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´╗┐Title: Rowdy of the Cross L
Author: Bower, B. M., 1874-1940
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 "Rowdy of the Cross L" ***

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ROWDY OF THE "CROSS L."

By B.M. Sinclair (AKA B. M. Bower)


CONTENTS

     1. Lost in a Blizzard
     2. Miss Conroy Refuses Shelter
     3. Rowdy Hires a New Boss
     4. Pink as "Chappyrone"
     5. At Home at Cross L
     6. A Shot From the Dark
     7. Rowdy in a Tough Place
     8. Pink in a Threatening Mood
     9. Moving the Herd
     10. Harry Conroy at Home
     11. Rowdy Promoted
     12. "You Can Tell Jessie"
     13. Rowdy Finds Happiness



CHAPTER 1. Lost in a Blizzard.

"Rowdy" Vaughan--he had been christened Rowland by his mother, and
rechristened Rowdy by his cowboy friends, who are prone to treat with
much irreverence the names bestowed by mothers--was not happy. He stood
in the stirrups and shook off the thick layer of snow which clung, damp
and close-packed, to his coat. The dull yellow folds were full of it;
his gray hat, pulled low over his purple ears, was heaped with it. He
reached up a gloved hand and scraped away as much as he could, wrapped
the long-skirted, "sour-dough" coat around his numbed legs, then settled
into the saddle with a shiver of distaste at the plight he was in, and
wished himself back at the Horseshoe Bar.

Dixie, standing knee-deep in a drift, shook himself much after the
manner of his master; perhaps he, also, wished himself back at the
Horseshoe Bar. He turned his head to look back, blinking at the snow
which beat insistently in his eyes; he could not hold them open long
enough to see anything, however, so he twitched his ears pettishly and
gave over the attempt.

"It's up to you, old boy," Rowdy told him resignedly. "I'm plumb lost; I
never was in this damn country before, anyhow--and I sure wish I wasn't
here now. If you've any idea where we're at, I'm dead willing to have
you pilot the layout. Never mind Chub; locating his feed when it's stuck
under his nose is his limit."

Chub lifted an ear dispiritedly when his name was spoken; but, as was
usually the case, he heard no good of himself, and dropped his head
again. No one took heed of him; no one ever did. His part was to carry
Vaughan's bed, and to follow unquestionably where Vaughan and Dixie
might lead. He was cold and tired and hungry, but his faith in his
master was strong; the responsibility of finding shelter before the dark
came down rested not with him.

Vaughan pressed his chilled knees against Dixie's ribs, but the hand
upon the reins was carefully non-committal; so that Dixie, having no
suggestion of his master's wish, ventured to indulge his own. He turned
tail squarely to the storm and went straight ahead. Vaughan put his
hands deep into his pockets, snuggled farther down into the sheepskin
collar of his coat, and rode passive, enduring.

They brought up against a wire fence, and Vaughan, rousing from his
apathy, tried to peer through the white, shifting wall of the storm.
"You're a swell guide--not," he remarked to the horse. "Now you, you
hike down this fence till you locate a gate or a corner, or any darned
thing; and I don't give a cuss if the snow does get in your eyes. It's
your own fault."

Dixie, sneezing the snow from his nostrils, turned obediently; Chub,
his feet dragging wearily in the snow, trailed patiently behind. Half an
hour of this, and it seemed as if it would go on forever.

Through the swirl Vaughan could see the posts standing forlornly in
the snow, with sixteen feet of blizzard between; at no time could he
distinguish more than two or three at once, and there were long minutes
when the wall stood, blank and shifting, just beyond the first post.

Then Dixie lifted his head and gazed questioningly before him, his ears
pointed forward--sentient, strained--and whinnied shrill challenge.
He hurried his steps, dragging Chub out of the beginnings of a dream.
Vaughan straightened and took his hands from his pockets.

Out beyond the dim, wavering outline of the farthest post came answer
to the challenge. A mysterious, vague shape grew impalpably upon the
strained vision; a horse sneezed, then nickered eagerly. Vaughan drew up
and waited.

"Hello!" he called cheerfully. "Pleasant day, this. Out for your
health?"

The shape hesitated, as though taken aback by the greeting, and there
was no answer. Vaughan, puzzled, rode closer.

"Say, don't talk so fast!" he yelled. "I can't follow yuh."

"Who--who is it?" The voice sounded perturbed; and it was, moreover, the
voice of a woman.

Vaughan pulled up short and swore into his collar. Women are not, as a
rule, to be met out on the blank prairie in a blizzard. His voice, when
he spoke again, was not ironical, as it had been; it was placating.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I thought it was a man. I'm looking for
the Cross L; you don't happen to know where it is, do yuh?"

"No--I don't," she declared dismally. "I don't know where any place is.
I'm teaching school in this neighborhood--or in some other. I was going
to spend Sunday with a friend, but this storm came up, and I'm--lost."

"Same here," said Rowdy pleasantly, as though being lost was a matter
for congratulation.

"Oh! I was in hopes--"

"So was I, so we're even there. We'll have to pool our chances, I guess.
Any gate down that way--or haven't you followed the fence?"

"I followed it for miles and miles--it seemed. It must be some big field
of the Cross L; but they have so very many big fields!"

"And you couldn't give a rough guess at how far it is to the Cross
L?"--insinuatingly.

He could vaguely see her shake of head. "Ordinarily it should be about
six miles beyond Rodway's, where I board. But I haven't the haziest idea
of where Rodway's place is, you see; so that won't help you much. I'm
all at sea in this snow." Her voice was rueful.

"Well, if you came up the fence, there's no use going back that way; and
there's sure nothing made by going away from it.--that's the way I came.
Why not go on the way you're headed?"

"We might as well, I suppose," she assented; and Rowdy turned and rode
by her side, grateful for the plurality of the pronoun which tacitly
included him in her wanderings, and meditating many things. For one, he
wondered if she were as nice a girl as her voice sounded. He could not
see much of her face, because it was muffled in a white silk scarf. Only
her eyes showed, and they were dark and bright.

When he awoke to the fact that the wind, grown colder, beat upon her
cruelly, he dropped behind a pace and took the windy side, that he might
shield her with his body. But if she observed the action she gave no
sign; her face was turned from him and the wind, and she rode without
speaking. After long plodding, the line of posts turned unexpectedly a
right angle, and Vaughan took a long, relieved breath.

"We'll have the wind on our backs now," he remarked. "I guess we may as
well keep on and see where this fence goes to."

His tone was too elaborately cheerful to be very cheering. He was
wondering if the girl was dressed warmly. It had been so warm and sunny
before the blizzard struck, but now the wind searched out the thin
places in one's clothing and ran lead in one's bones, where should be
simply marrow. He fancied that her voice, when she spoke, gave evidence
of actual suffering--and the heart of Rowdy Vaughan was ever soft toward
a woman.

"If you're cold," he began, "I'll open up my bed and get out a blanket."
He held Dixie in tentatively.

"Oh, don't trouble to do that," she protested; but there was that in her
voice which hardened his impulse into fixed resolution.

"I ought to have thought of it before," he lamented, and swung down
stiffly into the snow.

Her eyes followed his movement with a very evident interest while
he unbuckled the pack Chub had carried since sunrise and drew out a
blanket.

"Stand in your stirrup," he commanded briskly "and I'll wrap you up.
It's a Navajo, and the wind will have a time trying to find a thin
spot."

"You're thoughtful." She snuggled into it thankfully. "I was cold."

Vaughan tucked it around her with more care than haste. He was pretty
uncomfortable himself, and for that reason he was the more anxious
that the girl should be warm. It came to him that she was a cute little
schoolma'am, all right; he was glad she belonged close around the Cross
L. He also wished he knew her name--and so he set about finding it out,
with much guile.

"How's that?" he wanted to know, when he had made sure that her
feet--such tiny feet--were well covered. He thought it lucky that she
did not ride astride, after the manner of the latter-day young woman,
because then he could not have covered her so completely. "Hold on! That
windy side's going to make trouble." He unbuckled the strap he wore
to hold his own coat snug about him, and put it around the girl's slim
waist, feeling idiotically happy and guilty the while. "It don't come
within a mile of you," he complained; "but it'll help some."

Sheltered in the thick folds of the Navajo, she laughed, and the sound
of it sent the blood galloping through Rowdy Vaughan's body so that he
was almost warm. He went and scraped the snow out of his saddle, and
swung up, feeling that, after all, there are worse things in the
world than being lost and hungry in a blizzard, with a sweet-voiced,
bright-eyed little schoolma'am who can laugh like that.

"I don't want to have you think I may be a bold, bad robber-man," he
said, when they got going again. "My name's Rowdy Vaughan--for which I
beg your pardon. Mother named me Rowland, never knowing I'd get out here
and have her nice, pretty name mutilated that way. I won't say that my
behavior never suggested the change, though. I'm from the Horseshoe
Bar, over the line, and if I have my way, I'll be a Cross L man before
another day." Then he waited expectantly.

"For fear you may think I'm a--a robber-woman," she answered him
solemnly--he felt sure her eyes twinkled, if only he could have seen
them--"I'm Jessie Conroy. And if you're from over the line, maybe you
know my brother Harry. He was over there a year or two."

Rowdy hunched his shoulders--presumably at the wind. Harry Conroy's
sister, was she? And he swore. "I may have met him," he parried, in a
tone you'd never notice as being painstakingly careless. "I think I did,
come to think of it."

Miss Conroy seemed displeased, and presently the cause was forthcoming.
"If you'd ever met him," she said, "you'd hardly forget him."
(Rowdy mentally agreed profanely.) "He's the best rider in the whole
country--and the handsomest. He--he's splendid! And he's the only
brother I've got. It's a pity you never got acquainted with him."

"Yes," lied Rowdy, and thought a good deal in a very short time. Harry
Conroy's sister! Well, she wasn't to blame for that, of course; nor for
thinking her brother a white man. "I remember I did see him ride once,"
he observed. "He was a whirlwind, all right--and he sure was handsome,
too."

Miss Conroy turned her face toward him and smiled her pleasure, and
Rowdy hovered between heaven and--another place. He was glad she
smiled, and he was afraid of what that subject might discover for his
straightforward tongue in the way of pitfalls. It would not be nice to
let her know what he really thought of her brother.

"This looks to me like a lane," he said diplomatically. "We must be
getting somewhere; don't you recognize any landmarks?"

Miss Conroy leaned forward and peered through the clouds of snow dust.
Already the night was creeping down upon the land, stealthily turning
the blank white of the blizzard into as blank a gray--which was as near
darkness as it could get, because of the snow which fell and fell,
and yet seemed never to find an abiding-place, but danced and swirled
giddily in the wind as the cold froze it dry. There would be no more
damp, clinging masses that night; it was sifting down like flour from a
giant sieve; and of the supply there seemed no end.

"I don't know of any lanes around here," she began dubiously, "unless
it's--"

Vaughan looked sharply at her muffled figure and wondered why she
broke off so suddenly. She was staring hard at the few, faint traces of
landmarks; and, bundled in the red-and-yellow Navajo blanket, with her
bright, dark eyes, she might easily have passed for a slim young squaw.

Out ahead, a dog began barking vaguely, and Rowdy turned eagerly to
the sound. Dixie, scenting human habitation, stepped out more briskly
through the snow, and even Chub lifted an ear briefly to show he heard.

"It may not be any one you know," Vaughan remarked, and his voice showed
his longing; "but it'll be shelter and a warm fire--and supper. Can you
appreciate such blessings, Miss Conroy? I can. I've been in the saddle
since sunrise; and I was so sure I'd strike the Cross L by dinner-time
that I didn't bring a bite to eat. It was a sheep-camp where I stopped,
and the grub didn't look good to me, anyway--I've called myself bad
names all the afternoon for being more dainty than sensible. But it's
all right now, I guess."



CHAPTER 2. Miss Conroy Refuses Shelter.

The storm lifted suddenly, as storms have a way of doing, and a low,
squat ranch-house stood dimly revealed against the bleak expanse of
wind-tortured prairie. Rowdy gave an exultant little whoop and made for
the gate, leaned and swung it open and rode through, dragging Chub after
him by main strength, as usual. When he turned to close the gate after
Miss Conroy he found her standing still in the lane.

"Come on in," he called, with a trace of impatience born of his
weariness and hunger.

"Thank you, no." Miss Conroy's voice was as crisply cold as the wind
which fluttered the Navajo blanket around her face. "I much prefer the
blizzard."


For a moment Rowdy found nothing to say; he just stared. Miss Conroy
shifted uneasily in the saddle.

"This is old Bill Brown's place," she explained reluctantly. "He--I'd
rather freeze than go in!"

"Well, I guess that won't be hard to do," he retorted curtly, "if you
stay out much longer."

The dog was growing hysterical over their presence, and Bill Brown
himself came out to see what it was all about. He could see two dim
figures at the gate.

"Hello!" he shouted. "Why don't yuh come on in? What yuh standing there
chewing the rag for?"

Vaughan hesitated, his eyes upon Miss Conroy.

"Go in," she commanded imperiously, quite as if he were a refractory
pupil. "You're tired out, and hungry. I'm neither. Besides, I know where
I am now. I can find my way without any trouble. Go in, I tell you!"

But Rowdy stayed where he was, with the gate creaking to and fro between
them. Dixie circled till his back was to the wind. "I hope you don't
think you're going to mill around out here alone," Rowdy said tartly.

"I can manage very well. I'm not lost now, I tell you. Rodway's is only
three miles from here, and I know the direction."

Bill Brown waded out to them, wondering what weighty discussion was
keeping them there in the cold. Vaughan he passed by with the cursory
glance of a disinterested stranger, and went on to where Miss Conroy
waited stubbornly in the lane.

"Oh, it's you!" he said grimly. "Well, come in and thaw out; I hope yuh
didn't think yuh wouldn't be welcome yuh knew better. You got lost, I
reckon. Come on--"

Miss Conroy struck Badger sharply across the flank and disappeared into
the night. "When I ask shelter of you," she flung back, "you'll know
it."

Rowdy started after, and met Bill Brown squarely in the gate. Bill eyed
him sharply. "Say, young fellow, how'd you come by that packhorse?" he
demanded, as Chub brushed past him.

"None of your damn' business," snapped Rowdy, and drove the spurs into
Dixie's ribs. But Chub was a handicap at any time; now, when he was
tired, there was no getting anything like speed out of him; he clung to
his shuffling trot, which was really no better than a walk. After
five minutes spent alternately in spurring Dixie and yanking at Chub's
lead-rope, Rowdy grew frightened and took to shouting. While they were
in the lane Miss Conroy must perforce ride straight ahead, but the lane
would not last always. As though with malicious intent, the snow swooped
down again and the world became an unreal, nightmare world, wherein was
nothing save shifting, blinding snowfloury and wind and bitter, numbing
cold.

Rowdy stood in his stirrups, cupped his chilled fingers around his
numbed lips, and sent a longdrawn "Who-ee!" shrilling weirdly into the
night.

It seemed to him, after long listening, that from the right came faint
reply, and he turned and rode recklessly, swearing at Chub for
his slowness. He called again, and the answer, though faint, was
unmistakable. He settled heavily into the saddle--too weak, from sheer
relief, to call again. He had not known till then just how frightened he
had been, and he was somewhat disconcerted at the discovery. In a minute
the reaction passed and he shouted a loud hello.

"Hello?" came the voice of Miss Conroy, tantalizingly calm, and as
superior as the greeting of Central. "Were you looking for me, Mr.
Vaughan?"

She was close to him--so close that she had not needed to raise her
voice perceptibly. Rowdy rode up alongside, remembering uncomfortably
his prolonged shouting.

"I sure was," he admitted. And then: "You rode off with my blanket on."
He was very proud of his matter-of-fact tone.

"Oh!" Miss Conroy was almost deceived, and a bit disappointed. "I'll
give it to you now, and you can go back--if you know the way."

"No hurry," said Rowdy politely. "I'll go on and see if you can find a
place that looks good to you. You seem pretty particular."

Miss Conroy may have blushed, in the shelter of the blanket. "I suppose
it did look strange to you," she confessed, but defiantly. "Bill Brown
is an enemy to--Harry. He--because he lost a horse or two out of a
field, one time, he--he actually accused Harry of taking them! He lied,
of course, and nobody believed him; nobody could believe a thing like
that about Harry. It was perfectly absurd. But he did his best to
hurt Harry's name, and I would rather freeze than ask shelter of him.
Wouldn't you--in my place, I mean?"

"I always stand up for my friends," evaded Rowdy. "And if I had a
brother--"

"Of course you'd be loyal," approved Miss Conroy warmly. "But I didn't
want you to come on; it isn't your quarrel. And I know the way now. You
needn't have come any farther."

"You forgot the blanket," Rowdy reminded wickedly. "I think a lot of
that Navajo."

"You insisted upon my taking it," she retorted, and took refuge in
silence.

For a long hour they plodded blindly. Rowdy beat his hands often about
his body to start the blood, and meditated yearnigly upon hot coffee
and the things he liked best to eat. Also, a good long pull at a
flask wouldn't be had, either, he thought. And he hoped this little
schoolma'am knew where she was going--truth to tell, he doubted it.

After a while, it seemed that Miss Conroy doubted it also. She took
to leaning forward and straining her eyes to see through the gray wall
before.

"There should be a gate here," she said dubiously, at last.

"It seems to me," Rowdy ventured mildly, "if there were a gate, it would
have some kind of a fence hitched to it; wouldn't it?"

Miss Conroy was in no mood for facetiousness, and refused to answer his
question. "I surely can't have made a mistake," she observed uneasily.

"It would be a wonder if you didn't, such a night as this," he consoled.
"I wouldn't bank on traveling straight myself, even if I knew the
country--which I don't. And I've been in more blizzards than I'm years
old."

"Rodway's place can't be far away," she said, brightening. "It may be
farther to the east; shall we try that way--if you know which is east?"

"Sure, we'll try. It's all we can do. My packhorse is about all in, from
the way he hangs back; if we don't strike something pretty soon I'll
have to turn him loose."

"Oh, don't do that," she begged. "It would be too cruel. We're sure to
reach Rodway's very soon."

More plodding through drifts high and drifts low; more leaning from
saddles to search anxiously for trace of something besides snow and wind
and biting cold. Then, far to the right, a yellow eye glowed briefly
when the storm paused to take breath. Miss Conroy gave a glad little cry
and turned Badger sharply.

"Did you see? It was the light from a window. We were going the wrong
way. I'm sure that is Rodway's."

Rowdy thanked the Lord and followed her. They came up against a fence,
found a gate, and passed through. While they hurried toward it, the
light winked welcome; as they drew near, some one stirred the fire and
sent sparks and rose-hued smoke rushing up into the smother of snow.
Rowdy watched them wistfully, and wondered if there would be supper, and
strong, hot coffee. He lifted Miss Conroy out of the saddle, carried
her two long strides, and deposited her upon the door-step; rapped
imperatively, and when a voice replied, lifted the latch and pushed her
in before him.

For a minute they stood blinking, just within the door. The change
from numbing cold and darkness to the light of the overheated room was
stupefying.

Then Miss Conroy went over and held her little, gloved hands to the
heat of the stove, but she did not take the chair which some one pushed
toward her. She stood, the blanket shrouding her face and her slim young
figure, and looked about her curiously. It was not Rodway's house, after
all. She thought she knew what place it was--the shack where Rodway's
hay-balers bached.

From the first, Rowdy did not like the look of things--though for
himself it did not matter; he was used to such scenes. It was the
presence of the girl which made him uncomfortable. He unbuttoned his
coat that the warmth might reach his chilled body, and frowned.

Four men sat around a small, dirty table; evidently the arrivals had
interrupted an exciting game of seven-up. A glance told Rowdy, even
if his nose had not, that the four round, ribbed bottles had not been
nearly emptied without effect.

"Have one on the house," the man nearest him cried, and shoved a bottle
toward him.

Involuntarily Rowdy reached for it. Now that he was inside, he realized
all at once how weary he was, and cold and hungry. Each abused muscle
and nerve seemed to have a distinct grievance against him. His fingers
closed around the bottle before he remembered and dropped it. He looked
up, hoping Miss Conroy had not observed the action; met her wide,
questioning eyes, and the blood flew guiltily to his cheeks.

"Thanks, boys--not any for me," he said, and apologized to Miss Conroy
with his eyes.

The man rose and confronted him unsteadily. "Dat's a hell off a way! You
too proud for drink weeth us? You drink, now! By Gar, I make you drink!"

Rowdy's eyelids drooped, which was a bad sign for those who knew him.
"You're forgetting there's a lady present," he reminded warningly.

The man turned a brief, contemptuous glance toward the stove. "You got
the damn' queer way to talk. I don't call no squaw no lady. You drink
queeck, now!"

"Aw, shut up, Frenchy," the man at his elbow abjured him. "He don't have
to drink if he don't want to."

"You keep the face close," the other retorted majestically; and cursed
loud and long and incoherently.

Rowdy drew back his arm, with a fist that meant trouble for somebody;
but there were others before him who pinned the importunate host to the
table, where he squirmed unavailingly.

Rowdy buttoned up his coat the while he eyed the group disgustedly. "I
guess we'll drift," he remarked. "You don't look good to me, and that's
no dream."

"Aw, stay and warm up," the fourth man expostulated. "Yuh don't need t'
mind Le Febre; he's drunk."

But Rowdy opened the door decisively, and Miss Conroy, her cheeks
like two storm-buffeted poppies, followed him out with dignity--albeit
trailing a yard of red-and-yellow Navajo blanket behind her. Rowdy
lifted her into the saddle, tucked her feet carefully under the blanket,
and said never a word.

"Mr. Vaughan," she began hesitatingly, "this is too bad; you need not
have left. I--I wasn't afraid."

"I know you weren't," conceded Rowdy. "But it was a hard formation--for
a woman. Are there any more places on this flat marked Unavailable?"

Miss Conroy replied misanthropically that if there were they would be
sure to find them.

They took up their weary wanderings again, while the yellow eye of the
window winked after them. They missed Rodway's by a scant hundred yards,
and didn't know it, because the side of the house next them had no
lighted windows. They traveled in a wide, half circle, and thought that
they were leaving a straight trail behind them. More than once Rowdy was
urged by his aching arm to drop the lead-rope and leave Chub to shift
by himself, but habit was strong and his heart was soft. Then he felt an
odd twitching at the lead-rope, as if Chub were minded to rebel against
their leadership. Rowdy yanked him into remembrance of his duty, and
wondered. Bill Brown's question came insistently to mind; he wondered
the more.

Two minutes and the lead-rope was sawing against the small of his back
again. Rowdy turned Dixie's head, and spoke for the first time in an
hour.

"My packhorse seems to have an idea about where he wants to go," he
said. "I guess we might as well follow him as anybody; he ain't often
taken with a rush of brains to the head. And we can't be any worse lost
than we are now, can we?"

Miss Conroy said no dispiritedly, and they swung about and followed
Chub's leadership apathetically. It took Chub just five minutes to
demonstrate that he knew what he was about. When he stopped, it was with
his nose against a corral gate; not content with that, he whinnied, and
a new, exultant note was in the sound. A deep-voiced dog bayed loudly,
and a shrill yelp cut in and clamored for recognition.

Miss Conroy gasped. "It's Lion and Skeesicks. We're at Rodway's, Mr.
Vaughan."

Rowdy, for the second time, thanked the Lord. But when he was stripping
the pack off Chub's back, ten minutes later, he was thinking many things
he would not have cared to say aloud. It might be all right, but it sure
was strange, he told himself, that Chub belonged here at Rodway's when
Harry Conroy claimed that he was an Oregon horse. Rowdy had thought his
account against Harry Conroy long enough, but it looked now as though
another item must be added to the list. He went in and ate his supper
thoughtfully, and when he got into bed he did not fall asleep within two
minutes, as he might be expected to do. His last conscious thought was
not of stolen horses, however. It was: "And she's Harry Conroy's sister!
Now, what do you think of that? But all the same, she's sure a nice
little schoolma'am."



CHAPTER 3. Rowdy Hires a New Boss.

Next morning, after breakfast, Mr. Rodway followed Vaughan out to the
stable, and repeated Bill Brown's question.

"I'd like to know where yuh got this horse," he began, with an
apologetic sort of determination in his tone. "He happens to belong to
me. He was run off with a bunch three years ago, and this is the first
trace anybody has ever got of 'em. I see the brand's been worked. It was
a Roman four--that's my brand; now it looks like a map of Texas; but I'd
swear to the horse--raised him from a colt."

Rowdy had expected something of the sort, and he knew quite well what he
was going to do; he had settled that the night before, with the memory
of Miss Conroy's eyes fresh in his mind.

"I got him in a deal across the line," he said. "I was told he came from
east Oregon. But last night, when he piloted us straight to your corral
gate, I guessed he'd been here before. He's yours, all right, if you say
so."

"Uh course he ain't worth such a pile uh money," apologized Rodway, "but
the kids thought a heap of him. I'd rather locate some of the horses
that was with him--or the man yuh got him of. They was some mighty good
horses run out uh this country then, but they was all out on the range,
so we didn't miss 'em in time to do any good. Do yu know who took 'em
across the line?"

"No," said Rowdy deliberately. "The man I got Chub from went north, and
I heard he got killed. I don't know of any other in the deal."

Rodway grunted, and Vaughan began vigorously brushing Dixie's roughened
coat. "If you don't mind," he said, after a minute, "I'd like to borrow
Chub to pack my bed over to the Cross L. I can bring him back again."

"Why, sure!" assented Rodway eagerly. "I hate to take him from yuh, but
the kids--"

"Oh, that's all right," interrupted Rowdy cheerfully. "It's all in the
game, and I should 'a' looked up his pedigree, for I knew--. Anyway, was
worth the price of him to have him along last night. We'd have milled
around till daylight, I guess, only for him."

"That's what," agreed Rodway. "Jessie's horse is one she brought from
home lately, and he ain't located yet; I dunno as he'd 'a' piloted her
home. Billy--that's what the kids named him--was born and raised here,
yuh see. I'll bet he's glad to get back--and the kids'll be plumb wild."

Rowdy did not answer; there seemed nothing in particular to say, and he
was wondering if he would see Miss Conroy before he left. She had not
eaten breakfast with the others; from their manner, he judged that
no one expected her to. He was not well informed upon the subject
of schoolma'ams, but he had a hazy impression that late rising was a
distinguishing characteristic--and he did not know how late. He
saddled leisurely, and packed his bed for the last time upon Chub. The
red-and-yellow Navajo blanket he folded tenderly, with an unconscious
smile for the service it had done, and laid it in its accustomed place
in the bed. Then, having no plausible excuse for going back to the
house, he mounted and rode away into the brilliant white world, watching
wistfully the house from the tail of his eye.

She might have got up in time to see him off, he thought discontentedly;
but he supposed one cowpuncher more or less made little difference to
her. Anyway, he didn't know as he had any license to moon around her.
She probably had a fellow; she might even be engaged, for all he knew.
And--she was Harry Conroy's sister; and from his experience with the
breed, good looks didn't count for anything. Harry was good-looking, and
he was a snake, if ever there was one. He had never expected to lie for
him--but he had done it, all right--and because Harry's sister happened
to have nice eyes and a pretty little foot!--

He had half a mind to go back and tell Rodway all he knew about those
horses; it was only a matter of time, anyway, till Harry Conroy overshot
the mark and got what was coming to him. He sure didn't owe Harry
anything, that he had need to shield him like he had done. Still,
Rodway would wonder why he hadn't told it at first; and that little girl
believed in Harry, and said he was "splendid!" Humph! He wondered if she
really meant that. If she did--

He squared his back to the house--and the memory of Miss Conroy's
eyes--and plodded across the field to the gate. Now the sun was shining,
and there was no possibility of getting lost. The way to the Cross L lay
straight and plain before him.

Rowdy rode leisurely up over the crest of a ridge beyond which lay the
home ranch of the Cross L. Whether it was henceforth to be his home he
had yet to discover--though there was reason for hoping that it would
be. Even so venturesome a man as Rowdy Vaughan would scarce ride a long
hundred miles through unpeopled prairie, in the tricky month of March,
without some reason for expecting a welcome at the end of his journey.
In this case, a previous acquaintance with "Wooden Shoes" Mielke,
foreman of the Cross L, was Rowdy's trump-card. Wooden Shoes, whenever
chance had brought them together in the last two or three years, was
ever urging Rowdy to come over and unroll his soogans in the Cross L
bed-tent, and promising the best string in the outfit to ride--besides
other things alluring to a cow-puncher. So that, when his relations with
the Horseshoe Bar became strained, Rowdy remembered his friend of the
Cross L and the promises, and had drifted south.

Just now he hoped that Wooden Shoes would be home to greet him, and
his eyes searched wishfully the huddle of low-eaved cabins and the
assortment of sheds and corrals for the bulky form of the foreman. But
no one seemed to be about--except a bigbodied, bandy-legged individual,
who appeared to be playfully chasing a big, bright bay stallion inside
the large enclosure where stood the cabins.

Rowdy watched them impersonally; a glance proved that the man was not
Wooden Shoes, and so he was not particularly interested in him or his
doings. It did occur to him, however, that if the fellow wanted to catch
that brute, he ought to have sense enough to get a horse. No one but
a plumb idiot would mill around in that snow afoot. He jogged down the
slope at a shuffling trot, grinning tolerantly at the pantomime below.

He of the bandy-legs stopped, evidently out of breath; the stallion
stopped also, snorting defiance. Rowdy heard him plainly, even at that
distance. The horse arched his neck and watched the man warily, ready
to be off at the first symptom of hostilities--and Rowdy observed that a
short rope hung from his halter, swaying as he moved.

Bandy-legs seemed to have an idea; he turned and scuttled to the nearest
cabin, returning with what seemed a basin of oats, for he shook it
enticingly and edged cautiously toward the horse. Rowdy could imagine
him coaxing, with hypocritically endearing names, such as "Good old
boy!" and "Steady now, Billy"--or whatever the horse's name might
be. Rowdy chuckled to himself, and hoped the horse saw through the
subterfuge.

Perhaps the horse chuckled also; at any rate, he stood quite still,
equally prepared to bounce away on the instant or to don the mask of
docility. Bandy-legs drew nearer and nearer, shaking the basin briskly,
like an old woman sifting meal. The horse waited, his nostrils quivering
hungrily at the smell of the oats, and with an occasional low nicker.

Bandy-legs went on tiptoes--or as nearly as he could in the snow--the
basin at arm's length before. The dainty, flaring nostrils sniffed
tentatively, dipped into the basin, and snuffed the oats about
luxuriously--till he felt a stealthy hand seize the dangling rope. At
the touch he snorted protest, and was off and away, upsetting Bandy-legs
and the basin ignominiously into a high-piled drift.

Bandy-legs sat up, scraped the snow out of his collar and his ears, and
swore. It was then that Rowdy appeared like an angel of deliverance.

"Want that horse caught?" he yelled cheerfully.

Bandy-legs lifted up his voice and bellowed things I should not like to
repeat verbatim. But Rowdy gathered that the man emphatically did want
that so-and-so-and-then-some horse caught, and that it couldn't be done
a blessed minute too soon. Whereat Rowdy smiled anew, with his face
discreetly turned away from Bandy-legs, and took down his rope and
widened the loop. Also, he turned Chub loose.

The stallion evidently sensed what new danger threatened his stolen
freedom, and circled the yard with high, springy strides. Rowdy circled
after, saw his chance, swirled the loop twice over his head, and
hazarded a long throw.

Rowdy knew it for pure good luck that it landed right, but to this day
Bandy-legs looks upon him as a Wonder with a rope--and Bandy-legs would
insist upon the capital.

"Where shall I take him?" Rowdy asked, coming up with his captive, and
with nothing but his eyes to show how he was laughing inwardly.

Bandy-legs crawled from the drift, still scraping snow from inside his
collar, and gave many directions about going through a certain gate into
such-and-such a corral; from there into a stable; and by seeming devious
ways into a minutely described stall.

"All right," said Rowdy, cutting short the last needless details. "I
guess I can find the trail;" and started off, leading the stallion.
Bandy-legs followed, and Chub, observing the departure of Dixie, ambled
faithfully in the rear.

"Much obliged," conceded Bandy-legs, when the stallion was safely housed
and tied securely. "Where yuh headed for, young man?"

"Right here," Rowdy told him calmly, loosening Dixie's cinch. "I'm the
long-lost top hand that the Cross L's been watching the sky-line for,
lo! these many moons, a-yearning for the privilege of handing me forty
plunks about twice as fast as I've got 'em coming. Where's the boss?"

"Er--I'm him," confessed Bandy-legs meekly, and circled the two
dubiously. "I guess you've heard uh Eagle Creek Smith--I'm him. The
Cross L belongs to me."

Rowdy let out an explosive, and showed a row of nice teeth. "Well, I
ain't hard to please," he added. "I won't kick on that, I guess. I like
your looks tolerable well, and I'm willing to take yuh on for a boss. If
yuh do your part, I bet we'll get along fine." His tone was banteringly
patronizing "Anyway, I'll try yuh for a spell. You can put my name down
as Rowdy Vaughan, lately canned from the Horseshoe Bar."

"What for?" ventured Bandy-legs--rather, Eagle Creek--still circling
Rowdy dubiously.

"What for was I canned?" repeated Rowdy easily. "Being a modest youth, I
hate t' tell yuh. But the old man's son and me, we disagreed, and one
of his eyes swelled some; so did mine, a little." He stood head and
shoulders above Eagle Creek, and he smiled down upon him engagingly.
Eagle Creek capitulated before the smile.

"Well, I ain't got any sons--that I know of," he grinned. "So I guess
yuh can consider yourself a Cross L man till further notice."

"Why, sure!" The teeth gleamed again briefly. "That's what I've been
telling you right along. Where's old Wooden Shoes? He's responsible for
me being here."

"Gone to Chinook. He'll be back in a day or two." Eagle Creek shifted
his feet awkwardly. "Say"--he glanced uneasily behind him--"yuh don't
want t' let it get around that yuh sort of--hired me--see?"

"Of course not," Rowdy assured him. "I was only joshing. If you don't
want me, just tell me to hit the sod."

"You stay right where you're at!" commanded Eagle Creek with returned
confidence in himself and his authority. Of a truth, this self-assured,
straight-limbed young man had rather dazed him. "Take your bed and
war-bag up to the bunk-house and make yourself t' home till the boys get
back, and--say, where'd yuh git that pack-horse?"

The laugh went out of Rowdy's tawny eyes. The question hit a spot that
was becoming sore. "I borrowed him this morning from Mr. Rodway," he
said evenly. "I'm to take him back to-day. I stopped there last night."

"Oh!" Eagle Creek coughed apologetically, and said no word, while Rowdy
led Chub back to the cabin which he had pointed out as the bunk-house;
he stood by while Rowdy loosened the pack and dragged it inside.

"I guess you can get located here," he said. "I ain't workin' more'n
three or four men just now, but there's quite a few uh the boys stopping
here; the Cross L's a regular hang-out for cow-punchers. You're a little
early for the season, but I'll see that yuh have something t' do--just
t' keep yuh out uh devilment."

Rowdy's brows unbent; it would seem that Eagle Creek was capable of
"joshing" also. "It's up t' you, old-timer," he retorted. "I'm strong
and willing, and don't shy at anything but pitchforks."

Eagle Creek grinned. "This ain't no blamed cowhospital," he gave as a
parting shot. "All the hay that's shoveled on this ranch needn't hurt
nobody's feelings." With that he shut the door, and left Rowdy to
acquaint himself with his new home.



CHAPTER 4. Pink as "Chappyrone."

Rowdy was sprawled ungracefully upon somebody's bunk--he neither knew
nor cared whose--and he was snoring unmelodiously, and not dreaming a
thing; for when a cow-puncher has nothing in particular to do, he
sleeps to atone for the weary hours when he must be very wide-awake. An
avalanche descended upon his unwarned middle, and checked the rhythmic
ebb and flow of sound. He squawked and came to life clawing viciously.

"I'd like t' know where the devil yuh come from," a voice remarked
plaintively in a soft treble.

Rowdy opened his eyes with a snap. "Pink! by all that's good and bad!
Get up off my diaphragm, you little fiend."

Pink absent-mindedly kneaded Rowdy's stomach with his knuckles, and
immediately found himself in a far corner. He came back, dimpling
mischievously. He looked much more an angel than a fiend, for all his
Angora chaps and flame-colored scarf.

"Your bed and war-bag's on my bunk; you're on Smoky's; and Dixie's
makin' himself to home in the corral. By all them signs and tokens,
I give a reckless guess you're here t' stay a while. That right?" He
prodded again at Rowdy's ribs.

"It sure is, Pink. And if I'd known you was holding out here, I'd 'a'
come sooner, maybe. You sure look good to me, you darned little cuss!"
Rowdy sat up and took a lightning inventory of the four or five other
fellows lounging about. He must have slept pretty sound, he thought, not
to hear them come in.

Pink read the look, and bethought him of the necessary introductions.
"This is my side-kicker over the line that--you've heard about till
you're plumb weary, boys," he announced musically. "His name is Rowdy
Vaughan--bronco-peeler, crap fiend, and all-round bad man. He ain't a
safe companion, and yuh want t' sleep with your six-guns cuddled under
your right ear, and never, on no account, show him your backs. He's a
real wolf, he is, and the only reason I live t' tell the tale is because
he respects m' size. Boys, I'm afraid for yuh--but I wish yuh well."

"Pink, you need killing, and I'm tempted to live up to my rep," grinned
Rowdy indulgently. "Read me the pedigree of your friends."

"Oh, they ain't no worse--when yuh git used to 'em. That long-legged
jasper with the far-away look in his eyes is the Silent One--if he takes
a notion t' you, he'll maybe tell yuh the name his mother calls him. He
may have seen better days; but here's hoping he won't see no worse! He
once was a tenderfoot; but he's convalescing."

The Silent One nodded carelessly, but with a quick, measuring glance
that Rowdy liked.

"This unshaved savage is Smoky. He's harmless, if yuh don't
mention socialism in his presence; and if yuh do, he'll
down-with-the-trust-and-long-live-the-sons-uh-toil, all hours uh the
night, and keep folks awake. Then him and the fellow that started him
off 'll likely get chapped good and plenty. Over there's Jim Ellis
and Bob Nevin; they've both turned a cow or two, and I've seen worse
specimens running around loose--plenty of 'em. That man hidin' behind
the grin--you can see him if yuh look close--is Sunny Sam. Yuh needn't
take no notice of him, unless you're a mind to. He won't care--he's dead
gentle.

"Say," he broke off, "how'd you happen t' stray onto this range, anyhow?
Yuh used t' belong t the Horseshoe Bar so solid the assessor always t'
yuh down on the personal-property list."

"They won't pay taxes on me no more, son." Rowdy's eyes dwelt fondly
upon Pink's cupid-bow mouth and dimples. He had never dreamed of finding
Pink here; though, when he came to think of it there was no reason why
he shouldn't.

Pink was not like any one else. He was slight and girlish to look at.
But you mustn't trust appearances; for Pink was all muscle strung on
steel wire, according to the belief of those who tried to handle him.
He had little white hands, and feet that looked quite comfortable in
a number four boot, and his hair was a tawny gold and curled in
distracting, damp rings on his forehead. His eyes were blue and
long-lashed and beautiful, and they looked at the world with baby
innocence--whereas a more sophisticated little devil never jangled spurs
at his heels. He was everything but insipid, and men liked him--unless
he chose to dislike them, when they thought of him with grating teeth.
To find him bullying the Cross L boys brought a warmth to Rowdy's heart.

Pink made a cigarette, and then offered Rowdy his tobacco-sack, and
asked questions about the Cypress Hills country. How was this girl?--and
was that one married yet?--and did the other still grieve for him? As a
matter of fact, he had yet to see the girl who could quicken his pulse
a single beat, and for that reason it sometimes pleased him to affect
susceptibility beyond that of other men.

It was after dinner when he and Rowdy went humming down to the stables,
gossiping like a couple of old women over a back fence.

"I see you've got Conroy's Chub yet," Pink observed carelessly.

"Oh, for Heaven's sake let up on that cayuse!" Rowdy cried petulantly.
"I wish I'd never got sight of the little buzzard-head; I've had him
crammed down my throat the last day or two till it's getting plumb
monotonous. Pink, that cayuse never saw Oregon. He was raised right on
this flat, and he belongs to old Rodway. I've got to lead him back there
and turn him over to-day."

Pink took three puffs at his cigarette, and lifted his long lashes to
Rowdy's gloom-filled face. "Stole?" he asked briefly.

"Stole," Rowdy repeated disgustedly. "So was the whole blame' bunch, as
near as I can make out."

"We might 'a' knowed it. We might 'a' guessed Harry Conroy wouldn't have
a straight title to anything if he could make it crooked. I bet he never
finished paying back that money yuh lent him--out uh the kindness uh
your heart. Did he?" Pink leaned against the corral fence and kicked
meditatively at a snow-covered rock.

"He did not, m' son. Chub's all I ever got out uh the deal--and
I haven't even got him. I borrowed him from Rodway to pack my bed
over--borrowed the blame' little runty cayuse that cost me sixty-four
hard-earned dollars; that's what Harry borrowed of me. And every blame'
gazabo on the flat wanted to know what I was doing with him!"

"I can tell yuh where t' find Conroy, Rowdy. He's working for an
outfit down on the river. I'd sure fix him for this! Yuh got plenty of
evidence; you can send him up like a charm. It was different when he cut
your latigo strap in that rough-riding contest; yuh couldn't prove it on
him. But this--why, man, it's a cinch!"

"I haven't lost Harry Conroy, so I ain't looking for him just now,"
growled Rowdy. "So long as he keeps out uh reach, I won't ask no more of
him. And, Pink, I wish you'd keep this quiet--about him having Chub. I
told Rodway I couldn't put him next to the fellow that brought that
bunch across the line. I told him the fellow went north and got killed.
He did go north--fifty miles or so; and he'd ought to been killed, if he
wasn't. Let it go that way, Pink."

Pink looked like a cherub-faced child when he has been told there's
no Santa Claus. "Sure, if yuh say so," he stammered dubiously. He eyed
Rowdy reproachfully, and then looked away to the horizon. He kicked
the rock out of place, and then poked it painstakingly back with his
toe--and from the look of him, he did not know there was a rock there at
all.

"How'd yuh happen to run across Rodway?" he asked guilelessly.

"I stopped there last night. I got to milling around in that storm, and
ran across the schoolma'am that boards at Rodway's, She was plumb lost,
too, so we dubbed around together for a while, and finally got inside
Rodway's field. Then Chub come alive and piloted us to the house. This
morning Rodway claimed him--says the brand has been worked from a Roman
four. Oh, it's all straight goods," he added hastily. "Old Eagle Creek
here knew him, too."

But Pink was not thinking of Chub. He hunched his chap-belt higher
and spat viciously into the snow. "I knowed it," he declared, with
melancholy triumph. "It's school-ma'amitis that's gave yuh softening uh
the vitals, and not no Christian charity play. How comes it you're took
that way, all unbeknown t' your friends? Yuh never used t' bother about
no female girls. It's a cinch you're wise that she's Harry's sister; and
I admit she's a swell looker. But so's he; and I should think, Rowdy,
you'd had about enough uh that brand uh snake."

"There's nothing so snaky about her that I could see," defended Rowdy.
He did not particularly relish having his own mental argument against
Miss Conroy thrown back at him from another. "She seemed to be all
right; and if you'd seen how plucky she was in that blizzard--"

"Well, I never heard anybody stand up and call Harry white-livered, when
yuh come t' that," Pink cut in tartly. "Anyway, you're a blame fool. If
she was a little white-winged angel, yuh wouldn't stand no kind uh show;
and I tell yuh why. She's got a little tin god that she says prayers to
regular."

"That's Harry. And wouldn't he be the fine brother-in-law? He could
borrow all your wages off'n yuh, and when yuh went t' make a pretty
ride, he'd up and cut your latigo, and give yuh a fall. And he could
work stolen horses off onto yuh--and yuh wouldn't give a damn, 'cause
Jessie wears a number two shoe--"

"You must have done some rimrock riding after her yourself!" jeered
Rowdy.

"And has got shiny brown eyes, just like Harry's--"

"They're not!" laughed Rowdy, half-angrily. "If you say that again,
Pink, I'll stick your head in a snow-bank. Her eyes are all right. They
sure look good to me."

"You've sure got 'em," mourned Pink. "Yuh need t' be close-herded by
your friends, and that's no dream. You wait till toward evening before
yuh take that horse back. I'm going along t' chappyrone yuh, Rowdy. Yuh
ain't safe running loose any more."

Rowdy cursed him companionably and told him to go along, if he wanted
to, and to look out he didn't throw up his own hands; and Pink grumbled
and swore and did go along. But when they got there, Miss Conroy greeted
him like a very good friend; which sent Rowdy sulky, and kept him so all
the evening. It seemed to him that Pink was playing a double game, and
when they started home he told him so.

But Pink turned in his saddle and smiled so that his dimples showed
plainly in the moonlight. "Chappyrones that set in a corner and look
wise are the rankest kind uh fakes," he explained. "When she was talking
to me, she was letting you alone--see?"

Rowdy accepted the explanation silently, and stored it away in his
memory. After that, by riding craftily, and by threats, and by much
vituperation, he managed to reach Rodway's unchapperoned at least three
times out of five--which was doing remarkably well, when one considers
Pink.



CHAPTER 5. At Home at Cross L.

In two days Rowdy was quite at home with the Cross L. In a month he
found himself transplanted from the smoke-laden air of the bunk-house,
and set off from the world in a line camp, with nothing to do but patrol
the boggy banks of Milk River, where it was still unfenced and unclaimed
by small farmers. The only mitigation of his exile, so far as he could
see, lay in the fact that he had Pink and the Silent One for companions.

It developed that when he would speak to the Silent One, he must say
Jim, or wait long for a reply. Also, the Silent One was not always
silent, and he was quick to observe the weak points in those around him,
and keen at repartee. When it pleased him so to do, he could handle the
English language in a way that was perfectly amazing--and not always
intelligible to the unschooled. At such times Pink frankly made no
attempt to understand him; Rowdy, having been hustled through grammar
school and two-thirds through high school before he ran away from a
brand new stepmother, rather enjoyed the outbreaks and Pink's consequent
disgust.

Not one of them loved particularly the line camp, and Rowdy least of
all, since it put an extra ten miles between Miss Conroy and himself.
Rowdy had got to that point where his mind dwelt much upon matters
domestic, and he made many secret calculations on the cost of
housekeeping for two. More than that, he put himself upon a rigid
allowance for pocket-money--an allowance barely sufficient to keep
him in tobacco and papers. All this without consulting Miss Conroy's
wishes--which only goes to show that Rowdy Vaughan was a born optimist.

The Silent One complained that he could not keep supplied with
reading-matter, and Pink bewailed the monotony of inaction. For, beyond
watching the river to keep the cattle from miring in the mud lately
released from frost grip, there was nothing to do.

According to the calendar, spring was well upon them, and the prairies
would soon be flaunting new dresses of green. The calendar, however, had
neglected to record the rainless heat of the summer gone before, or
the searing winds that burned the grass brown as it grew, or the winter
which forgot its part and permitted prairie-dogs to chip-chip-chip above
ground in January, when they should be sleeping decently in their cellar
homes.

Apart from the brief storm which Rowdy had brought with him, there had
been no snow worth considering. Always the chill winds shaved the barren
land from the north, or veered unexpectedly, and blew dry warmth from
the southwest; but never the snow for which the land yearned. Wind, and
bright sunlight, and more wind, and hypocritical, drifting clouds, and
more sun; lean cattle walking, walking, up-hill and down coulee, nose to
the dry ground, snipping the stray tufts where should be a woolly carpet
of sweet, ripened grasses, eating wildrose bushes level with the sod,
and wishing there was only an abundance even of them; drifting uneasily
from hilltop to farther hilltop, hunger-driven and gaunt, where should
be sleek content. When they sought to continue their quest beyond the
river, and the weaker bogged at its muddy edge, Rowdy and Pink and
the Silent One would ride out, and with their ropes drag them back
ignominiously to solid ground and the very doubtful joy of living.

May Day found the grass-land brown and lifeless, with a chill wind
blowing over it. The cattle wandered as before except that knock-kneed
little calves trailed beside their lean mothers and clamored for full
stomachs.

The Cross L cattle bore the brunt of the range famine, because Eagle
Creek Smith was a stockman of the old school. His cattle must live on
the open range, because they always had done so. Other men bought or
leased large tracts of grass-land, and fenced them for just such an
emergency, but not he. It is true that he had two or three large fields,
as Miss Conroy had told Rowdy, but it was his boast that all the hay he
raised was eaten by his saddlehorses, and that all the fields he owned
were used solely for horse pastures. The open range was the place for
cattle and no Cross L critter ever fed inside a wire fence.

Through the dry summer before, when other men read the ominous signs
and hurriedly leased pasture-land and cut down their herds to what the
fields would feed, Eagle Creek went calmly on as he had done always.
He shipped what beef was fit--and that, of a truth, was not much!--and
settled down for the winter, trusting to winter snows and spring rains
to refill the long-dry lakes and waterholes, and coat the levels anew
with grass.

But the winter snows had failed to appear, and with the spring came
no rain. "April showers" became a hideously ironical joke at nature's
expense. Always the wind blew, and sometimes great flocks of clouds
would drift superciliously up from the far sky-line, play with men's
hopes, and sail disdainfully on to some more favored land.

It is all very well for a man to cling stubbornly to precedent, but if
he clings long enough, there comes a time when to cling becomes akin to
crime. Eagle Creek Smith still stubbornly held that rangecattle should
be kept to the range. He waited until May was fast merging to June,
watching, from sheer habit, for the spring transformation of brown
prairies into green. When it did not come, and only the coulee sides and
bottoms showed green among the brown, he accepted ruefully the unusual
conditions which nature had thrust upon him, and started "Wooden Shoes"
out with the wagons on the horse round-up, which is a preliminary to the
roundup proper, as every one knows.



CHAPTER 6. A Shot From the Dark.

"I call that a bad job well done," Pink remarked, after a long silence,
as he gave over trying to catch a fish in the muddy Milk River.

"What?" Rowdy, still prone to day-dreams of matters domestic, came back
reluctantly to reality, and inspected his bait.

"Oh, come alive! I mean the horse round-up. How we're going to keep that
bunch uh skeletons under us all summer is a guessing contest for fair.
Wooden Shoes has got t' give me about forty, instead of a dozen, if
he wants me t' hit 'er up on circle the way I'm used to. I bet their
back-bones'll wear clean up through our saddles."

"Oh, I guess not," said Rowdy calmly. "They ain't so thin--and they'll
pick up flesh. There's some mighty good ones in the bunch, too. I hope
Wooden Shoes don't forget to give me the first pick. There's one I got
my eye on--that blue roan. Anyway, I guess you can wiggle along with
less than forty."

Pink shook his head thoughtfully and sighed. Pink loved good mounts, and
the outlook did not please him. The round-up had camped, for the last
time, on the river within easy riding distance of Camas. The next day's
drive would bring them to the home ranch, where Eagle Creek was fuming
over the lateness of the season, the condition of the range, and the
June rains, which had thus far failed even to moisten decently the
grass-roots.

"Let's ride over to Camas; all the other fellows have gone," Pink
proposed listlessly, drawing in his line.

Rowdy as listlessly consented. Camas as a town was neither interesting
nor important; but when one has spent three long weeks communing with
nature in her sulkiest and most unamiable mood, even a town without a
railroad to its name may serve to relieve the monotony of living.

The sun was piling gorgeous masses of purple and crimson clouds high
about him, cuddling his fat cheeks against their soft folds till, a
Midas, he turned them to gold at the touch. Those farther away
gloomed jealously at the favoritism of their lord, and huddled closer
together--the purple for rage, perhaps; and the crimson for shame!

Pink's face was tinged daintily with the glow, and even Rowdy's lean,
brown features were for the moment glorified. They rode knee to knee
silently, thinking each his own thoughts the while they watched the
sunset with eyes grown familiar with its barbaric splendor, but never
indifferent.

Soon the west held none but the deeper tints, and the shadows climbed,
with the stealthy tread of trailing Indians, from the valley, chasing
the after-glow to the very hilltops, where it stood a moment at bay
and then surrendered meekly to the dusk. A meadow-lark near-by cut the
silence into haunting ripples of melody, stopped affrighted at their
coming, and flew off into the dull glow of the west; his little body
showed black against a crimson cloud. Out across the river a lone coyote
yapped sharply, then trailed off into the weird plaint of his kind.

"Brother-in-law's in town to-day; Bob Nevin saw him," Pink remarked,
when the coyote ceased wailing and held his peace.

"Who?" Rowdy only half-heard.

"Bob Nevin," repeated Pink naively.

"Don't get funny. Who did Bob see?"

"Brother-in-law. Yours, not mine. Jessie's tin god. If he's there yet,
I bid for an invite to the 'swatfest.' Or maybe"--a horrible possibility
forced itself upon Pink--"maybe you'll kill the fattest maverick and
fall on his neck--"

"The maverick's?" Rowdy's brows were rather pinched together, but his
tone told nothing.

"Naw; Harry Conroy's a fellow's liable to do most any fool thing when
he's got schoolma'amitis."

"That so?"

Pink snorted. The possibility had grown to black certainty in his mind.
He became suddenly furious.

"Lord! I hope some kind friend'll lead me out an' knock me in the head,
if ever I get locoed over any darned girl!"

"Same here," agreed Rowdy, unmoved.

"Then your days are sure numbered in words uh one syllable, old-timer,"
snapped Pink.

Rowdy leaned and patted him caressingly upon the shoulder--a form of
irony which Pink detested. "Don't get excited, sonny," he soothed. "Did
you fetch your gun?"

"I sure did!" Pink drew a long breath of relief. "Yuh needn't think I'm
going t' take chances on being no human colander. I've packed a gun for
Harry Conroy ever since that rough-riding contest uh yourn. Yuh mind
the way I took him under the ear with a rock? He's been makin' war-talk
behind m' back ever since. Did I bring m' gun! Well, I guess yes!" He
dimpled distractingly.

"All the same, it'll suit me not to run up against him," said Rowdy
quite frankly. He knew Pink would understand. Then he lifted his coat
suggestively, to show the weapon concealed beneath, and smiled.

"Different here. Yuh did have sense enough t' be ready--and if yuh see
him, and don't forget he's got a sister with a number two foot, damned
if I don't fix yuh both a-plenty!" He settled his hat more firmly over
his curls, and eyed Rowdy anxiously from under his lashes.

Rowdy caught the action and the look from the tail of his eye, and
grinned at his horse's ears. Pink in warlike mood always made him think
of a four-year-old child playing pirate with the difference that Pink
was always in deadly earnest and would fight like a fiend.

For more reasons than one he hoped they would not meet Harry Conroy.
Jessie was still in ignorance of his real attitude toward her brother,
and Rowdy wanted nothing more than to keep her so. The trouble was that
he was quite certain to forget everything but his grievances, if ever he
came face to face with Harry. Also, Pink would always fight quicker for
his friends than for himself, and he felt very tender toward Pink. So
he hoped fervently that Harry Conroy had already ridden back whence he
came, and there would be no unpleasantness.

Four or five Cross L horses stood meekly before the Come Again Saloon,
so Rowdy and Pink added theirs to the gathering and went in. The Silent
One looked up from his place at a round table in a far corner, and
beckoned.

"We need another hand here," he said, when they went over to him. "These
gentlemen are worried because they might be taken into high society some
day, and they would be placed in a very embarrassing position through
their ignorance of bridge-whist. I have very magnanimously consented to
teach them the rudiments."

Bob Nevin looked up, and then lowered an eyelid cautiously. "He's a
liar. He offered to learn us how to play it; we bet him the drinks he
didn't savvy the game himself. Set down, Pink, and I'll have you for my
pretty pardner."

The Silent One shuffled the cards thoughtfully. "To make it seem like
bona-fide bridge," he began, "we should have everybody playing."

"Aw, the common, ordinary brand is good enough," protested Bob. "I ain't
in on any trimmings."

The Silent One smiled ever so slightly. "We should have prizes--or
favors. Is there a store in town where one could buy something
suitable?"

"They got codfish up here; I smelt it," suggested Jim Ellis. Him the
Silent One ignored.

"What do you say, boys, to a real, high society whist-party? I'll invite
the crowd, and be the hostess. And I'll serve punch--"

"Come on, fellows, and have one with me," called a strange voice near
the door.

"Meeting's adjourned," cried Jim Ellis, and got up to accept the
invitation and range along the bar with the rest. He had not been
particularly interested in bridge-whist anyway.

The others remained seated, and the bartender called across to know what
they would have. Pink cut the cards very carefully, and did not look up.
Rowdy thrust both hands in his pockets and turned his square shoulder
to the bar. He did not need to look--he knew that voice, with its shoddy
heartiness.

Men began to observe his attitude, and looked at one another. When one
is asked to drink with another, he must comply or decline graciously, if
he would not give a direct insult.

Harry Conroy took three long steps and laid a hand on Rowdy's
shoulder--a hand which Rowdy shook off as though it burned. "Say,
stranger, are you too high-toned t' drink with a common cowpuncher?" he
demanded sharply.

Rowdy half-turned toward him. "No, sir. But I'll be mighty thirsty
before I drink with you." His voice was even, but it cut.

The room stilled on the instant; it was as if every man of them had
turned to lay figures. Harry Conroy had winced at sight of Rowdy's
face--men saw that, and some of them wondered. Pink leaned back in
his chair, every nerve tightened for the next move, and waited. It
was Harry--handsome, sneering, a certain swaggering defiance in his
pose--who first spoke.

"Oh, it's you, is it? I haven't saw yuh for some time. How's
bronco-fighting? Gone up against any more contests?" He laughed
mockingly--with mouth and eyes maddeningly like Jessie's in teasing
mood.

Rowdy could have killed him for the resemblance alone. His lids drooped
sleepily over eyes that glittered. Harry saw the sign, read it for
danger; but he laughed again.

"Yuh ought to have seen this bronco-peeler pull leather, boys," he
jeered recklessly "I like to 'a' died. He got piled up the slickest I
ever saw; and there was some feeble-minded Canucks had money up on him,
too: He won't drink with me, 'cause I got off with the purse. He's got
a grouch--and I don't know as I blame him; he did get let down pretty
hard, for a fact."

"Maybe he did pull leather--but he didn't cut none, like you did, you
damn' skunk!" It was Pink--Pink, with big, long-lashed eyes purple with
rage, and with a dead-white streak around his mouth, and a gun in his
hand.

Harry wheeled toward him, and if a new light of fear crept into his
eyes, his lips belied it in a sneer. "Two of a kind!" he laughed. "So
that's the story yuh brought over here, is it? Hell of a lot uh good
it'll do yuh!"

Something in Pink's face warned Rowdy. Harry's face turned watchfully
from one to the other. Evidently he considered Pink the more uncertain
of the two; and he was quite justified in so thinking. Pink was only
waiting for a cue before using his gun; and when Pink once began, there
was no telling where or when he would leave off.

While Harry stood uncertain, Rowdy's fist suddenly spatted against his
cheek with considerable force. He tumbled, a cursing heap, against the
foot-rail of the bar, scrambled up like a cat--a particularly vicious
cat--and came at Rowdy murderously. The Come Again would shortly have
been filled with the pungent haze of burned powder, only that the
bartender was a man-of-action. He hated brawls, and it did not matter
to him how just might be the quarrel; he slapped the gaping barrels of
a sawed-off shotgun across the bar--and from the look of it one might
imagine many disagreeable things.

"Drop it! Cut it out!" he bellowed. "Yuh ain't going t' make no
slaughter-pen out uh this joint, I tell yuh. Put up them guns or else
take 'em outside. If you fellers are hell-bent on smokin' each other up,
they's all kinds uh room outdoors. Git! Vamose! Hike!"

Conroy wheeled and walked, straight-backed and venomous, to the door.
"Come on out, if yuh ain't scared," he sneered. "It's two agin' one
and then some, by the look uh things. But I'll take yuh singly or in
bunches. I'm ready for the whole damn' Cross L bunch uh coyotes. Come
on, you white-livered--!"

Rowdy rushed for him, with Pink and the Silent One at his heels. He had
forgotten that Harry Conroy ever had a sister of any sort whatsoever.
All he knew was that Harry had done him much wrong, of the sort which
comes near to being unforgivable, and that he had sneered insults that
no man may overlook. All he thought of was to get his hands on him.

Outside, the dusky stillness made all sounds seem out of place; the
faint starlight made all objects black and unfamiliar. Rowdy stopped,
just off the threshold, blinking at the darkness which held his enemy.
It was strange that he did not find him at his elbow, he thought--and
a suspicion came to him that Harry was lying in wait; it would be like
him. He stepped out of the yellow glare from a window and stood in
more friendly shade. Behind him, on the door-step, stood the other two,
blinking as he had done.

A form which he did not recognize rushed up out of the darkness and
confronted the three belligerently. "You're a-disturbin' the peace,"
he yelled. "We don't stand for nothing like that in Camas. You're my
prisoners--all uh yuh." The edict seemed to include even the bartender,
peering over the shoulder of Bob Nevin, who struggled with several
others for immediate passage through the doorway.

"I guess not, pardner," retorted Pink, facing him as defiantly as though
the marshal were not twice his size.

The marshal lunged for him; but the Silent One, reaching a long arm from
the door-step, rapped him smartly on the head with his gun. The marshal
squawked and went down in a formless heap.

"Come on, boys," said the Silent One coolly. "I think we'd better go.
Your friend seems to have vanished in thin air."

Rowdy, grumbling mightily over what looked unpleasantly like retreat,
was pushed toward his horse and mounted under protest. Likewise Pink,
who was for staying and cleaning up the whole town. But the Silent One
was firm, and there was that in his manner which compelled obedience.

Harry Conroy might have been an optical--and aural--illusion, for all
the trace there was of him. But when the three rode out into the little
street, a bullet pinged close to Rowdy's left ear, and the red bark of a
revolver spat viciously from a black shadow beside the Come Again.

Rowdy and the two turned and rode back, shooting blindly at the place,
but the shadow yawned silently before them and gave no sign. Then the
Silent One, observing that the marshal was getting upon a pair of very
unsteady legs, again assumed the leadership, and fairly forced Rowdy and
Pink into the homeward trail.



CHAPTER 7. Rowdy in a Tough Place.

Rowdy, with nice calculation, met Miss Conroy just as she had left
the school-house, and noted with much satisfaction that she was riding
alone. Miss Conroy, if she had been at all observant, must have seen the
light of some fixed purpose shining in his eyes; for Rowdy was resolved
to make her a partner in his dreams of matters domestic. And, of a
truth, his easy assurance was the thinnest of cloaks to hide his inner
agitation.

"The round-up just got in yesterday afternoon," he told her, as he swung
into the trail beside her. "We're going to start out again to-morrow, so
this is about the only chance I'll have to see you for a while."

"I knew the round-up must be in," said Miss Conroy calmly. "I heard that
you were in Camas a night or two ago."

Inwardly, Rowdy dodged. "We camped close to Camas," he conceded
guardedly. "A lot of us fellows rode into town."

"Yes, so Harry told me," she said. "He came over to see me yesterday.
He is going to leave--has already, in fact. He has had a fine position
offered him by the Indian agent at Belknap. The agent used to be
a friend of father's." She looked at Rowdy sidelong, and then went
straight at what was in the minds of both.

"I'm sorry to hear, Mr. Vaughan, that you are on bad terms with Harry.
What was the trouble?" She turned her head and smiled at him--but the
smile did not bring his lips to answer; it was unpleasantly like the way
Harry smiled when he had some deviltry in mind.

Rowdy scented trouble and parried. "Men can't always get along agreeably
together."

"And you disagree with a man rather emphatically, I should judge. Harry
said you knocked him down." Politeness ruled her voice, but cheeks and
eyes were aflame.

"I did. And of course he told you how he took a shot at me from a dark
corner, outside." Rowdy's eyes, it would seem, had kindled from the fire
in hers.

"No, he didn't--but I--you struck him first."

"Hitting a man with your fist is one thing," said Rowdy with decision.
"Shooting at him from ambush is another."

"Harry shouldn't have done that," she admitted with dignity. "But why
wouldn't you take a drink with him? Not that I approve of drinking--I
wish Harry wouldn't do such things--but he said it was an insult the way
you refused."

"Jessie--"

"Miss Conroy, please."

"Jessie"--he repeated the name stubbornly--"I think we'd better drop
that subject. You don't understand the case; and, anyway, I didn't come
here to discuss Harry. Our trouble is long standing, and if I insulted
him you ought to know I had a reason. I never came whining to you about
him, and it don't speak well for him that he hot-footed over to you with
his version. I suppose he'd heard about me--er--going to see you, and
wanted to queer me. I hope you'll take my word for it, Jessie, that I've
never harmed him; all the trouble he's made for himself, one way and
another.

"But what I came over for to-day concerns just you and me. I wanted
to tell you that--to ask you if you'll marry me. I might put it more
artistic, Jessie, but that's what I mean, and--I mean all the things
I'd like to say and can't." He stopped and smiled at her, wistfully
whimsical. "I've been three weeks getting my feelings into proper words,
little girl, and coming over here I had a speech thought out that
sure done justice to my subject. But all I can remember of it is just
that--that I want you for always."

Miss Conroy looked away from him, but he could see a deeper tint of red
in her cheek. It seemed a long time before she said anything. Then:
"But you've forgotten about Harry. He's my brother, and he'd be--er--you
wouldn't want him related--to you."

"Harry! Well, I pass him up. I've got a pretty long account against him;
but I'll cross it off. It won't be hard to do--for you. I've thought of
all that; and a man can forgive a whole lot in the brother of the woman
he loves." He leaned toward her and added honestly: "I can't promise you
I'll ever get to like him, Jessie; but I'll keep my hands off him, and
I'll treat him civil; and when you consider all he's done, that's quite
a large-sized contract."

Miss Conroy became much interested in the ears of her horse.

"The only thing to decide is whether you like me enough. If you do,
we'll sure be happy. Never mind Harry."

"You're very generous," she flared, "telling me to never mind Harry.
And Harry's my own brother, and the only near relative I've got. I know
he's--impulsive, and quick-tempered, perhaps. But he needs me all the
more. Do you think I'll turn against him, even for you?"

That "even" may have been a slip, but it heartened Rowdy immensely.
"I don't ask you to," he told her gently. "I only want you to not turn
against me."

"I do wish you two would be sensible, and stop quarreling." She glanced
at him briefly.

"I'm willing to cut it out--I told you that. I can't answer for him,
though." Rowdy sighed, wishing Harry Conroy in Australia, or some place
equally remote.

Miss Conroy suddenly resolved to be strictly just; and when a young
woman sets about being deliberately just, the Lord pity him whom she
judges!

"Before I answer you, I must know just what all this is about," she said
firmly. "I want to hear both sides; I'm sure Harry wouldn't do anything
mean. Do you think he would?"

Rowdy was dissentingly silent.

"Do you really, in your heart, believe that Harry would--knowingly--be
guilty of anything mean?" Her eyes plainly told the answer she wanted to
hear.

Rowdy looked into them, hesitated, and clung tenaciously to his
convictions. "Yes, I do; and I know Harry pretty well, Jessie." His face
showed how much he hated to say it.

"I'm afraid you are very prejudiced," she sighed. "But go on; tell me
just what you have against Harry. I'm sure it can all be explained away,
only I must hear what it is."

Rowdy regarded her, puzzled. How he was to comply he did not know. It
would be simply brutal to tell her. He would feel like a hangman. And
she believed so in Harry, she wouldn't listen; even if she did, he
thought bitterly, she would hate him for destroying her faith. A woman's
justice--ah, me!

"Don't you see you're putting me in a mighty hard position, girlie?" he
protested. "You're a heap better off not to know. He's your brother. I
wish you'd take my word that I'll drop the whole thing right where it
is. Harry's had all the best of it, so far; let it stand that way."

Her eyes met his coldly. "Are you afraid to let me judge between you?
What did he do? Daren't you tell?"

Rowdy's lids drooped ominously. "If you call that a dare," he said
grimly, "I'll tell you, fast enough. I was a friend to him when he
needed one mighty bad. I helped him when he was dead broke and out uh
work. I kept him going all winter--and to show his gratitude, he gave
me the doublecross, in more ways than one. I won't go into details." He
decided that he simply could not tell her bluntly that Harry had worked
off stolen horses on him, and worse.

"Oh--you won't go into details!" Scorn filled eyes and voice. "Are
they so trivial, then? You tell me what you did for Harry--playing Good
Samaritan. Harry, let me tell you, has property of his own; I can't see
why he should ever be in need of charity. You're like all the rest; you
hint things against him--but I believe it's just jealousy. You can't
come out honestly and tell me a single instance where he has harmed you,
or done anything worse than other high-spirited young men."

"It wouldn't do any good to tell you," he retorted. "You think he's just
lacking wings to be an angel. I hope to God you'll always be able to
think so! I'm sure I don't want to jar your faith."

"I must say your actions don't bear out your words. You've just been
trying to turn me against him."

"I haven't. I've been trying to convince you that I want you, anyway,
and Harry needn't come between us."

"In other words, you're willing to overlook my being Harry's sister. I
appreciate your generosity, I'm sure." She did not look, however, as if
she meant that.

"I didn't mean that."

"Then you won't overlook it? How very unfortunate! Because I can't help
the relationship."

"Would you, if you could?" he asked rashly.

"Certainly not!"

"I'm afraid we're getting off the trail," he amended tactfully. "I asked
you, a while back, if you'd marry me."

"And I said I must hear both sides of your trouble with Harry, before I
could answer."

"What's the use? You'd take his part, anyway."

"Not if I found he was guilty of all you--insinuate. I should be
perfectly just." She really believed that.

"Can't you tell me yes or no, anyway? Don't let him come between us."

"I can't help it. We'd never agree, or be happy. He'd keep on coming
between us, whether we meant him to or not," she said dispiritedly.

"That's a cinch," Rowdy muttered, thinking of Harry's trouble-breeding
talents.

"Then there's no more to be said. Until you and Harry settle your
difficulties amicably, or I am convinced that he's in the wrong, we'll
just be friends, Mr. Vaughan. Good afternoon." She rode into the Rodway
yard, feeling very just and virtuous, no doubt. But she left Rowdy
with some rather unpleasant thoughts, and with a sentiment toward her
precious brother which was not far from manslaughter.



CHAPTER 8. Pink in a Threatening Mood.

Eagle Creek Smith had at last reached the point where he must face new
conditions and change established customs. He could no longer ignore
the barrenness of the range, or close his eyes to the grim fact that
his cattle were facing starvation--and that in June, when they should be
taking on flesh.

When he finally did confess to himself that things couldn't go on like
that, others had been before him in leasing and buying land, until only
the dry benches were left to him and his hungry herds.

But Eagle Creek was a man of resource. When the round-up pulled in and
Wooden Shoes reported to him the general state of the cattle, and told
of the water-holes newly fenced and of creek bottoms gobbled by men more
farseeing than he, Eagle Creek took twenty-four hours to adjust himself
to the situation and to meet the crisis before him. His own land, as
compared to his twenty thousand cattle, was too pitifully inadequate for
a second thought.

He must look elsewhere for the correct answer to his problem.

When Rowdy rode apathetically up to the stable, Pink came out of the
bunk-house to meet him, big with news. "Oh, doctor! We're up against it
a-plenty now," he greeted, with his dimples at their deepest.

"Huh!" grunted Rowdy crossly. "What's hurting you, Pink?"

"Forecasting the future," Pink retorted. "Eagle Creek has come alive,
and has wised up sudden to the fact that this ain't going t' be any
Noah's flood brand uh summer, and that his cattle look like the tailings
of a wash-board factory. He's got busy--and we're sure going to. We're
due t' hit the grit out uh here in the first beams uh rosy morn, and do
a record stunt at gathering cattle."

"Well, we were going to, anyhow," Rowdy cut in.

"But that's only the prelude, old-timer. We've got t' take 'em across
country to the Belknap reservation. Eagle Creek went t' town and
telegraphed, and got the refusal of it for pasturage; he ain't so
slow, oncet he gets started. But if you've ever rode over them dried-up
benches, you savvy the merry party we'll be when we git there. I've saw
jack-rabbits packing their lunch along over there."

"Belknap"--Rowdy dropped his saddle spitefully to the ground--"is where
our friend Conroy has just gone to fill a splendid position."

Pink thoughtfully blew the ashes from his cigarette. "Harry Conroy would
fill one position fine. So one uh these days I'll offer it to him. I
don't know anybody that'd look nicer in a coffin than that jasper--and
if he's gone t' Belknap, that's likely the position he'll fill, all
right."

Rowdy said nothing, but his very silence told Pink much.

"How'd yuh make out with Jessie?" Pink asked frankly, though he was not
supposed to know where Rowdy had been.

Rowdy knew from experience that it was useless trying to keep anything
from Pink that Pink wanted to know; besides, there was a certain comfort
in telling his troubles to so stanch a friend. "Harry got his work in
there, too," he said bitterly. "He beat me to her and queered me for
good, by the looks."

"Huh!" said Pink. "I wouldn't waste much time worrying over her, if
she's that easy turned."

"She's all right," defended Rowdy quickly. "I don't know as I blame her;
she takes the stand any sister would take. She wants to know all about
the trouble--hear both sides, she said, so she could judge which was to
blame. I guess she's got her heart set on being peacemaker. I know one
thing: she--likes me, all right."

"I don't see how he queered yuh any, then," puzzled Pink. "She sure
couldn't take his part after you'd told her all he done."

Rowdy turned on him savagely. "You little fool, do you think I told her?
Right there's the trouble. He told his story; and when she asked for
mine, I couldn't say anything. She's his sister."

"You--didn't--tell!" Pink leaned against the stable and stared. "Rowdy
Vaughan, there's times when even your friend can't disguise the fact
that yuh act plumb batty. Yuh let Harry do yuh dirt that any other man'd
'a' killed him on bare suspicion uh doing; and yuh never told her when
she asked yuh to! How yuh lent him money, and let him steal some right
out uh your pocket--"

"I couldn't prove that," Rowdy objected.

"And yuh never told her about his cutting your latigo--"

"Oh, cut it out!" Rowdy glowered down at him. "I guess I don't need to
be reminded of all those things. But are they the things a man can tell
a girl about her brother? Pink, you're about as unfeeling a little devil
as I ever run across. Maybe you'd have told her; but I couldn't. So it's
all off."

He turned away and stared unseeingly at the rim of hills that hid the
place where she lived. She seemed very far away from him just then--and
very, very desirable. He thought then that he had never before realized
just how much he cared.

"You can jest bet I'd 'a' told her!" gritted Pink, watching furtively
Rowdy's averted face. "She ain't goin' t' be bowed down by no load of
ignorance much longer, either. If she don't get Harry Conroy's pedigree
straight out, without the varnish, it'll be because I ain't next to all
his past."

But Rowdy, glooming among the debris of certain pet air-castles, neither
heard nor wanted to hear Pink's wrathful mutterings. As a matter of
fact, it was not till Pink clattered out of the yard on Mascot that he
remembered where he was. Even then it did not occur to him to wonder
where Pink was going.



CHAPTER 9. Moving the Herd.

Four thousand weary cattle crawled up the long ridge which divides Chin
Coulee from Quitter Creek. Pink, riding point, opposite the Silent One,
twisted round in his saddle and looked back at the slow-moving river of
horns and backs veiled in a gray dust-cloud. Down the line at intervals
rode the others, humped listlessly in their saddles, their hat brims
pulled low over tired eyes that smarted with dust and wind and burning
heat.

Pink sighed, and wished lonesomely that it was Rowdy riding point with
him, instead of the Silent One, who grew even more silent as the day
dragged leadenly to mid-afternoon; Pink could endure anything better
than being left to his thoughts and to the complaining herd for company.

He took off his hat, pushed back his curls--dripping wet they were and
flattened unbecomingly in pasty, yellow rings on his forehead--and eyed
with disfavor a line-backed, dry cow, with one horn tipped rakishly
toward her speckled nose; she blinked silently at wind and heat, and
forged steadily ahead, up-hill and down coulee, always in the lead,
always walking, walking, like an automaton. Her energy, in the face of
all the dry, dreary days, rasped Pink's nerves unbearably. For nearly a
week he had ridden left point, and always that line-backed cow with the
down-crumpled horn walked and walked and walked, a length ahead of her
most intrepid followers.

He leaned from his saddle, picked up a rock from the barren, yellow
hillside, and threw it at the cow spitefully. The rock bounced off her
lean rump; she blinked and broke into a shuffling trot, her dragging
hoofs kicking up an extra amount of dust, which blew straight into
Pink's face.

"Aw, cut it out!" he shouted petulantly. "You're sure the limit, without
doing any stunts at sprinting up-hill. Ain't yuh got any nerves, yuh
blamed old skate? Yuh act like it was milkin'-time, and yuh was headed
straight for the bars and a bran mash. Can't yuh realize the kind uh
deal you're up against? Here's cattle that's got you skinned for looks,
old girl, and they know it's coming blamed tough; and you just bat your
eyes and peg along like yuh enjoyed it. Bawl, or something, can't yuh?
Drop back a foot and act human!"

The Silent One looked across at him with a tired smile. "Let her go,
Pink, and pray for more like her," he called amusedly. "There'll be
enough of them dropping back presently."

Pink threw one leg over the horn and rode sidewise, made him a
cigarette, and tried to forget the cow--or, at least, to forgive her for
not acting as dog-tired as he felt.

They were on the very peak of the ridge now, and the hill sloped
smoothly down before them to the bluff which bounded Quitter Creek. Far
down, a tiny black speck in the coulee-bottom, they could see Wooden
Shoes riding along the creek-bank, scouting for water. From the way he
rode, and from the fact that camp was nowhere in sight, Pink guessed
shrewdly that his quest was in vain. He shrugged his shoulders at what
that meant, and gave his attention to the herd.

The marching line split at the brow of the bluff. The line-backed
cow lowered her head a bit and went unfaltering down the parched,
gravel-coated hill, followed by a few hundred of the freshest. Then the
stream stopped flowing, and Pink and the Silent One rode back up the
bluff to where the bulk of the footsore herd, their senses dulled by
hunger and weariness and choking thirst, sniffed at the gravel that
promised agony to their bruised feet, and balked at the ordeal. Others
straggled up, bunched against the rebels, and stood stolidly where they
were.

Pink galloped on down the crawling line. "Forward, the Standard Oil
Brigade!" he yelled whimsically as he went.

The cowboys heard--and understood. They left their places and went
forward at a lope, and Pink rode back to the coulee edge, untying
his slicker as he went. The Silent One was already off his horse and
shouting hoarsely as he whacked with his slicker at the sulky mass.
Pink rode in and did the same. It was not the first time this thing had
happened, and from a diversion it was verging closely on the monotonous.
Presently, even a rank tenderfoot must have caught the significance of
Pink's military expression. The Standard Oil Brigade was at the front in
force.

Cowboys, swinging five-gallon oil-cans, picked up from scattered sheep
camps and carried many a weary mile for just such an emergency, were
charging the bunch intrepidly. Others made shift with flat sirup-cans
with pebbles inside. A few, like Pink and the Silent One, flapped their
slickers till their arms ached. Anything, everything that would make
a din and startle the cattle out of their lethargy, was pressed into
service.

But they might have been raised in a barnyard and fed cabbage leaves
from back door-steps, for all the excitement they showed. Cattle that
three months ago--or a month--would run, head and tail high in air, at
sight of a man on foot, backed away from a rattling, banging cube of
gleaming tin, turned and faced the thing dull-eyed and apathetic.

In time, however, they gave way dogedly before the onslaught. A few were
forced shrinkingly down the hill; others followed gingerly, until the
line lengthened and flowed, a sluggish, brown-red stream, into the
coulee and across to Quitter Creek.

Here the leaders were browsing greedily along the banks. They had
emptied the few holes that had still held a meager store of brackish
water and so the mutinous bulk of the herd snuffed at the trampled,
muddy spots and bellowed their disappointment.

Wooden Shoes rode up and surveyed the half maddened animals gloomily.
"Push 'em on, boys," he said. "They's nothings for 'em here. I've sent
the wagons on to Red Willow; we'll try that next. Push 'em along all yuh
can, while I go on ahead and see."

With tin-cans, slickers, and much vituperation, they forced the herd up
the coulee side and strung them out again on trail. The line-backed
cow walked and walked in the lead before Pink's querulous gaze, and the
others plodded listlessly after. The gray dust-cloud formed anew over
their slowmoving backs, and the cowboys humped over in their saddles
and rode and rode, with the hot sun beating aslant in their dirt-grimed
faces, and with the wind blowing and blowing.

If this had been the first herd to make that dreary trip, things would
not have been quite so disheartening. But it was the third. Seven
thousand lean kine had passed that way before them, eating the scant
grass growth and drinking what water they could find among those barren,
sun-baked coulees.

The Cross L boys, on this third trip, were become a jaded lot of
hollow-eyed men, whose nerves were rasped raw with long hours and longer
days in the saddle. Pink's cheeks no longer made his name appropriate,
and he was not the only one who grew fretful over small things. Rowdy
had been heard, more than once lately, to anathematize viciously the
prairie-dogs for standing on their tails and chipchip-chipping at them
as they went by. And though the Silent One did not swear, he carried
rocks in his pockets, and threw them with venomous precision at every
"dog" that showed his impertinent nose out of a burrow within range. For
Pink, he vented his spleen on the line-backed cow.

So they walked and walked and walked.

The cattle balked at another hill, and all the tincans and slickers in
the crowd could scarcely move them. The wind dropped with the sun, and
the clouds glowed gorgeously above them, getting scant notice, except
that they told eloquently of the coming night; and there were yet
miles--long, rough, heartbreaking miles--to put behind them before
they could hope for the things their tired bodies craved: supper and
dreamless sleep.

When the last of the herd had sidled, under protest, down the long hill
to the flat, dusk was pushing the horizon closer upon them, mile by
mile. When they crawled sinuously out upon the welcome level, the hill
loomed ghostly and black behind them. A mile out, Wooden Shoes rode out
of the gloom and met the point. He turned and rode beside Pink.

"Yuh'll have t' swing 'em north," he greeted.

"Red Willow's dry as hell--all but in the Rockin' R field. No use askin'
ole Mullen to let us in there; we'll just go. I sent the wagons through
the fence, an' yuh'll find camp about a mile up from the mouth uh the
big coulee. You swing 'em round the end uh this bench, an' hit that big
coulee at the head. When you come t' the fence, tear it down. They's
awful good grass in that field!"

"All right," said Pink cheerfully. It was in open defiance of range
etiquette; but their need was desperate. The only thing about it Pink
did not like was the long detour they must make. He called the news
across to the Silent One, after Wooden Shoes had gone on down the line,
and they swung the point gradually to the left.

Before that drive was over, Pink had vowed many times to leave the range
forever and never to turn another cow--besides a good many other foolish
things which would be forgotten, once he had a good sleep. And Rowdy,
plodding half-way down the herd, had grown exceedingly pessimistic
regarding Jessie Conroy, and decided that there was no sense in thinking
about her all the time, the way he had been doing. Also, he told himself
savagely that if Harry ever crossed his trail again, there would be
something doing. This thing of letting a cur like that run roughshod
over a man on account of a girl that didn't care was plumb idiotic. And
beside him the cattle walked and walked and walked, a dim, moving mass
in the quiet July night.



CHAPTER 10. Harry Conroy at Home.

It was late next morning when they got under way; for they had not
reached camp until long after midnight, and Wooden Shoes was determined
the cattle should have one good feed, and all the water they wanted, to
requite them for the hard drive of the day before.

Pink rode out with Rowdy to the herd--a heavylidded, gloomy Rowdy he
was, and not amiably inclined toward the small talk of the range. But
Pink had slept five whole hours and was almost his normal self; which
means that speech was not to be denied him.

"What yuh mourning over?" he bantered. "Mad 'cause the reservation's so
close?"

"Sure," assented Rowdy, with deep sarcasm.

"That's what I thought. Studying up the nicest way uh giving
brother-in-law the glad hand, ain't yuh?"

"He's no relation uh mine--and never will be," said Rowdy curtly. "And
I'll thank you, Pink, to drop that subject for good and all."

"Down she goes," assented Pink, quite unperturbed. "But the cards ain't
all turned yet, yuh want to remember, I wouldn't pass on no hand like
you've got. If I wanted a girl right bad, Rowdy, I'd wait till I got
refused before I'd quit."

"Seems to me you've changed your politics lately," Rowdy retorted. "A
while back you was cussing the whole business; and now you're worse than
an old maid aunt. Pink, you may not be wise to the fact, but you sure
are an inconsistent little devil."

"Are yuh going t' hunt Harry up and--"

"I thought I told you to drop that."

"Did yuh? All right, then--only I hope yuh didn't leave your gun packed
away in your bed," he insinuated.

"You can take a look to-night, if you want to."

Pink laughed in a particularly infectious way he had, and, before he
quite knew it, Rowdy was laughing, also. After that the world did not
look quite so forlorn as it had, nor the day's work so distasteful. So
Pink, having accomplished his purpose, was content to turn the subject.

"There's old Liney"--he pointed her out to Rowdy--"fresh as a
meadow-lark. I had a big grouch against her yesterday, just because she
batted her eyes and kept putting one foot ahead uh the other. I could
'a' killed her. But she's all right, that old girl. The way she led out
down that black coulee last night wasn't slow! Say, she's an ambitious
old party. I wish you was riding point with me, Rowdy. The Silent One
talks just about as much as that old cow. He sure loves to live up to
his rep."

"Oh, go on to work," Rowdy admonished. "You make me think of a magpie."
All the same, he looked after him with smiling lips, and eyes that
forgot their gloom. He even whistled while he helped round up the
scattered herd, ready for that last day's drive.

Every man in the outfit comforted himself with the thought that it
was the last day's drive. After long weeks of trailing lean herds over
barren, windbrushed hills, the last day meant much to them. Even the
Silent One sang something they had never heard before, about "If Only I
Knew You Were True."

They crossed the Rocking R field, took down four panels of fence, passed
out, and carefully put them up again behind them. Before them stretched
level plain for two miles; beyond that a high, rocky ridge that promised
some trouble with the herd, and after that more plain and a couleee or
two, and then, on a far slope--the reservation.

The cattle were rested and fed, and walked out briskly; the ridge neared
perceptibly. Pink's shrill whistle carried far back down the line and
mingled pleasantly with voices calling to one another across the herd.
Not a man was humped listlessly in his saddle; instead, they rode with
shoulders back and hats at divers jaunty angles to keep the sun from
shining in eyes that faced the future cheerfully.

The herd steadily climbed the ridge, choosing the smoothest path and the
easiest slope. Pink assured the line-backed cow that she was a peach,
and told her to "go to it, old girl." The Silent One's pockets were
quite empty of rocks, and the prairiedogs chipped and flirted their
funny little tails unassailed. And Rowdy, from wondering what had made
Pink change his attitude so abruptly, began to plan industriously the
next meeting with Jessie Conroy, and to build a new castle that was
higher and airier than any he had ever before attempted--and perhaps
had a more flimsy foundation; for it rested precariously on Pink's idle
remarks.

The point gained the top of the ridge, and Pink turned and swung his hat
jubilantly at the others. The reservation was in sight, though it lay
several miles distant. But in that clear air one could distinguish the
line fence--if one had the eye of faith and knew just where to look.
Presently he observed a familiar horseman climbing the ridge to meet
them.

"Eagle Creek's coming," he shouted to the man behind. "Come alive,
there, and don't let 'em roam all over the map. Git some style on yuh!"

Those who heard laughed; no one ever dreamed of being offended at what
Pink said. Those who had not heard had the news passed on to them,
in various forms. Wooden Shoes, who had been loitering in the rear
gossiping with the men, rode on to meet Smith.

Eagle Creek urged his horse up the last steep place, right in the face
of the leaders, which halted and tried to turn back. Pink, swearing in a
whisper, began to force them forward.

"Let 'em alone," Eagle Creek bellowed harshly. "They ain't goin' no
farther."

"W-what?" Pink stopped short and eyed him critically. Eagle Creek could
not justly be called a teetotaler; but Pink had never known him to
get worse than a bit wobbly in his legs; his mind had never fogged
perceptibly. Still, something was wrong with him, that was certain.
Pink glanced dubiously across at the Silent One and saw him shrug his
shoulders expressively.

Eagle Creek rode up and stopped within ten feet of the line-backed cow;
she seemed hurt at being held up in this manner, Pink thought.

"Yuh'll have t' turn this herd back," Eagle Creek announced bluntly.

"Where to?" Pink asked, too stunned to take in the meaning of it.

"T' hell, I guess. It's the only place I know of where everybody's
welcome." Eagle Creek's tone was not pleasant.

"We just came from there," Pink said simply, thinking of the horrors of
that drive.

"Where's Wooden Shoes?" snapped the old man; and the foreman's hat-crown
appeared at that instant over the ridge.

"Well, we're up against it," Eagle Creek greeted. "That damn' agent--or
the fellow he had workin' for him--reported his renting us pasture. Made
the report read about twice as many as we're puttin' on. He's got orders
now t' turn out every hoof but what b'longs there."

"My Lord!" Wooden Shoes gasped at the catastrophe which faced the Cross
L.

"That's Harry Conroy's work," Pink cut in sharply' "He'd hurt the Cross
L if he could, t' spite me and Rowdy. He--"

"Don't matter--seein' it's done. Yuh might as well turn the herd loose
right here, an' let 'em go t' the devil. I don't know what else t' do
with 'em."

"Anything gone wrong?" It was Rowdy, who had left his place and ridden
forward to see what was holding the herd back.

"Naw. We're fired off the reservation, is all. We got orders to take the
herd to hell. Eagle Creek's leased it. Mr. Satan is going to keep house
here in Montana; he says it's better for his trade," Pink informed him,
in his girlish treble.

Eagle Creek turned on him fiercely, then thought better of it and
grinned. "Them arrangements wouldn't make us any worse off'n what we
are," he commented. "Turn 'em loose, boys."

"Man, if yuh turn 'em loose here, the first storm that hits 'em, they
all die," Wooden Shoes interposed excitedly. "They ain't nothings for
'em. We had t' turn 'em into the Rockin' R field last night, t'
git water an' feed. Red Willow's gone dry outside dat field. They
ain't--nothings. They'll die!"

Eagle Creek looked at him dully. For the first time in his life he faced
utter ruin. "Damn 'em, let 'em die, then!" he said.

"That's what they'll sure do," Wooden Shoes reiterated stubbornly. "If
they don't git feed and water now, yuh needn't start no round-up next
spring."

Pink's eyes went down over the close-huddled backs and the thicket
of polished horns, and his eyelids stung. Would all of them die, he
wondered! Four thousand! He hoped not. There must be some way out. Down
the hill, he knew the cowboys were making cigarettes while they waited
and wondered mightily what it was all about If they only knew, he
thought, there would be more than one rope ready for Harry Conroy.

"How about the Peck reservation? Couldn't you get them on there?" Rowdy
ventured.

"Not a hoof!" growled Eagle Creek, with his chin sunk against his chest.
"There's thirty thousand Valley County cattle on there now." He looked
down at the cattle, as Pink had done. "God! It's bad enough t' go
broke," he groaned; "but t' think uh them poor brutes dyin' off in
bunches, for want uh grass an' water! I've run that brand fer over
thirty year."



CHAPTER 11. Rowdy Promoted.

Rowdy rode closer. "If you don't mind paying duty," he began
tentatively, "I can put you next to a range over the line, where I'll
guarantee feed and water the year round for every hoof you own."

Eagle Creek lifted his head and looked at him "Whereabouts?" he demanded
skeptically.

"Up in the Red Deer country. Pink knows the place. There's range
a-plenty, and creeks running through that never go dry; and the country
isn't stocked and fenced to death, like this is."

"And would we be ordered off soon as we got there?"

"Sure not--if you paid duty, which would only be about double what you
were going to pay for one year's pasture."

Eagle Creek breathed deeply, like a man who has narrowly escaped
suffocation. "Young man, I b'lieve you're a square dealer, and that yuh
savvy the cow business. I've thought it ever since yuh started t' work."
His keen old eyes twinkled at the memory of Rowdy's arrival, and Rowdy
grinned. "I take yuh at your word, and yuh can consider yourself in
charge uh this herd as it stands. Take it t' that cow heaven yuh tell
about--and damn it, yuh won't be none the worse for it!"

"We'll pass that up," said Rowdy quietly. "I'll take the herd through,
though; and I'd advise you to get the rest on the road as soon as they
can be gathered. It's a three-hundred-mile drive."

"All right. From now on it's up to you," Eagle Creek told him briskly.
"Take 'em back t' the Rockin' R field, and I'll send the wagons back
t' you. Old Mullen'll likely make a roar--but that's most all gove'ment
land he's got fenced, so I guess I can calm him down. Will yuh go near
the ranch?"

"I think so," said Rowdy. "It will be the shortest way."

"Well, I'll give yuh some blank checks, an' you can load up with grub
and anything else yuh need. I'll be over there by the time you are, and
fix up that duty business. Wooden Shoes'll have t' get another outfit
together, and get another bunch on the trail. One good thing--I got
thirty days t' get off what cattle is on there; and thirty days uh grass
and water'll put 'em in good shape for the trip. Wish this bunch was as
well fixed."

"That's what," Rowdy assented. "But I think they'll make it, all right."

"I'll likely want yuh to stay up there and keep cases on 'em. Any
objections?"

"Sure not!" laughed Rowdy. "Only I'll want Pink and the Silent One to
stay with me."

"Keep what men yuh want. Anything else?"

"I don't think of anything," said Rowdy. "Only I'd like to have
a--talk--with Conroy." Creek eyed him sharply. "Yuh won't be apt t'
meet him. Old Bill Brown, up home, would like to see him, too. Bill's
a perseverin' old cuss, and wants to see Conroy so bad he's got the
sheriff out lookin' for him. It's about a bunch uh horses that was run
off, three years ago. Yuh brought one of 'em back into the country last
spring, yuh mind."

Rowdy and Pink looked at one another, but said nothing.

"Old Bill, he follered your back trail and found out some things he
wanted t' know. Conroy got wind of it, though, and he left the agency
kind-a suddint. No use yuh lookin' for him."

"Then we're ready to hit the grit, I guess." Rowdy glanced again at Pink
who nodded.

"Well, I ain't stoppin' yuh," Eagle Creek drawled laconically. "S'-long,
and good luck t' yuh."

He waited while Pink and the Silent One swung the point back down the
hill, with Rowdy helping them, quite unmoved by his sudden promotion.
When the herd was fairly started on the backward march, Eagle Creek
nodded satisfaction the while he pried off a corner of plug-tobacco.

"He's all right," he asserted emphatically. "That boy suits me, from
the ground up. If he don't put that deal through in good shape, it'll be
becaus' it can't be did."

Wooden Shoes, with whom Rowdy had always been a prime favorite, agreed
with Dutch heartiness. Then, leaving the herd to its new guardian they
rode swiftly to overtake and turn back the wagons.

"Three hundred miles! And part of it across howling desert!" Rowdy drew
his brows together. "It's a big thing for me, all right, Pink; but it's
sure a big contract to take this herd through, if anybody should happen
to ask yuh."

"Oh, buck up! You'll make good, all right--if only these creeks wasn't
so bone dry!"

"Well, there's water enough in the Rocking R field for to-day; we'll
throw 'em in there till tomorrow. And I've a notion I can find a better
trail across to North Fork than the way we came. I'm going to strike
out this afternoon and see, anyway, if Quitter Creek hasn't got water
farther up. Once we get up north uh the home ranch, I can see my way
clear."

"Go to it, boss," Pink cried heartily. "I don't see how I'm goin t'
keep from sassing yuh, once in a while, though. That's what bothers me.
What'll happen if I turn loose on yuh, some time?"

"You'll get fired, I expect," laughed Rowdy, and rode off to announce
the news to the rest of the outfit, who were very unhappy in their
mystification.

If their reception of the change of plans and foreman was a bit profane,
and their manner toward him a bit familiar, Rowdy didn't mind. He knew
that they did not grudge him his good luck, even while they hated
the long drive. He also knew that they watched him furtively; for
nothing--not even misfortune--is as sure a test of a man's character
as success. They liked Rowdy, and they did not believe this would spoil
him; still, every man of them was secretly a bit anxious.

On the trail, he rode in his accustomed place, and, so far as
appearances went, the party had no foreman. He went forward and helped
Pink take down the fence that had been so carefully put up a few hours
before, and he whistled while he put it in place again, just as if
he had no responsibility in the world. Then the cattle were left to
themselves, and the men rode down to their old campground, marked by
empty tin-cans and a trodden place where had been the horse corral.

Rowdy swung down and faced the men gravely. Instinctively they stood at
attention, waiting for what he had to say; they felt that the situation
was so far out of the ordinary that a few remarks pertaining to their
new relations would not be out of place.

He looked them over appraisingly, and met glances as grave as his own.
Straight, capable fellows they were, every man of them.

"Boys," he began impressively, "you all know that from to-day on you're
working under my orders. I never was boss of anything but the cayuse I
happened to have under me, and I'm going to extract all the honey there
is in the situation. Maybe I'll never be boss again--but at present I'm
it. I want you fellows to remember that important fact, and treat me
with proper respect. From now on you can call me Mr. Vaughan; 'Rowdy'
doesn't go, except on a legal holiday.

"Furthermore, I'm not going to get out at daylight and catch up my own
horse; I'll let yuh take turns being flunky, and I'll expect yuh
to saddle my horse every morning and noon, and bring him to the
cook-tent--and hold my stirrup for me. Also, you are expected, at
all times and places, to anticipate my wants and fall over yourselves
waiting on me. You're just common, ordinary, forty-dollar cow-punchers,
and if I treat yuh white, it's because I pity yuh for not being up where
I am. Remember, vassals, that I'm your superior, mentally, morally,
socially--"

"Chap him!" yelled Pink, and made for him "I'll stand for a lot, but
don't yuh ever think I'm a vassal!"

"Mutiny is strictly prohibited!" he thundered. "Villains, beware!
Gadzooks--er--let's have a swim before the wagons come!"

They laughed and made for the creek, feeling rather crestfallen and a
bit puzzled.

"If I had an outfit like this to run, and a three hundred-mile drive to
make," Bob Nevin remarked to the Silent One, "blessed if I'd make a josh
of it! I'd cultivate the corrugated brow and the stiff spine--me!"

"My friend," the Silent One responded, "don't be too hasty in your
judgment. It's because the corrugated brow will come later that he
laughs now. You'll presently find yourself accomplishing the impossible
in obedience to the flicker of Rowdy Vaughan's eyelids. Man, did you
never observe the set of his head, and the look of his eye? Rowdy
Vaughan will get more out of this crowd than any man ever did; and if he
fails, he'll fail with the band playing 'Hot Time.'"

"Maybe so," Bob admitted, not quite convinced; "but I wonder if he
realizes what he's up against." At which the Silent One only smiled
queerly as he splashed into the water.

After dinner Rowdy caught up the blue roan, which was his favorite for
a hard ride--he seemed to have forgotten his speech concerning
"flunkies"--and rode away up the coulee which had brought them into the
field the night before. The boys watched him go, speculated a lot, and
went to sleep as the best way of putting in the afternoon.

Pink, who knew quite well what was in Rowdy's mind, said nothing at all;
it is possible that he was several degrees more jealous of the dignity
of Rowdy's position than was Rowdy himself, who had no time to think of
anything but the best way of getting the herd to Canada. He would like
to have gone along, only that Rowdy did not ask him to. Pink assured
himself that it was best for Rowdy not to start playing any favorites,
and curled down in the bed-tent with the others and went to sleep.

It was late that night when Rowdy crept silently into his corner of
the tent; but Pink was awake, and whispered to know if he found water.
Rowdy's "Yes" was a mere breath, but it was enough.

At sunrise the herd trailed up the Rocking R coulee, and Pink and the
Silent One pointed them north of the old trail.



CHAPTER 12. "You Can Tell Jessie."

In the days that followed Rowdy was much alone. There was water to
hunt, far ahead of the herd, together with the most practicable way of
reaching it. He did not take the shortest way across that arid country
and leave the next day's camping-place to chance--as Wooden Shoes had
done. He felt that there was too much at stake, and the cattle were too
thin for any more dry drives; long drives there were, but such was his
generalship that there was always water at the end.

He rode miles and miles that he might have shirked, and he never slept
until the next day's move, at least, was clearly defined in his mind and
he felt sure that he could do no better by going another route.

These lonely rides gave him over to the clutch of thoughts he had never
before harbored in his sunny nature. Grim, ugly thoughts they were, and
not nice to remember afterward. They swung persistently around a central
subject, as the earth revolves around the sun; and, like the earth, they
turned and turned on the axis of his love for a woman.

In particularly ugly moods he thought that if Harry Conroy were caught
and convicted of horsestealing, Jessie must perforce admit his guilt and
general unworthiness--Rowdy called it general cussedness--and Rowdy be
vindicated in her eyes. Then she would marry him, and go with him to
the Red Deer country and--air-castles for miles! When he awoke to the
argument again, he would tell himself savagely that if he could, by any
means, bring about Conroy's speedy conviction, he would do so.

This was unlike Rowdy, whose generous charity toward his enemies came
near being a fault. He might feel any amount of resentment for wrong
done, but cold-blooded revenge was not in him; that he had suffered
so much at Conroy's hands was due largely to the fact that Conroy was
astute enough to read Rowdy aright, and unscrupulous enough to take
advantage. Add to that a smallminded jealousy of Rowdy's popularity and
horsemanship, one can easily imagine him doing some rather nasty things.
Perhaps the meanest, and the one which rankled most in Rowdy's memory,
was the cutting of Rowdy's latigo just before a riding contest, in which
the purse and the glory of a championship-belt seemed in danger of going
to Rowdy.

Rowdy had got a fall that crippled him for weeks, and Harry had won the
purse and belt--and the enmity of several men better than he. For though
morally sure of his guilt, no one could prove that he had cut the strap,
and so he got off unpunished, except that Pink thrashed him--a bit
unscientifically, it is true, since he resorted to throwing rocks toward
the last, but with a thoroughness worthy even of Pink.

But in moods less ugly he shrank from the hurt that must be Jessie's
if she should discover the truth. Jessie's brother a convicted thief
serving his sentence in Deer Lodge! The thought was horrible; it was
brutal cruelty. If he could only know where to look for that lad, he'd
help him out of the country. It was no good shutting him up in jail;
that wouldn't help him any, or make him better. He hoped he would get
off--go somewhere, where they couldn't find him, and stay there.

He wondered where he was, and if he had money enough to see him through.
He might be no good--he sure wasn't!--but he was Jessie's brother, and
Jessie believed in him and thought a lot of him. It would be hard lines
for that little girl if Harry were caught. Bill Brown, the meddlesome
old freak!--he didn't blame Jessie for not wanting to stop there that
night. She did just the right thing.

With all this going round and round, monotonously persistent in his
brain, and with the care of four thousand lean kine and more than a
hundred saddle-horses--to say nothing of a dozen overworked, fretful
cow-punchers--Rowdy acquired the "corrugated brow" fast enough without
any cultivation.

The men were as the Silent One had predicted. They made drives that
lasted far into the night, stood guard, and got along with so little
sleep that it was scarce worth mention, and did many things that shaved
close the impossible--just because Rowdy looked at them straightly, with
half-closed lids, and asked them if they thought they could.

Pink began to speak of their new foreman as "Moses"; and when the
curious asked him why, told them soberly that Rowdy could "hit a rock
with his quirt and start a creek running bank full." When Rowdy heard
that, he thought of the miles of weary searching, and wished that it
were true.

They had left the home ranch a day's drive behind them, and were going
north. Rowdy had denied himself the luxury of riding over to see Jessie,
and he was repenting the sacrifice in deep gloom and sincerity, when two
men rode into camp and dismounted, as if they had a right. The taller
one--with brawn and brain a-plenty, by the look of him--announced that
he was the sheriff, and would like to stop overnight.

Rowdy gave him welcome half-heartedly, and questioned him craftily.
A sheriff is not a detective, and does not mind giving harmless
information; so Rowdy learned that they had traced Conroy thus far, and
believed that he was ahead of them and making for Canada. He had dodged
them cleverly two or three times, but now they had reason to believe
that he was not more than half a day's ride before them. They wanted to
know if the outfit had seen any one that day, or sign of any one having
passed that way.

Rowdy shook his head.

"I bet it was Harry Conroy driving that little bunch uh horses up the
creek, just as we come over the ridge," spoke Pink eagerly.

Rowdy could have choked him. "He wouldn't be driving a lot of horses,"
he interposed quickly.

"Well, he might," argued Pink. "If I was making a quick get-away, and
my horse was about played out--like his was apt t' be--I'd sure round
up the first bunch I seen, and catch me a fresh one--if I was a
horse-thief. I'll bet yuh--"

The sheriff had put down his cup of coffee. "Is there any place where a
man could corral a bunch on the quiet?" he asked crisply. It was evident
that Pink's theory had impressed him.

"Yes, there is. There's an old corral up at the ford--Drowning Ford,
they call it--that I'd use, if it was me. It was an old line camp,
and there's a cabin. It's down on the flat by the creek, and it's as
God-forsaken a place as a man'd want t' hide in, or t' change mounts."
Pink hitched up his chapbelt and looked across at Rowdy. He was aching
for a sight of Harry Conroy in handcuffs, and he was certain that Rowdy
felt the same. "If it was me," he added speculatively, "and I thought I
was far enough in the lead, I'd stop there till morning."

"How far is it from here?" demanded the sheriff, standing up.

Pink told him he guessed it was five miles. Whereupon the sheriff
announced his intention of going up there at once, and Pink hinted
rather strongly that he would like to go with them. The sheriff did not
know Pink; he looked down at his slimness and at the yellow fringe of
curls showing under his hat brim, at his pink cheeks and dimples and
girlish hands, and threw back his head in a loud ha! ha!

Pink asked him politely, but rather stiffly, what there was funny about
it. The sheriff laughed louder and longer; then, being the sort of man
who likes a joke now and then, even in the way of business, he solemnly
deputized Pink, and patted him on the shoulder and told him gravely that
they couldn't possibly do without him.

It looked for a minute as if Pink were going at him with his fists--but
he didn't. He reflected that one must not offer violence to an officer
of the law, and that, being made a deputy, he would have to go, anyway;
so he gritted his teeth and buckled on his gun, and went along sulkily.

They rode silently, for the most part, and swiftly.

Even in the dusk they could see where a band of horses had been driven
at a gallop along the creek bank. When they neared the place it was
dark. Pink pulled up and spoke for the first time since leaving the
tent.

"We better tie up our horses here and walk," he said, quite unconscious
of the fact that he was usurping the leadership, and thinking only of
their quest.

But the sheriff was old at the business, and not too jealous of his
position. He signed to his deputy proper, and they dismounted.

When they started on, Pink was ahead. The sheriff observed that Pink's
gun still swung in its scabbard at his hip, and he grinned--but that was
because he didn't know Pink. That the gun swung at his hip would have
been quite enough for any one who did know him; it didn't take Pink all
day to get into action.

Ten rods from the corral, which they could distinguish as a black blotch
in the sparse willow growth, Pink turned and stopped them. "I know the
layout here," he whispered. "I'll just sneak ahead and rubber around.
You Rubes sound like the beginning of a stampede, in this brush."

The sheriff had never before been called a Rube--to his face, at least.
The audacity took his breath; and when he opened his mouth for scathing
speech, Pink was not there. He had slipped away, like a slim, elusive
shadow, and the sheriff did not even know the exact direction of his
going. There was nothing for it but to wait.

In five minutes Pink appeared with a silent suddenness that startled
them more than they would like to own.

"He's somewheres around," he announced, in a murmur that would not carry
ten feet. "He's got a horse in the corral, and, from the sound, he's got
him all saddled; and the gate's tied shut with a rope."

"How d'yuh know?" grunted the sheriff crossly.

"Felt of it, yuh chump. He's turned the bunch loose and kept up a fresh
one, like I said he would. It's blame dark, but I could see the horse--a
big white devil. It's him yuh hear makin' all that racket. If he gits
away now--"

"Well, we didn't come for a chin-whackin' bee," snapped the sheriff. "I
come out here t' git him."

Pink gritted his teeth again, and wished the sheriff was just a man,
so he could lick him. He led them forward without a word, thinking that
Rowdy wanted Harry Conroy captured.

The sheriff circled warily the corral, peered through the rails at the
great white horse that ran here and there, whinnying occasionally for
the band, and heard the creak of leather and the rattle of the bit. Pink
was right; the horse was saddled, ready for immediate flight.

"Maybe he's in the cabin," he whispered, coming up where Pink stood
listening tensely at all the little night sounds. Pink turned and crept
silently to the right, keeping in the deepest shade, while the others
followed willingly. They were beginning to see the great advantage of
having Pink along, even if he had called them Rubes.

The cabin door yawned wide open, and creaked weirdly as the light wind
moved it; the interior was black and silent--suspiciously silent, in
the opinion of the sheriff. He waited for some time before venturing
in, fearing an ambush. Then he caught the flicker of a shielded match,
called out to Conroy to surrender, and leveled his gun at the place.

There was no answer but the faint shuffle of stealthy feet on the board
floor. The sheriff called another warning, cocked his gun--and came near
shooting Pink, who walked composedly out of the door into the sheriff's
astonished face. The sheriff had been sure that Pink was just behind
him.

"What the hell," began the sheriff explosively.

"He ain't here," said Pink simply. "I crawled in the window and hunted
the place over."

The sheriff glared at him dumbly; he could not reconcile Pink's
daredevil behavior with Pink's innocent, girlish appearance.

"I tell yuh the corral's what we want t' keep cases on," Pink added
insistently. "He's sure somewheres around--I'd gamble on it. He saddled
that horse t' git away on. That horse is sure the key t' this situation,
old-timer. If you fellows'll keep cases on the gate, I'll cover the
rear."

He made his way quietly to the back of the corral, inwardly much amused
at the tractability of the sheriff, who took his deputy obediently to
watch the gate.

Pink squatted comfortably in the shade of a willow and wished he dared
indulge in a cigarette, and wondered what scheme Harry was trying to
play.

Fifty feet away the big white horse still circled round and round,
rattling his bridle impatiently and shaking the saddle in an occasional
access of rage, and whinnying lonesomely out into the gloom.

So they waited and waited, and peered into the shadows, and listened to
the trampling horse fretting for freedom and his mates.

The cook had just called breakfast when Pink dashed up to the tent,
flung himself from his horse, and confronted Rowdy--a hollow-eyed,
haggard Rowdy who had not slept all night, and whose eyes questioned
anxiously.

"Well," Rowdy said, with what passed for composure, "did you get him?"

Pink leaned against his horse, with one hand reaching up and gripping
tightly the horn of the saddle. His cheeks held not a trace of color,
and his eyes were full of a great horror.

"They're bringin' him t' camp," he answered huskily. "We found a
horse--a big white horse they call the Fern Outlaw"--the Silent One
started and came closer, listening intently; evidently he knew the
horse--"saddled in the corral, and the gate tied shut. We dubbed around
a while, but we didn't find--Harry. So we camped down by the corral and
waited. We set there all night--and the horse faunching around inside
something fierce. When--it come daybreak--I seen something--by the
fence, inside. It was--Harry." Pink shivered and moistened his dry lips.
"That Fern Outlaw--some uh the boys know--is a devil t' mount. He'd got
Harry down--hell, Rowdy! it--it was sure--awful. He'd been there all
night--and that horse stomping."

"Shut up!" Rowdy turned all at once deathly sick. He had once seen a man
who had been trampled by a maddened, man-killing horse. It had not been
a pretty sight. He sat down weakly and covered his face with his shaking
hands.

The others stood around horrified, muttering disjointed, shocked
sentences.

Pink lifted his head from where it had fallen upon his arm. "One thing,
Rowdy--I done. You can tell Jessie. I shot that horse."

Rowdy dropped his hands and stood up. Yes, he must tell Jessie.

"You'll have to take the herd on," he told Pink in his masterful way.
"I'll catch you to-morrow some time. I've got to go back and tell
Jessie. You know the trail I was going to take--straight across to Wild
Horse Lake. From there you strike across to North Fork--and if I don't
overtake you on the way, I'll hit camp some time in the night. It's all
plain sailing."



CHAPTER 13. Rowdy Finds Happiness.

Miss Conroy was rather listlessly endeavoring to persuade the First
Reader class that "catch" should not be pronounced "ketch," when she saw
Rowdy ride past the window. Intuition of something amiss sent her to the
door before he reached it.

"Can't you give the kids a day off?" he began, without preface. "I've
got such a lot to talk about--and I don't come very often." He thought
that his tone was perfectly natural; but all the same she turned
white. He rode on to a little tree and tied his horse--not that it was
necessary to tie him, but to avoid questions.

Miss Conroy went in and dismissed the children, although it was only
fifteen minutes after nine. They gathered up their lunch-pails and
straggled out reluctantly, round-eyed, and curious. Rowdy waited until
the last one had gone before he went in. Miss Conroy sat in her chair
on the platform, and she was still white; otherwise she seemed to have
herself well in hand.

"It's about Harry," she asserted, rather sharply.

"Have they--caught him?"

Rowdy stopped half-way down the aisle and stared. "How did you know they
were--after him?"

"He came to me night before last, and--told me." She bit her lip, took
firm hold on her honesty and her courage, and went on steadily. "He
came because he--wanted money. I've wanted to see you since, to tell you
that--I misjudged you. I know all about your--trouble, and I want you
to know that I think you are--that you did quite right. You are to
understand that I cannot honestly uphold--Harry. He is--not the kind of
brother--I thought."

Rowdy went clanking forward till only the table stood between. "Did he
tell you?" he demanded, in a curious, breathless fashion.

"No, he did not. He denied everything. It was Pink. He told me long
ago--that evening, just after you--the last time I saw you. I told him
he--lied. I tried not to believe it, but I did. Pink knew I would; he
said so. The other night I asked Harry about--those things he did to
you. He lied to me. I'd have forgiven him--but he lied. I--can't forgive
that. I--"

"Hush!" Rowdy threw out a gloved hand quickly. He could not bear to let
her go on like that.

She looked up at him, and all at once she was shaking. "There's
something--tell me!"

"They didn't take him," he said slowly, weighing each word and
looking down at her pityingly "They never will. He--had an accident. A
horse--fell with him--and--he was dead when they picked him up." It was
as merciful a version as he could make it, but the words choked him,
even then. "Girlie!" He went around and knelt, with his arms holding her
close.

After a long while he spoke again, smoothing her hair absently, and
never noticing that he had not taken off his gloves. His gray hat was
pushed aslant as his head rested against hers.

"Perhaps, girlie, it's for the best. We couldn't have saved him
from--the other; and that would have been worse, don't you think? We'll
forget all but the good in him"--he could not help thinking that there
would not be much to remember--"and I'll get a little home ready, and
come back and get you before snow flies--and--you'll be kind of happy,
won't you?

"Maybe you haven't heard--but Eagle Creek has made me foreman of his
outfit that's going to Canada. It's a good position. I can make you
comfortable, girlie--and happy. Anyway, I'll try, mighty hard. You'll be
ready for me when I come--won't you, girlie?"

Miss Conroy raised her face, all tear-stained, but, with the light of
happiness fighting the sorrow in her eyes, nodded just enough to make
the movement perceptible, and settled her head to a more comfortable
nestling-place on his shoulder.





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