a few days
more and keep his arm in a sling.  He's no easier to handle than a
wildcat."

Kate looked perplexed: "What shall I say to him?"

Carpy stood at the door with his hand on the knob: "Jolly him
along--you know how.  He says he's coming down here for dinner tonight.
Tell him Belle's sick."

Belle listened.  The more Kate considered the mandate, the more
confusing it seemed.  But she rang up the hotel, called for Laramie and
heard presently a man's voice in answer.

"Is this Mr. Laramie?" she asked.

"It is not," was the answer.

"Isn't he there?"

"No."

"Can you tell me when he will be in?"

"He won't be in."

She sighed with impatience: "I want to speak to him.  And I think this
is he speaking.  You know very well who I am," she persisted.

"I do."

"And I know very well who you are."

"In that you may be mistaken."

"Surely I'm not mistaken in believing Mr. Laramie a gentleman."

"But you are mistaken in believing any person by that name here."

"There is a person there who loves to persecute me, isn't there?"

"There is not."

"Is there one there that likes to have his own way?"

"No more than you like to have your own way."

"Is there a man named Jim there?"

"Speaking, Kate."

"I've a message from Belle."

"What is the message?"

"She is in bed with a cold and fever and wants you not to come tonight.
As soon as she is up she will let you know."

Belle held her peace till Kate left the telephone.  "I can't make
Doctor Carpy out," she grumbled.  "If he didn't want Jim Laramie to
come down here what did he ask _you_ to call him up for?  If he doesn't
know any more than that about doctoring," she added, contemptuously,
"I'd hate to take his medicine."

She waited for Kate's comment but Kate possessed the great art of
saying nothing.  "I guess," continued Belle, at length, "it's time to
take that pill he left, but I guess I won't take it.  What do you think
about it?" she asked, referring again to Carpy.

Kate was not to be drawn out: "I found out a long time ago that Doctor
Carpy doesn't tell all he knows," she observed dryly.  "But I do know
he wants Mr. Laramie to stay in his room.  He says his shoulder will
never heal if he doesn't keep still."

Belle made no response, but when Laramie knocked at the door in the
evening she knew who it was.  Kate received him.

Talking in leisurely fashion to her, he walked to the door of Belle's
room, looked in, wanted to know whom she had been fighting with and
asked if she would get up and get supper for him.

He carried his right arm at his side with the thumb hooked into his
belt: "Where's your sling?" demanded Belle, tartly.  Laramie pulled it
out of his pocket: "I put it on when Carpy comes around," he explained.

"You keep fooling around the streets this way and they'll get you
sometime," said Belle, tartly.

He turned the remark: "That idea doesn't seem to worry me as much as it
used to.  Have I got to cook my own supper?"

This venture after discussion was assumed by Kate.  She put on her hat
to go across the street to get a steak.  Laramie insisted on going with
her.  She asked him not to.

"Why not?" he asked.

Kate was keyed up with apprehension: "Why take chances all the time?"
she asked in turn.  "Someone might shoot from the dark."

Belle answered for him: "Nobody in this country would shoot a man when
a woman's with him," she said.  "Go along."

The butcher stumping in from the back room to wait on them showed no
surprise at the two from hostile camps asking for one steak, but he
tried so hard to watch the pair and to hear what they were saying that
he nearly ruined one quarter of beef before he got what Kate wanted.
What he finally cut off and trimmed looked more like a roast than a
steak but neither customer seemed disturbed by this.

Laramie paid, over indignant protests, and placing the package in the
loop of his left arm, opened the shop door for his companion.  He
passed out behind her in excellent spirits.  The butcher, looking after
them, took his surreptitious pipe from his pocket, watched the shop
door close, shook his head and ramming the burnt tobacco down hard with
the finger that lacked the first joint, stumped back to his lonely
stove.

The kitchen was farthest removed from Belle's room.  Laramie started
the fire with kerosene.  When he lighted it there was a flare-back that
alarmed Belle in her bed, but she could hear nothing of what was going
on in the kitchen.  While the supper was being cooked, Laramie stood on
the other side of the stove from his enemy's daughter, watching every
move.  If Kate walked over to the cupboard, his eyes followed her
step--she walked with such decision and planted her heels so fast and
firm.  If she turned from the stove to the table, his eyes devoured her
slenderness in amazement that one so delicately proportioned could so
crowd everything else out of his head.  It seemed as if nothing before
had ever been shaped like her ankles--there was so little of them to
bear uncomplainingly even so slight a figure--and Kate was by no means
diminutive.

As the supper progressed, Laramie watched almost in awe the short-arm
jabs she gave the meat on the broiler.  The cuffs of her shirtwaist,
half back to her elbows, revealed white arms tapering to wrists molded
like the ankles, and hands that his eyes fed on as a miser's feed on
gold.  The blazing coals flushed her cheeks and when she looked up at
him to answer some foolish question her own eyes, flushed and softened
by the heat, took on an expression that stole all the strength he had
left.  When she asked him how he liked it, he exclaimed, "Fine," and
Kate had to ask him whether he liked the steak well done or rare.

"Any way you like it," he stammered, "but lots of gravy."

As he watched her laugh at his efforts to help her by picking up the
hot platter, a sense of his own clumsiness and size and general
roughness overcame him.  She was too far removed, he told himself, from
his kind to make it possible for her ever to like him.

The closer he got to her daintiness and spirit and laughter, the more
hopeless his wild dreams seemed.  Whenever she asked if the steak were
cooked enough, he suggested--to prolong the pleasure of watching her
hands--that she give it one more turn.  Every moment he saw something
new to admire.  While she was attending to the meat he could look at
her hair and see where the sun had browned her pink throat and neck.
As the broiling drew near an end, almost a panic gripped Laramie.  The
happiest moments of his life had been spent there at the stove.  They
were slipping away.  She was lifting the steak the last time from the
fire.  He asked her to turn it once more.

"Why, look at it," she exclaimed, "it's burnt up now; hold the platter
closer."

It brought him closer in spirit than he had ever been to heaven, to
feel her elbow brush against his own, as she deftly landed the smoking
steak on the platter while Laramie held it.

A great melancholy overcame him: "What do you want me to do?" he said
suddenly.

Kate's eyebrows rose.  She looked at him: "Why, set it on the table,"
she laughed.

"No, I mean what do you want me to do--myself."

She could not wholly misunderstand his look, though little did he
realize how she feared it; or what a dread respect she secretly had for
the grave eyes so closely bent on her own.  She laughed really to
gather courage, and it was easy to laugh a little because he did look
so odd as he stood before her, with the platter in both hands, but
terribly in earnest.  "Set the platter on the table before you burn
yourself," she pleaded.

"You must want me to do something," he persisted, "get off the earth or
stay on it--now, don't you?  Say what you want me to do, and, by----"
He checked himself.  "And I'll do it."

She could restrain him but she could not turn him.  He did put the
platter on the table without getting any answer but now that his mind
was set, it reverted stubbornly to the one subject and when supper was
over and they sat opposite each other in the little dining-room
talking, she said she knew he had burned his hands.  "I wouldn't mind
if I had," he remarked frankly.  "Almost every time I've talked with
you I've held the hot end of a poker; I'm getting to look for it."  He
drew a deep breath.  "You never liked me, did you, Kate?"

"That isn't so."

"You always kind of held off."

"Perhaps I was a little afraid of you."

"You're not afraid of me now--are you--with one arm out of commission?
Are you?"

She looked at him in a troubled sort of way: "Why, no--not very," she
returned, half laughing.

"You were never half as much afraid of me as I was of you," he murmured.

His eyes across the table were growing very importunate.  She could not
realize how flushed and soft and tantalizing her own eyes were, framed
by the warm color high in her cheeks.  She rose with a hurried
exclamation and looked dismayed at him, her hands tilted on the table,
her brows high and her burning eyes still laughing: "We've left the
light on by the stove all this time," she whispered.  "Belle will be
furious!"

She slipped hurriedly out into the kitchen and turned off the light.
Her face was hot.  She was thirsty and stepping to the water faucet she
picked up a glass.  The mountain water tasted so cold and good; in some
way it made her think of great peaks and the crisp, clear air of his
home far up among them.  She had not realized how heated she was.  "Do
you want a drink?" she called back to the dining room.

He was standing directly behind her.  She turned only to stumble
against him and before she knew what had happened he was raining kisses
on her resisting cheeks.  Then his lips found hers and, faint with the
moment, she resisted no more.

After a long time she got one hand around his neck and laid the other
across his mouth: "Don't make so much noise," she whispered wildly.
"Belle will hear us!"



CHAPTER XXXVIII

THE UNEXPECTED CALL

The hush that followed the brain storm in the kitchen put Belle, quite
unsuspecting, to sleep.  Laramie, with a tread creditable to a cat--and
a stealth natural to most carnivorous animals--closed the door without
breaking her heavy breathing.  The shades, always drawn at nightfall,
called for no attention.  In the living-room, there was preliminary
tiptoeing, and there were futile efforts on Kate's part to cool her
rebellious cheeks by applying her open hands to them--when she could
get possession of either one to do so.  The small couch which served as
sofa was drawn out of range of even the protected windows, and the
floodgates were opened to the first unrestrained confidences together.

When they could talk of more serious things, Kate could not possibly
see how she could marry him; but this, in the circumstances, seemed to
cause Laramie no alarm.  She admitted she had tried not to like him and
confessed how she had failed.  "Every time I met you," she murmured,
"you seemed to understand me so well--you knew how a woman would like
to be treated--that's what I kept thinking about."

"You used to talk and laugh with Van Horn," he complained, jealously.
"When I came around, I couldn't drag a smile out of you with a lariat."

"You're getting a smile now that he isn't getting, aren't you?"

"Somehow you never acted natural with me."

"Jim!"  It was the word he most wanted to hear, even if the reproach
implied the quintessence of stupidity.  "Don't you understand, I wasn't
afraid of him, and I was of you!"

"And I only trying to get a chance to eat out of your hand!"

"How could I tell--after all I used to hear--but that you'd begin by
eating out of my hand and finish by eating me?"

He had to be told every word of her troubles at home, but her
uneasiness turned to the dangers threatening him.  These, she
protested, he belittled too much.  Ever since he had come in wounded
she had been the prey of fears for him.  "It's a mystery how you
escaped."  He had to tell every detail of his flight down the canyon.
"By rights," he said in conclusion, "they ought to have got me.  No man
should have got out of that scrape as well as I did.  Van Horn didn't
get into action quick enough.  And it seemed to me as if Stone himself
was a little slow."  The way he spoke the things strengthened her
confidence.  And his arm held her so close!

"I'll tell you, Kate," he added.  "You can easy enough hire a fellow to
kill a man.  But you can't really hire one to hate a man.  And if he
doesn't really hate him, he won't be as keen on your job as you'd be
yourself.  These hired men will booze once in awhile--or go to sleep,
maybe.  It's work for a clear head and takes patience to hide in the
rocks day after day and wait for one certain man to ride by so you can
shoot him.  If you doze off, your man may pass while you snore.  And
the kind of man you can hire isn't as keen on getting a man as the man
himself is on not getting 'got'--that's where the chance is, sometimes,
to pull out better than even."

Because his aim was to reassure, to relieve her anxiety, he did not
tell her that all the unfavorable conditions he had named, while never
before arrayed against him at one time, were now pretty much all
present together.  Kate herself, he knew, stood more than ever between
him and Van Horn.  Stone had been twice publicly disgraced by Laramie
at Tenison's--he would never forgive that.  He had the patience of the
assassin and when hatred swayed him he did not sleep--these were still,
Laramie knew in his heart, bridges to be crossed.

But why spoil an hour's happiness with the thought of them now?
Laramie drew his hand across his heated forehead as if to clear his
eyes and look again down into the face close to his and assure himself
he was not really dreaming.  "What do I care about them all, Kate," he
would say, "now that I've got you?  No, now that you've given yourself
to me--that's what I'll say--what do I care what they do?"

But she would look up, sudden with apprehension: "But don't you think
_I_ care?  Jim, let's leave this country soon, soon."

Laramie laughed indulgently: "Somebody'll have to leave it pretty
soon--that's certain."

A rude knock at the door broke into his words.  Kate threw her hands
against his breast.  She stared at him thunderstruck, and sprang from
the sofa like a deer, looking still at him with wide-open eyes and then
glancing apprehensively toward the door.

Laramie sat laughing silently at her get-away as he called it, yet he
was not undisturbed.

Nothing, in the circumstances, could have been less welcome than any
sort of an intrusion.  But a knock at the door, almost violent, and
coming three times, stirred even Laramie's temper.

The door was not locked.  Laramie rose, his fingers resting on the butt
of his revolver, and stepping lightly into the dining-room, turned down
the lamp.  He stood in the shadow and beckoned Kate to him.  His face
indicated no alarm.

"This may be something, or it may be nothing.  You step into the
kitchen.  I'll go to the door."

She clung to him, really terror-stricken, begging him not to go.  As he
tried to quiet her fears the heavy knock shook the flimsy door the
second time.  Kate, declaring she would go, would not be denied.
Laramie told her exactly what to do.

She reached the door on tiptoe and stood to the right of it.  The key
was in the lock.  Kate, reaching out one hand, turned the key.  With
the door thus locked and standing close against the wall she called out
to know who was there.  Laramie had followed behind her.  He stepped to
where he could look from behind the window shade out on the porch.  He
turned to Kate just as an answer came from outside, and signed to her
to open.  Standing where she was, Kate turned the key swiftly back in
the lock and threw the door wide open.

Stooping slightly forward to bring his hat under the opening, and
looking carefully about him, her father walked heavily into the room.

Laramie had disappeared.  Kate, dumb, stood still.  Barb closed the
door behind him, walked to the table, put down his hat and turned to
Kate.  "Well?" he began, snapping the word in his usual manner, his
stupefied daughter struggling with her astonishment.  "You don't act
terrible glad to see me."

Kate caught her breath.  "I was so surprised," she stammered.

"What are you staying in town so long for?" demanded Barb.  His voice
had lost nothing of its husky heaviness.

She answered with a question: "Where else have I to stay, father?  I've
been waiting for money to get East with and it hasn't come yet."

"What do you want to go East for?"

"I've nowhere else to go."

"Why don't you come home?"

"Because you told me to leave."

He sat slowly down on a chair near the table and with the care of a
burdened man.

"Well," he said, "you mustn't take things too quick from me nowadays."
She made no answer.  "I've had a good deal of money trouble lately," he
went on, "everything going against me."  He spoke moodily and his huge
frame lost in the bulk of his big storm coat overran almost
pathetically the slender chair in which he tried to sit.  His spirit
seemed broken.  "I reckon," he added, taking his hat from the table and
fingering it slowly, "you'd better come along back."

She was sorry for him.  She told him how much she wished he would give
up trying to carry his big load, and she urged him to take a small
ranch and keep out of debt.  He laid his hat down again.  He told her
he didn't see how he could let it go, but they would talk it over when
she got home.

This was the point of his errand that she dreaded to meet and putting
it as inoffensively as possible she tried to parry: "I think," she
ventured, "now that I've got some clothes ready and got started, I'd
better go East for awhile anyway."

"No."  His ponderous teeth clicked.  "You'd better wait till fall.  I
might go along.  Tonight I'll take you out home.  Put on your things
and we'll get started."

She did not want to refuse.  She knew she could not consent.  She knew
that Laramie in the shadow, as well as her father in the light, was
waiting for her answer: "Father," she said at once, "I can't go
tonight."

"Why not?" was the husky demand.

"Belle is sick in bed," pleaded Kate.

"Is that the only reason?"

She saw he was bound to wring more from her.  "No," she answered, "it
isn't, father."

"What else?"

"I'm afraid----" she hesitated, and then spoke out: "I can't come
back--not just as I was, anyway."

"Why not?"

"It's too late, father."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"When I come back from the East," she spoke slowly but collectedly, "I
expect to go into a new home."

"Where?"

"In the Falling Wall."

For a moment he did not speak, only looked at her fixedly: "What I've
heard's so, then?" he said, after a pause.

"What have you heard?"

"The story is you're going to marry Jim Laramie."

Kate, in turn, stood silently regarding her father, and as if she knew
she must face it out.

"Is that so?" he demanded harshly.

She burst into tears, but through her tears the two men heard her
answer: "Yes, father."

Barb picked up his hat without wincing: "I guess that ends things
'tween you and me."  He started uncertainly for the door.

"Father!" Kate protested, taking a quick step after him as he passed
out.  "You don't do him justice.  You don't know him."

But slamming the door shut behind him, he cut off her words.  If they
reached his ears he gave them no heed.



CHAPTER XXXIX

BARB MAKES A SURPRISING ALLIANCE

By a happy chance, on the night of Laramie's great hour, Sawdy and
Lefever returned from Medicine Bend.  It was late when they
arrived--into the early morning hours, in fact, and at the Mountain
House the bar was not only closed but securely closed--barricaded
against just such marauders.  Even the night clerk had gone to bed.
But this was less of an embarrassment, for the two adventurers, turning
on the lights, took his pass keys from the drawer and, opening the
doors of one room after another in the face of a variety of protests,
kept on till they found satisfactory quarters that "seemed"
unoccupied--quarters in which at least the beds were unoccupied.

The hardy scouts slept late.  They breakfasted late, in what Sawdy
called the hotel "ornery," and while they were reducing the visible
supply of ham and eggs, Tenison walked in on them to ask about
complaints made at the office by indignant guests whose privacy had
been invaded during the night.  Rebuffed on this subject, all knowledge
being disclaimed, Tenison was called on for the story of events since
the two had been away, and of these Laramie's escape from the canyon
came first.  Tenison reported further, in confidence, Laramie's success
with Kate.  Had the news provided every man in the Falling Wall with a
brand-new wife, it could not have been more to the humor of Sawdy and
Lefever.

Sawdy rose and stretched himself from the waist down to make sure his
legs touched the floor: "I've got to have a good cigar on that," he
declared.  "Take away, Mabel."  He nodded courteously to the waitress.
"Harry, we had the dustiest trip I ever seen in my life," he added, as
with his companions he left the table.  "The old Ogallala trail wasn't
a marker to it.  Why, the dust was a mile deep.  My tonsils are plumb
full of it yet."

Not everyone in Sleepy Cat was so quick to credit the news that Kate
Doubleday was going to marry Jim Laramie.  The cattlemen sympathizers
looked grumpy, when approached on the subject.  They preferred not to
talk, but if taunted would retort with an intimating oath: "That show
ain't over yet."

"Jim Laramie acts as if it was, anyway," grumbled Belle, when the
butcher told her what they were saying.  In fact, all of Laramie's
intimates were out of patience with him when he announced he was going
to rebuild the cabin on his Falling Wall ranch and live there.

"Wait till this cattle fight is over," they would urge.

"It is over," he would retort.  And heedless of their protests, he
spent his time getting his building materials together.

"What do you want me to do?" he demanded, stirred at length by Belle's
remonstrances against going back to the Falling Wall.  "I've got to
live somewhere.  Danger?  Why, yes--maybe.  But I can't keep dying
every day on that account.  Here in town a man was run over just the
other day by a railroad train."

Kate said little either way.  She heard all that Belle could urge and
held in her heart all the men said.  But when Jim asked her what _she_
wanted to do she told him, simply, whatever _he_ wanted to do.  Then
Belle would call her a ninny, and Laramie would kiss her, and Belle in
disgust would disappear.

There came one morning the crowning sensation in the suspense of the
situation.  Barb Doubleday drove into town in the buckboard, headed his
team into Kitchen's barn to put up and gave McAlpin a cigar.

An earthquake, where one had never been known, could not have stirred
the town more.  When McAlpin ran up street to the Mountain House to be
first with his news, he was reviled as a vender of stories calculated
to start a shooting.

But McAlpin, with a cigar in his mouth--where no cigar, except a free
cigar, was ever seen--his face bursting red with import, stuck to his
guns.  He walked straight to the billiard room bar, and attracted
attention by brusquely ordering his own drink.  This, it was known,
always meant something serious.

When Sawdy saw the commotion about the barn boss, he walked in and
after listening began a stern cross-examination.

"Explain?" McAlpin echoed scornfully.  "I don't explain.  No, he wasn't
drinking!  Nor he wasn't crazy!"  McAlpin took the burning cigar from
his mouth.  "That's the cigar he give me, right there--and a bum one.
Barb never smoked a good one in his life--you know that, Henry?  I
don't explain--I drink.  Hold on!" he exclaimed, as he emptied his
glass with a single gulp.  He was looking across the street and
pointing.  "Who's that over there comin' out of the lumber yard with
Barb Doubleday right now--blanked if it ain't!  It's Jim Laramie,
that's who it is."

Doubleday had in fact run into Laramie in the lumber yard.  With
nothing more than a greeting, he opened his mind: "I want a talk with
you, Jim," he said bluntly.  "Where's Kate?"

Not even the freedom of the bar fully established could hold McAlpin
after he had seen Laramie and Doubleday walk out of the lumber yard and
start down Main Street together.  McAlpin had the reputation of having
missed no important shooting in Sleepy Cat for years.  He had been
witness in more than one inquest and did not mean to imperil his
importance by slacking now.  As he hastened out to trail the long-day
bitter enemies, he was framing in his mind the preliminary answers for
the coroner.  He would be compelled to testify, he felt, that the dead
man had showed no sign of intoxication or excitement when he drove his
team into the barn--for in the circumstances, the barn boss already
figured Barb as the inevitable victim.

Thus ruminating, he trailed the unsuspecting pair as far as Belle's.
At Belle's without sign of heated argument, they knocked and entered
the cottage together.  This left McAlpin across the street with nobody
but the butcher to talk to, while he listened intently for the first
shot.

Lefever was bolder.  He followed the two men unceremoniously to Belle's
porch and bluffed Belle herself into admitting him to the living room.
Laramie had gone into the back part of the house to hunt up Kate; Barb,
alone, sat in the rocking chair, chewing an unlighted cigar.

Lefever greeted the big cattleman effusively; Barb's response was cold.
He looked Lefever over critically: "What'you doing?" he asked, without
warm interest in any possible answer.

"Buying a relinquishment now and again, Barb."

"Railroad man, eh?" muttered Barb, irrelevantly.

"No, no.  I've quit that game; I've got a claim up near you.  I'm going
to try to live the life of a small but dishonest rancher, Barb."

"You ought to do well at that, eh?"

"Why, yes and no.  But I'm thinking, if I can't figure out the game,
some of my neighbors can help me catch on--what?"

Barb's retort--if he had one--to Lefever's continued laugh, was cut off
by Laramie's entrance with Kate.  John saw that he was _de trop_, that
it was a family conference, and only extracting from Laramie a promise
to see him--about nothing whatever--before leaving town he made what he
termed a graceful getaway.  Kate and Laramie faced her father.  Belle,
too, was for going out.  Doubleday stopped her: "No secrets, Belle;
stay if you want to."

All sat down.  Kate was for a chair, but Laramie domineering, made her
sit with him on the sofa.  Barb spoke first: "This Falling Wall fight
is off," he began briefly.  "Anyway, I quit on it.  I've got to, Jim.
The settlers there are in to stay," declared Barb philosophically.
"They've got to be reco'nized."  The settlers, in this instance, meant
Jim Laramie, since practically everyone else had been driven or
frightened out.  But all understood what was intended; for if the
fighting ceased the park would fill up.

"Since yesterday," Doubleday went on, "I've found out something else."
He was speaking directly to Laramie.  "That man Stone," he exclaimed,
"has been robbing me."

The old man paused.  No one made any comment.  Abe Hawk had long ago
told Laramie as much.  "He's been misbranding on me--him and that
rascally Van Horn have been selling my steers to the railroad camps on
the Reservation.  I've got the evidence from some Indians that came
over yesterday with the hides.  Last night," continued the victim
coolly, "I fired Stone.  He went right over to Van Horn's.  I told him
that's where he belongs.  I'm through with 'em both."

"Why don't you have 'em arrested?" demanded Belle.

"I might, yet," muttered Barb vaguely.

Laramie held his peace; but even Kate realized _that_ would never do.
"Jim and me has had our differences," added Barb, "but they're ended.
If you two get married----"

"There ain't goin' to be any 'if,' Barb," interposed Laramie, "there's
just going to be 'married,' and married right off."

"Well, that's for you and the girl to say; but when you say it, you've
got to have a house to live in.  I met Jim," added her father, speaking
now to Kate, "over in the lumber yard this morning.  When you get your
house up, turn the bill in to me."

Kate's kisses confused and stopped her father.  Belle made ready a good
dinner.  The four ate together.  Belle was excited, Kate happy and
Laramie content.  But for the old man it was somehow hard to fit in.
Having had his say, he relapsed into grim silence and taciturn
responses.  Even his presence would have repressed Belle but for Kate's
happy laugh.  She looked at her father, talked to him, thought of him,
studied him, and throwing off lingering doubts--for she never felt she
quite knew her father--enjoyed him, eating as he was in peace with her
husband-to-be.

When Laramie's cigars were lighted after the dinner, Barb seemed to
feel more at his ease.  He told stories of his old railroad days and
laughed when Kate and Belle and Laramie laughed.  Later, his daughter
and his new son-in-law walked up street with him.  They went with him
on his errands and then to the barn.  McAlpin, personally, hitched up
the ponies, both in compliment to a new customer and to hear every word
that passed in the talk.

"Damme," he muttered to the hostler in the harness room, "y' can't get
around old Barb.  Look at him.  What do I mean?  Don't he fight Laramie
five years 'n' get licked?  Now he turns him into his son-in-law and
gets the Falling Wall range anyway--can y' beat it?  Coming right
along, sir!" he shouted, as Barb in the gangway bellowed for more
speed.  And with a flutter of activity, real and feigned, McAlpin and
his helper fastened the traces.

When ready, the wiry team and the long narrow buckboard looked small
for Barb, who cautiously clambered into the seat and gingerly
distributed his bulk upon it.  Laramie had taken the reins from
McAlpin; he passed them to Barb who, as he squared himself so as not to
fall off his slender perch, was huskily demanding when Laramie and Kate
would be out.  At the last minute, Kate insisted on and was given, a
good-by kiss.  She and Jim promised to go out next day.  Barb spoke to
the horses.  They jumped half-way out of the barn.  Kate, with Laramie
following, hurried forward to see her father drive away.

The broad back, topped by the powerful shoulders and neck, and the big
hat bobbing up and down with the spring of the buckboard, the little
team plunging at their bits, and her father heedless of their
antics--all this was a familiar sight, but never had it been so
pleasing.  The setting sun touched with gold the thin cloud of dust
that rose from the wheels.  It was the close of a beautiful day and it
had been next to the happiest in her life, Kate thought, while she
stood, watching and thinking.  The ponies reaching a turn in the road
dashed ahead and her father disappeared.



CHAPTER XL

BRADLEY RIDES HARD

The evening was spent at Belle's.  Lefever came in late with
congratulations.  He told them about his trip and the wonders.

"I'll bet you're glad to get back to Sleepy Cat," objected Belle.

Lefever pointed a serious, almost accusing finger at her: "Thank you
for saying it, Belle; and that's never hinting the Panhandle's not a
good country--not a bit of it.  But, just the same, I'm glad to get
back to my own.  There's no place like hell, Jim, is there?--especially
if you've got friends there--you know that."

"You ought to be ashamed, John Lefever, to say such things," exclaimed
Belle, indignantly.  But nothing could check Lefever's spirits.  His
laugh was contagious: "I am, Belle, I am.  I want you to feel that I
am."

"And you came back across the Sinks?" interposed Laramie.

"We did," responded John, starting all over again, "and I want to tell
you the Sinks are picking up.  There's a better class of people going
in.  I was laid up at Thief River--something I ate.  I felt pretty bad."

"How do you feel now?" Laramie asked.

"Why, not very good to tell the truth.  I had a kind of a sleepy night.
You wouldn't believe it, Jim, but there's quite a town at Thief River.
And the Sisters here at Sleepy Cat have got a little hospital going.
They treated me fine.  Everybody, in fact, seemed to take an interest
in getting me on my feet.  There's an awful nice undertaker there.  I
forget his name; but he knew Henry de Spain well; said he'd done a good
deal of business for Henry, off and on--when he could get the coffins.
He sent some flowers over to me at the hospital with his card.  I sent
back my own card--wrote: 'Not yet.'  When we were leaving I went over
to thank him and tell him I was sorry I hadn't been able to throw him a
job.  Even then, I didn't feel I could logically say good-by to an
undertaker--I just said '_Au revoir_.'"

The two men afterward joined Sawdy at the Mountain House.  In the
morning, breakfasting together early, Sawdy and Lefever with Laramie
walked in the bright sunshine down to Kitchen's barn to saddle up and
ride across the river to look at some horses.  Laramie stopped at
Belle's to see whether he could get Kate to go over with them; and
while Sawdy went on to the barn, Lefever waited at Belle's gate to find
out whether Kate was going.

When Laramie came to the door after a few moments to say that Kate
would go, Lefever stood outside the gate looking intently into the
north.

"Somebody from the Crazy Woman," he observed as Laramie joined him,
"must have an urgent call in town this morning."

He was watching what appeared to be little more than a speck on the
northern horizon, but even at that distance it was moving fast.
Lefever walked over to Kitchen's to order the fourth horse.  Rejoining
Laramie he found him still at the gate.  And when Kate, fresh as the
morning, appeared, the two men though talking of indifferent things,
had their eyes fixed on a horseman galloping at breakneck speed down
the long slope of the northern divide.  He was now less than a mile
away and the dust thrown from his horse's hoofs rose evenly behind him
in the stillness of the sunshine.  He must pass the barn to reach town.
Kate asked a question.

"It may be one of your father's horses," mused Lefever aloud, "and it
rides something like old Bill Bradley."

Still pushing his speed to the limit and cutting in reckless fashion
the turns of the open road, the rider drew rapidly nearer.  They could
see he was hatless and coatless and urging his horse.  "It's Bradley,"
declared Lefever decisively.  Laramie said nothing.  Kate instinctively
drew closer to him.  The horseman disappeared at that moment behind the
railroad icing plant.  The next, he whirled with a sharp clatter of
hoofs into Main Street, and, dashing past Carpy's, pulled his foaming
horse to its haunches in front of Kitchen's barn.

McAlpin and Sawdy were leading the four saddle ponies to the stable
door.  The group at Belle's gate could not hear what Bradley shouted;
but they saw McAlpin start.  Sawdy, too, spoke quick, and pointed, with
his words, across the way.  Bradley jerked his panting horse around and
spurred toward Belle's gate.

The old man, his thin hair flying and his blood-shot eyes bulging,
reined up before Laramie with his arm out, to speak.  But the ride and
the excitement had been too much.  His features worked convulsively but
he could not utter a word.

"For God's sake, Bill," cried Lefever, catching his arm and jerking
him.  "What's up?"

Bradley, his eyes glued on Laramie, got back his voice: "It's Barb,
Jim!" he shouted wildly.  "Tom Stone shot him this morning!"

Kate's sharp cry rang in Laramie's ears.  He caught her in his arm.
Belle ran out, only adding to the confusion with her scream.  Lefever,
joined now by Sawdy and McAlpin, who had hurried over, got Bradley off
his horse, into a chair on the porch, refreshed him with water and
steadied his whisky-wrecked nerves with whisky.

Stone and Van Horn came over from Van Horn's early, Bradley told his
hearers brokenly.  They asked for Barb and he was down at the creek.
Barb had sent Bradley about a mile below the house to repair a small
break in the irrigation ditch and had ridden down to show him what he
wanted done.  After giving instructions, he had started back for the
house.  Before he got far, Stone and Van Horn met him.  Bradley heard
voices up the creek but paid no special attention to them, and busied
himself with his job.  Some minutes later he heard the voices again,
loud and angry.  As they were close by, Bradley, shovel in hand, walked
along the ditch bank to where he could see what was up.

"They'd all got off their horses," continued Bradley, "and was standin'
not fur apart.  I was close to the willows along the ditch.  'Fore you
could say Jack Robinson, Stone and Van Horn snapped out their guns and
begun to shoot.  The old man was game, boys, but he didn't have no
show.  He managed to get his gun out, both men a-shootin' at him."

"Both!" echoed Laramie, bitterly.  Sawdy swore a withering oath.

"Is my father dead?" cried Kate in agony.

"Not yet," replied Bradley disconcertingly.

"We must get Carpy up there quick.  Hunt him up, will you, John?" said
Laramie to Lefever.

"Hold on," interposed Bradley.  "Carpy's there afore this.  I met him
drivin' north and he put right out for the ranch."

"Couldn't you do something while they were trying to murder Father?"
sobbed Kate, wringing her hands as she appealed to Bradley.

"Why, what could _I_ do?" stared Bradley.  "_I_ didn't have no gun.
Kelly and me got the wagon down and picked Barb up 'n' got him to the
house.  He told me to put out for town and get you and Jim Laramie;
he's out of his head, you see."

"Did they see you, Bradley?" interrupted Laramie.

"Never seen me, Jim."

"Did Barb hit either of them?" asked Laramie.

"'Tain't likely.  He only got in one shot.  When they seen him
wrigglin' on the ground, all doubled up--you know, Jim--they jumped
their horses and put across the creek."

For a moment Kate's suppressed sobs broke the silence.  Laramie held
her in his arm.  He promised her he would get her right out to her
father as soon as he could take measures for pursuit.  When the other
men questioned Bradley, Laramie listened.  He urged Kate to go inside
with Belle, but she begged to stay: "I won't cry, Jim," she pleaded in
a whisper.  "I must stay.  Let me stay."

He placed her in a chair.  Belle, schooled in silence during such
moments, stood beside her.  Laramie placing himself near Kate, half sat
on the edge of the porch floor, one foot resting on the ground and the
other curled under.  Lefever facing him, sat on the end of the porch
steps while Sawdy stood with the horses.  McAlpin had hurried over to
the barn to get Kitchen and telephone Tenison to come down.

"There's two ways they can get out," said Laramie, casting up the
situation with his companions.  "One is across the Falling Wall and
over the Reservation.  If they've gone that way they've got a start;
but they're easy to trail.  The other way would be to strike east or
west for the railroad.  That's the big gamble--it's the easiest to play
and the worst if they lose.  They may separate."

"My Godfrey, Jim, don't let 'em get away," exclaimed Belle, fearfully.

"And there's one more angle," remarked Laramie.  "They may show up
right here and try to bluff it out."

Sawdy shook his head against that idea.  Lefever supported him.
Laramie did not urge the view.  "Van Horn plays cards different from
everybody else," was all he said.

Kitchen drove up and Tenison was in the buggy with him.

What help might be had from the sheriff's office was put in Tenison's
hands to manage.  The railroad men were warned across the division.
Outgoing train crews were notified and the enginemen told what to do,
if stopped.  Sawdy and Lefever were directed to strike for the Falling
Wall and watch the Reservation trails, while Laramie, with Kate, was to
ride straight to the ranch and pick up the trail across the creek.

The news of the shooting of Barb Doubleday filled the corners of Main
Street with little knots of men eager to hear all that was known and to
be first to catch what might come.  Women sometimes stopped to listen
and men making ready to ride the northern trails supplied clattering in
the streets for every moment and added to the tense scene.  The chances
for the escape of Van Horn and Stone were canvassed among critics and
listeners, and with almost as much insight as they had been cast up in
the war council at Belle's.  The men that might be expected to give
battle if they encountered the fugitives were watched for and every
time they rode past, the maneuvering and fighting abilities of each
were speculated on with surprising accuracy; records were recalled and
inferences drawn as to the possibilities now ahead.

The picture of the busy street, constantly renewed and dissolved,
changed fast.  Lefever and Sawdy, together, were the first to clear for
their long ride.  Kitchen, strapping on, for the first time in years, a
well cared-for Colt's revolver, got fresh ammunition, and throwing
himself on a good horse, rode for where he had sworn he would never
appear again, the Doubleday ranch--to get the cowboys started at poking
out the hiding places along the creek.

McAlpin, with much ado, enlisted every man with any sort of a claim to
being a tracker--and this included pretty much every loafer interested
in a drink or a fight.  He assembled a noisy crew at the barn and
despatched them singly with orders to scatter and watch the trail
points outlying the town.  But birds of this feather were hard to keep
scattered.  Urged both by prudential and social reasons, they tended
continuously to flock together.  They kept the barn boss busy by riding
back furiously in bunches to report nobody seen, to ask for further
orders and to get a drink before reestablishing a patrol.

Knowing the value of every moment in a long chase, and working with all
possible haste, Laramie had to throw out his dragnet carefully before
he could get away himself.  He had told Kate to prepare at Belle's for
a hard ride and he would get her to the ranch.

With every minute lingering like an hour, both women, nervously
expectant, waited, talked, and watched for Laramie's return.



CHAPTER XLI

THE FLIGHT OF THE SWALLOWS

Divide lands north of Sleepy Cat lie high and over their broad spread,
trails open fan-like, north, northeast and northwest.  Each of the
trails penetrates at a negotiable point the broken country running up
to the mountains that battle with the northern sky.

The first highways of the country followed the easiest travel lines.
Without fences or boundaries, their travelers, to escape washouts or
dust, were free to broaden them as they fancied.  In this way older
ruts were gradually abandoned and new ones formed.  And with heavy
travel these trails grew into sprawling avenues.

As settlers took up lands and fenced their claims, such pioneer roads
were blocked at intervals.  To meet this difficulty new trails were
made around the gradually increasing obstacles and in the end roads
along section lines were laid out, with grading and bridging.  But the
wagon and cattle trails of the early days, rut-cut, storm-washed, and
polished by sun and wind and sand to a shining smoothness, still
stretch across country, truncate and deserted.  Under their
weather-beaten silence lies the story of other days and other men and
women.

Along one of the earliest and broadest of these trails running into the
north country, Laramie, an hour after Bradley's arrival, was galloping
with Kate Doubleday.

But for the shadow of her father's condition there was everything in
the ride to make for Kate's happiness.  The sweep of the matchless sky,
the glory of the sunshine, the wine of the morning air, the eager feet
and spreading nostrils of the horses, and at her side--her lover!  The
trust a woman gives to a man, the security of his protection, the daily
growth of her confidence in her choice and her surrender--these could
temper, if they could not extinguish, her confused grief.

For Laramie the shadow meant less; sympathy drew him closer to Kate;
there was even happiness in knowing that she turned in her distress to
him for consolation and guidance.

Timidly, she tried to tell him, as they rode, of some of the better
traits of her father, traits that might extenuate his cold, hard
brutality--as if to build him up a little in the eyes of one she wished
not to think of him too harshly.

"Don't worry over what I'm going to think about him," said Laramie.
"If I worried over what a lot of people think about me, where should I
be?  There's some good in most every man; but it doesn't always get a
chance to work."

Kate's anxiety was reflected in her manner.  "If only," she exclaimed,
"they haven't killed him today."

The two had crossed the first divide.  Below them lay the Crazy Woman,
spanned by the Double-draw bridge.

"His friends were his worst enemies," continued Laramie.  "But they've
got to get out of this country now.  And the worst men are out of the
Falling Wall.  Still if you don't like it there, we won't live there,"
he added, sitting half sidewise toward Kate in his saddle to feast his
eyes on her freshness and youth.

"I shall like it anywhere you are, Jim," she said, looking at him
simply.

The picture was too much for his restraint.  He reined eagerly toward
her.

With a laugh she shied away, struck her horse and dashed ahead.
Laramie spurred after her.  But they were on the level creek bottom and
riding swiftly.  She gave him a long run--more than he had looked for.

He realized, as they raced toward the bridge, that he had for one
moment forgotten everything but his complete happiness.  He called to
Kate to stop.  In her zest she spurred the harder.  He knew she must
not reach the bridge ahead of him.  Yet he realized the difficulty he
faced; she would not understand; and at every cost he must stop her.
Animated by this sudden instinct of danger he crowded his horse, forged
abreast the flying girl, caught her bridle, and to her astonishment
dragged her horse and his own rudely to their haunches.  They were
almost at the bridge itself.

"Back up!" he exclaimed.  "Back up!"

"Jim!" she cried, "_please_ don't throw me!"

"Don't speak--back!!" he said low and sharply.  Something in the tone
and manner of the command admitted of no parley.

With her horse cavorting, half strangled, as he was jerked and backed,
Kate, looking amazed at Laramie, saw in his face a man new to her--a
man she never had seen before.  Not her questioning look, nor the
frantic struggles of the rearing horses touched him; nothing in the
confusion of the sudden moment drew his eye for an instant from the
bridge before him and his drawn revolver was already poised in his
hand.  Kate knew her part without another protest.  She tore her
horse's mouth cruelly with the curb.  Where the danger was, or what,
she did not know, but she could obey orders.  Her eyes tried to follow
Laramie's, bent ahead.  The bottoms spread level in every direction.
The approach to the little bridge and beyond was as open as the day.
Not a living creature was anywhere in sight, nothing with life had
anywhere stirred, nothing of sound broke the silence of the morning,
except--when Laramie allowed them to stop--the startled breathing of
the horses.

"Jim!" exclaimed Kate in awed restraint.  "What is it?"

His eyes were riveted straight ahead, but he answered in a most
matter-of-fact tone: "There's somebody under that bridge."

She strained her eyes to see something he must have seen that she could
not see.  The dazzling sunshine, the dusty road, the rough-built, short
wooden bridge before them, were all plain enough.  And Kate realized
for the first time that Laramie, who had been riding on her right was
now on her left and presently that his revolver was sheathed and his
rifle, which had hung in its scabbard at the horse's shoulder, was
slung across the hollow of his right arm.

"Kate," he said, speaking without looking at her, "will you ride back
about a mile and wait for me?"

She turned to him: "What are you going to do, Jim?"

"Smoke that fellow out."

She spoke almost in a whisper: "Is it Van Horn, Jim?"

"I don't believe he'd hide there.  It's more like Stone."

"Jim!  Stone's a deadly shot!"

Looking into the distance he only replied: "From cover.  This may be a
long-winded affair, Kate."  He added, pausing, "you'd better ride as
far as the hills."

She looked at him bravely restrained but with all her love in her eyes:
"I don't want to leave you, Jim."

"It's poor business for you to be in," he returned firmly.  "There's no
way to make it pleasant."

"Don't drive me away!"

He hesitated again: "You might do this: Ride back fast about eighty
rods.  Leave the road there, bear to the west and circle around the
little knoll you'll see.  There's a clump of willows below the west
side of that knoll."

"Do you know every clump of willows in this country, Jim?"

He answered unmoved: "I know that one for I've crawled up there more
than once to take observations under that bridge myself.  Get around
behind those willows and you can see the creek bottom all the way to
the bridge.  I'm going up the creek about five hundred yards.  I'll
work down.  Whoever's under the bridge can't get away except down the
creek.  If you see a man trying that, just fire two shots--in the air,
close together--I'll understand.  If you get into any kind of
trouble--which you're kind of trying to do--fire two shots a few
seconds apart.  I won't be far off."

With a plea to him to be careful--behind which all her agony of
apprehension was repressed and mastered--Kate wheeled her horse and
galloped back.

Laramie, skirting a depression, rode into a break leading to the creek
bed.  The creek was practically dry; just a thread of water here and
there among the rocks marked the course of flood time.  Dismounting,
Laramie shook himself out of the saddle and laying his rifle across his
arm, walked carefully down-stream along the bed of the creek.

He knew if he were seen first, the fight would be over before he got
into it; of chances to kill from cover, the criminal he felt sure he
was hunting, would need but one.  No man from the Falling Wall country
was Stone's superior in the craft of hiding; but none was Laramie's
equal in the art of surprise; and Laramie meant, for once, to make an
antagonist formidable from cover, show in the open.

With this alone in purpose, he stalked with the patience of an Indian
from point to point and cover to cover down toward the bridge;
crouching, halting and peering; slipping from the shoulder of a rock to
the shelter of a boulder; flattening on his stomach to worm his way
under a projecting ledge and sliding noiselessly on his back down the
face of a water-worn glacis--but drawing closer all the time to the
bridge.

He knew every inch of the ground.  He knew how well his quarry had
concealed himself to render surprise impossible.  But Stone's very
safety in this respect made his retreat more difficult.  A man lying in
wait under the Double-draw, staked practically everything on one
chance: that the man he sought to kill should cross the bridge.  It
were then easy to pick him off from behind.  But if the intended
victim, suspicious, should get unseen into the creek bed, the skulker
could hardly avoid a fight.

Three hundred yards above the bridge, the creek walls open in an
ellipse, narrowing abruptly where the bridge spans them.  This open
space has been scoured by floods until the bedrock lies like a polished
floor and it was now dry except where the piers of the bridge stood in
stagnant pools.  Once within this amphitheater whose vertical walls
rise twenty to thirty feet, no fighting cover is available.

Behind a rocky point that guarded the upper entrance of the opening,
stood Laramie.  He was watching the shadow cast by a shrub that sprang,
shallow-rooted, from a crevice in the bedrock.  For an interminable
time he waited, only noting the slow swing of the narrow shadow as the
morning sun, flooding the rock-basin, rose in majestic course.
Gradually the deflection of the slender indicator, moving like a finger
on the rock dial, marked the turn of the sun well past the shoulder of
the point at which Laramie must emerge.  When that moment came he
looked sharply out, sprang from behind the point and ran sidewise into
the narrow shadow thrown from the curving wall.

Stone, uneasy and alert, stood under the bridge, his rifle across his
arm.  The two men saw each other almost at the same instant.  For
Stone, it was the climax of a hatred long nursed because of a supremacy
long challenged.  And for him it was an open field with weapons in
which his skill was as matchless as Laramie's was held to be, at close
quarters, with a Colt's revolver.

Nor had Laramie underestimated the chances of an encounter under such
circumstances.  He counted only on the slight advantage of a
surprise--knowing from disagreeable experiences how a surprise jars the
poise; and there persisted in his mind, what he had never until then
hinted to another, that Stone, shooting as an assassin from cover and
Stone himself facing death, might shoot differently.  On these slender
hopes he covered Stone, as the ex-rustler jumped his rifle to his
check, and cried to him to pitch up.

Stone's answer was a bullet.  His shot echoed Laramie's, and as Laramie
whipped the hat from his enemy's head, his bullet tore through the
right side of Laramie's belt.  Bare-headed, and thirsty to close on his
antagonist, Stone, jumping from Laramie's second bullet, ran forward,
hugging the creek wall, dropped on one knee, fired, and ran in again.
Laramie refused to be tempted from the shadow in which he stood, until
Stone, rounding the wall again as he came on, firing, threatened to
find partial cover should Laramie stand still.  It was a contest of
deadly fencing, of steady heads and cool wit, a struggle in instant
strategy.  And if Stone meant to force Laramie into the sunshine, he
now succeeded--but at a fearful cost.  Laramie jumped not only into the
sunshine but into the blinding sun itself, and when Stone ran in again,
Laramie tore open his hip with a bullet.  It knocked the foreman over
as if it had been a mallet.  But he was swiftly up and firing
persistently almost outlined with bullets Laramie's figure against the
rock wall.  He splintered the grip of Laramie's revolver in its
holster, he cut the sleeve from his wrist, and tore hair from the right
side of his head; but he could not stop him.  Enraged, and realizing
too late how every possibility in the fight had been figured out by his
enemy before he stepped into sight, Stone, crippled, yet forced to
circle, dropped once more on his knee to smash in a final shot.

He was covered the instant he knelt.  A bullet from Laramie's rifle
shook him like a leaf.  His head, jerking, sunk to his breast.  With a
superhuman effort he rallied.  He looked at Laramie--narrowly
watching--shook the hair from before his eyes and fumbling at the
firing lever tried to elevate his rifle to pump.  But he swayed on his
bent knee; the rifle slipped from his grasp.  He sank to the rock
floor, clutching with his big hands at the gravel, while Laramie
running to him turned him over, snatched his revolver from its holster
and throwing it out of reach, lifted his enemy's head.

When Kate, in an agony of suspense, made her way to the creek bed she
found Laramie scooping water up in his hands for Stone.  She could not
go near the wounded man.  Only by word from where she stood, piteously,
and by dumb sign, she drew Laramie to her to learn whether _he_ was
hurt.  When he declared he was not, she would not believe him till she
had felt his arm where one bullet had cut his sleeve, and where the
deadliest had raised a sullen red welt along his temple.

Ben Simeral was first to come along on his way to town, in his wagon.
John Frying Pan was with him.  With their help, Laramie got Stone up to
the bridge and into the wagon to take to town.  He had shut his eyes
and refused to talk.  Kate made Laramie tell her every detail of the
fight and breathed anew the terrors of each moment.

"I stole toward the bridge the minute I heard the firing," she
confessed, unsteadily.  "Oh, yes, I know!  I might have been killed.
But if you were, I wanted to be.  How could you tell, when you stopped
me so, Jim, there was a man under the bridge?"

"A bunch of bank swallows nests under that bridge right where Stone was
hiding," he said, reflecting.  "Those swallows always fly out when I
ride up to it.  If they don't fly out, I don't cross.  Today they
didn't fly out."



CHAPTER XLII

WARNING

By nightfall Kate had the hope that her father might live.  Doctor
Carpy, indeed, promised as much, though he confessed to Laramie that he
was partly bluffing.  It was, he explained, a question of constitution
and nerve and he thought Barb had both.  For better care he had him
brought to town, and within the same hospital walls that sheltered
Doubleday, lay Stone, in even more serious condition.  The sole promise
Carpy would make concerning him was that he would fit him up either for
trial, or for his museum--or, as Lefever suggested, for both.

The excitement of the town lay in the pursuit of Van Horn.  Laramie
during the first uncertain days of her father's condition stayed within
Kate's call.

"While Van Horn's loose, Jim," said Tenison one day, "you're the man
that's in danger; don't forget that."

"I'd like to forget it," he returned.  "But I guess it wouldn't be just
exactly safe to.  Barb warned me yesterday to look out for a
surprise--Van Horn's good at them.  Then again he may have left the
country--there's no word of him from anybody yet.

"Things up at Barb's ranch have got to have some attention," he
continued.  "Barb will be laid up a long time; and if I don't see after
things the banks will.  I'm going to take McAlpin up there tomorrow."

The two men were sitting before a large window in the hotel office.  As
McAlpin's name was mentioned they saw the man himself stepping
sailor-fashion at a lively pace up Main Street.  He made for the hotel,
burst through the office door and headed straight for Laramie:

"Kitchen's just rode into the barn, Jim, with word from Lefever and
Sawdy--they've got track of Van Horn.  He come to Pettigrew's ranch
yesterday for food and a fresh horse.  One of John Frying Pan's boys
seen him.  Lefever says they've got him located near the head waters of
the Crazy Woman.  You know that rough country east of Pettigrew's?
Lefever says if you'll get right up there and watch the creek, he can't
get away.  The boys at Pettigrew's say he's got lots of ammunition;
Lefever and Sawdy stayed at Pettigrew's last night."

At the barn, Kitchen, who had ridden in from the Doubleday ranch, had
few details to add.  But the Indian runner that brought the word from
Lefever and Sawdy had made it clear to Kitchen the two were depending
on Laramie to help them bottle Van Horn up.

Laramie laid the news before Kate at the hospital.  He called her from
her father's room and they talked at the end of the corridor.

She looked at him wistfully: "I don't want you to go, Jim," she
whispered.

Her hands lay on his free arm.  "I don't want to go, Kate," he said.
"But the boys have sent to me for help--what can I do?  He's a hundred
times more my enemy than theirs.  The only interest they've got in
rounding him up is friendship for me and you.  Suppose they close with
him and get killed?"

Kate could only look up into his eyes: "Suppose you get killed, Jim?"

He hesitated.  Then he looked down into her own eyes: "You'd know I did
what I ought to do, Kate."

She withdrew herself from his embrace and looked at him: "I know you're
going, Jim; only, don't ask me to say 'go.'  I couldn't bear to think
_I_ sent you."

McAlpin had armed himself and was determined, despite Laramie's
protests, to ride with him.  The plucky boss was saddling the ponies
and stood momentarily expecting Laramie at the barn when the telephone
rang.

Too occupied with his watch for Laramie to give it any heed, McAlpin
let it ring.  And the barn men let it ring.  It rang, seemingly, more
and more sharply until McAlpin, with an impatient exclamation, ordered
a hostler to answer.  "It's you, McAlpin," bawled the hostler from the
office, "and they want you quick."

McAlpin hurried to the instrument and glued his ear to the receiver.
Tenison was on the wire.  He spoke low and fast: "Is Laramie there?"

"No."

"Where is he?"

"Couldn't tell you, Harry, I'm lookin' for him every minute."

"Drop everything.  Find him quick or you'll be too late.  Van Horn's in
town."

McAlpin gasped and swallowed: "What d' y' mean, Harry?"

"Damnation!" thundered Tenison.  "You heard me, didn't you?"

"I did."

"Do as you're told."



CHAPTER XLIII

THE LAST CALL

The canny Scot knew well what the message meant.  With little
ostentation and much celerity he hurried up street.  Belle, at her,
door with Kate, drawn-faced, could only say that Laramie had promised
to come there before starting.  "Warn him," was McAlpin's excited word.
"You know Van Horn, Belle."

Red-faced and heated, McAlpin ambled rapidly in and out of every place
where he could imagine Laramie might be.  Deathly afraid of running
into Van Horn--who bore him, he well knew, no love--but doggedly bent
on his errand, McAlpin asked fast questions and spread the rapid-fire
news as he traveled.  More than once he had word of Laramie, yet
nowhere could he, in his exasperation, set eyes on him.  How nearly he
succeeded in his mission he never knew till he had failed.

Laramie had completed his dispositions and was free, after a brief
round of errands, to start north, when Carpy encountered him in the
harness shop next to the drug store.  Laramie was in haste.  But Carpy
insisted he must speak with him and, against protest, took him by way
of the back door of the shop over to the back door of the drug store
and into the little room behind the prescription case.

The doctor sat down and motioned Laramie, despite his impatience, to a
chair: "It won't take long to tell you what I've got to tell you," said
Carpy, firmly, "but you'll be a long time forgetting it.  And the time
you ought to know it is now.

"Jim!"  Carpy, facing him four feet away, looked squarely into
Laramie's eyes.  "I know you pretty well, don't I?  All right!  I'm
going to talk pretty plain.  You're going to marry Kate Doubleday.
Whatever her father's faults--and they've been a-plenty--they'd best be
let lie now.  That's what Kate would want, I'm thinkin'--that's what
her husband would want--anyway, her children would want it.  Barb,
after he deserted Kate's mother, went out into the Black Hills.  He got
into trouble there--a partnership scrape.  I don't know how much or how
little he was to blame; but his partner got the best of him and Barb
shot him.

"The partner's friends had the pull.  Barb was sentenced for
manslaughter.  He broke away the night he was sentenced.  He came out
into this country, took his own name again, got into railroad building,
made money, lost it, and went into cattle.

"Two men here know this story.  I'm one; the other is Harry Van Horn.
He lived in the Hills when this happened.  He wouldn't tell because he
wanted Kate.

"Jim, if Van Horn comes in alive, he'll be tried for this job on Barb.
He'll plead self-defense and spring the Black Hills story.  Van Horn
has done his best to kill you and hired Stone to do it.  You and Kate
ought to know why.  It's up to you whether he comes in alive and
blackens her father's name to get even with both of you.  Now start
along, Jim--that's all."

Laramie did not rise.

For himself he cared nothing.  But he cared for Kate.  And though she
had little reason to care for her father, and the tragedy of a record
such as his was not a pleasant memory for any daughter; how much more
would she suffer if his record were exposed by one whose interest it
would be to blacken it?

"I said that was all," continued Carpy; "it ain't quite all, either.
Van Horn will swear everything in this Falling Wall raid on old Barb to
make feeling against him--it'll be a mess."

Laramie's eyes were fixed on the floor.  When he raised them he spoke
thoughtfully: "I see what you mean, Doctor.  I'll talk plain, too--as
you'd want me to, I know.  No one can tell till it's over how a man
hunt is going to work out.  But whatever my feelings are, there's
something else I've got to think about.  You're leaving it out.  No
matter what stories have been told about me, my record up to this, is
clear.  I've never in my life shot down a man except in self-defense.
I couldn't begin by doing it now.  You know what I've stood from these
cattlemen in the last year----"

"Why," demanded Carpy, "did you do it?"

"Why did Kate Doubleday shun me like a man with the smallpox?  Because
they put it up to her I was a man-killer.  When they couldn't make me
out a rustler, they made me out a gambler.  When they couldn't make me
out a thief, they made me out a gunman.  I had a fine reputation to
live down; and all of it from her own father and his friends--what
could you expect a girl to do?

"I won out against the bunch.  I couldn't have done it without playing
straight.  It's too late for me to switch my game now.  I'd hate to see
more grief heaped on Kate.  And Van Horn doesn't deserve any show.  But
if his hands go up--though I never expect to see Harry Van Horn's hands
over his head--I can't do it, Doctor, that's all there is to it--he'll
come in alive as far as anything I have to do with it."

Carpy laughed cynically: "Jim," he exclaimed with an affectionate
string of abuse, "you're the biggest fool in all creation.  It's all
right."  The doctor opened the door of the little room as Laramie rose.
"Go 'long," he said roughly, "but bring back your legs on their own
power."

Laramie passed around from behind the prescription case where the clerk
was filling an order, and, busily thinking, walked rapidly toward the
open front door.  A little girl waiting at the rear counter piped at
him.  "How d' do, Mr. Laramie!"  It was Mamie McAlpin.  He stopped to
pinch her cheek.  "I don't know you any more, Mamie.  You're getting
such a big girl."  Passing her, he stepped into the afternoon sunshine
that flooded the open doorway.

The threshold of the door was elevated, country-store fashion, six or
seven inches above the sidewalk.  Laramie glanced up street and
down--as he habitually did--and started to step down to the walk.  It
was only when he looked directly across to the opposite side of the
street, lying in the afternoon shadow, that he saw, standing in a
narrow open space between two one-story wooden store buildings, a man
covering him with a revolver.

At the very instant that Laramie saw him, the man fired.  Laramie was
stepping down when the bullet struck him.  Whirled by the blow, he
staggered against the drugstore window.  Instinctively he reached for
his revolver.  It hung at his left hip.  But struggling to right
himself he found that his left arm refused to obey.  When he tried to
get his hand to the grip of his revolver he could not, and the man,
seeing him helpless, darted from his hiding place out on the sidewalk
and throwing his gun into balance, fired again.

It was Van Horn.  Before the second shot echoed along the street a
dozen men were out.  Not one of them could see at that moment a chance
for Laramie's life; they only knew he was a man to die hard, and
dying--dangerous.  In catching him at the moment he was stepping down,
Van Horn's bullet, meant for his heart, had smashed the collar bone
above it and Laramie's gun arm hung useless.

Realizing his desperate plight, he flung his smashed shoulder toward
his enemy.  As the second bullet ripped through the loose collar of his
shirt, he swung his right arm with incredible dexterity behind him,
snatched his revolver from its holster, and started straight across the
street at Van Horn.

It looked like certain death.  Main Street, irregular, is at that point
barely sixty feet wide.  Perfectly collected, Van Horn trying to fell
his reckless antagonist, fired again.  But Laramie with deadly purpose
ran straight at him.  By the time Van Horn could swing again, Laramie
had reached the middle of the street and stood within the coveted
shadow that protected Van Horn.  In that instant, halting, he whipped
his revolver suddenly up in his right hand, covered his enemy and fired
a single shot.

Van Horn's head jerked back convulsively.  He almost sprang into the
air.  His arms shot out.  His revolver flew from his hand.  He reeled,
and falling heavily across the board walk, turned, shuddering, on his
face.  The bullet striking him between the eyes had killed him
instantly.

Twenty men were running up.  They left a careful lane between the man
now standing motionless in the middle of the street and his prone
antagonist.  But Laramie knew too well the marks of an agony such as
that--the clenching, the loosing of the hands, the last turn, the
relaxing quiver.  He had seen too many stricken animals die.

Limp and bleeding, overcome with the horror of what he had not been
able to avert, he walked back to his starting point and sat down on the
edge of the sidewalk.  His revolver had been tucked mechanically into
the waistband of his trousers.  Men swarming into the street crowded
about.  Carpy, agitated, tore open his bloody shirt.

Laramie put up his right hand: "I'm not damaged much, doctor," he said
slowly and looking across the street.  "See if you can do anything for
him."

While he spoke, the tremor of a woman's voice rang in his half-dazed
ears--a woman trying to reach him.  "Oh! where is he?"

Men at the back of the crowd cried to make way.  The half circle before
Laramie parted.  He sprang to his feet, held out his right arm, and
Kate with an inarticulate cry, threw herself sobbing on his breast.



CHAPTER XLIV

TENISON SERVES BREAKFAST

"I'm telling you, Sawdy," expostulated McAlpin, in the manner of an
ultimatum, "I'm a patient man.  But you've got to get out of that room."

Sawdy stood a statue of dignity and defiance: "And I'm telling you, Hop
Scotch, I'll get out of that room when I get good and ready."

"A big piece of ceiling came down last night," thundered McAlpin.

Belle was listening; these sparks were flying at her gate: "Whatever
you do," she interjected contemptuously, "don't get a quarrel going
over that room."

McAlpin, inextinguishable, turned to Belle: "Look at this: Henry Sawdy
gets into that bathtub.  He turns on the water.  He goes to sleep.
Every few weeks the ceiling falls on my new pool tables.  First and
last, I've had a ton of mortar on 'em.  If there was any pressure, I'd
be ruined."

"If there was any pressure," interposed Sawdy, "I wouldn't go to sleep.
Do you know how long it takes to fill your blamed tub?"

McAlpin in violent protest, scratched the gravel with his hobnailed
shoes: "I'll ask you: Am I responsible for the pressure, or the water
company?"  Sawdy undisturbed, continued to stroke his heavy mustache.
"The water it takes to cover you, Henry," sputtered McAlpin, "would run
a locomotive from here to Medicine Bend."

"I have to wait till everybody in town goes to bed before I can get a
dew started on the faucet," averred Sawdy.  "Sometimes I have to set up
all night to take a bath.  Look at the unreasonableness of it, Belle,"
he went on indignantly.  "I'm paying this Shylock a dollar and a half a
week for my room--and most of the time, no water."

McAlpin ground his teeth: "No water!" was all he could echo, doggedly.

"Do you know what this row is about, Belle?" demanded Sawdy.  "He's
trying to screw me up to a dollar seventy-five for the room.  And
everybody on the second floor using my bathtub," continued Sawdy,
calmly.

"_Your_ bathtub," gasped McAlpin.  "Well, if you could get title to it
by sleeping in it, it surely would be your tub, Sawdy."

"I don't want your blamed room any longer, anyway," declared Sawdy.
"I'm going to get married."

McAlpin started: "Henry, don't make a blamed fool o' yoursel'."

"I said it," retorted Sawdy, waving him away.  "Move on."

"I've had no notice," announced McAlpin, raising his hand.  "You'll pay
me my rent to the first of the year.  You rented for the full year,
Henry, remember that!"  With this indignant warning, McAlpin started
for the barn.

Sawdy followed Belle into the house.  He threw his hat on the
living-room table: "Sit down, Belle," he said recklessly.  "I want to
talk."

Belle was suspicious.  "What about?" she demanded.  "You can't room
here, I'll tell you that."

"Now hold your horses a minute--just a minute.  Sit down.  I know when
a thing needs sugar, don't I?  You know when it needs salt, don't you?
Why pay rent in two places?  That's what I want to know.  Let's hitch
up."

"Stop your foolishness."

"My foolishness has got me stopped."

"If you expect to eat supper here tonight, stop your noise."

"Honor bright!" persisted Sawdy, "what do you say?"

Belle took it up with Kate: "With him and John Lefever both nagging at
me what can I do?" she demanded, greatly vexed.  "I've got to marry a
fat man anyway I fix it."

When Lefever learned Belle's choice had fallen on his running mate he
was naturally incensed: "I've been jobbed all 'round," he declared at
Tenison's.  "First, Jim sends me up to the Reservation on a wild-goose
chase after his two birds and bags 'em both himself within gunshot of
town.  Then my own partner beats me home by a day and cops off Belle.
Blast a widower, anyway.  He'll beat out an honest man, every time.
Anyway, boys, this town is dead.  Everything's getting settled up
around here.  I'm sending my resignation in to Farrell Kennedy today
and I'm going to strike out for new country."

"Not till I get married, John," said Laramie, when John repeated the
dire threat.  "And Kate wants a new foreman up at the ranch.  You know
her father's turned everything over to her."

"What'll she pay?"

"More than you're worth, John.  Don't worry about that!"

Some diplomacy was needed to restore general good feeling, but all was
managed.  From the men, John got no sympathy.  The women were more
considerate; and when Kate and Belle threatened there would be no
double wedding unless John stood up with the party, he bade them go
ahead with the "fixings."

The breakfast at the Mountain House, Harry Tenison's personal
compliment to the wedding party, restored John Lefever quite to his
bubbling humor.  It was a brave company that sat down.  And a
democratic one, for despite feminine protests it numbered at the
different tables pretty much every friend of Laramie's, in the high
country, including John Frying Pan--only the blanket men from the
Reservation were excluded.  Lefever acted as toastmaster.

"Jim," he demanded, addressing Laramie in genial tones, when everything
was moving well, "just what in your eventful career do you most pride
yourself on?"

Laramie answered in like humor.  "Keeping out of jail," he retorted
laconically.

"Been some job, I imagine," suggested Lefever cheerily.

"At times, a man's job."

"But you're not dead yet," persisted Lefever.

"I'm married--that's just as good."

"Why, Jim!" protested his bride with spirit.

"I mean," explained Laramie, looking unabashed at Kate, "I'm looking to
you now to keep me out."

The boisterous features of similar Sleepy Cat celebrations were omitted
in deference to Kate's feelings and the too recent tragedies: her
father still lay in the hospital.

But her guests were agreed that she looked very happy over her new
husband.  The tell-tale glow not wholly to be suppressed in her frank
eyes; the unmanageable pink that rose even to her temples and played
defiantly under her brown hair curling over them; the self-conscious
restraint of her voice and the sense of guilt bubbling up, every time
she laughed--these were all "sign," plain as print to married men, like
McAlpin and Carpy, and grounds for suspicion even to confirmed
bachelors like John Lefever and the old priest that came down from the
Reservation to perform the ceremony; and in everyone of them the
observing read the trails that led to Kate's heart.

Laramie, on the other hand, disgusted those that expected a stern and
heroic showing.  Towards the close of the breakfast he was laughing
deliriously at every remark, and looking dazed when an intelligent
question was put at him; Harry Tenison pronounced it disedifying.

But when the young couple swung into their saddles for the wedding
trip--their destination, naturally, a secret--criticism ceased.
Laramie again looked his part; and those who had heard him pledge his
life to cherish and protect Kate, felt sure, as the two melted away
into the glow of the sunset, that his word was good.





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